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cursingWhen I was about 13 years of age, I developed a forked tongue.   At home, I spoke in a manner that was pleasing to my parents.  Outside the home, my vocabulary shrunk and 4 letter words dripped off my tongue like honey.   When I used the forbidden words at school, I thought I was cool.  After all, a lot of my friends spoke the same way.   When I was home, I was nervous that an “F-bomb” would slip out of my mouth and my cover would be blown.   As I look back, this may have been the beginning stages of me eventually living a double life.

As a teenager, I found myself living with a lot of anger – dealing with difficult life circumstances thrust upon me (my Dad’s death, my Mom’s remarriage, moving schools, etc).  I didn’t know how to process it or handle it and my anger and frustration about my situation tempted me to express it verbally with a string of expletives.   In some ways, I felt a sense of control in my decision to curse.  Whereas I could not control the chaos in my home, I could control how I spoke and enjoyed the feeling of being able to say adult words – even when I knew I shouldn’t.   But along the cursing way, something interesting happened…

As I was growing accustomed to cursing, deep down it never made sense to me.   The 4 letter words seemed unnatural coming out of my mouth.  With each word I used, I felt like I was ignoring the intelligent side of my brain.  As I looked at those who cursed around me – they never seemed like the most intelligent in the room.   Slowly, I began to equate ignorance with cursing.  I began to view those that cursed as having a limited vocabulary – and that seemed very unattractive to me – a future wordsmith.   As I cursed, I began to experience this uneasy feeling.  On one hand, I enjoyed the release of anger that the curse words seemed to help with.  On the other hand, I realized that others probably thought I had a limited vocabulary too.   Knowing I did not, this bothered me.

And then one day, I actually thought about what I was saying in the heat of the moment.  This single-handedly stopped me dead in my tracks.   In one enlightening moment, I realized just how silly most of my curse-filled sentences really were.   If you are honest, you have to admit that most of the curse words/phrases that are used are completely nonsensical.   Only when you stop and actually hear what is being said, do you begin to realize just how foolish it sounds, not just to your own ears but undoubtedly to others who are listening.

Here are a few I heard just recently.   Out of respect for others, I will “BLEEP” out the curse word.   You get the idea…

  • “That tastes like (BLEEP)!” 
  • “She’s cool as (BLEEP)”  
  • “What the (BLEEP) is he doing?”
  • “What a (BLEEPING) idiot!”
  • God’s name in vain.   (Can someone explain to me why we do this?   Why is God’s name “damned” while Satan, Allah, or Buddha never get cursed out?  Why in the world do we blame God for traffic jams, stubbed toes, missed flights, and bad news?  Even if it was His “fault,” does trashing His name {one of the 10 commandments, mind you} suddenly warm His heart to motivate His help towards our situation?)

I have been on both ends of the foul language spectrum.  I have heard (and given) all the arguments for why cursing is acceptable/necessary, etc.   “Sometimes,” the argument goes, “a curse word is the only thing that can adequately express how you are feeling in that instance.”   While I understand the sentiment behind that statement, I disagree with it wholeheartedly.   It may be your current choice of emotional release but to say it is the ONLY way to communicate in that setting is a cop-out.   When we are upset, frustrated or angry – we tend to justify (in our head) all kinds of actions (smoking, over-eating, physical violence, porn, drinking, gambling, verbal abuse, etc.).   Just because that is how we normally handle our stress does not mean it’s the ONLY way to handle it.   As a recovering curse-aholic – I have come to realize there is a better way.

One of the original purposes of this blog is to provoke thought.  From it’s inception, it has certainly done that as I have received a fair share of criticism for the various opinions I have expressed.   This particular post will be no different as I am knowingly stepping on many people’s idol and common practice.   Even so, I want to leave you with a thought-provoking list of 7 reasons why you shouldn’t be cursing, regardless of who you are or what’s going on around you.

  1. Cursing is inappropriate and offensive.   Granted, not everyone in earshot will find it offensive but across the board – it offends more people than it does not.   For this reason, we tend to find ourselves only cursing in certain environments and around certain people.   How we speak around children, the elderly and authority normally reveals what we think is most appropriate.   Most people will refuse to curse around those three people groups, thus proving my point – cursing is generally inappropriate and offensive.
  2. Cursing is a bad example.   We know this.   This is why we often will change our language around those younger or more impressionable than us.  Deep down, we recognize that what we are doing (or saying) is not “good” and we don’t want to be the one to teach a younger set of ears a certain word/phrase or vocabulary.
  3. Cursing degrades & disrespects your audience.   Words are like toothpaste, once they are out of the “tube,” you can never take them back.   Negative words have the power to really destroy someone’s morale, esteem & confidence.  Since cursing normally occurs during a time of extreme frustration or anger, this is why we like to use them.  It is our way of not only releasing our pent up anger, but we can hurt our intended target much quicker with a few choice words.   But consider what happens in the process when you choose to curse at someone.   The reason you are tempted to curse is usually because they hurt or frustrated you with something they said or did.   Intentionally or unintentionally, their hurtful words or actions created in you a desire to hurt back.  Unfortunately, this is human nature: hurt people hurt people.   Even if what they did/said was intentional, how does retaliating with negative words help the situation or the relationship?  It merely exasperates the situation, complicates the solution and further alienates the relationship.   Instead of choosing to take the harder moral high road, you become just like them – even if your choice of weapon is a bit different.
  4. Cursing points to a diminished intelligence.   Although I know I will receive criticism on this point, hear me out.   Granted, there are many highly intelligent people that curse.  Perhaps this particular point does not apply to you.  However, may I suggest that when we curse we temporarily suspend our intellectual acumen when we use language that reflects a lack of education, vocabulary or intelligence?  Your choice of vulgar words normally points to a diminished intelligence, verbal laziness or darker heart – none of which are very flattering for the intelligent being you think you are.
  5. Cursing is a spiritual barometer.   Jesus made this clear when He said, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”  (Luke 6:45)  In other words, the words we say are drawn from the well of our heart.   Loving words come from a loving heart.  Angry words come from an angry heart.   Impatient words come from an impatient heart.  Nothing reveals what’s going on in our hearts more accurately and consistently than by listening to what is coming out of our mouths.  So, take your spiritual temperature.   What comes out of your mouth most days?   Encouragement?   Love?   Patience?   Praise?   Or is it merely cursing, complaints, crude conversation, etc?   James, the brother of Jesus, said it best, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.  Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?  My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” (James 3:9-12)
  6. Cursing enflames conversations.   Throwing water on a fire puts the flames out.  Throwing gasoline on a flame merely creates more heat.   Cursing is the gasoline of conversation.   As Solomon once penned, “A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)   Talking through opposing opinions is hard enough with kind language.  Why add unnecessary fuelant when water is needed?
  7. Cursing is unnecessary.  Only the proponents of cursing will argue with this point.   What value does cursing bring to any conversation?   There are plenty of words in the English language (or any language for that matter) to express your current level of frustration or anger.  You don’t HAVE TO use the words in the bottom of the vocabulary barrel to communicate your point.

The Bible refers to the tongue as a “restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8)  For many, a loose tongue is the epicenter of ruined relationships.   The Greek sage, Publius, once said, “I have often regretted my speech, never my silence.”   How many of us can echo that sentiment?  In the book that bares his name, James warns us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (1:19).  Perhaps we were given two ears and one mouth for a reason.

If you struggle with keeping your tongue in check, remember that language flows from the well of your heart.  Work on your well and begin filling it with better water.   You may have to stop listening to certain music or watching certain shows.  You may have to stop reading certain books or spending time with certain people.  Do whatever it takes to improve your well as you are not the only one who drinks from it.   And consciously change your vocabulary.  Decide now what words you will say when you are triggered to curse.  Instead of using a bad phrase, replace it with a good one.   As unnatural and stupid as it might feel in the beginning, the results are worth the effort.

As many of you know, I used to travel in some pretty judgmental circles.   I used to dwell around “perfect” people.   I was perched atop a pretty high pedestal at one point in my life.  Over time, I became a full-fledged hypocrite and a pretty good Pharisee.   Even though cursing was listed on my moral rap sheet, in typical hypocritical fashion I looked down upon those who cursed.  And then my “perfect” world came crashing down and I was forced to look at my sinful face in a holy mirror.   I realized that I am just a sinful person who happens to struggle like every other person on this planet.  My struggle might be “X” while yours may be “Y” but it doesn’t make one struggle or person better than another.  We all have our struggles and thankfully cursing isn’t my struggle anymore.   It doesn’t have to be yours either.

On a windswept hill in an English country churchyard stands a drab, gray slate tombstone.  The quaint stone bears a sad, yet powerful epitaph.  The faint etchings read:

  • Beneath this stone, a lump of clay,
  • Lies Arabella Young,
  • Who on the twenty-fourth of May,
  • Began to hold her tongue.

Don’t wait for the grave to tame your tongue.  The consequences of loose lips has a price tag you don’t really want to pay.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)

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Law to the proud, Grace to the humble

Rod with his players during a time out.
Rod with his players during a time out.

Last year I had the privilege of coaching a girl’s volleyball team for a local high school.  Like most coaches, I love my team but sometimes struggle with the various personalities and abilities represented.  Some of the nicer girls can’t hit a ball to save their life.  A few of the attitude problems seem to also be my better players.  Obviously there are those who maintain a great balance between ability and pleasantness.  As a coach, you are wired to win.  However, you also attempt to teach sportsmanship and emphasize the importance of positive attitudes and teamwork, regardless of score.   attitude quote

One night during a frustrating match, I had an attitudinal “coup d’etat.”  One player refused to give me eye contact when speaking to her,  blatant disrespect.  Another player rolled her eyes when given instructions.  Another athlete responded to me “curtly,” obviously frustrated by her lack of performance.  Another one sat sullen on the bench after realizing she wasn’t going to play that much.   The reason she was on the bench?  Her sullen attitude.  The girl who could barely do anything on the court immediately found herself in the game.  The “gifted” girls sat on the bench stunned by this move.

How do you handle such behaviors?  How do you know when someone deserves the law or whether they need to be shown some grace?  If you are too soft, the team won’t respect you.  If you are too hard on them, you could crush their spirits.  What if you yell at the girl who needed a pat on the back?   What if you pat on the back the one who is stabbing yours?   These questions don’t just plague coaches, but parents, teachers, employers, etc.  How do you know when to be lenient or just “throw the book” at them?   Believe it or not, there is a 2,000 year old principle that gives us insight on this question.

It’s best illustrated in the lives of two different people, each possessing two different hearts.   One is a man, the other a woman.   One looks great on the outside, seems to have everything we all want in life.   The other can’t look any worse, at the lowest point in life, on the verge of being executed.   One struts in pride.  The other is drenched in humility.  Both represent mankind.   We are either like the man or we are like the woman.   Which one represents you?

Meet the woman (John 8:1-11):  It’s bad enough to be having sex with someone you shouldn’t be.  It’s even worse when you are caught in the very act and drug into the public square about it.   That’s where we meet this woman.  Clothes barely on.   Hair all messed up.  Tears streaming down her face.  Sitting alone, in the open square with judgment and shame all around her.  Her sins are listed on a billboard on Main Street.  Her dirtiest secret is now front page news.  In her case, her sins are not only immoral but illegal.  According to Jewish law, sleeping with someone you shouldn’t be was punishable by death – death by stoning.  With rocks in their hands, the men surrounding her were more than happy to execute.

They bring her to Jesus, clearly setting a trap for Him.  She is the bait.  They want His opinion on how to handle such a sinner.  It is obvious by her crime that she deserves the law.  If He agrees, she will be dead in about 45 seconds.  If He says to show grace, He will be violating Jewish law – the very Law handed to the Jews by His Father and the very law He has claimed to fulfill.

Meet the man (Mark 10:17-27):  Rich, young, powerful.   Isn’t that what we all want?  Who doesn’t want to be rich?  Who doesn’t want to be young (again)?   Who doesn’t want to be in charge?   Yet, in spite of being in possession of all three of those desired traits, this man still knew he was missing something.  And oddly, he knew that a poor, homeless, carpenter from Nazareth had his answer.

Good Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to get eternal life?”   (In other words, how do I get to heaven?)

The question is cloaked in pride.  By outward appearances, he looked good and he wanted to look even better.   The common view in 1st century Jerusalem was that the rich were blessed by God.  Naturally, this guy would be in Heaven.  His life is too blessed (materially) not to be.   21 centuries later, our views have barely changed.

When the rich, young ruler asked Jesus his now famous question, he was not expecting Jesus’ answer.  Of course, that is typical God.  He never answers our questions the way He’s supposed to.  He spent His entire life on earth turning our logic on its head.  His faith often baffles our reason.  Every word He uttered was contradictory to His culture.  As the prophet Isaiah reminds us, “His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts.” (55:10)   This is clearly the case here.   The man had earned salvation.  If anyone was getting to Heaven because of their good deeds, this man was it.   At least, that’s what he thought before Jesus opened His mouth.

It’s a fair question and one we still ask today.  In other words, what spiritual coins do I have to put into the cosmic vending machine to get the spiritual goods?   Live a good life?  Be more good than bad?  Don’t kill people?  Don’t rob banks?  Don’t commit adultery?  Just obey the 10 commandments, right?   As long as I follow those rules, I’m in?

In the case of the woman, her deeds clearly earned her a spot in hell.   I mean, next to murder, adultery is #2 on the sin list.  In the case of the man, his deeds clearly earned him a spot in heaven.   He is a pillar of the community.  And they both stand in front of a Holy Christ – certain to confirm what their hearts already told them.   Their deeds are recorded.  A human court would agree.  The divine courtroom awaits the Judge’s verdict.

Notice how Jesus addresses each one individually.  Notice how each one receives something completely unexpected.   Why?   Why would He give the law to one and grace to the other?   Why not give the law to both or grace to both?   The answer is found in the heart of each person.   Herein lies the 2,000 year old principle:

Law to the proud.  Grace to the humble.

Jesus takes the man to the only place you can take a proud heart.   Directly to the Law.   To him He says, “You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.”

The man, in his pride, was quick to say he obeyed them all.  Pride often does that – blinds us from our faults. It obscures our inadequacies.  Makes us think we are better than we are.   It prevents us from seeing ourselves as God sees us.  We obey the verses we want to obey and think we are fine. We keep the law physically and assume we’ve kept the law morally.

It’s true, he had never killed anyone.  He probably didn’t sleep with anyone’s wife.  He had no reason to steal.  He most likely visited his parents weekly.   Man always focuses on behavior.  God always looks at the heart.   And when a heart is filled with pride, the only thing that can break it is the law.

By contrast, the woman knew she was sinful.  If her deeds didn’t remind her daily, her reputation did.  And she was caught in the very act of adultery – sex with someone else’s husband.  There is no hiding such exposure.   There was no where for her to go.  Caught and in custody, she had no reason to assume that she would ever be free.  If the stones didn’t kill her, shame certainly would.   Humiliated beyond repair.  Humbled beyond hope.  Only a miracle would save her now and that, she would learn, is all she needed.

So, on a volleyball court in Columbia, SC – as I watched my team of 12 struggle during one of our games, my mind flashed back to this 2,000 year old principle.  How do I address these girls?  How do I know who needs to be benched?  How do I know who should be on the court?   And it hit me.   Their heart.  “Let their heart guide you.”    And so it did.

The rich young rulers were benched.   The girls who were humble and respectful finally saw playing time.   Ability, talent & performance, for this moment, were secondary to what was really needed – heart.    Hubris may win a few more games, but heart makes a better team.   Ask any coach.

So, next time you are at home and dealing with children… or at work and dealing with employees… or on the court and dealing with players… look at the heart.   Think about the principle.

2,000 years may have gone by but the human heart is still the same.   Some of us are Pharisees and some of us are prostitutes.   Some need the law to change.  Others need some grace.  And though our habits do matter to God, He’s really interested in our hearts.   And He’ll bench you all day long if it will help make your heart more like His.

Law to the proud.  Grace to the humble.

What’s in your heart?

God opposes the proud

 

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I fought the law and the law won

handcuffed handsAs they were putting handcuffs on me, I had a flashback of a chorus of an old song playing in my head:

“I fought the law and the law won. 

I fought the law and the law won.”

Like catching a case of the giggles in a funeral, I found myself smirking at the remembrance of this song – though I was not at all happy about the circumstances or the reason I was being “locked up.”

Growing up, I had a record player in my room.  As best as I can remember it, I only owned 2 records myself; one of a Bill Cosby routine and the other was Bob Newhart – both delivering hilarious deadpan comedic genius.   I listened to both of them repeatedly for years.  When those two were not spinning in my room, I would borrow some LP’s from my step-dad’s collection.   One favorite from the Bobby Fuller Four was called, “I fought the law and the law won.”   The lyrics, “I needed money because I had none” and “robbing people with a six gun” lead the listener to assume the nature of the “fight” with the law.

In August 2013, I had my own “fight” with the law.  Needless to say, my “fight” was a bit different than the one in the song.   I wish I could tell you I was a fighting a speeding ticket or that I appeared before a judge because of a parking violation.   No, my “crime” was a bit more serious.   And no, it did not involve “robbing people with a six-gun.”

Unfortunately, my “fight” with the law had to do with child support.   Like most divorced Dads, I am required (by law) to pay this each month.  However, instead of my child support amount being determined by my income, I was required to pay (at that time) a flat amount regardless of how much money I made.  (For the record, I foolishly agreed to this arrangement while unemployed unaware of how difficult finding a salaried position would be in a struggling economy)  The amount I owed, by anyone’s standard, was high – particularly in relation to my income at the time.   To make matters worse, I really struggled to find consistent employment and employment that paid consistently.   I sent my resume to hundreds of companies (literally) and found that the only companies that would pay the professional income I needed were the commission-only sales jobs.  As those who share a similar compensation can attest, commission-only sales can be “feast or famine.”  Some months you make quota, some months you don’t.   Given the economy in 2013, it was mostly famine.  Many months I was unable to pay rent, and barely able to put gasoline in my car or keep my electric on.   It was that bad.   It’s not that I didn’t want to pay my child support – I literally couldn’t and still survive.  The months I had the money, I paid.   As the saying goes, “you can’t get blood from a stone.”

So August of that year, I found myself back in court – as a Defendant, trying to explain to a family court judge as to why I was behind (yet again) on the child support.   Though there were many factors that attributed to my inconsistent track record, I tried to merely explain what caused the most recent infraction.  Not being able to afford a lawyer, I reluctantly represented myself and was given only a few minutes to plead my case.   In my possession, I had proof of employment, proof of why I was not able to pay child support that month (I lost an unprecedented 5 sales in one month thus causing a significant chargeback of commission) and proof of incoming income.  The judge was not interested in seeing any documentation. My request to approach the bench with this information was denied.  Shockingly, he then turned to the Plaintiff and asked for her suggestion on how to handle this situation.   Her suggestion was crystal clear… I should be sent to jail.   Apparently there I would “learn my lesson.”

Within seconds, the judge declared his verdict, grabbed the gavel and slammed it on the mahogany wood “bench.”   I was to be sentenced to six months in the local county jail.   Needless to say, I stood there a bit stunned.  All I kept thinking was, “How is this in the best interest of my children?  How does me being in jail get them the money they need?”   Within 30 seconds I was in custody and whisked away by the courtroom bailiff.

Once I was out of the courtroom, I immediately surrendered my personal belongings and three different set of cuffs were placed on me; one on my wrists, one around my waist and one binding my ankles. I was treated like a dangerous serial killer.   A bit extreme, I thought, for a man who unintentionally violated a civil court order.

Over the next hour, I watched man after man enter my cell directly from the courtroom, all before the same judge, all violating the same order, all receiving the same exact sentence.   As we compared stories in our 10 x 15 cell, it was obvious that justice was the last thing being served that day.  The family court’s objective is to determine what is in the “best interest of the children.”   The court is the established keeper of this mantra.   That is the standard that all parties (Judge included) are supposed to follow.   It falls to the court to determine not only WHAT is in the children’s best interest but how to enforce it.  Granted, it is in the best interest of the children to receive child support.  Raising children costs money.   Most divorced dads understand that and 98% of us want to get the kids what they need.  98% of us pay what we can as soon as we can.

That morning, in that tiny little cell directly behind the Judge’s chamber, every divorced dad in chains asked the same question, “How is THIS in our kid’s best interest?  How is losing our jobs in their best interest?  How is losing our homes and worldly possessions in their best interest?   How can a Dad be expected to provide anything for his children when everything is being taken away?”

Over the next few months, I sat, ate, worked and slept next to over 250 divorced dads incarcerated for their failure to pay child support.   I learned their names and heard their stories.   Of the throng of men I met, only a handful were truly “deadbeat dads,” the scarlet letter title automatically given to men in our predicament.  The majority of the men were dads who love their kids.  They are dads who want to provide for their children.  They are dads who, for various reasons, are victims of this economy or the target of an ex-wife who just wants to see them punished for past sins.   And sadly, the courts facilitate such revenge with counterproductive punishments like jail sentences.   Jail should be for criminals.  Or actual deadbeat dads (the few I met).  Jail should be for dangerous people; drug dealers, drug users, shoplifters, murderers, rapists and burglars – not loving dads who were struggling in a hurting economy.

On August 27th, 2013 – ten dads had a fight with the law and the law won.mugshot

Ten dads lost their jobs.

Ten dads lost their homes.

Ten dads lost their worldy possessions.

And what about the children represented in those 10 families?   They lost too.

The children lost their dads for a season of their life – a season they can never get back again.

And they lost the financial support they needed while their dad was incarcerated.

But hey, the law won.

And THAT is in the best interest of the children.

 

 

 

 

IMPORTANT NOTE:

  • Sadly, this was my fourth appearance before a family court Judge in four years.  Every time, the Judge threatened me with jail.  (It is their default threat since the County financially benefits from dads being incarcerated.)  All three times previously, the Judge required me to pay an extraordinary amount of money, within days of that hearing, or a bench warrant would be issued for me.  All three times, I was able to borrow that sum of money to avoid jail time.  As is their custom, the Judge oftentimes will ask the Plaintiff what outcome they would like to see happen.  (I have since learned that the custodial parent (usually the Mom) holds tremendous influence as to what happens to the “deadbeat dad.”)  In a previous hearing, the Plaintiff did ask the Judge to keep me out of jail since I played an instrumental role in the children’s schedule – taking them to and from school every day (a 2 to 5 hour commitment per day, depending upon the after school activity).  By the time of the hearing mentioned in this post, the Plaintiff had re-married, moved the children out-of-state (again) and I was no longer needed to help with the children’s daily schedule.
  • A note from an eyewitness that day: “I am honored to be a friend of Rod Arters.  I was privileged and pained to be in court with him on the day he describes in this blog.  I can attest that everything he writes about the courtroom experience is true.  I was there.  I was a witness.” – Reverend Michael Holt

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Loving the lepers in our land

lepers1I walked into my local hair cuttery place this week to relieve my sweaty head of its growing mop. I was greeted by “Anna,” a young, thin woman, with long black hair and a sleeve full of tattoos on one arm. I was drawn immediately to her warm smile.

As I sat, we made small talk about the hot weather, her long hair, our children, our siblings and the city where we live. During the conversation she alluded to a strict, Christian upbringing and how she grew up as the homeschooled daughter of an ultra-conservative Baptist minister. With that brief summary of her life, her tattoos suddenly became much more interesting to me. I asked about her conservative parent’s reaction to the controversial, visible art on her arm. Within 5 minutes of conversing, she casually admitted to me she was a lesbian. So much for light conversation.

As I sat in her chair, losing hair rapidly, I was amazed at her transparency. Talking to a total stranger, she just shared something so intensely personal that it literally takes most people years to admit. As the talking continued, I quickly realized we were no longer in the kiddie pool of conversation. Somehow, we dove immediately into the conversational deep end and showed little sign of coming out of it. By the time I was done, I had shared a bit about my religious/ministry background, sordid past and some of the broken pieces called my life. By now, there is a small poodle on the floor next to me, known formerly as my hair. I was pretty sure that if the conversation continued at this depth, I would be bald in record time.

“Anna” and I were separated by age, gender, race, sexual orientation, culture, tattoos, political affliliation & family background. Yet, somehow I felt oddly close to her. Moments earlier, she was a total stranger. In just 15 minutes, she was a kindred spirit, even though our experiences were quite different.

Since church was obviously a big part of her upbringing, I asked where she went now. Knowing most of the churches in this “Bible-buckle” town, I was curious as to where she would feel comfortable attending. Not surprisingly, she doesn’t go anywhere anymore. Though I was sad to hear it, I completely understood why. Where does a “real sinner” go to church? What church in my city would preach the truth and still accept a living out loud lesbian? Most churches tell you to “come as you are” but few know how to love you there. As a card-carrying sinner myself, I have witnessed the church’s struggle first-hand.

As I talked to “Anna,” I found myself wanting to apologize for the Church’s inability to love “them” as they are. On one hand, I understand the church’s theological position. Sin, on any level, cannot be condoned by the church. But, on the other hand, we are called to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” (Matthew 7:12). In other words, Christians are supposed to walk the tough balance between loving the sinner while hating their sin. Many churches have the hate part down. The love feels lacking… just ask the sinners.

The truth is, closet adulterers sit in church pews every week. Concealed alcoholics take the wine of communion every Sunday. Embezzlers count the offering. Pornography addicted Pastors hide behind their pulpits as they preach. Overweight, gluttonous Deacons serve their appetites as much as they serve their parishioners. Church folk have become adept at hiding their sin.

Trust me, I know.

And some sins are more acceptable (to the church) than others. The first sin ever committed and the root of all other sins (pride) is alive and well in most churches. From our moral ivory tower we tend to look down on the big visible sinners while we nurse an invisible spiritually proud heart. But is the hidden sin of pride better than the visible sin of stealing? In God’s eyes, it’s all the same – even if the consequences are different.

I remember my reaction when a friend in college, a Christian, one day claimed he was gay. I struggled with the implication. From my perspective, I didn’t think you could be both. Christians, I thought back then, didn’t sin like that. As I have (regrettably) fallen to my own sinful areas, I now understand Christians who sin.

If you commit adultery, you are forever known as an adulterer. If you kill someone, you are known as a murderer. If you steal an item you are known as a thief. Even if you your behaviors are part of your past, you are still identified by your sins – particularly by those affected by your vice. Some people are tempted to steal. Others are tempted by the “greener grass” on the other side of their married fence. My college friend was tempted by other males. Some would say you cannot be a Christian and sin “big” like that. My Bible is filled with stories of saints that sinned BIG and were still claimed and used by God.

  • Abraham was a liar and God used Him to father a nation.
  • Moses was a murderer and God used him to set His people free from slavery.
  • Jacob was a deceiver and God created the twelve tribes of Israel through his lineage.
  • King David was a liar, murderer and adulterer and God called him a “man after His own heart.”

The list goes on and on. In fact, take a look in the New Testament. A quick glance in the Gospels seems to indicate that Christ spent more time with the big sinners of His day than church leadership. The point is, even “saved” sinners struggle with the sins they were saved from. Their sin doesn’t disqualify them from salvation or Christ’s love, it merely points to their need for it.

Gay sin is no better or worse than straight sin. From casual attenders to ordained minister, what gives any heterosexual sinner any right to look down at gays when we are no better than the social lepers of sexual orientation? The only difference between heterosexual sin and homosexual sin is familiarity. Heterosexual sin, for the church, is just a tad easier to swallow since more of its members understand those temptations.

Years ago, I was speaking at a summer camp in upstate New York. While I was teaching, my eyes were making contact with the youth in the room. As I scanned the room, I noticed one boy with a hat was wearing a mask. I began to think, “What is this kid doing? Why is he wearing a mask while I teach? Is this some sort of joke?” I continued to teach and decided to take a closer look as my eyes came back towards his direction. Our eyes connected as I tried to figure out what he was doing. He was doing nothing but listening intently to my words. The mask was not a mask at all. It turns out, he was a severe burn victim and what I thought was a mask was actually his scarred face. My heart broke at his disfigurement. I got to watch him throughout the rest of the week interact with people and see others reaction to him. Most people just stared. Except for a precious few, most did not know how to act around him. As a result, he seemed largely ignored. You could tell he was used to it. People avoided contact because his presence made them uncomfortable. We tend to do the same with those who sin differently or bigger than us, especially in the church.

Today, I have several gay friends who also claim to be Christians. Some still struggle with their sexuality. Others have simply embraced it. Gay or straight, the issue isn’t whether you are tempted to sin. We are ALL tempted in our own ways. The issue is whether you are falling to those temptations. And we ALL fall from time to time. “To err is human,” as the saying goes. It’s the common denominator we ALL share. Men or women, black or white, gay or straight, church leader or gang member, we ALL possess a fallen human nature. That doesn’t give us a license to sin (Romans 6) – it merely explains why we do it. We ALL are one decision away from trouble, whether we work at a church or refuse to walk into one.

I relate to “Anna.” I relate to a messy, complicated life. I have experienced the social shame of a leper. I have felt the pain of rejection from the church. I know what it’s like to feel the icy stares of people who are “better” than me. I know what it’s like to be ignored and avoided… especially by “good Christians.” My social circle has greatly diminished over the last few years. My phone doesn’t ring as much as it used to. Invitations to do anything are few and far between. Living a sinful life has that affect on your relationships. And yet, like my gay friends, we were all created for relationships. As God reminded Adam in the Garden, “it is not good for man(kind) to be alone.” Straight sin or gay sin – it’s all still sin to God. His job is to judge and transform sinners into saints. Our only job is to love one another. What would happen if we left the judging to Him and actually started to love everyone as we should? People like “Anna” might be in church.

It’s no wonder, when you read the Gospels, that you see the public sinners chasing Christ around Galilee. Known prostitutes fell before Him and washed His feet with their repentant tears. Lepers lined up for healing. Tax collectors had Him in their homes for dinner. Women, children, and everyone else who was an outcast were invited “in” by Him. Why? Because He manifested the one characteristic that we most lack today. He lived out what we merely preach. Love. He LOVED them. As they were. In their sin. Messy.

Gay men need love just as much as heterosexual men. Lesbian women need to be accepted as much as straight women. Unmarried, heterosexual sex is just as wrong (in God’s eyes) as homosexual relations. Whether you are a pastor or a predator – both need the transforming love of Christ. And Christ’s transforming agent of choice, like it or not, is the church. After all, who better to love sinful people than other sinful people? Who better to help the alcoholic than the one who has recovered from it? The church was never designed to be a palace for the perfect. The church wasn’t created to be a place where people pretend they aren’t sinning. It is supposed to be THE place where sinners can walk in with their sin and walk out with His grace. It is to be filled with beggars telling all the other beggars where to find Bread.

Christianity is supposed to be a “rubber meets the road” kind of faith. Is that the kind you possess? It’s one thing to read about love in a book. It’s another thing to put on its shoes and walk around.

If a leper approached you, would you touch them? Christ did.

If you caught the woman in adultery (John 4), what would you do with your stone? Christ dropped His.

As Jesus hung on a cross, between two thieves – both were hurling insults at Him (Mark 15:32). During the most painful hour He has ever experienced, He was mocked and jeered by common criminals. They watched Him suffer. They saw the abuse inflicted upon Him by the Romans. To the world, Jesus was merely hanging on a cross. Jesus, however, was still working – changing hearts – and He had one more heart on His schedule.

The thief didn’t confess his many sins. He didn’t make excuses or even say he was sorry. He didn’t promise to change his ways or try to make a deal with God. He was in no position to barter on any level. He merely watched Love absorb hate and that Love changed him. On the cross, Christ didn’t preach a sermon. He didn’t do anything but hang and bleed and yet, somehow, His love for a common thief was so unmistakable that it caused a hardened heart to break.

That is love.

That is what we are called to share.

Especially to those who sin differently than us.

Love more. Judge less. And watch what kind of people God starts bringing to church.

Real sinners.

Just like you.

Just like me.

See you on Sunday.

—————————————-
“Lord, now indeed I find
Thy pow’r, and Thine alone,
Can change the leper’s spots
And melt the heart of stone.”
– Jesus paid it all, hymn

A day of Independence?

Stock Photo of the Consitution of the United States and Feather QuillToday is July 4th, known in America as “Independence Day,” the day our nation officially proclaimed our independence from the British monarchy.    We now have 237 candles in our national cake.   Happy Birthday to us.

As this holiday has approached, I have been thinking a lot lately about our independence, as a people and nation.

When you are born, you are immediately dependent upon your parents for survival.   By age two, however, you begin to develop some level of independence.   You want to feed yourself, walk where you want, do things on your own.  This is normal and quite healthy as we grow.  Time passes and that “terrible two” eventually realizes that he/she still needs Mom and Dad a bit more than they thought.   The child again recognizes their dependence.   This dependent/independent pendulum swings again at least three different times over the course of your  life; during the teen years, in young adulthood and again as we enter the elderly phase.   These independent/dependent stages are very normal.   On one level, we desperately want our independence.  On another level, there are seasons where we are dependent upon the very people we desire independence from.   Such is human nature and the way life works.  As much as we desire it, we are not as independent as we like to think.

237 years ago, we officially declared our national independence from the British government.   Like a prodigal son, we left the shores of England and embarked on a dangerous journey “across the pond.”   Against incredible obstacles, we created our own constitution and laws and began a new country with new traditions, like none the world had ever seen.   Today we take a day as a nation to celebrate our independence.  

But are we really independent?   

By definition the word implies that an independent one is “free from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others.”   By that definition, are any of us truly free?

  • I don’t need to tell you how important oil is to our nation’s economy and lifestyle.  The U.S. imports approximately 10.6 million barrels of petroleum (per day) from about 80 countries.   That sounds like dependence to me.
  • Of our $16 trillion in debt, approximately $5 trillion is held by more than 35 other countries, with China and Japan topping the list.
  • 51% of the world’s coffee consumption comes from Brazil, Colombia & Indonesia.  These countries (among many others) control our access to the number one drug in America.  In other words, if it wasn’t for Latin America, you would be late for work, grumpy and experiencing caffeine withdrawal every day of the week.
  • Your cell phone, computer and flat screen TV are brought to you by rare earth minerals such as neodymium.  Unfortunately, the United States only possesses 13% of the world’s rare earth reserves.   Because of this, we have become heavily dependent upon numerous foreign countries (like China) as these rare earth minerals are crucial in the manufacture of jet fighter engines, antimissile defense systems, and smart bombs, among other advanced military systems.   Even our military dominance is dependent upon others.
  • We are even dependent upon the continent of Africa.  75% of the world’s chocolate comes from this third world nation.   As we all know, this can singlehandedly control a woman’s mood.  <wink>

As great as America is, as sovereign as we are, as dominant as we are in world affairs, we are still massively dependent upon other countries.   We can celebrate our independence and even enjoy the perks of being a world power, but we must not forget that we are not the world’s parent – merely one of the larger siblings in a global family.

As I reflect on our personal dependence upon family and friends and our nation’s dependence upon other nations, I can’t help but think of our collective dependence upon an Almighty God.  In His grace, He “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45)  Christian and pagan alike are all dependent upon the One who “holds all things together.” (Colossians 1:17) 

For example, modern scientists marvel at the human brain.  With more memory and capacity than our fastest computer, we still haven’t come close to uncovering its magnificence or even tapping its full potential.  Without the creative power of the brain, we could not develop any “smart” technology in our hands today.  Without our intelligent designs and industrial strength, we could not build the homes, structures, highways & vehicles that allow us to live and work and travel like we do.   But how did our human brain come to be?   Was it the result of a random big bang?  Could it have evolved over millions of years from a single cell out of a stagnant lake?   Or did an alien life form actually drop the beginnings of life to Earth?   Honestly, it takes more faith to believe some of these theories than it does to believe that an Intelligent Creator created an intelligent creation.  The truth is, God created us and then gifted us with such immense creativity and ability, that He Himself once said of mankind that “nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.” (Genesis 11:6)    How staggering is that comment from the Creator of the universe, One who creates something out of nothing??   Even the atheist, as he proclaims his independence from God (Proverbs 14:1), does so with borrowed air in his lungs while standing on a planet that hangs precariously balanced at just the optimal tilt and distance from the Sun.  

The point is, the concept of independence is somewhat ridiculous.   None of us are truly independent.   In spite what we might think, none of us are “self-made.”   As you stand at the summit of your mountain, career or personal achievement, just remember – you arrived at the peak with some help – even if you choose not to recognize it.  

Just as we can scarcely call ourselves independent as a nation, likewise we are equally dependent (personally speaking) on others.   For years, I spent most of my life living on an emotionally independent island.  For the most part, I kept my feelings, thoughts and struggles to myself.   Though I helped others with their problems, I never allowed anyone to help me with mine.  Fearful of transparency and intimacy, I lived behind a safe emotional wall and enjoyed my fascade of emotional independence.   Others needed me.   I convinced myself that I didn’t need them.  Sadly, what I didn’t realize at the time was how that thinking was killing me and destroying the relationships of those I loved.  One day, my emotional wall came crashing down and I became instantly dependent upon others for survival.   Five years later, I still find myself leaning hard on family and friends – like I never have before.  It has been a frightenly refreshing experience.  English poet, John Donne, once wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”   He was right.   The ferry to my emotional island is now closed.   I’m enjoying my new life back on the mainland.

As you celebrate Independence Day today, take a moment to recognize your dependence on others and your dependence upon an Almighty God.  Thank them for the role they have played in your life.   You wouldn’t (and couldn’t) be where you are today without them.   

As the Apostle Paul reminded those in Athens, “God is not far from each one of us for in Him we live and move and exist.” (Acts 17:27-28)    Jesus reminded His disciples about this same truth in the Book of John, “I am the Vine and you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

No one is truly independent.   Not you.  Not me.  Not even the powerful United States of America.  

  • “The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.” – John Adams
  • “The Fourth of July ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.” – John Adams
  • “And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God … and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.” – Abraham Lincoln

Empty tomb or empty faith?

emptytomb“The tomb is empty.”

I have a close friend that adds that sentence as his signature at the bottom of all his emails.   Even in October.    When I first received an email from him, in December 2002, I remember thinking how unusual a signature that was.   Some people include their phone number.  Others list their website.  A few even add a quote of some sort.  He wants everyone to know that the tomb is empty.   Even when it’s not Easter.

For those without a Christian upbringing, education or worldview – his signature may seem like a confusing (if not morbid) thought.   Especially if it was mentioned months away from Easter.

The tomb?   Whose tomb?

It’s empty?   So what?   What the heck does that mean?

Only the biblically literate truly understand what is being said here.

Today, Easter is a day that means so many different things to so many people.   For some, it is a celebration that Spring is upon us.  For others, it is merely another excuse for families to gather and eat.   Those with small children like to paint, hide and find eggs.   Almost everyone eats a colored hard-boiled egg or Peep or chocolate bunny during this season.  For many, it is one of two times a year they find themselves in a church.   But for the Christians, world-wide, the holiday is more than just colored eggs & chocolate bunnies.  Easter Sunday (or Resurrection Day) is central to our faith.

Easter Sunday, like Christmas Day, has become extremely commercialized over the years.   Immediately after Valentine’s Day we begin seeing bunnies and eggs and candy.   Like Christmas, if you’re not careful, it’s easy to forget what this holiday is supposed to be about.   Stores promote Easter sales.   Communities promote Easter Egg hunts.  This weekend, I was reminded of how far the holiday has eroded when I saw a line (100 deep) waiting to sit on the lap of a man in a bunny suit.   Mall employees might care about the meaning of the holiday but Mall owners care not.   After all, people will pay for a photograph of their child sitting on a Bunny’s lap.  There is no financial profit from an empty tomb.   Like it or not, the Easter Bunny (like Santa) has just about hijacked the holiday and fewer each year seem to understand the significance of the day.

In a nutshell, Easter is simply this – the celebration of a sinless Christ rising from the dead (according to the prophecy), proof that God accepted His sacrificial death on the cross as payment for the sins of His people.

Rising from the dead is unbelievable in any culture.  Death is one of the permanent aspects of our human existence and no one returns from the experience.  It has only been documented as happening a few times in all of human history and every time it has occurred – God (as the Author and Giver of life) receives credit for it.  It is truly an impossible feat, unless God is doing the resurrection.  Of all of the documented cases, only one time did the Deceased raise Himself.   That single occurrence is the reason for this season.   Christ rose again.  The tomb is empty.   And for those who may doubt it ever happened, here are eight solid reasons we can trust it occurred.

  1. A broken Roman Seal.   Jesus death was a major news event.  Since He (and His followers) were claiming He was the King of the Jews, the Romans were interested in seeing this “King” executed for fear that He would overthrow the Roman government.   Since there were rumors going around that Jesus would and could rise from the dead, the Romans were quite interested in keeping Him in the tomb.  An occupied tomb would crush a rising Christianity and prove their Leader a liar.  After He was killed, He was placed in a tomb that was officially sealed by the Romans.  The fact that the Roman government (the most powerful government in all of history at that time) sealed the tomb is significant.  To break a Roman seal was punishable by death.   The Jews weren’t going to break the seal since they wanted Him dead.   The Romans weren’t going to break the seal because they wanted Him dead.  And His rag-tag followers, many of them from the unarmed, poor working class could not break the seal, even if they wanted to because of point #2.
  2. Heavily guarded tomb.   The traditional story makes us believe that there were only 2 or 3 guards present to guard the tomb.  Logically, this does not make any sense.   If Herod had 16 soldiers guard Peter in Acts 12:4, then would it not make sense that he would have at least that amount to guard the body of the most controversial figure of his time?   Knowing there were at least 11 disciples at that time, would it not make sense to have at least that many guards, one for each disciple?   What about all of Christ’s other followers – many of whom would have wanted to visit the tomb.   If an angry mob showed up, could a mere 16 soldiers stop them?  Obviously, no one is getting in or out without having to overcome these guards.   Both the Romans & the Jews have plenty of incentive to make sure this body stays put.   It is reasonable to assume it was heavily guarded with more than just a handful of guards.
  3. The tomb was empty.  The fact that the tomb was indeed empty was confirmed by both Jewish and Roman sources, haters of Christ and His brand of teaching.  Since both Jews and Romans wanted Jesus dead, it was in neither party’s best interest to have a missing body on their hands.   In fact, without Jesus’ physical body, it creates a world of problems for them.  So troubling is this news, the authorities would rather create a lie (Matthew 28:11-15) then let the Truth come out.
  4. rolled stoneThe stone was rolled away.   The first people to discover the empty tomb were two women – Mary Magdalene & another woman named Mary.   They desired to anoint Jesus’ body with spices (common burial ritual) but had voiced their dilemma to each other, “Who will roll the stone away for us?” recognizing their inability to move (even budge) the 1 ton (or more) stone.   As they approached the tomb, they discovered the stone was already rolled away and an angel was seated nearby.   They also would have had to overcome armed Roman soldiers to do so.   The point is this, the only people who wanted the stone moved were not physically able to do so.
  5. Roman guards had fled.   The Roman guards were there for one reason – to make sure no one took that body.   The Roman government knew one thing for sure, an alive Christ causes them problems.   Keeping Him dead was a priority, so much so that they put the weight of their military behind it.   The soldiers would also have understood one thing as a group – if Christ’s body, for any reason, left that tomb – they would all be dead, executed by their own government.  When the angel appeared and the stone was divinely removed, the guards “shook for fear of Him and became like dead men.”   They knew the consequence of His disappearance.
  6. The presence of grave-clothes.   After Jesus was killed, His body was taken off the cross and placed in grave-clothes, another common occurence.   When Peter got to the tomb, all he saw were the linen wrappings, no body.   Rumors began to fly that Jesus’ body was taken by the disciples (Matthew 28:11-15).   If someone were to kidnap a body, the last thing they would do is to take the time to take off the grave-clothes before leaving.  To assume that Jesus would have had the strength to revive Himself after crucifixion, remove the grave-clothes, push a 1 ton rock away, get past a dozen (or more) armed guards and escape unnoticed takes more faith than just believing God raised Him from the dead.   The presence of grave-clothes points to resurrection, not kidnapping.
  7. Living eyewitnesses.   Soon after the tomb was discovered empty, Jesus personally appeared to over 500 people.  By the time the Apostle Paul wrote about the resurrection (some 30  years after it occurred) by his own admission many of them were still alive and able to be interviewed.   A living eyewitness trumps heresay any day.   Ask any lawyer, 500 reliable eyewitnesses would be enough credibility to prove just about anything.   Prior to becoming an Apostle, Paul was a Christian-killing Pharisee with no reason or desire to believe in Christ or His resurrection.   The fact that he admits to seeing the risen Christ is significant.
  8. The disciples lives.   By the time of Jesus’ death, every disciple of His had left Him.  Every one.   Men who had walked with him for three years took off as He breathed His last.  After all, if the Romans killed their leader, why would they not go after His followers?   Despite their love and close friendship with Jesus, they left Him when He needed them the most.   Having said that, the most remarkable proof of the resurrection of Christ is the transformed lives of these formerly cowardly disciples.   What would make them bold?  What would make them fearless?  What would make the majority of them willing to die horrific deaths as a result of their allegiance to their dead Leader?  His resurrection.  His appearing to them, after death, was so life changing that they could not help but become emboldened in their resurrected faith.

Without the resurrection of Christ, there is no Christianity.   A dead body in the tomb would point to a dead Christianity.   Paul reminds his hearers of the spiritual significance of this event, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (I Corinthians 15:17).

Those who know me know that my sins are many.   My crimes against Heaven are well documented.   God’s penalty for those sins are not only deserved but fair.  Sins against a righteous God deserve death (Genesis 2).   In just four short decades, I have created a mess that only God can fix.   Being good just isn’t good enough.   In God’s economy, not even one good deed can outweigh the tiniest white lie – let alone some of the bigger sins I have committed.  If you are honest with yourself and your past, your assessment is no better.

Good Friday reminds us all that God climbed up on a cross for a sinful race in our sinful place.  Through His death, God swiped His Christ Visa and paid a debt we could not pay.  A debt that would have cost us our very lives.

Easter Sunday reminds us all that those sins have been paid in full, for those who accept the payment.  His resurrection is the receipt that the payment was good.  It’s not about eggs and bunnies but redemption and grace.   Good Friday brought death.  Easter Sunday brings life.

The reality is – either Christ pays for your sins or you do.   Today, you either have an empty tomb or an empty faith.

How about you, friend?   Which do you possess?

Why grocery stores hate men

man-grocery-store-400x300Last night I went to the local grocery store for a few staple items, things like milk, bread & Doritos.   It took me 3 hours.

Needless to say, I really dislike trips to the grocery store.   I never need many items and it takes me about as long to shop for those items as it does for me to re-paint the house.

As I wander around in the grocery store’s version of purgatory, I have come to the realization that this place was not built for men.  Here are a few reasons why:

  1. The layout.   Most grocery stores have you walking right from the parking lot into the produce section.  Shocking as this may be, men do not prefer to pick up their brocoli first.  Or ever.  Men want soda, chips, beer, and pizza.  If grocery stores really wanted men to be there, they would put our items first, not make us wander around the labyrinth of aisles looking for them.
  2. The aisles.  When women were creating grocery stores, who decided what items would be grouped in a particular aisle?  Who decided the order the aisles would be in?   Why do they not have a map at the front door that makes everything more clear?   (For the record, men like maps – we just don’t want to have to ask someone for help reading one.)   Instead, I walk in with a small list of things to get and the next 3 hours are a scavenger hunt.  Where are the hot dogs?  Why are the buns half a mile away from them?  If you could watch me on film, you would see that I am in every aisle about 4 times – carefully looking up and down every part of it – looking for my item, otherwise known as Waldo.
  3. The shopping cart.   There is absolutely no way to push a shopping cart around and retain any level of cool.  Given that 9 out of 10 shopping carts have a rogue wheel that cause them to swerve in the aisle, it is an impossible machine to tame.  Besides, it is a well-known fact that men like to ride on things, not push them around.  The ride-on mower is “exhibit A” for this argument.  If a woman ever invents a ride-on shopping cart (or vacuum cleaner), men would instantly be interested in taking over these duties.  Just a suggestion.
  4. Too many things to kill.   Since caveman times, men were known as hunters and women were gatherers.  Following our instincts, most men and women treat all forms of shopping the same way.  Men enter, focus on the prey, kill and leave with it in hand.  By contrast, women enter, look at everything, touch everything, and come home with 37 bags of groceries.  For a man to hunt one item at a store is easy.  They are good at that.  But give a man a list of 10 items and 4 will be the wrong size, 3 will be the wrong brand and the other 6 will be stuff he wanted, not on the list.  Frankly, it’s unrealistic for men to remember long orders like, “Pick up chips, soda, beer, milk, bread, chicken, pizza, napkins, sugar, cheese, etc.”   All we hear is “blah, blah, chips, soda, beer, blah,  blah, blah, pizza, words, words, words, etc.”
  5. The store temperature.   It could be the dead of winter in Alaska.  You could be in the middle of Hell in the middle of July.  It doesn’t matter – the grocery store temperature will feel like 30 below zero.   I am always freezing when I am in there.  How can I expect to make a decision on what can of tuna fish to buy when my teeth are chattering?   How can I possibly focus on my coupon savings when I’m trying to cuddle with the man in the same aisle for survival?   It’s well documented, the longer you stay in a store – the more you will buy.  If they want men to stay in the store longer, they need to raise the temperature to at least the low teens or provide NorthFace thermal underwear and a ski mask.
  6. The lack of other men.   As you might expect, 90% of the shoppers are female.  Inevitably, I will walk down an aisle and see an experienced shopper there.  This shopper, always a woman, has an intimidating amount of groceries in her cart.  As I look at her pile of groceries, I can’t help but wonder how long she has been here.   Given that it takes me 3 hours to pick up six items, she has to have been here for weeks.  I wonder if her kids miss her.  Or how hungry her husband must be.  On the rare occasion that I do see another man, I usually give him a knowing nod that is the equivalent of “I got your back.”   It’s like he’s my battle buddy.  Except we are not in battle and he’s not my buddy.  Other than that, it’s just like that.
  7. The lack of help.   Doesn’t anyone notice that I’ve been in the store for 3  hours?  Isn’t someone watching the security camera wondering why I’ve been circling Aisle 3 for the last 45 minutes?  Aren’t there supposed to be employees that are available to help those with a confused look on their face?  And why do the experienced shoppers (aka women) watch us men helplessly wander instead of trying to assist?  If the roles were reversed (let’s say at Lowes) both men and store employees would go out of their way to help our confused/lost female counterparts.   When I finally reach the check out counter, (disheveled and exhausted) and the lady asks, “Did you find everything ok?” – I just want to cry.
  8. The abundance of options.   Why are there so many choices out there?  How many different brands of cat food companies are there?  How many different flavors of cat food does a cat really need?  Before grocery stores were invented, cats ate mice.  Now, cats have more options than most high school cafeterias.  Fortunately, I don’t buy cat food but the human food choices are no easier.  How can I possibly know what to buy with all of those options?   Am I shopping price alone or do I need to look for sodium percentages?   What about calories?   And how much saturated fat is there?  (Can there be a more disgusting combination of words than “saturated fat?”)   Shopping time would be reduced in half if they just had two options per food item.  Big or small.  Cheap or fancy.  Healthy or tasty.  I feel like using a lifeline to call a nutritionist just to buy a box of cereal.   It’s utterly exhausting.
  9. Self-check out.  Self check-out is a brilliant concept.  Instead of standing in a 45 minute line, the self-check out option makes you feel like you control your destiny… or at least have some control over your schedule.   But is it really any quicker?   For starters, I can never seem to find the bar code for the machine to read.   Then, I’ll want to scan bananas, except there is no bar code for them so you have to weigh them.   Apparently, the scale takes a few hours to stop shaking from the last piece of fruit that was on it.   Of course, as soon as I begin my self-check out experience, a line immediately forms behind me.   I now feel pressure to scan quicker, bag quicker, pay quicker.   Paying quicker is never an option though and whatever you do, never pay with cash.  You will stand there forever trying to get the machine to accept your wrinkly bill as if you are presenting a peace-offering to an Egyptian god.   The self-check out money god seems to prefer plastic. 

If loneliness doesn’t drive single men into a relationship, the grocery store certainly will.  No man in his right mind can enjoy this experience on their own.  Other than the sample food kiosks where kind older people prepare food and let you sample it, there is little appeal to the grocery store for men.  

Call me when the ride-on grocery cart is invented.  Until then, I’m going to pray that God sends me a bird to feed me as He did the prophet Elijah.  Now THAT is a great way to get your food!

“Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan.  You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.   So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.”  (I Kings 17:2-6)

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Bingo the Monkey – a new children’s book

Bingo
Bingo

Every week I drive past my local Barnes & Nobles located located down the street from my house.  Every time I drive by, my seven-year old expresses an interest to go in.  Today, we carved out some time to see what was new.   Upon entering the store, I was immediately escorted into the children’s section by my little eager reader.  He loves going there.   As we walked through the aisles in the children’s section, his eye went to several books he was quite familiar with.  I had read them to him dozens of times during his most formative years. 

Books like:

  • “The Going To Bed Book” by Sandra Boynton. 
  • “Good Night, Gorilla” by Peggy Rathmann.
  • “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein.
  • “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle.
  • “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” by Laura Joffe Numeroff.

The list goes on and on.   He grabbed every one with familiar excitement as he exclaimed things like, “I remember this one!” or “Dad, we have this one at home!”  

My bedtime routine with my son, Andrew - pictured here at age 3.
My bedtime routine with my son, Andrew – pictured here at age 3.

Instantly, we were transported back in time, on the bed of nostalgia, him snuggled in front of me, as I read that evenings bed time story. 

Bedtime stories are a favorite past-time for every parent and child.  Not only does it provide the foundation for reading and lay the cornerstone of learning, it’s a wonderfully bonding exercise between parent and child.   I miss those days.  My older children (teenagers) just don’t sit on my lap quite as much anymore.   The books they read don’t have pictures in them either.  And none of them rhyme.   Also, their books are called videos.  

How excited I was to learn of a new book about to hit the market.  The book has everything that makes a children’s book a success:  A cute character.  An interesting story line that children can relate to.  A great moral lesson.  Suspense.  Engaging illustrations.  It even rhymes like a Dr. Seuss book.

Unlike every other book  I have ever read with my children, this one is intensely personal for me.   Whereas every other book I have read I bought at the store, this one was sent to me directly by the author.  Whereas the other books were read after they were published, I read this one beforehand.   Whereas other books were read after dozens of others recommended them to me, this one I got to read before the masses.   Such is the advantage when the author of the next great children’s book happens to be your brother.

I thought I would take this opportunity to introduce my loyal readers to this great book and share how you can get a copy of it.  For those of you who would like to purchase it, my brother (Matt) has graciously offered to give my global audience a discount.   More details on that to come.

The following link will provide more information about the book, my brother and what it is about.  Also an artist, the book is fully illustrated by Matt and includes a video trailer (created by my sister) for you to see.   He has decided to utilize the help of a creative website to help him launch it.  Just 24 hours in, it has already proven to be a good decision.

Matt also created a Facebook page for this book and welcomes more people to “like” it.   The link to that page is here: https://www.facebook.com/#!/BingoTheMonkey

If you still read to your children, consider this book for your personal library.  If you have small children in your life (Nieces, nephews, cousins, siblings, grandchildren) consider this for their next birthday.   If you are affiliated with an elementary school, perhaps your school library would like to put this on their shelf?  The story of Bingo the Monkey has a timeless message that both kids and parents will love!

Regardless, keep reading to your children.   The lessons they learn from the pages of these books stay with them for life and the memories stay with you forever, long after they’ve left your lap.

Lying, wrestling and the limp to come

lance-armstrong-oprah_510x289On August 31st of last year, I wrote a post about the controversy surrounding Lance Armstrong and the allegations that he had taken “performance enhancing drugs.” Towards the end of that article I made a prophetic prediction, “One day (soon) we will know whether Lance’s accomplishment was a true physical feat or a fraud.”

That “one day” is now upon us.   The feat turned out to be the fraud.

Lance has finally “come clean” – admitting to doping and by default, lying about his past.  It does not appear that anyone is too surprised at the admission.  What is shocking is the degree of deception and the years of passionate denials.  The dust has now settled and we find Lance has lost the only thing he really had left to cling to; his word.   That, by the way, is now considered worthless.  Such is the consequence of serial lying.

Sadly, it seems to be a common occurrence these days.  A foul is committed and the person under scrutiny declares their innocence on national television.  As a nation, we want to believe them.  We hope they were wrongly accused.  We wish the evidence was less certain.  We struggle with the dichotomy between their words of innocence and the damning facts in hand.  Even though their denials often go against evidence and common sense, we still believe – hoping against hope.   Lance officially joins a growing, infamous group of deceivers:

  • For those of us old enough to remember, we flashback to a former sitting President declaring his innocence with all sincerity about the extra-marital relationship he didn’t have.  Lies.
  • We recall an emotional husband declaring his innocence with all sincerity about his wife and unborn child and how they went missing.  Lies.
  • With disgust, we remember a prominent football coach who declared his innocence with all sincerity and what didn’t happen with boys in the locker room.  Lies.

Our country’s legal system was based upon the assumption that everyone would be considered “innocent until proven guilty.”   It’s becoming harder and harder to maintain that assumption.  You hate to doubt every person who ever denies an allegation but we have seen too many people deny too many things too many times to give us hope that anyone under suspicion is telling the truth anymore.  The more sincere someone is in their denial the more cynical we can become.  Sincerity, it turns out, is an irrelevant indicator of truth – even if it is heart-felt and convincing.

The following poem reveals that sincerity, though important, just isn’t enough.

“Charlie was a Chemist but Charlie is no more for what Charlie thought was H2O was really H2SO4.”

Charlie can sincerely believe the liquid in the test tube is water.  His sincerity does not change the fact that he is performing a lab experiment with sulfuric acid.

Many questions abound after the truth rises to the surface.  Too often, we never get straight answers to these questions.   Concerning Lance, we all want to know why?   Why he lied is obvious but why did he finally come clean?  Why did he come clean now and not in the beginning or during his testimony under oath?   Why did he lie for so long?   Why did he try to deceive everyone at every level, even attacking his accusers now proved justified in their accusations?   More importantly, can he ever be trusted again?

It’s easy to villianize Lance (and others like him) in the media.  We tend to enjoy sitting on our moral high horse and judge the poor decisions of the rich and famous.  But truth be told, the only difference between Lance and me or you is that he is rich and famous.  Our heart is just as likely to be led astray by fame, fortune and world championships as anyone else.  One man is tempted to abuse drugs while another man is tempted to abuse children.  One woman might steal clothes while another prefers to steal husbands.  Granted, the consequences to some sins are very different and more severe, but the capacity for wrong exists in all people.

This was Jesus’ point when the Scribes & Pharisees (religious leaders of His day) brought a woman caught in the act of adultery to Him (John 8).  The Law stated that she should be stoned (to death) for her sin.  Jesus saw the problem with their approach immediately.  None of these religious leaders were in a moral position to judge this sinful woman.  None of them (priest and prostitute alike) are worthy to throw a stone at anyone.  Jesus gave them permission to stone her… under one condition, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Isn’t that the heart of the issue? 

Unfortunately, we have not seen the last of duplicitous divas.  In a few months, we will forget about Lance as the next celebrity will shock us with his/her tales of living a double life.  Another salacious story will grab our attention.  Another tale of deception will captivate our minds and appease our lust for sensational news.  Hollywood will capitalize on the story for their next movie much like I have used it as fodder for this blog (Sorry Jim!).  Deception will continue to rear its ugly head and only the super hero of truth can defeat it.  Truth will always beat a lie even if it does take awhile to pin it to the mat.

Truth wrestling deception turns out to be a fitting analogy.  In the Old Testament, Jacob (whose name means deceiver) had been living up to his name. After deceiving his father and stealing his eldest brother’s birthright blessing (Genesis 27), Jacob was on the run – from his brother and from living a truthful life.  By chapter 32, we find that Jacob was “left alone.” That is where those who walk the road of deception eventually find themselves, alone.  Mysteriously, a “man” begins to wrestle with him until daybreak.  Wrestling a total stranger is a strange thing to do at any hour of the day.  But this match began in the middle of the night, certainly an odd time to wrestle anyone.  The writer of Genesis identifies the mysterious wrestler as none other than God Himself.

As the deceiver wrestled with Truth, there was more at stake than a mere championship.  Unbeknownst to Jacob, his very name and life were about to be changed.  In the heat of the battle, Truth touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh – dislocating his hip.  Tired, in pain and recognizing he was in the presence of one greater than him, Jacob would not let go until the mystery man blessed him.  Ironically, the one who stole a blessing is now seeking one for himself.  When asked for his name, the deceiver simply replied, “Jacob.”  The man of mystery said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

God likes to engage His children.  He could have challenged Jacob to a game of chess and dealt with him on an intellectual level.  He could have challenged Jacob to a myriad of different physical challenges.  Instead, He chose to wrestle him.  Wrestling is intimate.  It is body on body.  It is sweat upon sweat.  No other physical contest provides as much physical contact.  It is just like God to desire that kind of contact with His children. It is just like God to pursue His wayward kids – even in their darkest night.  While you are alone in your darkness, He shows up and wants to wrestle.  While everyone else is running from you (in pain) or after you (in anger) – God is both brave enough and loving enough to deal with you head on.  God knows His children intimately and how to grow us – even if it requires Him to first “touch” us where it hurts.

Like Jacob, I spent quite a few years running from others.  Many of my decisions have also left me alone, in the dark.  As I look around the landscape, there have been no shortage of Pharisees with stones in their hands aimed at my direction.  I have done some late night wrestling with a mysterious God and have had virtually every area of my life dislocated as a result.  Like Jacob, I will spend the rest of my days walking with a reputational limp… every step reminding me of a past I’d prefer to forget.  And yet, in the gritty process I have been blessed.  I have received a new identity.  I understand a bit more clearer how the Redeemer redeems.

Oh, how that Redeemer loves to wrestle – even today.  He still dislocates hips.  And changes names.   And changes lives.  And gives a blessing to those who don’t deserve them. 

May it be so for Lance.   A new Lance with a limp. 

The overwhelming scent of a woman

Chanel-No-5-perfumePerfume smells nice unless you are in Seat 1A, next to the overly fragranced flight attendant, 35,000 feet high, on a tiny express plane with circulated air – which is where I am at the moment.   My seat is conveniently located near the door.  It is also next to the flight attendant seat where she performs most of her duties.  If the Guinness Book of World Records had a category for “Excessive Perfume Wearing” her picture would be next to it.  If it had a category of “Most Consecutive Gags”, my photo would be there.  At that close proximity, perfume becomes more of a taste than a smell causing you to sneeze more than sniff.   What is it with some ladies and perfume and the generous amounts they apply to their skin?   (To be fair, I imagine that the same could be said of men and cologne.)  What’s supposed to be pleasant becomes putrid.   What’s supposed to be attracting becomes distracting.   As she was publicly reviewing the safety procedures, less than 12 inches from my side, all I kept thinking was how I wished the oxygen masks would drop.   Now.   Before I do. 

I’ve never been one to appreciate perfume.   If anyone ever tried to use it to attract me, they would be severely disappointed.   For one, my sense of smell is by far my weakest sense.  I could see dead people with my 6th sense (movie reference) before I can smell anything.  Although I understand the importance of stopping to “smell the roses”, it seems to be a futile exercise with my nose.  Some lack taste buds making food taste bland.  I lack a keen sense of smell making it difficult to appreciate most odors.   Unfortunately, the only odors that seem to have a straight line to my nostrils are obscene amounts of ladies perfume, the smell of manure from the farmlands of Lancaster, PA and the occasional stray fart conveniently claimed by no one in public settings.   It is for this reason, I never serve baked beans in my home, though rumor has it they are “good for your heart.”   Apparently, the more you eat, the more you… well, never mind.   It’s just a theory.

I also never walk past the perfume section of department stores.   Ever.  The only difference between the ladies at the perfume counter and a trained military sniper is clothing.  They both hunt you down, aim with deadly precision and can disable you within seconds.   The snipers merely wear camouflage, you can’t see them coming. 

My 12-year-old daughter has recently discovered a renewed interest in make-up and perfume, to my chagrin.  When she has a friend sleep over, her room begins to smell like a perfume factory.  Amidst the giggles, the odor is so powerful that you would think that perfume was being created there.   It wouldn’t surprise me if my daughter has the meth-lab equivalent of perfume in my house.  I’m waiting for Chanel 5 to raid her room.   I’d go see for myself, but I can’t get past the door before I have to stop, drop and roll.  I have since placed a Haz-mat sticker on her door.   

So, this post is for the ladies that wear perfume at nauseating levels.   Though some men really enjoy your odor… many of us don’t.   May I offer two suggestions?

Less is more.   Yes, it smells good.  But just like one piece of gum makes your breath a bit fresher, it does not mean that 10 pieces of gum are better.  No one wants to watch someone chew on 10 pieces of gum at once.  In the same manner, no one wants to smell a perfume factory in their olfactory.  A little perfume goes a long way.  

Consider your environment.  If you are about to run the Boston Marathon and feel like creating a pleasant trail of scent for the people behind you, by all means – drench yourself in perfume.   The outdoor environment can handle your excessive application.  If, however, you plan on being in an elevator, office, plane or other enclosed space, please re-consider the amount of perfume you place on yourself. 

All joking aside, I’m less troubled by the amount of perfume that is worn and more concerned as to why it’s there in the first place.  Like most things in life, perfume is not inerrantly bad but the motive it is on could be.  Motives, I have come to learn, are the playground the mature play on.  What we do is important.  Why we do it is equally important, particularly as we get older.  

Today I find myself raising a teenage daughter who is (daily) becoming more aware of her body and image.  In spite of her appearance on any given day, I want her know that she is loved unconditionally beyond her wildest imaginations. Her outward appearance is merely a shell – not who she really is.  Underneath her beautiful hair, winning smile & trimmed eyelashes is the apple of her Daddy’s eye.  And a bad hair day, the addition of a few pounds or the sprinkling of perfume cannot change that. 

Sadly though, this is not the message the girls in our culture hear – particularly in our beauty-centered environment.   Because of this, an apology is due…from my gender to theirs.  

“Dear Ladies, as I wait in line at the grocery store, I see the models on the covers of the magazines that you are supposed to emulate.  I have watched the beauties in the pageants and the impossible standard they set for all women worldwide.  I watch the commercials of the companies that sell the products that you “need” to buy to become a better you.  And I hear the comments made by men on sitcoms and around water coolers about women and how they should look.  And if I’m honest, I have contributed to the problem more times than I care to admit.  No wonder women run to make-up or perfume or hair spray or weight loss programs.  From your earliest memory you have been taught that you are not good enough (or smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough, etc).  And you never will be, with that criteria in place.  You are destined to fail in pleasing a man as that man is destined to fail in pleasing you.  Pleasing each other was never supposed to be our first priority or highest goal.  Forgive us, the men in your life, who have misled you into chasing lesser things – our shallow affections.”

In fact, even two thousand years ago, Roman culture reflected our current shallow culture today.  The pressures women face today (to be beautiful) have not changed, just the products available to them.  So prevalent was this problem among women that God, through His biblical writers, shared what adornments were important to Him.   His tastes have not changed today.

 “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”  (I Timothy 2:9-10)

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves.”  (I Peter 3:3-5)

What if we had more Moms (or women) that pursued the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit“?

We would probably have more daughters (or girls) who dressed modestly and had a healthier perspective on make-up and what it could and should do for them.

And this may not happen until we have more Dads (or men) doing a better job of sharing what is truly important in the females entrusted to us. 

It’s not the cover of the magazine that should get our attention but the content within.   Character, not cosmetics, should turn our heads.   That should be the overwhelming scent in all of our lives.