A few things. First, a logic check for the guy who tried to muscle his way into my lane this morning. Despite plenty of opportunities to merge like the rest of us, you chose to wait until the last possible second and then jerk your car at me like we're jockeying for position in the Daytona 500. You're driving a shiny new Porsche Boxster. I'm driving a 1992 Honda Accord that I've driven so long I can thread it between the lies in an Al Sharpton speech. Who did you think was going to win that battle?
Second, if any of my readers are ever feeling low on hope and energy, I encourage you to acquire a copy of Third Day's Offerings, and crank up the live version of "Consuming Fire." A warning -- it's not soft and soothing. But do you think in Heaven we're going to be singing "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" like a bunch of bloodless white Methodists?
Yes, I'm feisty today. But in a righteous, let's-burn-this-motha-down way.
So while I'm in this mood, let's talk about something, Christians. My agnostic friends, please just come along for the ride -- it may offer a little insight into this wacky cult of minivan-driving, homeschooling, getting up early on Sunday morning tribe that horrifies yet fascinates the sophisticates at the New York Times. Plus it helps us Christians remember that the world is watching.
A popular reference in evangelical Christian circles is Proverbs 27:17: "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." We want this, for the men in our community to help one another stand strong in the face of a world that either mocks our faith or demands that we mute and mutate it into a harmless hobby.
But consider this, Christian men, as you think on your small groups, your book clubs, your mentoring relationships. What are you sharpening for?
Here's the thing -- we spend a lot of time reading the right books, learning the right verses, having our 6 A.M. accountability group meetings, all of it to get razor-sharp for . . . what? If you believe that the scriptures are truly theopneustos -- "God-breathed" -- then you have to consider why the Almighty settled on this particular imagery. Iron sharpening iron. Why do we sharpen iron?
To cut something. To kill something. To separate one thing from another.
It seems to me that too many of us -- and I am at the top of this list -- spend our precious free time diligently sharpening, sharpening, sharpening, and we never look up from our grindstones to ask where the battle is.
I've got a terrible secret to share with you. The battle is right here in our midst. It's the child who has been seduced into believing that his self-worth comes from the praise of the ungodly. It's the single mother who feels only the scorn of the very same Christians who would have cursed her had she aborted. It's the wife who reads the end of the fifth chapter in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, and wonders why her husband is blind to the words. It's a world that equates our worth to our income, and to evaluations from people who won't be singing "Consuming Fire" beside us in Heaven.
But we're too busy sharpening to fight.
Here's another secret: if we wait until we're sharp enough, we'll whittle away the years until there's nothing left. We have armor, and we have a sword.
You know of what I speak, and you know that this sword is sharper than anything we could manufacture. It is the sword that separates light from dark, truth from falsehood, clean from unclean. It's been granted to us, and it should be an awe-inspiring gift. So why don't we use it?
Try this today: look at the world as a raging battle. Now survey the tragedy of an entire army of men professing to be on the side of light, yet all of them too busy earnestly sharpening their swords to engage the enemy. So are we surprised that our churches have become places that bore our young men to sleep and distraction? They are hard-wired for battle, and we give them a safe, perpetual training camp. No wonder they turn their passion to sports, one of the few remaining idols not only tolerated but nurtured in Christian circles.
Isn't it better to be beaten down than never to fight? Do we really believe that when we are weak, He is strong? Do we really believe any of the things we hear on Sunday morning? Beyond belief, are we convicted?
Don't talk to me about sharpening iron any more. Tell me about your battles.
We're playing in the back yard, soaking up the last warmth before another cold front rolls in. I'm kicking a miniature soccer ball around and Caleb and Eli are squealing as they chase it, periodically whacking me in the shins with their little sneakers. Caleb has learned to throw his body into mine in order to make space to steal the ball. Eli hasn't learned this, nor has he learned that the only place where the ball absolutely will not be is where it lies when he begins one of his full-tilt charges. I feel a little guilty, like when you give your dog a peanut butter cracker and watch him lick at it incessantly after it gets stuck to the top of his mouth. But if you can't enjoy your children, why have them?
I pick up a little red ball and say, "Hey boys, watch this." I drop-kick it high into the air, inspiring them each to utter "ohhhhh" as it launches. It arcs as the earth pulls it back home, and then it lands with a thud on the other side of the short picket fence running along the edge of our back yard.
A relevant piece of information in this story is that our neighbors own two gigantic furry beasts that are "dogs" in the same sense that Hummers are "passenger vehicles." No kidding, when we first moved in and before I was sure they couldn't get over the fence, I kept my handgun close by when the kids were out back. But the dogs proved fairly passive and immobile, and today they weren't even outside.
Or so I thought, as I put my hands on top of the fence and propelled myself over it.
Now, if you're a giant, hulking, protective canine, and you want to catch someone invading your space, about the only place you can hide in that yard is behind a little scrap of tall fence that precedes the long run of short fence comprising most of our border. This is how I know he wanted me to jump the fence, because he was crouched behind the tall section. Had this been a court of law, I might have gone free with this proof of entrapment.
But this was not court, this was High Noon, and my gun was safely, uselessly tucked away in my bedroom. As an aside, I know they have statistics on how locking up your sidearm leads to fewer accidental shootings, but do they track the cost of fewer on purpose shootings? Just pointing out that gun safety isn't always.
Not that I could have blamelessly shot the creature; I was in his yard after all, and it's just not Christian to jump your neighbor's fence and shoot his dog. That may be something they would do, say, in New York City -- if they had guns and yards, that is -- but not down here. It's not that we're less violent, mind you, it has more to do with the fact that if you shoot a man's dog down south, he's liable to jump your fence and shoot you back.
I confess that this thinking has only occurred in retrospect. My immediate thought as I landed to the sound of a deep, fearsome growl was less edifying. Think Sergeant Hulka in "Stripes," as the errant mortar round whistles toward him, and you have the extent of my eloquence in a moment of duress.
Now here's an interesting geographical tidbit about Tony's back yard: it's sloped, such that the fence is considerably taller from the other side. I wouldn't have known that, had I not been standing seven feet from a furry monster with an alarming ability to accelerate. Were I not over there with him, the difficult return leap would have given me comfort as I contemplated his irritation.
But I believe in a God of miracles, and more importantly in this case, a God who equips our bodies with a natural wonder-drug called "adrenaline." Adrenaline, I can now attest, has the remarkable property of enabling one to leap with all the vigor and dignity of a cricket on crack.
As I scrambled back over the fence, I saw the distinctive personalities of my sons on display. Caleb stood a safe distance from the fence and pointed out that I was leaving his ball to the mercies of the dog. Eli, meanwhile, had laid hold of the fence with both hands and was halfway up it.
I landed and peeled the brave little idiot boy off the fence as the dog reached the opposite side. I swear I could smell human flesh on his breath. Or maybe it was just squirrel. It was definitely something that had been a reluctant meal. I shepherded the boys away from the fence, to the sounds of Caleb's protests.
"But Daddy, you forgot my ball!"
"Dude, did you see the big dog?"
"Yeah, and he's gonna eat my ball!"
"Would you rather him eat your ball, or your Daddy?"
Not yet instinctive in his telling of little white lies, Caleb weighed the options.
"Listen," I said as I maneuvered to obstruct his line of sight, not wanting him to suffer the trauma of seeing his ball devoured, "we have other balls." Having just come close to providing a new chew toy to a waist-high carnivore, I was exquisitely aware of this fact, let me assure you.
He contorted his body to look around mine, equally determined to see. "But not another red one."
The dog sniffed the ball, harrumphed, and squatted down beside it to taunt us. Not wanting my sons to see their old man bested, I came up with a brilliant solution. "Hey boys, let's throw the Frisbee!"
"Oh, okay," said Caleb.
"Frisbee!" shouted his brother, no doubt thinking this would present another opportunity to climb into the mouth of danger.
"You know, the wind isn't very strong back here. Let's take it to the front yard."
I think I saw the dog smirking as we left him in possession of the red ball. Yes, fine, you're the bigger dog. But my sons still think I'm tougher than I really am, and for all your ability to intimidate, you still have to scratch yourself with your teeth. So bite me.