My Dad Was Right!
(My Slow Surrender to Ephesians 5:23)

I came out of graduate school in 1979 as a well-educated Christian feminist. My dad and I fought over this. He could not let go of the traditional notion that the husband should be the head of the family. I regaled him with my egalitarian beliefs, though untried by me in the real world. He had several Scripture passages and some real life experience on his side. Still, I was unbending and he got rather agitated with me. Though disappointed, he loved me none the less as we agreed to disagree.

I recall being proud of my academic honors but deep inside, I knew I did not understand the contradictions between God’s word and my more culturally relevant theories. So I continued to study God’s word, not for grades but with a passion for understanding. After a decade, my gender neutral presumptions began to breakdown.

As I see it today, God’s word clearly calls husbands to serve in marriage as Christ-like heads of their families. The word “head” (and the headship role) is defined by Jesus Himself and his relationship with the church. My knowledge of biblical Greek and Hebrew and all the cultural conditions then and now were of no use as the clear meaning of the text kept emerging through the fog in my heart and mind. Here’s the passage that would not go away:

    For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church. (Ephesians 5:23)

The apostle Paul plainly rooted the headship role of the husband in Jesus Christ, not in the culture of the day. Thus, no man understands headship for the Christian husband unless he knows Jesus. Paul continued:

    Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)

The biblical mandate for a husband to be the head of his wife was also a mandate to be Christ-like. That’s right, the same Jesus who came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), is the primary model for Christian leadership (headship ) in the home.

Ouch!

In my “Introduction to the Bible” class back in my adjunct professor days, when we got to Ephesians 5, I always asked the class. “What unique contributions do women make to humanity and to human relationships?” My class freely identified a long list of unique contributions by women. When I asked the same question regarding men, no one ever raised a hand. Neither the men or the women wanted to suggest that a man could offer something unique to humanity. I pointed out that for men to be equal in worth to women, their unique contributions to humanity and to relationships must also be recognized. Maybe that’s why Scripture uniquely calls men to Christ-like leadership.

my dad, Horace Solliday, and my little brother
I finally embraced the biblical mandate of Christ-like headship for husbands, it was a surrender for me. I much preferred the social approval that would come with a more egalitarian view. But the Bible changed my mind. I surrendered to the conviction that that God’s word is a better guide for understanding His will than my preferences or my culture’s values. I finally went to my dad and admitted that he had been right all along. I saw that proverbial light-bulb that many sons have seen before me as I realized that my dad was a lot smarter than I had once thought.

Will the Family Stay Afloat?
(“National Marriage Week: Feb. 7-14)

The single most important thing about any culture is how it treats children. How is America doing on that score?

  1. Americans prefer leaders who passionately insist that the desire to exterminate babies in the womb remains elevated as a legal human “right.”
  2. Americans prefer leaders who do everything in their power to redefine marriage and family so that fewer and fewer children will grow up with their mom and dad together in the home.
  3. Americans prefer leaders who categorize children with sexuality labels (abbreviated as LGBTQ) that they are too young and innocent to bear under the guise of “anti-bullying” programs that indoctrinate and recruit children into a homosexual agenda. American children get all sorts of confusing messages regarding sex and sexuality from school, media, internet, entertainers, video games, magazines, peers and even authority figures. Their innocence is under attack from all sides.

A recent study by University of Texas associate professor Mark Regnerus found that children raised by parents involved in same-sex relationships suffered poorer life outcomes than those from intact biological families. (see: Friday 5). Regerus said such children “were more apt to report being unemployed, less healthy, more depressed, more likely to have cheated on a spouse or partner, smoke more pot, had trouble with the law, and report… more sexual victimization.” Regnerus was hammered by the media but his study stands as solid scholarship.

A new study out of Canada has come to the same general conclusions. (Go to: Married Mom and Dad Really Matter] It found that children of gay and lesbian couples are only about 65 percent as likely to graduate from high school as the children of married, opposite-sex couples, even though same-sex parents were characterized by higher levels of education themselves.

Today, over half of all babies born to women 30 and under in America are born out of wedlock. This may be socially acceptable (even celebrated) but it is still a form of abuse when done intentionally from the outset and justified in hindsight. Of course, tragedies and well-intentioned missteps can lead to broken homes that place children in difficult circumstances. Eggs cannot be unscrambled and parents dealing with broken homes can still fully love their children going forward. And we can support them. But willful intention and selfish public policies that break homes up or deprive children of intact homes are corrupting our culture.

Are we in a losing cultural battle? Maybe, but so what? Jesus’ mission was a “losing battle” on all earthly terms. He ended up being exterminated by selfish civic leaders. Nevertheless (I love that word), God pulled His rank and Jesus rose up from the dead. His mission of forgiveness was accomplished in spite of the fact that it was a “losing battle.”

Win or lose, it is high time for decent people to honor marriage and reconstruct a culture of honor for marriage. Let’s begin preparing for “National Marriage Week,” February 7 – 14. Here are two resources to get you going:

  1. The National Marriage Week
  2. Breakpoint Commentary

Does it take a scholarly study to convince you that motherhood and fatherhood are better than “whateverhood?” Moms and a dads matter and so does their togetherness!

Guys and Gals

People with experience all say that strong marriages take work. Let’s take their word on that and move on to some practical therefores.

Let’s begin with the guys…

    “Nothing runs without maintenance. This includes your marriage.” ~ Jerry Jones, October 9,
    2013, at the Lewiston Church of Christ in Idaho.

Husbands, even if you married the lowest maintenance woman you could find, don’t treat her that way. Another word for maintenance is care. Make care an action verb. Better yet, make it fun. Here are a few pointers I heard at our “Relationships Matter” conference (led by Jerry and Lynn Jones) last week at the Lewiston Church of Christ:

  • Plan regular dates with your wife or say “yes” when she plans one.
  • Offer ten constructive compliments for any one negative.
  • Spend at least thirty minutes of face time with her daily.
  • Face your troubles with more smiles.
  • Live like a victor and not a victim.

Guys can be clueless about women. The best “clue” I’ve heard in years came from Lynn Jones, co-teacher with Jerry at our “Relationships Matter” conference. She said, “Sexuality to a woman is how you treat her 24/7.” Hmm. So, if turning on the vacuum can turn on your wife, well, maybe a good life with her is easier to have than you thought.

Now for the gals…
First, choose a man who respects you and then root your relationship with him in respect (even if he has flaws). Be careful about saying to yourself: “If you are not going to meet my needs, then I’m not going to meet yours.” One of the greatest gifts you can give to your husband is YOUR happiness. Remember, if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. So be happy! He needs that in you. You win too because you get to be happy! Well timed smiles can charm your husband out of his mind. “You have the cutest frown I’ve ever seen” said no husband ever, unless it was said in jest. Speaking of good timing, work in some flirts too. Once in a while, initiate affection. Most importantly, forgive him… again. Hopefully, he will respect that.

For both partners…

Personal accountability is 24/7. Freedom from addiction is also a 24/7 discipline. As Lynn Jones said, “Dysfunction thrives in secrets.” So, sacrifice your secrets on the altar of love.

If you are in despair regarding your marriage, turn first to God. This will not give you control over your spouse but as Jerry said, “If God can raise up the stinking body of Lazarus, He can raise up your stinking marriage!” His wife Lynn added, “If you don’t fight for your marriage, Satan will.”

Finally, let’s hear from a pastor who never experienced the work or the joy of marriage (he was engaged to be married when the Nazi’s executed him):

Our Puritan Parents

Many great things about America came through the Puritans. Below are a few of the torches they carried to their posterity. I share them not to idealize them (they were human) but to quicken our grip on a priceless legacy.

ADVENTUROUS LIVING!

Dr. Harry S. Stout, the Jonathan Edwards Professor of American Christianity at Yale University, said; “To understand the Puritans, you have to adopt their attitude that life is a great adventure.” They saw crossing the Atlantic (like the Red Sea) to settle in a new land as an adventurous pilgrimage for God.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM:

Catholic or Anglican pressure to conform led many English Puritans to think in nonconformist ways. How American! A longing for religious liberty beckoned may to the “promised land” in America. They paid a high price for their spiritual independence.

STEADFAST ENDURANCE!

The early Puritans suffered profound hardship in the new world. They lived in a “howling wilderness” in constant fear of raids, droughts, epidemics, floods and fires. One in two children perished before age five. The average life span was 40 years. The Puritan ideal was to live to give glory to God until God glorified them.

A WORK ETHIC:


In 1630, John Winthrop’s challenge to the colonials to be a “city on a hill” was a call for hard work, which they welcomed as God‘s calling. Dirty hands and a clean heart made an ideal Puritan.

EDUCATION AND LITERACY:

The Puritans were a people of the Book. Their love for the Bible sparked a unique passion for literacy. Harvard and Yale sprang into action in New England to maintain “a learned ministry” and a “literate laity.”

INNOVATION AND CREATIVITY:

The Puritans nurtured a rich body of hymnody, poetry and devotional literature. There was some resistance but Puritanism helped create a climate for a wonderful crop of musical and literary creativity. The magnificent Puritan scholar/composer Isaac Watts (1674-1748) did more to enrich Christian worship than perhaps any English speaker since.

RESOURCEFULNESS:

“Waste not, want not” was a classic Puritan motto. Their spirituality was highly practical.

OPPOSITION TO SLAVERY:

Our earliest resistance to slavery rose from New England where Puritan and Quaker roots ran deep. The first anti-slavery pamphlet published in America came from the pen of a Puritan: Samuel Sewell (1652-1730) (see his profile here) . Harvard and Yale (Puritan institutions) became hotbeds of abolitionism. Puritan pulpits sounded off against slavery for generations.

THE RULE OF LAW:

The Puritans looked to Moses as a both a leader to national freedom and a deliverer of God’s laws–two legacies they saw as complimentary. Their conviction that liberty and law are joined at the hip enabled our forefathers to give us liberty without anarchy. The legendary lawmaker Benjamin Franklin tapped into his distant Puritan roots when he wrote, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.”

PERSONAL SPIRITUALITY:

The Puritans viewed conversion to Christianity as a personal encounter with God. They viewed saving faith as a covenantal relationship with God rather than a blessing imposed by the church. Each man and woman was responsible before God for their spiritual health and standing. That is a Puritan legacy.

CONCLUSION:

The myth of the joyless Puritan began during Prohibition with a crank named H. L. Mencken who called Puritanism “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” This cheap stereotype took hold due to our ignorance regarding their real legacy.


The Puritans endured daily hardship beyond our imagination today. But they knew that there are no blessings without struggles, no rights without responsibilities, no trip to paradise without a dry spell in the wilderness, no glory without sacrifice, no succor without service, no position without preparation, and no forgiveness without repentance. For Jesus, they knew there was no throne without a cross. The Puritans were not perfect but I don’t mind carrying a torch for them. I can’t think of a better way to brighten our future than to recover respect for the best parts of our Puritan heritage.

First Earn, then Eat!

“If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”
The Apostle Paul (2 Thessalonians 3:10, NIV).

The key word in the much neglected verse above is “man,” which in context means “grown-up.” Of course, babies and children must be fed long before they can work. As they grow, they learn to take responsibility for their lives. Others need time and support, for legitimate reasons, to train or recover from setbacks or disabilities. They need to eat too. Grown-up Christians who are not afraid of honest work also stand at the head of the line to help the helpless.

Fruitful seeds of integrity are sown into the biblical maxim above. Justice stops rolling when able-bodied non-working people live as a burden on hard-working people. Some grown-ups genuinely need a hand up, but too many today prefer to live in emotional and financial diapers. And they vote!

A Chinese proverb puts it this way: “Dig a well before you are thirsty.”

A Serious Sin!

What kind of people steal, embezzle, cheat, defraud and extort? Answer: lazy people who want a free ride– the same sort of people who enslave others to live off of their labor. The apostle Paul advised otherwise:

    He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. (Ephesians 4:28).

No Lazy Legacy:

The Puritans arrived in America with an earnest sense of vocation and they worked hard to fulfill it. John Winthrop’s call in 1630 to make America a “city on a hill” was a call for honest work. They welcomed work and hardship as God‘s will. The farther we stray from our Puritan legacy, the more our culture crumbles. Puritan priorities are found in Will Roger’s quip some ninety years ago: “What this country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds.”

A Biblical Mandate:

Paul taught that “…each one should carry his own load.” (Galatians 6:5). He advised, “Work with your hands… so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). Paul also reminded the Thessalonian saints that he did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it. Instead, “…with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you.” (1 Thessalonians 3:8). He admonished the idle (the unruly and undisciplined) saying, “Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:11-12).

Final Thought:

Study
Train
Work hard

Sacrifice leisure, focus on your goals and beat back all your setbacks. But don’t expect the applause of all. Instead of letting honest labor inspire them, slackers and shirkers wallow in self-pity and envy. They will belittle you as “privileged.” Ignore them and listen to Thomas Edison (1847-1931): “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Fried Children

The silver screen comedian W. C. Fields (1880 – 1946) was once asked if he liked children. He quipped: “Ah yes, boiled or fried?” There was a time in America when that was funny. No more. Reality is trading places with absurdity. Too many children are being boiled and fried alive, so to speak, in today’s popular culture.

Would you like America’s babies served up in the second trimester or third? Would you like to see our children’s hearts boiled by Internet pornography, or their brains fried by endless attention to raunchy and violent video games? Would you like to dress your pre-teen daughter in all the latest hot fashions for that hard-boiled little-lady-of-the-street look? Just go to your local mall. Would you like our children’s innocence fried to a crisp by cable television, by education bureaucrats forcing through activist anti-family curriculums, or at the hands of unrepentant homosexual clergy who run “outreach” websites to beckon boys into homosexuality? Would you like to see youth suicide rates rise even higher due to increased sexual confusion and isolation? And why is unusual crudeness and indecency in entertainers so richly rewarded today? Why are children empowered to do most of the enriching? Finally, what would a modern comedian do with these questions?

I recall an American culture wherein sexual chaos was stigmatized and innocent hugs were not. Now the situation is reversed. Lawyers stand in line to help sue a teacher, minister or care-taker who might give a wholesome hug or apply corrective discipline to a child but too many turn a blind eye to real child abuse. The lack of outrage among Catholic leaders over priests preying abusively on boys was inexcusable. A similar moral coma at Penn State allowed a popular coach to abuse boys who idolize sports figures for over a decade.

Our culture mocks purity, celebrates profanity and wallows in vulgarity. We are decomposing marriage and demonizing those who want it protected. Eventually, we will be enforcing laws so bisexuals can equally create “marriages” wherein all the partners can have partners from both genders. Homosexual, bisexual and transgendered activists want to change the way little boys and girls think about sex and marriage. The manipulation of little minds is what the homosexual revolution is about. And few leaders care about the harm this does to children, including faith leaders who are easily intimidated and driven into shadows where they can be silent and safe.

America’s narcissistic hyper-sexualized culture preys on children. Who cares? Jesus would. He said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.” (Mark 8:41)

Jesus was no milquetoast Messiah. When it came to kids, he was a Millstone Messiah! If you follow Jesus, be a Millstone Parent! Be a Millstone Mentor. Our kids need decent adults to step up. If an official tells you that you are the only one to complain, don’t melt. Get a spine. Speak out. Write letters. Use discretion. Apply love. Partner with ministers and teachers. Keep kids out of the frying pan and away from the fire. Make their spiritual protection priority number one. Send any TV in the bedroom of a minor to Pluto. If your child objects, a wonderful teaching moment has been laid in your lap. Children can’t see all the stumbling blocks this world shoves in their way and it takes a lifetime to open their eyes.
[hr]
Here is some good news: On September 7, 2013, Trail Life USA, a new outdoor mentoring group for boys was launched as an alternative to the Boy Scouts who have caved to the intimidation of our culture. Their motto is, “Walk Worthy.” Check them out!
[hr]
When W. C. Fields was “caught” reading a Bible one day, he excused himself saying; “Just looking for loopholes.” How witty. Today, people are finding loopholes in the Bible left and right, enabling them to create their own moralities and realities. But these self-serving loopholes are turning into nooses around the necks of our children. It is time to say, “We’re as mad as heaven and we are not going to take it anymore!” Let’s make evil exploiters tremble for a change.

An Exceptional Heritage

On September 10, 2013, President Obama made his case for using military force against Syria in response to internal war crimes. He closed it thusly: “I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.”

Five years earlier, while overseas, Obama said: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” In other words, there is nothing exceptional about our belief that America is exceptional. It’s just provincial presumption. That same year, In France, he said, “America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive,” (April 3, 2009). That sounded like he thought we were exceptionally bad.

Nevertheless, in 2013, the world heard Obama affirm that America is exceptional. President Putin of Russia took exception to this. Two days after Obama’s speech, Putin wrote in the New York Times:

It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy… We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

Invoking God was odd for a former KGB officer and previous atheist with a brutal legacy. That aside, apparently Putin sees America the same way Obama did in 2009.

Here is what neither President Obama or Putin seem to understand: American exceptionalism has nothing to do with thinking we are better than anyone. It’s about our Founder’s vision for limiting government rather than expanding it. That was exceptional in an era of tyrants like King George III, Robespierre, Napoleon and others.

Much of human history is a story of monarchy, autocracy, anarchy, tyranny and such. America emerged as an amazing, though flawed, exception to this. “Exhibit A” for American exceptionalism is President Washington stepping down from power. He had enough popularity and prestige to become the first American king and rule for life. Having none of that, he gave up his power and returned to his farm. For over 2,000 years since Cincinnatus returned to his plow, no leader in similar circumstances had done what Washington did. He showed a top-heavy world how to conduct peaceful transitions of power. His exceptional greatness can be seen in contrast to the power-hungry Napoleon who, in exile, whined, “They wanted me to be another Washington.” But Napoleon was far too typical for that.

The Enlightenment ideals of representative government and the consent of the governed were not unique to us. They came from Europe. But the application of those ideals of liberty to the faith-based society cultivated in colonial America was unique. Our Founders worked hard to craft a largely secular Constitution and pass laws but they often warned that such things were wholly inadequate for a society without religion and morality (a reference to our Christian underpinnings). Faith provided the soil from which our nation and its enlightened Constitution grew. That was exceptional.

Revolutions are not unique but the French and Russian Revolutions were disasters because they spouted lofty principles while severing themselves from a faith-based heritage. They were anti-Christian revolutions. They professed to honor the common man but that was a ruse with no foundation in a moral or religious anchor. The American Revolution retained and respected that foundation and empowered the common man by limiting government and separating the representative powers. Slavery, it must be confessed, was a tragic exception to our exceptional beginnings. There was nothing exceptional about slavery in those days.

America is not a geographical location. The land was here long before there was an “America.” Nor is America merely her government. Race, gender and class have no bearing on our identity as Americans. If your ancestors came here on the Mayflower or on a slave ship, you now (though this took time and cost many lives) have an equal claim on America. Here, talent, skill and hard work should determine your fate more than birth, race or class. America was an exceptional idea. Over time, we forged a unique oneness based on principles and ideals (e pluribus unum), not on old school hierarchies and castes.

American exceptionalism is not rooted in our willingness, or not, to hold a dictator in Syria accountable for war crimes. That’s a complex international question. President Obama was wrong when he dismissed American exceptionalism in 2009 and again when he claimed it inaccurately in 2013. It is our heritage that is exceptional and I am grateful. I also grieve that so few Americans today understand or treasure our heritage.

Loving Sinners

“Let those who love the Lord hate evil.”
(Psalm 97:10)

True love, this side of heaven, cannot escape the struggle against evil. For Christians, this painful struggle begins inside as repentance begins its work in us. Then it emerges as confrontation with the destructive forces of evil around us.

When evil grows, love shrinks. Jesus warned, “Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12). Thus, the good fight against wickedness is precisely the fight FOR love. But it is not a safe struggle. Confronting evil got the prophets persecuted, John the Baptist beheaded, Jesus crucified and nearly all the apostles martyred. One apostle who outlived all the others (according to various traditions) saw this confrontation at the heart of Jesus’ mission on earth. John wrote; “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8).

The apostle Paul saw the connection between genuine love and hating evil. He succinctly wrote, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9).

An 18th century English poet, Alexander Pope, coined a pithy gem of brilliance when he wrote, “Love the offender, yet detest the offense.” Long before Pope, the cross of Christ clearly demonstrated God’s profound hate for sin and love for sinners at the same time. Pope’s maxim, however, is a cop-out whenever one claims both sides of it (hating the offense and loving the offender) but only practices one.

Jesus was questioned by some Scribes and Pharisees for loving sinners. “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” they asked. He replied, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:30-32). To this day, the most loving thing a Christian could possibly do is to seek the best time and place to plea with a committed sinner to repent and be reconciled to God. But this takes courage since many, including professing Christians, will call you a hater for doing this. Do it anyway. There is no better way to destroy the devil’s work than to promote repentance. Besides, love endures all things!

Over 30 years in Christian ministry, I have wept with far too many broken souls whose lives were shattered by sin to ever be seduced into going soft on evil. It’s a killer. The older I get, the more I hate sin and love sinners. I live in a culture, however, that has it the other way around. I see our society loving sin with endless passion and all too often disparaging and scandalizing sinners. Jesus turns that immoral twist on its head.

“Blurred Lines”

The Obama presidency is best defined by the phrase, “blurred lines.” So is his Party. There are few firm lines in their world.

Calling abortion a “choice” is a line blurring spin. Never mind that a life is destroyed. Redefining marriage to suit some powerful sexual identity groups but not others is a line-erasing atrocity. Offering amnesty to illegal immigrants blurs the notion of citizenship itself. Redefining or censoring terms only thickens the fog. Claiming that “the fence is now basically complete,” as the President did in El Paso, Texas, May 10, 2011, does not make it true. Blurring boundaries is a passion for the left.

Barack Obama’s presidency and his party were both echoed in the recent performance of a song titled, “Blurred Lines,” by Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. The song, according to its author, was written to fundamentally challenge and transform taboos. Obama’s presidency is rooted in his resolve to fundamentally transform America. Echoing abortion, the lyrics literally degrade women as animals, denying humans of their humanity. Democrats do not advocate a rape culture, as the song does, but as moral lines and boundaries continue to blur, who knows what will change next?

Abortion rights advocates often deny personal support for abortion. Only an avid fan of Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus could buy a fuzzy twist like that. In 2008, Rick Warren asked Obama, “At what point does a baby get human rights?” The candidate replied, “Answering that question with specificity is above my pay grade.” We soon learned that “specificity” on anything was above his pay grade. Sadly, the notion that “human rights” are beyond a president’s pay grade was bought, hook, line and sinker, by the voters.

Candidate Obama’s hard line 2008 promise to close Guantanamo Bay within a year soon fell out of focus. The vociferous critic of the Patriot Act as a senator actually ramped it up as president. Declaring a “red line” in a 2012 speech sounded good but when such a line is crossed, what’s a line-blurring president to do? Obama has often said that Assad (Syria’s dictator) must go, but he offers no plan for how or for who or what would replace him. Soon after Obama’s “red line” speech, four Americans were murdered in Benghazi, Libya. The Obama administration stayed focused on their campaign priorities and repeatedly lied about the circumstances surrounding the planned terrorist act. They knew which lines to hold and which ones to blur. Voters swooned.

Regarding Obamacare, the purely Democrat votes that passed it were cast without anyone bothering to read it. Bold promises were made (or made up) and thuggish partisan methods pushed it through. Today, the law is eroding into massive delays, fuzzy exceptions, slippery evasions, blurry revisions and cheap excuses as deadline after deadline passes unmet. Adding the word “dead” to the word “line” does not prevent blurring.

As a candidate and president, Obama has held firm to his support for abortion and mandating sex education beginning in kindergarten. The blurring enters only to suit whatever audience he is addressing or when political winds change. In 2008, candidate Obama said, “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman.” He called marriage a “sacred union.” Let’s place this in context. Over 16 years, Obama went from supporting same-sex marriage, to being “undecided,” to opposing it (during his first presidential race), to “evolving” (after he won), to being the world’s leading advocate for it today.

Obama introduced himself to America in a speech at the 2004 Democrat Convention in which he eloquently warned his audience of dividers and spin-masters among us “who embrace the politics of anything goes.” It turns out, he was talking about himself.

The Heat of Competition

It hurts worse to lose than it feels good to win.
Joe Garagiola, baseball broadcaster.

I don’t recall the teams involved but I remember what the announcer, Joe Garagiola, said when the TV camera switched from the World Series winners in wild celebration to the losing team in stunned grief. His sympathetic words (quoted above) struck me as profoundly true. Decades later, it occurs to me that it does not have to be true.

I wasted a lot of youthful passion hating to lose. No, it’s worse than that. Even if my team won, I would stew painfully over a missed lay-up or a dropped ball. I once broke my hand hitting a wall after blowing a lay-up. Instead of just enjoying occasional ping pong games in the student center as a college freshman, I focused on rising to the top of a list I carried in my head of the top-rated players in school. I wore a genuine smile most everywhere and was mild-mannered, except on a field of competition.

The Merits of Competition:

Competition can lead to higher levels of excellence in art, business, education, entertainment, politics, sports and more. A vibrant economy flourishes with competition. It keeps prices down and performance up in a free market. Competition for customers can foster greater service priorities and a richer “may I help you” spirit in a mutually constructive sales context.

The value of teamwork can be learned in various arenas of competition. Teammates compete for certain positions in sports. In an orchestra, members compete for the “first chair.” Workers compete for promotions. Organizations thrive as they blend healthy competition with cooperation. Those who sustain losses can learn essential lessons about adjusting to find other ways to contribute to the group’s goals. The golden rule applies here. Because I would not want a competitor to lie down and let me get a position or chair, I can engage in fair competition in earnest. However, when they do win, I must celebrate the result and adapt my ambitions to a higher mission.

The Pitfalls of Competition:

A competitive spirit can harm a marriage, cripple a church, mar a friendship and eat up your peace of mind. Add pride and it can be a stench in God’s nostrils. The minute a competitive spirit takes on a “win at any cost” nature, it becomes poison to all parties. When the qualities of love, honesty, integrity and good will are compromised for competitive gain, evil grows. When people cheat to win, they lose in the wider arena of life. So do their victims.

In a socialist economy, instead of competing with each other on equal ground, people compete to be perceived by a central board as worthy of entitlements, benefits and rewards. Competition continues but it loses its power to foster excellence.

Many of the “one another” passages in the Bible serve to challenge our competitive spirit. Paul wrote; “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4). To illustrate this spirit, Paul pointed to the mind of Christ as our example.

Selfish ambition is a dangerous drug. However, the well-known danger of drugs has a flip side. When used carefully and prudently, the right drug in the right measure, can lead to healing. Wisdom and discipline are crucial for competition to be healthy.

A Class Act:

John Wooden, the most successful coach in NCAA basketball history, cared more about character development and love than winning games. He wanted players who put the good of the team before personal interest. He told them, “The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”

John Wooden (1910 – 2010)

Because scoreboards cannot measure character or integrity, Wooden set his aim higher than the scoreboard. In his book, They Call Me Coach (2003), Wooden defined success as “a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable.” He added: “I have always tried to make it clear that basketball is not the ultimate. It is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. There is only one kind of a life that truly wins, and that is the one that places faith in the hands of the Savior.”

Lessons Learned:

A narrow perspective gave me a sharp focus on rating lists and a short fuse over missed lay-ups. A larger perspective began to grow as I placed faith in the hands of the Savior: Jesus Christ. No one can look at His life and death and come away advocating a life of selfish ambition or winning at any cost. His sacrifice on the cross (followed by his resurrection) paid my sin-debt and defined love in much bigger proportions than personal interest. Real love looks far beyond ourselves to the good of others. This message put to practice is what makes a church a lighthouse in a lost an lonely world. I think it was my late friend M. Norvell Young who said, “There is no competition between lighthouses.”