WHY, GOD?

This is the first in the most recent series of messages I have been sharing
1 This is the message that the prophet Habakkuk received in a vision.  2 How long, O Lord, must I call for help?  But you do not listen!  “Violence is everywhere!”  I cry, but you do not come to save.  3 Must I forever see these evil deeds?  Why must I watch all this misery?  Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence.  I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight.  4 The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts.  The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.

I have said at other times that no message or series has been more difficult for me than the one I am sharing.  And this new series is proving itself to me, to be the most difficult one ever.  I’m calling it Why, God?  Notice the use of the comma.  It would be much easier for me to talk about Why God?  Why God speaks about our need for God.  But that pesky comma, Why, God? speaks into the season we are in today.

We are living in a season like none other before.  We have this Pandemic of Covid-19 and we are seeing a lot of racial unrest.  I also see that the core of this season of racial unrest is a symptom of something else that has been going on for some time now— and that is Social And Political Unrest.  The fabric that is meant to hold us together in a common society is being cut and ripped apart. 

I am compelled to speak into this chaos.  I would rather not and tackle an easier word.  But I Firmly Believe This Mess We Are In Has A Message.  Unfortunately, it may not be the message that people inside and outside of church want to hear.

We are going to begin this series with an honest discussion around the question that many are asking out loud, and many more that are wondering about inside their hearts and minds but are afraid to ask.  Why, God?  Why Are Things Like They Are Right Now?  Why This Covid-19, This Racial, Social, And Political Unrest? 

I believe this is a question that needs to be asked and explored.  So be prepared for some hard or difficult things I will share with you.  And at the risk of losing some of you—I will honestly say upfront that I may not have a neat answer to the question—I may not even have a good answer for the question.

And let me be upfront and honest with this disclaimer:  I Am Not An Expert On The Ways That God Thinks.  My answers may not be your answers as to the Why Question.  Know that I am not expecting you to agree with anything I say.  I won’t be disappointed with anyone who disagrees with me. 

My personal goal, and the goal of this Series, is that you will not be afraid to ask God questions, and that you think through your own answers—without using the standard issue replies that are dressed in a Polly Anna or The Born Loser view of life.  I am convinced that oversimplified answers to the Why Question are only adding to the frustrations and fears. 

Posting things on Social Media with the line “Repost if you believe in Jesus” aren’t helping.  Reality Check folks: Reposting And Quoting Scriptures Isn’t Going To Help!  So What Will Help?  I believe raw honesty helps more than posting and quoting Scriptures.

Look, it’s not that life Could Be difficult and hard.  If you can handle the truth, then here it is—The Truth Is That Many Times Life IS Difficult And Hard.  None of us are exempt from the troubles and pressures of life.  And if anyone tells you that you can live a happy and pain-free life as a Christian—they are lying to you and they should be ashamed of themselves for deceiving you. 

I have been a pastor for nearly 46 years, and in those 46 years I have read and studied the Bible extensively.  In that same 46 years I have had a lot of personal experiences and I’ve been a part of other people’s experiences.  I have seen joy—and I’ve seen the doubt and deep pain brought on by life as it really is—the fear and hurt that comes with those difficult experiences. 

I am going to try, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to be totally Honest with you.  And sometimes coming face to face with Honesty is not very easy.  And know ahead of time that my Honesty may not fit in with The Truth.

If anything, the writers of the Bible are Honest—more than Honest, they are Painfully Honest.  There is page after page, story after story, which speaks Honestly—but not always be The Truth.  Think about Job—not everything in there is The Truth—but everything there is Painful Honesty.  In Ecclesiastes Solomon writes Honestly about His Feelings—though some of his conclusions about God are not true.  But His Conclusions About The Pain And Difficulties Of LifeThey Are Most Definitely True

There’s the book of Lamentations—where Jeremiah blames God for everything that happened to Jerusalem.  And there’s this passage we begin with from Habakkuk.  Habakkuk, this prophet of God, Honestly believes that God isn’t listening and that He has forgotten all about him.  And true to human nature, it’s easier to blame God than accept responsibilities for our choices. 

That’s exactly what Adam did—he blamed God.  And here’s the truth that many will disagree with me—God Didn’t Destroy Jerusalem.  God didn’t point His finger at Babylon and manipulate them into doing what He wanted to be done.  The blame for the destruction of Jerusalem lies squarely at the feet of those who rejected God by choosing another way.  God didn’t have to punish them—they punished themselves by rejecting the ageless truth of God—and that rejection reaped them a whirlwind and a hurricane of consequences.

And all of this that’s going on all around us?  I am about to say something that many may disagree with—and remember I warned you.  I want you to think deeply.  This is it:  God Is Not Causing Any Of This To Happen.  Covid-19 Is NOT God Punishing Our Nation And World.  God Is Not Pointing His Finger To Manipulate People To Create This Hate And Chaos. 

What I see happening here in the U.S. with the unrest, what I see happen in the U.S. and around the world with Covid-19 is The Consequences Of Generations Of People Abandoning God’s Principles For Another Way.  We are reaping the same whirlwind and hurricane that Habakkuk and Jeremiah were seeing in their day.

One of the blogs I read is Walking With A Limp.  Here’s what the writer, Joe Misek, had to say about his title:  “The reason why I title my blog Walking With a Limp is because I believe our faith and our humanity is meant to be lived out not hiding our brokenness.  In fact, the Bible even has an entire genre of literature dedicated to expressing pain, grief, anger, and brokenness:  Lament.” 

In a recent blog he wrote:  “We don’t do Lament well in the modern American church.  In fact, we often arrange our entire experience of corporate worship to be happy.  Lament sounds dark and depressing; it is uncomfortable if you hear it and you are in a ‘happy place’ in your life.  But the Lament is not in the entertainment business and doesn’t appeal to consumers.  It is reality.  It is healing.” 

Joe is right—unlike Job, Solomon, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk we don’t handle Lamenting very well.  We either hold all our pain, doubts and questions in—or we adopt a lifestyle of being happy all the time while masking what’s really going on inside us.  Many often chastise others and themselves for even thinking about that question of Why, God? 

I don’t really know all the whys about why we aren’t truthful with ourselves and with God in this time.  Maybe it’s because we’ve had long years of comfort here in the United States.  We have forgotten or never really learned how to Lament.  It seems we would rather find someone or something To Blame than to become broken over our own lives and the world.

The Ability To Lament Comes Out Of 2 Things:

  1. The Pain Of Realizing Something Isn’t Right.  It’s being broken over what’s wrong to the point that makes us restless and deeply hurting.  And here is another hard truth:  We Don’t Like To Hurt—we avoid pain as if it were some sin.  But it’s not.  Many today are trying to make their hidden pain go away by not admitting something isn’t right and then justifying themselves.  In the LBGTQ community, they blame their pain on those who will not agree with their justification.  Racial Unrest is the result of blaming history for their pain and the reality that some still hold on to racist views.  Political Unrest is the result of blaming those who don’t see things their way.  And the Social Unrest is the result of blaming others rather than accepting responsibility for our own choices.
  2. Then It Takes An Honest Vulnerability To Express That Pain Of Being Broken And Living In A Broken World.  I’m talking about raw emotions—like the raw emotions we see in the lives of Job, Solomon, Jeremiah and Habakkuk.  I’m not talking about finding out who or what is to blame. Blaming isn’t the same thing as Lamenting

I’m not talking about moaning and groaning, whining and complaining—God knows we are good at that.  Many have taken this to an art form or made it a science.  Whining and complaining, moaning and groaning are cheap substitutes that help us avoid confronting the real issues—issues that are eroding our culture, our own hearts, and are hurting others.  It takes little effort and even less thoughtful reflection to moan and groan or whine and complain.  It just gushes out of us without any effort.

And here is the one thing you need to remember from today’s message:  The Only Way To Find Our Way Forward And Navigate This Broken Culture Will Only Begin When We Recover The Ability To Lament.  Lamenting requires a different focus for us. 

This week I came to a most unusual, perhaps unorthodox view about LamentingLamenting is another learned Spiritual Discipline.  Spiritual Disciplines never happen automatically.  They require both intentions and diligence.  I can’t remember ever studying about Lamenting as a Spiritual Discipline or reading a book that taught Lamenting as a Spiritual Discipline.

I’m not saying I haven’t—maybe I have and it these times that are bringing it up in my spirit and heart.  Quoting Scriptures and motivational phrases will not change our culture.  The Key is to become broken, and then Lamenting—about ourselves and our world.  Do you need an example?  Good, because there is the best example ever.

It’s Jesus!  In Luke 19:41-44 we see:  But as He came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep.  “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace.  But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you.  Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.

It was too late for Jerusalem, but it’s not too late for us and the world.  And because WE can’t follow Jesus and stay where we are, we need the Next Step. 

In Our Hearts And Minds, Replace The Idea Of Blame With The Truth  That We And Our World Are Broken And Hurting.

Are you really broken over our world?  Or are you frustrated?  Are you angry?  And are you wanting to escape by desiring the return of Jesus more than the return of people back to Jesus?

For the next few weeks, I want us to look at how we can reclaim the Art And Discipline Of Lamenting.  Admit it, nothing we are doing now is making a difference.  Maybe, just maybe, a good old fashioned Lament will make a difference.

BUT NOT COMPLETELY!

Well, in the immortal words of Jack Nicholson. . .

It’s been a while since I’ve put my thoughts, emotions, and questions in blog form. This respite has been intentional; I’ve been in a season of observation and reflection. At this stage of my spiritual journey I have come to understand how priceless observation and reflection are navigating this world as a citizen and warrior of the Kingdom of God.

Some of the observations and reflections resulted in my previous and current sermon series. Some of my observations and reflections have been planted in my “thinking about it” garden to see what grows out of it. And honestly, this was not going to be my “return to blogging” article. But then. . .real life happened.

It started on the afternoon of Sunday, July 12. After preaching 2 services I engaged in my Sabbath Discipline, A.K.A. a nap. When I woke up, I just didn’t feel good. Tried doing a couple of things and nausea set in. Nausea turned into more pain and then vomiting. All Sunday night the pain only intensified. But late Monday the pain eased up and I thought the worst was over. So much for my thinking. Finally, I told Debbie I needed to go to the emergency room. The rules at our small rural hospital meant she could drop me off, but not stay with me. But my high threshold for pain had been exceeded.

I signed in and then had to wait even though, on a scale of 1 to 10, my current pain was at 12.5. When they finally called me back the first order of business was a COVID-19 test, and then the reason why I was there. An injection of  Dilaudid became a gift from God to me. Then things started happening pretty fast. A CT-Scan with contrast revealed a ruptured appendix. The nurse came in with the bad news and said “The helicopter will be here in just a few minutes.” It seems the hospitals closest to me that had the facilities to care for me didn’t have any beds.

When I arrived at University of Alabama Birmingham Medical Center, another COVID-19 test, conversation with some doctors, I was sent to the appropriate unit. Once there I was hooked up to IV antibiotics–and constant care. Wednesday was another day of pain and pain killers. Thursday morning was another whirlwind. I was taken for another scan; returned to my room, only to be turned around and taken back for 2 drainage tubes (one of those tubes was inserted into an orifice that shall remain unnamed).

In this same time my IV stick had to be moved 6 or 7 times because my vein had blown. My daily routine was pain, pain-killers, more IVs, and walking the halls for my physical therapy. Sunday morning I was feeling a little better, so I took a shower and even shaved. I was feeling a bit hopeful, that is, until the usual returned on Sunday night. Physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually I had been on the Roller Coaster From Hell.

Finally, on Monday, the numbers started moving in my favor. The pain was subsiding and I was feeling hopeful again. Tuesday morning one of my doctors came in and removed the most invasive drainage tube (remember the orifice I mentioned earlier?) and I wanted to sing the doxology. A little later he cleared me to go home with the other drainage tube. After a “how to flush the drainage tube” lesson and extensive discharge orders, 1 week later I arrived back to where this all started. Now I am home reflecting on these part 2 weeks. Allow me to share one of the lessons I have been learning.

We have no control over most of what happens to us in life

The need to be in control is only adding to the anger and chaos that is consuming and destroying our nation. I looked all through my calendar and to-do list and no where have I found “ruptured appendix” in my plans. The need to be in control over life, relationships, other people, families, even church–goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden when Satan offered that lie to Adam and Eve. Now I want to really upset some people:

We are not equipped to be in control!

Now that the bad news is out of the way–there is one thing over which we have absolute control. No thing or no one can control it for you. It is your reaction to what happens that you and you alone control. No whining and no excuses. Your reactions come from your perspective and no one can give you or choose for you that perspective. While lying in that hospital bed did I have a pity party? Of course I did! In fact, I had more than one. But I had a choice–do I choose to live in that pity party or do I choose to change my focus? I chose the later–and when I focused on God’s faithful presence, which at times I doubted; the pity party ended because I know that regardless of how I feel–God hasn’t abandoned me–and He is loving on me. Tomorrow I will share another lesson.

Does God Ever Do The “Eye Roll” At Us?

The other day I was listening to Andy Andrew’s podcast. I love the guy because he thinks differently–and I love it when people think differently. I guess it’s because I think differently than most folks. Just ask some of my parishioners and former parishioners. I can’t remember the exact comment, but Andy said something to the effect: “Don’t make God roll his eyes at you.”

This got me to thinking: Does God ever roll His eyes at us? You do know what “the eye roll” means, don’t you? It means: “Who ties your shoelaces for you?” “Who brushes your teeth for you?” “I’d give you a penny for more of your thoughts, but you wouldn’t have enough money on you to give me back my change.” So, this morning, IF God does roll His eyes at us, here is a small partial list of things that would make God roll His eyes:

  • “This church isn’t meeting my needs”
  • Blaming the homeless for being homeless
  • Enjoying Thanksgiving meal while planning Black Friday Shopping
  • Expecting the church staff to be responsible for ALL the mission and ministry of the church.
  • Judging someone because of what they wear
  • Being rude to a cashier, or anyone for that matter
  • “My sin isn’t as bad as their sin”
  • Going into church looking mad and leaving church looking relieved that it’s over
  • Saying to someone at the funeral home, “God needed them more than you.”
  • “The Bible needs to be updated to match our culture.”
  • Giving the International Sign Of Displeasure because that driver wasn’t driving fast enough in the left lane to suit you.
  • Putting labels on others because of their past
  • Saying to the preacher, “I know a lot of people who needed to hear that sermon!”
  • “That’s NOT my responsibility or job!”
  • “Well, it must have been the will of God.” (spoken after some tragedy or disaster)

Oh, I could go on and on. So in the comments section, tell me what else might would make God roll His eyes at someone.

Top 10 Symptoms Of The Tenured Pew Sitter

I owe this blog to a challenge from Dawn at Inspiration with an Attitude.  It’s one of many blogs that I follow and if you’re not following her, you might want to.  I say this because if I offend someone with this blog, blame Dawn.  She responded to an earlier blog, Seeds Live Truthfully with the challenge to do a follow-up with the symptoms of The Tenured Pew Sitter.  Even at 61, the competitor in me still likes a good challenge.

I don’t know exactly how I formed this phrase, I think it was inspired from reading another blogger, See, there’s this thing called biology (you might want to check insanitybytes out, too. Some more good stuff!).  She coined a word “Churchians” and from that, I would like to think I was inspired by the Holy Spirit.  So, I started using the phrase “Tenured Pew Sitters”.  So to answer the challenge from Dawn, here goes from Number 10 to Number 1:

10.  A Love For The Bible That Does Not Include The Application

For the Tenured Pew Sitters the goal is information.  The more information one has, the better person they become.  The problem is that the Bible is not given to us for information, rather transformation.

9.  Trapped In The Past

They see the height of the church being in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.  If church leaders would just do what they did back then, the result would be church growth.  If we were living in the same “Christian” culture as back then it would work.  But we aren’t and it won’t.  There is a reason why this era is called the “Post Christian” culture.  The values of Jesus are no longer the primary values of society.  They insist that we must go back and do what we used to do, and be.  If you always do what you’ve always done, then you will always be what you’ve always been.

8.  Religion Replaces Relationship

Tenured Pew Sitters focus on the external rather than the internal.  It is all about “the show”.  The rich traditions and liturgy that once inspired a previous generation to know and love God more deeply, are now sacred cows to be protected at all costs; even at the cost of a local church dying.  It is the desire for form over substance.  John Wesley wrote near the end of his life that he never doubted that there would ever cease to be a people known as Methodists.  But his greatest fear was that they have the form of godliness but without the power of the Holy Spirit.

7.  They Are The Ultimate Image Of A Christian.

Therefore, everyone else must conform to their image.  If anyone is to be a part of “their” church, then they must agree with them.  They see themselves on the “path” and everyone else is either a trouble-maker or a “well bless their little hearts”.  You have to be a Southerner to know what “well bless their little hearts” means.

6.  Power Over Purpose

It’s not the “power” you are thinking about.  It’s not about the power of the local church, but about holding power OVER the local church.  They do this in a variety of ways:  being on the right committees; being vocally abusive even in a nice kind of way.  More important for them is the power of the Offering Plate.  They see it as the ballot box–of approving or disapproving of the mission of the church.  They care more about the weight of their power than the true purpose for the Body of Christ.

5.  Heightened Sense Of Self Importance

The Tenured Pew Sitter sees themselves as the source of all wisdom.  Some will actually say that the church cannot survive without them and their support.  This is another way of saying they have a serious ego problem, not that different from the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day.

4.  It’s All About What Happens In Here

There is no sense of mission, except to send money somewhere far, far away.  Supporting foreign mission projects becomes a way to ease the conscience of the Tenured Pew Sitter.  The bulk of the budget must be spent on what happens INSIDE the church building.

3.  A Deep Seated Desire To Judge

The Tenured Pew Sitter thinks of themselves as a “fruit” inspector.  What they really are is a bulldozer; quick to run anyone down they see as a threat to their power and/or their comfort.  They think that the Lord helps those who can help themselves; and only the worthy deserve any help.

2.  An Obvious Absence Of Deep Joy

The Tenured Pew Sitter has “that” expression, on their face and in their words.  “That” expression is what I call “The Painfully Pious” look.  Imagine this:  Chewing on a lemon rind on one side of your mouth and a green persimmon on the other.  Try it if you would like and look at yourself in the mirror.  I wouldn’t recommend it; just trust me on this one.

1.  The Local Church Exists For Them.

 They see the local church as a producer of goods and services for them, the consumer.  For the Tenured Pew Sitter, for “church” to be “church” then it must offer things that appeal to them first and foremost.

Well Dawn, I hope this gives you my insights.  Anyone else out there have other insights into The Tenured Pew Sitter?  Feel free to add them below in the comments section.

Blah, Blah, Whiners Have You Anything Else?

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I am…started to say “surprised” but really I’m not because I saw it coming from a mile away.  I am…started to say “amazed” but that’s not the word because there’s nothing profound or significant in it.  I am…started to say “speechless” but there’s so much I could say.  I am…started to say “fed-up” because I certainly am, but as a follower of Jesus I need to be more than just “fed-up”.  I am…started to say “disgusted” and that certainly is an emotion that is present and prevalent in me right now.  So, what’s the word I’m looking for?

Well, this wordsmith who usually finds something deep and profound is left with just this simple phrase:  “I am sick and tired of it!”  I realize these words lack spiritual depth and certainly are not words of grace and mercy, but they do describe where I am.  I was feeling bad about it until I remembered Jesus, the week of His death, walking into the Court of the Gentiles and seeing that “spiritual flea market” of currency exchanges and sellers of animals for sacrifice.  OK, so maybe it’s not so bad that I’m feeling sick and tired of it.  I do think that Jesus was sick and tired of seeing those who were supposed to represent HIM on earth tied up to and wrapped up in so much that had absolutely nothing do to with the Heavenly Father.  Hang on a minute while I take these cords and fashion me a whip.

Much has been said about the recent acts by NFL players hitting the knee or staying in the locker room while the National Anthem is played.  And herein is my rub, those first 4 words–“Much has been said”!  What “has been said” are words, lots of words, about anger and disgust.  The only threat of action is to “stop watching them on TV”.  Well, gee golly, that ought to change our culture and nation!  But I didn’t see any change after Monday Night Football in our culture.  Maybe after Sunday when sooooooo many are not watching NFL football our culture will change.  Guess I’ll have to wait until Monday to see our culture change.  Yet…..somehow I don’t think that act will bring about any real change, culture shift, or a “everyone lives happily ever after” narrative.

Look, people!  That is their right and freedom.  Even my son, Sargent First Class Matthew Burbank (combat veteran of 5 tours in some of the worst flea-infested-arm-pits parts of the world) acknowledges he paid a price (though he calls it a small price, but I, Dad, know better than that) for them to disrespect THE Flag that draped the coffins of his friends and comrades in arms.  Before I continue my “sick and tired” thoughts, you need to think about this in a practical way.  If we ban this form of protest it will not be long until another form of protest and another and another, until finally we will have lost one of the linchpin principles of this nation:  Freedom of Speech.  Remove that linchpin and soon thereafter all the other linchpins will be pulled and we will be living under tyranny, again!

Wait, I just heard something thinking, “OK, Mr. Kingdom Pastor, what would you suggest?  Just go ahead and watch those games?”  If that’s how you want to express your freedom to protest by not watching those games, then by all means, go ahead.  But if you are wanting to hit those players in the pocketbook, then simply do NOT buy anything that has the Officially Licensed NFL logo.  That’s where the money is made.  By the way, that includes more than jerseys, t-shirts and caps.  There are other products that are labeled “The Official _____________________(fill in the blank with a product or service) of the NFL.”  But do you think that is really going to change our culture and our nation?  You do?  Look, contact me and I will arrange to sell you some great Gulf Coast property in New Mexico, or Montana if you prefer Montana.

What do I suggest?  I am so glad you asked me that.  Here’s my suggestion:  HIT YOUR KNEES!  Pray FOR, and not AGAINST those you see as the problem in our culture and 1nation.  And then pray some more–for YOURSELF!  Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, quit complaining and start doing something that will make a positive difference in another person.  Mahatma Gandhi may not have been a committed follower of Jesus Christ, but he certainly gave clarity to the teaching of Jesus and our responsibilities to God’s creation when he challenged people saying, “You must be the change you want to see in others.”  Do you remember that time when the disciples saw a problem, people were hungry and needed to be sent on their way?  What was Jesus’ initial response?  “YOU give them something to eat!”  So you who passionately profess to follow Jesus but consistently “pass the buck” and expect others to do something, “What say ye now, to Jesus?”

Hit YOUR knees in prayer.  Ask the God of infinite mercy and grace to forgive you of your whining when you should have been doing something to reveal the presence of Jesus in your own life.  Genuinely regret that you are a part of the “when all is said and done, more is said than done” crowd.  Ask the Holy Spirit to fill your heart and mind with the Presence, Power and Provisions of God Himself, the power that caused The Resurrection to happen for Jesus!  Hit YOUR knees and ask God to open your eyes, mind and heart to all those people you will see today who need to see Hope, who need to be made whole in Jesus Christ!

Then look for practical ways to do it.  Take them out to lunch, to Starbucks, to somewhere and listen to their story.  Offer to take someone who can’t drive shopping with you.  Find ways to live UN-selfishly.  Caleb Kaltenbach, in his book, Messy Grace, reminds us that as Christians we need to be known what we are FOR, and NOT for what we are AGAINST!  And what we should be for is people coming into the loving Relationship that God wants everyone to have with Him.

Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters, and WATNFL (Whiners Against The NFL) card-holding-members, begin doing things FOR others that only Jesus would do.  Watching re-runs on Sunday afternoons, Monday nights and Thursday nights will NOT change our culture and nation.  But taking personal responsibility to show and share the love of Jesus, especially without words ever being said, WILL change our culture one life at a time.  And the first life that needs to change may well be your own.  I know this is true in my case.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And makes sure all the glory goes to Him!

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