We Chose The Clowns

A lady who worked for CBS said online that she had a hard time sympathizing with the victims of the Las Vegas shooting because most of them probably were against gun control.

Pat Robertson, a televangelist who has made a career out of saying things that are unbiblical, linked the massacre to NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem.

These statements were made by people with completely different worldviews but the root of their words are the same. Both statements are grounded in self-righteousness.

Jesus addressed this mentality during his ministry on earth. For everything that has changed in 2,000 years, not a lot has changed. We still like to think of ourselves being better than we really are.

A tyrannical government official had used his power to conduct his own massacre. While a group of people were worshiping, he had them killed. In response, people came to Jesus with the same basic mentality as the girl from CBS who had no sympathy for the victims and the televangelist who had no biblical clarity.

Self-righteousness is nothing new.

The thinking in Jesus’ day was that if anything bad happened to you it was because you had it coming and God was punishing you. So the group that was not massacred was somehow better than the group that was. That was the way that many people saw it, at least.

But it wasn’t the way that Jesus saw it.

And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:2-3 (ESV)

In her own way, the media executive was putting herself above the victims because of her progressive views on gun control. And the televangelist was elevating himself because he has done such a stellar job of respecting the president.

Jesus’ words, as usual, give us cause for self-reflection. Rather than asking why a loving God would allow the massacre in Las Vegas to happen, we need to ask a different question. But it is a question that we’ll never ask in our self-righteousness. This question requires humility.

I don’t love God like I should. I certainly don’t always love my neighbor as myself. And yet, I woke up this morning and got out of bed without the assistance of anything other than my alarm clock. I had a great breakfast with my wife and sons. I arrived safely at a men’s Bible study where I taught without fear of persecution. So here’s the better question.

Why would a just God allow someone like me who routinely breaks the Great Commandment to carry on as I do?

We are no better than the Galilean victims, the victims of the tower in Siloam that fell (Luke 13:4) or the victims in Las Vegas. We deserve much worse than what they endured. The fact that we haven’t received our just rewards is a testimony, not to our complete moral purity but to the grace of God.

Grace.

That’s something that we can always count on when tragedy hits.

Whenever disaster strikes, grace strikes with it. Always. You just have to be humble enough to slow down and take a look.

In the case of the murdered Galileans, grace was seen in Jesus’ compassionate call. There is, he was saying, a way to be rescued from perishing. But it comes through repentance. It requires laying aside our self-righteousness and taking on the perfect righteousness of Christ. No amount of political progressivism or religious babble can save us from our impending doom. We aren’t righteous enough. Jesus is. That’s what Jesus was telling his misguided inquisitors. And his message is just as true for us today.

In our world where everything is offensive, being told to repent or you will perish isn’t exactly the best way to win over a crowd. People are drowning in a sea of self-righteousness and they’re too comfortable in their despair to even consider the drastic changes that are necessary and the hope that can be found in Christ.

All of my life I’ve been told that Christians are self-righteous. I can’t disagree with that. We are. But it doesn’t stop with us. There are those who seek to atone for themselves through political action, violent action, or no action. There are those who claim to be compassionate and loving and are willing to prove it to you by demonstrating how cold and hateful than can be to people on the other side.

We all need to repent.

We all need Jesus.

Otherwise, we will all perish.

Jimmy Kimmel, we are now told, is America’s conscience. That should tell you how far we’ve gone in the wrong direction. When a nation abandons God and absolute truth, it looks to a comedian for direction. TV critic Hank Stuever writes, “Lacking leaders, we look to class clowns to guide us.”

It’s like we’re living in the Upsided Down of Judges, the book that begins with people asking, “Who will lead us?” and ends tragically with, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Our eyes are telling us that our righteousness is enough.

Our words and actions are proving our eyes wrong.

We don’t need more politicians, money grabbing TV preachers or calloused crusaders hiding under a thin veil of faux compassion. At some point in the future, when an honest account is given as to what went wrong with our society, two simple sentences will suffice.

We needed a Savior.

But we chose the clowns.

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God Made My Son Cry

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It wasn’t the kind of question I expected from my seven-year-old son. It’s one of those questions that doesn’t have an easy answer. It’s the reason why I take time every morning to ask God to give me wisdom.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

My son saw that question written in a book. The look on his face as he asked the question told me that this wasn’t one of those questions kids ask before bedtime just to kill time so that they can tell their friends at school that they got to stay up late last night. This was a legitimate concern for him.

I could have answered his question in a lot of ways.

I could have pretended that bad things don’t really happen to good people and told him that only drug dealers get murdered. The problem with this is that it’s wrong. His own limited experience tells him that it’s wrong. Worst of all, it leaves us with a very small view of God.

I could have told him that there are no good people. That we all deserve bad things. And I would have been right. Absolutely right. But, with this being right before bed and all, I thought that kind of a response would have been a bit much for my seven-year-old.

“Dad, why do bad things happen to good people?”

“There are no good people. You deserve hell! Now go to bed.”

I scrambled for the best response. While he waited, he pulled his knees under his chin. I noticed the large scrape on his left knee that he got when he fell down while running last week.

I told him about how much tougher he’s getting. How when he was younger he would cry when we put medicine on a cut like that. Things are different now. When we treated this cut, he took it like a man. Sometimes God sends tough things our way to make us stronger by relying on him more.

There are other times when God uses difficulties to remind us of how loved we are. My son’s skinned knee was a painful reminder that he belongs to a family that loves him. He has a mom and dad who care enough for him to give him medicine and bandages. He has a brother who holds his hand while those wounds get treated. Sometimes bad things are the best reminders of the loving people around you and the God who loves you.

Tears formed in my son’s eyes.

I worried if maybe I said something wrong. Maybe this was too much for him right before bed at the end of a long day.

It was then that he told me that his tears weren’t the kind you have when you are sad. He told me that these were happy tears. The kind of tears you have when you start to see that God is in total control and loves you very much. The tears that come with the realization that, although this world is a scary place, God keeps his people secure.

We all have our share of scrapes and bruises. Some are worse than others. Some go away while some hang around for the rest of our lives. And no one’s eyes are dry. We are all too familiar with the tears that come from pain.

But Jesus helps us to have joy anyway. Only he can turn our sad tears into tears of joy while we wait for him to wipe away all of the pain in the world.

I don’t know the specifics of why bad things happen to us. Most of the time, none of us do. But I’m glad that God made my son cry. Last week’s tears of pain eventually turned to this week’s tears of joy. They both worked together to help my son to see that, through the difficulties and struggles of life, God is working for the good of his people.

Some things are seen most clearly through the blur of teary eyes.

Murder And The Sunday Sermon

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Cops.

Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.

Your local six o’clock news.

If you can somehow manage to get through life without making an appearance on one of those shows, you’ve done alright for yourself. Your parents should be proud. Thursday evening, when I turned on my television, I saw two people from my church on one of those shows.

It reminded me of the importance of my job.

I live in a safe part of the world. A few weeks ago, some organization released a list of the safest towns in the state of Georgia. Mine was near the top of the list. Ours isn’t a violent community. There aren’t many serious crimes. No one gets murdered.

That all changed earlier this week.

The kid wanted to go to the store so that he could buy a pack of cigarettes. He asked his grandmother for a ride. When she said no he beat her to death with a baseball bat.

An 18-year-old kid, charged with beating his own grandmother to death. In our safe town.

News trucks from the Atlanta stations were here Thursday. Unless a tornado or an ice storm comes through, Atlanta news stations stay out of our town. There’s nothing to report. Nothing here can compete with the violence and corruption that has become a way of life 45 minutes up the road from our quiet and safe part of the world.

The two people from my church were just doing their job when I saw them on TV Thursday night. They both work in our legal system. There’s another man too. He didn’t make it on the news but he had to be among the first at the crime scene. All three people were just doing their jobs. Jobs they’ve been doing for a while. Jobs they do well. But still, when they sat in our sanctuary last Sunday, they didn’t know what the week held for them. They didn’t know that they would have to deal with an 18-year-old charged with murder. Not in our safe town.

When I saw them on the news, I hoped that they were okay. That they were prepared for coming face to face with total depravity like this. I knew that they would do their job well. I only hoped that I was doing mine well.

The people I preach to each week need more than life principles. They need more than an encouraging word to help them get through the week. They need to be reminded that sin has corrupted our world. They need to be pointed to the King who has conquered that corruption. I’m guessing that it can be tempting to question the goodness of God when you’re looking at a woman’s blood splattered on her wall.

I’ve been preaching though Esther. There’s a lot of bloodshed, corruption and depravity in that book. Words like God, Jesus and Holy Spirit are not mentioned in the entire book. But the presence of God is clearly seen on every page.

A lot like today.

It may be easy to question the presence of God at a crime scene or a court hearing. But just like in Esther’s day, Jesus is present (Matthew 1:23). He is good (Psalm 119:68). And he is in control (Colossians 1:15-19).

That’s one of the reasons why I take preaching so seriously. Each week, I stand before a group of people who are facing the unexpected. I don’t want them to go into the dark world we all live in with my life principles or emotional manipulation. They need something stronger.

And that’s why the preacher’s job is so important.

Each sermon and each counseling session should serve as a reminder to our people that, as we try to navigate our way through the shifting sands of this sin sick world, our “hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

I can’t wait to preach this Sunday.

 

The Next Time Disaster Strikes

It’s a crazy world. We’re reminded of that on a national level about every three or four months when disaster strikes. A man shoots up a school. A tornado wipes out an entire town. But the disaster doesn’t stop there. It continues in the ensuing days and weeks as we try to explain what happened, or even worse, exploit what happened.

The next time disaster strikes, here are a few things we would do well to remember before going public with our reaction.

1. It’s called a tragedy for a reason.

I was with a friend who had just lost everything in a hurricane. Everything. When we stopped at someone’s house for a meal, my friend wasn’t offered extra clothes or a gift card to Target. Instead, she got a sermon. A sermon about how the government has essentially weaponized the weather. I was fascinated. My friend was heartbroken.

Assuming for a moment that this theory and others like it are true, it doesn’t mean that you have to talk about them while people are still hurting. If you want to share conspiracy theories with your buddies over a meal, fine. No problem. Just wait until the water recedes or the bullets stop flying. In the meantime, find the hurting people and do what you can to help them.

2. Put the tired old sayings to rest.

I’m looking at you, media. Here’s how it usually plays out.

The talking head puts on his best concerned look while simultaneously hiding his excitement over the fact that his ratings are going to skyrocket. And then this little jewel comes out.

“What a terrible tragedy. But the people of ________________ are strong. This is a tough town and they will fight back.”

First, has anyone ever seen a good tragedy?

Second, what does it mean that people from ______________ are strong and that they will fight back? If it means that they will resist militarized police from coming into their homes without a warrant to find some bad guy then, by all means, the people of ________________ are tough. But that’s usually not the case. So stop saying it.

3.  Stop taking God’s name in vain.

I’m not just talking about the man who uses God’s name like a cuss word after seeing for himself just how big the tornado is.

Well meaning Christians can take God’s name in vain when they try to apologize on his behalf.

“God would never do anything like this.”

Really?

By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast. He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning. They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world. Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen. “Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God. Job 37:10-14 (ESV)

But if there’s one thing that we can learn from Job’s friends it’s that you can say the right thing in the wrong way or at the wrong time or in the wrong spirit. It’s another way of taking God’s name in vain.

“God was clearly punishing the people of __________________ for the way that they voted on ___________________ six months ago.”

That could very well be the case but unless God has told you his specific reason, cool it with the theological analysis.

Look, seminary costs a lot of money and you didn’t go in to debt to tell people, “I don’t know.” But sometimes that’s the best way to go.

We do know that God is always good.

We know for sure that God is always in control over all things.

And sometimes, it’s best to just leave it at that.

That way, instead of prolonging the disaster by trying to show off our big brains, maybe we can help to start the healing process by more faithfully representing our big God.

Billy Blanket

The doctor called it shoulder dystocia.

Up until that point, I had never heard the word dystocia.  It sounded serious.  It looked serious too.

My newborn son was using one arm to reach up into the air.  The other arm seemed lifeless.  It was hard to watch.  I was overwhelmed.

He didn’t breath for four minutes after he was born.  The doctors never gave me a name for that condition.  They were too busy trying to save his life.

A few days later, after the breathing problem was taken care of, the pediatrician was still concerned about my son’s arm.  She told us that if things did not improve, he would need to see a physical therapist.  And from there, who knows?

But the pediatrician had another concern.  As if the breathing and the shoulder weren’t enough, my son was still yellow.  Too yellow.  Doctors call that yellow jaundice.  Most babies have jaundice but my son had too much.  The doctor prescribed something called a billy blanket and gave us a bunch of papers about how jaundice can ruin your life.

Thanks.

A billy blanket sounds fun.  Names can be deceiving.  I think the guy that came up with the idea for all of those Saw movies invented the billy blanket.  It looked like a miniature inflatable air mattress with a straight jacket attached to it.  Oh, and it glowed in the dark.

Our instructions were clear.  We were to fasten our son in the billy blanket and light him up a few times a day.  And he had to sleep in it at night.  My wife and I slept with him in the living room floor.  It was like laying next to ET.

We both hated seeing our son like that.  But he hated it more.  He used all of his strength to fight his way out of that tiny torture device.  It was so hard to watch him scream like that. I wanted to throw the billy blanket away but I didn’t want his jaundice to get worse.

It was a long night.

It turns out that Billy was on to something with that blanket.  We noticed that our son was starting to become a lot less yellow.  The pediatrician agreed with us.  The jaundice was gone.

But we still had the shoulder problem to deal with.

Or so we thought.

The pediatrician went on to say that my son’s shoulder was fine too.  No physical therapy would be needed.  The physical therapy had already taken place.

While he was trapped in that billy blanket, fighting his way out, my son was training the damaged muscles in his shoulder.  Each attempt to work his arm free was making him more as he should be.

No one is immune from difficult circumstances.

But as we work through them under the Spirit’s power, we can trust that a sovereign and loving God is using those difficulties to mold us into the image of his Son.

To make us more as we should be.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV)