The Sovereignty of God & our Responsibility for Our Actions

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The doctrine of the sovereignty of God in the Bible has sometimes been called compatibilism. The Bible teaches that God is completely in control of what happens in history and yet he exercises that control in such a way that human beings are responsible for their freely chosen actions and the results of those actions. Human freedom and God’s direction of historical events are therefore completely compatible.

To put it most practically and vividly—if a man robs a bank, that moral evil is fully his responsibility, though it also is part of God’s plan. It is crude but effective to think of this in percentages. We think that either God has planned something or that a human being has freely chose to do it—but both cannot be true at once. Perhaps we grant that the event is due 50 percent to God’s activity and 50 percent to human agency. Or maybe it is 80-20, or 20-80. But the Bible depicts history as 100 percent under God’s purposeful direction, and yet filled with human beings who are 100 percent responsible for their behavior—at once.

This way of thinking is counterintuitive to both ancient and modern ways of thinking. The Greek notion of “fate” or the Islamic notion of “kismet” are quite different from the Christian doctrine of God’s sovereignty. The Greek myth of Oedipus tells of the main character who, the oracle predicts, is fated to kill his father and marry his mother. Though Oedipus and all around him do all they can to avoid this fate, all of their schemes to avoid this destiny only end up hastening it. The destined end is reached despite everyone’s choices.

The Christian concept of God’s sovereignty is quite different. God’s plan works through our choices, not around or despite them. Our choices have consequences, and we are never forced by God to do anything—we always do what we most want to do. God works out his will perfectly through our willing actions. The Bible everywhere presupposes this “compatibilism” between God’s plan and our actions, and at many places explicitly teaches it.

In Isaiah 10, God calls Assyria “the rod of my anger” (v. 5). He says he is using Assyria to punish Israel for its sins, and yet he nonetheless holds Assyria responsible for what it is doing. “I send him [Assyria] against a godless nation [Israel],” says God, “but this is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind, his purpose is to destroy” (v. 6–7). While God uses Assyria as his rod according to his wise and just plan, that nation’s inner motivation is not a passion for justice but merely a cruel and proud desire to dominate others. And so God will judge the instrument of his judgment. Assyria’s actions are part of God’s plan, and yet the Assyrians are held accountable for their free choices. It is a remarkable balance.

On the one hand, evil is taken seriously as a reality. And yet there is an assurance that in the end, it can never triumph.

-Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

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Unexpected Seasons of Growth

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As much as I hate to admit it, as a control freak, my life is largely out of my control.

Yes, I control my reaction to things, what I think about things and how I move forward. But, I can’t control what someone else does and I certainly have no say over what God allows to enter into my life.

My summer did not go as I planned.

For some people, this is a reason to celebrate because it would mean new adventures, unexpected opportunities. The optimists in the world would dance a little dance and be on the merry way to see what will happen.

That’s not me.

What I have learned over the summer as things at church haven’t gone how I expected them, is that unexpected season often lead to greater growth. 

The optimists might be right in that the unexpected really does lead to greater opportunities.

This summer I’ve learned that when something you weren’t planning to have happened, happens, it creates opportunities.

When our worship pastor, who helped me start Revolution (he came when our church was 4 months old), when he left in June it gave me an opportunity to do some things I hadn’t thought about doing when he was here. It helped me see areas of our church that weren’t healthy, ways I was leading that weren’t as helpful to our church as they could be.

It opened up new possibilities.

Could that have happened if he stayed?

Sure.

I’m not sure I would have gone looking for it, or it would’ve presented itself otherwise.

Experiences like this create in me a more opportunistic streak. I am starting to look for ways to grow now instead of waiting for discomfort to push me into it. I’m starting to ask more questions about how to improve personally or as a church instead of waiting for a crisis to push me.

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3 Things that Happen While You Wait on God

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At some point in your life, you will find yourself waiting on God.

It might be a prayer that is seemingly unanswered. A request for healing, physically or emotionally. It might be a request for guidance or direction for God, a look into an open door that never comes. It might be asking God to change someone or a situation, only to find that it stays the same for years.

The waiting is brutal at times.

Yet, most of our life is spent in the waiting.

Most of our life is spent asking God to deliver us, rescue us, change us.

The waiting can be wasted if we aren’t careful and we find ourselves back waiting again without learning the lessons or seeing the insights we were supposed to see.

Is there a point?

Yes.

Three things happen while we wait on God:

  1. We are reminded we are not God and that we are not in control. Instinctively we know this. Even the people who don’t believe in God know they aren’t God, yet we live with the illusion of control in so many areas of our lives. Thinking we can move people like chess pieces, simply toying with emotions, trying to change someone, manipulate a situation to our liking. When we do this, our heart hardens and we keep God at arms length. While we do this, God sees our pride and moves in the life of others. He will move in our life, but it will not be the way we would like. If you are like me, you don’t like to be reminded that you are not in control. Even if you know you aren’t, you will do everything in your power to keep the smallest shred of control to feel comfort. This again keeps God at arms length and our pride pushes him out.
  2. We are reminded of our need for God. In the waiting we are reminded of our great need for God. If you see your brokenness, you know that you need God. Yet, there are many times that we don’t like to be reminded of our need. This goes with the first one, but many times we like to act like we can save ourselves, save our kids or our spouse, that we can make things right in a relationship, make things right with God. This negates the cross and says, “Jesus I don’t need your sacrifice, I got this.”
  3. We are reminded of where hope is found. In the end, the waiting shows us where our hope is found. Often, the waiting is keeping us from where we want to be, where we believe God wants us to be, the place that will finally bring us everything we have hoped for. A child, a marriage, a job, a degree, a scholarship, a friend, a parent who says, ‘I love you’, the completion of an adoption, a larger church, a home business, getting out of debt. Notice, none of those things are wrong, yet we place so much value on them, that without them we think we aren’t worth anything, we aren’t good enough or important enough. The wait shows us that “thing” while precious, amazing and a longing of our heart is really not where our hope is found. It is good, yes. But not the best, not the greatest hope of Jesus.

How a Wife Flourishes

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The idea of roles in marriage is filled with land mines. Many people have misused and misinterpreted the beautiful verses in the Bible to make them say what they want to. Few people have actually seen healthy couples live out roles well and often have incorrect views of Biblical roles. We have visions of quiet wives who say nothing, men who dominate and abuse their families all based on Ephesians 5, completely missing the point of this passage.

In thinking about how a husband helps his wife flourish and become all that God has called her to be, here are 5 ways men often fail and how to work against these problems to create the picture described in Ephesians 5:

  1. Spiritually apathetic. This husband completely abdicates his role as the spiritual leader of his family. He often will not go to church with his wife and kids and if he does, he is very passive. Not getting involved, not praying with his wife or kids, not praying at dinner, not guiding his kids spiritually, not asking questions, not reading the Scripture to them. He lets that up to the church or his wife.
  2. Workaholic. This husband sees being a husband simply as providing for the needs of his family. While that is part of being a husband, there is more to it than making money so there is a roof over their head, clothes on their back and food on the table. This type of man is disconnected from the family in some very important ways.
  3. Dictator. This husband uses his role as a way to control and get his way, all the time. It doesn’t matter how he gets his way and it doesn’t matter what happens because he has gotten his way. He just wants his way. Often, he will use Bible verses to get it. This husband will treat his wife and kids as slaves and orders them around. Often, this will lead to physical abuse, which is nowhere near what Paul had in mind in Ephesians 5 when he called men to be the head of their house.
  4. Emotionally detached. This is the husband who is the head of the family in name only. He has nothing to do with his wife, kids. He does not lead them in any form. He simply sits by, dictating when he doesn’t like something, letting his wife take on his role and responsibility and basically do everything he is supposed to do. Emotionally, he does not know how to relate to his and kids. He does not know how to connect to his family, he is distant.
  5. Irresponsible. This is the husband who buys things without consulting his wife, makes decisions on his own and generally puts his family in financial, relational, physical and emotional danger because “He is the head of the house.” This husband sees leadership as a club to get to do what he wants.

If you are married and curious to know how your marriage is in this area, here is a simple question to ask: is the wife flourishing?

When a man fulfills the role God has called him to in marriage, his wife will flourish. She will have room to grow, there will be grace for her to deal with past hurts in her life, she will be able to use her gifts to bless her family and the world around her, she will have freedom to be who God has called her to be.

I often tell our church: Husbands should create an umbrella under which a woman is protected to become the woman God has called her to be. 

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Waiting on God: Justin & Heather Bailes

To go with our Waiting on God series we asked someone to make some video stories of people in our church who have waited on God, are waiting on God or are in the midst of a hard season of life.

Below is the story of Justin and Heather Bailes as they walk through her journey of pancreatic cancer that spread to her lungs.

Waiting on God: Justin & Heather Bailes Story from Tucson Revolution on Vimeo.

Monday Morning Mind Dump…

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  • Yesterday was a looong, but great day.
  • I preached the second part of our Waiting on God series in the book of Habakkuk and looked at what trusting God looks like when life doesn’t make sense.
  • I think people who come to church really dig the Old Testament because of how raw it is and how unexpected it is because few people are familiar with it.
  • I was overwhelmed yesterday with all the stories of hurt, questions, and pain in our church.
  • I found out last week from 2 different friends that each of their mom’s have stage 4 cancer.
  • Another friend has been told his dad doesn’t have much time left.
  • Just heartbreaking.
  • It was crazy yesterday too because we had our second highest attendance ever!
  • Second only to last Easter.
  • Blown away by that on the weekend before Labor Day.
  • If you missed it, you can listen to or watch it here.
  • Excited to talk about where God is as we look at the injustice in our world as we continue in Habakkuk this week.
  • Definitely a question a lot of people have.
  • Just love what God is doing right now as we get ready to add to our team.
  • Speaking of adding to our team, I’m so excited about having Jerad and Lisa Collier with us this weekend as we take the final step in our interview process and they look for a place to live in Tucson.
  • So, so excited about this.
  • After church yesterday, we had our first MC.
  • Love having a house full again for MC.
  • It’s awesome seeing so many new people.
  • I’m more and more convinced having every MC kick-off at the same time is great.
  • Brings so much energy and momentum.
  • We have almost 92% of our church in an MC this year.
  • Blown away by that.
  • Had our fantasy football draft party last night only to have Yahoo go down.
  • Total failure.
  • I’m starting to think ESPN might be a better route for fantasy football.
  • So we rescheduled it for tonight, so we are only delaying the inevitable of me destroying everyone.
  • So ready for football to actually start up again!
  • Time to get back to it…

Why You Aren’t Reaching Your Full Potential

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I’m part of the Reformed camp.

We are known for a few things: a deep love for theology, a desire to be right in that theology, and often, an unwillingness to bend and learn from people outside of our camp.

This isn’t true of everyone the Reformed camp, but it is what we are often known for.

I think the strongest leaders and the strongest churches are willing to learn from anyone. I didn’t say, they do everything they do or even agree with every part of their theology, but they learn from them.

I was asked by a new church planter in Acts 29 who my favorite preachers to listen to and he was surprised when I listed all guys who fall in the “seeker targeted” world of evangelicalism. Why? They know how to do things many in my world struggle with: making their messages relevant and calling people to action. They are also great at inspiring people.

Let me illustrate what can easily happen when we believe churches and leaders don’t learn from everyone: They look the same.

Recently, we were talking with someone that we were interviewing for a position at Revolution. When he learned that we organize our church around missional communities he said, “I can’t get on board with that, I don’t like that model.” At this point, he had no idea what our model looked like, only what he perceived it to be. He had an expectation, that we would be like every other MC model, which we aren’t.

Last year, I spoke at a church planting event that attracts thousands of planters to it. When I was talking to one of the organizers about it, he said, “I’m surprised you’re here because most people in your camp don’t come to our events.”

Why?

An unwillingness to learn from everyone.

This isn’t just the Reformed camp. This is everyone. Pastors not learning from business leaders and vice versa. Seeker churches not learning from the Reformed church or the high church. Worship leaders in attractional church not learning from missional/organic churches and vice versa.

Sadly, many pastors when they start their churches and settle into their camps seem to be above learning from outside their comfort zones. So, they read the same books they’ve always read, go to the same conferences with the same speakers who line up with them saying the things they are expected to say.

Here’s what it can look like. At Revolution, we’ve been heavily influenced by leaders like Tim Keller, Jeff Vanderstelt and Matt Chander. We’ve also been enormously blessed by Andy Stanley, Nelson Searcy and Bill Hybels.

How does this work? Two things need to happen:

  1. Humility. This is a willingness to learn from anyone, to read outside your camp and be pushed to think and be challenged. The moment you think you can’t learn from outside your camp, I’d say you’ve decided to stop being challenged and pushed and when that stops happening, you stop growing.
  2. Wisdom. This is knowing who to listen to and read. Not everyone is worth learning from. Sometimes your deeply held theological differences are worth listening to and not learning. Just because you differ on women’s roles in leadership, the purpose of preaching or worship, or how they do church doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. The people outside of my theological camp I learn specific things from. I don’t go to Nelson Searcy for Biblical knowledge (in fact, I’ve heard him mess up bible verses in seminars), but he is a systems guru. I could listen to Bill Hybels and Andy Stanley talk for days on leadership and never grow tired (in fact, those 2 guys have had a bigger impact on my life than any other leader), but I disagree with them on a number of doctrinal issues.

As long as leaders are able to hold humility and wisdom together, they are able to grow and do great things and see God use them to their full potential because, they are learning from everyone. 

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Building a platform means that people follow your updates, listen to your words, respect and trust you, and yes, consider buying whatever it is you’re selling. But they will only do that if they like you – and the way you get readers to like you is by legitimately helping them. Answer their questions. Give them stuff for free. Share sources of good, helpful information. Make them laugh and smile. Do what they cannot: gather information or share entertainment value. Access people and places they want to learn more about. Help them achieve their goals. Enrich their lives. After they have seen the value you provide, they will want to stay in contact with you so they can receive more information. They will begin to trust your content – and become a follower. And the more followers you have, the bigger you platform becomes.

How to Find the Right Leader (Before it’s Too Late)

book All leaders know that nagging feeling. It keeps them up at night, gives them indigestion. It creates anxiety, stress and even anger. What is it from? Having the wrong person in a leadership role. Sometimes it might be a mismatch of skill, it may be that the person isn’t capable of leading a ministry or team at the size that it is (many planters run into this when they have someone who can lead a team when the church has 50 people but that person isn’t the right leader when the church is 250), or it might be a character issue that has caused your stress. But how do you know? How do you know past a feeling that someone shouldn’t be in the leadership role they’re in?

Jim Collins in Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t said,

Two key questions can help. First, if it were a hiring decision (rather than a “should this person get off the bus?” decision), would you hire the person again? Second, if the person came to tell you that he or she is leaving to pursue an exciting new opportunity, would you feel terribly disappointed or secretly relieved?

But how do you know ahead of time? All of us have led people who shouldn’t be leading, weren’t bought in or weren’t capable of leading in the role they are in.

In his helpful book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of LessGreg McKeown said,

If the answer isn’t a definite yes then it should be a no.

While McKeown was applying that to opportunities, I think it is incredibly applicable to hiring someone, raising up a volunteer leader or putting someone into a new leadership role.

If you have a gut feeling they shouldn’t be there, wait. If a trusted leader tells you to wait, listen up.

If someone seems over anxious to lead something, wait. If someone seems to be hiding something or something doesn’t add up about them, wait.

There is no harm in waiting.

I know. I hear you church planter and pastor. You need someone. Who is doing it if you don’t put someone into place?

Possibly you. Possibly no one. You may need to wait on a ministry or miss a vision opportunity because you don’t have the people you need.

There have been times Revolution has missed opportunities or we’ve not grown or we haven’t done a ministry because we didn’t have a leader. This is hard and sometimes people leave because of it and you lose momentum or people.

Those are never easy, but they are all easier than having to remove the wrong person.

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Thoughts from a White Dad of a Black Son on Ferguson

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I’ve been watching the blogs and social media on Ferguson this past week. I have a lot of thoughts. The first is that it seems our country continues to get more and more divided. No matter what the situation, we jump to judgment on everyone.

This week though, I’ve watched the blogs and social media for a different reason though.

One of my sons is black.

I will raise two kinds of boys to become men. Three of them white and they will see the world, be treated by the world and interact with the world one way. Then, another son who will see it differently, interact with it differently and be treated by it differently. Three of them will walk around with little fear of violence or being arrested. They will walk around as young adults and not fear police officers. One of my sons will.

I wonder if my son will grow up and ever feel like the man in the picture.

That breaks my heart.

Before bringing him into our family, I could relate to Matt Chandler,

I don’t have to warn my son in the same ways that a black dad has to warn his son. I have never had to coach my son on how to keep his hands out of his pockets when going through a convenience store. Many of my black brothers are having these conversations with their boys now. Again, the list goes on.

But, now it’s different. The world I live in looks at my son differently than they look at me. The world I live will treat my son differently than it will treat me.

Also this week, I was challenged by Thabiti Anyabwile’s post about his family recently moving back to America and some of his fears for raising his black son here.

If I have a fear it would be one thing: bringing my son Titus to the United States. He’s so tender and innocent and the States can be very hard on Black boys.” That’s my one fear. This country destroying my boy. Ferguson is my fear. I could be the black dad approaching a white sheet stained with his son’s blood. I could be the husband holding his wife, rocking in anguish, terrorized by the ‘what happeneds’ and the ‘how could theys,’ unable to console his wife, his wife who works so hard to make her son a “momma’s boy” with too many hugs, bedtime stories, presents for nothing, and an overflowing delight in everything he does. How do you comfort a woman who feels like a part of her soul was ripped out her chest?

Sunday after church our daughter came home from a friend’s house and she had seen the protests and news reports happening and she asked about it. As a 9 year old, there are things she doesn’t understand and things she does. She knows she is a different color than our son.

What do I tell her? How do I help her process this and the world we live in? How do I help my church?

I’ve been challenged by other pastors who are speaking up on this. Sadly, most of them are black, which on the one hand I understand.

I can relate to the silence of white evangelicals. We are fearful of appearing racist or saying the wrong thing. We are (all of us) really good at jumping to conclusions on everything. Evangelicals are fearful of things that approach justice issues because the liberals give voice to injustice in our world, the social gospel, we are people of the word. We are grounded. White evangelicals are also usually Republicans (which I am), which means we are more supportive of the military and police forces. I lead a church where probably 50% of the adults are in or connected to the military or police force.

I get it.

There is a difference in viewpoints though, helpfully pointed out by Russell Moore: A Pew study showed that when asked the question “Do police treat blacks less fairly?” 37 percent of whites said yes while 70 percent of African-Americans said yes.

This is the world we are in. This is the world I will tell my black son we brought him to. I will one day explain to him why some men are called thugs, why some are not trusted simply for the color of their skin, why some people don’t trust police because of their history and personal experiences.

People often tell us how grateful he should be that we adopted him and how he can have a better life in America than in Ethiopia. Weeks like this one, I wonder.

I’m not being cynical about it and I realize that sounds like it. This is my blog so I get to process out loud.

A few months ago I took all our kids to eat at In n Out. As I got them all situated there were two older white women sitting next to us. They asked me if I ran a daddy day care and after we laughed I said that I didn’t, that all 5 kids were mine. The one woman looked right at Judah (our son from Ethiopia) and said, “All of them?”

Thankfully, he and my other kids didn’t hear it, but yes, all of them.

What I’m reminded of as I hold our son this week is the injustice and brokenness of our world and his life. I’m reminded of how I quickly jump to conclusions about everyone, the moment I see them.

I had a good friend in high school who was black. I grew up in Lancaster, PA, home of the Amish. It was your typical, white, suburban, conservative town. He told me how women would clutch their purses if he walked into an elevator. How men would follow him around in a store at the mall to make sure he didn’t take anything. As a 17 year old, I thought he was making it up.

But he wasn’t.

So, where does it come from?

Brokenness. Fear. Hate. Hurt.

Adoption only happens from brokenness, otherwise it wouldn’t be needed. Without tragedy somewhere in his life, he wouldn’t have needed us.

Racism comes from brokenness. Fear for a man, woman, police officer, or a bystander is from brokenness.

Typically my blogs end with an answer, a nice bow to start your day with. I don’t have one.

I’m sad for the whole situation. I’m sad for the family burying a child. I’m sad for the police officer who is being tried in the media. I’m sad for people who feel like they don’t get a fair hearing in our world.

Mostly, I’m fearful for my son.

I’m reminded again that our only hope is the gospel. Our only hope is that Jesus makes all things right and that the light of the gospel casts out all fear and all darkness.

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