I can see clearly now

Before this month I had only seen the clear blue waters of the ocean in person one time while deep sea fishing and, therefore, from above the water.  My family and I had the privilege of going on a cruise with my parents and my sisters’ families to celebrate Mom and Dad’s 50th anniversary.  While on the cruise we went snorkeling in Roatan, Honduras and Cozumel, Mexico.  It was amazing.

I am a good Louisiana boy.  We have water and we enjoy the water, but our water is not blue and it is not clear.  I have enjoyed water all my life.  I enjoy swimming, skiing, and fishing.  Yet, I had no idea the joy clarity brings.  I have seen clear waters in the north where the water is clear but too cold to enjoy.  This experience was eye-opening, to say the least. We often miss the beauties of life, not because it does not exist, but because the world around us is not clear.  Our view is so obscured, distorted, clouded, and shadowed that we miss the beauty that clarity itself brings.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  Proverbs 3:5-6

There are reasons that water gets muddy.  There are also reasons that life gets murky.  Here are few things to consider if you desire to see the beauties God has created and intended for us.

  1. People muddy the water.

Once, as our ship sat in deep dock last week, I watched the clear waters of the Caribbean get muddied.  We were causing it.  The water was as murky and muddy as the waters of south Louisiana close to the mouth of the Mississippi, but it was not because of nature.  It was muddy because of people.

We muddy the water when, we as Christian, want salvation to be salvation but we are not willing for sin to be sin.  The problem with this type of misguided grace is that the person who will not call sin sin has no moral authority to call the Savior Savior.

When it comes to sin, there are no excuses and no exceptions.  Wrong is wrong.  Right is right.

The issue is not a lack of truth nor a lack a clarity in Scripture.  The problem is rejecting truth.  The majority of people who confess to follow Christ but reject absolute truth rarely have the audacity to say they are rejecting Scripture.  They find convoluted ways to interpret around everything so they can either excuse their own sinful behavior or they can make an exception for the sinful behavior of someone they love.

Here is the problem and it is a big problem for those who confess Christ.  This problem is a Gospel problem.

When sin has excuses and exceptions salvation is extinct.  One cannot believe nor profess a salvation that is unnecessary.  One cannot be saved from a lack of peril.  Once you become the person who is excusing around and making exceptions for sin, you become a person who has lost the Biblical foundation to profess personally or proclaim publicly salvation.  The Bible is either “God-breathed” and “useful” or it is not.  Once you surrender moral ground by making excuses and exceptions for sin you give up the ethical ability to use Scripture to proclaim anything as true.  If you are unwilling to proclaim the holiness of God clearly found in Scripture, you have no ethical ability to use Scripture to proclaim his love either.

You have muddied the waters.  The beauty of God’s love and grace still exists.  The problem is that you nor anyone around you can see it…and you are to blame.

  1. Dirt Floats

We live in a world muddied by sin.  If you have ever been in the Gulf in south Louisiana you are well aware of the reality of mud.  The Mississippi River brings a great deal of power, industry, and beauty all of its own.  It is also bring a lot of dirt…and dirt floats.

Christians who want to pretend the world we are living in is not dirty have lost their way.  Jesus instructed us not to love the world, nor the things of the world.  Our world is lost, broken, and dirty.  It is so dirty that dirty is no longer considered dirty.  It is normal.

I have never been bothered by the dirt in the water, and I doubt I will in the future either.  I am quite accustomed to it.  It is the only type of water I have known in my life.  I will still go to the beach and play in water I cannot see through.  I will still jump into the lake, pond, creek, or river I am at and enjoy the waters.  Truth is, I have never even considered the water dirty.  It’s just water.

Now I know the truth.  I have seen clear water in a way I had never seen it before.  It will not cause me to have new fears of being in muddy water.  It will not rob me of my ability to enjoy the waters as they are.  It will, however, inform and enlighten what I see – and what I do not see.

We must quit using dirty water as a metric to determine whether the water is dirty or not.  The fact that someone feels happy living in sin does not make it right.  Just because a person feels something wrong feels right does not make it right.  The reality that there are people who are so accustomed to and conditioned to the sin of this world that they feel it is clean and good, does not make it so.

We, as followers of Christ, must learn how to live in a dirty world without fears, without excuses, and without exceptions.  There are dangers in dirty and clear waters.  We see them better and can prepare for them in the clear waters, but that does not mean we are supposed to stay there.  We are to be in this world but not of it.  Accepting the world for what it is and loving people as they are does not require giving up the clarity of truth.  It actually requires to bring the clarity of truth into the dirty waters with us.

Dirt floats, people.  We live in a sinful world.  Christians must accept and speak the standards of Scripture without exceptions or excuses.  Rejecting truth means rejecting the Way and the Truth.  You cannot accept the world’s standard for sin and the Bible’s standard for salvation.  It’s one or the other.

People need to see the beauty of God’s love and grace clearly, but they must see holiness and righteousness just as clearly, or they do not see God at all.  You are not making the world a more beautiful place by making excuses and exceptions for sin.  You are muddying the water.

So dive deep into the truths of God found in His Word.  Let them be what they are no matter how much they hurt or how close they hit to home.  You will find the path more clear even if it is not clean.

Choose Me

Most people have experienced the thrill of being chosen and the disappointment of being left out.  Whether it was a simple game of pick-up basketball that you were or were not a desired teammate for or if it were for an opportunity you truly desired, we experience the value of being chosen in our lives.

This decision to choose someone, to me, is the great beauty of adoption.  The adopted child is chosen, out of all the children in the world this child is selected by their parents.  As beautiful as this reality is in adoption, I believe every parent has the ability to show their children the beauty of being chosen.  I did not choose my children out of the children in the world to be mine, but I choose them every day to be mine.  I choose them in my choices, my decisions, my affections, and my priorities.

I shared a story from my childhood in my sermon yesterday that illustrates this for me.  My life is filled with story after story of my dad choosing me.  He still chooses me.  If for any reason I needed my dad by my side today, he would choose to be there.  It would not matter what he had to leave behind or hand off to someone else or rearrange.  He would choose me.

The story was about a game of catch.  My dad and I played hours of ball in our yard growing up.  We played basketball (I could not legit beat my dad till I was 16), football, and baseball.  Baseball was a game I was genuinely terrible at.  I could throw and catch fine but I could not hit a baseball to save my life.  That did not matter, there was still hour upon hour of catch with dad.  He would throw grounders, pop flies, and pitch to me.  But really, he would choose me.  He would choose to be with me.  He would choose to build me into a man.  He would choose to spend time with me…instruct me…and when the time came, to help me come to grips with my limitations and realities as a player.

One summer day I asked dad to play catch with me after lunch.  He needed to get back to work. Dad was a hard worker and put in many hours at T.L. James Construction Co.  He did not, however, neglect us to do that.  Dad was known to leave work and come home and eat dinner or go to a ball game or take the family to church, and then after the activity was over, he would head back to work to finish a project or program.  This summer day Dad told me he had to get back to work and could not play.  I understood and went out into the yard with just myself a ball and a glove and started throwing the ball up and catching it.

Dad saw me out in the yard playing catch alone as he drove away.  He stopped, backed the truck back down the hill, and played catch with me.  It was probably only 15 to 30 minutes, but, honestly it is the only game of catch I truly remember.  I remember where we were in the yard, what dad was wearing, but I do not remember the conversation.  We played hundreds of games of catch and ball and I remember doing it but I rarely remember the details.  I remember this day because I realized the decision dad made.

Dad chose me.  He chose me over work for that short period of time.  He probably worked late that day to make up for it and get his work done.  He did not have a pattern of bailing on work to play catch.  He taught me priorities, but that day he taught me that I was the priority.  He taught me that many times, but I remember this lesson.

It is a lesson I hope I have learned well.  I believe my children know I choose them.  I choose them because I love them.  They are mine and I am theirs.

I am so grateful for a great earthly father.  A dad that loves me, cares for me, and chooses me.  My dad taught me to love the Lord.  The Heavenly Father is a great picture and truth for me.  It is an imagery I have never struggled with.  The idea that a loving Father would choose a child, in spite of their behavior and struggles, is not foreign to me.  It has always been my life.

Remember, that we have been given a spirit, not of fear or timidity, but one of adoption as the children of God.  Remember, that perfect love drives out fear.

You might not have had a father like mine, but you have a Heavenly Father who chooses you.  He chooses you in the midst of your sin against him and demonstrates his love to you by giving his only son.  He chooses you.  Will you choose him?

Live chosen.

 

(P.S. Dad, thanks for all the life and faith lessons.  You are a great blessing.  It is truly an honor to be your son.   Thank you for choosing me.  Thank you for loving me.  But most importantly, thank you for choosing to follow and love the Lord Jesus Christ.  I love you, Pop.)

Should I Boycott Finding Dory?

Ellen DeGeneres made quite a stir this week when she mentioned that the new Pixar movie, Finding Dory, includes a transgender stingray – becoming “stingrhonda” in the movie. News sites around the world jumped on the story. Teen Vogue published a website article on this topic in which the article’s author expressed acceptance, and even joy, at the progressive inclusion: “Instead of treating being transgender as an ‘adult’ topic, the movie including ‘stingrhonda’ will show kids that transgender people — or in this case stingrays — are a normal part of life … and that’s pretty awesome.”

As a bit of a disclaimer, I have not seen the movie. I cannot affirm whether DeGeneres was perhaps joking or whether there is actually a transgender stingray (some say it’s a joke but I’ve seen no official word). I wouldn’t be surprised if DeGeneres was joking and I wouldn’t be surprised if “stingrhonda” is in the movie. Moreover, I wouldn’t be surprised if Christian parents, who claim the Bible’s authority and its teachings on gender, orientation and sexuality, still take their children to see the movie. Some families who homeschool their children or send them to private Christian school in order to better protect them from the influences of this society would likely still go see the movie. Why? Because it’s summer, we all loved Finding Nemo, and we just can’t imagine not seeing Finding Dory. So, should I boycott Finding Dory?

 Let me back up just a moment. I am from a Southern Baptist family and grew up in church in the 1980s and 1990s. Because of this, I clearly remember the Southern Baptist Convention’s call for a boycott of Disney. I remember the reasons – Disney was leading the social charge toward complete societal acceptance of homosexuality as a norm. I remember the laughter from observers. I remember the Southern Baptist families who thought that the boycott was completely ridiculous, went to Disney World as planned and continued to buy  every product and attend every Disney production that was available. Alas, the boycott was unsuccessful and the Southern Baptist Convention called for its end after eight years. Not surprisingly, the reasons for the boycott have not diminished at Disney – they have actually become standard throughout all of the entertainment industry and beyond.

Because some Christians felt Disney should have been boycotted and others, clearly, did not, a more revealing question should have arisen: What could Disney do or promote that would finally make you say, “I’m out. No more Disney”? Seriously, what could they have done to make you stay away?

To be clear, I’m not trying to jump on Disney. The Disney boycott is a very public example from the past. But it highlights the questions that should still be asked today. What needs to happen in entertainment for me to finally just say, “I’m out”? Do I really need to boycott, or would we collectively send a stronger message if we all used more daily discernment. Discernment is front and center in Paul’s admonition to the church at Colossae:

 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. – Colossians 3:1-7

 The real problem is not that we are unsuccessful in a public boycott of companies who cross the next line that had seemed so unlikely to be traversed. The problem is that millions of Christians are daily subjecting themselves to the filth of this earth – and asking for more. The “when you were living in them” of Colossians 3:7 is resolved as “today – I’m living in all of those things today.” The problem is that we willingly desensitize ourselves to every form of evil in the vacant search for happiness through entertainment without taking seriously Paul’s admonition.

I do not carelessly use the pronoun “we” in these sentences; I am guilty of stooping to be entertained. Streaming services have brought the vilest, late-night, subscription channel programming to our living rooms to be binge watched by Christians without filter. Extreme profanity, nudity, illicit sex acts, drug use, murder, rape, incest, polygamy, greed, homosexuality, gluttony, nymphomania and literally every form of biblically-identified evil are consumed based more on a judgment of how compelling the storyline is rather than how lowly, in a Colossians 3 sense, the programming is. We’ve got to do better. I’ve got to do better. It affects us more than we likely understand. It affects our joy and our gospel witness.

Rather than calling for a boycott of Finding Dory, I would like to call us to really consider our daily entertainment options – which may exclude Dory. “But every show is deprived because every show depicts life.” I get that. I’m asking that we avoid the things that we know are dark and lowly. Avoid the shows that if you edit out the “bad stuff” then you wouldn’t have much of a storyline left. So, based on that standard, maybe you still want to see Dory. At the end of the day, it’s not my job to decide what you should or should not watch. Are you comfortable with the fact that it is your job and it should be Spirit driven according to the principles of Scripture? What could your favorite show, movie or franchise do that would make you say, “Enough”? Let’s begin to restore a conviction-based approach to entertainment and see how that might affect our own joy, peace, and gospel witness to the world.

 

“Go Off Road!”

GPS Pic

Everyday there are voices that speak to us. I’m not talking about a creepy horror movie that you watch where literally there are voices coming out of random rooms in the darkness. I’m talking about your friends, your family, your peers, your closest friends, and even your co-workers. These voices can be distracting sometimes when it comes to discerning what God wants for us. God wants to be our ultimate voice everyday of our lives. When we’re willing to listen, our path will be clearer than it has been. While God has a plan and desires we follow him through it, everyone else around us has a plan for us too. Satan even has a plan for you. However it is vital that we discern the right voice, and know the one voice who “guides me along right paths bringing honor to his name” as Psalm 23:3 says.

How the first Siri almost killed me:

About 4 years ago, I was leaving a speaking engagement in Coushatta Louisiana. If you have never been to Coushatta, it is a small country town surrounded by a lot of trees…A lot of trees. Right after this speaking engagement I had an appointment to meet with some guys at buffalo wild sings in Shreveport Louisiana, about 45 minutes from my location. I however am a direction-ally challenged human being, I don’t know what I would do without Siri these days. But before Siri was Siri, there was GPS “Siri.” My friend Joe let me borrow his GPS, which gave me the utmost confidence that I would make it to my destination! This GPS was about to speak truth into my life on where this buffalo wild wings was located! Time for wings! As I was coming up on Shreveport, I was becoming more familiar with my surroundings. I was noticing buildings I once saw, and on my left were avenues to take me into the city and on the right was pretty much a forest. I was hesitant to turn the GPS off because I knew that if I kept it on I knew I couldn’t get lost if I ventured down the wrong road. It was for an emergency. However, the first Siri in her infinite wisdom says, “Take a U-turn.” I knew for a fact that I was headed in the right direction now, discerning the right way to go, so I told Siri to watch her mouth! Once again, “Take a U-turn.” I got agitated a second time! Like Job I said “Foolish woman!  I know where I am going!” Thirty seconds later, “Take a U-turn.” Having been annoyed for some time and recognizing that computers are actually smarter than me, I listened. “Siri, you’re probably right, let’s take your precious U-turn, maybe you know a short cut.” I U-turned. I took her route which lead me into the infestation of tree city. She took me through back roads, and all of a sudden I was beginning to place my confidence back in Siri. With 1.2 miles left till my destination, I was getting enthused about the good BBQ flavored tastiness of wild wings! With 0.2 miles left on the clock, I don’t see cities, bill boards or anything, and then Siri tells me these three words I will never forget: “Go off road.” What!! Those words literally came out of her mouth. On both sides of me were barbed wired fences, and this lunatic of a computer-system just told me to go off road. There was no wild wings, there was no source of life, and just barbed wire fences…the first Siri that I trusted over my own discernment took me down the wrong road. She tried to kill me.

Here’s my point: God has pre-wired you for an abundant life. He has a path already there for you and wants to be the One voice you glean from while he’s guiding you. In our most confident moments that we believe God is speaking to us, other voices still haven’t shut up. Those voices, including our enemy, Satan, keep telling us to take a U-turn, to down another direction. Eventually that voice will lead us down a road we think is going to provide for us, and then in the last moment, the enemy’s voice abandons us. Siri wanted me to go into barbed wire, and Satan wants myspiritual demise.

 John 10:27 says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.” We have a voice to listen to, and His name is Jesus. He knows you! Follow the voice of truth and of peace, rather than the voices of deception and destruction.