Friday, March 12, 2021

Cougar Courage

 Have you ever been at a loss for words when trying to explain something that felt truly indescribable?

All around us, every day, is the evidence of people's selfishness. The news, the stores, the streets, the AIR, is rife with hostility and malice and self-righteous anger and judgement.

But that's not what I'm talking about. 

I'm talking about moments of greatness, that steal your breath, that make your eyes well with tears, that solidify themselves in your memory for all of time.

The upheaval and isolation and division...it has been before, and it undoubtedly will be again. Nothing is new under the sun, after all. We just have a different name for the same ugliness.

But...over the past 7 months, all of that has been set aside. Because greatness must be paid attention to. 

The second season of the Triad Cougars basketball team has come to an end.

And before you think I'm going to say it was special because we won every game or set some record or played better than anyone has ever played before...I'm not.

I will say that there were some amazing dunks, some breath-taking three-pointers, some perfect passing. But, fundamentally, they're just boys. They're just learning. They made mistakes. They won and they lost.

Still...within all of that, we saw so much more.

Young men stepping up to welcome new members into the brotherhood.

The youngsters willing to play agains guys twice their size, fearlessly.

The stronger ones coming to the aid of their smaller comrades.

Boys, just beginning to become men, feeling the swell of anger...and choosing not to let it overcome them.

Players willing to step in between their teammate and an unkind opponent, and refuse to allow ugly words to be spoken.

A brother coming to the defense of his brother, no matter the consequences.

All of them running until their legs would barely hold them, and then, when it was asked of them, running some more.

There was vomiting.

There were technical fouls.

There was a broken nose.

There were tears.

There was blood.

Watching them out there on that court, fighting for every ball, encouraging each other endlessly, calming each other down, defending each other, helping each other...I saw a little glimpse into their future. 

Men of honor and courage, these boys. Willing to do the hard things for each other. Willing to push through pain, fight back mental fatigue, press forward to win the prize.

Not a trophy, though they did win a few. 

No, the prize they earned was within them, and between them.

We have watched them pray for each other in church...and we have watched it on the sidelines of a ball game. Heads bowed, shoulders touching, hearts knit together forever, these Cougars have clawed their way through a tough season, and they have won a victory for us all.

A victory over the distractions of the chaos all around us.

For a couple hours a day, a few days a week, a few months a year, there was nothing we couldn't do if we fought hard enough for the person beside us. Because they were fighting for us too. We soared when that ball and those legs did. It was special. We will always remember.

Thank you, Cougars, for your hearts of gold-covered steel. 

Thank you for fighting for us, for representing us.

We will do the same for you.




Thursday, January 28, 2021

Jesus Freak

 I've started reading a book called "Jesus Freaks" to my kids. It was published when I was a teenager, in cooperation with Voice of the Martyrs. Maybe you've never heard of it, or VOM for that matter. That's okay. (The older I get the more I am finding that I've been introduced to a lot of super "Christian"  things, and protected from a lot of super "worldly" things, throughout my life. I support this and am working hard to make sure my kids have the same weird knowledge base when they are grown and reflecting back.)

It's a compilation of stories of people who have been persecuted for their faith in Jesus throughout history. Some stories are from the early church, many come out of countries that still persecute Christians today.

Why am I reading them tales of young men being hung from the ceiling by their hair in an attempt to get them to recant their faith? Why do I want them to know that a man stabbed his sister to death with a knife rather than allow her to openly convert to Christianity? Why do I require them to listen as I read of people who refused to spit on their Bibles and so were shot in the head?

Because the day will come in this country, and indeed has already come, where there will be persecution handed out to followers of God Most High and His Son, Jesus Christ.

Don't misunderstand me. I don't know of routine floggings for proclaiming a belief in Jesus, unless you're referring to verbal floggings. 

I am not aware of anyone losing their fingernails for refusing to back down from a truth then KNOW...unless you count chewing off ones own nails in anxiety while being blasted on social media or over text. 

No one is being burned at the stake in America for being a Christian. At least not physically. At least not yet.

And to further clarify what I mean by "Christian," let me be frank: Most of the time the members of the church, those who profess the name and character and Lordship of Jesus, do so quietly, to their own close group of people who won't verbally rip them to shreds. We (I'm including myself in this) are very willing to speak the truth and defend the truth and hold tightly to the truth...unless it might cost us friendships and relationships with family and standing in our community and butts in seats on Sunday morning at our church. We are Christians in all the ways that are acceptable in society...and we are tight-lipped in all the ways that culture tells us isn't allowed.

I like to think if someone were holding a gun to my head, I would find that my love for Jesus was more precious than my love for my life. I think all believers hope this is true of them. But here's a question that'll keep you up at night: what if the gun is being held to your child's head? What if the person about to lose their life isn't you? Do you, do I, still choose Jesus when it affects someone else besides us? If I'm not willing to be verbally assaulted for 'hate speech' on social media...doesn't that say that, in function, I am not willing to lay down my life to defend the gospel? 

Oof.

Almost daily, I see or hear something that makes me say: "That's not true. It's a perversion of the Truth. It's twisted to mean what that person wants it to mean." But I don't say it on a platform of any kind. I just say it to myself, or to someone I know won't disagree with me.

Because I've tried holding to the truth and voicing that truth...and it has cost me relationships. More than once. More than twice. And when you have heard enough times that you're being a bigot or close-minded or arrogant to think you have all the answers (especially when that's coming from someone close to you) you start to bite your tongue more often.

Here is the raw, ugly, unguarded truth: I have allowed the enemy to silence me because I don't want to be emotionally ripped to shreds by people who used to love me but suddenly find they don't agree with me...and the things we don't agree on are deal breakers for them. So I remain silent. I speak of my Jesus, my friend, my Lord...but in function I do not willingly speak of ALL that He is.

How heartbroken I am to realize that, in words, I say "I don't love my life so much that I shrink from death" (Revelation 12:11)...but in deed, that isn't actually the case. (Not that I think I will die if I speak against things the Bible speaks against...at least not currently. But being 'canceled' and labeled 'hater' are happening every day. Both have happened to me over this past year.)

My whole life, the wisest man I know (my daddy) has told me to take all my questions to the Word, and let HIM answer them. 

This morning I did that very thing. I went to the Word. Because something came up last night to which I responded "that is NOT true, it's being misused" but only to my daughter. And today the Spirit of God has been asking me why I am shrinking back from standing on His Word and being willing to say it out loud. So...here it goes.

"Even Jesus grew angry at injustice."

"Jesus made a whip and flipped tables to make His point."

Maybe you've heard this recently. Maybe you've said it. Maybe you are hearing it for the first time, but are nodding along in agreement to the underlying point attempting to be made. The point that violence and destruction on behalf of social justice has precedent, set by Jesus, in scripture.

May I submit the passages of scripture for your reading? I read them all this morning. I also read commentary about them. 

Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:12-19, Luke 19:45-48 (All three of these are records of the same incident, which is referred to as the second time Jesus acted in this way. The record of the first time is found in John 2:13-16)

After reading them all, as well as commentaries, I have come down very firmly on the truth I already understood.

It is a truth that is "cancel" worthy. But if I believe it, I should be willing to say it. And if I'm not...do I truly believe it, in function? Am I willing to stand up and point out what is true, in the hope that light is shed on something that is being misused by the enemy?

Yes. I am.

Jesus did in fact go into the Temple and angrily drive out those who were trading and selling there. The Jewish merchants had set up trade tables in the court of the Gentiles in order to take advantage of people who were coming to worship God. They were exchanging their foreign money at an exorbitant rate, and then requiring them to buy "acceptable" animals for sacrifice from them, also at an inflated rate. Jesus said it was a den of thieves, when it was supposed to be a house of prayer.

Several things of note:

Jesus was dealing with hypocrisy and distortion of truth WITHIN the 'church' of that day.

He did NOT speak against injustice in the society, though there was great social unrest and injustice to be found during His life and ministry.

He didn't even address the Gentiles who were there. Rather, He set right the lies of those within His own circle of culture and, dare I say the buzzword, ethnicity.

He was angry, yes. Angry in defense of worship and reverence for His Father. Righteously angry in defense of the TRUTH. He walked into a place He wanted to come to worship Yahweh alongside His fellow Jews...only to find that they were more concerned with making money by extorting the innocent or ignorant. They had become distorted by the culture around them. Complaining about the way the Romans taxed them too heavily, and then turning around and doing the same thing to others, in God's house. 

And so, Jesus came to the defense of what was right. He opposed that, within His own ethnicity, within His own cultural place of worship, which was anti-TRUTH. 

He did not beat up any tax collectors. He did not flip any tables and drive out, with a whip, any Romans. He did not even support not paying taxes. (Luke 20:25)

He. Was. Put. To. Death. Unjustly. And still, during His sham of a trial, He said "my kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:36)

From the life of my best friend, Jesus, I glean who I am supposed to be.

I will defend the truth. The truth about HIM. ALL of it. Without apology.

I will not go out looking for a fight about a kingdom that isn't my heritage.

My citizenship is in Heaven. (Philippians 3:20) I will defend the truth of my Homeland, even if it costs me everything.

"I don't really care if they label me a Jesus Freak. There is no denying the truth..." ( Jesus Freak by DC Talk)