SIGNS OF THE TIMES SERMON SERIES
“DON’T BLAME ME” – AVOIDING THE HABIT OF PASSING THE BUCK
FEBRUARY 25, 1996
Over the Christmas holidays we went to Columbia, South Carolina to visit Lisa’s family. There is one thing that you need to know right up front about Lisa’s family. They love to play board games. The first night we were there, after dinner on a cold December evening, they pulled out one of the most popular board games in the history of the world, Pictionary. I don’t really like board games that much, but I was with the in-laws and the family so I had to smile. Most of you know how to play Pictionary but very briefly let me explain for those of you who are not acquainted with it. You draw clues and your team members try to guess what you drew and if they do, you win a point and you move the little person on the board to the next colored space. We quickly divided up into three teams. Lisa’s parents, Mendel and Elva, made up the first team. On the second team was Lisa’s sister, Laurie, and her husband, Smith. The third team was, you guessed it, Ed and Lisa Young. We began the game and the competition was fierce. “If you could draw better, we would be winning.” “Honey, that’s a dinosaur? Give me a break.” If you were to walk into that den and watch us playing you would say at first glance that we were involved in Pictionary. However, if you carefully monitored the conversations and you watched the finger pointing, you would come to the only conclusion you possible could arrive at, we were not playing Pictionary, we were playing the Blame Game. We were giving reasons, excuses and explanations as to why we were failing at this contest. We love to play the Blame Game.
Twister, Scrabble, Candyland, The Game of Life. They are obviously popular board games. But those games pale in comparison to the popularity of the Blame Game. We all play it. We are subtle about it. We do it behind the scenes without a lot of people realizing it, yet many of us are caught up and mesmerized by the Blame Game. We wake up in the morning, grab a cup of coffee, take a shower and we carefully look for the pieces of the Blame Game, put the board in the Blame Game box, put it under our arms and head out into the world.
If we are fifteen minutes late to work, no problem, we blame it on the traffic. If our kid has problems in school, we blame the teacher or the principal. If we have any relational problems, especially a marriage difficulty, we blame it on our spouse. Our society is caught up in blame. Blamelessness has become an art form. Have you ever read those “Not Responsible For” signs? You hang your coat up in a restaurant and the sign reads, “Management Not Responsible for Harmed or Stolen Garments.” For those of us who fly around now and then, have you ever read the fine print on your airline ticket? It says that the airline industry is not responsible for delayed flights or missed connections. If you do happen to lose your luggage, yes, they will pay an amount, and only the amount, agreed upon around 1962 in some obscure conference in Las Vegas. Try parking your car in an expensive lot in downtown Dallas. You will see the “Not Responsible For” sign. If you car is stolen or damaged, they will not be responsible.
Our culture has two major people groups, the Blaming Boomers and Generation X-cuse. The Boomers bash their parents. They say their parents are responsible for the messed up condition they are in. The Xers say it is the Boomers, those wild and wacky and materialistic Boomers. That’s why the Xers are in such a mess. The Blame Game. Blamelessness is as American as the Constitution. Doesn’t the Fifth Amendment say that no one can make us blame ourselves for anything? I think it does.
In your bulletin you have a board game, your very own Blame Game. I have one, too. Would you please take it out. You see all the benefits you get from attending our church? You get a free board game here. This blame game has a finger in the middle. Pretend that the finger can move to different areas. I want to talk to you about four categories of blame. The Blame Game has a fascinating history. It was first played in a lush, tropical paradise by a husband and wife team named Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve had it great. All they had to do was a bunch of yard work. God loved them. God honored them. God related to them and they related back to God. God told Adam and Eve not to touch the fruit on the tree in the middle of the garden. They said they would not even think about doing that. God was testing them. You know the story. They took the fruit. They sinned.
Let’s read Genesis 3:11-13. “…God asked, ‘Have you eaten the fruit from the tree I warned you about?’ ‘Yes,’ Adam admitted, “but it was the woman you gave me who brought me some…” The first area of blame Adam just told us is, we blame our family. When something bad happens, when the chips are down, when we fail financially, what do we do? We point to those closest to us, an ex-spouse, a parent, a child, an uncle, an aunt and we blame, we accuse. Just what Adam did. Adam and Eve got the blame ball rolling and it has picked up more and more speed. Then God talks to Eve. “Then the Lord God asked the woman, ‘How could you do such a thing?’ The serpent tricked me,’ she replied.” You see they had a basic problem. Their problem was simply this, they had sinned against their creator and their creator was not a talk show host. What if Adam and Eve had partaken of the forbidden fruit in the 90s? I bet someone like Ricky Lake would have featured them on her show as the victims, the serpent would have been the enabler and some attorney would be on the program waiting in the wings to sue God for damages. We love the Blame Game.
Most of you think that my wife and I have four children. We don’t. We have five. We have a child who lives in our home. I have never met this child. I am not sure if this child is a boy or a girl. The child has a strange name, Not Me. “Lee Beth your bed has not been made up.” “Not me, it was because….” “EJ, did you drop jello pudding again in the living room on the carpet? We have told you not to eat chocolate jello in the living room.” “Not me.” Where do we learn this? We are born with it, playing the Blame Game. In our homes we clear off the coffee table, set up the board game very precisely and begin to play the Blame Game. Or we go to work, clear off our desk, put out the Blame Game. Or we are driving in our car with the Blame Game on our dashboard. The Blame Game goes with us. We love it. You love it. I love it. It is easy. It takes the blame off of us and puts it on someone else. Here is the danger, though. When we play the Blame Game for a long time, it convinces us that we don’t need to be searching for a Savior but rather a scapegoat. If you don’t believe you sin and fail a holy God, then the cross is not that important, is it? You can just shift the blame to someone else.
Next as we turn the dial, we blame society. If our family doesn’t work, we will just go ahead and point to others. I want to talk to you about a man that I love to dissect, Saul. Saul had great potential. He stood about six feet, seven inches tall, had long, flowing black hair. He was articulate. He had charisma. He was a leader and God had tapped him on the shoulder to be king of Israel. God told Saul one thing. “Saul, you are My man. You lead the forces and you help fight the battles but let Me tell you this. Do not ever forget it. Always wait for the High Priest, Samuel, to sacrifice to Me before you hit the battlefield.” Saul promised that he would never mess around with the sacrificial system. One day, Saul was in trouble. He looked around and he saw Israel’s archenemy, the Philistines, surrounding him. The Philistines were from the west coast of Palestine. They had a corner on the iron market. They were mean, they were ugly. We know Goliath was a Philistine. They had dark tans, tatoos, probably a couple of gold teeth, fourteen earrings. They were a formidable enemy. Saul remembered that he had to wait seven days, the window of time that God had given him, to let Samuel arrive to offer the sacrifice. Day one, two and three goes by. His men begin to mummer that they will get annihilated. They begged him to at least do some sacrificing since Samuel was not there. Day four, five and six passed. The Philistines started getting closer. Let me stop right here and say something. When our resources are slipping away, when it is difficult and the going gets tough, that is when we love to take out our portable card table and put up the Blame Game, don’t we?
The seventh day rolls around and Saul couldn’t take it anymore. So Saul says, “You know I am God’s man, maybe God didn’t really mean for Samuel to do the sacrifices. I’ll just go ahead and sacrifice and then we can fight the Philistines.” Saul begins to sacrifice. He is feeling spiritual. But when the fire was still smoldering, guess who walks up? Yes, in that long flowing, High Priestly robe, he saw his worst nightmare, Samuel. And Saul quickly begins to play the Blame Game. Look what Samuel says in I Samuel 13:11-12. “‘What have you done?’ asked Samuel. Saul replied, ‘When I saw that the men were scattering…” He was playing a serious Blame Game. Saul played the Blame Game like many of us do, 24-7, twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. “…and that you did not come at the set time….” But Samuel came on time, he just came right at the last. “….and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash…I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.'” The Blame Game. He was pointing to those people around him, society.
Jump over to Matthew 27, we have another man playing the Blame Game. His name was Pilot. Saul played it and Pilot played it. An angry Jewish mob wanted to crucify Jesus and Pilot knew he was doing wrong but before everyone he washed his hands saying and symbolizing that the crucifixion was not on him but on them. He passed the buck to the angry Jewish mob. He said that it was not his deal anymore. The Blame Game. We blame society.
Why do we play this game? We love to play the Blame Game when others fail. When others who are close to us fail, we fail, so we blame others. “I would have had the report on time but Bill didn’t get me the data quick enough.” We also play the Blame Game to feel superior. You see, if I cut people down, if I rip them apart, if I use them as an alibi, as a scapegoat, then I feel and look great. That is precisely the root of gossip. We gossip, we spread dirt on people because it makes us look good and others look bad. We blame society.
We also blame God. The Bible says this in James 1:13-14. “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’….” We point to God when things are tough, like the children of Israel did. They were delivered after years and years of slavery. God miraculously keeps them and holds them in the hollow of His hand. It is just amazing they had been delivered, the Red Sea was parted and Moses led them so well. Suddenly, their water supply vanishes, just for three days. It was a time of testing. Finally, they found some water but because it didn’t taste like Perrier, they said it was God’s fault. They said they wished they could go back to slavery in Egypt. They blamed God. They turned a time of testing into a time of temptation. Taking is test if fun, it is challenging, it may be taxing. We should want, however, to pass the test. The problem is, when we cheat on the test, we have sinned. The children of Israel cheated. They turned a time of testing into a time of temptation. God always tests but He never tempts. That is why James continues by saying, “…For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” See, it is our choice. Can you say you can identify with “his own desire”? It is my own desire that does it.
When I think back in my life, I immediately look at times of testing. God has tested my faith. Many times I have turned God’s testing into temptation. But other times I have kept the testing as testing and I have grown because of it. My faith has been strengthened. Case in point would be when I went away to Florida State University as a teenager. That was a true time of testing for me and my faith was strengthened. When Lisa and I had the miscarriage, that was a time of testing but we were strengthened through it. During the first eight months of this church, starting this whole thing here with some other committed people, that was a true time of testing. Also when we found out that our four year old son, EJ, has a genetic disorder called Neurofibromatosis, that was a time of testing. Was it easy? Hey, no way. It was tough. We had to dig down deep. We used this time, this defining moment, if you will, to grow. We didn’t say, “Oh boy, we are being tested. Praise God. It is so wonderful. Nothing is wrong. Everything is A-OK.” That is a bunch of junk. No one has that attitude. But we did say, “God, we are not going to blame You. We are not going to point the finger of accusation at You. We are going to accept it because we know that You are allowing this, not causing this, allowing this to happen to mold us and to make us into stronger people for You.” God has taught me more when I am flat on my face then when I am riding high. He works that way. Because we are hard headed and stubborn, we play the Blame Game with God.
We also play it with ourselves. You see, our favorite person to play the Blame Game with is someone who is quite sunburned, has slicked back hair and little horns. His name is D. Evil. And D. Evil will sit down with us and will play the Blame Game with us. He points that bony, sunburned finger in our face and says something like this. “You don’t deserve to be used by God. You don’t deserve to be in relationship with God. You don’t deserve to be married to this person. You don’t deserve to have this family. You don’t deserve to have this job. You don’t deserve…. You don’t deserve… The Bible says these words in John 8:44. “…He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language (Lioneese), for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Revelation 12:10. “…For the accuser…accuses them before our God day and night…” He accuses those of us who know Christ personally day and night. Over and over and over. “They are not worthy, God. They are not worth it, God. They are sinners, God. Come on, God.” You know what God says? God laughs at the evil one. He laughs at the master of the Blame Game. He says, “They are mine. They are my children.” You see, when my four children were born, I cannot adequately describe the love and passion and joy we felt. There is nothing that my children can do to cut off our relationship biologically. They can rob banks, commit murders, you name it. They are still my children. They always will be. You come to know Jesus Christ personally, you are adopted into the family of God, I don’t care what you do from that moment on, there is nothing that can cause you to break that relationship, to leave that family. Yes, we can be out of fellowship with God due to sin but nothing can break that relationship. So when the evil one begins to point the finger of blame at you and you start blaming yourself, just call him a liar, an accuser. Just fold up the Blame Game, put the pieces away, take the box and throw it out. It may be a good visual for you to do when you go home, take the board game from your bulletin, wad it up and throw it in the trash. The Blame Game.
Now I want to do a little exercise for you, a little aerobic activity. I am going to count to three. When I say one, two, three, I want you to take your index finger and point to your neighbor. Now no eye gouging like on WWF. Just point. One, two, three. Hold it there. Do not move. Look at your fingers. If you are pointing at someone, how many fingers are pointing back at you. How many? Three. So we throw away the Blame Game and we take responsibility for our lives by doing three things, think about the three fingers. The first finger, we take responsibility for our lives by stating the obvious. What is the obvious? If you are outside the family of God, it is saying to God, “Lord, I am a sinner. I have messed up. I have fallen short. I want to fess up and own up to my sins. I admit to You that I have problems and it is because of me.” That is stating the obvious. That will not take God by surprise. The lies, the impure thoughts, the slander, the blame does not surprise God. God knows it and so do others. It is about time for many people here to state the obvious. “I am a sinner in need of a Savior. God, even though I have messed up and failed, I know You love me so much that you sent Jesus Christ to be my sin substitute and rise again and I receive what You did for me.” That is stating the obvious.
I kind of laugh when I am watching the Chicago Bulls play on television and the announcer says this when he is talking about Michael Jordan. “Michael is a great player.” Boy, that is a profound statement. “Michael Jordan is a great player.” Well that is obvious. You just stated the obvious, tell me something unique about Michael. I know he is a great player. So when you are stating the obvious, don’t expect everyone to act surprised.
Now if you are a believer, state the obvious that you are playing the Blame Game to your spouse, to your children, to your boss, to those people you know well. State the obvious. “I have been playing the Blame Game. I am wrong and I am sorry. No excuses, no alibis, no scapegoats, no reasons, no rationale, no explanations, it is because of me.” Stating the obvious.
The second finger, capture the moment. God tests us, you and me, to see will we blame or will we capture the moment as a teachable moment and grow because of it. Are you going to turn the time of testing into a time of temptation or will you keep it as a time of testing and grow because of it? Talk about capturing the moment, a true Kodak moment, one occurred for me a few days ago. A friend of mine asked me to go fishing. I went with him and he caught a 14 pound large mouth bass. We are talking about a sow, a lunker, a hog. It was a monster. He caught this fish which we later released, as I release all fish, but to lift her up I had to use two hands. We quickly put her in a bag with water and rushed to the dock and took photographs. We captured the moment. The moments, even the moments of testing, capture them. Take a snapshot of them and say, “God, I am going to use this. I want this to make a mark on my life. I am going to grow because of it.”
The third finger is, you have got to check the attitude. Constantly check your attitude because your attitude not your aptitude will determine your altitude when you are tested. What kind of attitude do you have? I am not talking about your aptitude, I am talking about your attitude. Is your attitude like Christ’s, humble, ready or is your attitude like the world’s, blaming. If you have the proper Christ-like attitude, you altitude will be phenomenal and you will be able to live on another plane, never, ever again playing the seductive, depressing, debilitating, disgusting Blame Game.