Where Popularity Misses the Mark

We all have those red-letter days: milestone dates we recognize—even as they are happening—as days that define us. We don’t just remember the event; we remember the date on the calendar. Life-shaping dates on my calendar include:

  • My anniversary
  • The births of both my sons
  • The first day I started my current ministry

You have similar dates on your calendar. It’s rare if two life-defining moments happen on the same date, but they do. It did for Richard Nixon.

Indelibly marked on Richard Nixon’s calendar is August 8. It’s circled twice.

Nixon had a long career in politics that reached its pinnacle on August 8, 1968 when he was nominated to run for president by the Republican National Convention. In a period of civil unrest, growing opposition to war, and a quickly changing moral landscape, Nixon stood for law and order—and he was popular.

“Tonight I do not promise the millennium in the morning. I don’t promise that we can eradicate poverty and end discrimination in the space of four or even eight years. But I do promise action. And a new policy for peace abroad, a new policy for peace and progress and justice at home.”

Nixon could have been remembered as one of our better presidents.

  • Nixon was strong in foreign relations, easing tension and building relationships with both China and Russia.
  • Nixon did much for the environment. He tackled issues like growing pollution and initiated the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Nixon ended the highly unpopular draft and gained increases for those serving in the military.

Nixon could have been remembered that way, but unfortunately, August 8 was circled on his calendar a second time. On August 8, 1974, eight years to the day after his popular and celebrated nomination, Nixon resigned in disgrace.

Popularity does not override our actions.

Culture’s attitude toward celebrities seems to override that idea. Musicians, actors, and athletes can behave badly, get some tabloid press for a few weeks, but remain high in ticket sales. We overlook serious character flaws because they entertain us. But I disagree with our culture’s willingness to look the other way.

Actions matter. Character matters.

It doesn’t matter how popular we may ever be; that popularity fades. And we’re still left with our character—and the results of our actions. It doesn’t matter how much other people loves us and approve of us; what matters is having God’s approval.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved” (2 Tim. 2:15). 

Seek Christ. Seek His approval. And character—the right kind of character—will follow.

“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matt. 6:33).


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An Innovative Approach to Church Life … from 1916

The following tidbit from history surprised me. It just seems so natural to walk into the store, make my selections while I walk up and down the aisles, and check out. But there was a time …

Prior to 1916, you went to the local grocer and simply handed him your list. He went to the back, got the items, and brought them out to you. Every store did that, including the store Clarence Saunders operated in Memphis. By the process bugged Saunders. It was time consuming. He wanted a faster way to serve customers—and serve more customers.

This sounds so ordinary to us, but he rocked the shopper’s world when they walked into his new store and found all the products were out front—not in the back. He handed shoppers a basket and empowered them to pick up their own items!

Some people expected this approach to buying groceries to fail. The naysayers expected a negative reaction: I should be paying less since I’m doing the bulk of the work. (That was my attitude the first time I used a self-service gas station in the 70s. Gas prices were going up, yet I was the one now doing the work of pumping gas.)  But when Saunders opened his new store on September 6, 1916, his innovation took off. And here we are 100 years later, gladly standing in the chip aisle, trying to choose between Cool Ranch or Nacho Cheese Doritos.

And some of us still shop in the store bearing the same name as the 1916 original: Piggly Wiggly. (Or as I call it: Hoggly Woggly.)

I think it’s well past time for believers to approach the Christian life with the same attitude we have when we enter the grocery store. If you need something, you go get it. Instead, too many Christians go to church expecting others—in particular, the church staff—to do things for them.

  • Pastor, I need you to pray for my Uncle Murray. Because God listens more to pastors.
  • Pastor, you need to share the gospel with my neighbor. If he was saved, he’d keep his dog out of my yard. Because the message of salvation only has meaning when it comes from the pastor—and not from someone who has been yelling at the neighbor’s dog.
  • Pastor, you need to visit Martha. She’s upset because she’s been ill yet no one came to see her. Because only pastors are allowed to visit the sick.
  • Pastor, the restroom is out of paper towels—again.

Anyone who has ever pastored can tell you these are exactly the kinds of things many church members expect their leaders to do. And it never crosses their minds that they could do these things themselves!

Church members need to get out of 1915! Let’s move into 1916 with its innovative approach to grocery shopping and apply the same principle to church life. If you see something in life and ministry that needs to be done, do it. Don’t present your list to the pastor and expect him to do it.

Notice who does the work of ministry in this passage:

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service” (Eph. 4:11-12).

Don’t give your ministry shopping list to your pastor. Take care of it yourself—as God leads you and works through you.

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pet. 4:8-10).

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Take a Break From Social Media and Talk Face-to-Face

I wonder what our music would be like today had smartphones existed sixty years ago.

Sixty years ago today (July 6, 1957), a 13-year-old kid showed up at a church function. It was a Saturday community event complete with a brass band and a dog show. But the kid also saw a band of older teenagers who had been invited to play. In spite of the leader’s inability to remember the words or even play well, the band captured his attention.

After playing, this makeshift band took a break inside the church auditorium. A guy came in with the 13-year-old and made some introductions. The younger teenager then pulled out his own guitar, played a few songs popular at the time, and a friendship was formed.

Two weeks later, John Lennon invited the 13-year-old Paul McCartney to join his band, the Quarry Men.

No matter what you think of their lifestyle, politics, and religious beliefs, the Beatles wrote some great songs. Their approach to both songwriting and recording redefined rock and roll in the 60s, and their influence is still felt today. (My wife and I disagree on whether their early music was better than their later music, but I still love her.)

I think  if a church had a community event this weekend, two teenagers like Paul and John would never meet because at least one of them would have his head buried in his phone.

We come to intersections all day. Not the driving kind, but intersections where we encounter other people. It may be momentary, but we have an opportunity to engage with another human being. Many of these encounters have the potential of being a joyous moment in our lives, an encouragement for the other person, or—who know—maybe the start of a lifelong relationship that rivals the Beatles. But we wouldn’t know because we’re looking at our phones instead.

Last week was the tenth anniversary of the iPhone, and CNN published an online article about how the iPhone has made our lives worse.  From my own experience, I can’t disagree with their seven reasons. Two of them particularly stuck out to me:

1. We are ignoring one another. I see this in restaurants every time we eat out. (And restaurant fare is the main food group in our family diet.) Couples, groups of friends, and even whole families are sitting in each others’ presence with their heads bent down in the smartphone stare. We’re so engrossed in the latest videos and memes, counting Likes on our Facebook page, or playing games that we’re not talking to each other. I mean having a genuine conversation.

2. Smartphones are ruining our relationships. We’ve relegated conversation to sending texts with stupid little emojis. True feelings and expressions come up short. Texting is not a real conversation, and it is certainly nothing deep. We’re slowly losing our ability to talk with other people in a meaningful way.

People with a higher proportion of online interactions are lonelier than people with a higher proportion of face-to-face conversations. [Source]

Anticipate the intersections you’ll have with people today. Put the phone down and actually carry on a simple conversation. One of those meetings could lead to the next revolution in music.

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What Determines My Disobedience?

Is listening to an authority figure hard for you?

This weekend marks the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863). The outcome of the bloodiest Civil War battle could’ve been quite different had one man stuck to what his commander told him.

General Lee had his army in enemy territory in Pennsylvania. Lee was preparing to engage the Union—but not yet. He was waiting to get his full army in place, and he had commanded his men to avoid any contact with Union soldiers.

Major General Henry Heth ignored the order. Historians disagree on the reason, but it seems that Heth may have been interested in venturing into the town of Gettysburg—for shoes. He took some men into town to commandeer a shipment of shoes. But instead of finding a great sale on shoes, they came face to face with Union cavalry.

A fight ensued, of course, and other units came rushing in to provide reinforcement. The skirmish turned into a full-fledged battle with no strategic planning on either side. Lee’s plans were shot and he had to improvise. Three days later, between 46,000 to 51,000 men lay dead or wounded.

Had Heth obeyed Lee, would there still have been a Battle of Gettysburg? Probably. After all, General Lee was preparing for a skirmish in one way or another in Pennsylvania, but Heth’s disobedience led to an outcome that worked against Lee. And Heth’s disobedience worked against 46,000+ men who suffered and died.

Obedience matters.

Just this past month, two of the men in my Bible study group told me they hated following someone else’s orders. It’s like a wall goes up against authority—any authority.

I’ll admit some people in authority are hard to follow. I am currently reading a book: How Chance and Stupidity Have Changed History. Each chapter focuses on a major military defeat in history, and most of the defeats are tied to exceedingly inept people in charge.

However, before we just up and revolt against any and every authority, we should ask ourselves a couple of questions:

  1. Is what I’m being told to do dangerous to myself or others?
  2. Is it unbiblical?

Just because an order seems stupid or unnecessary to us is not a cause for disobedience. Frequently, those in authority see the bigger picture. They can be aware of other factors, consequences, or benefits we know nothing of.

And that is certainly true for the authority of Jesus Christ. He is sovereign Lord, and He sees the ultimate big picture. We must trust Him.

What is hard is trusting Christ when His Word says we must obey all authorities over us. 

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Rom. 13:1-2).

No exclusions are for leaders who are inept or have serious character flaws. It comes down to a matter of conscience on how far you carry your obedience, but for me, it goes back to those same two questions:

  • Is what I’m being told to do dangerous to myself or others?
  • Is it unbiblical?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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Do You Know Your Rights as a Christian?

“You have the right to remain silent …”

Although I have never been arrested (getting hauled to the police station when I was fifteen for driving without a license doesn’t count), I know my rights. I’ve watched enough crime shows to quote them:

  • You have the right to remain silent.
  • Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law.
  • You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning .
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.

C’mon, is there anyone who cannot quote these? I grew up hearing them on TV, and they seem so obvious, but there was a time …

In 1963, Ernesto Miranda was a 22-year-old reform school graduate. The Phoenix police picked him up for questioning in the abduction and rape of a young woman. The police asked him questions and he confessed. He went to trial and was convicted.

When Miranda appealed his conviction, he found out that he never had to say a word to the police. He didn’t know he could ask for a lawyer; he just did what the police said. He didn’t know his rights. This went all the way to the Supreme Court, who ruled 51 years ago this week (June 13, 1966) that anyone and everyone arrested must be informed of their rights—their Miranda rights.

Do you know your rights as a follower of Christ? I ‘m not talking about legal matters; I’m referring to spiritual matters.

In a recent post, I said that Christians have no rights, so it sounds like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth. But we don’t have any rights when it comes to choosing ourselves over others. We gave up all our self-focused rights when we surrendered ourselves to the lordship of Christ.

But Christ has given us certain rights—certain things we can expect—in our relationship to Him.

  • You do not have the right to remain silent. “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26).
  • Anything you say can and will be used to point people to Christ—or away from Him.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” (Jas. 3:9-10).
  • You have an attorney—a constant advocate—in Jesus Christ. We have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1).
  • The Counselor—God’s Holy Spirit—is always present with you to guide you and help you. “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).

We have these rights, not as entitlements, but as a gift of God’s grace. If we  hear our Miranda rights, it is because we are accused. We hear our rights in Christ because we are declared forgiven.

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Lies Masquerading as Truth

What we think is true can be just as powerful as what really is true.

Just ask Hitler.

The First US Army Group played a pivotal role in the D-Day Invasion—and it wasn’t even real.

The Nazis knew the Allied forces would eventually try to step onto the continent, but where? The Allies had their sights on landing at Normandy, but they didn’t want the Germans to know that. So they created a fictitious army group, placed it in a British coastal area far from where the Allies were actually stationed, and gave the impression they were going to invade France at Pas de Calais, a good 200 miles up the coast.

  • They created tent cities, fake mess halls, hospitals, and even a sewage treatment facility.
  • They filled the area with rubber inflatable tanks and a massive inventory of jeeps and ambulances constructed of wood.
  • The British film industry stepped in and made dummy landing craft out of fabric, plywood, old pipe, and bailing wire.
  • At night, men would move this equipment around, giving the illusion of activity.
  • They transmitted fake reports of camp activity, preparation, and troop movements.

To German radio operators and reconnaissance planes, the enemy was gearing up for invasion at Pas de Calais. As a result, when the allied invasion occurred on June 6, 1944, the Germans military was not as fortified at Normandy as they could’ve been. Their units were spread thin with a large contingency waiting 200 miles north for an invasion that never happened.

Even three days after the invasion, Hitler ordered the units to stay at Calais instead of joining the others in Normandy. This allowed the Allies to gain the ground needed.

A ghost army won a real battle.

Don’t let a ghost army win any battles in your life.

Has anyone ever said one of these to you? Ever said them to yourself?

  • You failed—again. You will always be a failure.
  • You are inadequate. You’ll never measure up.
  • Sure, God loves you, but He can’t use you—not after what you’ve done.
  • You are who you are. You will never change.
  • You’re hopeless.

Stop listening to these. They are nothing but lies. Jesus Christ changes everything.

  • He removes your sin—no matter how bad it is.
  • His forgiveness and love sees no failure.
  • He comes into your life through His Holy Spirit. God Himself empowers you and overcomes any past or inadequacies.
  • He gives you hope and a future.

Lies rule our lives when we believe them. But if we see the truth of who Christ is and who we are in Him, those lies are nothing more than a pretend, ghost army. They might look threatening, but they have no real power.

So how can we recognize the lies? Focus on the truth. Focus on Christ and what He has done for you. The gospel—the salvation that comes through the death and resurrection of Christ—is not simply to secure your future in heaven; it is for now. The good news is that Christ has set you free now. You rest securely in Him.

  • I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29).
  • “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17).
  • “But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him” (Col. 1:22).
  • “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13).

Live in the truth of who you are in Christ.


Stop Tinkering and Start Living

We’re certainly familiar with the name Mercedes Benz. We may be less familiar with the name Karl Benz, the man who built the first practical automotive.

But I don’t want to talk about Karl. I want to tell a story about his wife. Let’s give a shout out to Bertha Benz, whose birthday is celebrated this week (May 3). Without Bertha, we may never have heard of Karl.

Karl was a pretty sharp guy. In the 1870s, he was building gas engines, and he patented a few things we take for granted today: things like spark plugs, radiators, carburetors, and gear shifts. His business did well, leaving him time to play around with another idea: creating a horseless carriage.

And that’s what he did. Karl invented the first automobile. Only problem was that he wasn’t ready to sell it. The vehicle worked—and it worked fine—but he kept wanting to tinker with it.

Enter Karl’s wife, Bertha. She was his business partner and the business brains in their marriage and company. She knew her husband was on to something. She wanted him to manufacture and sell, but Karl wanted to perfect it. So he kept tinkering.

In August 1888, without telling her husband what she was doing, Bertha took the car on a road trip. The first road trip. She took along their two teenage sons and drove 66 miles to her mother’s house. She accomplished three great feats.

  1. She proved to her husband that his automobile was reliable and road worthy.
  2. She showed curious onlookers that the automobile could serve a useful purpose.
  3. She survived the first road trip with two teenage boys.

Karl was convinced. They immediately began to manufacture and sell. And the rest is history.

Too many Christians think we have to be perfect before we tell others about Christ. They’re wary of “putting Him on display” until they’ve matured, learned more about the Bible, overcome a particular habit, or … well, you get the idea. We want to keep tinkering with our walk with Christ before we put it out there for all to see. After all, we don’t want to make Jesus look bad.

Perfection is our goal, but you ain’t there—and you won’t be any time soon. Spiritual maturity and growth in Christ is a lifelong journey.

The attraction of the Christian life comes in seeing us as real people who love Jesus. I’m convinced people respond positively when they see Christ in us—even with our imperfections.

Paul wrote about his own imperfections.

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

It’s OK to keep on tinkering. Even Karl Benz, after he began selling cars, kept tinkering and making improvements. But his wife taught him that tinkering should not keep us from getting on the road.

So get on the road, and don’t be afraid to live out your faith in front of others.