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Bad Things | Good People

Bad Things Good PeopleI’m often asked why bad things happen to good people.

Tornados have devastated much of my home town again. I have friends displaced by the tragedy and some whose lives will never be the same. Apart from the tragic, I have relatives who are getting older. Their bodies and minds don’t function like they once did. These friends and family are all good people. Why would a loving God allow something like this to happen?

Wiser minds than mine have explored this topic. Beyond this, I have a predisposition toward the simple answer. I don’t believe that just because something is painful, hard or difficult that it’s inherently ‘bad’ or that the answer to our question has to be complicated, incomprehensible or ponderously deep. I believe God challenges us to search for His answers. I believe He delights when we find them.

My bend toward the simple answer means I risk oversimplifying the issue. That’s not my intent. Some of you face deep hurts, genuine tragedy and life altering circumstances the likes of which I have never known. Please don’t allow the simplicity of my answer to cause you to believe I take lightly the situation you face.

I believe there are two reasons bad things happen to good people, two reasons a loving God would allow people to experience tragedy.

  1. Even good people make mistakes.
  2. In many circumstance, for God to keep you from experiencing tragedy, he would also have to take away your ability to choose for yourself. In essence, you would no longer be free. He would have to so directly control your life and choices that it wouldn’t be you choosing anymore. God, in his sovereignty, has decided to risk the probability that you will suffer for your bad choices rather than forcing you into obedience to his will.

Like I said, simple answers, but not necessarily satisfying.

Let’s dig a little deeper.

I meet with a group of friends every week to talk about how the Bible applies to our everyday lives. Recently, we’ve been talking about the book of Job. It’s the story of a man who is successful in every way. He has a strong, loving family. He is wealthy and influential. God points him out as a man who is ‘blameless’. That doesn’t mean perfect. It means that Job avoided willful disobedience.

You may know the story. Satan challenges God. Satan argues that the reason Job is a good guy is because God has so greatly blessed him. God takes the challenge. He gives Satan permission to test Job. In the process Job is left penniless, his children killed, his reputation tarnished and only his misguided friends and nagging wife to ‘comfort’ him. Job is the perfect example of someone who could ask the questions, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “How could a loving God let something that bad happen?”

The study guide we use identified seven reasons bad things happen to good people, seven reasons God allows tragedy to affect our lives. I’ve not added to the list, but I’ve broadened the explanation. When we face tragedy, understanding the reason can help us formulate our response. Knowing ‘why’ can help us make right choices in the future. So here’s the list:

JUDGEMENT | REPENTANCE

Sometimes people disobey God for so long his judgement falls. They’ve done worse than ignore him, they’ve willfully and deliberately rebelled against him. They’ve rejected his grace, mercy and forgiveness and chosen to do things their own way. They’ve gone past the point of no return. Sometimes our choices demand that justice be satisfied and judgement is the only option.

In the face of judgement the only appropriate response is repentance. Learn these eight words, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.” It’s amazing what God can do through a penitent heart. It’s amazing how a marriage heals when you end an argument with your spouse with those eight words. When tragedy comes due to judgement repentance is the only option.

DISCIPLINE | RESPOND

My kids play sports. They discipline and condition their bodies so they will be ready when the coach trusts them with the ball. Be honest. Exercise hurts. Eating right requires a sacrifice. But the gain is worth the pain. The win is worth the effort. Sometimes the bad things that happen to good people are really preparation for something more significant in the future.

Discipline is the tool God uses to prepare us for the  next season in our journey. When discipline comes we have to respond. “Yes, Lord. Even if it hurts I will learn it. I will do it. I will follow you.”

PERSECUTION | FAITHFUL

God has made it clear that he values sacrifice more than survival. Sometimes the tragedy we face is the result of persecution. In the face of persecution we must remain faithful. Faithfulness gives us a front row seat to all the promises of God. Faithfulness says, “Because I trust God I will hold on. The story may not end as I expect, but it will end with a miracle like I could never imagine.” If the tragedy you face is persecution, hold on. God is giving you a front row seat to all the promises of His Word.

NECESSITY | ENDURE

Some things just have to be. Childbirth is going to hurt. Medication may minimize it. The end result may cause you to forget it, but when a woman goes through labor they will experience pain like they’ve never experienced before. There’s no real formula for instant gratification for anything in life. Some things just take time. Some take practice. Some hurt. If you face a tragedy of necessity, endure. God will walk with you through the whole thing.

CONSEQUENCES | LEARN WISDOM

You learned it in physics. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. There’s a spiritual truth here too. Every physical choice has a spiritual consequence. Every spiritual truth influences the choice we make. If you drop something. It will fall. If you hit someone they will get hurt – then mad – and likely punch back. Our choices have consequences. Those consequences are often unavoidable. If the tragedy you face is the consequence for your bad choices then learn wisdom. Don’t make that same choice again. Do it differently next time and watch the outcome change.

NATURAL | SERVE

Our bodies get old. Our minds slow down. There will come a day when my body will simply wear out. It’s natural. Being old isn’t a punishment. Suffering the inconvenience and pain of old age isn’t the price of a misspent youth. Natural disasters fall into this category as well. We live in a world affected by sin. Even nature. The earth will shake, the wind will blow, the water will rise and recede. It’s the natural rhythm of life. If the tragedy you face has to do with age or natural disaster our response is to serve. As long as God gives me breath I can use who I am and what I have for the benefit of others. I can help others through tragedy. I can serve those who are aging and when I’m the one struck down by age I can pray, I can bless, I can honor those who help me.

MYSTERY | BE PATIENT

Sometimes tragedy comes and we simply don’t know why. The miscarriage comes. The accident happens. The diagnosis is unexpected. We don’t always know the why, but we can trust the who. God understands. God loves us and cares for us. I may not be satisfied with the mystery, but I trust the one who holds that mystery in his hand. When you face this kind of tragedy be patient, God’s not finished yet.

I don’t know what tragedy you’ve faced. You may think of yourself as a good person stuck in a bad situation. You may be like Job.

Whatever the case, remember these things:

  1. God can be trusted.
  2. Remain faithful – faithfulness gives you a front row seat to all the promised of God.
  3. Explore these seven reasons. They can be the road map that helps you know how to take your next step.

Fighting the Ugly

Romans 7:15-25

When I visit amusement parks, ballgames, concerts, community festivals, basically any public event, I’m always reminded of one simple truth.

The world is filled with ugly people.

That may not be politically correct to say out loud, but it’s easy to prove both statistically and scientifically. There are entire websites devoted to weird looking people at WalMart! Face it, ugly people far outnumber pretty ones. I think that may be why Hollywood is so popular. It’s a place for pretty people to gather and flaunt their pretty-ness.

Like slaves in the Roman Empire I think it’s time for ugly people to rise up and demand their place in the spotlight!

But that’s really the problem, isn’t it? Ugly is already in the spotlight. It’s not the ugly defined by physical comeliness or attractive beauty. It’s the ugly that comes from inside, the ugly that stains the soul. No matter how much make up, exercise, or Photoshop editing, regardless of the sparkle or shine on the outside the ugly inside has a way of making it’s way out. It’s why pretty people get divorced. It’s what tarnishes the beauty of success and strangles satisfaction.

The ugly inside, regardless of our external circumstance, finds a way to make its way out and corrodes even the most pristine of appearances. So how do we fight the ugly?

Powerless

It’s a principle from Celebrate Recovery. We must recognize we are powerless, on our own, to overcome the ugly inside. The ugly has a source. It’s our own heart. We need a change of heart that will lead to a change of mind, attitude and action. We can slap on some new paint. We can turn over a new leaf. But until we have a change of heart we’ll only find old dirt.

Heart change is Jesus’ specialty. You can trust Him to lovingly work in you and through you to remake you into someone beautiful from the inside out.

Patience

Real change takes time. Whatever ugly is in you has been there from birth and has been reinforced through your life experiences. Patience with yourself and with others gives you the space – think bandwidth – you need for genuine transformation to take place.

Practice

Repetition is a powerful tool. Repetition is a powerful tool. Repetition is a powerful tool. Getting it right once isn’t enough. Get it right again. Then again. Then do it again. Take one step at a time and when you experience a setback get up and get on with it. The team that wins the Super Bowl, the artist giving the concert – they made it that far through hours and hours of practice.

I could give you more bullet points, but none of that matters without a change of heart. That’s not a change you can make on your own. Trust Jesus with your ugly today.

 

 

The Fleas of a Thousand Camels

Page Cole

Page Cole’s Theory of Life #1 states, “People are stupid.”

It doesn’t take a Harvard study to prove his theory true. Turn on the TV, take a look at Twitter. We’re not always stupid. Sometimes, in moments of clarity, we demonstrate Page Cole’s Theory of Life #2, “People are weird.” My grandmother used to say, “Everyone’s weird but me and thee…and I’m getting worried about thee.”

Which leads to Page Cole’s Theory of Life #3, “Always remember, I are people.”

It’s true, people can be frustrating. I once knew a pastor’s wife who said, “This ministry thing would be easy if it weren’t for all these stinking people!” We’re people. We’re messy. We’re prone to make mistakes. Mistakes that make other people want to curse. My grandfather had a favorite, “May the fleas of a thousand camels infest your armpits.”

That sounds wholly unpleasant – but from my experience, often well deserved.

Proverbs 14:4 says, “Where there are no oxen the stall is clean, but strength comes by many oxen.”

Or said another way, “Where there are no relationships you don’t have to shovel the mess people make, but strength comes by many relationships.”

Cole’s Theory of Life #3 is an important one. We’re all prone to moments of stupidity. Some people think I’m weird because I dip Braum’s french fries in my chocolate chip malt. Whatever the case, Proverbs 14:4 rings true. Without friends or family, coworkers, or the random strangers you meet at the super market, the stall is clean. But where’s the fun in that? Strength comes by many relationships.

Every relationship requires a little shoveling from time to time. Let’s get good at confessing when we’re wrong and forgiving when we’ve been wronged. Let’s value our relationships more than our own opinion. Scripture teaches the idea of mutual submission out of mutual respect. Love one another. Serve one another. Be patient. Be kind. Correct with humility and gentleness looking for the plank in your own eye before trying to deal with the speck in someone else’s.

Pick up a shovel, make the most of this glorious mess, and find strength.

Pruning

John 15:2 says, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

Churches – and people – go through times of pruning. During the pruning dead branches are removed while healthy wood is reshaped. Both acts of pruning are God’s way to make room for new growth.

Pruning is rarely easy but necessary.

Unlike a real vine people have a voice. We aren’t content to sit idly by while God does the pruning, but feel compelled to comment on His work. At best our comments reveal our ignorance of His plan, at worst they reveal our self-righteousness.

I have been in and walked alongside churches and friends who have gone through times of pruning. No one was able to accurately predict God’s intended outcome. Those who tried revealed their foolishness.

My encouragement for when you face a time of pruning – remain faithful to God. Focus on the mission and ministry He has entrusted to you. Follow Him, wherever He leads and get ready – “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

Purpose

John 1:6, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was…”

Why do you what you do? What got you out of bed this morning? Are you up and ready because you want to be or because you have to be? Will you put in 10 hours today doing a job you love in a career that matters or will you endure another lovely day at the insane asylum?

Work has a purpose.

Somewhere along the way we’ve bought into the idea that the job we do is about the income we earn. The ultimate goal of the career we choose has less to do with the significance of the task and more to do with what we’re willing to endure until we reach our ultimate goal – retirement.

I know a lot of retired people. The happiest may have retired, but they never really stopped working. The nature of their work has changed. They have more control over their schedule or the projects they choose to pursue, but for them, retirement is far from leisurely inactivity. They now participate in activity with a purpose. They won’t get out of bed today for the 8 – 5 grind, the paycheck or the promise of a restful retirement. Instead they will fulfill a significant task. They will add value to themselves and others. They will poor themselves out and end the day spent, yet energized by the work they do.

And that’s what work should be – activity with a purpose.

God’s designed you with a purpose in mind. The job you have is simply an expression of the purpose created for you. While paychecks, benefits and retirement are important, they’re not the point. John 1:6 says, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was…”

Fill in that blank with your name. Retire from the daily grind. The work you do is activity with a purpose.

A Comfortable Scandal – Trials

Photo credit: Dave Saffran/MSG Photos

The world loves a good scandal. Facebook’s buzzing with the latest pic of someone doing something insane. Twitter’s tweets are tuned to the news of the NBA – Chauncey Billup is headed to the Clippers for a paltry $2 million. It’s Christmas – businesses once again debate over whether or not they should wish people ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays’ – either choice, someone’s gonna lose their mind!

Scandalous new travels fast!

There’s a comfortable scandal that takes place everyday in the hearts of Believers. There’s a subtle line of obedience we simply aren’t willing to cross. We hear what Jesus has to say. We agree in spirit and nod our heads in affirmation until we realize He’s talking about us. That’s where the scandal lies. We follow Jesus until He asks us to do something seemingly difficult, counter-cultural, or just plain inconvenient. This isn’t new. John 6:66 tells us it happened during Jesus time as well. “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with him no more.” They came to the line they simply weren’t willing to cross. Scandalous…

There are 4 reasons why we walk away. And 4 ways to take the leap of faith Jesus asks us to make when He challenges us to do the difficult, impractical or inconvenient. Most everyone has drawn a line that says, “Jesus, I’m willing to follow you this far, but no farther.” I wonder, as you consider these 4 things how you might redraw your line.

4 Scandalous Distractions that Set the Limits of Our Faith

  1. Temptation – read more…
  2. Trials
  3. Teaching
  4. Transitions

Today – let’s focus on Trials.

TRIALS – I have a friend. He spends a lot of time away from his home and family. He believes God has called him to raise the next generation of missionaries so he spends a lot of time taking teenagers to some of the most dangerous parts of our world to share the gospel. He’s been imprisoned, beaten and held at gun point. At least one of his students has given their life on the mission field, taken by a disease caught while sharing the gospel overseas. I’m guessing the trials we face don’t rise to this level, but it seems they are trials enough. They are enough to cause some to question their faith. They are enough to distract us from fulfilling our mission or following God. Our trials often become the place where we draw the line. My friend says that without a TEST their can be no TESTIMONY. I’ve heard it said that a faith that can’t be TESTED is a faith that can’t be TRUSTED. James 1:2-3 says, “…count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience…” God doesn’t put you through trials so you can prove your faith to Him. He puts you through trials so He can prove your faith to YOU. He wants you to know the depths of your faith. He wants to put you through the test for the sake of the testimony He’s building in you. When trials tempt you to draw the line be PATIENT. God is working out His divine story in you. It’s a story that will strengthen your faith and bless someone else. The trials we face today become the epic stories of tomorrow that encourage, inspire and challenge others to grow deeper in their faith. Are you in the middle of a trial? Be patient. God is not finished with you yet.

What trial do you face today that causes you to draw the line? How far are you willing to go for your faith? Today, pray that God would give you the PATIENCE you need so He can finish the divine story He is writing in you.


I Like the Idea of People

I like the idea of people.

You may be like me. I’m sitting in the Atlanta airport right now waiting for a flight. I started my day half way around the world and have now sat for nearly 18 hours in 3 different airports. And it’s not my last airport of the day. One miss-timed arrival led to one missed flight, which led to one delay after another, and now I’m hopeful my wife and I will be able to catch the last flight to Tulsa before midnight!

Regardless, these hours in the airport have afforded me the opportunity to take a closer look at people. And I have to say, “I really like the idea of people!”

I’ve seen people of all shapes and sizes. Some are dressed comfortably, obviously stealing themselves for a long day of travel. Others are dressed to the nines coming or going to the next billion-dollar business meeting, or perhaps a wedding, or maybe just a weekend excursion with someone special. Two Nuns dressed in full Habit sit directly across from me. Questions flood my mind. While just over their shoulder I see another unexpected sight.

There goes a dude that’s not really dressed like a dude at all. I’m not exactly certain what look (s)he was going for but the look alone captured the attention of every passerby. A Delta agent told us Bradley Cooper was supposed to be on the last flight we missed to Tulsa. He missed it too. Maybe he was the dude not dressed like a dude trying to travel incognito!

Everywhere I look there are people, glorious people! Each has an interesting story to tell, an amazing life to live, and unimaginable potential to discover. Sitting in this airport I’m surrounded by magic, enchanted with possibilities, enthralled by the undiscovered country that surrounds me in the lives of these travelers. I really like the idea of people!

Here I am, surrounded by a thousand stories, yet the only significant conversation I’ve had all day is with my wife. I’ve spoken with Flight Attendants, Security Agents and Café employees, but those weren’t real conversations – more an exchange of pleasantries followed by an exchange of currency, than a real conversation.

I sat next to a nice, newly married couple on one plane. But I don’t know that because we took the time to get to know one another. I know because I was the third wheel in what was clearly the honeymoon row of the plane. I did my best to discretely ignore their attentions for one another and they were kind enough to ignore me.

There’s a group of traveling high school musicians seated at a terminal down the hall from us. I know because the t-shirts they wear tell me they are ‘Ambassadors for Music’ on their whirlwind world tour. I’ve been tempted to ask about their trip and request a song, but I haven’t. I don’t want to embarrass my wife. Besides, it’s easier to listen to my iPod instead.

I’ll bet you’re not too different from me. I really like the idea of people. But, truth-be-told, in these airports today, people have been more of an obstacle to overcome than a story to discover. They’ve been more a product to be managed than a person to be engaged. Not one of us has really unplugged from our gadgets, books, newspapers or travels long enough to notice the glorious magic unfolding all around us. I really like the idea of people. But people themselves…

Well…we smell. We’re moody and difficult. We are under-educated, under-motivated and sometimes, under-handed. We cut in line. We complain about circumstances beyond our control while doing nothing about circumstances under our control.

I really like the idea of people, but I’m not convinced I really like people all that much. My actions today are evidence of this. I’ve watched and listened, been entertained and delighted in my imaginings about all that could be, yet never once genuinely engaged one person.

Jesus likes the idea of people. Proverbs 8 tells us that when God designed the world that Jesus was with him and that once God breathed life into humanity we became His delight. It’s better than that actually. It says He rejoiced in the sons of men and we were daily his delight. Jesus really likes the idea of people.

But more than this, Jesus likes people. He doesn’t stand afar off imagining the possibilities or observing our actions. He became one of us. He got right in the middle of our humanity. He made time for conversation. He went to our parties, wept when we mourned, and challenged our way of thinking. He was at home with the religious elite and the chief of sinners. He was interested in the least and the great, the seemingly wise and the utterly foolish.

This was no passing interest. That which began as delight grew to passion. And that passion became personal.

I long for this – to delight in people, to passionately pursue significant relationships with everyone God would entrust to me. I’m not satisfied with liking the idea of people. I want to really like them – and be liked. I want to follow the example of Jesus.

The Bible tells us not to just say we love people, really love them. I think this is the starting point. Delight in people, discover their story, and devote yourself to their good and God’s glory.

I think I’ll walk down the terminal and see if the Ambassadors for Music might tell us a story and sing us a song.

God Bless,
Chad