Guest Post: A {Real} Solution to a Complaining Heart

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

“What are you writing about, momma?” one of my daughters asked innocently as I began working on this piece.

“Complaining,” I replied.

With a concerned look on her face, she said, “Oh. Are you going to name any names?”

While I initially laughed at her response, it reminded me of the broad scope of this problem throughout God’s people, even in my own household and in my own heart.

Despite the trials going on in our country or the severity of the headlines, we, as Christian Americans, live a relatively easy life, especially compared to our brothers and sisters in Christ who live abroad.

I believe it is this life filled with an abundance of blessings that reveals the sin in our own hearts bubbling up as complaining and grumbling.

To some, complaining might seem as innocent as a group of friends sharing their concerns with each other. However, concerns, not channeled in the right way, lead to the fertile soil of discontentment, where complaining takes root and grows deeper and deeper with time.

Of course, we are supposed to share our burdens with each other, but this command of Scripture is intended to cause us to pray for each other and encourage each other through our concerns and burdens.

On the contrary, complaining actually does the opposite. When complaining is mentioned in Scripture it is usually paired with grumbling and discord.  Therein lies the difference:

Sharing our burdens leads to prayer and encouragement, complaining leads to further grumbling and increased discord within the body of Christ.

When God tells us to stop a behavior, He always leads us to fill it with a better action. For example, when Paul says, “Do everything without grumbling and complaining,” it is within the context of us being light to a dark and corrupt world. In Philippians 2:12-17, Paul charges us to do the work God has called us to do. As we do that work – obeying God’s commands in our life – we are showing God’s good pleasure in our lives.

Our obedience to God as we do His will leads us to glorify Him with our lives and actions, which leads to us being a light because the world around us is “crooked and perverse”. This is how we are light among the darkness around us.

However, if we complain and grumble, we cannot fulfill God’s will for our lives in this way. Our light is dulled by our grumbling mouths and we are no longer visible in the darkness around us.

A complaining spirit not only steals our passion to act out God’s will in our life, but it steals our light to the lost world.

I once thought the simple answer to complaining was becoming more thankful. However, in further studying the Philippians passage about grumbling, thankfulness is not mentioned. Don’t get me wrong; We can always be more thankful of the blessings God has bestowed upon us (Phil 4:6-7).

But the remedy to a chronic complainer is understanding God’s will in your life and, through obedience to Him, fulfilling that calling for God’s glory. Like Paul mentions in verse 17, we are all called to be poured out as a drink offering in whatever ministry God has placed us.

Here is a modern day example of Paul’s charge in Philippians 2: A young mom is overwhelmed by her trying daily tasks of taking care of her young children. She begins to complain to her husband or friends about the endless dishes or piles of laundry, the lack of sleep, or the continual messes. She tries to be thankful, but logic makes it difficult to rejoice over another pile of laundry. Paul gives this godly mama the charge to understand that it is “God who works through you to will and do for His good pleasure” and that if we can do the things God has called us to do without grumbling or complaining, then we will be “without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom [we will] shine as lights in the world”.  And finally, “[she can] rejoice in the day of Christ that (she has) not run in vain or labored in vain.”

The real solution to our complaining is a greater understanding of the calling God has on our lives and a deeper knowledge that He is using us to impact His kingdom right where we are. Once, we know that truth in our innermost being, the roots of complaining in our soul will be removed and replaced with the healthy growth of renewed purpose.

Be Vigilant Against Sin: Learning from Freeze’s Fall

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Hugh Freeze (via Wikimedia Commons)

Within a few minutes of each other, a friend got my attention and my dad called me. Both wanted to pass along a piece of breaking news that they thought I would want to know—Hugh Freeze had resigned from Ole Miss. In the phone call with my dad, I found out the initial reports of the reason for his resignation was not a losing record or an ongoing NCAA investigation. Instead the reason for his resignation is what Ross Bjork, the athletic director at Ole Miss, called “a pattern of personal conduct inconsistent with the standard of expectations for the leader of our football team.”[1]

In full disclosure, I’ve never been an Ole Miss football fan. I could have been called a hater at one point. But that changed to a certain degree in 2012 when the University of Mississippi hired Freeze as their head football coach. My history with Coach Freeze goes back to 1992. That year Coach Freeze joined the staff of my high school, Briarcrest Christian School. I was a freshman; he was my geometry teacher.

I never played football for Freeze, but I interacted with him in class and around campus. If you checked my Facebook feed for comments from my high school classmates, the reviews on him would be mixed. My experience was always positive. My experience with all my high school teachers was positive.

What disturbs me today is the line from the athletic director at Ole Miss—his behavior demonstrated a pattern. Bjork describes that pattern as “troubling.”

My attempt here is not to write a vindication of Coach Freeze. I haven’t seen him in person nor talked to him in probably 20 years. I have merely followed his career from a distance after I graduated from high school, yet as one who felt like he had some knowledge of the man. What I want to address is the idea of a pattern of behavior. As a friend of mine mentioned to me after the news broke, our lives demonstrate a pattern of behavior. The question is whether that pattern is destructive. We most likely all have a pattern of sin, we just don’t have the public image of Coach Freeze.

This current situation reminds me of the life of King David. A relative unknown, he won his way into the limelight by defeating Goliath (a.k.a., the Alabama Crimson Tide). Somewhere along the way, the destructive pattern of behavior started. We don’t know when for certain. I doubt his downfall started that fateful evening when his men were at war and he was spying Bathsheba from the roof (2 Samuel 11). David was then confronted with his sin by the prophet Nathan. His consequences were great. Far beyond the loss of a job, David lost his son who was the offspring of his illicit relationship (2 Samuel 12). David’s life was forever changed. His family life was a wreck. He never got to build the temple he longed to provide as a place of worship. There were multiple attempts to usurp his throne.

In light of all this, what can we learn from David’s life that applies to our own and that of Coach Freeze?

  1. Sin will ultimately come to the light. Nathan delivered a powerful message from the Lord to David. He said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun’” (2 Sam 12:11-12). As much as we try to hide our sin, it will eventually come to light. It may not be to the extent that David’s and Freeze’s have been exposed to the sun, but it will happen. And it will be devastating.
  2. Confession is the first step. After being confronted by Nathan, the king confessed his sin. We read, “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord’” (2 Sam 12:13a). This is just the beginning of David’s confession. Psalm 51 gives us a full picture of his confession. Many of the psalms have introductions that gives us the context of their composition. Psalm 51 tells us that it was written after Nathan confronted David with his sin. David asks to be washed, cleansed, and purified from his sin. May we do the same.
  3. Consequences are real. Nathan gave David a picture of his consequences when he said, “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die” (2 Sam 12:13b). There are two key consequences to David’s sin. First, his deed has given the enemies of God cause to blaspheme him. We often think private sin only has private consequences. However, sin always extends its tentacles beyond what we think. The pagan nations surrounding Israel must have looked at David’s behavior with a sense of vindication. The righteous king of Israel was no more righteous than they. Second, his sin led to the loss of his child. After the corporate consequence, this was the private consequence. This loss must have stung for the rest of his life. There are no words to describe this tragedy.

I wish the best for Coach Freeze. I wanted to see him succeed in the world of football. More importantly now, I want to see him succeed in life and godliness. I pray this situation reminds us all to be vigilant about identifying and eliminating destructive patterns of behavior in our own lives.

[1] Mark Schlabach, “Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze resigns; escort-service calls cited,” ESPN.com, 21 July 2017.

Taming the Tongue: Parents and Youth Sports

L SoccerHer soccer coach calls her “Big Foot.” She’s probably the smallest player on the team, but don’t tell her. Our youngest daughter has made it her goal in life to ignore her own size and play like the big kids (a.k.a. her older siblings). As a result, she has a “go big or go home” attitude on the field. On a few occasions that has resulted in scoring as many as six goals in a single game. It has also led to at least a couple confrontations on the field from opposing coaches for her unorthodox tactics (hey, the ref never blew a whistle). But most of all, it displays a zeal for the game and pure joy in doing what she loves.

With kids’ sports, especially when they are young, problems don’t generally come from the kids. Sure there might be a foul here or a trip there, but the little ones are in it for the fun. The problems are usually generated by parents, and I have been part of the problem.

In a move to curb some of the problems created by parents at soccer games, the South Carolina Youth Soccer Association is calling for a “Silent September” this fall. CNN reports:

Heckling referees is practically a tradition in any sport, but South Carolina youth soccer officials feel it’s gone too far. Come September, they’re instituting a new rule: “No cheering, no jeering.” Overeager parents will get two warnings. If they don’t pipe down the third time, they’ll be kicked out. The state’s Youth Soccer Association is calling this code of conduct “Silent September.” And it’s cracking down after problems with parents who are verbally, and even physically, aggressive toward referees—some of whom are still kids themselves.[1]

As we signed up a couple of our children for fall soccer over the weekend, I was hit with a twinge of conviction. How do I conduct myself at the games? I am admittedly a very competitive person whose days of playing sports at any level are basically over. I love watching my children play, but I have raised my voice in criticism of officials far too many times. I have thrown my hands up in the air as if the integrity of the game was at risk due to one inconsequential call. I have even tried to shout instructions to my kids from the stands when I am not the coach.

With this next season of sports coming quickly, I want to redouble my efforts to be a supportive, positive parent at the games. Thankfully the Bible has much to say about the use of our tongues—if only we will take it to heart. These admonitions clearly apply to the way we should conduct ourselves at children’s sporting events.

So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. (James 3: 5-10)

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)

A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)

I want to be a parent who encourages, edifies, and inspires with my words. I don’t want to be “that parent” at the game who yells at the officials and demands perfection from everyone at a child’s game. These children are not professionals, nor are the officials. May we as parents not ruin the sport by our words.

Before the start of every game, I hope to join King David in his prayer:

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips. (Psalm 141:3)

[1] Nancy Coleman, “‘No cheering, no jeering’: South Carolina tells overzealous parents at soccer games to zip it,” CNN.com, 7 July 2017.

A Text-Driven Philosophy of Parenting

book_cover_everyday_parentingMelanie and I were asked to contribute a chapter to a recently-released book entitled, Everyday Parenting. While we still have much to learn in the realm of parenting, we are hopeful that our chapter, “A Text-Driven Philosophy of Parenting” will be helpful. Below is an excerpt from our chapter. You can purchase the book from Seminary Hill Press.

The word “parenting” brings to mind many words that could be paired alongside it. Wonderful. Exciting. Exhausting. Loving. Frustrating. Joyous. Sweet. Stinky. Gracious. Sacrificial. Heartbreaking. Precious. Blessing. But the one word that has proven to be the overarching theme throughout our parenting adventure is “humbling.”

We do not necessarily mean individual incidents that prove to humble a prideful soul—although plenty of those exist. For example, when your young child throws a gallon of milk out of the cart, and it explodes all over the frozen food section with the force of an atomic bomb.  Or when your teenage daughter chooses the middle of a clothing store as the best place to loudly discuss the appropriate length of a woman’s skirt. These are humbling situations where you hope the floor will open up and swallow both you and your child and transport you quickly back to the privacy of your own home.

Those situations are real, but they are not the extent of parenting as a whole. The humbling experience we refer to is the constant act of dying to yourself and your personal comforts for the sake and well-being of your children. Thus, parenting is one of the most humbling experiences a person can have.

In every stage of rearing a child, the Lord must work on the heart, mind, and soul of both parents to continue to place them in the position where they can effectively guide their child. We have been on this journey for more than twelve years now, and while there is still much opportunity for successes and mistakes, we have noticed one common thread. The daily act of caring for someone else causes great friction in a heart that primarily wants to tend to its own needs. The friction causes a hard, self-sufficient heart to soften and become moldable, allowing God to work greatly in the life of that parent. With God’s tender leading, the parents die to their own selfish tendencies, see their child’s needs, and reach out to connect to their child in whatever way is necessary.

In light of dying to our own desires and recognizing the needs of our children, we periodically sit down to consider our goals for the four children whom God has entrusted to us. We have a number of goals along the lines of education, physical activity, and spiritual development. Those goals change over time as our children grow older, but the main focus of those goals remains to see our children grow into responsible, productive members of society who know the truth of the gospel and follow after Christ with all their hearts.

The one constant in our parenting strategy is that we would be guided by the principles and promises of Scripture. You could call this “text-driven parenting” in the sense that we want our parenting to be the product of our study of Scripture. We lay no claim to being experts in parenting since our journey as parents is still in-process. However, we want to offer some basic biblical principles that can serve as a philosophy of parenting. In so doing, we want to look at the effects of parenting on both children and parents. Seeing the effects on children may seem obvious, but the effects of parenting on the parents less so. Yet, our conviction is that parents are both humbled and changed in the process of parenting according to God’s Word.

*Everyday Parenting is available from Seminary Hill Press here.

Theological Matters: The Forgotten Value of Time with Our Children

LenowTXRangerThis post originally appeared at Theological Matters on May 2. You can read the full post here.

Last month, I took my 10-year-old daughter to a baseball game. It was just the two of us. Our other three children were home with my wife. For nearly four hours, we spent time together in the car and at the stadium. My phone mostly stayed in my pocket (except for taking and posting a few photos), and we talked.

Over the course of the game, we talked about the rules of baseball; I showed her how to tell if the umpire was calling a ball or strike; we even met the people sitting next to us and talked about their experiences watching baseball. My daughter got randomly selected to receive a game-used baseball during the game because she was wearing her Texas Rangers shirt and hat. Clearly, it was a wonderful evening at the ballpark.

The value of that time at the game was priceless. Had it not been for a letter that my 12-year-old daughter penned to my own mother, this opportunity would likely never have manifested itself. Back in November, as the kids were making out their own Christmas wish lists, my oldest daughter put a letter in the mail asking my parents to buy me season tickets to the Texas Rangers for Christmas.

Her motives were pure. She knew how much I loved watching the Rangers play baseball on television. We went to a few games last season and loved every minute. The final reason that tugged at our heartstrings was when she said that she missed being able to go with me to a game—just the two of us—and spend time together. Although my wife and I intercepted the letter before it ever made it to my parents’ house, the letter still had an impact. Last week, I started the summer-long goal of taking each of my four children to at least one baseball game by ourselves.

My second daughter was overjoyed about the opportunity to go first. She has a memory of getting a ball at the game that will never fade from her mind. I even stopped on the way home at 10 p.m. to get ice cream—something only a dad would do. But most of all, we simply spent time together.

We talked. We listened. We slowed down.

If your life is anything like ours, you are busy. . . .

*Read the rest of the post here.

Guest Post: When the Lord Is Your Banner

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

“And Moses built an altar and called its name, The Lord is My Banner.” (Ex 17:15)

The Israelites were coming against their first enemy since crossing the Red Sea. They had fought the battles within their own hearts, questioning God’s provision of food and drink, only to find God faithful to provide daily for their needs. Still they wavered in their faith and questioned, “Is the Lord among us or not?” The time had come where they faced an enemy of flesh and blood. The Amalekites came to fight Israel.

On the backside of the battle, we learn that the Israelites were victorious. So much so, that the Lord pledged to “utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” (Exodus 17:14b). When the battle had ended, Moses worshipped God and declared that “The Lord is my banner.”

Throughout history, a banner was vital to the battlefield. It is a rod or flag that the army would rally behind. If a soldier became separated because of the frantic pace of battle, they knew to gather back around the banner.

To stand behind a banner meant to forever identify with its cause.

There could only be one banner. For an army to have more than one would only bring confusion and disunity. When Moses could have celebrated the victory in so many ways, He chose to acknowledge God as his banner. What does it mean in our life for us to do the same?

First, when we declare God as our banner, we must lay down all other banners. We women love to rally around a worthy cause, promoting it to our friends and defending it to our foes. But, as a believer, no cause, no passion, no activity can take the place of God being the banner in our life. The Lord, His Word and His commands to us take precedent. Even other pursuits in our lives that look good or God-honoring can quickly become a banner in and of themselves. We run the risk of one day realizing that, somewhere along the journey, we forsook the Lord’s banner for a mere imitation.

Only the Lord’s banner is safe to follow, because only it is infallible. When we follow any of the banners the world has to offer, even the good ones, there will eventually come a time when error creeps in and we find ourselves fighting for an unrighteous cause.

Many people through history have suddenly found themselves drawn into unrighteousness only because they followed a worldly cause further than they should have. This is not to say we should ignore the causes around us that need our help. But, keeping God as our banner, we are able to help even more because of the solidarity of our focus.

Lastly, when the Lord is our banner, we are not offended by others. Any criticism we receive or mockery we endure is ultimately not targeted at us, but at the One we follow. He is more than able to withstand the darts that are thrown at us than we are. In contrast, when we have adopted other banners in our life, an attack on that cause is a personal attack on us. We internalize every criticism or unkind comment because we are the ones fighting. We cannot lay down our weapons, because there is no one to pick them up again.

However, when the Lord is our banner, He is the one who fights to defend His name.

We only speak His truth and love His people.

What cause do you rally around that competes with God’s primary position in your life? Do you find yourself taking offense often, because you are personally trying to defend your cause? Take this opportunity to learn from Moses and declare the Lord, and the Lord alone, is your banner, for He is the only infallible one, defending His own honor against the enemies that come.

What Baseball Teaches Us about Race

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Adam Jones, Center fielder for the Baltimore Orioles

I have always considered baseball to be a reflection of the world around us. There are so many life lessons to be learned from the sport—learning from failure, working together, exhibiting patience, and evaluating the situation. We also see that baseball is an international sport that brings numerous cultures and ethnicities together. We see players from North, South, and Central America, Asia, Europe and Australia sharing the field. This season the first African-born player made it to the Majors.[1] Much has been accomplished in Major League Baseball related to race since Jackie Robinson first broke the color barrier in 1947. Unfortunately, the events surrounding the game between the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox on May 1 demonstrate that baseball and society have a long way to go.

Baseball news has been full of reports that Adam Jones, the 5-time All-Star and 4-time Gold Glove winning center fielder for the Orioles, was the object of racial slurs from fans at Fenway Park. Jones told Bob Nightengale of USA Today, “A disrespectful fan threw a bag of peanuts at me. I was called the N-word a handful of times tonight. Thanks. Pretty awesome.”[2] In response, the Red Sox ejected the fan who threw a bag of peanuts at Jones. ESPN reports that the Red Sox ejected around 30 fans from that game.[3] Jones added that he had experienced racist taunts at Fenway Park before, but this was the worst of his 12-year career.

If the words and actions of the game were not enough, other players have stepped forward to say that they have also been subjected to racial slurs at Fenway. CC Sabathia, a pitcher for the New York Yankees, said that he has heard racial slurs directed at him from the stands in Boston. In addition, David Price who pitches for Boston said he has been the recipient of similar attacks at his home stadium. Finally, Dusty Baker, the manager of the Washington Nationals, said he wasn’t surprised by the treatment of Jones by the fans.[4]

Nightengale further reports that the problem extends beyond Boston. He writes:

The hideous and repulsive reality is that this isn’t limited to Boston. It happens virtually every day. In almost every ballpark. Just ask every African-American player who has played the game, and you’ll hear the chilling stories. They’ll talk about the slurs coming from the stands, the racist mail delivered to their mailboxes and the ugly behavior exhibited when alcohol gives fans liquid courage.[5]

The behavior was so bad on May 1 that Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred issued a statement on behalf of the league. He stated:

The racist words and actions directed at Adam Jones at Fenway Park last night are completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated at any of our ballparks. My office has been in contact with the Red Sox, and the club has made it clear that they will not tolerate this inexcusable behavior. Our 30 clubs will continue to work with fans and security to provide a family-friendly environment.  Any individual who behaves in such offensive fashion will be immediately removed from the ballpark and subject to further action. The behavior of these few ignorant individuals does not reflect the millions of great baseball fans who attend our games.[6]

If baseball represents a microcosm of our culture, what does this say about our society? Unfortunately, it says we have a long way to go when it comes to race. On one hand, I feel confident in what Manfred says at the end of his statement about the fact that these few fans do not represent the millions of great fans. On the other hand, I know that we all have to search our hearts and ask what our hidden prejudices and sins are.

From a biblical standpoint, there are two main ideas that speak directly to the question of racism. First, we read in Genesis 1:26–27 that God created all people in his image. Scripture states, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. . . .’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” There is no distinction made on the basis of ethnicity, gender, or any other characteristic in regards to the image of God. We are all image bearers and have inherent dignity and worth in the eyes of God. We cannot make a distinction in people based on their ethnic or geographic heritage. This is confirmed as we read the words of Paul in Acts 17:26–27, “And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.”

Second, we must recognize that we are all in need of a Savior to deliver us from our sin, no matter our ethnicity. Apart from faith in Christ, we are all dead in our trespasses. Through faith in Christ, we become united as heirs of the Kingdom. Yet, there is still no distinction in regard to race. In Galatians 3:26–29 Paul writes:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.

Across all racial and ethnic lines, we suffer the same fate apart from Christ. However, we also receive the same salvation through faith in Christ. The fact that God has provided the way of salvation through Christ to us all is wonderful news indeed.

What Adam Jones experienced the other night is shameful. May we who have become heirs according to the promise be the ones who call all people to unity by proclaiming the truth that God has made us in his image and that he has offered salvation to us all without concern for race, color, or nationality.

[1] Des Bieler, “MLB’s first African-born player set to take the field as Pirates promote Gift Ngoepe,” The Washington Post, 26 April 2017.

[2] Bob Nightengale, “Orioles’ Adam Jones berated by racist taunts at Fenway Park,” USA Today, 1 May 2017.

[3]Orioles’ Adam Jones says he was target of racist abuse at Fenway,” ESPN, 2 May 2017.

[4] Timothy Rapp, “CC Sabathia Details Racist Experiences in Boston After Adam Jones Incident,” Bleacher Report, 2 May 2017.

[5] Bob Nightengale, “Orioles’ Adam Jones has already made a difference by speaking out,” USA Today, 2 May 2017.

[6] John Meoli, “Rob Manfred, Tony Clark, Red Sox, others react to racial slurs directed at Orioles’ Adam Jones,” The Baltimore Sun, 2 May 2017.

Image Credit: Arturo Pardavila III via Wikimedia Commons