Growing Kingdom People – Should Terrorism be a Matter of Prayer?

Should Terrorism be a Matter of Prayer?

Terrorism is senseless. While those who commit evil acts of violence against innocent victims might accomplish some of their immediate goals, their ideology of hate and oppression ultimately collapses. Or it is commandeered by others who propagate the same.

In the face of the senseless, it is easy for believers to adopt a fatalistic mindset and forget the power of prayer. Prayer often seems powerless against people who are bent on committing atrocities, regardless of the consequences.

Does it matter whether or not we pray for terrorist victims, or for acts of violence to be stopped before they occur? Do our prayers influence God, and do they actually help others? Or are we merely making ourselves feel better by taking our sorrow to the Lord?

I believe prayer does matter. Here’s why:

God hears our prayers, and in His wisdom, He might intervene and stop an evil act. I realize this possibility raises the question of why God doesn’t always intervene. However, we know He allows evil people to exercise their free will, while sometimes changing the course of events for His eternal purposes. We cannot possibly understand God’s will completely, but I am confident He factors in our prayers as they are one of the ways we demonstrate our willingness to participate in His plan. God listens to our requests and coordinates His design with our desires.

Our prayers encourage other believers who have been impacted by acts of violence. This encouragement goes beyond the knowledge others have that we are thinking of them. If believers who are suffering also trust in the God who sometimes intervenes, then they are pleased to hear of our petitions.

Our prayers move us to act as God’s ambassadors. The big events that occur around us are a result of countless smaller events. One loving deed we express toward a neighbor, could be the seed that stops hatred before it begins. God’s people travel extensively throughout the world, and our lives are always touching one another. We cannot predict how the providential hand of God might connect the dots and forever alter the future of a maimed terrorist victim, the family of someone who has been killed by terrorism, or even the terrorist himself. God’s providence often begins in our hearts when we ask Him to show us, through the prompting of the Holy Spirit and His Word,  how we should respond to hate.

Prayer invites God to examine our hearts and strengthen our convictions. Hate produces hate, and if we allow Satan to gain a foothold in our lives, we can build walls between ourselves and people who remind us of the terrorists we see on TV. Hate only reinforces the isolation those who are different feel in our culture. Love overcomes isolation and gives the light of Christ an opportunity to shine in the darkness.

There are many others subjects believers must grapple with in regards to terrorism. Justice certainly has a place in the equation as we work through those in authority to punish evil doers. This too is a matter of prayer. We should also continue to pray for those serving in our military who place themselves in harm’s way to protect us. They must decide how they are going to address an evil threat in the fraction of a second.

We live in a dangerous world, and sometimes it is hard to see how God is working. But He is working, and I believe, outside of a supernatural intervention, most of His plans are carried out by His people.

His praying people.

There is a point to prayer.

Don’t ever stop.

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Growing Kingdom People – One Billion for a Cathedral?

One Billion for a Cathedral?

As I’m sure you are aware, “Notre-Dame de Paris” has suffered a devastating fire. It appears the iconic cathedral’s stone skeleton has survived, but it will take years and an estimated one billion euros to repair the damage.

There was a time in my life when I would have harshly judged those who wanted to dedicate such resources to the restoration of a church building. After all, the church is not a physical edifice. It is the Body of Christ, the redeemed. Christ is the Corner Stone and members of His Body are “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5), bound together by a common grace.

Every church building in the world could burn to the ground and the church would still exist. In fact, as far as we know, there was no such thing as a church building until over two-hundred years after the church began on the Day of Pentecost. Some estimates place the number of Christians in the world by this time at nearly five million! Therefore, church buildings are not necessary for the work and growth of God’s kingdom on earth. Spiritual fruit is not produced with earthly materials.

I have not changed my mind about the biblical nature of the church, but I have grown to appreciate lavish church architecture. Here’s why: Throughout my life I have watched city after city construct multi-million-dollar complexes to serve professional sports leagues. I have seen rich oil kings build skyscrapers in the desert sand and space companies deliver payloads to the International Space Station. These kinds of human endeavors are exciting and I, for one, can’t imagine life without the thrill of space travel. But as people seem to find the money for expensive efforts that honor the human spirit, is it wrong to celebrate a costly building that symbolizes Christian devotion and worship?

Evidently, God didn’t think so, or He wouldn’t have given His people instructions for the construction of Solomon’s temple. Lavish doesn’t begin to describe the funds, material goods and craftmanship involved in this project.

I understand why the people of Paris are weeping over the burning of Notre-Dame. It has stood for eight-hundred and fifty years and has been a part of French history, through thick and thin. At times it has become entangled with the darkness of human reason, and at other times it was associated with religious corruption. But it has also represented hope when all hope seemed lost, and reminded the faithful of God’s presence in their lives.

Perhaps there is a place, after all, for extraordinary and expensive representations of the Lord’s church.

I say this with these qualifications:

A building dedicated to the Lord should be used for the Lord. If it becomes a club house for the personal pleasure of those who have already received grace, it is not serving its purpose. We must remember we are blessed to be a blessing, and an attitude of entitlement in the church runs counter to Christ’s command to go to every nation and make disciples.

A building should never be worshipped. Architectural style can be admired, and the talent and devotion of those who create should be honored. But the Lord doesn’t want us worshiping brick and mortar or praising the creation more than the Creator. We are to worship Him, and if a building makes it easier to gather for this purpose, and function as a light to the world, that is a good thing.

A building dedicated to the Lord’s work should be free of scandal. Illegal, unbiblical or unethical methods for raising funds should be avoided at all costs. It was, after all, the marketing of God’s grace to construct a church building in the time of Martin Luther that ignited the Protestant Reformation.

A building should be seen as a tool, not a magic wand. Some people put more trust in methodologies or human means than God’s power. They believe a building built to certain standards will equal success for the church. Certainly, we should use wisdom when it comes to building for God’s kingdom work. It would be impractical to construct a church building in America without climate control or enough technology to maximize the opportunities we have when people are within the walls of the facility. However, if we think a powerful church will emerge as a result of human effort, we are building on the wrong foundation.

Please realize, I am aware I have glossed over some important issues relating to the restoration of Notre-Dame. The motives of those who wish to revive the cathedral are not all kingdom-focused, and I do have some significant theological differences regarding the things that will be taught and practiced inside once the repairs are made.  It is also true a billion dollars could feed and clothe entire countries.  If I had a billion dollars to personally spend on ministry, this is where I would invest it.

It’s just that, as I have grown older, and have seen billions of dollars spent on secular causes, I have become less resistant to lavish things done in the name of Christ. It sounds very pious to criticize the church for spending too much money on tools for ministry, but it seems many of the critics always have plenty of money for other purposes. Even believers who balk at tithing to the church have no problem finding the funds to support expensive hobbies and interests of their own.

Church buildings are symbolic of God’s goodness, His message of grace to the world and the hope He gives us for the future. No, the church is not a building.

But obviously, buildings dedicated to kingdom work can create a connecting place between God and His creation. I can think of a lot less productive things people do with money.

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Growing Kingdom People – Lessons from the 737 Max

Lessons from the 737 Max

Three hundred forty-six lives have been lost due to an apparent software glitch on the Boeing 737 Max airliner. The tragic deaths of these unfortunate passengers have produced shock waves throughout the world. Why?

Obviously, when people die in airline crashes, we all take notice. Approximately 4.3 billion passengers used air transportation in 2018. This means, every day literally millions of travelers trust their lives to flight technology and the experts behind the controls.

But aside from our commonplace participation in air travel, we have also developed a high sense of confidence in the industry. Perhaps you have heard a speaker use the redundancy of onboard systems on airliners to illustrate the importance of strategic planning. You have also most certainly heard some say, “flying is still the safest way to travel.”

Indeed, it is, in spite of the 737 Max crashes.

Why then, do these events create such anxiety?

Perhaps we are shocked, not only by the number of those who perished, but also that the things we once believed to be true have been compromised. Why was there no redundancy in the case of the flawed computer program? What was it about the relationship between Boeing and the FFA that led Chesley Sullenberger to say they were too “cozy” with one another? Why were American airline companies so slow to ground the 757 Max when it appeared there might be a systematic problem?

Our trust has been broken. And it is going to take a while to regain it, even after the 737 Max airliners are repaired. In fact, I predict there will be a name change of some sort so passengers feel more secure.

This week, I was contemplating a New Testament verse about Jesus. The writer of Hebrews declared, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow.”

In what ways is Jesus the same yesterday, today and tomorrow?

He hasn’t changed His message. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He took on the form of a servant to pull off the greatest victory in history. Nothing has changed Jesus’ passion for us and His willingness to do whatever is necessary to save us.

Jesus hasn’t changed the “why” behind our redemption. We needed grace because we were sinner destined for hell. The words of Jesus teach us. His love fills us. But His grace cleanses us and makes it possible for us to experience eternal life now and forever.

Jesus is as powerful as ever. He can still move planets, mountains, nations and sinner’s hearts. His influence extends to board rooms and living rooms. On the final day, when all things are brought to a fitting conclusion, He will appear as the indisputable Victor. If Satan protests, it will be the last sound he makes before he is cast into a place of eternal punishment. And he knows his end. The only reason he continues to roar is in the hope he might take others down with him.

Jesus hasn’t been marginalized by our culture. I am aware there are statistics that suggest Jesus’ followers have a smaller imprint in America, relative to population. I am not doubting these facts. But Jesus hasn’t been reduced in His Lordship. It saddens Him that many have traded their devotion to Him for counterfeit gods, and that He has taken a back seat to other priorities. But Jesus is moving powerfully in people’s lives. When someone opens his or her heart to His grace there isn’t a force in the universe that can stop His redemption.

I trust Jesus.

I love people, but I don’t trust them with my soul.

And I work hard at not becoming too cozy with the Adversary.

Thank you, Captain Sully, for that insight!

Jesus is the “Redundancy of Redundancy”. The One who grounds anything that shouldn’t fly.

You can trust Him too.

“Yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

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Growing Kingdom People – God and the Championship Game

God and the Championship Game

A lot of prayers are offered to God during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Some are pious: “God, help my team live up to its potential, to play with good sportsmanship, and regardless of the results, to bring glory to your name.”

Some are manipulative: “God, if you help my team win, I promise to stop cussing.”

Some are self-righteous: “God, allow my team to win so the world will see that You honor those who honor You with their lives.”

And some are seriously misguided: “God, give us victory over those scumbags.”

I am not sure how God feels about basketball, although I am confident, He indeed uses it for His glory. But regardless of His interest in this, or any other organized sport, I know He knows something about championships.

One match up in particular was a true “Cinderella Story”. An epic contest involving the underdog and the big dog. A single elimination 16 seed against a 1 seed, that was bound to end badly for the people of God.

The favorite was a tall center named Goliath. The “soon-to-be-fed-to-the-buzzards” contender was a little point guard by the name of David. They met on a level piece of ground with two massive armies in the stands.

The Philistines put their hope in Goliath.

The Jews…

Well. We aren’t told, but it is possible they had one eye on their best route of escape. As soon as David fell, they needed to start running.

Really, really fast.

But God has a way of turning life’s odd on end. David grabbed 5 stones from a brook and faced down Goliath with nothing but a sling. Goliath laughed at him and mocked him, but David slung a stone at his forehead and as the children’s song says, “The Giant came tumbling down.”

There are lots of great stories that emerge in a tournament, and many life-lessons learned. One lesson is how our perspective changes once we realize we are strong enough to beat the opposition. There is an aura that surrounds teams that appear to be unbeatable. But when someone comes along and beats them, others are emboldened. Suddenly, what was once thought impossible is possible.

I realize there are limits to this principle. A squad of six-year old children, taking the court for the first time in a recreation league, are not going to match up well against an NBA team.

Well, maybe against…

Never mind. I’ll leave it there.

My point is that God isn’t bound by human ranking systems. He not only has the power to impact our outcomes, but also to use the outcomes He deems best for His eternal purposes. In other words, He can make us victorious when we appear defeated. And even when we are defeated, He can use our defeat to accomplish a victory.

No one could have appeared more defeated than Christ on Calvary, but He was actually on the verge of the greatest conquest in history. Three days later He would proclaim victory over sin and death, and the gates of hell would quake.

When a lesser ranked team beats a higher ranked team, they call it an “upset.” That’s because things didn’t turn out the way people thought they would. But is it really an upset when the rankings were upside down to begin with? When a 1 should have been a 16 and a 16 should have been a one?

God didn’t upset Satan at the cross. He just clarified the situation. Had Jesus remained in the tomb, that would have been an upset – the eternal Son of God destroyed by the god of this world.

Instead, He rose, setting the record and the rankings straight.

I encourage you to maintain an upside-down view of victory. Remember, Jesus said the first will be last the last will be first (Matthew 20:16). Our eternal success isn’t dependent on our own victory, but our decision to share in His.

The Goliaths that threaten to taken us down can be brought down with a single blow. But only if we remember who we are.

What He did.

And why it matters.

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Growing Kingdom People – When the Truth is Hurtful

When the Truth is Hurtful

I once heard there is nothing more irritating than a reformed smoker. Since I have never been a smoker, I can’t fully comprehend this characterization. Kicking the smoking habit is a good thing, and if one is successful over the long-term, he can add years to his life. Why would someone not celebrate this victory and encourage others to join in?

But I get it.

Just because you have overcome a habit in your life doesn’t mean I have to follow your example. At least, not until I am ready. In fact, your old behaviors are so fresh in my mind, it is hard for me to comprehend you are preaching against the very thing you once held to so passionately.

Of course, this is no reason to reject the truth.  Years ago, I was walking on a beach when an old man ran up to me and started pointing at his neck. He appeared to have recovered from a serious operation that left him badly scared and unable to speak. As he pointed at his neck with one hand, he mimicked the act of smoking with the other. Then he pointed at me as if to ask, “Do you smoke?” I said, “no.” He smiled, mouthed the word “good”, and proceeded down the beach to share his gospel.

Why wouldn’t someone who has overcome a destructive habit not want to warn everyone he meets? Yet, there are some pitfalls when it comes to confronting sin in others. And while I don’t think people should let the enthusiasm of those who have overcome a vice discourage them from heeding their testimony, I do believe there are things any of us should take into consideration before we start telling other people how to run their lives. Consider these:

Make sure your message isn’t a mask for sin. Unbridled enthusiasm is a good thing. A double-standard is not.  I realize we are all sinners, and if we waited until we defeated all of our sins, we would never confront a brother or sister about a problem we see in their lives. On the other hand, if we have an ongoing sin in our lives that leaves us in a perpetual state of shame, it is easy to become obsessed with a different sin in the lives of others and become judgmental and legalistic in the process. This is why Jesus told us to take care of the plank in our eye before we pick at the sawdust we see in others (Matthew 7:3).

Love the people you confront. I once heard a preacher say, “Some people who warn others about hell act as if they want them to go there.” Love is hard to convey in the midst of a confrontation, but it is possible. We show love when we empathize as those who understand how easy it is to be trapped by sin. We love when we listen to people’s stories and try to understand the circumstances that led them to make some bad decisions. The Apostle Paul sharply disciplined the church at Corinth in a letter we call 1 Corinthians. In a second letter he wrote, “For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you. (2 Corinthians 2:4)

Don’t sin as you call out sin. There are right ways and wrong ways to address sin in the lives of others. We may not be able to immediately discern how to proceed, but I believe if we pray for wisdom and ask God to guide us, we will come closer to saying and doing the kinds of things that honor Him and lead to real change. There is little room for carelessness when it comes to calling out sin. Judging others before we know the facts, sharing the facts with third parties and disregarding the feelings of those we are confronting undermines what God could have used for good and gives Satan a greater foothold.

I realize, even when we strive to address sin with love and compassion, we might experience a harsh reaction. I have lost more than one friendship when I attempted to save someone I cared about from a destructive path. I have been called “judgmental”, “holier-than-thou” and “God’s gift to humanity.”

Maybe, in some of these cases I fumbled in some of the ways I have just shared. Or maybe I did my best. Only God knows for sure.

Regardless, I think he calls me to guard against being hurtful with the truth. Don’t get me wrong. The truth stings. If it doesn’t, we might need to sharpen our message.

But the ultimate goal of truth is healing, not hurt.

So, if you have quit smoking, I would love to hear your testimony. I promise I won’t be offended. However, if you are a reformed Diet Coke addict, give me some time.

I’ll tell you when I’m ready.

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Growing Kingdom People – Do Christians Have a Mascot?

Do Christians Have a Mascot?

I recently flew Frontier Airlines for the first time. The airline is considered by many to be the worst in terms of customer service and on-time departures. But hey, for a $43.00 non-stop flight from Norfolk to Tampa, I can put up with a little inconvenience. As it turned out, my flight was on time, my “personal item” computer bag (secretly functioning as a suitcase) was free, and I brought enough of my own refreshments to sustain me for the flight.

Before takeoff I was welcomed by “Sammy the Squirrel”, the Frontier Airline mascot. The pilot said Sammy was thankful I chose Frontier, and hoped I had a good flight.

To be honest, Sammy didn’t look much like a mascot. He looked more like…

…well…

…a squirrel.

Actually, Frontier has many mascots.  Employees have contests to pick an animal mascot for all of its new airplanes.  I just lucked out and got Sammy.

When I have a little down time, I intend to research the squirrel connection. I’m curious. Was Sammy a rescue squirrel who hung out in an employee’s back yard? Does he symbolize the “squirrely” nature of the airline’s employees, or perhaps the tenacious attitude of the company? (If you have ever tried to impede a squirrel you know how determined they can be). Are people like me who fly Frontier the “nuts” Sammy has crammed into the tiny spaces inside the airplane? Or is Sammy a flying squirrel? He doesn’t appear to be, but he could be hiding some of his attributes.

Mascots are useful. They say something about the team they represent, and when your day isn’t going well,  you can always smile at…

…a squirrel.

Do Christians have a mascot? And Jesus doesn’t count. Besides, I have a hard time envisioning a vender selling a stuffed Jesus on a pole outside of a Christian concert. Perhaps our mascot is a cross or a church steeple capped with a cross. No, that can’t be. The cross is too sacred to be used in this way, and mascots should represent living things.

Ok, so hot dogs are mascots and they aren’t living.

Hmmmmm.

I know! The fish! The fish Christians slap on their bumper and imprint on their Bibles might be considered our mascot!  If not, perhaps it should be.  Fish are living. They are found throughout scripture and there are enough varieties to adapt to almost any situation.

Do you attend a country church? No problem! I’m sure someone in the congregation can create a “Bible Bassman” costume.

Do you live near the ocean? Perhaps “2-Na Man” could represent the two greatest commandments or the two Testaments.

And for city dwellers, “Grouper Woman” could serve in a small groups ministry where people find relationships in the midst of the hustle and bustle of big city life.

Fish mascots, if they are to be embraced, should be standardized. They need to be cuddly, but not so cuddly people forget about the wrath of God. And while it would be permissible for a fish mascot to show some animation, he or she would be wise to note the church being entertained before leaping or shaking any tail-fins on stage.

Did I say “entertained?” Sorry about that. The mascot is not there to entertain. He must remind people of the solemn nature of worship and be capable of crying. I’m not sure if fish have tear ducts, but that could be arranged.

I think it would be alright to sell little fish toys in the Lobby. The money could go to a foreign mission, or a retirement home where mascots go when they hang up their scales.

And who knows – a fish mascot might even serve as a deterrent to sin. He could stand in the hallway and hand out “Don’t Take the Bait” bracelets. A few hook notches in his lip could be a conversation starter: “My mother told me to avoid worms that suddenly appeared out of nowhere, but I thought I knew it all.”

A fish mascot would be fun. But it could also create some trouble. What if a renegade fish boycotted the annual church fish fry or invited his buddies over for a party in the baptistery?

Maybe…

Maybe, we should just be the mascots. We can be warm and cuddly. There are enough of us to make nick-knack copies unnecessary. Most of us are adaptable to a variety of cultures, and we only need to enter the baptistery once – unless we are taking someone else in with us for the first time.

If we were the mascots, we also wouldn’t need to buy bumper stickers or wear “Jesus gear.” God would use us just the way we are to witness in His name. We would share with our mouths, serve with our hands and worship in spirit and in truth.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with a mascot. But when I fly, I want a real pilot behind the control.

Not a squirrel.

Or a nut.

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Growing Kingdom People – The Christian Life and Tournament Play

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The Christian Life and Tournament Play

“March Madness”, also known as the NCAA, Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, is almost here! Do you have a favorite?

I always cheer for the University of Kentucky, since my family roots are in Lexington. I must admit, while I have crossed paths with UK players and coaches in the past, my current knowledge of the team is based almost entirely on what I hear and see on TV. It is true, I pick up a few pieces of critical analysis here and there from some Wildcat haters, but I just pray for them and move on.

This week I was pondering how “March Madness” might resemble my walk with the Lord. The contrasts were easier to spot. In the NCAA tournament, only one team is crowned. In Christ’s kingdom, everyone who trusts and obeys is victorious. Tournament teams play against one another. Followers of Christ help one another win since they are all on the same squad. Finally, the outcome of the tournament is uncertain, and things get exciting when a number one seed is defeated. When it comes to our Christian walk, the end is already settled, and should others fall, we rush to restore them so they won’t miss out on the party.

Maybe the comparisons are fewer than the contrasts.  Yet, consider these:

While victory is certain, we have an adversary who would like to see us fall. One of the frustrating aspects of our walk with the Lord now is Satan’s determination to sideline us with various trials and temptations. Together with his demons, he sits behind the basket and waves his arms to distract us when we come to the line for a free throw. He boos when we succeed and cheers when we fail. Satan is definitely the loser, but nothing would make him happier than to take us down with him.

We play according to the rules. Rules are game-changers in basketball, especially when a star player picks up two unnecessary fouls in the first few minutes of the game. There are, of course, worse penalties incurred by entire school programs when coaches are caught violating recruiting policies. Don’t misunderstand. Our salvation is not achieved with rules. It was won on the cross when Christ paid for our sins with His own blood. On the other hand, God has given us coaching instructions in His Word that help us thwart the plans of Satan so we can play at our highest level. The Apostle Paul once wrote these words to his protégé Timothy: “Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.” (2 Timothy 2:5)

We have fans in the stands cheering us on. Ok, so not everyone in an arena cheers for the same team. But in the church, since we are all on the same team, we spur one another on to victory. Perhaps you are familiar with the “great crowd of witnesses” referenced in Hebrews 12:1. There is some question about whether this crowd involves Christian on earth who encourage us, faithful believers who are waiting to greet us in heaven, or both. Regardless, we have countless, faithful servants of the Lord cheering us on to victory. Many of these have suffered tremendously for the cause of Christ and they know all about the obstacles Satan puts in our paths. We are not alone in our walk. We are surrounded by fans who share in our victory.

Perhaps your favorite team will be holding the trophy at the end of this year’s “March Madness”. My team has a shot, if they decide to play as a team.

That’s always the deal, isn’t it? The most talented players are never as good as individuals as they are when they grasp the importance of “team.”

In regards to our walk with Christ, pray for me, and I’ll pray for you. We already know the outcome of our struggle, but if the Lord allows us to remain here for a while we are going to be tested. I am certain of our victory, and thankful to have you with me on the journey.

Don’t forget the one trophy that will remain when all of the others turn to ashes. It was won by our Lord when He crushed Satan on a hill called Calvary.

Oh, and expect some boos from the enemy every now and then. He’s still thinks he has a chance.

Pathetic, but true.

 

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