This “Crazy” Life (Or, 5 Characteristics of Crazy Faith)…

What do you do when life gets crazy? When you are worn out, tired, discouraged, when things have not gone well, when you are, if not at the end of your rope, pretty close to the end – what do you do? What do I do? I eat! I am a stress eater. Sometimes it is somethings sweet. Other times it is a salty, full of comforting carbs snack – but when I’m at the edge or walking into the house at the end of long day I want food – whether I am hungry or not. I just want to eat, to fill myself up with something that will keep me from having to deal with the emptiness stress often causes. Yes, I walk into the house and say to Vanessa, “Let’s go get something to eat!”crazy faith

I confess to you my way of dealing with stress, not so you will tell me, “You don’t have to worry about your weight, Pastor,” but so you will think about what you do. Some people smoke, others drink or even take drugs, people zone out in front of a computer, or stay so busy they don’t have to think about it or go into denial mode, pretending it is okay when it really isn’t! Life gets crazy for all of us, and when we experience emptiness, or feel drained or overwhelmed, the temptation is to fill ourselves up with things that we think will bring us comfort. Many times they do, but often it is only a temporary fix or escape. May I offer an invitation to fill ourselves up with what truly comforts, not just as a temporary fix, but in a way that brings us a new lease on life. It is an invitation to fill ourselves up with God because it is the Lord who answers us and delivers us from all our fears, who hears us and saves us when life gets crazy.

Life was crazy for David…literally! Psalm 34 is a tangible testimony to David’s crazy life. Here’s the context of the psalm: David was running from King Saul. As a young man, he had been pulled from his father’s pastures and anointed as King of Israel. The only problem with that scenario was Saul was still king. David, through his great gift of music, and the ingenuity he employed to defeat the giant Goliath, eventually made it into King Saul’s court, and the Bible says that when David played music, it soothed the soul of King Saul, who battled his own mental instability. Long story short. Saul became jealous of David, and in a couple of fits of jealousy, tried to kill David. David had to run for his life. The first stop on his journey was in Philistia, which is the home of the Philistines. You remember the Philistines? Yeah, Goliath was a Philistine. These are David’s archenemies. David’s crazy life just got crazier. David arrives in Gath and encounters King Achish. Some of the king’s servants tell Achish, “Hey, this is David from Israel. Haven’t you heard they wrote a song about him? Goes like this: ‘Saul has killed his thousands, but David his ten thousands’.” So, David, on the run from one crazy king, and in the presence of his enemy, gets afraid. Makes sense to me. What does David do? Decides to mimic the behavior he’s seen in Saul. 1 Samuel 21:13 says David changed his behavior and “pretended to be insane.” Achish said, “Don’t I have enough of my own madmen? I don’t need one from Israel. Get him out of here.” And, David was sent packing, delivered from the hand of his enemies. Pretty crazy, huh?

It would be real easy for me to say the lesson for us is “When life gets crazy, get crazy with it,” but I don’t think that’s what David experienced. After all, he only pretended to be insane. Instead, I think the lesson is “Though people think we’re crazy, we’re still going to praise God!” That’s the message of David’s song. To the world, the life of faith can seem pretty crazy.

 

Crazy faith actually speaks and acts in a way that reflects the freedom God gives us, that reflects our trust in God so that we can actually become people who do good rather than evil—so that we can actually survive the craziness of this life. We don’t break the bad habits in our lives by simply sitting down and wishing them away. We break the bad habits by changing our behavior, by reaching for a carrot instead of catfish, by walking out of the store without buying the latest fashion and instead tithing to help do good, by turning off the television or computer and reading Scripture and then talking to God in prayer, or actually being quiet to hear God speak back. Yeah, I know. Crazy, right?

Perhaps if we trusted the Lord to fill us up when we were tired, exhausted, discouraged, we would discover the energy and power of God’s spirit, and actually be able to do more – not just to keep busy, but to change the world so that others could rejoice in God because they have experienced being rescued, they have experienced being heard, they have experienced being fed.

We live in a world where we are bombarded with advertisements and invitations to fill ourselves, to fill our lives with all kinds of stuff, believing these things, this “whatever” will make me truly happy. But we also live in a world which depletes us, making us wonder if we are successful or valuable. It takes crazy faith to sing praise when we can’t make sense of our lives. It takes crazy faith to trust when the world is caving in on us. It takes crazy faith to believe that God will provide all we need when it feels like we need it all. It takes crazy faith to hear the voice of God in the midst of all things that clamor for our attention and that drain us of our energy. David had crazy faith. He believed God even when his life was crazy.

Don’t think because your life is crazy that God can’t use you. Look at how he used David’s crazy life. God’s been using crazy for a long time. God uses crazy when crazy is all he’s got. It’s crazy that God used a murderer named Moses to deliver his people from Egyptian bondage. It’s crazy that God used a donkey to speak to Balaam. It’s crazy that God would use a Pharisee named Paul to change the world. It’s crazy that God would take a man named Peter, who denied Jesus not once, not twice, but three times, and use him as the first leader of his church.

It takes crazy faith to believe that God would put on human flesh, be born as a baby, grow up as a man, be crucified for the sins of the world, and three days later rise up from the grave. The world says that’s crazy! What’s even crazier is that God offers through His Son, Jesus, the opportunity for us to be reconciled to Him, simply by believing. I don’t have to jump through a bunch of hoops. I don’t have to do so many sacrifices. I don’t even have to pray a prayer in a particular way. All I have to do is accept and believe, and that’s crazy. It’s crazy, but it’s true. I know this sounds crazy, but God wants to use you…you with your life going crazy…you with your brokenness…you with your doubt…you with your confusion…you with your hunger. He wants to use you. He wants to use me, and I can tell you, that’s crazy, but when crazy is all he’s got, that’s what he’ll use.

Let me leave with five characteristics of “crazy faith”:

  1. Crazy faith doesn’t have God in a box.
  2. Crazy faith doesn’t always follow the “rules.”
  3. Crazy faith isn’t shackled by the fear of failure.
  4. Crazy faith believes it’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission.
  5. Crazy faith is driven by passion, not success.

Perhaps I’ll unpack those in my next blog.

Until next time, keep looking up…

Closet Space…

I love old homes. They have character, charm and history, and they have high ceilings. Most old homes have front porches, too. I love front porches. For all the warmth, charm and character old homes have, they often leave a lot to be desired. For one thing, the floors creak when you walk. For another, the wind whistles through the windows, and of course, in the winter the heat gets trapped up in those high ceilings, and that makes the home cold. When we lived in Kentucky, the church there had a fantastic, old parsonage (100 years old). Five bedrooms—the largest parsonage we ever lived in. With four children, it was great! There was one thing about that old parsonage, though, that we never quite got used to—no closets. Well, there were closets. They were just small. The upstairs closets particularly weren’t really closets at all. They were really just the crawl space between the wall and the slanted roof on the house. You had to duck to walk in the “closet.”old place

That’s the thing about old houses. Most were built in a time when life was less crowded with stuff. People didn’t need big closets. Now, one of the primary selling points of a home is its closet space. We want lots of closets so we can store our stuff. There’s stuff we put in those closets that we forget about. Sometimes we put stuff in the closet because we don’t know what else to do with it. So, we just keep needing bigger and bigger closets.

Every one of us has a closet we’d as soon forget, though. Like all our other closets, it too, has gotten bigger and fuller. It’s the closet where we keep all our skeletons. We all have skeletons in our closets. They are not pretty, and we’re afraid someone will find out, and finding out, will judge or condemn us. We all have those skeletons, and they’re there just waiting to destroy us. Actually, it’s the fear of being found out that is destroying us.

The Psalmist David had one of those closets, too. David writes a sad, sad song  with Psalm 51 as a result of a prophet named Nathan showing up to remind him of a few skeletons David was hiding. This song was a reminder to David of a very sad time in his life, but it’s also a song of hope in the grace and forgiveness of God.

Let me offer a little reminder of David’s life to set the context of the song. David was a young shepherd boy tapped from the pastures of his father’s flock to be anointed king over all Israel. David was described in scripture as “a man after God’s own heart.” David had battled and defeated the giant Goliath, and won many other victories over his enemies. There was a time in his life when he was at the pinnacle of his success. He had reunited the divided nation of Israel. He returned the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, and he was making plans for building a glorious Temple for God. Things were going very well for David. So well, in fact, that David no longer felt it necessary to go out to do battle with his army. Samuel tells us in 2nd Samuel 11 it “was the time of year when kings went to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to destroy the Ammonites.” It was during that time that David, arising from an afternoon nap, strolled out onto the palace roof outside his bedroom and beheld a beautiful woman. His passion rose within him, and blinded by his own pride, success and position, David believed he could have anything he wanted—including another man’s wife.

Let me make a long story short—David slept with this beautiful woman named Bathsheba. She became pregnant. David tried to cover the affair up, but failed. David even had Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah (one of his best soldiers) killed. Adultery (which this day and age, seems to be the only sexual sin frowned upon), lying, conspiracy, murder—yes, David was filling that closet full of skeletons, and here comes Nathan throwing open the door.

Nathan learned what David had done, and at the Lord’s urging, confronted David. I want you think about the courage it took for Nathan to confront David. David was king, for heaven’s sake! Nathan was risking his life. Accountability always involves risk. The right thing to do is always costly.

Nathan confronted David by telling him a story about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had many sheep and other livestock, but the poor man only had one little sheep that he held in his arms, and became the family pet. The rich man had a visitor from out of town, and rather than taking a sheep from his own flock, went and took the poor man’s sheep. David became enraged and demanded that the person who did this must die after repaying the poor man four times over what he had taken. Nathan looked intently at David and said, “You da’ man!” The title of this sad song tells us Nathan’s confrontation led David to write what has become perhaps the world’s most famous confession. What David discovered was that rather than being destroyed by all those skeletons, he found cleansing and renewal when the closet got cleaned out.

Confession is hardly ever practiced by Protestant Christians anymore, but I believe there is redemptive power in hearing someone say to us, “Your sins are forgiven.” I suspect we don’t practice confession because we believe someone would be shocked to hear us confess to some sin or shortcoming. We probably see it as no one’s business, and perhaps that’s how David saw it, too. Could it also be that we’ve come to see the church as a fellowship of “saints” rather than what it really is—a fellowship of sinners, and we see ourselves as the only one who has not taken what Richard Foster called “the high road to heaven?” As David discovers, confession is redemptive, and redemption is good for the soul.

Guilt, especially unresolved guilt, will destroy us. Listen to David’s plea in verse 3—“my shameful deeds haunt me day and night.” To overcome sin in our lives, we have to move from guilt to grace. Grace heals and transforms us. Confession is the bridge that gets us from guilt to grace. There are basically four types of guilt. First, civil guilt is that guilt that comes because we have driven over the speed limit, or run a red light. It is objective. We’re guilty whether we ever get caught or not. Secondly, theological guilt comes from breaking one of God’s commandments, and it, too is objective. We may or may not feel remorse, but if we have broken one of the commandments, we’re guilty. The Apostle Paul speaks of our theological guilt in Romans 3:23—“for we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard.”

Thirdly, psychological guilt is the guilt we feel, and it is the guilt that can be most damaging to our emotions. It’s the guilt from which we find the most difficulty healing, and it may or may not be linked to either civil or theological guilt. It may not even be linked to anything real. Psychological guilt is perceived guilt. Some people carry it from childhood, never realizing they carry a burden on their shoulders that doesn’t belong to them. Adults who grew up in broken homes often carry this type of guilt. Victims of spousal abuse carry this guilt. People who have lost loved ones go through this type of guilt. Psychological guilt is so destructive precisely because it is often not attached to anything tangible. That makes it almost impossible to deal with, and often times requires professional therapy.

Finally, there is true guilt. True guilt gave rise to David’s song. True guilt can lead to constructive sorrow. Constructive sorrow is healthy because it prompts us that we’ve done something wrong. It moves us to confession so we can begin to resolve the effects the brokenness causes. True guilt is like warning lights on our car. We had an old Plymouth mini-van when we were in seminary, and the “check engine” light used to come on all the time. The owner’s manual said take it to the nearest dealer and have it checked. It may signal a minor problem, or it may indicate a major breakdown. Either way, the light indicates something is wrong. True guilt acts the same way, and constructive sorrow moves us to repentance and confession, and ultimately to grace. Grace is what we’re all searching for. So you see, confession is the bridge that can carry us from guilt to grace, and it is in God’s grace that we find forgiveness. The Apostle John tells us, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrong” (1 John 1:9). When we experience God’s forgiveness, we find the joy missing in our lives restored. That was David’s plea in this song. Look again at verse 12—“Restore to me again the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.” That plea was answered when Nathan, upon hearing David’s confession, uttered the words, “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you.” What awesome words to hear!

My friend, God in Jesus Christ has taken away all our sin. David sang, “Purify me from my sin, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” That’s exactly what Christ has done through the power of his cross. He’s washed our sins away. We don’t have to be slaves to sin, or to guilt anymore. Go over to that closet, throw open that door and start throwing out those skeletons, and you might discover confession is not such a sad song after all.

Until next time, keep looking up…

Pondering Life…

Psalm139_1316I’m up early this morning, and I’m pondering life. Two reasons, actually. First, I preached on the 139th Psalm this past Sunday. It’s my favorite Psalm. It’s my favorite Psalm because the psalmist David reveals God to be personal, present and pursuing…and that was long before Jesus appeared to be Immanuel–God with us. The second reason I’m pondering life this morning are the new allegations against Planned Parenthood selling baby parts from aborted children, and that these revelations would come as I’ve spent a week praying over and planning a message around Psalm 139. Yes, I’m pondering life this morning.

A disclaimer: This post may be out of character, as I am not prone to outrage or indignation. A further disclaimer: I am adamantly pro-life, so these allegations against Planned Parenthood have touched a nerve in a deep, deep place. So you will know, I am adamantly pro-life at the beginning as well as at the end of life. Life is a precious gift from God, and it is not to be taken lightly. I also write this morning fully aware that I am likely to offend some. That’s okay. We’ll be offended together because frankly, I’m offended that we watch idly as over 1 million infants per year are aborted.

The disclaimers continue: I am fully aware that we live in a culture that thrives on “shock value,” and that the allegations are made with shock value in mind–and they are quite shocking! I’m also aware that Planned Parenthood has vehemently denied the allegations. The very fact that such shocking allegations can be made must be investigated, and if, in any way found true, every effort must be made to end the practice, and those responsible must be punished. I think it’s also imperative that Christians speak out to denounce, in the strongest way possible, the actions of Planned Parenthood, if proven to be true.

The words I ponder from the 139th Psalm this morning are these:

13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.

17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
    They cannot be numbered!

I am reminded of a quote I came across as I was preparing my sermon. It comes from a University of Washington genetic engineer named John Medina. Here’s what Medina had to say in a 1995 lecture at Multnomah Bible College:

“The average human heart pumps over 1,000 gallons a day, over 55 million gallons in a lifetime. This is enough to fill 13 super tankers. It never sleeps, beating 2.5 billion times in a lifetime. The lungs contain 1,000 miles of capillaries. The process of exchanging oxygen for carbon dioxide is so complicated, that it is more difficult to exchange 02 for C02 than for a man shot out of a cannon to carve the Lord’s Prayer on the head of a pin as he passes by. DNA contains about 2,000 genes per chromosome — 1.8 meters [nearly 6 feet] of DNA are folded into each cell nucleus. A nucleus is 6 microns [one millionth of a meter] long. This is like putting 30 miles of fishing line into a cherry pit. And it isn’t simply stuffed in. It is folded in. If folded one way, the cell becomes a skin cell. If another way, a liver cell, and so forth. To write out the information in one cell would take 300 volumes, each volume 500 pages thick. The human body contains enough DNA that if it were stretched out, it would circle the sun 260 times. The body uses energy efficiently. If an average adult rides a bike for 1 hour at 10 mph, it uses the amount of energy contained in 3 ounces of carbohydrate. If a car were this efficient with gasoline, it would get 900 miles to the gallon.”

We are, all of us, fearfully and wonderfully made. I believe God has intricately and intimately woven each person together, and that God knows us from the moment of conception. The Psalmist communicated a deep truth, one which we are quickly losing in our culture, if we haven’t lost it altogether. Children (even those in the womb) share the common humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we must stand for justice on their behalf, especially those who have no voice. I’ve also been pondering the fact that though a child in the early stages of pregnancy may be called a “fetus,” or a “lump of tissuse,” that I looked exactly like that lump of tissue at that age.

No, I didn’t go in this direction with my message on Sunday (you can hear it here). Perhaps I should have. The thoughts have not been far from my mind, even as these further revelations were made.

I’ll probably get a lot of comments on today’s post…many that disagree with me. That’s okay, too. This isn’t a deep theological argument for the pro-life position. It’s my blog, and my attempt to make sense of a senseless situation.

So, what’s a person to do? I don’t know about you, but here’s what I’m going to do:

  • Pray. I’m going to pray for the women who are contemplating having an abortion. I know they are struggling, and most of them don’t take the decision lightly. I’m going to pray that the resources and support network will help them make a decision that is life-affirming, and that they will find grace in that decision. I’m also going to pray for those with whom I differ, and that in spite of our differences, we can work together to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with those who face the prospect of abortion. I’m going to pray that the allegations against Planned Parenthood will be investigated fully, and that a just resolution will be reached as a result of the investigation. Finally, I’m going to pray for the children, and trust that every child, both born and unborn, will continue to be held in the grip of God’s grace.
  • I’m going to be more vocal in my pro-life commitment.
  • I’m going to work more diligently with those agencies that offer meaningful alternatives to abortion.

There’s probably more I could (and should) do, but at least it’s a start.

Gee! I sure hope I haven’t drug you down. Perhaps now is a good time to say

Until next time, keep looking up…

Dealing with Difficulties…

psalm 46Henry David Thoreau once said every writer’s duty was to give “first and last, a simple and sincere account of their own life.” Most songwriters take that philosophy to heart, too. That’s certainly true with Taylor Swift. Almost all her songs have to do with break-ups with former boyfriends. I don’t want to diminish the pain felt by a teenager who endures a break-up—after all, pain is pain no matter the source, but the truth is that many great songs have been written out of the depth of painful experiences. It’s true of the great hymn of the church—A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

Martin Luther, the great reformer, penned the hymn in the 1520’s after the Diet of Worms at which he was charged with heresy, ex-communicated from the church and declared an outlaw. He lived the rest of his life in hiding. Through his trials and tribulations, Luther would proclaim, “A mighty fortress is our God…” Luther would take his famous hymn from another whose life had known hardship, the psalmist who penned Psalm 46.

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
    God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
    see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
    I am exalted among the nations,
    I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.  Selah

Psalm 46 is a song of radical trust in the face of overwhelming threat. The author never clarifies the nature of the threat, but reading the psalm it would indicate that is was likely a political threat, or possibly even in the midst of a war. One commentator speculates this was another of David’s psalms and was written at the time of the Assyrian invasion of Judah to give hope and assurance of God’s presence, protection and provision in the face of the invasion.

We Americans have our own illustration of that which the psalmist sang. We call it 9-11, and most of us here remember that date, don’t we? We remember where we were and what we were doing on that day. Even on the evening, we opened our churches and held prayer meetings, and it didn’t matter what pastors planned to preach that following Sunday, it was changed so that words of comfort and hope could be spoken. There were countless sermons that called on this 46th Psalm to bring words of comfort and hope to people whose foundation had been shaken. Politically, our world has been shaken. We don’t know quite what to do with it.

Culturally, too, we feel the ground shaking around us. There are some significant cultural shifts taking place in this world. They are happening so quickly it’s like the earth is shifting underneath our feet and we can’t seem to get our footing solidly underneath us before the next shift is taking place. Technology has hastened much of that shift. The changing of societal norms has hastened that shift. We scratch our heads dealing with one cultural earthquake, and before we can figure out how to deal with that one, the next one is already overwhelming us. From same-sex marriage to climate change to immigration reform to the disintegration of the family to the legalization of drugs we’re faced daily with questions and more questions, and we’re not sure we like all the answers.

Individually, too, we can feel the earth move under our feet. We get the word from the doctor—“It’s cancer”—and the mountain crumbles. Our marriage fails and we wonder what happened. We lose a child tragically and there seems to be no reason to live. We lose our job and we’re left to wonder how we’ll manage to feed the kids and pay the mortgage. We lose again the battle with some addiction and we just get tired. All we want to do is give up the fight. Our interior lives can be shaken by the brokenness of our own sin. And, the ground shakes, the earth quakes, the mountains crumble, and we need hope. What do we do? We do exactly what the psalmist did. We cry out to God. We put our trust in him.

I see three truths the psalmist acknowledges that allowed him to put his trust in God. The first truth the psalmist acknowledged is this: God is real. The psalmist begins, “God is…” I’ve been a pastor for almost 25 years, and the one thing I’ve learned is the more I learn about God the more I discover I don’t know about God. The closer I get to God, the more questions I have about God. That does not, however, cause me to doubt the existence of God. William Murray says, “Humanism or atheism is a wonderful philosophy of life as long as you are big, strong, and between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. But watch out if you are in a lifeboat and there are others who are younger, bigger, or smarter.”

We live much of our lives as what Craig Groeschel calls Christian athiests. Christian athiests are those who believe God exists but live their lives as though He doesn’t. We’re like the atheist in London making a speech at Hyde Park who said, “My hatred of religion is inherited; my grandfather was an atheist; my father was an atheist; and, thank God, I’m an atheist, too.” When we live as Christian atheists, we wander away from God. We foster violence in movies, television and music. We become obsessed with lust. We allow greed to possess us. We kill unborn children for the sake of convenience. And, when the ground shakes beneath our feet, we tremble in fear and live with the anxiety. but, when we believe God is real, we find God is our refuge and strength. We don’t live in fear. I love how the psalmist says it in verse 10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” We hear the words “be still,” and immediately we think of getting quiet. We think of solitude and silence. There is an element in that, but the Hebrew literally means “cease and desist”—stop what you’re doing. It’s like God is speaking to two fighting children and says, “Stop that!” Stop what you’re doing. Stop being afraid. Stop worrying. Trust me. Acknowledge that I am.

I wish I could prove God is real. I would want to point to the beach to prove God is real. I lay at the beach, especially at night, and I see the stars spread across the vast universe and I think, “This couldn’t just happen!” I hear the waves roaring and beating against the shore, and it reminds me of God’s majesty and power. The apostle Paul said creation was the best evidence of God’s existence. He wrote, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen” (Rom. 1:20). I lie there and I know it’s the sun and moon and gravity all working together, but I consider the fact that the earth is the perfect distance from the sun to support life. If we were any farther away from the sun, we would freeze; if we were even slightly closer to it, we would burn up. It’s obvious (to me, anyway) that God is real. I would also point to babies and beetles, to the bible and to the fact that the church exists. I would point to Jesus, and to my relationship with him, but it would all be pointless if I proved he were real because then it wouldn’t be faith. By faith, we acknowledge that God is real, and though our whole world crumbles around us, we will not be afraid.

The second thing I see the psalmist acknowledge is that God is present—always! We experience tragedy in our lives, or in our culture, or in our nation and we ask, “Where was God?” Where was God on 9/11? Where was God at Sandy Hook Elementary School? Where was God in my cancer? Where is God in all this cultural upheaval? The same place he was in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve were rebelling. God was present waiting to cover their sin. Was He really present? Couldn’t He have stopped it before it began? Oh, it is not a matter of whether or not He could have. It is a matter of our choice. But, He was there!

God was with Joseph when he was rotting in jail – ever present. (Gen 37-50) If ever anyone’s world came crashing down, it was Joseph’s. Yet with all his hardships, problems and abuse, Joseph was able to honestly say, “You meant it for harm, but God meant it for good.” God was there when his brothers sold him into slavery, and God was there when Potiphar’s wife accused him of rape, and God was even there as he languished in prison. Every step of the way, God was able to take Joseph’s circumstances and mold him ever more closely into the man he would one day become. He was there all the time, though I am sure Joseph must have wondered at times where God was, in the end all knew well He was there all the time.

We could go on and on and tell of experiences such as Moses (Ex. 1-4) on the backside of the desert – being prepared for greater service. Or, Samson (Jud 14-16) groping in darkness – being strengthened in his hour of weakness. Or, Peter & John (Acts 3-5) beaten for preaching the Gospel – being given greater opportunities for sharing the good news of Christ. Or Paul (Acts 14-28) being stoned, shipwrecked and imprisoned – yet being assured that all things work together for good to them who love God.

“Where was God?” The same place He was on a Friday when His own son’s life was being taken from Him. Ever present – Jesus was God in the flesh, enduring the pain for the benefit of others. And even the Father didn’t flee the scene. Even Jesus felt forsaken, and asked God why His presence wasn’t felt. But God was present, and sin ran its course, and that is always a most ugly scene! Where was God when His Son hung dying on the cross? Didn’t He know? Shouldn’t Jesus have been able to come down from that cross? Couldn’t the Father have prevented it? Was He helpless? Didn’t He care?

Of course, He knew! Of course He could have stopped it! And, Of course He cared! The Father knew it was happening, could have stopped it, but He didn’t. And, aren’t we glad! There was a greater good to be accomplished by the suffering and death of Jesus. Through the suffering of One, many would be made whole. Through the sacrifice of One, many would have their sins forgiven. Through the death of One, many would be made alive.

God is ever present, even when the world comes crashing down around us.

One final thing to acknowledge, briefly—God is in control. That knowledge should enable us to see our circumstances in the light of eternity. Sometimes, life is like being in a waiting room. You know there’s something wrong but you’re not quite sure what it is. You just want to see the doctor and find out what’s wrong so you can get it fixed. A waiting room can be an unpleasant and unhappy place. You want this to be over and not have to wait any more. It is all you can do to obey the scripture that says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).

Jill Briscoe says, “I remember a time when I was waiting for soon to become now. I went down in Oconomowoc to a little lake where we live, and I sat there very early in the morning, praying, pleading with God that my soon would become now. ‘God, I cannot see you working. What about all these prayers that people are praying? This is a terrible situation. What are you doing about it?’ God said to me, ‘Any fish in that lake?’ I looked at the lake, which was like glass, and I said, ‘Sure. Of course there are fish there.’ ‘How do you know? Do you have to see fish jump to believe they’re there, Jill?’ I remember sitting there for a long time until I could say to God, ‘If I never see a fish jump, I will believe they’re there and active. If I never see you answer a prayer, I will believe.’ We all have a choice when trouble comes knocking at our door. We can curse God and die, or we can trust God and grow.”

Whatever circumstance you’re facing—God’s got it. Whatever our culture is facing—God’s got it! Whatever our church is facing—God’s got it! Let’s put our trust in Him. Let’s live obediently to Him! Let’s be faithful, come what may. That’s the song the psalmist is singing. If we sing it, too, we’ll discover that God is actually writing a song from our lives, taking the good and making it better, and taking the bad and working it for good, and in the end, it’ll be a sweet, sweet song of faith and hope.

Until next time, keep looking up…

A Saints Fan’s Perspective…

I got a little perspective last night, which I think is ironic, since my oldest son, Adam, decided to start his own blog entitled “saintsfansperspective.” I’m also thinking it is a pretty good thing he’s in Brazil right now, and was unable to watch that thing they called a football game last night (the Saints lost–again!). He’d be terribly disappointed right now (actually, he’d probably be asleep right now–what does that say about me?), but, I suspect there are a lot of other Saints fans who are terribly disappointed right now, too.

350px-Fleur-de-lis-fill.svgI admit, I’m a little disappointed this season hasn’t gone better for the Saints. The New Orleans Saints are my team. Like my son, I’ve pulled for the Saints as long as I can remember, and I remember all the way back to 1967 (the first season they suffered a three-game home losing streak–also, their first season). I can remember wanting a Saints football uniform for Christmas when I was a kid, but what I got was a Green Bay Packers uniform. The Packers? Yes, the Packers. I guess my mom (I mean Santa) couldn’t find a Saints uniform that year, so she (I mean “he”) got the best one that could be found. Not that that gift has scarred me for life or anything, but I still don’t like the Packers (Aaron Rodgers notwithstanding) unless they’re playing any team in the NFC South. I remember rushing home from church so I could watch the Saints play (that still happens today, too, by the way), and I remember not wanting to go back for youth group because the game was still on (I had to go anyway–parents were different in those days).

My love affair with the Saints goes way back, and I suppose that DNA was seeded into my oldest son. My youngest son likes the San Francisco 49ers. I’m not sure how that happened, seeing as how they were one of the primary division rivals of the Saints for the first 30 years of their existence. I know he never heard me say a good word about the 49ers (and he never will–those rivalry waters run deep, my friends), so I’m uncertain how he latched onto that team favorite. Maybe he did it just to spite me, or maybe he likes the colors of the uniform (seriously, what could look better than black and gold?), but in this case “that apple fell far from the tree.”

I developed the unfortunate habit of posting running commentary of Saints and LSU football games on Facebook a couple of years ago. I call Facebook the “new way to watch football with friends.” My commentary usually tends toward the sarcastic and negative (especially this year–for both teams) because I tend to be a glass-half-empty kind of guy (I’m working on that, please cut me some slack). Posting cutting remarks and asking sarcastic questions helps me vent my frustration a little better, and I end up not (as my son put it in his first blog when he sold me down the river) finding creative ways to curse, without cursing. I took a couple of games hiatus from posting this year, and let’s just say, it was not a pretty picture. Yeah, I know! I hear you saying, “But, you’re a preacher. You can’t get frustrated. You shouldn’t be so negative. You’re supposed to be a person of faith.” And, I would say, “There’s a reason I titled my blog Not the Perfect Pastor.” There’s also a reason I’m a good Wesleyan–I’m going ON to perfection. I haven’t attained it yet! Actually, I have friends who’ve told me they look forward to my running in-game commentary. Tell me? Dare I disappoint them?

So? About this perspective thing…

I watched last night’s Saints game with a good deal of frustration, but even while it was being played, I was praying for the people of Ferguson, MO as the decision of the grand jury was announced. This is not a commentary on the decision of the grand jury. You can form your own commentary (and I’m sure you have). This IS a reminder that what was happening in New Orleans was just a game. When it was over, the players, the coaches and the owners collected their paychecks and went home. They packed the ball and the equipment up, shook hands, showered and went home. There was nothing earth shattering that happened as a result of that game. NOTHING! A few years from now, the only reminder will be in a record book somewhere. That same thing happens every week, every year. When the game is over, it’s over. Championships are played and winners are crowned, and there’s nothing earth-shattering, or life-changing about it. They’ll crown another one next year. Sure, go ahead and crow about being a world champion. All it means (in most cases) is an extra zero or two on the end of your paycheck, and you’re not taking that with you when life is over.

In Ferguson, MO, lives were changing, and perhaps even life in these United States. In Ferguson, MO, fires were burning, property was being destroyed, people were protesting, and the police were trying to maintain order. What happened in Ferguson, MO, is real life. Those events have the potential to change the face of our nation, and to destroy a lot of lives. These are the things we should be frustrated over. These are the things we should be praying about. These are the situations we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, should be working to redeem and reconcile. We should be praying for peace and working for peace. We should be praying for God’s grace, and we should be vessels of God’s grace, not only in Ferguson, but wherever we see brokenness in people, and in our world. That’s our calling. At least, that’s the way I read 2 Corinthians 5:18-21:

18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

So, I’ve gained a little perspective from my son, from a game and from Ferguson, MO. I ask the Lord to help me keep that perspective, especially next Sunday when the Saints travel to play the Pittsburgh Steelers. For three hours, I’ll likely get a little frustrated, but I pray I remember it doesn’t really matter. I pray I remember there are weightier matters that demand my attention, that in the grand sweep of eternity makes all the difference in the world. I should probably focus a whole lot more on those things. That’s what would make me a better disciple. That’s what would likely make me a better pastor. And, that’s what will make a real, life-changing difference in the world.

Until next time, keep looking up…