Red Ferrari

I don’t know anything about cars but I know a nice one when I see it. This was a nice one. It was a red Ferrari. When I looked at it, I saw a little bit of myself. Now before you bail out on me for comparing myself to a Ferrari, just hang on.

I don’t see cars like this where I live. It seemed to appear from nowhere just outside of my driver’s side window while I was stopped at a red light. When I pointed the car out to my sons, the questions started flowing. And they were questions that I didn’t have the answers to. But that’s never stopped me before.

“Dad, is that a fast car?”

“Oh you bet. It’s got twin dual cam headers.”

The three of us sat and gazed at that red sports car. It was almost like we felt honored to have such a fine vehicle visit our common town and to be so kind to share the same road with our humble Chevrolet. When the light turned green, a little piece of us died. The Ferrari would soon be out of our sight and out of our lives forever. I thought about racing, just to prolong the experience. Cooler heads prevailed.

I was going straight and the car was turning left. Well, the car wasn’t exactly turning left. It was being taken to the left. That beautiful red Ferrari was tied down to the back of a flat bed truck. And this wasn’t one of those trucks that carries rich people’s expensive cars across the country. This was the type of truck that some dude named Big Ed uses when he comes to pick up your gently used Toyota Tercel after you drive it off into a ditch.

That’s when I saw a little bit of myself and my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ in that Ferrari.

By God’s grace and through faith and repentance, we have been given much. God has given us eternal life. But he has also given us the resources we need to glorify and enjoy him in this life.

In Christ, we have power over evil, both the kind in our hearts and the kind in the world (Ephesians 6:10-20).

In Christ, we have joy (John 17:13).

In Christ, we have access to our Creator (Hebrews 4:14-16).

In Christ, we have peace and love and self-control and so much more (Galatians 5:22-24).

But we don’t use those gifts. Instead, we settle for getting through life on the back of some spiritual tow truck.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that God is going to bless you with a beautiful new Ferrari. And I’m not saying that Christians never have hard times or that we never deal with issues like depression or anxiety.  What I am saying is that our identity is not found in those things.

Too many Christians put a heavy emphasis on their sin while ignoring the righteousness that is theirs in Christ. An emphasis on personal sin is a good thing. It’s a necessary thing if you care to keep in step with the Holy Spirit. But it’s incomplete if it does not lead us to see our new identity in Christ.

Yes, Christian, you were a wretch. You were an enemy of God.

And yes, your struggle against sin is still very real.

But please do not forget that great exchange that took place by God’s grace. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, when God looks at you, he sees the perfect righteousness of his perfect Son (2 Corinthians 5:21).

You are no longer an orphan.

You are no longer an enemy of God.

You have been given eternal life.

You have been given hope and joy in this life.

And here’s the thing about God’s gifts. They are meant to be used. So ditch the flat bed truck and take your gift for a spin.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (ESV)

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Fear And Great Joy: A Resurrection Meditation

So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Matthew 28:8 (ESV)

It’s a strange mixture. We don’t usually hear about people being afraid and joyful at the same time. It’s always one or the other. Either someone is afraid or they are happy. It never seems to be both.

But this was different. This was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nothing like it had ever happened before. Nothing would ever be the same again.

The women who had followed Jesus were afraid because this was all new to them. They had seen God’s power before but never like this. This was more than feeding the five thousand and turning water into wine. This was the defeat of death, once and for all. When you come face to face with whatever it is that’s scary enough to beat something as scary as death itself, fear seems to be the natural emotion.

But it wasn’t the only emotion.

There was joy as well. There was joy because separation was gone. There was joy because the cross was not the end. There was good news to tell and these women were overjoyed because they were the ones chosen by God to deliver it. The angel of the Lord could have gone straight to Peter and John and the boys. Instead, he appeared to Mary Magdalene, a woman who had once been possessed by seven demons, and another lady who Matthew affectionately refers to as, “the other Mary.” None of that mattered. The body that they had come to visit was not there. It had not been stolen. It got up under it’s own power.

That’s a scary thing.

But it’s also a joyous thing.

That strange combination of fear and joy is still with us today. We often find ourselves afraid because things are not as they should be. We live under the curse of Adam’s sin.

That’s a scary thing.

But Jesus came to undo the curse, take it from us and put it on himself. When we consider our sins in relation to the holiness of God, things definitely are not as they should be.

That’s a joyous thing.

 

From the perspective of the religious elites of the day, the cross should have been the end of our faith. Instead, it is the source of our hope.

If you were hearing this story for the first time, you would think that some of Jesus’ last words would be, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Instead, just a few days later, the women who heard him utter that frightening sentence would hear him say, “Do not be afraid.”

In this world, there are a million reasons to be afraid. When you think about it, there is only one reason not to be.

Jesus is alive.

That is enough.

That is our great joy.

Thankfully Broken

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I have to preach a tough sermon this Sunday. It covers a passage from the Bible that is often overlooked. It wasn’t always that way. There was a time when preachers didn’t shy away from the topic addressed by Jesus in these verses. Sure, many of those preachers probably could have used a little more grace in their sermons on this topic but at least those sermons were preached. Today, they rarely are.

This Sunday, I’m preaching on divorce.

We preacher types love sermonizing to the choir. We speak boldly against abortion and gay marriage and we should. Once I preached a sermon against abortion and a lady came up to me afterwards to thank me for being so brave. There’s nothing brave about preaching against abortion in the Bible belt. Divorce is a different story.

More and more people in the church have been divorced. And some of those people give a lot of money to the church. It’s been said that people vote with their feet and their wallets. One good way for a pastor to get people to vote against him is to preach on divorce. It’s a sore subject for a lot of people so many pastors find it easier to skip it and carry on with preaching for the choir. People say that they like to have their toes stepped on. They really don’t.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this Sunday’s sermon. All of those thoughts have led me to one conclusion.

Thankfulness.

I’m thankful that I grew up in what society often refers to as a broken home.

I’m thankful that I had to battle with the pain and bitterness that often become permanent residents in those broken homes.

I’m thankful that I routinely saw my mother crying about bills that she wasn’t able to pay.

I’m thankful for those occasional weekend trips to visit my dad.

I’m thankful for a mother who, when she talked about my dad, preferred funny stories from their dating days rather than ones that would fuel bitterness and rage.

I’m thankful for a dad who, when I was an adult, drove me to the side of a middle Georgia road, looked me directly in the eye and told me that he was sorry for the way that I had to grow up.

And I’m thankful for a Heavenly Father who worked in my heart in such a way that I was able to gladly give genuine forgiveness.

I wasn’t always thankful for those things. I spent a significant portion of my life resenting they way that I grew up. But something happened. When I started preaching and counseling and talking to people who have been ravaged by divorce, I noticed something. I wasn’t just sharing information from some book some guy wrote. I wasn’t just giving the Baptist talking points. I was saying what the Bible had to say but I was doing it as someone who had been there. I was like the coach who knew what it was like to play the game.

My mother used to talk about feeling like everyone in the church was staring her down because she was one of the few people who had been divorced. I think about that whenever I preach on divorce. I probably wouldn’t if I grew up in a perfect family situation.

The experiences of my childhood taught me that not everyone who is divorced wanted the divorce. It’s likely that the single mom in your church did everything she could to keep her marriage together and probably lives more fervently for Jesus than you do. There’s a good chance that the single dad who only gets to see his kids every other weekend made tremendous sacrifices to keep his family together. In the realest of senses, his divorce nearly came over his dead body.

God is in the business of bringing beauty out of broken situations and people. Most artists use a perfect blank canvas for their masterpieces. God often uses our brokenness as the canvas for his perfect masterpiece.

Paul wrote it like this.

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout he whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. Philippians 1:12-13 (ESV)

In case you missed it, Paul wrote those words while he was under arrest for the terrible crime of preaching the gospel. I like to think of this as gospel math. Our pain plus God’s redeeming power equals the advance of the gospel.

Unless we have bitter and unforgiving hearts.

There would be no gospel advance through Paul if he had allowed bitterness toward his captors to derail his mission. And there would be no gospel advance through me if I would have allowed bitterness to keep me from forgiving my dad that day on the side of the road.

Forgiveness is supernatural.

Without the supernatural grace of God, none of us would be forgiven for our great sins against him. And without the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, none of us would ever forgive those who have sinned against us.

You may not know divorce like I do. But you do know brokenness. Do not allow that brokenness to morph into bitterness. Instead, trust your heart to God so that he can do the supernatural work that only he can do of protecting your heart from hardness. And trust your future to God. Only he can do the supernatural work of turning your pain into a vehicle that advances the gospel.

As I write this, I am beginning the preparation for a really tough sermon that I have to preach this Sunday.

In reality, the preparation for this sermon began many years ago.

And I couldn’t be more thankful.

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Don’t Waste Your Sermon

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He told me that the church service was a complete failure. His words crushed me. But after hearing his complaint, I had to agree. I think that’s why his words still weigh so heavy on me, several days later.

The man wasn’t talking about the church where I pastor. It was another church, in another town. The man’s family had been through a lot of adversity in recent months. It was more adversity than most of us could could ever imagine. Now, just as things were starting to settle down, it was time for my friend’s son to move away to college. The whole family loaded up and made a weekend event out of it. They wrapped it all up on Sunday morning by going to a church that I had recommended.

I’m somewhat familiar with this church. I’ve visited it several times. I knew that it would be a good place for a young college student to get plugged in. That’s something that I desperately want for students who are leaving our church for college. This family, perhaps more than anyone I’ve ever known, needed to hear an encouraging word from the Bible.

Instead, they got an infomercial.

When my friend gave me his assessment of the service he said, “The preacher never cracked open the Bible one time and all he did was ask for money and try to sell stuff.”

Pastor, you have one job to which all of your other ministerial responsibilities take a back seat. Preach the word. But sometimes we get too distracted to obey that simple command. We get distracted with buildings and budgets and chasing relevance.

And the sermon moves to the backseat.

Or into the trunk, bound and gagged.

And the people suffer.

I recently met a man whose daughter had just been killed. I’ve been thinking a lot about him and how the church that I pastor can reach out to him. To the best of my knowledge, he’s not connected to a church. I have no reason to believe that he is a Christian. I hope that he shows up to our church one Sunday. Or another church for that matter.

But when he does, I pray that he is not met with a sermon about how everyone needs to start giving more so that we can build our new building. I hope that he does not encounter a sermon about financial blessings or taking your sex life to the next level. I hope that he hears the gospel of joy and peace and reconciliation that comes through the forgiveness of sins by Jesus Christ.

More and more, I’m starting to wonder if I’m setting my hopes too high. After all, new gymnasiums don’t pay for themselves.

A mentor once told me that there is a broken heart on every pew. It grieves me to think about all of the pain that is in our churches. But it grieves me even more when I hear stories about the supposed remedies many of those churches are distributing (or selling) to those broken hearts.

You might have a great music scene at your church.

Your church might have a really swell building.

And your church might be the home of a few celebrities.

But if the Bible is never opened to show hurting people and sinners the living hope that is available only through Christ Jesus, it’s not a church that you have. What you have is a civic organization.

Hurting people do not need a civic organization.

Ultimately, the do not need a slickly produced concert.

And they could not possibly care less about your new building.

What they need is to be reminded that there is a just and holy God who, by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, we get to call Father.

And pastor, if they don’t hear that from you, who are they going to hear it from?

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? Romans 10:14 (ESV)

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Encouragement For A Bad Day

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The brother of Jesus says it best.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. James 1:2-3 (ESV)

A Trump or Clinton presidency could happen. And it could mean that Christians, and a lot of other Americans for that matter, will face trials of various kinds.

More abortions.

More taxes.

More injustice.

More unconstitutional wars.

Less religious liberty.

While we should do all that we can to fight against these things, we must not lose hope, even if we lose a few of the culture battles. That’s what separates Christians from everyone else. When someone who is not a follower of Christ faces a trial, it usually results in anger, despair, apathy, self-centeredness or some combination of the four.

Not so for the Christian. James tells us to respond to trials with joy. Now that doesn’t mean that we have to laugh when President Hillary decides to give a few million dollars more to Planned Parenthood or President Trump starts a war in our streets or the doctor tells you that there is something terrible wrong with your body and he needs to operate to figure out what it is. What it does mean is that we have to remember that suffering for the Christian is a sign that Jesus is working on us.

Have you ever seen a kid who had an easy childhood? You know, the type of kid who never had to have a job, never had to take out the trash and never had a bedtime. For the most part, those kids are miserable. And when they grow up, well, they’re still kids.

Some of the happiest people I know had extremely difficult childhoods. Some of the hardest laughers I know are also the hardest workers. Resistance leads to growth. It’s true in the weight room, in the voting booth and in the hospital room. Nothing worthwhile is shaped in comfort. Completed masterpieces got the way they are through a lot of cutting, molding, burning and pressing.

You are no different.

When the TV preachers promise you a life of absolute comfort and no suffering, what they are really selling you is a life without maturity. That’s because maturity doesn’t happen without heartache and suffering.

So maybe things aren’t looking so hot for our country. Or maybe your trials of various kinds have nothing to do with presidents and more to do with your own broken body or a broken marriage or a child who just can’t seem to get it together.

Count it all joy.

Not because your suffering isn’t as bad as you think it is. James isn’t telling us to look on the bright side. What he’s telling us to do is to look to our Father. He’s telling us to look to the future.

Christian, whatever trials you are facing are evidence that God is working on you. He’s not done with you yet. He is growing you. He is making you stronger. And he will see you through to the end.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12 (ESV)

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

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It was one of my last nights on my college campus. We weren’t celebrating by getting drunk at some party. We were much more sophisticated.

One of my friends knew how to turn the lights on at the little league baseball fields in town. So at 11:00 at night, I played football with my college buddies on a little league baseball field. Early on in the game something hit me. This was probably the last time that I would ever do something like this.

College kids are supposed to sneak onto baseball fields late at night and play football. But once you graduate, the rules all change. There are real jobs to get up early for. There are bills to pay. I thought about all of those things that night while I dove for passes in the wet grass. This is it. When the sun comes up tomorrow, it’s time to be a grown up.

After that thought, I made it a point to have the most fun I ever had playing football with my friends. That night, I did.

I realized early on that I couldn’t go back. If I really wanted to do the impossible and make the moment last, I had to enjoy the moment while it lasted.

Two decades have passed since then but I’ve learned to live with the same philosophy. There is no pause button. The rewind button is a myth. If you spend all of your time wishing for what was, you’ll miss what is.

There’s not going to be another Wednesday, January 6, 2016. This is the last one. So make it count.

Hug your wife a little harder.

Laugh with your kids a little longer.

Time is a strange and scary thing. It goes by so quickly while simultaneously moving ever so slowly. It’s easy to get fooled by this. We mark our calendars for the start of another weekend. We wish the years away until our kids are able to drive themselves to practice. We long for them to graduate and move out of the house. And then get married. And then get us some grandkids. And then, hopefully, come back to that same house to visit us.

It’s a vicious, ugly cycle.

But there is a better way.

Enjoy the moment. There will be other moments but this one will never happen again. Make it count.

Christmas break is over for most of the country. Kids are finally back in school. Many parents talk about this like a herd of lepers is finally leaving the house. They’re actually glad to not have their own small children around so much. This is tragic.

One day, you will look back on Wednesday, January 6, 2016. You might remember it as just another day or it could be one of your favorite memories. Not because something remarkable happened.

But just because you took the time to enjoy the little moments rather than wishing them away in hopes of some better, more fulfilling milestone.

This is the only Wednesday, January 6, 2016 you’ll ever get.

Make it count.

Enjoy the moment.

[7] Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. [8] Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.  [9] Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain(1) life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. [10] Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might,(2) for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 (ESV)

 

Parents, Your Mission Matters

The mission matters. The mission can be something like making sure that your kids get a good education. It involves the hard work of shaping them into adults who produce, serve and lead. It’s doing your best to keep them away from the worst possible things. It’s trying to be a good parent.

The mission matters.

The mission is good.

But like most good things that really matter, the mission can rob us. It can dominate us. If we’re not careful, the mission can be like a finish line that someone keeps moving further away from us. And if we do ever manage to reach it, it never ends up being worth all of the work. That’s because there is something that matters just as much as the mission.

The moment.

The mission is big. People make movies and write books about the mission. The moment is mundane. You may even think that the moment is insignificant. Like the stop for an ice cream after practice. Or the no agenda Saturdays spent together has a family with nowhere to go and no one to see. Sometimes the moments even frustrate us. Like the milk on the new carpet. Or the nightmare that wakes your kid up 45 minutes before you were supposed to wake up.

Moments matter more than you think they do. Twenty years from now, your kid might remember your mission as a parent. He will definitely remember the moments along the way.

There is no mission without the moments.

On Monday night, my wife baked a cake while I cooked burgers on the grill. There was nothing special about our meal. No one was celebrating a birthday or coming home from college. It was just another Monday night. After the burgers were eaten, my wife asked me a strange question.

“Do you want to make the cake an unbirthday cake?”

I wasn’t too sure what an unbirthday cake was but I said okay. My wife put a candle in the middle of the cake and I lit it. We called the kids in and we sang Happy Unbirthday to each other. Our kids looked at us like we had lost our minds. And then we all laughed. And ate cake.

On Monday night, we had a moment. It was a moment that didn’t seem like much at the time. But it was a moment that our kids aren’t likely to forget, even after their mom and dad really do start to lose their minds. And it was a moment that I would’ve missed if I would have skipped dinner because I was working late to earn extra money to get my kids a good education.

The mission matters. In fact, there probably aren’t enough parents who have a mission that goes beyond getting the kids out of the house before someone has an untimely pregnancy.

But the mission is meaningless if we’re not paying attention to the moments. The mission amounts to nothing if we’re not slowing down to create our own moments. The mission is a failure if we’re not turning those stressful moments of parenting into lessons for us and our kids.

Every night I pray for God to protect my sons.

I pray for him to shape them into real men.

And I thank God for that day’s moments.

Because it’s in those tiny snapshots that our kids are being shaped. It’s there that, if we slow down enough, we will see the work of God.

Parents, your mission matters.

But not without the moments.

God Made My Son Cry

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It wasn’t the kind of question I expected from my seven-year-old son. It’s one of those questions that doesn’t have an easy answer. It’s the reason why I take time every morning to ask God to give me wisdom.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

My son saw that question written in a book. The look on his face as he asked the question told me that this wasn’t one of those questions kids ask before bedtime just to kill time so that they can tell their friends at school that they got to stay up late last night. This was a legitimate concern for him.

I could have answered his question in a lot of ways.

I could have pretended that bad things don’t really happen to good people and told him that only drug dealers get murdered. The problem with this is that it’s wrong. His own limited experience tells him that it’s wrong. Worst of all, it leaves us with a very small view of God.

I could have told him that there are no good people. That we all deserve bad things. And I would have been right. Absolutely right. But, with this being right before bed and all, I thought that kind of a response would have been a bit much for my seven-year-old.

“Dad, why do bad things happen to good people?”

“There are no good people. You deserve hell! Now go to bed.”

I scrambled for the best response. While he waited, he pulled his knees under his chin. I noticed the large scrape on his left knee that he got when he fell down while running last week.

I told him about how much tougher he’s getting. How when he was younger he would cry when we put medicine on a cut like that. Things are different now. When we treated this cut, he took it like a man. Sometimes God sends tough things our way to make us stronger by relying on him more.

There are other times when God uses difficulties to remind us of how loved we are. My son’s skinned knee was a painful reminder that he belongs to a family that loves him. He has a mom and dad who care enough for him to give him medicine and bandages. He has a brother who holds his hand while those wounds get treated. Sometimes bad things are the best reminders of the loving people around you and the God who loves you.

Tears formed in my son’s eyes.

I worried if maybe I said something wrong. Maybe this was too much for him right before bed at the end of a long day.

It was then that he told me that his tears weren’t the kind you have when you are sad. He told me that these were happy tears. The kind of tears you have when you start to see that God is in total control and loves you very much. The tears that come with the realization that, although this world is a scary place, God keeps his people secure.

We all have our share of scrapes and bruises. Some are worse than others. Some go away while some hang around for the rest of our lives. And no one’s eyes are dry. We are all too familiar with the tears that come from pain.

But Jesus helps us to have joy anyway. Only he can turn our sad tears into tears of joy while we wait for him to wipe away all of the pain in the world.

I don’t know the specifics of why bad things happen to us. Most of the time, none of us do. But I’m glad that God made my son cry. Last week’s tears of pain eventually turned to this week’s tears of joy. They both worked together to help my son to see that, through the difficulties and struggles of life, God is working for the good of his people.

Some things are seen most clearly through the blur of teary eyes.

Something To Remember For Mother’s Day

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“Who is the oldest mom here this morning?”

That was the question that got things kicked off at the Mother’s Day service. The speaker found the oldest mother through a process of elimination. Every mom had to stand up. Then, the mothers under the age of 60 had to sit down. Next, the ones under the age of 70. This kept going until one woman was left standing. She was 165 years old. Or maybe it was 83. I can’t remember.

There were more questions.

“Who has the most kids?”

“And what about the youngest mother here this morning?”

I was just a kid but even I could see the potential for disaster in that particular question.

In reality, each of those questions came with their own measure of pain. While men carried roses to the woman with the most kids, there was a family grieving the loss of their mother. As people clapped for the youngest mother, there was a woman twice her age who quietly wondered if she would ever have kids.

One of my mentors told me once to remember that there is a broken heart on every pew. When he told me that, I knew what he was talking about. I thought back to that Mother’s Day service from my childhood. Once I finally became a pastor, I had an even better grasp of the broken hearts of which he spoke. Most of them belong to women who, whether because of infertility or the loss of a child, find Mother’s Day to be the most difficult day of the year.

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. While we celebrate our wives and mothers, we need to remember the broken hearts in our pews who would give almost anything just to be called mom.

Being a parent is a wonderful privilege. That’s easy to forget. Sometimes a shot or two of perspective can help us.

Before you fall all to pieces when your kid wakes you up in the middle of the night because she can’t find her blanket, think about those broken hearts who don’t get that experience.

Before you post something on Facebook about how much “parenting can suck sometimes,” think about the people reading your status updates who would love to know firsthand what exactly it is you’re talking about.

This isn’t a guilt trip. Mother’s Day should be a celebration. If you still have a mom, hug her and take her out to lunch. If you have more kids than anyone in the church, you got started young or you’re the oldest mom in the church, enjoy those blessings.

But just don’t forget about the hurting hearts on your pew.

Don’t forget the ones who will stay home this Sunday because the whole routine is more than they can handle.

Most of all, don’t forget about the Son who knit us all together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139) and who will one day come back to wipe away every tear (Revelation 21).

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV)

Pornography and Climbing Trees

He didn’t look like he had any kind of a disease. If there was anything different about him it was that he was more active than other kids his age. But he was sick. It was nothing life threatening. Maybe just life altering. And every time I saw him I couldn’t help but wonder why his life didn’t seem to be that altered.

His parents told me the secret. It was all in what their son ate. If he spent several days eating junk he was likely to be bedridden for a week or so. But if he ate a healthy diet he was normal. Maybe even above normal. As the two parents were explaining this to me, their son was busy climbing a tree. Apparently he had broccoli for lunch that day.

Most parents have to fight seemingly endless dietary battles with their kids.

“Don’t eat that!”

“You’ll ruin your supper.” Whatever that means.

“That’ll kill you. Slowly and painfully. Put the Oreo down.”

Not so with this kid. At least not to the degree of most family eating battles. This kid has seen the benefits of eating right. And he has seen the consequences of straying off course. He doesn’t need a dire warning to keep him from eating 12 packs of Fun Dip in one sitting. All he has to do is remember how fun it is to climb a tree.

I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. Psalm 119:101 (ESV)

Read on its own, we might be tempted to think that this is just some verse telling us to stay away from bad things. Be good. Stop doing bad. The end.

But the Bible never works that way.

When I was a kid I hated it when my mom answered my objections to one of her commands with, “Because I said so.” I swore never to use it. Then I became a parent and got it copyrighted.

There’s no verse in the Bible where God says, “Because I said so. Just do it. The end.” Instead, his commands are always based on something.

Like his character (Deuteronomy 6:4).

His presence (Joshua 1:5).

And our ultimate joy (Philippians 4:1-9).

Before the Psalmist wrote about staying away from evil, he wrote about the pleasures and benefits or pursuing godliness. And the pursuit of godliness is never merely a list of things to avoid. Instead, it is a longing for genuine joy that resists the temptations to settle for temporary happiness.

Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. Psalm 119:97-100 (ESV)

This week I heard about a guy who has decided not to send his daughter to college because of all the sexual temptations she could encounter. So as an alternative he’s decided that she should give herself a college education on the Internet. That should work out real well. Especially since there are absolutely no sexual perversions  or temptations on the Internet.

We can’t lock our kids away from the world hoping that they don’t give in to its pressures. Those pressures always seem to creep their way through even the most secure fortresses. In fact, if we’re honest with ourselves, we would realize that the world and even Satan could leave us alone for the rest of our lives and we would still find enough trouble from within our own hearts.

That’s why we need to be reminded of something better. And we need to remind our kids that there is something better than the phony images that get passed around from one phone to another at their school.

When a kid actually sees his dad happily kiss his mom on a regular basis (Gasp!) he may make jokes about being grossed out. But, like it or not, he is being taught that God’s institution of covenantal faithfulness is so much better than a naked body on a screen.

But when he sees his mom and dad sleeping in different rooms and acting like rival soccer hoodlums those phony images suddenly look a bit more appealing.

We live in a culture that is obsessed with sex. That would be a great thing if the sex we were obsessed with was the kind that God created. But it’s not. It’s a tainted, deadly perversion of the original.

We can’t protect our kids from the toxic waste that our culture calls sex just by locking them in their rooms with a list of things not to do.

But maybe we can protect them if we show them the better way. Like how the God of the Bible is infinitely greater and more satisfying than the millions of little sex gods in our culture. And maybe then, when temptations come knocking, they’ll be like the boy who refused to settle for the temporary pleasure of a couple of dozen Fun Dips all because he knew about the greater joy of climbing a tree.