Thanks, Louie

If somebody tells you a story about a kid and a phone, there is a greater than 90% chance that it’s going to be bad news. I’ve got a story about my eight-year-old son and a phone but it’s the best news I’ve heard in a while.

A couple of nights a week my sons have soccer practice. These practices aren’t at the same time which means that our family is on a soccer field for most of the night. While my eight-year-old practices, I get to spend time with my oldest son. We read books, talk and play around. While my oldest son is practicing, my eight-year-old wants one thing.

My phone.

He doesn’t care about calling anyone. He doesn’t have a social media account. He just wants to see videos. I think that he walks around with a playlist in his head of about eight videos he wants to watch the next time he gets some downtime with me and my phone. This is the part where I always feel like a bad dad. I usually suggest that we watch ridiculous news clips on YouTube. You know, the one about the whistle tips or the one about the Leprechaun in Alabama. He always quickly declines. There’s only one man who he wants to see.

Louie Giglio.

So we watch Louie talking about space. And Louie talking about the wonders of the human body. If you’ve ever seen these videos, you know that Louie is talking about more than just science. That’s just a platform for him to display the sovereignty of God. When Louie talks about space, he’s trying to get across how small we are and how big God is. When he talks about laminin, the cell adhesion molecule, he’s explaining that Jesus really does hold all things together. My son eats it up. I think he has these sermon clips memorized. I couldn’t be happier. No offense to the Alabama Leprechaun. The last thing I need in my life is him coming after me.

My son has a friend at school who is not a Christian. They are great friends. They always play together and talk about, you guessed it, science. Earlier this week, my son’s friend had a very unusual question for him.

“What makes the human body stay together?”

My son’s answer was quick.

“Laminin. It’s the cell adhesion molecule.”

When my son told me that, I was really glad that we didn’t spend our downtime on the soccer fields watching news clips about Alabama leprechauns. I’d like to say that my son’s friend repented right there on the spot when he got a picture of Jesus holding all things together. That hasn’t happened. Yet. But I am glad to say that my son is doing his best to see it happen.

He doesn’t know what cell adhesion molecule means.

Don’t tell anyone but neither do I.

What my son does know is that we are all being held together by a really big God and that his friend desperately needs to be made right with that really big God.

Thanks, Louie!

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Christian, Nothing Will Happen To You Today

There are very few guarantees. You can’t be sure what will happen to you today. Things could be bad. The earthquake could hit your town. The siren could stop at your door. We can’t be sure.

But if you are a Christian, there’s something you can be sure of.

Nothing will happen to you today.

Nothing will happen to you today that God can’t redeem.

His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Genesis 50:18-20 (ESV)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (ESV)

Nothing will happen to you today that will diminish the source of your joy.

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)

Nothing will happen to you today that is beyond God’s forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)

Nothing will happen to you today that is outside of the loving control of Jesus Christ.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17 (ESV)

Nothing will happen to you today that will separate you from your Creator.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39 (ESV)

Nothing will happen to you today that will take away your inheritance.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5 (ESV)

This day could end up being a bad one for you. I hope not but it could. We just don’t know. But when you lay your head down tonight to go to sleep, you will still be able to say that nothing happened to you today.

Nothing.

Nothing but the overwhelming love of Jesus played out before you in a thousand different ways.

Happy Birthday To The Boy Who Wouldn’t Breathe

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My firstborn child turned 8 today. For a while there, I didn’t think that he’d make it this far.

It took a while for fatherhood to set in with me. It didn’t happen in those months leading up to my son’s birth when my wife and I watched videos of some woman teaching us how to breathe. It didn’t happen on the afternoon I spent putting together baby furniture with John Mayer providing my soundtrack.

It didn’t even happen the day before my son was born. A self-proclaimed expert told my wife that she was several weeks from going into labor. She said that she could tell by the way that the baby was laying. She said that she’s never wrong on those things. My wife went into labor a few hours later.

Fatherhood still never set in.

It didn’t set in while I was speeding to the hospital with my wife and sister-in-law along for the ride. One was telling me to slow down. One was telling me to speed up. I’ll let you guess which one wanted me to go faster.

I figured that the feeling of fatherhood would come once my son was born. When I finally heard him cry, that would probably do it. Finally, my son was being born. All that was needed was the cry and then my fatherhood would feel official. Things were moving along like clockwork, as they say.

That clock turned out to be broken.

My son was delivered. But he wasn’t crying. For four minutes he wasn’t crying. Four minutes. The fatherhood came anyway. I just didn’t know how long that feeling would last.

Those were the longest four minutes of my life. It’s never a good thing to see a nurse running down a hall. It’s even worse when she’s holding a baby. The other nurses hurried behind her. The rest of us were worrying. And praying. Except for my wife. She was just praying. Out loud. Calmly. That feeling of motherhood had already set in with her a long time ago. So had that feeling that comes when you know that God is holding it all together.

My son finally took his first breath. Doctors and nurses were still worried about potential damage. He also had what those doctors refer to as shoulder dystocia. It wasn’t a happy sight seeing him on the other side of that glass with all of those tubes hooked up to him. I wanted to hold him. For a while, they wouldn’t let me. I felt like a father anyway.

After we got out of the hospital, another self-proclaimed expert told us that our son, “might not have any developmental difficulties.” I just smiled. My smile was only on the outside.

It’s hard to believe that eight years have passed since I saw nurses with worried looks on their faces trying to figure out what to do with the baby who wouldn’t breathe.

Right now, I’m looking at pictures of him. In one he’s skateboarding while wearing shorts and boots. There are no signs of developmental difficulties. Fashion difficulties maybe. All boys have that. But no developmental difficulties.

The boy who wouldn’t breathe can’t stop reading books.

The boy who wouldn’t breathe plays soccer with his friends and runs the mile course in front of his house with his mom and dad.

I’ve had the feeling of fatherhood for eight years now. Five years ago, I got a double dose. I wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything. I don’t know what the future holds for the boy who wouldn’t breathe or his brother. Sometimes that can be scary to think about.

But then I remember that the One who took care of my son during those four frightening minutes is the same One who will take care of his future.

And I know that everything is going to be just fine.

Happy birthday, son.

Too Much Weight

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It’s your first time inside this funeral home.  It’s colder than you expected. You’ve driven by it thousands of times, never giving a second thought to the pain represented by each car in the parking lot. But now it’s you. Now you’re the one whose car is parked outside of the funeral home. You are the one  standing inside while friends, relatives and strangers come by to tell you that they are sorry for your loss. You wish you could just go home and everything could go back to normal, the way it was three days ago.

People want you to know that they care. Some of their words are very encouraging. Some aren’t.

Like the guy who walks up to you, casually points over to the casket, and smugly proclaims, “God just needed another flower in his garden.”

You want to punch him. But you think better of it. So you just smile, say something polite and nod along with him as he continues to ramble. That’s when he tells you this.

“You know, God will never give you more than you can handle.”

Instead of punching him, you secretly analyze his statement, all the while appearing to listen to the other obtuse phrases coming out of his mouth. Is he right? Is it true that God would never give you more than you could handle?

You think about Scripture.

You think about Joseph who was sold into slavery by his own brothers and eventually ended up in jail on false charges.

You think about Jehoshaphat who was doing his best to lead his nation, Judah, but still found himself in a bad way when enemy nations started moving in to attack.

You think about Paul who had something called a thorn in the flesh. You don’t know what that is but you know it wasn’t good because Paul repeatedly asked God to take it away.

And then you think back on your own life.

You begin with the divorce that destroyed your seemingly perfect family the summer before you went away to college.

And then the events that brought you here today. Standing in a funeral home. Listening to a stranger theorize about life and death.

You go back to your original question. Does God ever give us more than we can handle? Does he ever allow too much weight to fall on us?

He did to Joseph. Joseph wasn’t getting out of the pit his brothers threw him into on his own.

He did to Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat’s army didn’t stand a chance against their invaders.

And he did to Paul. In the form of an angry mob, a snakebite, a shipwreck and a thorn in the flesh.

He did to you too.

You didn’t know how to handle your parent’s divorce. And today? Today you feel crushed. Even your next breath seems impossible.

But then you remember what God was doing through Joseph.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Genesis 50:20 (ESV)

And Jehoshaphat. You remember what his dire situation led him to pray.

“O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 2 Chronicles 20:12 (ESV)

That thorn in Paul’s flesh comes to mind too. So you remember the reason why he quit asking God to take it away.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)

Later that night you lie in bed, unable to sleep. The house is too quiet. You dread tomorrow morning’s funeral and the sight of that casket.

Your eyes fill with tears. A prayer comes to your lips.

“Father, these circumstances you have sent my way are more than I can handle. You have given me too much weight. I am too weak for this. But thank you. Thank you for being strong where I am weak. Thank you for sending me more than I can handle to remind me of how badly I need you. I don’t know what to do but my eyes are on you.”

You drift off to sleep. By the time you finally wake up, it’s time to go.

You walk into the church sanctuary and there it is. The casket.

As you walk closer, you try to be strong. But you just can’t. It’s then that you remember that you don’t have to be strong. Jesus’ strength is enough for you. Just like it was for Paul.

You continue to cry.

But as the tears pour from your eyes, a peace grows in your heart.

On your way back to your seat you think about what that man told you yesterday at the funeral home.

“God will never give you more than you can handle.”

As the organist plays, you thank God that that man was wrong.

God really did give you more than you can handle. But in doing that he showed you that in Jesus you have more than you could possibly ever need. You have been given a weight that is impossible to carry. You have also been given a  Savior to carry it for you.

You are weak.

He is strong.

The peace in your heart grows as you remember that sometimes God’s most valuable messages come wrapped in packages too heavy for you to handle. And it is under that weight that you gain a greater understanding of who God is and just how much he loves you.

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10 (ESV)

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you. Job 42:5 (ESV)

Unless You Want To Die A Slow & Painful Death, Stay Away From These 8 Things

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You don’t want to die, do you? I didn’t think so. Well, here are a few things you can avoid if you never again want to worry about death.

1. Eating

I’ve done a lot of research on this. Over the past few months I’ve documented the articles people have shared on Facebook telling us what foods are bad for us. No surprise, but McDonald’s gets the most mentions. But other foods, ones that you may not expect, do too. Foods like almonds. Apples. And even honey. Based on my research, 97% of all foods could give you a terrible disease. The other 3% will give you an average disease. So just to be safe, stay away from 100% of foods.

2. Teeth

Brushing your teeth involves two of the deadliest things on the planet – water and toothpaste. Water is dangerous because, well, technically it is a food and as I noted in point one, all food is bad for you. Toothpaste is dangerous because of the weird stuff that’s in it. Simply not brushing your teeth may seem like a logical alternative but then you will have plaque buildup from the toxic air you breathe  in and all of that plaque will find its way to your heart. If you really want to live long and prosper, have your teeth pulled.

3. Exercise

Don’t believe the myths that exercise is good for you. It’s not. While it may make you feel good for a while, all of that running, jumping and lifting will eventually wear your body down. And then, when the zombies finally attack, what good will you be? Also, one time I heard about this girl who died while working out. And that’s what we’re trying not to do. Die. Therefore, no exercise.

4. Happiness

Happiness involves laughter. Laughter causes laugh lines on your face. Laugh lines make you look older. If you look older, sure enough, you’ll start to feel older. By then, it’s practically one foot in the grave for you. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stop laughing.

5. The Outdoors

The sun is outdoors. The sun is the enemy.

6. The Indoors

Fluorescent lighting is indoors. Fluorescent lighting is the enemy.

7. Cute Little Babies

Cute little babies cry. And crying elevates your blood pressure. Also, cute little babies grow up and turn into teenagers who want to borrow your car and twenty bucks. That makes you have a stroke.

8. Sitting Down

Sitting down is right behind drug addictions on the list of terrible things people do to themselves. Don’t take my word for it. I heard it from some doctor on the Internet.

“Sitting down is almost as bad as smoking crack.” – Some doctor on the Internet

So if you want to live forever, get rid of your food and teeth, stop moving but not enough for you to be classified as sitting, never laugh and wear a thick raincoat at all times. Oh, and while you’re doing all of this, be sure to write a lot about it on Facebook so you can scare your friends to death. Then you’ll really outlive them.

Of course, there is another option.

You could just trust in God’s sovereign care over all things, including your life, and live accordingly. That’s what David did. Of course, he did die. But he also lived. Boy, did he live.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Psalm 139:16-17 (ESV)

How much better off would we be if we started trusting our diets and lifestyles to the sovereignty of God instead of living like slaves to the latest warning that some “friend” posted on Facebook about apples causing cancer?

God gave us the sun. And apples. And teeth. But our first parents distorted those gifts when they believed the serpent’s lie.

“You will not surely die.”

Sometimes it’s easy to believe a different form of that lie.

“Eat this. Not that. And you will not surely die.”

But we will. No matter how healthy we eat, our bodies will one day quit on us. And we miss the point of the life we have been given if we spend our days fearfully trying to avoid our final day. It is possible to live to be 108 and never really live.

So stop reading those articles that are always telling you what you’re doing wrong and how you’re killing yourself. Just scroll past them on your news feed. Maybe even hide that Facebook friend who feels the need to constantly remind you and the rest of the world about the deadly dangers of popcorn.

Be smart.

Practice moderation.

But go outside.

Play and laugh.

Eat a hamburger.

And then take a picture of yourself doing all of those dangerous things and put it on Facebook.

Some of your “friends” need to see what they’re missing out on.

And who knows? In a few years when the experts all tell us that hamburgers and cole slaw help you to live longer, maybe they’ll show up to your next cookout.

The Dumbest Prayer I Ever Prayed And Why I’m Glad God Said No

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It’s the dumbest prayer I’ve ever prayed. It may very well be the dumbest prayer that anyone has ever prayed.

“God, please make me cool.”

As my self-centered rambling continued, I got more specific.

“Make me cool like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke.”

God answered my prayer with a resounding no. Man, I’m glad that he did because he had something better for me.

He gave me a broken home. At least that’s what everyone used to call it when your mom and dad didn’t live together. Now I guess it’s become the norm. Divorce had yet to gain that level of acceptance when I was a kid. Well, except for on the street where I lived. Almost all of us grew up living with only one parent. My grandmother called my street Divorce Court.

Now that I’m a pastor, I deal with broken marriages on a regular basis. I counsel married couples, advise young couples thinking about marriage and, occasionally preach about divorce. But I never talk about divorce like it’s something I read in a book. For me, it was a part of my childhood. It’s real. It hurts. And I carry that real hurt into every sermon or counseling situation. I thank God for that gift.

A lot of times people want to talk to me about the best way that they can care for their elderly parents. Those people are entering that weird stage in life where they have to be the parent to one or both of their parents. They don’t come to me for advice because they are looking for the results from my years of extensive research on caring for aging parents. They don’t care what my opinion is on the best nursing homes in the area. No, they come to me because I’ve been there.

I’ve broken the news to my own mother about having to move her to an assisted living facility. I was there when we told the doctors that another agonizing medical procedure wasn’t what we thought was best for my mother. She was ready to go.

When I sit in a hospital waiting room and talk to a woman who is grieving as she comes to grips with the fact that her mother isn’t going to be around much longer, my coolness never comes up. No one ever asks what it feels like being the new Paul Newman. But they do ask when enough is enough in regards to agonizing medical procedures being performed on their dying loved ones.

The answers never come easy. But that’s not really what they’re looking for anyway. They just want to see that I’ve been there. That I’ve made it out okay. And that the Bible wasn’t lying when it said that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:35).

It’s easy to fall into a trap where a majority of our prayers consist of nothing more than requests for a life of comfort and ease. Or maybe even coolness. But think of how ineffective we would be in helping others if God always granted these requests. At best, our efforts to love those who are suffering would be nothing more than a transfer of information. God knows that information alone is never enough. He knows that human beings respond well to other human beings. That’s why he sent his Son to live as a perfect human being and die as a perfect sacrifice. And it’s one of the reasons why he allows us to suffer.

Don’t go home tonight and pray for God to give you cancer and take all of your stuff away. Ask him for good health and daily bread. He likes it when we ask him for these things (Matthew 6:11; 7:7-11). Just remember that he has more to give you. And trust him when his gifts aren’t as comfortable and easy as you would like.

Trust that his gifts are always better.

Trust that he is making you more like his Son.

Trust that he is equipping you to help those who will one day suffer in the same way that you are today.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (ESV)

Laundering Jesus

We always ate black eyed peas on New Year’s Day.

And my mother never washed clothes.

I have no idea why we ate black eyed peas. I think that they were supposed to make us rich. It didn’t work. But I knew why laundry wasn’t allowed. My mom sternly reminded me every year.

“Wash your clothes on New Year’s Day and you’ll wash away a member of your family.”

Remember that story from the Bible? The one where God wanted this man to live to be 280 but the man just had to go and wash his tunic on New Year’s Day, 400 B.C.? He was only 35 but God had no choice. Rules are rules.

That story isn’t in the Bible. But for some, it may as well be. Today, washers and dryers all across the country will be ignored. All because getting that ketchup stain out of the table cloth could mean the end for Aunt Gertie. So Aunt Gertie, if you know what’s good for you, take it easy with the ketchup at the New Year’s Day meal.

At my house, we’ll probably be using our washing machine on New Year’s Day. Not because we want to get rid of Aunt Gertie. There’s another reason.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17 (ESV)

All things.

The football games you’ll watch today.

The wars all over the globe.

The life span of you and your family members.

All things.

Our universe isn’t governed by chance. It rests under the sovereign care of Jesus Christ. All of it. And his agenda is never thwarted by black cats crossing your path, broken mirrors, and yes, even clothes being washed on New Year’s Day.

I have a friend. Earlier this year his dad came down with some kind of a rare kidney disease. It was bad. Is there such a thing as a good kidney disease? Anyway, my friend’s dad had to depend on dialysis while he waited for a new kidney. The wait usually takes a couple of years. Not this one. It only took a few months. For a matching kidney, the man had to look no further than his own daughter. A daughter that he adopted a few decades before he ever got sick.

All things.

There’s this old joke.

A guy is afraid to fly. So his buddy leans over to him as the plane takes off and tries to comfort him with some theology.

“Look man, if it’s not God’s time for you to go, you’re not going to die.”

The worried air traveler was a bit skeptical.

“But what if it’s the pilot’s time to go?”

Our tendencies to believe that the universe is governed by coincidence seem to know no boundaries.

All things.

Even when it seems like everything is falling apart, it’s all being held together by Jesus Christ. And that goes for pilots and passengers, sick fathers and adopted daughters, black eyed peas and laundry.

My mother still won’t be doing laundry today. It’s been nearly ten years since she died. But she didn’t die because someone in our family washed clothes. It was just God’s time for her.

As much as I would love to eat some black eyed peas with my mom today, I trust in God’s timing. A timing that is always perfect. A timing that is never bound by superstitions or coincidence.

My mother is finally free from those nagging fears of stepping on the wrong side of superstition. Free in the loving arms of her sovereign Savior.

Arms that are in control of all things.

Blame It On The Rain

It was the worst summer of my life. The year was 1994 and I had just completed my first year of college. I think that it rained every day that summer. I spent all day indoors working at a cheese factory. I showed up for work every day just as the sun was coming up. When I left work every afternoon it was always raining. I felt like I was living in a Tim Burton movie.

Cheese. Rain. Sleep.

Cheese. Rain. Sleep.

By the end of that summer I had one wish. I didn’t want to see rain again. Ever.

My wish came true. For about the next 20 years the state of Georgia was under a severe drought. I remember being in church services where we prayed for small towns that were on the verge of running out of water. During those two decades, the absence of rain wasn’t the only problem. It was hot too. Years later when Facebook came along, almost every status update said something about the temperature.

Sheila Jefferson Blankenship It is soooooooooo hot!!!!! This is crazy. Somebody up there turn on the AC. SMH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And then there would be a picture of the car thermometer showing us all that it was 106 degrees in Sheila Jefferson Blankenship’s Volvo. That’s before she turned on her AC.

By the end of last year, I noticed a strange phenomenon. The ponds in my community were drying up. The places where people once fished and cows once did whatever disgusting thing it is that cows do in ponds now looked like giant mud puddles. Again, we all prayed for rain.

And God answered our prayers favorably.

It feels weird to say this but this summer we’ve had more rain than we have seen in 20 years. It’s still hot but it’s not unbearable. For the past week or two, we’ve gotten a good rain at least once a day. Ponds look like ponds again. People’s gardens look like jungles.

And that leads to another strange phenomenon.

Nobody is happy about the rain. There are no special church services thanking God for blessing us with all of this rain. Only complaints.

Shelia Jefferson Blankenship What is up with this rain? Enough already. Somebody up there turn it off! SMH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is followed by a picture of Shelia Jefferson Blankenship’s frowning kids dressed in their swimsuits but unable to go to the pool because of a thunderstorm.

It’s never enough for us. If it’s raining, it’s too much rain. But if it’s dry, God must have forgotten about us. We want God to give us what we want but we don’t even know what we want. And so we complain.

There’s more behind all of these complaints than just a bad attitude. Each time we question the amount or timing of rain we are implying that we know more than God. That our plans to take the kids to the pool are somehow more important than his sovereign will.

We’re in good company.

In the Bible, a man named Job was quick to question God. And God answered him. But it wasn’t the kind of answer one gives to explain his actions. It was the kind of answer one gives to explain his absolute sovereign rule over all things.

“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind? Who can number the clouds by wisdom? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods stick fast together?” Job 38:34-38 (ESV)

And later.

“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” Job 40:2 (ESV)

Job eventually got the point and we should too. We are not God. There is one God (Deuteronomy 6:4) and he has been doing an excellent job of managing the universe from the moment that he created it (Colossians 1:15-17).

I learned something in the summer of 1994 and the nearly 20 years of drought that followed it. God blesses us in different ways. But if we’re too busy worrying about our agenda, we’re going to miss those blessings. Sometimes they’ll even start to look like curses.

But God is gracious.

Through all of our complaints and rebellious acts against his sovereign will, God continues to bless us. And typically his greatest blessings are the ones that we don’t think we need.

Lord Jesus, help us to see the world with your eyes. Help us to learn to be thankful.

Editor’s Note: I don’t know anyone named Shelia Jefferson Blankenship. Shelia, if you exist, I meant no offense. I hope you have a great summer. And I hope your kids make it to the pool. 

The Long, Gone Golden Age of Christianity

I grew up listening to 97.1.  At the time it was called Fox 97 and it played nothing but oldies.  For several years, it was one of the more popular radio stations in the Atlanta market.

Fox 97 is how I found out about Elvis Presley, Credence Clearwater Revival and the Beach Boys.  Whenever my mom drove me somewhere in her 1970ish Chevy Nova with wood panels I would get a lesson in rock and roll history.  For her, it was more of a reminder.  I guess that you could say that we both grew up on the exact same music.  I called it oldies but I don’t know that she ever used that term.

Several years later I was at a pizza restaurant with high school students from my youth ministry.  During our meal, a song from Journey came on.  One of the kids at our table got real excited and started to sing along.  I was shocked.

“How do you know this song?  It came out a decade before you were born.”

Her response crushed me.

“Oh, I love oldies.”

I was only about 25 but I had never felt so old.

Fox 97 eventually went away.  Now it’s called 97.1 The River and it plays classic rock.  Whenever I drive my kids places, we listen to 97.1 and they get introduced to Led Zepplin, Def Lepard and the Allman Brothers.  For me, it’s more of a reminder.  A reminder of my childhood.  And a reminder of how old I am.  Now the music I grew up listening to, even the music I listened to in college, could be considered oldies.  But I don’t use that term.

A lot of people look at Christianity like an old radio station.  It had its day and ran its course.  Now it’s time for another religion or worldview to take center stage.  It’s easy to think this way after last week’s events.  After all, if Christianity is so great then why are people getting killed with bombs on the streets of Boston?  If Jesus is still Lord, why are dozens of people getting killed in fertilizer plant explosions?

Some within the Church hope for the return of the long, gone golden age of Christianity when it was possible to at least pretend that the president was an evangelical.  They miss the days when the movement had its swagger and evangelicals were considered a voting bloc to be reckoned with.  If only we could get our power back, then things in this country would turn around, they reason.

But power, at least as it relates to the kingdom of Christ, has a way of looking different than you might expect.

The early Church didn’t look very powerful when one of their new leaders, Stephen, was staring down an angry mob.  But Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit and saw the glory of God with Jesus standing at the Father’s right hand (Acts 7:54-56).

The power of the Holy Spirit sustains us in our weakest moments.

Things weren’t looking good for the body of Christ when that same angry mob started throwing rocks at Stephen’s head.  One after another until, finally, Stephen died.  But during his execution, Stephen was acting just like his Savior (Acts 7:57-60).

“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

This sounds almost exactly like the words that Jesus spoke during his crucifixion.

The power of the cross helps us to live and die like our Savior.

I’m sure that most cultural observers in that day thought that Christianity was done as a man named Saul carried believers from their home and threw them in prison.  And it looked even worse when the remaining believers scattered, leaving only the apostles in Jerusalem.

But consider where these believers scattered to.  Judea and Samaria.  Just like Jesus said that they would in Acts 1:8.  And as they scattered, what were these believers doing?

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.  Acts 8:4 (ESV)

God’s sovereign power has a way of redeeming even the worst of circumstances.

Throughout the Scriptures and the rest of human history, we tend to see God’s power on display when his people are at their weakest.  Jesus doesn’t need the president’s ear or a really big voting bloc to accomplish his purposes.  In fact, those things have a way of becoming obstacles that prevent us from really knowing God’s power.

So the Church hasn’t lost any power.  That’s never a concern because nothing can separate us from the love of God.  But the real issue is whether or not we are willing to rely on God’s power.

Even if it means living without the facade of man’s power.

The Pains That Shape Us

My son looked at me with desperation in his eyes.

“I want someone to go with me.”

I told him no.

Slowly, his look of desperation changed to one of determination.

Minutes before this short conversation, while I was buying gas, my son asked me if we could go by Little Caesar’s for pizza.  I told him the same thing that every American dad says when his child asks him for pizza.

“We’ll see.”

We’ll see is another way of saying no without really saying no.  If it works properly, the child will forget his initial request while we’re busy seeing.

My son never forgets.

But this time I didn’t let it get to that.  I made up my mind that a little pizza for lunch wouldn’t hurt my boys.  When I pulled into the parking lot they asked me if I was lost.  Clearly, they took my we’ll see response to mean no.  I told them that we were having pizza for lunch.  They were ecstatic. But for my oldest, the joy wouldn’t last very long.

I gave him six dollars and told him to go in by himself and ask for the five dollar cheese pizza.  He had a look on his face like we were in Vietnam and I just asked him to go out on his own to find Charlie.

He finally got out and went to the door.  Seconds later, he came back.

“Dad.  They’re closed.”

“Try pulling on the door instead of pushing.”

He gets that from me.  We both attended Midvale School for the Gifted.

He went back and struggled to open the door just enough for his small frame to squeeze through, his fingers barely making it in before the door slammed shut.  He disappeared.

When he reappeared, there was no pizza.

And no six dollars.

“Dad.  They need 35 cents.”

Sales tax.

I grabbed some change and wrapped his tiny fingers around it.  He struggled through the door again and disappeared.  When I saw him again he had a big smile on his face and a medium pizza in his arms.

I told him that I was proud of him for being brave.  His smile got bigger.  And even bigger when he got home and sat in the floor with his brother to eat pizza.

At first, my son thought that I was being cruel.  He was scared to do something that he had never done before.  But when it was all over, he saw that my intentions were pure.  He saw that the fear of doing something alone, the weight of a heavy door and the confusion of counting money were all coming together for a greater purpose.  They were shaping him.  From a boy to a man.

Christians can count on hardships (John 16:33).  But they can also be assured that they do  not face those hardships alone.  Our Heavenly Father does not sit back, watching and hoping for our best, as we endure difficult situations.  In the person of Jesus Christ, he is with us (Romans 8:31-39).  Always (Matthew 28:20).

And we can also know that our hardships are not an end in themselves.  God, as only he knows and as he sees fit, is glorified through them.  That by itself may seem cruel.  God glorified by my pain?  But it doesn’t stop there.  God, as only he knows and as he sees fit, is using that pain for our ultimate good.

There will be times when the door won’t open and there’s no extra change.  Times when the fear seems overwhelming.  But through it all, there is a Father who is not just watching but who is with us, working for our ultimate good.

And when our job is complete he will still be there, ready to welcome us into his home.

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”  (Matthew 25:23 (ESV)