Blame

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Matthew 7:3-5

We live in a culture that is obsessed with blame. Everyone seems to want to blame everyone else for their troubles. Each political party blames the other. Each race blames the other. Women blame men for all their issues. Men blame women for all of theirs. The church is to blame for my lack of faith. My parents are to blame for my messed up life. There is a lie embedded in our culture that goes like this, “Either I am to blame or you are.” Under the lie is this: “To accept blame would crush me. So in an act of self-protection I will blame everyone else for my life being this way.”

When we blame others, as if they are the problem, then we must do something to control them. If other people are in control of my well-being, if they are to blame, then I must perpetually make attempts to control other people in order to manage my life.

Our main tools of control are usually manipulation or force. I will have to try to use manipulation and deception to control others either through flattery or by playing the victim. If that doesn’t work, I’ll need to use force either through violence or harsh words. These are the natural results of blaming others for the outcome of our life.

Can you see how unhealthy this is?

At the root of the lie is the falsehood that we have to blame someone. It is a false dichotomy that I either have to blame others or blame myself. The truth is that we neither have to blame others nor ourselves. We do have to own our own sin, failures, and poor decisions. But that doesn’t mean we have to carry the crushing weight of blame.

What if we embraced this novel idea: no one is to “blame.” We live in a broken world full of broken systems and broken people. Life is hard. Life is complicated. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Blame is the wrong word. Responsibility is the right word. We need to take responsibility for our actions, our own feelings, and our own lives. Jesus was clear with His disciples. We must look at the plank in our own eyes before we try to take the speck out of other eyes.

Paul said something similar about taking personal responsibility to the Galatians:

Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.

Galatians 6:4-5

We can’t control other people, and our attempts to do so damage relationships. We can only control ourselves. We are only responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. We should communicate how the actions of others affect us. We should figure out what is happening in our own hearts and learn how to articulate that. But we need to stop trying to control people into compliance. And we begin to stop trying to control people when we stop blaming everyone around us for our situation.

When we start taking responsibility for our own life and stop blaming others, our relationships begin to flourish. We stop making other people responsible for our happiness, and we begin to realize that Jesus alone is our true source of life.

Burdens to Blessings

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability.Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.”

Matthew 25:14-18

The other day I was reflecting on the fact that so few people in our circle have had to do what my wife and I have had to do in the last year. She and I work full-time and have had three kids in school (two in elementary school and one in middle school). Our kids have, until recently, been 100% virtual for their schooling. So that means, on top of both of us working full-time, we’ve had to juggle being each of their at-home teacher/tutor for a year.

Add to this the fact that I am a pastor and have had to help lead my church through a pandemic while we’re in the middle of buying a church building and changing our leadership structure. Oh, and we bought a new house and moved last May, right in the middle of the pandemic. Not to mention that in the midst of all of that my brother died suddenly and tragically in a car accident.

Needless to say, it has been a lot. And as I scan my community for people who can relate, there aren’t many. Most families in my church have one parent not working or put their kids in private school. Most haven’t had three in virtual school all year. Most haven’t had to juggle grief and moving and two full-time jobs and leading an organization through the pandemic.

I was lamenting this reality. So I sent a text to a friend about it, one of the few friends who has a life that comes close to resembling mine. I texted him that so few can understand all that we have on our plates. So few have had to manage what we’ve had to manage in this last year. His response was perfect.

He texted back, “How did we get to be so fortunate?”

He didn’t mean this sarcastically. He really meant it. How did we get so fortunate to have so many kids? How did we get so fortunate to have two jobs? How did we get so fortunate to be entrusted to lead organizations? How did we get so fortunate to be able to afford a new house? How did we get so fortunate to be responsible for so much?

His response immediately shifted my perspective. What I was viewing as “a lot of weight to carry” his comment shifted to “a lot of responsibility that we are blessed with.”

My response to him was, “I guess God thought we could steward it.” And I really believe that to be true. In the Parable of the Talents, the man with 5 bags of gold didn’t complain that it was too much to handle. He went at once to be a good steward of what he was given. And this is what we must do.

Self-pity is from the enemy. Self-pity is a person swimming next to a drowning victim who is thrashing around and then complaining to the lifeguards that they are getting water in their eyes. Self-pity is one of the most disempowering lies that one can believe about themselves. Self-pity is the lie that you are a helpless victim of your circumstances and are powerless to do anything about it. Self-pity turns “blessings to steward” into “burdens to carry.”

What blessings are you viewing as a burden? Where has self-pity seeped into the cracks of your heart and mind? Be sure to pull that weed before it pulls you under.

Responsibility and Authority

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

Matthew 10:1, 5-9

When Jesus sent out His disciples to do the kind of ministry He had been doing, He first gave them His delegated authority. Once they had authority, He gave them the responsibility to “freely give” what they themselves had received. Jesus practices a leadership strategy here that is vitally important: Those who have taken the responsibility for something must be given the authority to accomplish their mission.

For a healthy leadership environment to exist, one’s authority must be proportional to one’s responsibility. Too often in our culture we are surrounded by Monday morning quarterbacking. Social media has given people the false notion that their opinion should count as much as everyone else’s and that they should have input on everything. The problem is that this leads to too many cooks in the kitchen. People who have sacrificed nothing, who have taken no responsibility, think their voice should be heard as much as the person who has carried the heavy weight of responsibility. In the words, they want authority without responsibility.

I see this happen in churches all the time. My friend was the pastor of a conservative church where his leadership team gave him all the responsibility but none of the authority. They wanted to reserve the right to pick apart his vision, ideas, and new projects, but they didn’t want to lift a hand to help him execute them.

They wanted him to come up with the plan and do all the work to execute the plan, but they wanted to reserve the right to sit on the sidelines and critique it all. They wanted the decision-making authority without taking any responsibility. If you want to lose your pastor, this is one of the quickest routes you can take. And they did. He has moved on.

The principle is this: authority must match responsibility. If someone has taken responsibility for coming up with the idea, putting a plan in place, and executing that plan, then they should have the authority to make decisions for that project. One’s opinion is only as weighty as the responsibility one is willing to assume. Your authority should never outweigh your responsibility.

We as a culture have to stop believing that our opinion should matter just as much as everyone else’s. It doesn’t. Social media is lying to us about this. My medical opinion should not and does not matter as much as a trained doctor. I can spout off about all kinds of medical things but that doesn’t mean my opinion should carry any weight.

The same is true if we haven’t taken any responsibility for executing a project or plan. If we haven’t lifted a finger to make it happen, our opinion should matter very little. We should not be given authority to make decisions. But, if we are willing to sacrificially take responsibility for something, then our voice should have weight. We should be given authority to make decisions for that thing. Authority should match responsibility. When one is greater than the other, an imbalance is formed that creates a toxic leadership environment.

How about you? Do you find yourself wanting to add your two cents, critiquing, and wanting a voice in things you’ve taken no responsibility for? Or, when you give someone a responsibility, do you also give them decision-making authority to match it?

Prayer of Jabez – Revisited

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.

1 Chronicles 4:9-10

In the early 2000s, the “prayer of Jabez” caught on like wildfire throughout the American Christian community. The prayer comes from an obscure scripture passage buried in a section of 1 Chronicles that lists descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel.

For years you could find people asking God in prayer to bless them, enlarge their territory, and keep them from harm (Remember that?). And while there is nothing wrong with praying for these things, it often had a prosperity gospel ring to it that was unhealthy. People kind of forgot the first line of the passage that talked about Jabez being more honorable than his brothers. They also tended to skip over the pain of Jabez’s birth.

I honestly hadn’t thought about the prayer of Jabez for two decades, that is, until the Lord spoke to me about it in the car the other day. Seriously.

I was listening to the local Christian radio station (95.1 Shine-Fm) which was doing a fundraiser. The radio DJ thanked a grandmother who gave $30 a month to the radio station for each grandchild. ($30 a month is the financial contribution that makes you a financial partner with the radio station).

What was extraordinary about this woman was that she didn’t just give $30 a month so that her grandkids would have a Christian radio station to listened to. She gave $30 a month FOR EACH GRANDCHILD. When each kid was born, she added a new financial partnership. So, since her 5th grandchild was just born, she was increasing her giving again.

Do the math. $30 a month X 5 grandkids = $150 a month…every month…just so she could ensure a Christian radio station would be available for her grandkids when they got older. I was really amazed and delighted by this woman’s generosity when I heard the story. That’s when the Holy Spirit whispered* to me, “That is what ‘enlarge my territory‘ means.” Wow! I wasn’t expecting that!

First, I couldn’t believe God was reaching back two decades and bringing the prayer of Jabez to mind again. But the Holy Spirit was giving me a new perspective on it. Enlarging our territory doesn’t just mean greater blessing (having 5 grandkids) it means greater responsibility, greater sacrifice, greater giving ($30 a month for each one).

Then I heard* the Holy Spirit say, “This is what ‘stretch out your tents‘ means.” I knew that phrase was from a passage of scripture but I couldn’t remember it, so I had to look that one up.

“Enlarge the place of your tent,
    stretch your tent curtains wide,
    do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
    strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
    your descendants will dispossess nations
    and settle in their desolate cities.

Isaiah 54:2-3

The expansion of influence, blessing, and territory means the expansion of generosity, sacrifice and taking responsibility for what is now under your “tent.”

So when we pray, “Lord, expand my territory” or “Lord, stretch out my tents” do we understand what we are really praying? Are we sure we want to pray that? God is happy to answer our prayer, but will we be happy with Him answering our prayer? It will mean no longer listening to the radio station for free. And it will mean not just donating $30 a month but $150 a month. It means taking responsibility for things that become our new territory.

So often we have no idea what we’re praying for. Thank the Lord He doesn’t always give us what we ask for. Yet, with this new insight, I do believe God wants us to pray the prayer of Jabez and the words of Isaiah 54:2. We just need to be prepared for what His answer will mean for our lives.

[*when I reference hearing the Holy Spirit whisper or speak to me, I don’t mean an audible voice. It is often a thought or picture that passes through my mind that doesn’t come from me. It often comes out of the blue with an idea that is surprising or unsuspecting. Some Christians call it the “still, small voice” of the Lord similar to what Elijah experienced on Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:12).]