I Don’t Know Why

I never knew Joshua.  Not many people did.  He was only four years old when he died in an automobile accident earlier this week.

Because of my profession, I’ve seen a lot of caskets.  I still haven’t found one that I have liked.  No matter how well designed they are or how much money was spent on them you just can’t get past the fact that there is death inside.  A casket that is designed specifically for a four-year-old is especially disturbing.  No amount of craftsmanship or teddy bears can cover the death that is inside.

Joshua’s family is not the only one in my small community that is experiencing pain right now.

The same day that I found out about Joshua, I was told that a teacher at our high school lost everything in a house fire.  Yesterday I learned of the death of a former pastor in our area.  As I write this, tornadoes are sweeping through the southeast.  At least one life in my state has already been claimed.

And I don’t know why.

Isn’t it weird that our first response to tragedy is typically a question?  We want as much information as possible.  It’s as if we think that more knowledge will somehow relieve our pain.

Paul saw things differently.

Tornadoes and car wrecks never come up in the book of Romans.  But in the first 11 chapters Paul wrestles with some pretty weighty topics.  Topics that good people who love Jesus have been debating since Paul put his pen down.  Paul wasn’t blind to the depth of his topics.  He knew that he was perhaps creating more questions than answers.  But he didn’t respond by throwing his hands up in the air in theological disgust.

Instead, he worshiped.

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?’
‘Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?’
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
Romans 11:33-36 (ESV)

When we try to explain what God is doing in a tragedy we usually end up taking his name in vain, blaspheming his name or insulting those whom we are trying to comfort.

Four-year-olds don’t die because God needed another flower in his garden and tornadoes aren’t always a sign of God’s punishment.

The fact is that none of us knows why Joshua died in that car wreck.

But we do know that God is good (Psalm 106:1), that he rules over all things, including car wrecks and tornadoes (Colossians 1:15-20; Jeremiah 14:22), and that he is worthy of our trust (Deuteronomy 32:4).

Jerry Bridges’ words are on point.

“If we are to honor God by trusting him, and if we are to find peace for ourselves, we must come to the place where we can honestly say, ‘God, I do not have to understand.  I will just trust you.'”  

Earlier today, under the threat of a tornado, my wife asked my frightened son who was in charge of the weather.

“I don’t know.”

“Jesus.”

“Well, why doesn’t he make the storm go away?”

I don’t know why.

But I do know that Jesus is sovereign, good and worthy of our trust.

And we will worship him.

Throwing Up and the Afterlife

Throwing up has a way of making you think that you’re going to die in the next three to seven minutes.

I think that’s why my son wanted to talk to me about heaven yesterday.

He woke up crying in the middle of the night.  I’ll never get used to waking up to that sound.  Nor will I ever get used to seeing my son laying face down in his own vomit like some 1970s rock star.

He was fine.  In fact he was laughing.  But he spent the rest of the day feeling weak and scared that he was going to throw up again.  When I got home from work we played Legos but he couldn’t handle it.  He still didn’t have his strength so he laid on the couch while I played Legos.  That’s normal, right?  Okay, good.

That’s when the questions started coming.

One son was asking questions about monster trucks while my nauseous son was asking questions about heaven.

“Will we wear clothes in heaven?”

“Are monster trucks loud?”

“Do babies go to heaven?”

“Why are monster trucks loud?”

“Who will we see in heaven?”

“Will there be monster trucks in heaven?”

I think that I needed that conversation just as much as my kids did.  Earlier in the day I was thinking about the best way to educate my two sons.  Most of my options involved monthly payments of $4578.23.  I thought about getting a second job as a monster truck driver but changed my mind when I found out that I’d have to grow another mullet.

When we think about the role of a father we typically only think about the responsibility to provide (1 Timothy 5:8).  But this is only part of the job.  Along with providing, fathers are also charged with instructing (Ephesians 6:4).  I once heard a father who did very well on the providing aspect of his job but neglected his role as an instructor make a chilling statement about his rebellious daughter.

“I don’t know where I went wrong.  I gave her everything she ever wanted.”

I think that’s where he went wrong.

It’s easy for fathers to hide in their work, constantly convincing themselves that they are providing for the family.  But the real work of fatherhood is not done in the office, as important as that is.

The real work of fatherhood is done in the living room floor surrounded by Legos and trying to answer theology questions.  It is there that my children learn what it means to live in awe of the glory of God.

And in their own way, that’s a lesson that they are also teaching me.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 (ESV)

Jesus Is Not An NFL Fan

I’ve never really liked Ray Lewis.

He played his college football at Miami.  If Saddam Hussein played college football, I’m positive that he would have played at Miami.

After college, Lewis was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens.  When Saddam invaded Kuwait, he had a little help from the Baltimore Ravens.

A lot of people don’t like Ray Lewis and it has nothing to do with the teams he’s played for.

In the early morning hours following Super Bowl XXXIV, Lewis and a few hundred other folks were in an Atlanta nightclub.  As is usually the case when there are hundreds of people in an Atlanta nightclub at 4 in the morning, a fight broke out.  But this time, after the bottles of wine had stopped flying through the air and the knives were put away, two men lay dead in the street.

Ray Lewis and two others were charged with murder and aggravated assault.  The trial would dominate the news for nearly a month.

Eventually, the charges against Lewis would be dropped in exchange for his testimony against his two friends.  Even with that testimony, the jury found the two men not guilty.

Someone got away with murder.

In the months that followed, Ray Lewis spent a lot of money.  Some of that money was spent paying a hefty fine to the NFL and some of it was spent on undisclosed settlements to the victim’s families.

Almost a year after those murders, Ray Lewis went to the Super Bowl again but this time as a player.  His Ravens beat the Giants 34-7.

And this Sunday, Lewis will play in his second Super Bowl.

A lot has changed between his two championship appearances.  Ray Lewis has a new image and a new standing in society.  Now, the man who once fled from the scene of a murder is in a lot of commercials and, after wins, likes to quote Bible verses.

But there’s also a lot that hasn’t changed.

The people who have always loved Ray Lewis still love Ray Lewis.  They talk a lot about forgiveness and leaving the past in the past.  But you can be certain that if Ray Lewis was just another black man instead of one of the greatest football players of all time, most of his supporters would want him in jail.  Sometimes, performance has a lot to do with forgiveness.

The people who have never liked Ray Lewis really don’t like Ray Lewis now.  Some have used this year’s Super Bowl run to remind everyone they can about those two murders.  With every flattering interview by ESPN, every new commercial and every post-game Bible verse, they go to social media to remind us all that Ray Lewis is a killer.  Of course, if Ray Lewis played for their favorite team, he would just be a misunderstood athlete instead of a cold-blooded killer.

NFL fans can be a peculiar bunch.

Thankfully, Jesus is not an NFL fan.

Jesus doesn’t cheer for us while looking past our sins.  Instead, he confronts us, like he did to the adulterous woman at the well (John 4:16-18).

And he’s not interested in constantly reminding us of our past failures, measuring them out against our current performance.  Through faith and repentance, our sins have been placed on him (2 Corinthians 5:21) and there is no condemnation against us (Romans 8:1).

This Sunday night while cameras are constantly locked in on Ray Lewis some of us will forget that, at best, Lewis lied about two murders and, at worst, he got away with murder.  And the rest of us will see a man who didn’t get the punishment that his sins deserved and who is now enjoying a new standing that he certainly doesn’t deserve.

Hopefully, Christians will take the time to look a little closer at Ray Lewis.

If we look carefully enough, we’ll see that the man who got away with murder is a lot more like us than we care to admit.

Happy Monday, Losers!

Judging from the title of this video I was supposed to walk away from it feeling good about the triumph of the human spirit or something like that.

Instead, it made me feel like a loser.

There’s just something about seeing a kid with crutches do tricks on a skateboard that suddenly doesn’t make me feel so good about riding on my kid’s skateboard for a full 15 feet without falling off.

So to all you other losers out there, Happy Monday!

HT: The Awesomer

 

 

The Just One Child Scheme

There is a dangerous strand of logic that keeps popping up in the gun control debate.  It goes a little something like this.

“If tighter gun restrictions save the life of just one child, isn’t it all worth it?”

One reason that this is dangerous is that it fails to recognize the fact that a gun in the hand of a responsible citizen actually saves lives.

A few weeks ago a Georgia woman took advantage of her second amendment right when a man broke into her home to hunt down her and her two children.  She emptied her weapon into the man, saving herself and her children.  Coincidentally, those two children weren’t asked to stand behind the president last week while he signed his new gun laws.  I don’t know this woman or her two children but I’m sure that she doesn’t want to hear anything about less guns saving the lives of just one child.

Nor does the guy in my church who was home one night last week while two guys were trying to break down his front door.  In this case a shotgun saved three lives.  Just the sight of it sent the two would be intruders back to their cave and allowed the homeowner to begin the search for a new front door.

Another danger of The Just One Child Scheme is that it can be used to support the loss of nearly any freedom and the growth of any government power.

Every year kids die because of peanut allergies.  If banning peanuts saves just one child, isn’t it all worth it?  You wouldn’t want to support anything that hurts the kids now would you, peanut lovers?  How dare you enjoy that peanut butter and jelly sandwich?  You’re feasting on an instrument of death!  Why do you hate kids so much?

Slogans and catch phrases can be dangerous and The Just One Child Scheme is a great example.

When children are used to promote an agenda it is very important to look beyond the appeal to emotions and examine what lies at the root of the argument.  In this case I think that we will find that it’s not the kids that our leaders are concerned about.

After all, why would a group of people who promote and ensure funding for the murder of millions of innocent babies every year suddenly care about saving just one child?

Fish Sticks, Tater Tots and Habakkuk

There is a good way to make people think that you are really spiritual.  Tell them that you were poor growing up.

Here’s how it works.

Person 1: “Remember those G.I. Joe lunch boxes we used to have back in grade school?”

Person 2: “Yeah, they were awesome.  Mine had Snake Eyes on it.”

You: “I never had a lunch box because I was on the reduced lunch program.  Oh, and I had to hitch a ride from a guy on a mule just to get to school.  We were poor, you know.”

Jackkpot!  End of conversation.

I didn’t grow up poor.  But things were tight.  That’s usually how it is in a single-parent home.  It was common for me to overhear my mom crying while talking to some bill collector on the phone.  Also, we ate fish sticks and tater tots for dinner a lot, if that tells you anything.

Now that I’m a husband and father who is obscenely rich, at least according to President Obama’s pledge to only raise taxes on the wealthy, I often wonder how my mom did it.  How did she manage to raise two kids and pay for all of the things that come with raising two kids?  And how is it that virtually all of my childhood memories involve laughter?  Why did our financial instability not become an emotional drain on our family?

Habakkuk has the answer.

He was a prophet during the time that the nation of Israel was divided.  One half of the nation had been enduring oppression at the hands of Assyria while the other half was about to get bullied by Babylon.  As you can imagine, this led to a lot of difficulties for God’s people.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
Habakkuk 3:17 (ESV)

In Habakkuk’s time, barren fig trees and empty fruit vines meant economic catastrophe.  But it was a catastrophe that Habakkuk was ready to face.  How?

yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.
Habakkuk 3:18-19 (ESV)

Habakkuk knew the difference between the temporary and the eternal.  Olives, cattle and fruit were very important but they were only temporary.  Whether it’s 640 B.C. or 2013, worship of the temporary always ends badly.  This explains why people kill each other in the Wal-Mart parking lot on Thanksgiving night when they find out that there aren’t enough flat screens to go around.  Wouldn’t you kill somebody if you just found out that your god was sold out?

My mother, much like Habakkuk, kept an eternal perspective in our home.  She did this by teaching and living the eternal gospel of salvation by grace through faith.  And she did this by reminding us that our strength doesn’t come from a really awesome G.I. Joe lunch box but from the strength and might of the eternal and living God (Ephesians 6:10).

My kids don’t know what it’s like to live in a single-parent home, they’ve never had fish sticks and tater tots and they will never meet their grandmother here on earth.  But I hope that they learn her valuable lesson of knowing how to let go of the temporary while clinging to the Eternal.

A Theology of Losing

We’ve had a rough stretch at our house.

It was looking so good there for a while, like maybe things would be different this time.  And then Andrelton Simmons was called out because of a peculiar interpretation of Major League Baseball’s infield fly rule.  Well, that and the fact that the Braves, like they do every other post season, forgot about the importance of hitting and pitching.

So much for enjoying a Braves World Series win with my sons.

They handle losses differently.  My youngest son always asks who won.  In this case, when I said the Cardinals, he announced his undying support for the Cardinals.  My oldest son takes it hard.  To him, a loss is a personal insult.  I use theology to help him cope.

“Son, even if the Braves lose, Jesus is still Lord.”

The Lordship of Jesus Christ is proclaimed a lot in our house.  This approach seems to be helping but he also likes to look at things from another perspective.

“Yeah, and at least we still have the Georgia Bulldogs to cheer for.”

Fast forward to a cold night in December.  The Georgia Bulldogs were yards away from beating the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide and earning a spot in the national title game.  With no timeouts and just seconds left on the clock, Aaron Murray completed a pass a few feet from the goal line.  As the Bulldogs hurried to the line to run another play, the clock ran out.

Alabama won.

That’s when my youngest son pledged his undying support to the Crimson Tide.

My oldest son wanted to cry.

I wanted to join him.

Instead, I told him that Jesus is still Lord.

“Yeah dad, and at least we still have the Falcons to cheer for.”

Fast forward to a cold Sunday afternoon in January.  The Falcons were down by four points and just a few yards away from the end zone.  A score here would send them to only the second Super Bowl in team history.  On fourth down, with just a minute or so left in the game, a Matt Ryan pass fell harmlessly to the ground, effectively ending the game for the Falcons.

My youngest son then pledged his undying support to the San Francisco 49ers.

My oldest son was upset but not as much as I expected him to be.  He was getting used to losing.  But I still told him that Jesus is Lord.

“Yeah, and dad, we still have the Atlanta Hawks to cheer for.”

He’s got a lot to learn.

It’s a good thing that Jesus will always be Lord.

Church Drama

I met a pastor’s kid last weekend.  Whenever I meet a pastor’s kid, I always pay careful attention to what he has to say seeing as how there are two pastor’s kids living in my home.

The pastor’s kid that I met wasn’t a kid anymore.  He’s all grown up now and to the best of my knowledge he is no longer involved in a church.  That really got my attention.

The now grown pastor’s kid told me that he moved something like 50 times before he got out of his teenage years.  His father had a special calling.  He would look for churches that were either dead or quickly dying and come in to try to lead them in healing and restoration.

I was shocked.

“Man, I’ll bet that you’ve seen your share of church drama.”

The look on his face told me all that I needed to know.  It also explained why he’s not in church now.

I spend a lot of time wondering why it has to be this way.  Why does it have to be a curse for a kid to grow up in a pastor’s home?  There are a lot of answers to that question.  Some pastors neglect their families in pursuit of ministry goals and some pastors place heavy burdens on their children.  But another contributing factor has to be the church drama that the child of a pastor has to witness.  Simply put, sometimes a pastor’s kid can get caught in the crossfire between people who claim to love Jesus but just can’t seem to get along with each other.

In Acts 1, Luke takes the time to list the disciples by name who were gathering in the upper room waiting for the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised.  Among those names are two brothers whom Jesus nicknamed Sons of Thunder.  This is another way of saying that James and John were two tightly wound men who were probably hard to get along with.  There was also Peter who liked to talk a big game about himself.

But the two men on this list who really stick out are Matthew and Simon the Zealot.

Matthew was a tax collector.  Tax collectors in Jesus’ day were hated and considered thieves and traitors.  I know that’s hard to imagine but just stay with me on this.  Simon was a part of a group of people called the Zealots.  This means that if automobiles were invented back then, he would have had a truck with a Don’t Tread On Me sticker on the back.  And yet these two men, along with Peter, the Sons of Thunder and several other large, diverse personalities were in one accord, devoting themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14).

There is a big difference between unity and conformity.  Conformity is when everyone pretty much gets along because they’re all alike.  Unity is when people from different backgrounds can get along because they share a common link.  For the church in Acts, that common link was the resurrected Jesus and the promised Holy Spirit.

Church drama does not happen because too many different personalities from various backgrounds are sharing the same church building.  Instead, it is a direct result of too little Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

One day, a few decades from now, when someone asks my two sons about their childhood, I hope that they answer with a smile as they talk about the joy of growing up in a community of believers who each had their own quirks and personality defects but who shared a common link of a resurrected Savior and an active Holy Spirit.

If You’re Ever In Alabama

When the first ambulance showed up I thought we were in trouble.  By the time the third one arrived I knew that we were being had.

My friends and I were on our way down to Panama City, Florida.  People in Georgia think that if you live a good life you get to go to Panama City when you die.  The time you spend in Alabama on the way down is sort of like purgatory.  For us, it was a little worse than that.

We were in Phenix City, Alabama when we got in the wreck.  The wreck was our fault but it wasn’t bad.  It didn’t seem worthy of one ambulance, much less three.

After we hit the car in front of us it started to look like one of those cars at the circus with all of the clowns inside.  People kept coming out on those real skinny stretchers that are reserved mostly for neck injuries at monster truck competitions.

My friend, the driver, told us that this wouldn’t be the last we would hear about this.  I said something like, “Yeah, right.  Whatever.  Panama City, baby!”

A year later he told me the same thing.  And that’s when I said something like, “Yeah, right. Whatever. When are we going back to Panama City?”

It turns out that my friend was right.  Two years after our minor accident we were both standing in the hallway of a Phenix City courthouse waiting to tell our side of the story.  My friend’s attorney must not have thought much of his chances with us on the stand so he was doing everything he could to keep the case from going to a trial.  By that I mean that he offered the woman who we hit a very large settlement.  Her husband wanted to take it.  She wanted more money.  She, it turns out, had the final say in that house.  We were headed to trial.

But first we had to go eat lunch.  Our lawyer took us to a barbecue restaurant.  The barbecue was yellow.  All barbecue in Alabama is yellow.  I haven’t had pork since.

We got back and told our story on the witness stand and then endured an intense cross examination from an attorney with a name like Hard Hittin’ Harv Lomax, At Bat for You!  He was the kind of attorney that liked having his picture on the back of phone books and the sides of buses.

When it was time for the closing arguments, our attorney was in top form.  While he was speaking to the jury I was thinking that he was going to ask one or two of them to marry him.

“You know, there are some who say that the jury system in this country doesn’t work.  They don’t have much faith in you.  Well, I’m not one of those people.  I know that you will make the right decision.”

While we were waiting outside for the jury to make the right decision, our attorney nervously smoked one cigarette after another.

“Boys, this is the worst part about being a lawyer.  You do all of your work and the results are left in the hands of a bunch of idiots.  The jury system is a complete failure.  I hate it.”

So much for the wedding proposals.

It was time to go back into the courtroom.  The much maligned jury had reached a decision.

We lost.

Sort of.

The jury decided that the woman who we hit did deserve some money from my friend’s insurance company.  But they decided that she deserved about 5% of that settlement that was offered to her while we were standing out in the hallway.

I think our lawyer had his faith restored in the jury system.

So if you’re ever in Alabama, don’t eat the barbecue.  And if you happen to run into a distinguished looking, smooth talking attorney, just to be safe, don’t believe anything he tells you.

But if he offers you a deal, take it.