Old Cowboys and The Kingdom to Come

One more day. One. More. Day. ONE. MORE. DAY. Believe it or not, tomorrow marks the last day of 2015. It’s kind of amusing but the memory I have right now is of Y2K and the fear that Armageddon would be heralded by computers that would revert to double aught (00). How these past 15 years have flown.
When we consider the changes that have been made in our lifetimes it is easy to become astounded by the things that we have seen and the realities that we now take for granted. At times like this it is easy to become nostalgic and dream of the “good ole days.” You know, back when folks built things better, behaved better, and all in all things were “better.” I admit that I’m usually not that nostalgic so it may be easy to dismiss my thoughts here and give me a label that will allow you to send me to the proverbial corner.
But if I could just have a moment of your time I would like to ask you how that phone that weighs only a few ounces, surfs the web at lightning speeds, and stores pictures by the bushels, would look if it had been built like things were built in the 70’s, 60’s, 40’s or whatever your preferred decade is? Just a hint, you wouldn’t be holding it in your hand and if such a thing existed the heat such a device generated would make this ‘winter’ that we’re having feel like a Buffalo blizzard.
I listened to a song today that embodies much of what I am speaking of here: The Last Cowboy. Jamey Johnson pines for a time when real cowboys sang and performed on the stages across our country. John Wayne, Waylon Jennings, and the others mentioned in that song may not be your heroes or role models but we surely have our own and if we are not careful we choose an ideal that may or may not even be as ideal as we imagine it to be and we spend our time looking back.
Our prayer is not to be that we can return to a moment in history in which the world was more moral than it currently seems to be. Our prayer is to be, “Thy Kingdom Come.”
Our prayer is not to be that we choose between the ‘lesser of two evils’ when it comes to our abysmal political scene. Our prayer is to be, “On Earth as it is in Heaven.”
Our prayer is not to be that we sustain a lifestyle that most of the world cannot even begin to imagine. Our prayer is to be, “Give us this Day our Daily Bread.”
My challenge to you is if you are a believer in the One True God that you set your face towards the hills from where our help comes. If we don’t we’re just going to end up sounding like a sad country. Folks, don’t sound like a sad country song. We are made in the image of the Invisible God the One who says, “Call upon me in your day of trouble and I will hear you.”

 

And if you just like good ole sad country music click on the video and listen to Jamey

 

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Some thoughts – Coach Richt

Coach Richt

You know, I really thought I wouldn’t have much to say. To some degree I felt that I had already said all that I cared to say. Yet, somewhere in the corner of my mind, there is this unsettled feeling that I haven’t said it all – or haven’t said it as clearly as I would wish. Either way, a few more thoughts.
I have to admit that the first emotion was anger. Anger that once again a group of rich, spoiled brats were getting their way and that good, honest and decent people were suffering because of their selfish and unrestricted behavior. I helped treat my anger with some great decision making: I stayed off social media for a while and then when I did log on I spent the first 30 minutes unfollowing and unfriending. Yep, I didn’t unfriend and unfollow all but I did get rid of enough that I wasn’t prompted to respond to every ridiculous statement.
My second emotion was frustration. And then I was frustrated that I was frustrated. In fact, why was I even frustrated? Was my frustration aimed at the rich brats mentioned earlier or was it towards the folks who now found themselves missing a Facebook ‘friend’ or a Twitter ‘follower’? When it was all said and done I found that most of my frustration stemmed from the ‘us vs. them’ mentality that I had adopted and which seems to be the default attitude in western Christianity. That may have frustrated me the most.
Then, disappointment. Disappointed that we are so easily swayed by the measures of the culture that surrounds us. Disappointed that good people were hurting and disappointed that many might never have the opportunity that others have had because we JUST. CAN’T. BE. SATISFIED. Of all the emotions this is the one that hangs around longer than a sour BBQ sandwich – and stinks just as bad.
In the end, though, I find that I am hopeful. I am hopeful that all over the world that believers who operate and live publicly in front of their friends and families daily were encouraged and strengthened to press on as they saw someone in a very public position display the grace and mercy that we often speak of but find so difficult to rely upon. I am hopeful that the Spirit of God who dwells within every believer will be our source of truth. That our hope will be found in the person of Jesus Christ and his willful sacrifice on our part and the reality that you and I have a personal relationship with God will be the greatest joy in our lives. This reality will allow us face the real adversities in our lives and will make things like football to fall to the wayside of our lives.
This truth allows me to press on with the same expectation for my life as I have for Coach Richt’s life. No, I won’t be the next coach of Missouri and Miami probably won’t call, but I’m alive, God is alive and dwells within me – and greater things are yet to come.

Clearing the Temple

There are a lot of things that I’m confused about and even more things that I don’t understand or know. Having said that I do want to attempt to expound on an area that I don’t have a complete understanding on and I hope that you will show me some grace if I’m not as clear as you would like or expect me to be. In fact, to some degree, I hope to write in such a way that causes not only my unsure realities to be exposed but maybe to allow the reader to see somethings from a different perspective as well.
One of the most quoted passages is found in John 2:13-22. This is the passage in which Jesus takes a whip and drives out the animals from the court of the Temple. He then flips the tables of the money changers and proclaims that His Father’s house is not a marketplace.
If you have never studied this passage I would encourage you to give it some thought. As you do so pay attention to the setting into which Jesus entered and seek to apply it to our lives today. Let me give you some things to consider and I’ll leave it with you.
First of all, the presence of God is no longer found in a building. The “church” is not the house of God but rather it is the people of God. We know this but it is such a difficult concept to grasp – well, not really, it is just easier to trust our efforts than it is to trust God’s promises – that we constantly find ourselves confusing the to/too/two. If Christ dwelling in us is the presence of God then I believe that the courtyard of the Temple would be our own material and experiential lives.
Secondly, and for me this is where it is easy for me to miss the forest for the trees, the restriction on the presence of God is something that Jesus and God take very seriously. I say easy to miss because it is very easy to become distracted with various theories and prognostications as to what exactly was happening in the courtyard. Were the priests really charging an exorbitant rate for the exchange of money? Was the High Priest condemning the animals brought for sacrifice and demanding that the individual purchase an “approved” animal? These are all theories that I have heard taught and they may or may not be correct.
This is where I begin to veer a little of course and just want to point something out that is fairly easy to overlook. You may or may not be familiar with the fact that there were actually 4 courts the led to the Temple. This was the outermost court and anyone was able to enter and mingle in this courtyard. It was crowded; it was loud; it was obnoxious – and it offended Jesus.
It offended Jesus because the Temple was to be a place of reverence and worship and not a place to hear the calling of the herders or the clink of money being passed. Translate that to today and apply it to my life; your life. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that we are extremely consumer oriented as believers. We are for a cause, against a cause, angry with a cause, hoping for a cause and if I’m not careful my life begins to sound like an animal marketplace. Having spent a little bit of time in animal marketplaces I can assure you of one absolute truth – they stink.
I’ve got a challenge for us; can we take a little bit of time, just a little quiet time and enjoy the presence of God? Can we stop being a consumer of the newest item of rage or praise and just enjoy some quiet time alone in presence of God? I’ll close with a verse that has been a source of comfort for me many times over the last few years: Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. James 4:8a

Keep Mark Richt

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I’ve seen the posts. In fact I would say that I scroll past at least one of these every other day. We forget things fairly quickly but if we look back through our timelines we can find them soon enough. If not on our walls then we have liked them and commented on them when our friends have posted them.

Meme 1: The little boy is asking why God didn’t stop the shooting at the school and his friend replies that God isn’t allowed at the school. The theology is skewed, but we like it because it points blame at those who would prohibit God being taught as an authority in our schools.

Meme 2: This is usually two pictures with one being of a school and the other being of a jail or an inmate. The emphasis is on the fact that the Bible and prayer is allowed in prison and if it were allowed in the school this inmate may not find himself in that position. Once again the theology is a little dicey but it is more substantive than the previous meme. We like it. Once again it sticks it to “the man.”

There are certainly many more of these types of messages but I believe they convey enough information for us to draw a conclusion; many would like public prayer, and the Bible to be taught as fact in our public school systems.

This poses an interesting dilemma for some of us in the great state of Georgia. The highest paid employee in our state education system is a professing believer. This individual prays publicly, at times in the capacity of a state employee, but specifically they are known in their personal life as being someone who directly trusts God to intervene and act in their life. Personally I don’t know if this individual carries a Bible in their state-funded office but I am aware of their use of Scripture as many who interview this person write down and quote the Scriptures back for their public audience.

We have prayer in our schools! The Bible is being taught at the highest level of our education system and the State of Georgia is complicit in this teaching! The most recognizable, most quoted, and most sought after employee of the great State of Georgia; the individual who has access to the national media at any moment; the individual who can commandeer a plane to make a trip to speak to a group of business leaders or students whenever they are able; the individual who is looked at by his peers and coworkers as leading an exemplary life that challenges others to evaluate their own relationship with Christ, and we want to fire him because he can’t beat Florida.

I believe there are three possibilities here; SEC and National Championships are more important than having a committed believer in a place of power and prestige with a seeming inability to “win the big one”, we are confused as to what “ministry” really is, or we don’t know or have a firm understanding of the life changing reality of speaking to the very God of Heaven and Earth and opening Scripture and allowing the Holy Spirit to speak His truth to our lives.

I’m sure that everyone would argue that the first possibility doesn’t even belong in the discussion but that we just want a coach who is able to do their job. Check the resumes folks, and I would love a list of 10, qualified, ethical individuals that you would consider over Mark Richt. Could you come up with such a list? Sure, but unless you are just a complete college football addict I would imagine that Google would have to be your friend for a few moments. We love our football folks, we really, really, love our football.

The second possibility is there because I have heard professing believers say that Mark Richt should quit coaching and go “be a missionary or something.” When given that statement a few months ago Richt made a clear statement that he considered what he was doing a mission field. Do we? I don’t know if you have had a chance to read anything that Benjamin Watson has written over the last year or so, but take a few moments and read some of his responses to issues facing our nation and then remind yourself that Mark Richt was his college coach. I am a missionary. Yes, I am a paid staff member of a church but long before that I was called to be a missionary, and so were you. Believers discuss their favorite preachers and bloggers while unbelievers wonder at the kindness of the stranger in their lane and the grace of a coworker in a difficult situation. Let’s make one thing clear; Mark Richt is a missionary right now.

The third possibility should challenge all of us in our personal spiritual lives. I was 19 years old when I began my private war against what I refer to now as generational warfare. You know, where the old blame the young and the young mock the old, that kind of warfare. A girl a few years younger than me was checking out of a Winn Dixie with a Coke in her hand at 7:30 in the morning. She was in an obvious hurry as she was headed to school. As she walked out the door, the cashier, a woman in her 40’s made a snide remark about a generation that was drinking Coca Cola for their breakfast. As I paid for my purchase I made eye contact with the aforementioned cashier and reminded her that it was her generation that was raising this “bad” generation. I say that because whether that girl drank Coke or coffee she was still using caffeine and sugar to jump start her day. We say we want prayer in our schools but prayer is not some public performance that acknowledges God but it is the outpouring of a trust in Him and a desire to see Him intervene in our lives. Prayer made Jesus feel as if was about to die as He entrusted himself to what lay ahead. Prayer led the Apostle Paul to break out in song after being beaten and chained to a wall. Prayer empowered Stephen to ask God to show mercy on those who were in the process of killing him. And we can most certainly study the Bible as a textbook but it is so much more than that. The truth of God’s Word written in our hearts, lighting our path, and illuminating truth to others is greater than we can ever begin to imagine. I would be appreciative if my child’s teacher opened their class each day with public prayer, but I am moved to tears when I consider the teachers that my children have had and continue to have: men and women who love God, men and women who live lives of compassion and grace with their students and pour their lives into them knowing and believer that the God of miracles is still at work. There is prayer in our schools for I have seen it in the lives of the teachers who work in our public school system. The Bible is being taught in the lives of those who allow God’s Spirit to work and teach through them daily.

Now I truly must say that I hope I haven’t upset anyone too much. I’m not questioning your spirituality although some of what I said has a harsh tone. We need to be challenged, in fact I was challenged in this very area yesterday when a gentleman pointed out that my tune might change if Georgia’s record found itself further south of where it is now. He was right to challenge me and I confess that what he said bears merit. In the spirit of what he said let me issue everyone calling for his firing a challenge as well. Imagine for a moment that Richt had done as Beyoncé suggested and “put a ring on it” in the last 5 years; would you be calling for his firing after the pitiful showing of this year?

Lifting My Veil of Shame (Humor)

I must begin with a few confessions. I warn you that they will bother some of you in their scope and frankness. Others of you will be insulted by some thoughts and beliefs that I embrace. You may even be concerned that I have given myself over to faulty logic or a substandard of truth. Ride along if you dare.

Confession 1: I never drank coffee with any regularity until I reached the age of 30. At that time Christy, was working in a coffee shop and she would fix me a milkshake into which she began to surreptitiously add shots of espresso. Of course I immediately noticed this strange taste but it’s always been hard for me to tell my wife, “no.”

Confession 2: I prefer my coffee cold; iced, if you will. In fact, if I’m not drinking it in a milkshade I prefer it with chocolate and milk. Odd, I know, as the young lady at Dunkin Donuts just reminded me. Yes, I sissify my coffee, but I would bet you bananas to bees that it is better than 90% of the stuff being drank out there.

Confession 3: My taste for coffee had to be acquired over a long and arduous period. I did not relinquish my Mt Dew very willingly and would still prefer to chug down a cold can of Dew than to sip away at a chocolate-milk coffee. However, I felt that adulthood came with certain sacrifices and I was convinced that this is one that I must make.

By the confessions above I hope that you will see how much baggage I bring with me in every sip of coffee. Yes, I now sometimes drink it hot – with a generous amount of creamer. I will drink it as a latte – where no one thinks that it’s odd that I want chocolate and milk in it – by the way. I can even now say that there are times that I sincerely enjoy a great cup of coffee; milkshaked, steamed, or iced.

But I still wasn’t doing it right. I wasn’t drinking DARK roast. Yes, my friends, even after all my self-training and my struggles I learned that I should be drinking DARK roast. You see, I was told, that in order to receive the maximum benefit of coffee; see caffeine, then you must drink DARK roast. Oh the horrors. When you are drinking iced coffee with chocolate milk the DARK roast is like placing a pig from the pigpen in the middle of a bakery shop. Something needs a bath and it’s not the croissants.

I succumbed. I did it. I let the miniscule, unexperienced, pretentious, blogworthy opinion of someone else begin to shape my coffee drinking experience. For the last several years I have bought brand after brand of DARK roast coffee hoping to find one that could be drank without assaulting my senses to the point of distaste. While I have drank a lot of DARK roast coffee I am yet to find the mythical blend that would give me my desired caffeine boost, while still tasting good. More chocolate, please. More milk, please.

Then, a breakthrough. I read for myself about the effects of DARK roast. There is a lot of information for those of you who may want to check up on this but I would point you quickly to this quirky article, “11 Myths About Coffee You Need To Stop Believing Immediately” (see here)

I finished the last bag of DARK roast and I have now embarked on a much lighter, much more enjoyable experience in the world of coffee drinking. As I write this I do wonder about the experiences and tastes that I may have missed out on the way as I allowed my coffee drinking shame to dictate my outlook instead of looking and studying on my own. Oh well, I’ll just drink another cup of light roast, chocolate-milk infused coffee and move on.

This was written primarily with my humor in mind but while we’re on speaking terms I want to leave you with a verse from the aptly titled book, Hebrews. “Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him.” 11:6

Can We Function Without Celebrity Christians?

  

This certainly isn’t the first time that I have discussed or written about this topic. In fact, it’s one that has been constantly on my mind since the year 2000. I have been lambasted about this probably more than anything else, probably due to my outspokenness and inability to communicate effectively on the topic, and not necessarily due to others being as far from my beliefs as I may think they are. With that being said, if you have a moment, join me, and let’s check a few things out.  

We would probably all say that we know we are to imitate Christ, and not others. Yet we often lift up celebrity Christians as being those special people who have “arrived.” Not only are they Christians but they are successful Christians; be that a TV personality, a large pastor/leader, pro athlete, etc. The reality is that they look like they have everything that we want. Folks, if anyone has arrived it has not a thing to do with whether or not they are famous, but it is wholly dependent upon their focus on Christ; His redemptive work, His friendship, and His love so freely given. 

But, but, those celebrities have so many temptations.

I want my kids to know that you can be successful and still follow Jesus.

The world needs to see that kind of witness on that stage. 

All of the above statements have been said to me over the years when this topic has come up for discussion. Let me try to succinctly answer each one individually.

The richest man in the world has no more temptations than the poor man. If you think he does then you don’t understand some of the most basic principles of Scripture; idolatry is man’s number one sin and the building of idols is mans favorite pastime. I read an outlandish statement the other day concerning the morals of a very wealthy man “because he hadn’t done as bad as he could have.” God help us. No, a poor man can’t pay $200 a month for a website, but he can sure hang out at the Flash Foods and flirt with the cashier. There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man – 1 Cor 10:13

Concerning the second statement I don’t believe that we realize how far we are from the teachings of Jesus when we put those two statements into a parallel thought. The simple answer is that we should worry about the second half of that statement and forget about the first, but I will try to answer a little deeper than that. Success, and the Son of Man don’t belong in the same sentence. He had no where to lay His head. He was constantly about the Father’s business. Can you imagine a believer in Saudi Arabia, where it is illegal to be a Christian, trying to teach their child this principle? How could they? How can we? For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it. – Mark 8:35

Well the last statement could certainly get us into some deep theological waters so we will simply address it from some things that Jesus said as well as our own pride. I do believe that this thought stems to some degree from the idea that could do “better” if we had “more.” On more than one occasion Jesus stated that the Jews of His day wouldn’t change their beliefs even if they heard from someone who had risen from the dead. At issue is always man’s rejection of God, not God’s need for someone special to persuade men. “This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. – John 3:19

The above are some of the common excuses, but I want to push a little harder because I don’t believe many believers have given much thought to some realities of life when it comes to celebrity Christians.

In our personal lives we usually go to a great deal of trouble to keep the nitty gritty realities of our lives hidden from even our closest friends. Mad at your spouse; well, you might complain to your friends, but you probably won’t tell them about your own shortcomings. Blown money financially; well, complain about car repairs and don’t admit that you haven’t been planning your spending wisely. 

From a celebrity you are only seeing a snippet of reality and quite frankly that is just not enough for us to be investing the amount of energy and emotion that we do. Does (insert favorite here), have something brilliant to say? Do you have a friend that we would say the same thing? Invest your time and energy in that friend for it will help you far more spiritually than the words from someone whom you don’t really know. The focus on celebrity Christians puts us in an ‘Amen Corner’ where we feel justified and vindicated in our beliefs. Forget the ‘Amen Corner’ and find a group that will engage with you in discussions about the hope we have in Christ and our own selfishness which causes us to repetitively take our eyes off Him. 

Lastly, celebrities function in a totally different sphere than us and we probably don’t fully understand that truth. I have been following via Facebook and Twitter a little tit for tat over the last three months. This individual/group promotes the books/events of this other individual/group and they promote another individual/group and eventually the entire thing makes a circle. Western Christianity is a huge bu$ine$$. Huge. If I were to lose my job due to behavior on my part there is no residual income to allow me to function normally from a material-western-culture standpoint. My life would drastically change. For many of these folks that’s certainly not the case and it would behoove us to give some consideration to that fact. Sadly, this phenomenon has kept most of these celebrity Christians from speaking up about their brothers and sisters who are living a life for self – unless, of course, they fall into a different theological camp. 

I have rambled and I would like to end this with some encouragement. We like engaging. We like feeling like we belong. Unfortunately these behaviors unchecked will lead us into a dependence on man and not on Christ. Ultimately it will lead to us putting our hope in man; their teaching, their behavior, etc. So, find a good dead person or two and let their words be the words that point you to Christ. If they are dead you will probably have a pretty good idea of the realities of their lives, including their struggles, and we won’t feel so pressed to defend them and in so doing distract ourselves and others from Christ. Most importantly, look to Jesus. Look to His sacrifice on earth. Look to His love for the unlovable. Look to His compassion on the sick and wretched. Look to His trust in the Father. Look to His sacrifice for you. Not a celebrity, a Savior. 

When $500K Looks Like Half A Million Dollars

I know, I know, they’re the same; unless of course, they’re different. Maybe in the next four minutes I can explain what I mean.

My family enjoys watching HGTV and their myriad of shows on flipping, renovating, and remodeling homes. Full disclosure, I consider myself one of my family. It is always interesting to see the various looks and effects that the designer and builders bring to each home.

As I was watching another tearful reveal last week the thought that you see in the title above went through my mind. Another couple was simply floored and overwhelmed by their $500K home. The home was awesome and the change from where it began was certainly a magnificent change, but folks, they spent HALF A MILLION DOLLARS. It should look overwhelming.

Now, I know that location, location, and location, are the prime points of interest in real estate; but the reality of what something CAN look like if you spend over $100K remodeling a home is fairly substantial. I’m sure this was an emotional moment for that couple as it would be for anyone who goes through a home remodel, but let me remind you that they spent HALF A MILLION DOLLARS.

Please do not mistake the CAPS for disagreement for how they spent their money, I simply want to point out a truth that I have observed in my life – we rarely keep track of how much we really spend. Accompanying that truth is a second – if we really knew what we spent we might expect a different result. Maybe if I bring it down to a personal illustration I can bring this point home.

Last week I went through the local house of Ronald and ordered a medium Iced Mocha. Please don’t judge me, but Elliano’s was not open yet. The cost of the drink was near $3. Now those of you who know me know that I will rarely correct a wrong order if it is my personal food. However, the young lady at the house of Ronald handed me a cup that was not a medium. I started to drive away and then I thought of the $3 and knocked on the sliding window and requested the larger size that I had originally ordered. The key to this was I KNEW what I had just spent and because I KNEW what I had spent my expectations were raised.

If you’re still reading this now becomes your story. How much am I “spending” in my spiritual life? How much am I “spending” in my family’s life?

To be really honest; how much am I “spending” on my personal entertainment? How much am I “spending” on ensuring that I get what I want in the circumstances at work, church, and in my community.

While I’ve never had $500K I must confess that I have acted shocked over HALF A MILLION DOLLARS when I shouldn’t have been – as I had seen every $ leave my pocket.