What I Read in My Dad’s Private Prayer Journal That Changed Me

I was 15 in 1988, which was a really cool time to be 15. It’s the year Kirk Gibson, who had been injured in the NLCS, pinch-hit the walk-off home run in game one of the World Series and was barely able to make it around the bases with two injured legs. The NBA champs were the Lakers, who had a team full of guys who were so colorful they were known by one name like, Kareem, Magic, and Kurt. Well, maybe Kurt was better known for his wreck-specs but I loved him. Gritty, uncoordinated, not too good looking, and well versed at giving up the ball to the incredible athletes on his team, he reminded me of me.

That stuff was cool but the best thing about 1988 to me was a small console about the size of a shoebox. Nintendo was released about 3 years earlier, but it takes things a little while to make it south Arkansas.

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This is a Wikipedia image. My Nintendo has scuffs from me frustratedly throwing the controller at it because it’s almost impossible to get past those hammer throwing turtles.

We had two TVs. One was in the living room. The other was in my mom and dad’s bedroom. Since I wanted to play RBI Baseball or Tecmo Bowl or Mario literally every waking moment, Dad hooked up our Nintendo to the TV in their bedroom. I’m typing this on an iPhone 6+. For reference’s sake, understand the TV screen I’m talking about was probably about the size of two of my phone’s placed side by side. This also probably explains why I’m staring at my iPhone 6+ through strong bifocals.

To be fair to me, I actually only played Nintendo about 14 hours per day. The other 6 waking hours were spent blowing in cartridges (ask your parents), holding the reset button for 5 seconds, and adjusting the cartridge with the delicacy of brain surgeon to get the Nintendo to work.

One day when I reached to plug in the gun for Duck Hunt, I noticed my name in a paragraph halfway down the yellow legal pad on my mom and dad’s dresser. Legal pads were everywhere in our house. Dad would scribble sermon ideas down at a moments notice so there was always a pad nearby. I never really paid much attention to what was written on them, but on this day the presence of my name caught my eye.

I looked to the top of the first paragraph and realized quickly this was a prayer that Dad had written out as part of his devotion time. The thought occurred to me that this might be private so I did the appropriate thing. I appropriately kicked the door closed so I wouldn’t get busted. I skipped over the boring parts about my mom and sister (Sorry La, this is before your time) and got down to the good stuff. The stuff about me. And what I read completely blew my mind.

I don’t remember the exact words but this is how it was written on my heart that day.

“Lord, be with Jon. I KNOW he is at the age where he is facing serious sexual temptation. Keep him pure and focused on living a life for you.”

WHAT?! Wait, Dad knows there is sexual temptation in the world? And not just in the world, IN ME!!

Dad and I had talked about the basics of these things a few years before this but his voice had been replaced by the voice of my guys on the bus headed to baseball games and the ever growing influence of TV and other dumb voices I was turning to.

As great as 1988 appeared to be, there was a war going on. And I’m not talking about the Cold War. Have you been a 15 year old boy lately? I remember some of what it was like. The basic thought process is girls girls girls fun girls girls girls fun girls girls girls. (I’ve wrestled with whether this next thought is a little too base to say out loud, but I think it’s important to give you a glimpse into the struggle.) I mean you go to class to learn, but at some point in the day, out of the blue a thought like this hits you. “Hold on. I think all the girls in here with clothes on are not wearing clothes under the clothes.” If you’re a guy, try to remember one thing you learned in the 8th grade. Isn’t that sad?

Being a young teen is a tough time. So tough, that if you are a guy trying to do right, it will almost feel like you’re losing your mind. I had no idea anybody had ever faced that kind of temptation. I felt bad just for being tempted by the stuff. What kind of low-life thinks something like that? Nobody understands that battle.

Then I saw my Dad’s prayer. And although he was just praying for my strength, to me he was saying, “Jon, you’re not a crazy, unsalvageable low-life. You are in a normal struggle that I understand.” It meant everything to me. It was new life to me. Even though I felt guilty for invading his privacy every time I read it, I went back and read it time after time until the notebook was moved.

I don’t know what to do with all this. What is my point? I think if Dad had come to me and said these words I’d probably have been too weirded out to take them in. I think the best takeaway from this is to pray for your kid in their current season. I think that in a cool twisty way Dad’s prayer was answered by me reading the prayer itself.

Or maybe the takeaway is to be sure to write “PRIVATE-DO NOT READ” as the heading of any document you want your kid to notice. We might as well cash in a little on depravity.

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What Churches Who Think Like Chain Restaurants are Missing

Chain restaurants do not become chains by having bad food. Actually if you took the sign down off Olive Garden and hired a 67 year old Italian couple to welcome the guest as they came in, you’d probably say, “We have the most wonderful little family Italian place.”

The problem with chains is that if they don’t have a button on the cash register for it, they can’t make it.

I went to a fast food place that has branches all over the world. I asked them for some chili cheese fries. They said that they didn’t have chili cheese fries. I explained that I could see all three of these ingredients from where I was standing and with a long enough ladle I could make them myself. “I mean, we have chili, cheese, and fries but we don’t have a way to charge you for them,” the guy said.

My favorite ice cream place is locally owned. I love Golly G’s for many reasons. I believe I already mentioned the ice cream. Their cinnamon rolls the size of my head are pretty cool too. The people there are awesome. But the greatest thing about the people there is that they are allowed to use their brains to serve me.

They are more than willing to venture off the menu to make you something you like. They have this grape soda there. One day I asked them if I could have one of those soda’s mixed into a shake to make me a purple cow. Thomas said, “Hmm, sounds good. I’ve never tried it, but we’ll give it a shot.”

I have no doubt I could ask for a sugar cone filled with chocolate turned upside down with a scoop of ice cream spiked on top of it and in no time I’d be eating a “Snow-capped Lookout Mountain.” (I am really good at naming things.)

I’m pretty sure there is no Purple Cow button on the cash register. I’m positive there is no Snow-capped Lookout Mountain button. And yet they figured out a way to type in the concoction in the cash register. Sometimes when you make up a new item they might wildly undercharge you for it the first few times. Sometimes you may pay a little more for some of these creations. It can get a little messy. That’s what I love about it.

That’s the way I want my church to be. We live in a world of broken people. These broken folks visit our churches. When they do, it is tempting to say, “I wish we could help you, but we don’t have a button for y’all. Your past is just so yucky, or we’ve never dealt with a child with that need.”

To which these folks reply, “I’ve heard you say the gospel is the answer. I can see it right there. You have it. Just give it to me.” But because this ministry can be messy, we just kind of keep our distance until “the problem” goes away, literally.

Not a single person is expendable. Not one. Listen, I know that saying, “Just rub a little gospel on every difficult situation and you’ll be good” is an oversimplification. But I do know this, I want to do all I can to meet the deep needs of the people I come into contact with, even if it means getting a little messy in the process. We are far from perfect, but I’m so thankful I work for a church that allows that kind of ministry and especially for great folks who are willing to dig in and do the work.

Golly G’s is opening its second location soon. I can’t wait to go in and ask for a Purple Cow. Joey, if they tell me they don’t have a button for it I may go all “money changers in the temple” crazy in that place!

By the way, Courtney and Kamryn whipped me up a Snowcapped Lookout Mountain and it was incredible.

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Chick Fil A’s Fish Sandwich Review (with a side of “Plea for a Friendship with Dan Cathy”)

I still run into people from time to time who have never been to Chick Fil A. My response to those folks is always the same: “Dude, when are you going to stop wasting your life?”  I love Chick Fil A. Wait, I’m not sure you hear what I’m saying. I fear that the word “love” has lost its meaning in our culture. So understand I’m not using the term flipantly like, “I love walks on the beach,” or ” I love playoff hockey,” or “I love my mother-in-law (that was for a chuckle. I do love you Ms. Viv).” I mean it like, “CFA, you..complete me.” And when you love someone or some fast food place you give it the benefit of the doubt. That’s what makes me nervous about this blog.

I do not want to hurt Dan Cathy’s feelings. I hope to shake his hand someday and thank him for all he has done in the field of poultry frying. Who am I kidding? I hope to hug his neck one day. I’m just hoping I’ll be able to restrain myself from a curtsy like people do when they meet the Queen of England. I’m pretty sure that last line is more likely to get me a restraining order than a meeting.IMG_9015

But here’s the thing, recently I tried the Fish sandwich at CFA. It was good. It was really good actually. The fish was flaky. There were two filets. It came with two little tartar sauce packs that said “tartar sauce” in that beautiful CFA font. What is that font? I drool every time I see it.

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Brace yourself for the first negative statement I’ve ever made about CFA (other than the whole “Sunday” thing.) Here’s the problem. The whole time I was eating that fish I was thinking, “I know they have CFA chicken strips right back there. I can see them! What am I doing, eating this stuff I can’t even put Polychicknesianaise (my soon to be patented sauce) on?”

Going to Chick Fil A and ordering fish is like going to the Disneyland parking lot, parking your car, and then walking down the road to ride some pretty fun go carts. It’s not a bad thing but there is greater joy to be had.

This is what I feel like, Danny, (may I call you “Danny,” Mr. Cathy? Feel free to call me Jon or bestie or heir or whatever.) I feel the same way Michelangelo’s friends must’ve felt when he painted “the Conversion of Saul.” It’s an incredible masterpiece, but he had made the mistake of setting the bar at a crazy level when he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel a few years earlier. I can hear them saying “Mike, this painting of Saul is awesome but, Dude, that chapel ceiling is just, WOW.” Yes, I just compared a chicken sandwich to the ceiling the Sistine Chapel and Dan Cathy to Michelangelo without a hint of sarcasm.

IMG_9020But Here is the good news, just as I started to beat myself up for ordering something I couldn’t use CFA sauce on, the light bulb came on. “I wonder what CFA sauce tastes like on fish?” Turns out, I’m a genius. I think my next blog is going to be about gross things (not that your fish is gross D-man, it’s awesome) you can make delicious by slapping a little CFA Sauce on it. I may have just revolutionized the rice patty business.

So my advice is this, go to CFA, order the fish AND the tenders, and if you know Dan Cathy share this blog with him. You can’t avoid me forever, Michelangelo!!!

Everything You Never Wanted to Know about My Gallbladder

Do you know how incredible your body is? Wait, let me rephrase that so I don’t sound like a weirdo or John Mayer. Let me get a little medical on you for a second. You have some crazy junk going bananas inside of your guts right at this moment. From what I understand that’s the opening statement in medical school.

You have awesome organs working away nonstop that are life-giving and beautiful. They are instruments in the finest tuned orchestra in the universe that play in rhythm and on key without us even giving them a single thought. See what I’m saying. Your body is incredible. Nope it still sounded weird. My point is, God made you a masterpiece. He said it was very good…and then he installed your gallbladder.

Seriously, what is up the gall bladder? Other organs sound so cute. The kidneys sound like “kid knees.” What is cuter than a babies knees? Or how about the heart. It is “he art.” And you need the liver to “live…er something.” But there is no getting around it, the gallbladder is a bladder of gall. We might as well call it the “yucksack.”

And, my friend, it is not beautiful. My yucksack has been flaring up lately.

If you’ve never had gallbladder trouble let me tell you what it feels like so you can know what to look for. Although I have never been great with child, a gallbladder attack feels like you are carrying a tiny yet deadly trained ninja in your stomach just below your right ribs. And this little murderer cannot stand it when you drop a French fry on his head. For every fry you eat he spends 30 minutes punching your rib cage in furious anger.

I had a physical two days ago and told my doctor about this little guy I’m carrying around. Would you like to know what this doctorate carrying physician who took the hippocratic oath told me? I’ll paraphrase and cut through all the medical jargon. She said, “Toughen up buttercup. You’ll know when it’s time for surgery because you’ll notice that you are writhing in the floor with a fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. Until then, buck up.” Now, I’ve never hit a woman, but this lady is lucky my side hurt so bad or I would have probably considered…actually no, she looks pretty tough. I think I need a pediatrician or something.

This is usually the point in my blogs where I try to end with some surprise spiritual application that blesses the socks off of you, but I’m sorry. The gallbladder is just dumb. In a best case scenario they remove it and I HAVE NO PLACE TO BLADDER MY GALL! Gall everywhere! And we do NOT want that!

Wait, I’ve got it. Has your yucksack hurt you today? You’re good right? How wonderful! Today give thanks that your tiny ninja is resting comfortably in there. And I apologize that you are going to be singing “Hold me closer tiny ninja” the rest of the day.

Chick-fil-A’s 6 Most Poorly Guarded Secrets

FullSizeRenderI have been blogging for about 5 years. I use the term “blogging” loosely. It’s mostly me talking about how miserably my latest diet is failing.

I have posted 41 blogs on my page.  In the five years before this week I’ve had around 18,000 views of what I’ve written. That’s a little less than 10 views per day.

It sounds respectable until you realize that 9 of those 10 daily views are my mom clicking on it to show both friends and complete strangers that her boy is so famous he has his own blog. I don’t have the heart to tell her that my mayor’s cat has a blog with more followers than I have.

That all changed this past week when I wrote about the thing that truly inspires me- Chick-fil-A Sauce. I drop the name “Chick-fil-A” and people go CRAZY! At the time of this writing I have had 24,446 views on my CFA post. I know that because I checked my stats 3 times while typing that sentence.

I’m no mathematician but that tells me people need more CFA in their lives. And, by George, I will panderingly ride this horse made of delicious chicken until it drops completely dead, which could very well be in the next paragraph.

So with that being said, I give you Chick-fil-A’s 6 Most Poorly Guarded Secrets.

Secret #1. CFA employees agree to genetic modification to make them the nicest people on the planet.

CFA, where are you finding these people? For those of you who have never been to Chick-fil-A [observes moment of silence for these tragic empty lives] let me fill you in. You can ask them to do anything remotely within their power and the CFA employee will smile and reply, “My pleasure.” And you know what? I kinda think they really mean it!

I consider the workers at “my” CFA (I don’t actually own a CFA but I am there more than the actual owner if that counts for anything) as my best friends. Let’s put it this way, if I were to renew my vows next week, no less than 5 people who work there would be in my wedding party. And that doesn’t count the catering crew.

I asked 9 of them to be pall bearers at my funeral. I know it should only take 8 guys to carry you but people, that SAUCE!

Don’t get me wrong, I know they don’t really know me. I guarantee you when I’m not around I’m known as “the 21 packs of sauce guy.” But it just feels so good in there. Maybe it’s the real flowers on the tables (seriously), or the instrumental contemporary Christian music in the background, but it just feels like home.

Do they have that music at your CFA? I have a theory that CFA may actually be a karaoke bar for really shy Christians that fell back on their delicious chicken when the self-conscious Christians never sang.

Secret #2. There is an unpublicized menu item called the #64.

The #6 is chicken strips on the menu. The #4 is the spicy chicken sandwich. Put them together and you get the #64 spicy chicken strip meal!

Okay, this is a lie. Spicy chicken strips do not exist. And it bothers me. A lot. By the way, I’ve given this way…way too much thought.

You know they have the technology to make this happen. Are their tenders actually so tender they cannot handle having the spicy red stuff that we have come to love on the #4 placed on them?

In the hours of meditation I’ve done on this subject I’ve come up with a theory. CFA refuses to make spicy tenders because it just wouldn’t be fair to every other restaurant. If these dudes produce a spicy chicken tender the entire thread of our economic system will be unraveled by the closure of every other restaurant.

Know what? I can live with that. Give me a spicy tender Cathys! (If CFA comes out with spicy tenders and put it on their menu as a #64 those 9 dudes at the Madison Street CFA in Clarksville, TN I’ve talked to about being my pall bearers better be well rested because I would not be able to deal with the coolness of said moment.)

Secret #3. Their sweet tea reacts in exactly the same way as holy water when thrown on a vampire.

Here’s the problem. If I’m drinking a CFA large sweet tea with a splash of lemonade in there (yes, they’ll do that, it’s “their pleasure”) and I find myself being attacked by the undead, if there’s any chance I might escape or even be able to finish my tea, I’m not wasting it!

I’d be like, “Vlad, do what you got to do, I’ve got to knock down this Arnold Palmer.”

Secret #4. Sometimes, when no one is looking, I rebuild whole potatoes out of my waffle fries before I eat them one layer at a time using a full package of sauce per slice.

You know what? Forget this one. That was actually one of my most poorly guarded secrets and not CFA’s. Sorry.

Secret #4b. Breakfast platters exist.

Order one. TOMORROW MORNING!!

It’s like 6 scrambled eggs, a chicken patty, a biscuit, and a side of gravy! Tell them to dice up your chicken into small pieces to eat with your biscuit and gravy (their pleasure). Put a little Texas Pete on those eggs. And yes, I do consider us best friends forever now that I’ve given you this info.

Secret #5. CFA made a mistake one time.

Before you get the pitchforks and torches out, let me explain.

For a while CFA had mouthwash stations in the bathroom. This sounds ridiculous. If you’re not familiar with CFA I know you’re thinking, “A fast food place, spent money on a mouthwash station?” I’m not lying. It was there. I used it…once.

It didn’t work out. This is why. As awesome as it was, it washed away all the delicious polychicknesianaise taste I was savoring.

I have been known to keep a nugget tucked between my cheek and gum for up to 5 hours, savoring the taste.

Why would anyone wash away this flavor? The mouthwash machines are now hand sanitizer, which I doubt will last much longer either because when we leave CFA, let’s be honest, we enjoy the finger licking as much as the meal.

Secret #6. CFA has 8 ounce bowls of their sauces for sale.

Buy these and in so doing, live the life you always knew awaited you.

I have three more secrets. One of which involves C.S. Lewis being inspired to write about Narnia when he walked into the play place in Belfast, but I think I’ve revealed plenty for today.

Also I have to go study my Greek and Hebrew to see if I can find a loophole in the “Sabbath Laws” to convince CFA to give me a decent chicken sandwich on Sundays. Wish me luck.

The Overweight Guy’s Authoritative Guide to Chick-fil-A Sauces

Stop whatever you are doing and before you read another word, go to Chick-fil-A, walk up to the counter and say, “Give me a family platter of nuggets and one of each of your sauces, please. And don’t forget the Roasted Honey Bar B Que, Sweetheart. I know you hide the good stuff.”

I know that sounds a little pushy. And if you were at Zaxby’s you’d be looking at dropping a couple bucks on sauces alone. But my friend you are at CFA. No sooner than you ask for it, the girl who taught your kid in children’s church yesterday will say, “My pleasure,” and hook you up.

On your way to your seat stop by the condiment station and pick up a CFA Mayonnaise, one of those futuristic Buck Rogers Ketchup packs, a thing of Texas Pete’s hot sauce and a pack of mustard to grow on.

So now you should have a platter of nuggets sitting to your left and a smorgasbord of sauces on a tray to your right. Don’t worry if your nuggets spill out onto the tray. That paper they line those with is surgery grade sterilized…I assume.

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Take the BBQ sauce, Buttermilk Ranch, and Honey Mustard and throw them away. You can get these anywhere.

According to their website, these are by far the healthiest sauces CFA offers. And it shows. I mean they are better than other restaurant’s best but, people, the BBQ Sauce actually has 6% of your daily vitamin C. How good can it be?

Now take the Buffalo sauce back up to the counter. I have no idea what part of the buffalo they are mining this stuff from but it’s a little bitter and from what I understand those things are endangered anyway.

Let’s focus our attention on what I call the Delicious 3: the Honey Roasted BBQ Sauce, Polynesian Sauce, and obviously, the Chick-fil-A Sauce. I went through several names for these sauces that included the word “trinity” but scrapped them all due to sacrilege.

First, let’s talk about the Honey Roasted BBQ Sauce.

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It is often overlooked and even laughed at by it’s other sauce brethren due to the fact it comes in a plastic pillow like mustard instead of the little tray we have come to love.

The other thing it has working against it is the fact that apparently CFA employees must give account to Truett Cathy himself at the end of every day for every packet of this stuff they give away. They’re handing out drink refills left and right, giving free cheerios to kids hand over fist, passing out coffee and ice cream cones like water, but ask them for some of this stuff and they disappear under the counter for 10 minutes and reappear all sweaty and out of breath with one packet.

Once I ordered 60 sandwiches for an event and they gave me 3 packs of Honey Roasted BBQ. They told me to keep the $200 warming bag I took the sandwiches in, but if I had any of the HRBBQ sauce left to drop in their overnight box on the side of the building.

My theory is angels are syphoning this stuff out of the fountains of heaven and they can only get so much of it at a time.

If I had to describe HRBBQ sauce I’d say, “If Spicy Chick-fil-A sauce and dessert CFA sauce had a delicious baby, this would be it.” Try it on a Spicy Chicken Sandwich and pair it with a nice half unsweet tea, half regular lemonade. Welcome to life.

Next, let’s look at Polynesian Sauce.

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I didn’t look this up, but I’d guess that Polynesia is the capital of the mythical paradise of Atlantis. In this land they enjoy the sweetness of 10,000 pomegranates with all the savory finish of pork belly.  It sounds plausible to me.

This stuff is sweet and sticky and if it gets on your shirt don’t even try. That shirt was doing nothing for you anyway and the Polynesian is now fulfilling your wildest dreams.

Actually I just remembered I took Greek in college and I can parse the word Polynesia for you.

“Poly” means many, as in polytheism, which means many gods. “Nesia” is the ancient word for fat rolls. You know what, on second thought let’s move on.

Finally, we have Chick-fil-A sauce.

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Let’s be honest, it’s Duke’s mayo mixed with Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce…plus something that makes it yellow. Probably gold.

This stuff has 140 calories per pack!!! Would you like to know how many packs I eat with a combo? Mind your business!!

Which of these Delicious 3 is my favorite? Answering that question is like me saying which of my future grandchildren will be my favorite. Actually the answer to that question is whichever one of those I’m consuming at the time. That illustration broke down, sorry.

Although it’s tough, I will rank my top two sauces for you now.

#2. Roasted Petey

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This is a combination of Roasted Honey BBQ and one of the packs of Texas Pete they have at the condiment station. I would describe it as robust, hot, sweet, and a little oily. Remind you of anyone?

#1. Polychicknesianaisse

This is a container of Chick-fil-A sauce with about half of a Polynesian poured in, finished with a stripe of the Chick-fil-A mayo on top.

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It’s also known as Genesis 1:31b sauce.  “and behold, it was very good.”

You’re welcome.

“Sweetheart…Daddy Stinks”

My daughter and I went rushing off to an appointment we had the other day. When we jumped in the car I was immediately met with an aroma that I can only describe as intensely foul.  No, chicken houses are foul.  This was “waste treatment plant” stinky.

I think my exact words were, ”Holy mackerel, Ellie, something in here is funky like a monkey!”

It smelled like a milkshake-cup-on-that-late-second-day-in-a-hot-car rot. So I thought back. Had I enjoyed a shake recently? I vividly remembered craving one but I’ve been trying to lose weight and didn’t remember getting one. Had I gotten a shake and drank it without consciously knowing it? Possibly.

I still can’t explain the 14 shrimp tails I found in my car ash tray on another occasion, so it is not beyond the realm of possibility that I had been to Golly G’s in my sleep, but I was pretty sure I had not.

I did what most mature adults would do in this situation, I tried to ignore it.

It would not be ignored.

We stopped at a gas station and cleaned out the entire car. This was a 27 minute venture that filled up two of the 55 gallon trash cans at the BP.

I thought, “Surely it was in one of those 600 bags of Krystal boxes.” I jumped back into the car and was punched in the nose by the same odor that, to me seemed to have been angered by our efforts to rid our lives of it.

It seemed close… A little too close. I grabbed my collar and brought it to my nose and BINGO! Found it! Apparently my wife had decided to wash this shirt in 9 month old buttermilk. I can’t imagine why she’d do this but maybe it was something she found on Pinterest.

Just before I started blacking out from the smell, I saw a sign. Not a metaphysical sign from the Lord. It was actually the Walmart sign up ahead in the distance. We skidded into the parking lot and I headed to the men’s leisure wear to find a new shirt.

I didn’t go straight to the men’s department. I had to bob and weave to keep 60 feet between me and the nearest person to keep them from calling the cops on me for wearing that abomination. I’d love to get the security footage of that trip. I looked like Marcus Mariota dodging J.J. Watt in there.

I was coming out of the shirt of death as we crossed the parking lot (for the sake of your mental image, I was wearing an undershirt). By the time I got to the car had my stink shirt off and and my new, horribly fitting Walmart shirt halfway on when it hit me. It was that old familiar curdled funkiness.

How was this possible? What are the chances that the shirt I had bought brand new, moments before, would also be soaked in rancid buttermilk exactly like the soured shirt I had put on that same morning? The mathematical chances of this are what scientists call, “Absolute Zero.”

As I sat dumbfounded in the car holding my nose I finally opened my mind to a painful possibility. I looked at my little girl and uttered the words every daughter dreads to hear from the man she looks up to.

“Ellie, I’m funky.”

It was actually my beard. I had forgotten that the night before, we had celebrated my birthday at my favorite Mexican restaurant.

Apparently they have this tradition of bringing you out a small dessert and right after they sing to you, before you take a bite, one of the waitresses smacks you in the face with a handful of whipped cream. I’m not one to put down a cultural tradition, but this is really stupid.

I washed my face but apparently I should’ve exfoliated my beard because the stench of 1000 deaths remained, waiting to pounce on me that morning.

It took me 2 hours, 3 stops, 2 shirts, and $17 to consider the remote possibility that I might be the problem. I simply refused to entertain the idea that I was to blame.

It can’t be me? Can it?

That’s my process. Whenever I see a problem in ministry or life, I assume something…anything is the problem before I consider it might be me.

I make fun of parents who do that. You’ve seen them. Their kid has played on each of the 17 t-ball teams in the area. For some unknown reason to the parents, EVERY COACH in the area has it out for their kid! It HAS to be the system, right? They never even think to look inward to see if the problem may be their little Johnny who has whacked 32 kids with a bat so far this year.

I’m the same way. “What’s wrong with these kids? They just don’t seem excited about church! Maybe they’re lazy. Maybe my budget’s to small. Maybe it’s the parents who won’t get on board. Maybe it’s just that our location stinks.”

Maybe…it’s me?

What if I started with that last question? I will never forget the time I was sitting in a worship service singing “O How I Love Jesus” looking around at a bunch of dejected, lifeless people, and thinking, “You knuckleheads! Look at them, God. They aren’t focused on You! They don’t even care!”

I know God didn’t actually speak to me but I heard it clearly from somewhere. “What about you, knucklehead?” That’s also how I know it wasn’t God’s voice. He usually doesn’t call His children names like that.

Satan is the accuser of the brethren. Are you? What if we pointed the first finger at ourselves? Let’s start there. The good news is we are also the easiest person to change.

If you must be a critic, take some advice from Mark Batterson. He says to criticize with creativity. Have ideas to make things better, but only after you have turned the magnifying glass of blame on yourself.

If I had done that the other day, I’d have saved $17 and a little shred of dignity. IMG_4830

6 Things No One Told You About Getting Older

When you’re young, you fight like crazy to mature.  And somewhere along the way, right before you feel like a man, you begin aging.  There is a razor thin edge between maturing and aging.  You realize you are aging when you say, “So that’s why they advertise all that Aleve.”

There are 6 things I had to find out on my own in this process that I was forced to learn the hard way.  I share because I care.

  1. Those Gray Nose Hairs are a Harbinger of Things to Come.

My first gray nose hair appeared in my mid-30’s.  At first glance I thought I’d accidentally left a Q-tip in my nose.  Then I realized what it was.

I was like, “Yikes! Let’s get you out of there Buddy.”  Little did I know those hairs run through the tear duct and directly to the pain center in the brain.

After that first sighting, it was just a matter of weeks before my beard was completely gray and my metabolism went to ZERO!

2. Your metabolism is about to go to ZERO!

In my teens I would go to fast food places and order the family meals….for MYSELF.  That 12 pack of tacos, the Krystal Krave Pack of 24, the 14 piece meal from KFC that came with a gallon of tea-a whole pie-and 12 sets of silverware, all of these things were snacks.  And although I was never slim, I was…let’s call it “powerful.”

I ate this stuff before ballgames that I was playing in!  I’m nauseous right now at the thought of eating a taco and reading a book.  But back then I could devour everything in my path without slowing down or gaining a pound as if I were the Tasmanian Devil or something.

Now I can eat a Lean Cuisine and be forced to throw out half my wardrobe.

3.  When your child turns 10 it is ok to cheat in physical competitions against them. 

I can no longer beat my daughter in a foot race.  That means either she is Wilma Rudolf or I am an old coot.

These are a few of my favorite cheats:

  • Changing the finish line in mid-race.
  • Tripping her at the start. (This should only be done in the grass or if your deductible is met up.)
  • Faking an injury, with a side of guilt trip. (“You don’t care that your old man is having a heart attack?  That breaks my heart even worse!”)

4. If someone offers you a senior discount and you’re not 50 yet, it is completely ethical to accept it if you call him “Sonny.”

Well it may not be completely technically ethical but accepting it is better than beating him to a pulp for being an idiot.

5.  Those electric carts at Walmart turn on a dime.

6. The best moments of my life have been the times I’ve taken a calculated risk.  

When I proposed.

When I quit my full-time secular job to go into full-time ministry.

When I…..hmm.  I haven’t done this enough.  Life is too short to live a long, boring, comfortable life.

It’s not getting old that stinks.  It’s staying safe that stinks.

Don’t worry I’m not going bungee jumping today, but I think I will work up the nerve to create an uncomfortable situation to challenge someone in their faith.  Or maybe I’ll give something away that I’d like to keep.

Man, while I’m feeling brave, maybe I’ll get out the tweezers and clean the “ole gray bats out of the nasal belfry” as they say.  I’m pretty sure I can never look you in the eye again if you’re reading this.

 

 

 

What My 9 Year Old Taught Me About Planned Parenthood

Today I took my 9 year old for her 6 month follow up visit to her orthopedic doctor. She fell off the monkey bars and broke her arm. Two weeks later I took her to the doctor to find out it was broken. I’m still not sure why I got passed over for that Parent of the Year award again this year, but I digress.

After a delicious breakfast we headed toward her school which led us past the Planned Parenthood building in Nashville. I go by there often and each time I feel a huge range of emotions.

I feel disgust toward the money grubbers who run the huge Planned Parenthood machine. I feel anger toward many of the protesters outside who are not motivated by love or if love is their motivation they certainly show it poorly. I feel incredible sorrow for the confused hurting mothers who scurry to the door to be mislead and coerced.

It is a place that always saddens me. And today I was riding beside the girl who, other than her mother, is the most important young lady in the whole world to me. Ellie is a smart, funny, 9 year old, who loves the big buildings of the city and always likes to talk about what might be happening in them (especially the one shaped like Batman’s head).

So as I saw the Planned Parenthood building approaching on our right, I said, “El, they perform abortions in that building that says ‘Planned Parenthood’ on the front.”

She said, “What’s an abortion?”

Then it hit me. We should have taken the interstate.

“Hey Dad, what’s an abortion?”

“Well,” I said, “hmm.  Er, uh, hmmm.” Okay, before I tell you what I said, think about it for a minute. Describe, in your own mind, the reasoning and the procedure of an abortion in a way a 9 year old can understand. I was going through 500 different approaches in my mind and every one of them sounded like an Eli Roth movie.

Finally, I dove in. “Well, sometimes when a mother decides she doesn’t want to have the baby she is carrying, she can go to that building and the doctor will remove the baby from the mommy’s tummy and it dies in the process.”

Even with my gentle handling, Ellie’s face turned to a grimace that she usually saves for only the most disgusting things. And then she kind of looked at me in disbelief.

“I’m serious.” I said. “They passed a law when I was in Nonna’s tummy that made it legal. The first babies who were legally aborted in America would be 42 just like me today. There are about 3400 abortions in America every day.”

Silence.

I think it was only about 3 blocks later although it felt like miles, Ellie said, “Man, I’m glad Dr. Gregory’s mom didn’t kill him.”

Dr. Gregory is the doctor who treated Ellie’s broken arm. She loves him because he has her do these cool exercises with her hands to test her wrist, like “praying mantis” and “ride the motorcycle” and “hold the soup” and her favorite for some reason, “show me your fingernail polish.”

“Me too, El.”

We moved on to other important things quickly like a badly worded sign she thought was funny. It was too much for her to process.

That’s the way I handle abortion too. It’s just too much. Sometimes I just set it aside in my mind, because I just can’t handle it.

Two people go in there and one comes out.  And the one who comes out is never the same.  They are told it is a medical procedure but they soon know they’ve been lied to.  There are no healthy survivors of this place.

So today I am so thankful to be reminded by my 9 year old to be appalled by this process. That is where action begins.

Nerf & Jesus Have Similar Business Models

I have what I call a quirk. Some people call it an addiction. My wife calls it an insane obsession that may take over my life and leave me a hollow shell of a man. I collect Nerf guns. They are actually called “blasters.” Have you ever shot one? It is an incredibly fun experience. No, Disneyland is an incredibly fun experience. Shooting the right Nerf gun is destiny fulfilling glee. Okay, maybe I’m obsessed.

Here’s some of my collection.

IMG_4570

I’d love to be able to tell you that I played with Nerf guns when I was a kid and that’s why I collect them, but the first Nerf blaster that shot darts came out in 1992. That is the year I graduated from high school. I was already “too old” for playing with Nerf guns in the terribly unkind, age-discriminatory eyes of the world.

I’ve always loved the way they feel in your hands. They are huge. They are not made for kid’s hands. If you own a Nerf blaster go check it out. It fits your adult hand doesn’t it?

I have one of the very first Nerf blasters made in 1992. (I actually have 3 but only one is in mint condition.) It’s not quite as big as Nerf guns today but it was still too big for kids. But by the second generation of Nerf guns they were the huge grown up size we see today.

Hey Nerf, why are your guns so big?

Why is this? Is Nerf really targeting adults with their blasters? The packaging says that they are for ages 8+. (Some say 6+ just for the record and I frequently buy them for 5 year old birthday parties personally.) But the point is, Nerf is making adult size toys for kids.

I own over 200 different ones (don’t judge!) and they are all made to fit grown-up hands. They are actually a little awkward for kids to shoot. At a family retreat one time I will never forget watching a tiny kid in a sagging diaper, and nothing else, using his mouth to cock MY gun and shoot people while cackling wildly. I miss that gun.

Hasbro, the company who owns Nerf, is genius. They know that kids don’t want kiddie stuff. They want to be taken seriously. They want to play with daddy’s tools. They want real make-up. They want to count.

If you don’t believe me, find a couple of 8th graders who are “dating” and call their relationship “puppy love” to their face.

Kids long for validation. Actually we all do, but this desire is what Hasbro has tapped into to sell their blasters to kids.

The Church could learn a thing or two from this harbinger of delight known as Nerf. In every aspect of life, kids are made to sit at the kiddy table. “You can’t vote.” “You’re too young to drive.” “You’re too little to perform myocardial valve reconstruction.” And these biases are valid. They’re just kids.

But….

In the one area of life that matters, kids are on identical footing with adults. When it comes to serving God, we are all equally qualified.

Need some proof, you skeptic?

Think about how God routinely used the weak to do wonders. It’s a theme of the Bible.

Moses with his speech impediment was the voice of His people.
Gideon, the weakest guy from the weakest family from the weakest region, won a huge victory but only after God made him and his men WEAKER so they would know God won the victory.
David beat Goliath.
Saul got in trouble for numbering the people to give himself an idea of “how strong he was.”

God’s love of getting glory from using the weak for great things is wonderful news for kids.

Think about the biggest crowd to whom Jesus ever spoke. It was when He was actually getting away from the crowd, but the crowd followed Him into the wilderness. There we 5000 men. That doesn’t count the women and children.

My favorite arena in the world is probably Municipal Auditorium in Nashville. It’s old and dark and awesome. It seats around 8000 folks for most events. That is probably about the same crowd Jesus was dealing with.

Municipal has teams of teams of people working on concessions at their events. It is hard to feed 8000 people. The crazy thing is Jesus fed them that day with a little boy’s Lunchable.

That’s what he had. It was the equivalent of the horrible little pepperoni pizza Lunchable my wife and I send our kid off to school with except it didn’t even come with a Capri-Sun.

How cool must that have been for that kid! “Here, take Jesus my lunch. I know it’s just a sardine Lunchable, but it’s all I have and I guess it beats nothin’.”

You know when those disciples laid out those 12 tupperware baskets of leftovers, Jesus gave that boy a little wink. Try telling that kid that he was too young to be used by God after that day, I dare you.

Can you hear him telling his friends and family what had gone down that day? “No seriously, it was 5 crackers and 2 sardines. It just kept coming. He used my lunch. Me and the King fed 5000 hungry people. I COUNT!”

Is your ministry sized to fit small hands or does it challenge them to serve bigger? Let’s challenge our kids to serve Him big.

By the way, are you feeling small today? Perfect, you are just the kind of person God loves to get glory through.