The Injustice of it All…

The Power of Sports

Okay, so last week’s blog is officially the most read blog I’ve ever written…and it dealt with football! I’m going to forget for a moment what that might say about our passion for football (is football our idol? <–click the link to the left to hear David Platt‘s take on the matter) and focus on the issue of injustice since we all seem to be concerned with how unjustly the Saints were treated.

I find it interesting that the week after the Saints lose the game in such an unjust manner that I was scheduled to preach a sermon on the question, “Why does life seem so unfair?” God’s sense of humor continues to amaze me.

You may recall that one of the points of last week’s blog was that life is simply not fair, we just need to deal with it. I shared about Paul’s unjust treatment at the hands of the Philippians, but an even more compelling example is the life of Job in the Old Testament. Talk about injustice!

Job

You remember Job? (click here to read the summary of Job’s story) The Bible calls him a good, rich man–blameless and full of integrity who had ten children, land and livestock. In Job’s story, the curtain of eternity is peeled back and we overhear a conversation between God and Satan. God actually brings Job into the supernatural conversation. God, in bringing up Job, shows His trust in Job to choose rightly. This conversation reveals the inherent nature of humanity to choose the path we will walk through this life—this is God’s revelation of humanity’s free will.

Were we to read Job’s story (you can read the whole story here), we’d discover in the supernatural battle between good and evil, Job gets put in the middle, loses his family, land and livestock and becomes painfully ill. It’s a long story, but you get the point–Job is treated unjustly…and it appears to be God’s fault!

God chose humanity to be participants in the redemption of creation. The Bible opens in paradise and it ends with a restoration of paradise in the Book of Revelation. It’s the in-between that throws us the curve balls of life. In between, we see the entrance of sin and its destructiveness on God’s good creation. Literally, from cover to cover, the Bible is about God restoring His creation, and God chose humanity to be participants in that restoration. We participate by faith. The story of Job illustrates the difference faith makes in both the physical and eternal realms.

As God’s chosen participants in the redemption of His creation, God created humanity with the freedom for making moral choices. The result of that freedom is sometimes bad choices. A person chooses to drink to excess and then drive a car. That person wrecks and kills other people. Bad decision, bad circumstances. One of people’s favorite saying is, “Everything happens for a reason.” Yes, and sometimes that reason is people are dumb and make dumb decisions. I must be careful to never blame God for my own stupidity!

But, what of innocent suffering? When a child is stricken with cancer, or the forces of nature take their toll on families and communities and nations. What of those times? The same rule applies. Return to the Garden of Eden and the curse of original sin. That one event began an unraveling of God’s creation that has caused pain and sickness, and unleashed the power of the forces of nature for destruction, and we are left to deal with the consequences. Yet, God wants to use the suffering of this world to accomplish His purpose of redeeming and reconciling the creation to Himself.

The Source of Our Hope

Romans 8: 28 is one of the most overused verses in the Bible: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them,” but it holds out the hope that God is still on the throne even when evil has the world in its grip. God sent His son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross. God entered the world, limiting Himself to time and space, and when He did, He played by the same rules we play by. He suffered and died. It was in his suffering and death that the world finds its redemption, and it is in his suffering and death that we are called to be participants by faith in God’s eternal plan.

God doesn’t answer us for two reasons, I think. First, knowing the answer would not make the burden any less hard to bear. Second, God doesn’t answer because we are incapable of comprehending the answer.

We cannot see how God uses the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives to bring redemption, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t doing it. It’s been compared to making a cake. Raw flour by itself does not taste so good. Certainly, raw eggs are not something we include in our daily diet because they taste good—unless we’re Rocky Balboa. Bitter chocolate, baking powder and shortening are not good alone, but when we combine all the ingredients we get a wonderfully delicious cake.

God is faithful to trust us in the fight between good and evil. We fight by faith: faith in the One who has won the battle already, and we bear our pain and suffering knowing that, like Job, our faith matters. In the here and now, we make a difference by faith. In eternity, we make a difference by faith.

Yeah, I know that doesn’t answer the question for all time, but it is the best I can do for now. And, I bet this blog post won’t get nearly as many views as last week’s. I guess I should write more about sports!

Until next time, keep looking up…

For All the “Saints”…

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a New Orleans Saints fan. Seriously, my earliest memories of football…any football…are of the New Orleans Saints on Sunday afternoon, usually at my Grandmother’s house. I love me some Saints football.

That’s one reason I’m heartbroken this week. The Saints played in the NFC Conference Championship game on Sunday afternoon and were robbed (yes, robbed) of the chance to play in the Super Bowl on February 3rd. There was a horrible no-call pass interference penalty late in the fourth quarter that most likely would have ended the game with a New Orleans walk-off field goal. Anyone but the most avid Los Angeles Rams fan would agree the non-call was egregious (check here and here), but that fact doesn’t change the result of the game: LA Rams 26, NO Saints 23!

Here’s my confession: I take the New Orleans Saints too seriously. After all, it’s just a game, and in the grand scheme of eternity, no one will care 100 years from now about a non-call in a football game in 2019. I should probably repent of the overzealous, in-the-moment Facebook posts that are usually scathing rebukes of Sean Payton‘s (the Saints head coach) play-calling, Drew Brees’ (the Saints quarterback) decision-making, or the officials questionable officiating. So, there is my mea culpa. I don’t suspect there will be one coming from the NFL Corporate Office in New York City, though.

Now that I’ve had a little time to reflect on the events of this past Sunday, there are a few lessons I’ve learned that I feel like I should share. First, it’s just a game. When did 22 men running around on a field tossing a ball earning millions of dollars for doing so become so important to me? When did it become so important to our culture?

I know it says something about my priorities when I bend over backwards to insure that I’m home sitting in front of the television whenever the Saints are playing. I can’t imagine why I let professional football have such control over my life, my temperament and my emotions. Some of those guys do a lot of good with the money they earn for playing a game (and I appreciate those who do), but they don’t know me (and never will), and yet I choose to surrender control of my life to their escapades for three hours every week. That’s a reflection on me, not on them. It’s just a game, with no eternal significance.

Second, I learned that there are some things in life we just can’t control. Drew Brees said it best in his post-game conversation: “I prefer to look at the things that are in my control.” There is a little “control freak” in all of us (I like to think I’m not the only one) that tries to control every situation and person in life. Life doesn’t always turn out the way we hope or imagine. Instead of spending time worrying about the things we can’t control, it’s best to utilize our time controlling those things we can control. What could I do to make this situation better or different? What decisions could I have made differently? What did I do wrong that led to this outcome? What opportunities did I miss because I was otherwise distracted? It’s wasted energy to spend time contemplating the “what-if’s” of life.

Third, I am reminded that life is simply not fair. Yes, the Saints were robbed. No, it’s not fair. Now, get over it. Life is not fair. Deal with it. The Apostle Paul had first hand experience with the injustice of life. While in the city of Philippi on his second missionary journey, Paul and his traveling companion, Silas, were beaten and arrested for casting an evil spirit out of a young slave girl. There was nothing just about their treatment at the hands of the Philippians. What did Paul and Silas choose to do? They dealt with it. They went to prison. They sang praises at midnight. They refused to let their circumstances dictate their attitude.

Certainly don’t read that to mean that we shouldn’t fight injustice as long as we’re able. Even in our fighting, though, we’ll discover that life will not always deal fairly with us. Life being unfair with us does not mean that we do not seek justice on behalf of others.

Finally, I learn that everyone makes mistakes. The two officials who could have (should have) made that call failed to do so. Some think it was a conspiracy (part of me wants to believe it), but it was probably just one of those moments when a choice was made and it turned out to be the wrong choice. That’s NEVER happened to me!

Actually, it happens to me more times than I care to admit. Because it happens to me more times than I care to admit, I am reminded of my desperate need for grace and forgiveness. I am grateful for a Savior who loves me and offers himself for my forgiveness in those times I fall short. None of us are above making mistakes, and none of us are out of the reach of God’s grace. I’ll extend that same grace to those officials who made a mistake (a doozy, for sure). I’m certain those officials feared for their safety as they left the Superdome Sunday evening. No one deserves to live in fear because of their mistakes. Not you. Not me. Not them. I’m very grateful for the gift of grace.

I’m sure there are more lessons I could learn if I contemplated the situation some more, but then I’d just get upset by thinking about it. I think it’s time to move on, and so I shall. Hope you do, too. Move on from whatever mistake is dominating your life…move on from whatever circumstance is controlling your attitude, temperament and emotions…just, move on. Don’t be bound by chains of unforgiveness. Live in God’s gracious embrace.

Oh, and I almost forgot, Geaux Saints!

Until next time, keep looking up…

Christmas Stinks!

grinchChristmas stinks! Or, so would say the Grinch who stole Christmas. You remember the Grinch? The slinky, green ogre of a character created by Dr. Seuss whose heart was too small to love and appreciate Christmas? We know the story. All the Who’s down in Whoville make the Grinch cringe with all their joy and happiness, and so the Grinch does his best to literally steal the joy of the holiday.

Click here to watch the original version of Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

There was probably not much the Grinch was right about, but I will say that Christmas stinks. Before you call me the Grinch, I ask you to think about this with me for a moment. In your mind’s eye, see if you can go back a little over 2,000 years to a tiny village in the Judean wilderness. We have such a quaint picture in our minds of what that first Christmas was like. Most of our greeting cards and nativity scenes are populated with colorful flowing robes and pristine figures so it fools us into believing that it was a quaint, pristine time. Well, folks, it stunk! Remember that Christmas came in a barn.

There were basically two ways people kept their livestock in those days. First, there was the inner room of the home. On the interior of the home was a large room full of straw, mangers and other necessities for keeping the animals. Most people weren’t rich, and their homes were very modest, and they didn’t own much livestock anyway. You might be interested to know the Paschal Lamb (the lamb used for the Passover meal) was actually a family pet that had been raised IN the home. People didn’t own barns, so their homes were constructed so that their animals were kept on the very interior of the home, and the living quarters ringed the stable. I’m not sure if you know it or not, but sheep stink!

The other type of stable was generally a cave, and this is most likely where those who came to Bethlehem on that first Christmas would find Joseph and Mary. They had gone to the innkeeper to find a room, but all he had to offer was a stable, probably behind the inn or down the street, or even on the edge of town. A cave–dark, damp, and musty. Add to the damp, musty smell of the cave some really smelly sheep, a few lowing cattle, and who knows, a few chickens (there probably weren’t any pigs—they were Jews, you know?) and you have all the makings for a really stinky place to have a baby. Yeah, let’s not even talk about the smell of that! We must not forget, either, that there was a cast of characters who came to the cave that night who were quite smelly in their own right—the shepherds. Keeping smelly sheep out in the fields of Palestine was not conducive to bathing on a regular basis. It’s highly unlikely these shepherds would have stopped by the local bathhouse before making their way to the grotto that day. Put all these elements together and we have a recipe for one malodorous mixture. Let’s just say, this was not your mother’s Jean Nate.

What an image! What a breathtakingly beautiful image! Beautiful because we know it was God entering this world. It was God taking on human flesh. It was God coming to show us what He looks like, and when God showed up, He showed up in the smelliest, lowliest place on earth. It was the most beautifully rancid place on earth, and it changed the world. The presence of Jesus transformed the dank, dark, smelly confines of a cave into a place of light, and life and love. That’s what Christmas did. That’s what Christmas does.

Christmas means God is with us—Immanuel! God is still invading this smelly old world of ours. We know that God has come in Jesus to transform our dark hearts made rancid by the stink of sin in our lives. We need transformation—all of us—all the time. I am reminded of Scottish pastor Alexander Whyte. He faithfully served his congregation in the Scottish countryside for over 40 years, and was known by all in the community as a saintly man. One day a parishioner came to Rev. Whyte and exclaimed, “Oh, Rev. Whyte, we’re so blessed to have you as our pastor. You’re such a saint!”

Rev. Whyte looked at the parishioner and replied, “Madam, if you could see my heart you’d spit in my face.”

None of us is exempt from the stinkiness that is sin in our lives. Hatred, greed, pride, arrogance, apathy and jealousy are just a few of the sins that we battle almost daily, and let’s not even get into some of those “gray” areas that we like to debate these days. Yes, it stinks, I tell you, but Christmas reminds me that the Christ who was born in a stinky barn desires to be born in me, and the same Christ who transformed that stinky old cave can transform stinky old me.

I am reminded, too, that the stink of sin, while even being transformed in me still captures much of this world. It stinks that we live in a world where war continues to take innocent lives and force refugees to flee homes and families and livelihoods. It stinks that there are children this night who will go to bed hungry, and that in a world where there is such abundance that anyone should starve. Some starve because there aren’t resources to feed them, and others starve because people withhold resources as a show of power, or as punitive action against a rival. It stinks that we live in a political climate that is so deeply divided that the good that could be done so rarely gets done because of personal agendas and desire for control. It stinks that we live in a world where our children are no longer safe from predators who would rob them of their innocence. It stinks that we live in a world where young women are kidnapped and forced into the slavery of the sex trafficking business that will be flourishing over the next several weeks as playoffs and national championships and Super Bowls will be going full blast. It stinks that in the next twelve months there will be 40 million abortions worldwide. It stinks that over the next twelve months it is projected that substance abuse and other addictive behaviors will have over a 600 BILLION dollar impact on the economy, not to mention the destruction to families, the loss of jobs, the failures in school, the domestic violence and child abuse. It stinks, I tell you, but Christmas reminds me that God is still with us, and that He seeks to be born in us to transform the darkness and the dankness and the smelliness of this broken world. Yes, those are stinky places, but if we will take the time to get out of our comfortable little worlds, we just might discover that God is there because Christmas reminds us that God is born in the stinky places of this world, born to bring light and life and love. As Christ is born in us, we can bring the sweet aroma of his presence into those terribly smelly places.

It’s certainly not in the way the Grinch meant, but yes, Christmas stinks. But isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it sweet? Isn’t it good?

Merry Christmas!

Until next time, keep looking up…

I’m No Saint!…

new-orleans-saints-wallpapersSometimes, a guy just has to vent. That’s all I’m doing, and it’s proof positive that I’m not the perfect pastor.

I love football, and I love the New Orleans Saints, but today was as embarrassed as I’ve ever been as a Saints fan (and I was a Saints fan in 1980). The Saints just stunk up the place…and, that’s all I have to say about that!

Well, not really. I’ll say more because I’m not done venting. So, here’s what I saw today:

  • Drew Bress, though he’s a tick behind his MVP performances of the past, still has some game left in him (even when he’s hurt). Brees hurt is still better than three-fourths of the quarterbacks in the league.
  • Brees can’t win games alone…even when he’s healthy.
  • This is perhaps the worst offensive line the Saints have had in the Sean Payton era. And, they traded Jimmy Graham to bolster this offensive line.
  • Without an offensive line, there will be no running game. Though Mark Ingram has shown flashes of brilliance, he still has not made a statement to indicate he is a premier runner. Khiry Robinson is a great second back, which makes me wonder why he’s not the first back, but…
  • C. J. Spiller is perhaps the best non-stater in the NFL. I can’t figure out why his name is not called more often.
  • Marques Colston is in the winter of his career. He’s dropping too many passes to be the number one receiver. He’s been great, but in the NFL it’s not “What have you done for me in the past?” It’s “What are you doing for me today?” Brandin Cooks may one day step up to take Colston’s place, but it’s hard for a 5’10” guy to take the place of a 6’4″ guy.
  • This is the worst defensive line the Saints have had in the Sean Payton era. They pressured Sam Bradford so little in the game against the Eagles that Bradford looked like a premier quarterback. He’s not. He’s better than me, but that ain’t saying much!
  • Two bright spots for the defense: Stephone Anthony and Hau’oli Kikaha. They’ll be strong defensive contributors as they gain experience. The problem will be keeping them long term. Drew’s salary is going to bite the Saints in the butt at some point, and some of that young talent will have to be sacrificed for the salary cap.
  • The defensive secondary is somewhat improved. Delvin Breaux, once he gets the CFL out of his system, will be a solid addition. Getting Jairus Byrd back should be helpful, as well, but when the secondary is making as many tackles as the Saints secondary, it points back to the defensive line.
  • Rob Ryan is still on the coaching staff. Enough said.
  • I’m wondering how much Roger Goddell paid the officiating crew to call all those ticky-tacky penalties on the Saints? That was an incredible display of terrible officiating, and if there was ever a season the Saints didn’t need that help, well, this is the one.

There’s probably more I could say, but I think I’ve vented enough now. The fact that I could provide such a litany of problems points to a larger problem. The buck will eventually stop on Sean Payton’s desk. I understand the Miami Dolphins are inquiring about talking to Payton to fill their empty head coaching job. Maybe it’s time for the Saints to allow Payton to talk to them. The Saints have not been the same team since “BountyGate,” and yes, the NFL owes Sean Payton and the Saints a major apology after “Deflategate,” but still, it might be time for a change for the Saints and for Payton.

Oh, sorry, I started venting again. Anyway…

In the grand scheme of life, no one will care who won this football game, and no one will really care how good or bad the Saints were in the 2015 season. There’s nothing life changing about it, period. But, it matters to me TODAY, and you’re getting my love and my frustration all in one fell swoop. That’s just the way it is, and that’s why I’m really not the perfect pastor, nor am I the perfect person. Heck, I’m not even the perfect Saints fan.

I’m done now…

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…