It’s All God’s Fault

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We’re good at blaming other people. Sometimes we even blame God. We’ve been doing it since the very first sin (Genesis 3:12). A lot has changed since the Garden of Eden. A lot. But not everything. We still like to blame God.

Here’s what we tell ourselves.

My bad temper is all God’s fault. He’s the one who gave me red hair.

My alcoholism is all God’s fault. He’s the one who gave me addicts for parents.

My cheating is all God’s fault. He’s the one who gave me a learning disability.

My marital infidelity is all God’s fault. He’s the one who gave me an emotionally distant husband.

My lustful thoughts are all God’s fault. He’s the one who gave me these desires.

We’re willing to do whatever it takes to avoid dealing with our own sin. Even if that means blaming God for our sin. James tells us that such accusations could not be more off base.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one. James 1:13 (ESV)

Our problem is not that we blame God. It’s just that we blame him for all the wrong things.

When everything around me is falling apart, I have a solid foundation. That’s all God’s fault (Matthew 7:24-29).

When the rest of the world is against me, the only One who really matters is for me. That’s all God’s fault (Romans 8:31-39).

When the future looks dim, I still have hope. That’s all God’s fault (James 1:2-4).

When Satan accuses me, there is One who stands in my defense. That’s all God’s fault (Luke 22:31-32).

When Satan seeks to shame me, I’m protected by the One who has already put Satan to open shame (Colossians 2:13-15).

When death knocks at my door, eternal life turns it away (John 3:16).

Our sin is ours to own. We are at fault. We are the ones to blame. Sin is our identity. It defines who we are.

Until Jesus takes it away from us and gives us his perfect righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

That’s when everything changes.

I have eternal life.

And it’s all God’s fault.

Is Your Church Sort Of Like An Air Force Base?

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I try not to be so negative. Really, I do. But when my phone rings, I just can’t help it. When my phone rings, I expect there to be someone on the other end telling me that the world is on fire. Maybe it’s just my sin nature. Maybe it’s part of being a pastor and hearing a lot of really bad news. It’s probably some of both.

A few weeks ago, my phone rang.

Before I even saw who it was, I got scared. I hoped that the world wasn’t on fire.

I answered.

My fears could not have been more ridiculous.

The lady on the other end was a friend and a member of the church that I pastor. She wasn’t mad about a stain on the carpet. Nobody parked the bus in the wrong spot. No one had died.

She was calling with another need. A need that was not her own.

People from my church spent most of the summer delivering meals to families in our community. These families lived in a trailer park and were barely getting by. They were poor. The summer months can be a hard time for poor families. At least when school is in session the kids can get fed five days out of the week.

Not during the summer.

So our church partnered with the county school system and other churches to deliver meals to families like these. It was a good thing. But to the woman who had just called me, it wasn’t enough.

She wanted to know if it was alright if she helped our student ministry lead a week-long Bible study for the families in that trailer park. What a difficult decision for me to make right there on the spot. I agonized over this one. I fasted for three days. I sought counsel.

Not really.

I said yes.

And last week people from our church spent their nights making bracelets, teaching Bible stories, eating chicken sandwiches and playing kickball with kids in a trailer park.

I’ve been married for almost eleven years. My wedding day was a bit unusual. There were heavily armed men involved. Not many people can say that there were guys with machine guns at their wedding. Yet another thing that Ted Nugent and I have in common.

The heavily armed men were there because I got married on an Air Force base. That’s what happens on Air Force bases. People work really hard to keep strangers out while also protecting what’s inside. That’s how it should be on bases.

Sadly, the same scenario plays out in a lot of churches. Guns may not be involved but people still work, whether directly or indirectly, to keep strangers out and to protect what’s inside. That is not how it should be in a church. Unless you want that church to die.

Budgets and sound systems are important. But it is very easy for things like that to be all that a church cares about. As a result, such churches become centered on themselves only to wonder, a few years down the road, why new people don’t come anymore.

In his letter to the Philippian church, Paul urged the believers to keep that scenario from playing out with them.

He did so by reminding them of their foundation in Christ.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, Philippians 2:1 (ESV)

Funny things happen when a church realizes and acts upon its foundation in Christ. People start getting along. Fights over carpet color and flower placement are suddenly seen for the foolishness that they really are. When Christ is the foundation of a church, that church will be unified. Not perfect. Not always agreeing on every thing. But unified.

That’s how Paul finishes his sentence.

complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Philippians 2:2 (ESV)

But unity in a church should never be an end in itself. God is not glorified in a church where everyone is on the same page but no one is on mission. Unity always exists for a greater purpose. That purpose is mission.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV, emphasis mine)

It’s interesting that Paul did not say, “each other.” That would justify a church where we all get along just fine in our gospel bunker as we await the return of Christ. But Paul did not say, “each other.” He said, “others.” Twice.

That means that a church must not function as a base.

Instead, it must be more like a hospital.

Hospitals, the good ones at least, are ready when sick people come to them. And when the people are too sick to come to them, hospitals, the good ones at least, are ready to go get those sick people.

Is your church functioning as a base or a hospital?

Four Things For Christians To Remember When It Gets Tough

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One time I heard a preacher say that we were all either coming out of a hard time, in the middle of a hard time or about to go into a hard time. That sounded a bit too bleak to me, as if every smile came with a frown close by.

I’ve heard plenty of other preachers say the exact opposite. If you are a Christian, they proudly proclaim, you are the King’s kid and the King’s kids do not suffer. All you have to do is claim your destiny.

As I grew and spent time waiting and praying with loved ones in hospitals and funeral homes, I learned that the first preacher was closer to the truth. Hard times are always close by. Planes fall out of the sky. Sometimes they get shot out of the sky. Cancer comes back. Marriages dissolve.

It really can be a bleak world that we live in.

But that doesn’t mean that we have to be bleak. Christians, perhaps more than any other group of people, know what it means to suffer. And Christians, certainly more than any other group of people, know what it means to have hope when everything seems to be falling apart.

The book of James begins by reminding us of that hope. And this is no pie in the sky hope. Inspired by God, these words come from the pen of a man who knew what it meant to live a hopeless life. They come from a man who knew what it meant to suffer. They come from a man who considered it all joy.

Since we are all either coming out of a time of pain, living in a time of pain or about to enter into one, we would be wise to listen to what James has to say to us about hope. Here are four things for Christians to remember when it gets tough.

1. God is working on you.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 (ESV)

James is not telling you to be happy about your cancer or your husband’s affair.

“Hooray for cancer!”

That’s not joy. It’s phony happiness. James is reminding us that the source of our joy is the One who sets us free, not the circumstances that we live in. When he tells us to be joyful as we endure various trials he is reminding us that God is working on us to bring us to maturity. That’s the source of the Christian’s joy in trials.

When we suffer, we are tempted to think that God has abandoned us. A careful look at Scripture reveals just the opposite. If we pay attention we can see that it is in our times of suffering that Jesus makes his presence most known.

He is working on you.

He is making you more like him.

Consider it joy.

2. God is guiding you.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:5-8 (ESV)

A few years ago, I decided to start taking God at his word on this one. I started praying for him to give me his wisdom. Nothing reminds you of your need for more wisdom quite like when your three-year-old asks you how dinosaurs make babies.

When I started asking God for wisdom, the strangest thing happened. He gave it to me. Just like the Bible said that he would. Generously. No rolled eyes. No huffing. Generously. Sometimes his wisdom would come to me before I could even finish my prayer. Other times my request would be given in a few weeks. God never promised how or when he would give us his wisdom. He just said that if we ask, he will give it.

There is one condition. We should not bother asking if we aren’t willing to believe that God will give us his wisdom. This is an easy trap to fall into. Even the strongest believers can experience times of doubt. Some Christian leaders have even tried to turn doubt into some kind of a spiritual discipline.

According to James, doubt is a roadblock. It’s an indication of a faith that is divided between Jesus’ sovereign control over his universe and our worries regarding this life. But we should not let our tendencies toward doubt to keep us from praying. Instead, when doubt creeps in as it often does during trials, we should pray with the man who desperately wanted to see his son healed. “Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:14-29).

Suffering and trials require wisdom. God has not left you alone. He has promised to give you his wisdom. Just ask him for it in faith. It’s one of those prayers that he loves to answer.

3. God has something better for you.

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. James 1:9-11 (ESV)

Maybe you’re flat broke. You have no idea where your next paycheck will come from. You’ve lost count of all the people you owe money to. When the phone rings, you panic.

God has something better for you.

He has not promised riches to his people on this earth. But he has promised a life in eternity where we will never be in need. And he has promised to be with us and give us satisfaction as we wait for that day to come.

Maybe you’re filthy rich. Perhaps your biggest problem is trying to adjust your schedule because the guys who are supposed to install the gold countertops in your third house said that they can’t make it out until Wednesday afternoon.

God has something better for you.

Being filthy rich is not a sin. But it can lead you into sin if you start to center your life around your possessions. To help keep that from happening, remind yourself that no matter how good you have it here, your possessions will not last. Remind yourself that God has something better for you in eternity.

4. God will see you through to the end.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12 (ESV)

It may be the most frequently debated topic in all of Christianity. Can a true Christian lose his salvation? All of the debating has left a lot of us confused. But the Bible could not be more clear.

James did not say, “He might receive the crown of life but we’ll just have to see how things work out.”

For those of us who truly belong to Jesus, God has given the promise of eternal life. He does not break his promise just because we fall short. Instead, he keeps us. He restores us. And for that reason, we have hope.

You can lose all of your money.

You can lose your family.

You can lose your health.

You can lose your church.

But Jesus can’t lose you. If you really belong to him, you belong to him forever. Remember that as you endure trials of various kinds. And consider it joy.

Whatever happens, don’t give up.

Jesus is not finished with you.

That’s why, no matter how bad things get, there is no such thing as a hopeless situation for followers of Christ.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 (ESV)

Change Is Coming

I’m writing a book.

The book will be about the importance of parenting and my goal is to have it released later this year. This is all new territory for me so I will appreciate your prayers and continued support. As the project moves on, I’ll be keeping you updated with my progress and ways that you can help to get the word out.

In order to focus on doing my best on this and other responsibilities, I will be cutting back on this blog. For the past few years I have written something for this blog five days a week. While I work on this book, that will change. My plan is to post new material here only once or twice a week.

Thanks for letting me keep you updated. I didn’t want you to think that the NSA had gotten to me and told me to put an end to my pastoral ramblings. That hasn’t happened.

Yet.

I’m looking forward to writing this book and sharing it with you.

Thanks!

Mark Richt Is Helping To Provide An Answer To A Very Important Question

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Things didn’t work out the way Paul Oliver had planned.

He was supposed to go off to college to be a football star. That much happened.

He was supposed to go to the NFL where he would make a big name for himself and a lot of money. That never happened.

Oliver made it to the NFL but the fame and fortune part of his plan didn’t materialize.

So, for reasons none of us will probably ever know, Paul Oliver took his own life. He left behind a wife and two sons. He also left behind a lot of grieving teammates from the University of Georgia where his football career climaxed. Someone else on that campus was grieving too.

Oliver’s old coach – Mark Richt.

But Coach Richt did more than just grieve. He decided to do something for his other players. The ones still playing for him. The ones who used to play for him. Even the ones who he had to kick off of the team for disciplinary reasons.

Here’s how Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herlad describes Richt’s actions after attending the funeral of his former star defensive back.

“A week later, Georgia football coach Mark Richt huddled with some 40 or so former Georgia players after Oliver’s funeral at Burnt Hickory Baptist Church in Powder Springs. Richt vowed to make good on a promise he made to them when he recruited them, that he would take care of them while they were in Athens and afterwards.” 

They call it the Paul Oliver Network. It’s a tool for former Georgia players to learn how to handle life after football. It’s a system where they can get connected to businesses seeking employees. It’s a fraternity where guys who have just had to give up the game can find encouragement from guys who stepped away long ago and thrived.

Listen to what Coach Richt says about the Paul Oliver Network. His words are a stark contrast to the usual “One game at a time,” “It is what it is,” coach speak that we’ve all grown so accustomed to.

“I’m not going to be presumptuous that if Paul had a good job waiting for him afterwards or if he had hope for a good job or he was on the path for a good job that he would be here today, but maybe. I want that to be one thing to check off the list. I do know this: A man, I think he is divinely created to provide for and protect his family. I think if he’s not doing that or doesn’t feel capable of doing that, I think it hurts his spirit.”

I have two sons. They don’t play football. Futbol is their sport. Or soccer, as we like to call it here in the states.

As they continue playing, I hope that they get to grow under the leadership of coaches like Mark Richt. Too often, coaches are at odds with what parents are trying to do in the lives of their kids. Good parents are thinking long term. They’re thinking about developing their boys and girls into men and women of integrity who will one day develop their own boys and girls into men and women of integrity. Some coaches only care about developing a boy into a quality fullback who, when his time is up under that coach, will remain a boy.

It’s good to see that Richt is doing things differently.

I love sports. But they are an idol in our country. You could even make they case that sport is one of the leading religions in our nation. As a result, kids are being sold a false gospel. Work hard. Start as a freshman. Impress a college scout. Make the jump to the league. Find a place to keep all of your money.

But what they are not told is that there will come a day when they will not play anymore. It may be in high school or it may be in the NFL. Either way, their time as an athlete will end.

What’s next?

Good parents will work hard to provide the best possible answer to that question. A few good coaches will too. Mark Richt is one of them.

I’ve been a Georgia fan all of my life. The Bulldogs won a national title in the 1981 Sugar Bowl when they beat Notre Dame 17 to 10. I was five years old. The commemorative Coke bottle sits on my desk as I write this. The Georgia football team hasn’t won any national titles since then. Friends who cheer for other schools like to remind me of that.

That’s okay with me.

Because something bigger is happening at the University of Georgia.

A coach is doing what he can to develop more than just linebackers with speed and strength. He’s trying to build men. Men who are ready for that question that every athlete must answer when his playing days are over.

What’s next?

Go Dawgs!

And go Coach Mark Richt!

The Washington D.C. Change Scheme

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The politicians in Washington D.C. like to talk a lot about change. Changing things is what they do, or so they tell us. Every national crisis is an opportunity for them to change something and thus another chance for them to remind us how important they are. And if there’s anything that the politicians in D.C. like more than talking about changing things, it’s reminding us how important they are.

That’s really what reform is usually all about in D.C. The actual change usually takes a backseat to the ego, status and bank account of the one talking about change. It really is a clever plan. Here’s how it works.

Step One: Crisis

In order for there to be a change, there has to be something bad that people want changed. This really is the easiest step for our federal leaders. They’re quite good at creating bad situations. Messing stuff up is what they do best. Most of the time, stuff gets messed up for two reasons. One, a politician wants more money. Two, the politician wants more power. Oh, I almost forgot the third and most dangerous reason. The politician wants more money and more power. Every time a politician acquires more money and/or power for himself he always takes it from the same source.

Us.

We the people.

Whatever your political leanings, an honest look at our nation’s scandals, of which there are many, will quickly reveal that they are the result of some politician’s thirst for more power, money or some combination of the two.

That leads us to step two.

Step Two: Outrage

The people get fed up. They’re tired of watching people from other countries set up camp in their backyard. They’re tired of waiting 18 months to see a doctor about a kidney stone. They’re tired of the IRS harassing them because they went to a Lee Greenwood concert.

So they demand change.

And the politicians are more than happy to meet those demands. It’s what they do, remember?

Which leads us to step three.

Step Three: The Fix

The politicians are fed up too. At least that’s what they want us to believe. So they call special hearings and draw up new bills that they assure us will fix the problem. They start talking like preachers. And they all come together to reach their final conclusion.

But before we get to that conclusion, we should address two warnings. First, whenever politicians agree on something, look out. What they’re agreeing on usually has something to do with taking stuff away from you. Second, use extreme caution when politicians start to talk like preachers. Whenever a politician who has a problem with a kid saying a prayer at his high school graduation starts talking about how, “we’re all God’s children,” you’re about to get hurt.

On to the conclusion.

After all of the debating, posturing and talking points, the politicians come to an agreement on the best way to fix the problem.

Money.

And power.

They need more money. And more power. In fact, if they would have had more money and more power which, remember, they get from us, none of this ever would have happened. So in a way, this was all our fault.

The VA crisis? Washington needs more money to fix it.

The border crisis? Washington needs more power.

And so we give it to them. Which always leads to another crisis. Which always leads us back to step one.

Wash.

Rinse.

Repeat.

So the moral of the story is this. Be careful when politicians in Washington D.C. come together to talk about change.

Most likely, it’s your change that they want.

I’d Like To Have A Word With Jeremiah Heaton

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I’d like to have a word with Jeremiah Heaton.

When someone wants to have a word with you, it’s never a good thing. No one says they want to have a word with you and then proceeds to ask for your opinion on last night’s episode of Wipeout. When it’s a word that someone wants to have with you, it’s always about something serious.

This is no exception.

I’d like to have a word with Jeremiah Heaton.

You might be asking yourself who Jeremiah Heaton is. He’s a king from a land near Egypt. Sort of. Actually, he’s just a dad. A few weeks ago he made a flag, traveled to some desert in Egypt, put said flag in the ground and claimed that 800-square-foot area of the world as his own. He’s calling it the Kingdom of North Sudan. King Heaton’s first order of business in his new territory was to name his daughter the princess of the Kingdom of North Sudan.

Here’s how he describes it.

“I wanted to show my kids I will literally go to the ends of the earth to make their wishes and dreams come true.”

Kids?

Did I read that right?

What exactly does King Heaton expect to do for his other kids? I can hear it now.

“Dad! You gave Emily her own kingdom so can I at least have a pony?”

The world’s newest king didn’t stop with his land grab. He’s also asking that people refer to his daughter as Princess Emily from now on so that she will be reminded of how much her dad loves her.

As you can imagine, the Internet is blowing up over this one. People are saying that Heaton’s actions are creepy and taking our nation’s princess culture too far.

Aside from the cost of air travel and the trouble of making your own flag, how are Heaton’s actions any different from a lot of other parents in our country?

You know, the parents who go thousands of dollars into debt, move across the country, spend every weekend on the road  and even take legal action all just to to make the wishes and dreams of their kids come true.

You know, the parents who never consider the option that maybe there’s more to parenting than making a child’s wishes come true.

Jeremiah Heaton is an exaggerated example of an all too common problem in our culture where dreams and wishes are more important than truth and training. The truth is that our kids don’t need us to discover a new country on their behalf. They don’t need us to drive them all across the country to another tournament 50 weekends out of the year. But they do need something much more important.

They need us to train them.

Making a flag, putting it in sand and calling the place your new kingdom is easy. A lot of parental dream-chasing under the guise of what’s good for the kids is easy as long as you have the time and the money. Training is much more difficult.

I’d like to have a word with Jeremiah Heaton.

If we had a chance to talk, I’d encourage him to focus more on the training and less on the dream-chasing. I’d tell him that dreams, even if they do come true, are dangerous in the hands of an untrained child. I’d tell him to skip the next trip to the desert and stay at home.

It’s at home where our children learn that it’s okay to pretend to be royalty as long as they know that it’s all pretend.

It’s in the home, from their own parents, that kids learn what it means to sacrifice for the good of another.

But again, that’s training and training is hard work. So why not just discover your own country and make your little girl the princess? Or sign your 9-year-old up for three tournaments in one weekend.

Here’s the thing about the culture of royalty many of our kids are growing up under. Princes and princesses don’t like to stay princes and princesses. Eventually, they’ll want a promotion. They’ll want to be kings and queens. Guess where that leaves you the parent.

You get to be the servant.

While servanthood is a noble necessity of parenting, it only serves to turn our kids into little tyrants if we are not also leading as we serve. Many times, leading means saying no. Leading means frequently reminding our children that they are not royalty.

I’d like to have a word with Jeremiah Heaton.

Six or seven years from now.

By then, King Heaton will have been overthrown. His kingdom will be handed over to another. His daughter. And he will be left as a lowly servant in this new tyrannical kingdom.

All because he valued childish dream-chasing instead of training.

I’d ask him if it was all worth it. Would he do it all the same if he had it to do all over again?

Jeremiah Heaton’s daughter is still young. There’s still time to make things right. But time is running out.

I hope that someone has a word with Jeremiah Heaton.

Before it’s too late.

USA! America!

Unless you just hate America, you’re going to want to include this little video in your 4th of July festivities.

Also, I think that we can all pretty much agree that had this video been played right before our soccer match with Belgium things would have turned out much differently.

0:15 – If I’m following this right, there’s supposed to be some kind of a terrorist attack happening in the sky. And on this guy’s Dream Team jersey.

0:33 – Ghosts on the beach!

0:44 – This is how the USA does oil spills!

0:52 – Can we possibly get some more Photoshopped imagery in this shot? Even one of the clouds looks like a mouse. A mouse from the USA no doubt.

0:57 – “Hey, do we have a pole to put the flag on?”

“No. Just put it on the side of that cliff. It’s what the founders would want.”

1:10 – Weird guy on the playground in 3, 2, 1…

“Teachers, we are going into lockdown mode. There is a man in a Dream Team jersey walking around the playground singing about the USA and throwing magic light on kids. Please remain under your desks with your students until further notice. The chair is against the wall.”

1:28 – Why isn’t Tim Howard’s face on that mountain? I want answers!

1:34 – I think that we’re supposed to assume that this woman’s husband died in a war. By the looks of that tombstone, it must have been the Civil War.

1:56 – This video is patriotic and all but what it really needs is a random cameo from a sea nymph.

2:05 – Goosed by an angel.

2:34 – The look on his face can double as the You-Boys-Are-Being-Silly-Face that your mom used to give you as well as the Man-I-Love-This-Country-And-If-You-Don’t-You’re-Just-Gonna-Have-To-Deal-With-It-Face.

This video lasted for a little over three minutes. The closing credits also last for three minutes. The closing credits for Saving Private Ryan didn’t last for three minutes.

USA!

America!