Jesus And The Hysterical Historians

I love history.

And I hate it.

A few weeks ago, I took my family to Stone Mountain. We made the mile or so hike up the mountain, ate dinner on the grass in front of the mountain, watched the laser show where some kid named Johnny defeated the Devil in a fiddle contest, and complained about traffic on our way home.

We follow that same routine every year.

And every year I give my kids the same speech.

If you’ve never been to Stone Mountain, it’s hard to miss. It’s a giant chunk of granite in Atlanta with a carving of leaders of the Confederacy on it. Every year, my kids ask about the men engraved on that mountain.

Here’s a paraphrase of what I usually say.

“All you need to know about those men and any other person you see memorialized in an engraving or statue is that they aren’t God.”

It would do us good to hear that simple speech a few times a day. Maybe then we wouldn’t be so prone to worship men and identify with woefully imperfect movements.

I love history because I like knowing how we got to where we are. It’s fascinating.

I hate history because I don’t really like hearing about how we got to where we are. It’s often brutal.

I love history because I like learning about regular men and women who did amazing things. It’s inspiring.

I hate history because I’ve grown tired of those regular men and women being treated as gods. It’s hysterical.

What I am about to say is going to sound like something a preacher would say. Forgive me.

The more I study historical figures and movements, the more I am convinced that Jesus is enough. That goes double for contemporary figures and movements.

Dig deep enough into the life of any human being and you will find a mess. A real mess. So we shouldn’t be asking ourselves whether or not we need to remove certain statues and engravings. Rather, we should ask ourselves why we put them up in the first place. And when we’re done with that line of questioning, we should wonder why we choose to identify with them. If we’re honest, the answer has more to do with idolatry than legacy or heritage.

I was born and raised in a southern state that I love but I’m no apologist for slavery.

I’ve been a Christian for most of my life and I am the product of a conservative church where the Bible was taught faithfully. Now I am the pastor of a conservative church where I try to preach the Bible faithfully. But I don’t consider myself an Evangelical. Today, that term has more to do with a voting bloc than it does the body of Christ so no thanks.

I’m a proponent of an extremely limited government. But I just don’t have the stomach to call myself a Libertarian and certainly not a Republican. And when I come across someone who wants universal healthcare, I prefer not to look at them as an enemy. I’d rather view them as a human being I happen to disagree with but who has great worth because they have been created in the image of God. Sometimes my heart wants to go another direction but I’m a work in progress.

My skin is white. Well, that’s what we call it but it looks nothing like the pages in the book next to me as I write this. Either way, that’s not where I find my worth. I have no interest in the Richard Spencer’s of the world who want to use the power of the government to supposedly restore our European heritage. My two sons have Filipino blood running through their veins and I’m proud of it. My great grandmother’s blood was all Cherokee. If anyone wants to talk about preserving heritage it should have been her. But that doesn’t preach well to the crowd that wants to restore this country’s “European heritage.”

Hang on a minute, I’m about to say something else that sounds preachy.

The only cleansing I care about is the kind that comes from the blood of Jesus Christ. Every other human being who made a historic stand against something, even the great ones, to some degree became what they fought against. Through either compromise or a moral compass that never was really set to begin with, even our best heroes are very unworthy of our granite carvings, statues and worship. Not so with Jesus, he touched the untouchable and remained clean. He stood against the great Accuser and remained perfectly holy.

The more I study history, the more my love hate relationship with it grows.

I hate it for how dirty it is.

But I love it for how it serves to highlight the supremacy of Jesus Christ over all other men and movements.

I’ve never gotten a call from a pollster. But if I ever do and they ask me if I’m a Caucasian, evangelical, southern, Libertarian who likes to visit Stone Mountain once a year, at the risk of sounding too preachy, I’ll just tell them that I’m an imperfect follower of the only perfect man who ever lived.

Any other label would just be hysterical.

image credit 

Idolatry Is Still Alive And Kicking

12045319_1650791995195768_5202434448535985268_o

I haven’t seen a lot of people offering sacrifices to little statues like we read about in the Old Testament but idolatry is still alive and kicking. If you don’t believe me, listen to the way some people talk about their presidential candidate of choice.

Of course, not every follower of politics is an idol worshiper. But a lot are. Here’s how you can tell the difference. The passionate observer finds the candidate he likes, votes for him and maybe tries to convince others to do the same but all the while he remembers that the candidate didn’t die on the cross to secure his salvation and eternal life.

The idol worshiper seems to forget that. His joy is wrapped up in the performance of his candidate. Rather than simply conversing about political differences with others, he ridicules them for having the nerve to not see things his way.

But it goes beyond that.

He views his candidate of choice as a messiah of sorts. His guy has done no wrong and never will do anything wrong but, on the small chance that he does, it’s someone else’s fault.

We need to pray for the idol worshipers because much like their Old Testament ancestors, the Philistines, things won’t end well for them.

The Philistines worshipped a god called Dagon. At one point, they got the upper hand on their rivals, the Israelites, and captured the ark of God. Thinking that this proved the superiority of their god over the God of the Israelites, the Philistines placed the ark in the same room with their statue god, Dagon.

The next morning, they woke up to a surprise.

Dagon had fallen face down on the ground before the ark. Like any good idol worshippers, they picked their god back up and put him in his place. Quick side note. If you have to pick your god up off the floor to defend his honor, you’re worshiping the wrong god.

The next morning, Dagon was down on the floor again. But this time it was worse. His head and hands had been cut off. The Philistine response to this second embarrassment was shocking. You might think that they would say, “Man, our god is pretty lousy. He can’t even keep himself together.” But they didn’t. Instead of abandoning their god, they got rid of the ark.

That’s another mark of a genuine idol worshiper. He’s more content with the shortcomings of his pretend god than the sovereignty of the one true God.

Like Dagon, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will fall on their faces before God. They’ll either do it willingly or in defeat. Either way, it’s a bit of a crisis when you see your god laying out in the middle of the floor. That’s why we need to pray for those who offer sacrifices to their political gods. The day of falling is coming. There’s no question about it.

But the real question concerns the American people, more specifically, American Christians. Well, at least people who call themselves Christians. The real God isn’t content with you placing him next to your political god. He does not share his glory with idols. He isn’t interested in building your kingdom or even the American kingdom. He is concerned with his kingdom alone. All others fall before him.

In the heat of our political passions, let’s be careful not to turn our ideas and candidates into gods.

The two top candidates in this race will not even make good presidents.

What makes you think that they’ll make good gods?

image credit

Two Types Of Idolatry

4196560270_a5d57d1f7b_o

There are two types of idolatry that you need to be on the lookout for in your life.

The first one is familiar. It happens when you replace the real God with a fake one. An idol can be anything. It can even be a good thing. Idols don’t have to be little wooden statues or little baggies of illicit drugs. An idol can just as easily be your idea of a happy marriage or even your church.

If you pay careful enough attention, you can easily spot idolatry when it comes into your life. If you have wrapped your identity up in your job, there’s a good chance that it has become an idol. If your whole world would come crashing down if you walked outside and found that someone had just keyed your new car, you’re probably in love with it more than you are Jesus. If you routinely neglect meeting with your local church because you can, “worship God just as easily on the lake as you can in a building,” you’re most likely worshiping the lake instead of the One who created it.

But there is another kind of idolatry. While there is no such thing as diet idolatry, as if God tolerates some form of idolatry more than others, this one is a bit bolder. If you have this type of idolatry, you can get along just fine without a nice car, plenty of money in your retirement account and a Sunday morning on the lake.

You don’t need some object to be the false god if you have fallen prey to this form of idolatry.

No, in this version of idolatry, you are the false god.

Sure, you don’t craft wooden statues of yourself and demand your friends and family to burn incense to it twice a week. That would be too obvious.

Instead, you constantly crave the approval of others. You feel empty when you go an entire day without a compliment. If you really start feeling the hunger for the verbal approval of others, you manipulate conversations to that end. You tell friends how ugly you think you look just so you can hear them tell you how beautiful they think you are. You use words to assassinate others in order to make yourself look better by comparison.

Both forms of idolatry tell you the same lie in different ways.

The first idolatry says that Jesus has shortchanged you. It says that you need and even deserve more than what he has given you. The very first sin was rooted in this.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Genesis 3:1 (ESV)

Did you catch Satan’s tactic there? Not only does he question God’s word, he questions God’s goodness. “God is holding out on you,” he tells Eve. “Your life will really be complete with this fruit.” Replace fruit with car, drug, marriage or whatever else and you have today’s modern idolatry. Some things never change.

Satan’s sales pitch didn’t stop there.

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:4-5 (ESV)

Satan cast doubt on God’s words to trick Eve into worshiping another god. And he cast doubt on God’s goodness into tricking Eve into believing that she could be that other god.

In the end, both gods let you down. You can never have enough money, sex, drugs or long walks on the beach with your perfect Christian family to finally satisfy you. Nor can you ever have enough compliments, admiration or obedience from others to complete you.

Your stuff makes a terrible god.

And so do you.

True satisfaction is never found in what you possess. It is found in an ever growing hunger for more of Christ. If you lose everything, and all you have is Christ, all you have is more than enough.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6 (ESV)

Perfect contentment will never come your way in the form of other people’s approval. You will never be beautiful, smart, funny or strong enough to fix the emptiness that will inevitably consume you when you play god. The temporary affirmation of man is no match for the eternal acceptance of the One True God.

But let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 1 Peter 3:4 (ESV)

Our hearts are drawn to idolatry. We look to things to do what only God can. We seek the praise that only God deserves. Whether your idol of choice is in the driveway, on the shelf or in the mirror, grace is all you really need.

And there’s only one God who can give it to you.

image credit

Ugly Church

441180855_b4d56675c8_o

There’s about to be some construction around our church building. No, we aren’t getting a new gym. We’re not putting a pool on the roof. And we’re not putting in a gold plated parking space reserved just for the pastor complete with a conveyor belt that carries me directly to the pulpit. That’s in next year’s budget.

What we’re building won’t last very long. It will be up by the middle of June and, most likely, torn down by July 1.

We’re building a mountain.

In the sanctuary.

When I preach, I’ll probably have to find some other place to stand.

And it’s all for one simple reason.

Vacation Bible School.

I love the way that our church building looks when Vacation Bible School rolls around. The sanctuary always looks like a jungle or a beach or some other popular VBS theme. And every year, the person responsible for building it comes to me somewhat worried. The question is always the same.

“Is it alright if we put stuff on the stage for Vacation Bible School?”

The answer is always the same too.

“Yep.”

I don’t have an eye for design but I love this kind of thing. I love fake animals all over the stage. I love it when we have cartoon clouds hanging from the ceiling and a cardboard sun on the wall or, as will be the case this year, a gigantic mountain dominating the platform where I usually preach.

I love it because it reminds me that Jesus didn’t just die for adults. No, he gave his life for the salvation of kids too. And he doesn’t just like to hear adults sing about him. He loves it when children sing his praises, even if it’s done around a giant paper mountain with those sandpaper blocks you only find at Vacation Bible School. I know that one week every summer isn’t all that it takes to pass the faith down to the next generation. It takes parents and other believers sharing and living out that faith in everyday life (Deuteronomy 6:7). But Vacation Bible School can be a big part of that.

I’m sure that there are some who don’t share my affection for VBS decorations. It looks tacky, they say. It doesn’t show proper reverence for God’s house. It’s just ugly.

Here’s what’s ugly.

A church where everything is in place is ugly. A church where there are no crayon marks on the wall because there are no kids there to do such a thing is ugly. A church where everything on the stage always looks like a picture from Southern Living: The Church Edition because appearances are what matters most is ugly.

Jesus died for the Church.

He did not die for a church building.

I’m all for showing proper respect. But could it be that what we think is just good taste and decency is really just idol worship? Idols can be tiny little statues. They can be giant monuments. And they can be that communion table at the front of the church building that hasn’t been moved in 35 years because if it is, someone will die. Or at least get yelled at.

If the decorations around your church building look a bit childish this summer, put your sense of style to the side, at least for a week or so. The cartoon cut outs of silly looking animals stuck to the wall right next to the stained glass picture of John the Baptist standing with Jesus isn’t tacky. It could very well be a reminder that God is doing something good in your church.

Of course, you could make a big deal out of it all. You could tell all of the appropriate people how terrible they are for their wicked decorations. You could pass by laws that prohibit the hanging of any piece of art not made out of stained glass. You could share your disgust with others in hopes that they’ll agree with you and that momentum will shift in your direction and away from the silly kid art.

And you just might get your way next year.

No clouds hanging from the ceiling.

No cardboard sun stuck to the wall.

No mountain on the stage.

No kids.

And no genuine work of the Holy Spirit.

Just you and your sense of how church decorating should be done.

But that will be okay with you. Finally, your church will look the way a dignified church is supposed to look.

And then it really will be an ugly church.

image credit

There’s A New Cult In Town

Statue of Gautama Buddha "Hua Zang Si" buddist temple 3134 22nd Street San Francisco, CA 94110

There’s a new cult in town and you probably don’t even know about it. Even worse, you might even be a member of it.

Unlike most cults, this one doesn’t really have a charismatic leader with a funny name who preaches about the end of the world.

And while you can pay a small fortune as a devotee to this cult, you don’t necessarily have to.

Knocking on doors early on Saturday mornings and handing out promotional materials isn’t necessary either. In fact, that would be frowned upon. But you do have to talk about this new cult. Well, you don’t really have to. It’s not like you’ll get kicked out if you don’t. It’s just that people who belong to this cult usually do talk about it. A lot. Social media is the primary tool. You have friends on Facebook who are members of this cult. Hardcore members. And, like I said, you may even be a member too.

There isn’t one god at the center of this cult. There are many. But each member worships his own god. That god is your own body.

The required sacrifices have nothing to do with animal killing, feasts or fasts. All that is required is several hours a day appeasing your body in a gym or on a track, trail or road. These are the places where regular worship services are held.

Worship is a big part of this cult. But it doesn’t require music, standing, sitting, standing again and then sitting with heads bowed and eyes closed while someone with a guitar sings. The primary act of worship in this cult is the selfie. That isn’t to say that everyone who takes selfies is a member of The Body Cult. However, if you can’t workout without taking a few pictures or videos of yourself for all of the world to see, you just might be a member.

You might say that I’m being too harsh. After all, it’s just working out. And working out is just taking care of your body. And God only gives you one body. What’s so bad about that?

Nothing.

Working out is good.

Taking care of yourself is smart.

But only when those things are done as acts of worship to the Creator who gives and takes away as he pleases. Working out and taking care of yourself, just like a host of other good things, become dangerous when they become our life’s ultimate things. And for many people, nice abs and a 600 pound deadlift have become ultimate things.

I know. I know. You’re a Christian. You’re no cult member.

Got it.

But here’s a question.

When was the last time that you missed two solid weeks of working out because you were, “too busy?”

Another question.

When was the last time that you went two weeks without reading your Bible or going to church for the same reason?

The answer can be telling.

Not because reading your Bible regularly and going to church make you right with God. They don’t. The answer is telling because worship and commitment go hand in hand. They always do. You will always be committed to what you worship. And you are committed to what you love.

The Body Cult promises a nice, healthy body just in time for the all important beach selfie. Again, the nice healthy body isn’t the problem. A nice, healthy body is a good thing. It’s the heart that puts the one true God on the shelf while the false god of the body is appeased that is the real problem.

The promises of The Body Cult come with a higher price than a tweaked shoulder from last night’s bench press or sore knees from last weekend’s ultra marathon. When your body becomes your god, your body becomes your burden. And the body is a burden that is too heavy for even the fittest athlete to carry. You could always be stronger. There will always seem to be a little bit of fat around your obliques that you would love to get rid of. There is always someone at the gym who is stronger or at the beach who looks better. The false god of the body is never appeased.

Jesus came to free us from burdens like this one.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

Jesus spoke those words to a culture of people who were weighed down by the overbearing rules of religion. But his words apply just as much to a culture of people who are weighed down by the burdens of performance, perfection and appearance.

If you really care about taking care of yourself, don’t neglect the eternal importance of a heart that is right with God for the temporary pleasure of a body that wins the approval of people.

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:7-8 (ESV)

Run in that race this weekend and try your hardest to win it. Work hard to reach your weightlifting goals. But do it all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). His love for you and approval of you is unlike anything else in the world. He doesn’t love you because you can still fit in to the jeans you wore in high school. He doesn’t approve of you because you’re so athletic for someone your age. His love and approval are based solely on his grace and the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

It’s not too late to renounce your membership in The Body Cult. Come to grips with the fact that you will never win this way. Open your eyes to the fact that the burdens of The Body Cult are more than you can carry.

For once, let someone else do the heavy lifting for you.

And go to sleep tonight with a body that is tired from a lot of lifting but a soul that is well rested from trusting in Jesus for your ultimate satisfaction, identity and approval.

image credit

Plow Around That Stump

“Plow around that stump, brother.”

Those words came to me in a thick, southern accent. I wasn’t sitting on a tractor waiting for instructions on where to go next. I was sitting in a church office, early on in my ministry. The man on the other end was a wise leader who had fought his share of ministry battles. Some, he discovered, were worth fighting. Some weren’t. The one I was seeking wisdom on wasn’t worth the fight.

So I plowed around that stump, brother.

The man’s advice was good. As time passed I began to appreciate his wisdom even more. But I also grew frustrated. My frustrations weren’t directed toward the man on the other end of the phone. They had more to do with the ever growing number of stumps ministers were expected to plow around.

I hear about them all of the time.

Like the music minister who really loves Jesus and is reaching a lot of people but is probably going to have to find another job because he took the Doxology out of the order of worship one Sunday morning.

Or the youth minister who got yelled at because he’s reaching a bunch of unchurched kids who, heaven forbid, haven’t yet learned how to act in a church building.

Maybe those ministers should have taken the same advice that I followed early on in my ministry and directed their plows elsewhere.

I’d rather have something else happen. Perhaps some of those church members who have fallen so in love with their orders of worship, church buildings, parking spaces, pews and classrooms could get up off of their faces and stop worshiping those stumps. Maybe then we could all see them for what they really are. Tiny idols.

In Colossians 1:18, Paul says that Jesus is, “the head of the body, the church.” In the simplest terms possible, Jesus is the pastor of the church. The guy in the suit who drives a Buick and preaches a few times a week is merely an associate. He is not self-employed. He answers to Jesus.

It’s interesting that Paul does not say that Jesus is, “the head of the organization, the church.” Instead, he says, body. Here’s the thing about a body that has a functioning head. It is a living thing. A church that is led by Jesus is a living body. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about churches that are obviously anything but living.

Paul goes on to say that Jesus is, “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” That means that Jesus, not our favorite sanctified stump, should be our object of worship.

But for too long, I’ve seen the opposite. I’ve seen programs, traditions, geographical locations and musical styles worshiped as if they were the firstborn from the dead. And we wonder why we hear of so many church splits, church declines and church closings.

A few years ago, two friends came by my house to cut down a tree. When the tree was down, chopped up and stacked neatly, I noticed something interesting about what remained. The stump was pouring out water. A lot of water. It did this for a few days. Finally it stopped.

That’s the thing about stumps. They’re dead.

My fear is that many churches are becoming gardens full of stumps. As a result, it’s not just the pastors who have to plow around those pathetic objects of worship. Sometimes I wonder how often the Spirit himself plows around our tiny idols and takes his mighty work to more fertile grounds.

Lord Jesus, please do not plow around our stumps. Plow over them instead. We don’t need you to kill them. They’re already dead. Just remove them. And change our hearts so that we may live like the body we are called to be.

Save us, Lord Jesus, from our gardens full of stumps.

Little Boys And Their Big Trucks

It was probably the biggest truck I’ve seen in my life, if you don’t count the ones that come to town once a year to crush cars. It was a nice truck too. The paint looked like candy. The wheels looked like robots and the tires like giant muscles. This was no mere truck. It was a statement. It was obvious that the truck’s owner had invested a lot of time and money in this work of moving art.

When the truck drove past me it became clear what kind of statement the owner was trying to make. It was a statement about his manhood.

There was a piece of metal hanging down below the back bumper. I guess you could call it an idol. An strategically placed idol. The idol was shaped like male genitalia.

The crude idol spoke to all who noticed it.

There’s a real man driving this truck.

Our culture has perverted manhood. That’s what usually happens in societies that are spiraling downward like ours is. On television the picture of manhood is one of spineless men who couldn’t find their way to their favorite bar without someone else’s help. In the context I’m living in, it’s quite the opposite. Too often, manhood is defined by sexual conquests, large automobiles and male sex organs hanging from those automobiles.

In reality, true manhood is on display in the things they don’t show in truck commercials. If you pay attention, you can see it in the little things.

Like the guy who misses a game so he can take his little girl to her school’s father daughter dance because he knows that if she doesn’t see real manhood from him she’ll look for it in all the wrong places.

Or the man who drives a car older than he is and works a few extra shifts every now and then so that one day his family can stop giving money to creditors and start giving it to people in need.

Don’t forget the man who’s voice sounds something like a cross between Axl Rose and a sick dog. But he doesn’t care about that. When it’s time to sing songs in church, he doesn’t hold back. And for the people around him, the vision of a man singing about his Savior overshadows the sound coming from his mouth.

And then there’s the man who hasn’t had sex in five years. Not because he can’t or doesn’t want to. It’s because his wife is sick. Very sick. And he knows that caring for her and keeping his promise to her is more important than any temporary pleasure.

Real men are pastors. Not just the pastors that preach sermons to congregations every Sunday. These men are pastors in their home. They take the spiritual growth of their wife and children personally. So they make sure that the family sings songs and reads the Bible together on a random Tuesday night when it would be a lot easier to just sit down together and watch a show about a spineless man who can’t manage to find his way to his favorite bar without someone else’s help.

There are real men with no wife or kids too. They respect women and find ways to serve women without viewing them as sexual objects. They know that all women, even the ones on computer screens who always seem available and ready, are created in God’s image.

Real men have hands covered with scars or permanent grease stains from a lifetime of providing through hard work. But they also smell like potpourri from time to time because they serve their wives by doing the laundry for them.

Real men drive huge trucks with barbed wire and random car parts thrown in the back. But some of them also drive station wagons and mini-vans. Both know that manhood isn’t defined by automobiles.

And it certainly isn’t defined by large sexual idols hanging from those large automobiles.

They know that true manhood is on display in the little things.

She’s Just Being Miley

You can say this about Miley Cyrus. At least she was being herself on Sunday night.

That’s what the world tells us to do, right? Just be yourself. Sunday night, at MTV’s Video Music Awards, Miley took advantage of her platform to show anyone who didn’t already know that she was no longer Hannah Montana.

To say that her performance was sexually suggestive would be inaccurate. It was pretty much just sex. There was nothing suggestive about it.

And, for some reason, we’re all shocked. Even those who don’t have a problem with that sort of thing had a problem with Miley just being Miley.

But what did we expect? Did we really expect her to keep being Hannah Montana? It never works that way. Remember when Britney Spears was a seemingly innocent Disney girl? Remember when Justin Bieber was just another kid who had a good voice and a mom that knew how to promote her son? And in both cases we were told that this kid was different. This kid was well-grounded. Now, several marriages and meltdowns later, nobody knows what has happened to Britney. And Justin has a pet monkey and is in the middle of a very public and very ugly meltdown. It never ends well for child stars. Miley Cyrus is just one more example.

That’s part of why what happened Sunday night should not shock us. But there’s another reason why we shouldn’t be surprised. This kind of thing would happen to anyone, including you and me, who gets huge amounts of success and popularity at an early age and grows up in a generation whose motto is, Just be yourself. Nothing helps you to be yourself like truckloads of money and fame at an early age. But the thing is that the you you really are, the yourself that everyone keeps telling you to be, usually isn’t very pretty. It’s called original sin.

What should really surprise us, or more specifically, what should surprise Christians, is our response to Miley Cyrus.

I saw the first few seconds of Miley’s performance before I turned away and started making jokes about her. When I came back, I saw the crowd treating Kanye West like a god and I instantly thought of ten other rappers who are better than he is. Later, I saw the heroes of the civil rights movement degraded as their struggle was equated to that of the gay marriage lobby. Through it all, I was bothered but not for the right reasons.

I longed for the days when music was better. When people didn’t lip sync. When there were guitar solos. When the weirdest thing that happened at the VMAs was the guy from Rage Against the Machine climbing up on a stack of speakers. But never once was my spirit provoked because Miley, Kanye and a significant number of their fans were likely on a path to a very real hell.

2000 years ago Paul was in Athens with nothing to do. His plans were to just wait for Silas and Timothy to join him (Acts 17:15). But as he looked around and “saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16) he spoke up. Not because he hadn’t met his evangelism quota for the month. Not because he felt guilty. And not because there’s no such thing as hell and we all end up in the same spiritual amusement park in the end anyway. He spoke because his spirit was provoked. The lostness all around him didn’t sit well with his spirit. He didn’t like the idea of people going to hell.

Paul was a follower of Christ. He had been rescued from a life devoted to empty religion. Now he had a new identity in Christ. Speaking up in love just seemed natural. In Acts 17, Paul was just being Paul.

And on Sunday night, Miley was just being Miley. She doesn’t know Jesus. She’s famous. She wants to sell records. She has a platform. What did you expect? None of that makes what she did right. It just helps to explain why she did it. And why, without Christ, you and I would have done something similar in her situation.

Sunday night’s VMAs had a lot in common with what Paul saw in Athens. The MTV awards show was a worship service “To the unknown god” (Acts 17:23). An unknown god who, in this case, has something to do with sex.

Hopefully the commonalities won’t end there. Hopefully those of us who follow Jesus will have the same response to this idolatry that Paul had all of those years ago.

A provoked spirit.

Provoked because of all of the people who worship a 20-year-old girl instead of the Living God.

Provoked because that 20-year-old girl has settled for the temporary pleasures of fame instead of the eternal joy of knowing Jesus.

Provoked because, no matter how outrageous they may be, Miley, Kanye and Gaga are real people. They have real souls. And they will one day have to give an account before their Creator.

Provoked because so many people, both the famous idolaters as well as the more normal ones that would never dream of twerking with men dressed as stuffed animals, are rejecting God’s command to repent despite quickly moving towards his righteous judgment (Acts 17:30-31).

When Miley did her thing on Sunday night, she was just being Miley. I think that the true nature of her heart was on display.

But when Christians sit by, apathetic to the idolatry that surrounds us and unprovoked in our spirits, we are the ones who are putting on the show. If we are in Christ, it is in our nature to be provoked by lostness. And it is only when our provoked spirit leads us to share the good news that we are being who we really are.

Bow Down Before The One You Serve

With all of the bad news out there it’s good to finally hear some good news.

The kids at Calimesa Elementary School no longer have to bow down on one knee in front of school administrators before they are dismissed for the day.

Wait.

Wait!

What did I just write?

Apparently the school district thought that it would be a good idea to make kids kneel down before the principal and other school administrators at different points during the day. Here’s how one parent found out about the ordeal from her 7-year-old daughter.

“She says that she has to drop down on one knee with her hands at her side, wait for the principal to come out, lift his arms and tell them to go to class.”

Thankfully, several parents had a problem with this and they spoke out. As a result, the school has decided to no longer enforce what they called their “positive behavior intervention.” Now the only question that remains is this. Will the school district get a refund for all of that money they spent on the 90-foot tall golden statue of the principal and the fiery furnace for those young rebels who refuse to bend the knee (Daniel 3)?

I’m assuming that every kid bowed down to the principal. It seemed innocent enough, I’m sure. I mean it was called a “positive behavior intervention,” not “Communal Worship of the Beast.” And we’re told that all of that bowing was only done for purposes of safety and order. So I’m sure that most, if not all, just fell in line with the principal worship.

This is part of why parenting is so important. We exist for more than teaching manners and running a taxi service. We’re here to teach our kids to stand up. Even when all of their friends are kneeling down. Even when the principal demands that they kneel.

The demands to kneel, whether symbolically or physically, are legion.

Like the demand to kneel by keeping quiet about our faith. But, we must teach our children to be like Jeremiah and Paul. We must teach them to refuse to commit the hate crime of silence. We must teach them to stand.

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. Jeremiah 20:9 (ESV)

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Acts 17:16-17 (ESV)

But we cannot expect them to stand against all of the pressures to bow if we have been kneeling all along. If we are bowing to an ever expanding government by accepting its handouts, should we expect our kids to be any different?

If we neglect our responsibilities as husbands, wives and parents so that we can manage our 12 fantasy baseball teams or focus on “my time,” should we be surprised when our kids grow up to be irresponsible, selfish kids who are willing to bow before anything just so long as they get their way?

And if we are silent about our faith, bowing down at every 90-foot statue or overzealous principal in our path, we can be sure that our children will follow in our footsteps.

When I was a kid it seemed like every third commercial on TV was telling me not to do drugs. This is your brain on drugs and so forth. In one of those commercials a dad was yelling at his kid for getting caught with drugs.

“Where did you learn this? Who taught you this? How did you get these drugs?”

And then the climax.

“You! Alright, dad. I learned it from watching you.”

The commercial ended with the narrator telling us that, “Parents who use drugs have kids who use drugs.”

That’s not always the case but the point was clear. It’s clear in this case as well. And sometimes it keeps me awake at night.

If some self-important official asked my kids to bow before him, what would they do? Would they quietly do as they are told or would they remain standing, no matter the cost? I hope that they would do the right thing but until that day comes, it’s hard to know for sure.

But I can be certain of one thing.

They will probably do what they have seen me doing.

The Football Gods

Last week my wife and I went to the Georgia Dome where we watched the Atlanta Falcons play the New Orleans Saints.

For us, it was a good time together with our favorite team.

Not so for the guy sitting behind us.

Earlier that day, a mafia hitman must have told him something like this.

“Look, Big Vinny said we could let you live but only if the Falcons win.  But don’t worry.  If you cuss real loud throughout the entire game that should be enough to help them pull it out.  Capisce?”

That’s the only explainable scenario I can come up with as to why this guy thought that it would be a good idea to use enough bad language to make Eminem blush.

He cursed loudly and frequently when the Falcons ran instead of passed.

When the Falcons finally ran, guess what?  You got it, more cursing.

He cursed when somebody called a timeout and the public address announcer had the nerve to wait a full three seconds before telling us the details about that timeout.

He cursed towards the end of the game when a Saints player got hurt.

But he saved his best curses for the woman sitting behind him who was dressed like a superhero who really liked the New Orleans Saints.  To be fair, she wasn’t exactly the picture of southern femininity.  Well, unless your picture of southern femininity is a cross between Roseanne Barr and Ice Cube.

Needless to say, tensions were high in the Georgia Dome.

I was glad that I had contraband with me, just in case things got real ugly.

Before we entered the Dome, my wife and I had to stand in a security check line.  As we moved closer to the checkpoint I suddenly remembered that I had my pocket knife.  I didn’t want to lose it so I had to think of something quick.  I took it out of my pocket and put it in my jacket.  When it was my turn to get wanded I took my jacket off and laid it on the table.

“Sir, you don’t have to take off your jacket.”

I nodded like I was new to the language.

When they let us in the Dome I felt like I had beaten the system, like I was a prisoner with a brand new shiv that made it through cell inspections.

Editor’s Note: If any Georgia Dome officials, ATF officials or officers from the Federal Department of Knives and Blogging (FDKB) are reading this, please be aware that this entire story has been fabricated by the committee of highly trained professional writers that make up the staff of jasonlsanders.com.  There is no real Jason L. Sanders.

As I was sitting in my seat listening to the chaos behind me I was glad that I at least had my trusty pocket knife.  If I had to defend my wife’s honor, I wouldn’t have to do it empty handed.

Once, after a particularly brutal, curse filled tirade from the man behind us, I apologized to my wife on behalf of the entire male species and football fans everywhere.  I couldn’t quite make out her response.  Something about joy.

I asked her to repeat herself because it’s hard to pick up a woman’s voice amongst 80,000 other voices, one of which is doing it’s best Chris Rock impersonation right behind me.

“It’s just sad because he has no joy.”

This time I heard her but I wasn’t sure if I heard her correctly.

It turns out that I did.

Her point was that this guy was taking something that was intended for fun and allowing it to ruin him.  The Falcons were his god, which explains his attitude during the evening.  Wouldn’t you cuss a lot if what you worshiped couldn’t complete a five yard pass?

This made me feel really bad.  Here I was, proud of my shiv, thinking about whether I should go for the knees or the guts if it all went down while my wife was more concerned with the soul.

I spent the entire game looking at this guy as just another person who was in my way.  To me, he was nothing more than an annoyance.  My wife, however, saw beneath all of that.  With every bomb that this guy dropped she heard a desperate cry to a god who was not listening.  She saw him as a man that was lost in his sins and needed to repent and believe in Jesus Christ – the God who listens.

The Falcons won the game and everyone was happy.  Almost everyone.  The lady dressed like a New Orleans Saints superhero probably wasn’t happy because she left early.

And the cursing Falcons fan sitting behind me wasn’t happy either.

After all of that emotion, even after his team one, he quietly left with a blank look on his face.  My wife was right.

He had no joy.

His god, even in victory, had let him down.

I pray that one day that loud, obnoxious Falcons fan will come to know the fullness of Jesus’ joy (John 15:11).

And I pray that one day this self-righteous pastor will stop looking at other people as obstacles and start seeing them as souls in need of the freedom that only Jesus can offer.