Growing Kingdom People – But What Do I Know?

But What Do I Know?

The church family I serve has been engaged in an outreach effort called “Christmas Unwrapped”. Multiple teams of servants have visited a variety of locations to share the message of Christmas and show the love of Christ.

I personally established the scope of “Christmas Unwrapped” as a ministry to those who “may not have the means or opportunity to worship at our church campus during the Christmas season”. I felt this was one way our congregation could pursue Jesus’ command to care for the “least of these” in the gospel of Matthew (Matthew 25:31-46).

But what do I know?

Last Sunday morning a young lady walked forward at the end of our worship service to bring her struggles before the Lord and His people. We surrounded her, embraced her and listened as she described how God was moving in her heart.

Some of her friends who had come to worship with her surrounded her too. It was obvious they loved her and were thankful for what God was doing.

Oh.

And it turns out the entire group of ladies was from a “Christmas Unwrapped” location.

You know.

One of the locations where people didn’t have the means or the opportunity to come to our church campus at Christmastime.

Guess I was wrong. They found a way.

God found a way.

I created a parameter.

But what do I know?

At the risk of letting myself off the hook, I recognize there is nothing wrong with creating a plan. It is good to have expectations and design anything we do for the Lord with those expectation in mind. Even Jesus used strategic methodologies, such as when He told His disciples they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Of course, Jesus was…

Well…

Jesus.

He was in a position to know what He was doing. To know the perfect will of His Father in heaven.

But what do I know?

Evidently, not as much as I think.

It’s ok.

In fact, I am praying God will prove me wrong again.

I think He does so quite often, just to keep me honest.

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Growing Kingdom People – Does God have a Punch Card?

Does God have a Punch Card?

It seems everyone has a loyalty program. I have so many rewards tags on my key chain, I have to be careful when I scan. Otherwise, I might try to enter my health club with my hardware store tag, or buy groceries with my auto parts store tag.

My favorite loyalty program is the one at the store that supplies my morning caffeine fix. Every seventh drink is free, and every now and then my store loads me up with bonus points. Presently, I am carrying almost 30,000 points. A few more and I’ll have enough for a new BMW!

Not really.

All I know is, when I scan my card in the morning the cashier says, “When you gonna cash in them points?”

I just shrug. Point hoarders are a unique breed.

Do you suppose God has a loyalty program? Does He keep track of our good deeds and send us a blessing when we hit certain milestones? And if He does, how does the system work?

Ten smiles at a stranger for one answered prayer?

Seven days of kindness for a new inspection sticker on our car?

Four trips to church for a good dentist report?

Silly?

Be honest.

Have you ever expected something special as a member of God’s reward club?

Please don’t misunderstand. God does reward us. While I don’t quite understand how God will bless us in heaven, I believe we will receive a reward.

But it isn’t a point system.

Our reward is really Christ’s reward which He shares with us. He paid off our debt of sin at the cross and invites us into His kingdom by grace, through faith (Titus 3:7).

Christ wants us to be loyal, but not for the purpose of earning our salvation. We already have our reward when we put our trust in Him, but we are loyal because we are compelled to give Him our undying devotion.

We should still smile at strangers, do kind acts and go to church. God will work through these things to bless us. They are indeed signs we want to be engaged in a lifestyle that honors the One who gave His life for us.

It’s just that we could never punch enough credits to earn our salvation.

There was only one punch.

Ok, perhaps two.

There was a knock-out punch at Calvary and a second at the empty tomb.

What happened there deserves the highest loyalty.

But no card to carry.

Good thing. My key chain is full.

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Growing Kingdom People – Christ at the Border

Christ at the Border

The clash between Central American migrants and U.S. patrol agents in Tijuana is on my mind. It is likely on your mind too.

How should Christians respond?

With compassion. (Matthew 25:34-46)

With respect for authority. (Romans 13:1-7)

With discernment, especially if we choose to exercise our conscience through a non-violent form of civil disobedience. (Acts 5:29)

And with a spirit of “Christian Liberty” if other followers of Jesus choose a response that is different than our own. (1 Corinthians 10:23)

This is a tough one for followers of Jesus, but I think one principle should reign supreme. In everything we should make sure God’s love is evident in our lives.

In our behavior toward migrant people groups.

In our behavior toward authorities.

In our behavior toward one another.

The struggle we face is understandable. Hate is not.

In the midst of the Tijuana situation, another border has come into view. A few days ago, we received word John Allen Chau had been killed by the reclusive tribe that lives on North Sentinel Island. John was attempting to share the message of Christ with the tribesmen.

No doubt about it. The tribesmen of North Sentinel Island need to know Christ. Yet, it occurs to me they were merely doing what we are doing as Americans. They were protecting their way of life. Medical professionals have warned that outsiders pose a tremendous health risk to the inhabitants of the island, since an intrusion would expose them to a number of dangerous diseases. There are also sociological risks to the community structure of the tribe, which has always been a dilemma as the church has sought to share Christ in remote regions of the world. It is unlikely the islanders are fully aware of these risks, but we can’t blame them for protecting their borders.

Please don’t misunderstand. I repeat, the tribesmen and tribeswomen of North Sentinel Island need to know Christ. There was nothing ungodly about John Allen Chau’s efforts. People will have differing views on whether or not he was misguided, but he certainly had no evil intent. And maybe someday someone will find a way to reach his killers and Chau will be credited with opening the door to the hearts of the tribesmen.

However, this further complicates our thought process as we attempt to resolve the Christian answer to the situation in Tijuana. Which side of the debate are you on in regards to the Central American migrant caravan? How do you feel about the tribesmen who killed John Chau? I must add, he was attempting to enter North Sentinel Island illegally.

I’ll admit, I am trying to stir things up.

Not among brothers and sisters in Christ (since the Bible identifies this as a serious sin against God).

But between me, myself and I.

Some internal struggles were not intended to be easy.

I am convinced followers of Christ who try to make them so are probably missing something.

Or choosing to ignore something.

Borders have a way of pushing the limits and forcing us to examine our walk with Christ.

Eventually, we all find ourselves at the “border of our hearts.” That’s where every clash begins.

 

 

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Growing Kingdom People – The Narcissist In All of Us

The Narcissist In All of Us

Narcissus was a mythological hunter known for his beauty. He was attracted to beautiful things and others were attracted to him.  But he rejected his admirers and treated them with such disrespect, some crumbled under the weight of rejection and took their own lives.  Narcissus was eventually destroyed when he fell in love with his reflection in a pool of water and short-circuited because he was unable to love himself as much as he loved himself.

We derive the term “Narcissistic” from Narcissus. Psychology Today identifies the hallmarks of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder as “grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration. People with this condition are frequently described as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, and demanding.”

The Narcissists I have encountered see themselves as uniquely brilliant, creative and justified in any behavior they choose. They blame others for their imperfections and demean anyone who doesn’t see the world as they do. They make promises they don’t keep, make excuses for the harm they cause others and feel a need to draw attention to themselves when they fear someone else is in the limelight.

I will be honest. I have trouble with Narcissists. I don’t mind walking with sinners, since I am one as well, and I realize we are all in need of God’s grace. But people who disrespect others, and especially those who have loved and sacrificed for them, are outside of the realm of my comprehension.

Which, ironically, is likely how they view me. As one unable to fully comprehend their near perfection.

Why am I picking on the Narcissist? Because there is a little bit of him in all of us. Our fallen human nature draws us toward self-centeredness and our culture reinforces our behavior.

How do we counter this unseemly trait?

Thanksgiving!

Thankful people are forever mindful of the people who have contributed to their success. They never presume they have “made it on their own”, and they are not intoxicated by independence. Thankful people remember they were created by a good God and they feel a sense of accountability for the life He has given them. They show sorrow when they sin. Sympathy when others are hurting. Appreciation with others are generous.

Thankful people don’t make excuses for their behavior. They see themselves as stewards of time, talent and opportunity, and they seek to improve themselves so they can bless others.

By the way, just because I have trouble with Narcissists doesn’t mean I don’t love them. I hurt for whatever pain they must be harboring that leads them to act the way they do. I am saddened by the relationships they destroy and the sorrow they bring into the lives of those who care about them.

I propose the time we spend in thanksgiving is one way to avoid hints of Narcissism in our lives. Thanksgiving Day is an opportunity to teach our loved ones they have been blessed to be a blessing, and to remind them they must be eternally grateful to the Giver of all things.

Let Thanksgiving Day be a time when we step back from our self-crazed culture and regain our perspective. A time to care for others.  A time to put others first.

Even Narcissists.

Remember the Apostle John’s words, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

I am forever thankful He did.

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Growing Kingdom People – The End is Near!

The End is Near!

Our world, including our planet and its inhabitants, is stressed out.

Fire.

Earthquakes.

Climate change.

War.

Disease.

Shootings.

And these are just the headlines. We are also experiencing moral decay, the disintegration of families, communities and civility.

Has this old world taken all it can take, and is it time for the Lord’s return?

Perhaps. At the very least, the events we are witnessing should cause us to pause and consider the possibility.

However, there are other possibilities. While the Lord will surely return, we might be experiencing an unfortunate, temporary season in which our fallen world is being pushed to the limit. But it may not be “the” end.  My prayer is that things will improve for our children, and their children, and that God will continue to demonstrate patience as He gives more people time to draw near to Him.

It is also possible our specific culture is caught in a dangerous death spiral that could ultimately lead to our national demise. This doesn’t mean the end of the world is immanent, but rather that we have squandered the blessings of God, and our society may pass into the history books. I will go one step further and say, if the Lord tarries, it is probable this will be our fate.

I am not a doomsday guy, and I am always more inclined to believe things can get better. God has given us the intelligence and the moral instruction we need to improve our circumstances if we so choose.

But, regardless of how long our world is going to last, the end is still near. Life is short.

This Saturday I am performing a memorial celebration for a 49-year-old woman. Another member of our church family will be attending her father’s funeral who died tragically and much too soon, of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. I am 60 years old, and even if my health remains sound, genetics tells me I have between 25-30 years left on earth.

Does this discourage me?

Not really. I have an eternal home, and when I pass from this life to the next I will be with the Lord and many others I have met along the way.

But it does get my attention. Every day of my life I let go of something I know I can’t keep and reach for something I know I can.

What can I keep? My relationship with the Lord, and other believers I have met on earth. I have a will for the other stuff.

Can this world take any more? Probably.

I’ll admit things look bad. But things have looked bad before and God has granted us the grace of a new day.

I pray He will do this again. But either way, a new day is coming. And while I care deeply about the world I am going to leave behind for my children and grandchildren, I am personally not too concerned for myself.

The end for those who know the Lord is really just the beginning.

They say “all good things must come to an end.”

But some good things never come to an end. They begin anew every day.

As does our walk with the Lord.

Could the end still be near?

Yes!  In fact, it is very near.

“The End.”

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Growing Kingdom People – Don’t Let “Self” Get in the Way of “Surrender”

Don’t let “Self” Get in the Way of “Surrender”

A few days ago, I witnessed a beautiful expression of Christian community. The story began when a couple from our church family moved into an apartment building with special amenities for the disabled. Regina, the wife, had a number of neurological and muscular disorders that left her confined to a wheelchair. Her husband, Darren, held down a full-time job and cared for her faithfully.

Soon after the move, a single, retired nurse by the name of Patricia moved in next store to Regina and Darren. They befriended her and invited her to church. She attended, fell in love with our congregation, and sat with Darren and Regina every Sunday on the front row where she praised God with all of her being.

Then Patricia was told she was dying of cancer and had six months to live.

A few days later six months was revised to weeks.

Maybe days.

Our church has begun hosting “Welcome Dinners” for guests who attend worship, and Patricia signed up to attend. Darren and Regina signed up as well since we encourage friends of guests to share with them at the dinner. Unfortunately, Regina became very ill and was in the hospital on the night of the dinner. Darren left the hospital, picked up Patricia and brought her to the meal. He went back to the hospital and returned to take Patricia home afterward.

Patricia was overwhelmed with the opportunity to share with other guests and a church Elder at the dinner, and she placed her membership with our congregation that night. When Darren came to take her home, she continued to thank him for bringing her and told all of us how blessed she felt.

Two days later Patricia passed away.

Two days after that Regina passed away.

Now these two Christian sisters are celebrating together in heaven.

I am left undone by the way God worked in these lives and the opportunity I had to see it all unfold before my eyes.

Had Regina and Darren ignored their neighbor, Patricia would have died without a church community. Her past would have been known to her family members, who live elsewhere. But her present, and her passion for the Lord as she slipped from this world would have been missed.

By everyone.

Sometimes, people ask me why praying for our “ones”, the people God gives us every day to love in His name, is so important. After all, shouldn’t we be more worried about strengthening our own faith or growing in our knowledge of God’s Word?

Certainly, we should keep growing.

But, I have come to believe focusing primarily on my personal growth, or expecting other people to keep feeding me is a gateway attitude to self-absorption. Yes, I need the accountability of God’s Word and His people, and I need to keep growing. Yet, sooner or later I have to stop holding others responsible for my growth in the Lord and look beyond myself to the harvest field God has put before me.

I’ll tell you what will make one accountable.

People like Patricia.

If she desired the Lord’s grace and the community of His people more than anything when she received her death sentence, I need to rethink my priorities.

People like Darren and Regina. If they were able to see beyond themselves with all of their struggles, I need to stop complaining about things that don’t go my way.

Strange. My mission to my “ones” keeps me growing most. I want to be strong for them. I want to be filled with God’s grace so it will spill over into their lives.

I want to surrender fully to the people God puts before me.

Self must give way.

Then I am hungry for more. Not so I can grow fat, but so I will have more to share with others.

Others like Patricia.

Thank you, Patricia and Regina. I’ll see you again someday.

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Growing Kingdom People – In the Image of God

In the Image of God

The tragedy that unfolded at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh is heavy on my heart. I am burdened by the loss of innocent lives, the hate that led to it and the darkness that has descended on our society.

I have stopped speculating on “why?” Perhaps we can identify factors past and present that have brought us to this place. But the answer has been evident since Cain rose up against his brother Abel. We are a sinful, rebellious people who seem determined to destroy the image of God.

We are all made in His image.

When we hate, we devalue what God has put in His creation.

This is why He holds the murderer accountable. (Genesis 9:6)

As well as the one who destroys his brother with words. (Matthew 5:22)

God does not view attacks on His image lightly.

It is obvious we have lost the ability to distinguish between our common brotherhood as God’s creation and our unique identities. For some reason we are threatened by those who have different perspectives and convictions.

Don’t misunderstand. I hold firmly to several truths I not only choose to live by, but also bank on for all eternity. I trust in God as my Creator, Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and the Holy Spirit, as my seal of salvation. I believe Jesus is the “way, the truth and life” and I have spent my life sharing Him with others so they will have the assurance of eternal life.

But this doesn’t change the common ground.

Our daughter grew up with a dear friend whose family attended a local synagogue. We attended her Bat-Mitzvah and shared our homes and hot chocolate after our sled runs in the winter. When we parted due to a relocation I was given a signed copy of the Hebrew scriptures.

Common ground.

The neighborhood I live in is diverse. My African-American neighbors and I look out for one another and help each other out in times of need. We swap church stories and updates on our children. Now our grandchildren.

Common ground.

Several years ago, a Muslim family moved in next to my mother who lives in Florida. My mother pours love into the family members’ lives and they check on her when storms roll through.

Common ground.

Made in His image.

I have an Atheist friend. I don’t buy his claims, but I care for him. We talk about a number of things and I appreciate the way he loves his wife and children. I am worried about his soul, but we are friends.

Common ground.

What do I see when I talk to people who are different?

I see differences, of course. It is silly to claim I don’t recognize what makes us unique. But the heart of God, as revealed in the scriptures, reminds me I have a starting point with all of His creation.

Made in His image.

I have strong convictions, but how can I ever hope to show anyone Christ if I can’t love them as He loved them? If I can’t value what God put in them?

This is why my heart hurts to see such pain at the hands of someone who has lost sight of the common ground.

Common ground doesn’t put us in full agreement with each other. It doesn’t align all of our convictions. Nor does it mean it doesn’t ultimately matter what we believe.

It does matter.

But if we forget the common ground, other things that matter are rendered irrelevant.

I have never met anyone who wasn’t created in the image of God.

I never will.

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