Whose Fault Is It?

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6 ESV). Yesterday we looked at the tragedy of FBC, Sutherland, Texas where 26 people were killed. There have been countless “talking points” developed from this event. Just as there always seems to be countless fingers pointed in blame, this event drew the same attention. There were some reports that the shooter, Devon Patrick Kelley, had a history of mental illness in his immediate family.  Some have suggested that he had no choice in the matter and our system utterly failed him and the victims. Well, my answer to that conclusion is simply “nope.” That brings me to our reading today. What does the Bible say? The visitation of the fathers’ sins on the children is not a simple punishment of innocent children for what the fathers did. The children themselves are always thought of as sinful and rebellious as the fathers’ sin is worked out in their lives. There are two kinds of effects of fathers’ sins in the lives of children: one is rebellion against God; the other is the calamities of judgment that God brings on the children. We are not told how this rebellious condition is passed to or “visited on” the children. God has the right to punish fathers in the calamities that come upon their children (cf. Jeremiah 16:10-11); but, he chooses to do this in a way that justly correlates with the children’s own guilt. None of this should make anyone feel trapped and without hope because of his parents’ sins. The blood of Jesus conquers all sin and judgment for those who believe. And no one who has a child who goes bad and forsakes the way of righteousness, should feel that it is all his fault (cf. Ezekiel 18:20). All this should make us intensely committed to education with the purpose and plan of God at its heart at home and at church. Great and lasting things are at stake for future generations not only because of what we teach, but also because of who we are. Pray for the families of the victims and the perpetrator. God cares about each of them...

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The Right Question

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (John 9:1-7 ESV). Twenty-six crosses stand in a field on the edge of town to honor the 26 victims killed at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland. Perhaps you are asking the question, “Why?” I do. Following such a great tragedy it is often the first thought; however, it must not be our last thought. That should be the question of “Who?” I think part of God’s will in ordaining a calamity is that we weep with those who weep. That is part of the plan. God brings to pass all things. Spurgeon said, “…every dust mote that flies in the air, or every little globule of spray in every harbor in the wake of every boat in the world, is guided on its path through the air by God.” Once you get to the point of believing in the providence and sovereignty of God to that extent, then you see that God intends weeping, the abhorrence of evil, the rescue of the perishing, and the healing of the broken-hearted, to be a part of his plan. Our reading helps us with this principle. When Jesus met the man who was born blind, people said, “Ok, who sinned, this man or his parents?” (v. 2). And Jesus answered, “It is neither. This man was born blind for the glory of God” (v. 3). This means that when God ordained that this man endure 30 years of blindness, he was also willing that there be some responses to it of a certain kind. And the shepherds who were caring for him in the synagogue had the wrong kind of response, because when he got healed they didn’t even rejoice. They had hearts that were terrible. And Jesus wanted people to rejoice and to see God and to glorify God. So the point is this. If you see a calamity and you know God could have stopped it, which he always could, and he didn’t stop it, so he must have a purpose in it. Don’t draw the irrational, unbiblical conclusion that God doesn’t us involved in bringing him glory in this unspeakable horror. This is the conclusion of a person who has gotten halfway into the Bible and has started to draw human conclusions rather than biblical conclusions. God wills for the beautiful virtues of outrage at sin and compassion for victims and efforts of relief to be manifested in the midst of the calamities that he himself is in charge of. That reflects the real glory of God. That answers the real...

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Life Plans

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:19-21 ESV). I have found that my expectations are far different than reality. Most “life plans” are no more than expectations. Creating life plans is big business these days. You can hire a Life Coach (Life Guru, Life Master, Life Sensei, whatever it’s called), and they will then help you construct a master life plan. The life plan will probably contain a grand life mission statement, which makes you sound pretty awesome; one-year goals, five-years goals, and life goals; specific areas of focus in your life; and, a specific trajectory for your life. Most likely, this will include a specific job, a specific level of income, a specific geographic location, and perhaps a specific body mass index. And the reality is, even if you don’t have a formal, written life plan, you have a life plan in your head. We all do. You have an imagined future in your head. I don’t have a formally stated life plan, but I don’t want to waste my life either. Plans are not the enemy. In fact, they can be wise.  I’m all for planning. Without plans, little of enduring value gets accomplished. But the reality is, there are many times when God intentionally messes up my life plan. And that’s a really good thing. God really messed up Joseph’s life plan. His brothers threw him into a dry well, then sold him into slavery. The wife of his Egyptian master tried to seduce him. When he refused her advances, she turned him over to the Egyptian cops, who then tossed him in prison. He spent years in prison, waiting to be released. I don’t imagine that Joseph included prison time in his life plan. Finally, after many years of painful waiting, God exalted him to the second in command in all of Egypt. When all was said and done, what did Joseph say to his brothers? “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (vv. 19-20). God messed up Joseph’s life plan, and it was a really good thing. He did for Joseph what Joseph could never have done for himself. So, when your reality looks far messier than your plans, thank God; and, remember He’s got this! Even when it seems no good can come from your circumstance, His undeniable and unalterable guarantee is to work it together for our good. Trust...

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Meditation

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:16-17 ESV). God designed us with the capacity to pause and ponder. He means for us to not just hear him, but to reflect on what he says. It is a distinctively human trait to stop and consider, to chew on something with the teeth of our minds and hearts, to roll some reality around in our thoughts and press it deeply into our feelings, to look from different angles and seek to get a better sense of its significance. The biblical name for this art is meditation, which is defined as “deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture for the purposes of understanding, application, and prayer.” Since we were made to meditate, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that world religions have seized upon the activity, and new schools try to make use of its practical effects, whether to cultivate brain health and lower blood pressure. Christian meditation, however, is fundamentally different than the “meditation” popularly co-opted in various non-Christian systems. It doesn’t entail emptying our minds, but rather filling them with biblical and theological substance, truth outside of ourselves, and then chewing on that content. For the Christian, the apostle says in our reading that meditation means having “the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (v. 16). Meditation that is truly Christian is guided by the gospel, shaped by the Scriptures, reliant upon the Holy Spirit, and exercised in faith. Man does not live by bread alone, and meditation is slowly relishing the meal. Christian meditation is less about the posture of our bodies, and more about the posture of our souls. Our main pointers aren’t, sit on the floor with your legs crossed, or sit on a chair with both feet on the floor and your back straight, palms facing upward. Christian meditation begins with our eyes in the Scripture and our minds mind stocked with memorized Scripture. Perhaps we start with some broader Bible reading from which we select a particular verse or phrase that caught our attention, and carve out several minutes to go deep in it. Then, with intentionality and focus — often best with pen in hand, or fingers on the keys — we seek to better understand God’s words and warm our soul at his fire, and let it lead us into prayer and then into the day. In our restless and stressed-out society, it very well may strengthen our brain and lower our blood-pressure to practice the art of Christian meditation. But even more significant will be the good that it does for our...

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Winter in Texas (Part 2)

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:12-14 ESV). I’m always amazed how many cars end up forgotten rusting away in a field. It is somewhat illustrative of what happens to us if we don’t keep spiritually warm. Jesus’ words in our reading today help us to remember that cold is a sure and often silent killer of the spirit. The spiritual temperature of our world is dangerously low and if we are not careful, our love, like many, will grow cold (v. 12). And the thing about such cold is that it damages us before we realize it. The effects of frostbite are typically not felt when it’s happening. Only later do we realize the seriousness of our injury. Every year people lose digits and limbs to the cold. And some freeze to death. Cold is a stealthy killer, for a heavy drowsiness descends on its victims and they lose consciousness, drifting off to death. No one intended these trucks to fall into such disrepair. They were simply forgotten with a hope of taking care of them “later.” The key to surviving the spiritual polar climate we live in is fire. We’ve got to stay warm. If we don’t, it can result in injury or even death. And it takes a lot of work to stay warm. You don’t just wing it in the winter. You’ve got to dress for the weather and keep your fire burning, which requires preparation and maintenance. The fire is your faith-filled love for, your desire for, your delight in God. And this fire is fed with the Holy Spirit stoking it through the word and prayer. But I don’t mean a passive Bible reading and cool praying. Simply passing your eyes over words of Scripture won’t keep your fire going, and neither will minimal, distracted, disengaged praying. Making firewood is hard work, but its reward is a warm, abundant life. The alternative is the damaging numbness of the cold. The fire needs to always be on our minds, no matter what else we are doing. If we don’t fuel the fire, it will go out. If the fire goes out, the temperature in our souls drops quickly and it takes a lot more work to reheat them than to keep them warm in the first place. Spiritual cold is a stealthy killer. It lulls people to sleep and they lose consciousness not realizing their peril. That’s why our lives must revolve around tending the fire, because the fire is the key to surviving the cold. And the fire should be the first thing we tend in the morning and the last we tend at night. How’s your...

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Winter in Texas (Part 1)

Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you. He makes peace in your borders; he fills you with the finest of the wheat. He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly. He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold? He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow. He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules. Praise the Lord! (Psalm 147:12-20 ESV). You are aware that we live in Texas. It is a rare event when we get such cold weather that we see snow. However, Christmas, 2015 was such an event. As you can see from the picture, it was both beautiful and wintry cold. Here we are two years later and the first of the really cold air has started to move in to North Texas. My heat pump is working overtime with a high in the forties and cold rain falling all day. Hopefully it will be a short-lived event as predicted and we will return to more moderate weather. It does remind me of a very important spiritual principle. It takes a lot of work to stay warm. So, I’ve decided to spend a little time looking at the things that can keep spiritual winter from lasting too long. Even just a century ago it took a lot more work to stay warm during the winter even in Texas. I have great respect for the people who live north of the Mason-Dixon and cope with such cold weather every year; and, even more so before the days when natural gas and/or electricity was piped directly into homes equipped with automatic, thermostat-regulated heating systems. It hasn’t been so long ago that most people had only one way to keep a house warm. They had to tend a fire. In fact, life during winter revolved around tending fire, because fire was the key to surviving the cold. And tending a winter fire was a lot of work. It began during the warm seasons, because you had to think and plan ahead for the winter fire. You knew unpredictable snowstorms and severe cold were coming. You’d still have to do nearly everything you had to do in the summer, but everything would take longer in the winter, and you would have less daylight in which to do it. If you ran out of fire fuel in the bitter cold, you would be in trouble. So you were cutting down trees long before the first flurries, chopping them into logs, and figuring out ways to keep them secure and dry. When winter hit, the fire was always on your mind, no matter what else you were doing. If you didn’t fuel the fire, it went out. If the fire went out, the temperature dropped quickly and it took a lot more — more wood, more work, and more time — to reheat a cold room and cold furniture than to keep them warm in the first place. So every day, besides the rest of life’s demands, you split wood, restocked the fireside, kept the fire fed, and cleaned out ashes. The fire was the first thing you tended in the morning and the last thing you tended at night. Tending the fire was a lot...

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