Don’t you just love it when God drags His rake across the soil of your heart and unearths all kinds of junk below the surface?
Well it happened to me again this week. Just like it happened this time last year.
(Photo: Michael W. Smith at the National Religious Broadcasters 2014)
I just returned from the National Religious Broadcasters annual convention in Nashville. This conference is a yearly microcosm of the most gifted communicators, broadcasters, and creatives in the kingdom of God.
Some of the rest of us showed up too.
I’m going to be honest and a bit vulnerable in this post and share how I blew it last year and how this year started off headed the same direction.
Last year I was caught flatfooted. But this year I approached it differently.
Years ago I walked into a pet store with one of my daughters to buy dog food. The guy at the cash register saw us walk in, and immediately his face lit up: “Are you Wayne Stiles?”
Completely surprised, I answered: “Yes.”
I confess my mind immediately chased the reasons he might know who I was:
- Maybe he heard me speak before.
- Maybe he’s read something I’ve written.
- Maybe he attends our church.
- Maybe . . .
All this shot through my mind in an instant. Yet after I answered, “Yes,” he revealed how he new my name.
“You need to call home; your wife just called.”
It turns out, he recognized me because Cathy told him I’d have a five-year-old daughter with me! It had nothing to do with anything I said, wrote, or did.
You know what bothered me most about this event?
I innocently come to buy dog food . . . and God takes the opportunity to expose my pride.
The winter blast that blanketed America still managed to leave us Texans without much snow. Conditions rarely allow for it. A snowflake forms by a sudden freezing of water vapor in the air that turns from gas to solid so quickly it doesn’t have time to turn to liquid first.
The result is awesome!
A tiny six-rayed crystal displays the order, beauty, and uniqueness of God’s creative power. Even in a light snowfall (which is all that occurs in Texas), millions upon millions of delicate and unique snowflakes float down.
The snowflake illustrates how God created different things in the same way but still allows them to be completely unique.
That’s a lot like you, by the way.
The Bible is full of wonderful promises and words of encouragement. Who of us hasn’t been refreshed by its verses and inspired by its truths?
At the same time, the Word of God also has parts that seem, well—bad.
After reading these unnerving passages, we come away with questions:
- How do we deal with the genocide God commands in Joshua?
- Why doesn’t Bible specifically condemn polygamy?
- What does Paul mean by speaking of the submission of wives?
The list goes on.
As people of integrity, how do we deal with those uncomfortable “bad” parts of the Bible that seem, well, wrong?
Sometimes the best lessons come from the worst examples. Maybe you had a parent who disciplined out of anger. Or a pastor who wielded his Bible like a billy club. Or a boss who abused his or her authority.
It’s easy to dismiss lousy leaders as incompetent, arrogant, or uncaring—and unworthy of our attention. But it’s hard to examine their flaws and failures so as to apply their bad example to our own lives.
The Bible often makes good use of a bad example. Scripture records the failings of many—not like some grocery tabloid would—but to show us why we should make good choices (1 Cor. 10:6).
The Apostle John took up his pen and wrote for us 5 good lessons from a bad example.
Thankfully, these are 5 lessons we don’t have to learn the hard way.
As a teenager, I knew everything. You could even say I was omniscient. I marveled at the incompetence of adults on the simplest issues. They just didn’t get it.
And then I grew up, and something strange happened. I discovered that as an omniscient person, I still had a lot to learn.
So many times I stood so sure of myself only to discover how woefully ignorant I was.
- I knew a lot about the Bible until I went to seminary. It turns out, the more I learned, the less I knew.
- I knew everything about marriage until I got married. But matrimony is course in art, not science. I’ll be learning for the rest of my life.
- I was an expert on parenting until I had kids. Parenting offers a long course of study on your own selfishness.
I’ve learned a lot since I became omniscient. But you know where that omniscient teenager resurfaces the most in my life? The same place it shows itself in your life.
When we’re talking to God.
I have a friend named Brad who made the front page of the paper, because he almost drowned. His rescue was extraordinary.
He set out with a small raft and his bike, intending to make his way to a nearby lake. As he walked through the woods toward the lake, there was nowhere to walk except through sludge. He eventually abandoned his bike and boat.
And when it got dark, Brad got lost.
He slogged through the darkness only to find himself eventually floating in the middle of Lake Lewisville. Being as skinny as a rail with zero body fat (what’s that like?), he was soon on the brink of hypothermia.
Brad told me he had always been one never to ask for help. And yet, in this crisis, he screamed at the top of his lungs: “Oh my God! Please help me!”
You know how he was he rescued?
Finger pointing is hard-wired into our hearts.
In fact, it started early in human history. Like, really early.
(Painting by Domenichino. Public domain)
In the Garden of Eden, God confronted Adam and Eve after they sinned, and their reaction set the course for an entire race of blame-shifters.
We’re still shifting the blame (and getting blamed).
The solution is the same today as it was then.
You can live better than your parents did. Or you can live worse. It’s true.
Growing up in a godly home is no guarantee you’ll follow God. But it’s also true that a godless home doesn’t doom you to a failed life.
I know of one young man who had as his goal to be a better father than his father was to him. And he did it.
But then he realized that wasn’t enough.
Being better than your parents is doable, sure, but it’s the wrong goal.
Everybody sins. But when we Christians do it, reactions vary.
The world points to us as hypocrites—and often uses our sins as justification for their own. Other Christians tend to view our sins as reasons to suggest we aren’t even saved.
(Photo by Bigroger27509. Own work. CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
But the people who offer the most brutal judgment against our sins?
Very often, it’s ourselves.
That’s because Christians struggling with sin tend to believe four lies.