Why Do GOOD Things Happen to BAD People?

unfairGenesis 36

I know you’ve heard the question:  “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  It is a question that books have been devoted to.  And if you ever come close to a satisfactory answer to that question (as if that were possible)… there remains one more question that will STILL drive you nuts:  “Why do good things happen to bad people?”

If good people have to have hardship… that may be hard to swallow… but… so be it.  It helps them grow.  It produces compassion in them.  They endure in hope.  But why do evil people sometimes receive no such resistance?  Why is it smooth sailing for them?  Don’t they need even more so:  to grow, to learn compassion and to experience hope?  We reach the point of sympathizing with the Psalmist:  “…I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  …always at ease, they have increased in wealth.  ” (73:3-4, 12)

Case in point:  Genesis 36.  All one finds when they read this often skipped over chapter of the Bible is a long list of Jacob’s brother Esau’s property, sons and animals.  It is pretty dry reading unless you really examine closely this spreadsheet.  It is then you realize that Esau was loaded!  Money in those days was measured in how many children you fathered, the amount of deeds you possessed and how many flocks and herds were grazing on your property.  Esau, in the eyes of the ancient world, was a very successful man.  And yet God would say of him:  “Esau I hated.”  (Malachi 1:3 and Romans 9:13)  God must be very gracious indeed to spoil a man He hated with such degree of prosperity.

But it really shouldn’t surprise us… Jesus taught us that His Father “…causes His sun to rise  on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.”  God is remarkable good to even those who don’t think to thank Him (or refuse to thank Him) for the rich blessings He sends their way.  (Romans 1:21)

Here is a warning here for us as believers.  We might be tempted to envy the “Esau”s of this world, but we must not be quick to equate material success with spiritual success.  The disciples in Jesus’ time stumbled on this issue as well.  When Jesus said that it was more difficult for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven, the disciples gasped and asked Him:  “Then who can be saved?”  Would we gasp if we saw who was in and who was out of favor with God?  Would many of the elite of this world be left off the “truly blessed” list?

Lael F. Arrington wrote about a time in her mid-twenties when she was trying to choose a life partner.  She wrote:  “On the same weekend in November one fellow I was dating told me he loved me, and the other fellow I was dating asked me to marry him.  Both were intelligent, tall, handsome, witty and charming. The first fellow was quite successful already. Our times together were spent at country clubs, elegant parties, and lovely dinners. The second fellow was scrimping by in seminary, and our time together was spent over a bucket of chicken on a study date—he was writing papers and I preparing lecture notes for the high school classes I taught.

          The first fellow and I did not share the same spiritual heritage or level of commitment, but the second one and I did. In fact, his level of commitment was greater than mine at the time and required a great deal of sacrifice. He wanted to teach and train Christians on the mission field. The lap of luxury looked much more appealing than a vow of poverty. But… when it came down to making a decision, I could not walk into the future and not share my past. After trusting Christ, it was the biggest decision of my life.

She continued:  We still get the bucket of chicken, and many nights are study nights… But the blessings flowing from that decision are a source of profound and continuing joy.  (A Bright Tomorrow, p. 12.)

In whatever financial circumstance you find yourself, rejoice in the fact that God does not hate you… but loves you with the most intense love.  That in and of itself is a blessing that all the land, sheep and children in the world can’t come close to rivaling.

Blessings!

 

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Where’s Eden?

edenGenesis 3:22-24

Take a glance at the first two chapters of Genesis and you marvel at the harmony that seems to radiate from God’s good creation.  Now take a look at the world today and you can’t help but ask yourself: “What happened?”

Animals prey on one another. Tornadoes and Earthquakes can quadruple the death rate on any given day, in just a matter of minutes. There are wars and protests, and hatred and strife.   What happened? Where is Eden? If we left it, can we go home again?

We know the story of Genesis 3 well.  The serpent, the fruit and the fallen pair are a familiar story we learned in Sunday school.  But did we piece together that it was that act of obedience that caused creation to be what it is today?  Part of God’s judgment on Adam was “cursed be the ground.”  Paul writes in the New Testament:  “…the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it,…”

Then there is the legacy of unrighteousness we have passed on (Romans 5:12).  We have all, like Adam and Eve, painted a bleak picture of God, looked longingly at the Forbidden, partook of it and then shared the fruit of our disobedience with one another.

A number of years ago, a sad story caught the headlines.  A High School Girl was found dead in Hawaii. Her body was found intoxicated and naked in the room of two tourist that she didn’t even know. What was telling was the reaction of one girl that attended school with her: “She didn’t do anything different from the rest of us. I mean, she didn’t do anything wrong. She didn’t do anything that she isn’t suppose to do as a teenager.” It was as though her friend’s sin was okay because it had become socially acceptable among other teenagers.

As a society have bought the lies of Satan.  And that is what happened to Eden!  Sin drove us from our true home. Trying to create our own set of rules we found ourselves morally bankrupt.

Now how did God react to the fallen state of this pair?  How did He deal with our unrighteousness?  Right from the beginning God works to undo what they have done. He sets in motion a plan of redemption.

In the judgment to the serpent, God says:  “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed;  He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.”  (3:15)  Man has been so bitten by the serpent that sin’s venom courses through our veins.  Sin was passed down to all of Adam’s children.  Mankind has been limping from a bruised heel since the day they left Eden.

But the Good News is that Jesus has come.  The true Seed of the Woman, Jesus (Galatians 3:16) has come to crush Satan’s head.   He has come to clothe us and to give us His righteousness.

I began this blog asking you to examine Genesis 1 and 2.  Now take a peek at Revelation 22… the Bible’s final chapter.  You will discover once again a garden and something more: the tree of life.  Eden has been reborn!

And through Jesus:  You can go home again!

 

Flag on the Play

penalty-flagEcclesiastes 7:20

20 Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.

There was a unique call in the NFL game this last Thursday night.  The Philadelphia Eagles were on offense during the 4th quarter.  A flag was thrown for a false start.  This is a call that usually indicates sloppy play on the part of one or two players of the offensive line.  In this case the sole offender was the only one NOT  flagged for the infraction.  The center, Jason Kelce, forgot the snap count… and while everyone else sprung into motion… he never hiked the ball.  Referee Walt Anderson received more than a few laughs for his announcement:  “False start, everybody but the center.”   The culprit was the only one not called for the penalty.

Our verse today from Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is not a single person on this earth that is innocent before a holy God.  Not even righteous people do good all the time… even they sin.  Illegal motion could be called on just about every play that humans beings are a part of.

Romans 5: 6-8 reminds us:   For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Solomon said there in not a righteous man who continually does good and does not sin…. but that was because he never met Jesus.  Our redeemer, in the fullness of time, came to live  the only sinless life that has ever been lived.  Then, at the cross, where He died, He took the penalty for our sin.  (2 Corinthians 5:21)   In the game called life, He has given us the victory!  And has made us penalty free in the process!  Blessed be His holy name!

Did I Forget to Pay?

guest checkRomans 13:8

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another…”

In my minds eye I picture a grand luncheon.  Not a modest meal but one that is three courses long and definitely not fast food.  The meal was impeccable, the waitress polite, my company delightful… I leave the restaurant with a spring in my step.  “Thank you God for good times with great friends,” I utter.  I am still paying homage in my mind to the cherry cheesecake and the french amaretto coffee as I head down the interstate to get back to my job site.  And then it hits me… “Did I forget to pay?”  I try to keep one hand on the wheel as I check my wallet.  I groan as I look inside to see the $50 I left the house with still in my billfold.

I imagine for a moment the restaurant manager reading the glowing compliments I paid him and his establishment on the comment card I had filled out.  He is probably not at all interested in my praise.  I may have offered superb lip service… I just didn’t pay my bill!

I wonder how many times in life that I have left a personal encounter with someone and not paid them my debt.  What debt?  The debt of love I owe them through Jesus Christ   Paul wrote:  “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another…”

The context of this verse, strangely enough, is paying taxes.  Paul says in the verse just before it:  “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” (Romans 13:7) Paul means:  “If somebody is due something, pay up!  But remember, that when it comes to love, we are ALL debtors.

There was a concept popular a few years ago, that you still hear now and again, called:   “paying it forward.”  Someone does an act of goodness to you and instead of “paying them back” you offer the same gift of love to the next person you encounter.

This is a Biblical concept.  Ephesians 5:1-2 says:  “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  We are God’s children and enjoy everyday His joy, presence and love.  To go through life at break neck speed, never looking out for our neighbor… never sharing freely the love of God we freely received, is the worst kind of ingratitude.  You are forever indebted to Jesus.  He wants you to pay this debt forward by loving those around you.  Just don’t forget to pay!

Mike Mason once wrote:  “… we are pinched and stingy with our love.  We treat love like money, as if there’s never enough to go around, and so we draw our heartstrings tighter than our purse strings.  How can we grasp that we are dealing with an inexhaustible currency?” (Practicing the Presence of People, p.58.)

Start small.  Smile at the waitress.  Discretely buy a serviceman’s meal.  Strike up a conversation with that frazzled mom or dad in the check out line. And know that life is more than accomplishing goals, accumulating things and enjoying ourselves.  It is also about paying the debt of love we owe to our fellow human beings.  Pay up!  And remember God in Christ has already picked up your tab!

Gift Exchange

gift exchangeRomans 1:11-12

“I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong– that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”

Not too long ago, Saddleback Church in Southern California surveyed over 8,000 of their new members and asked them why they joined.  Their results:

#10 – Special Events and Activities
#9 – Location Near Our Home
#8 – Missions
#7 – Different Styles of Worship
#6 – Small Groups and Discipleship Classes
#5 – Pastoral Care
#4 – Children’s and Youth Ministry
#3 – Service Opportunities
#2 – Worship
#1 – Preaching and Teaching 

Interesting list!  There is a lot for church leaders to take in here.  But can I offer one more to the list.  One that might entice you to a church that doesn’t have half of the others:  a place to minister.  (I realize “service opportunities” might provide this.  But I’m trying to hone in on something more specific.)  Every person that joins a church must discover their God given “ministry.”  The purpose of their personal existence and their reason for being a part of that specific body.

I heard many years ago from a popular Christian leader that churches should have “human scaffolding.”  What he meant by this was that there needed to be some that just came and supported the ministry with their money.  I cannot find a Biblical support for this ministry strategy.  Everyone is called to bring their gifts to the body and to find a ministry in which to employ them.

And yet, what do people look for when they visit a church?  Good teaching, cleanliness, friendliness, something for the kids, etc.

In this introduction of his letter to the Romans, Paul informs them that he would like to visit them.  But he is clear on his intent!  He isn’t going to Rome to see the Forum or the Coliseum.  He comes bearing gifts!

What does Paul mean by this?  I don’t believe that Paul is bringing with him a certain spiritual gift that they had been lacking, such as tongues or another manifestation of the Spirit.  Paul never claims to “institute” a specific gift anywhere… that is the job of the  Holy Spirit.  By “impart,” I believe Paul refers to the benefit that they will receive when he exercises his own spiritual gifts among them.  Why does Paul want to do this?

1)     That you may be established.

The Greek word is sterizo (stay-rid’-zo):  “To make stable, firm and to strengthen or fix.”  This is the word that Jesus used in Luke 16:26.  He told Peter that he would deny him three times that encouraged him by saying:  “…but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again strengthen your brothers.” Luke 16:26

The Christian life is one of stability and strength.  But we need the help of others to get there.  Paul’s goal in life:  Colossians 1:28-29 – “to present every man complete in Christ.  And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”

We tend to listen to experts on fitness, diet and health (sometimes) as authoritative.  Bur preachers, teachers and evangelists… not so much.  We get defensive.  We get that American pioneer spirit.  “If it is to be… it’s up to me!”

We are forever pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  But we need to receive the gifts that God gives us by way of fellow believers.  They are instrumental in our reaching God’s goals for our lives.

Would you have the humility to do that?  Paul did.

2) “…that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.”

NIV omits “both yours and mine”… maybe because it is repetitive… but Paul repeats it to make his point stronger.  This is a gift exchange… not a one way receiving.  Paul says:  “I learn from you as well as you learn from me.”

We need to be encouraged by the gift others bring to the body.  We shouldn’t get jealous or envious… or critical.  We must mutually encourage each other!

So what are you looking for in a church?  We should see if their doctrine is sound and if they are strong in outreach, etc.  But we should also ask… do they need the gifts that I would bring there if I joined? 

Remember, Jesus told us to pray that the Father would send more laborers into the vineyard… but not once did he request any “human scaffolding.”

Did I Make the Team?

phone ringingPick Up the PhoneGod‘s Call on Your Life

(Part One of Five)

Philippians 3:13 & Luke 7:30

A few Sundays ago I began my sermon with an illustration regarding the NFL draft.  I started by saying that the story I was going to share would probably only reach the men that morning.  Then I asked who was following the draft.  5 women and no men raised their hands.  Go figure!

A story on Yahoo! Sports caught my eye that weekend:  “E.J. Manuel says he didn’t share the rest of the football world’s surprise when the Buffalo Bills made him the first and only quarterback selected in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night. The Florida State signal caller was in on the secret that the Bills coveted him highly and the two sides officially became a pair when the team selected him with the No. 16 pick after trading back from the eighth slot earlier in the night.   Manuel was taken offguard earlier in the night, however, when someone accidentally dialed a wrong number and gave him a slight rush of excitement over the possibility of top 5 money.

E.J. Manuel said his green room hotline phone rang at pick 3. He got excited, then the voice asked if they could talk to Dion Jordan.”

 That had to be a rude disappointment.

It reminds me of when my boys were involved in sports.  After a couple of days or sometimes weeks of practice, they would wait all day by the phone to see if they made the team.  It was a tense time for them… and us!

Some of you are like that athlete in the green room or one of my sons.  You have been waiting ever so long for that phone to ring… for it to provide the answer to your future.  You want to say:  “God, could you help me out here.  I feel like I’m pick #167 or something.  Am I even wanted?  Will I get picked at all?”saints logo

Well first let me say:  Relax, you made the team!  You were picked the day you accepted Christ!  He gave you a new team (the Saints), a jersey (a robe of white) and a team motto:  “If God be for us!  Who can possible be against us?”

But maybe you are more interested in the specifics… What position will you play on the team?  What areas should you be training?  When will you get a chance to score for the kingdom?

I want to start this series with a pair of my favorite verses regarding calling.   The first of these is at the end of Paul’s mini-testimony in Philippians, chapter three.  “…I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”  There was a reason God had picked him for the team and Paul was in hot pursuit of that reason.  Are you?

The other verse is more an observation by Luke, than a complete thought.  In talking about the adversaries of Jesus in his Gospel, he write:  “But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves…” (Luke 7:30)

Putting these two thoughts together I come up with two principles:  1) God has a purpose for your life that He wants each of us to pursue.  (i.e. You made the team!) and  2)  You can either accept or reject that calling.

Who God calls as a higher pick than you should be of no consequence.  Just pick up the phone and get your assignment.  That could be Him calling right now!

Where is the Hope?

SONY DSCRomans 5:5

When one becomes weary of evil acts that he or she can do nothing to stop… the next logical emotion for one to experience  is despair.    But as a believer in Jesus we need to remember that we have been given hope… a living hope. (1 Peter 1:3)   The response of hope is a step away from a secular mindset during a time of crisis.  Moderns might be able to curb their anger and put it to constructive use.  They definitely have turned out with compassionate service.  But hope?  It is a commodity that is hard to come by in times like these.

In Romans Chapter 5 Paul writes of a hope that “…does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

Hope in times of terror is not a natural thing… it is a supernatural thing!  And our hearts, infused by the Holy Spirit, are the ONLY means by which we can experience it.

But what is it we are hoping for?

1.  The end of evil forever.

There is lots of Scripture on this… but one will suffice.  2 Peter 3:7 -“…by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”

Several pastors from the Boston area posted blogs about the attack on their city.  One resonated with me.  Adam Mabry, the pastor of Alethea Church wrote an article called “A Pastor’s Perspective on the Attacks on My City.”  This is an excerpt:

“So what are we to make of it all? What are we to think when tragedy mingles with beauty? …When blood spills with    tears? [He then invites us to look to Jesus on the cross. And says:]  He, shining like the sun, brought grace and truth, kindness and undeserved mercy. And… He also experienced the deepest and darkest violence humanity has ever accomplished. … There, tragedy mingled with beauty, pain accompanied grace, and the blood of God himself spilt along with his tears. The gospel shows us that, in Christ, darkness, selfishness, terror, sin, and depravity can be and will be once and finally overcome. That’s the hope—the only hope—for the deepest why of pain.”

Evil will be overcome one day.  And I would not want to be one of the Boston bombers standing before God unrepentant on judgment day.   Believer, it is okay to desire to see justice, but don’t ring your hands if things move too slowly.  Don’t worry that there may be others involved that seem to get away Scott Free.  God has better surveillance than all of the Boston PD.  God sees.  God knows.  And He will judge.

2.  There is also hope for today.

Sometimes we despair because we think of those that lost loved ones and those that lost limbs.  We secretly think:  I’m glad it wasn’t me or my loved ones… and then we feel guilty for thinking that.  But we can’t escape it.  How would I cope if I had been standing there on Marathon day?

Here is where hope really should kick in.  We need to trust that God can use any tragedy to his glory.  No matter what evil men plot… God can turn it around.  God is still causing all things to work together for the good of those called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)  We either believe this or not!  Randy Alcorn voiced it this way:  “Evils, whether moral or natural, will not have the final say.  God will replace both with everlasting good.”

You might ask yourself:  “What can I offer to people today through these tragedies?”  Offer hope… real, lasting and living  hope.

One event that happened in the week following the marathon that did not get a lot of coverage (for obvious reasons) was the death of Sportscaster, Pat Summerall.  On the CBS evening news they ran a short piece on him and in it mentioned his faith.  That reminded me of an article in my files from Sports Spectrum magazine.

“For 45 years, Pat Summerall’s voice and face spelled football. He anchored CBS and FOX’s NFL telecasts (often alongside pat summerallJohn Madden) and broadcast 16 Super Bowls (and served as a CBS Radio analyst or pregame reporter for 10 more). This is the part of Pat Summerall’s story that most people know. In the Christian sports magazine Sports Spectrum, reporter Art Stricklin tells the rest of Pat’s story:

Pat was an only child whose parents divorced before he was born, leaving him feeling empty and alone. He became an alcoholic, living from drink to drink as his body broke down. During the 1994 Masters tournament—[Summerall also did voiceover work for high-profile golf tournaments]—he faced up: “I’d been getting sick a lot, throwing up blood—and I got sick again at 4 a.m. I looked in the mirror, saw what a terrible sight I was, and said to myself, This isn’t how I want to live.

Pat spent 33 days in the Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs, California. This helped alleviate his alcohol problems but didn’t address his spiritual vacuum. Then he bumped into [Tom Landry, his old football coach from his days as a star kicker]. [Landry] explained about [Pat’s] spiritual need and connected him with Dallas Cowboy‘s chaplain John Weber. Pat’s life was transformed, and he was baptized at age 69.

Art Stricklin closes his article with a few words chaplain John Weber offered to sum up Summerall’s journey: “[Pat] was once the life of every party with a drink in his hand. Now he gets his power from another source.”

We hold on to the hope that can change the destiny of our neighbors, family and friends.  Don’t give in to the despair around you.  Offer hope.