Growing Kingdom People – Speaking of Kobe: Too Soon?

Speaking of Kobe: Too Soon?

When Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash, along with his daughter Gianna, and others, the sports world came to a sudden halt.  Not only did people grieve over the loss of Kobe, but tragedy was heaped upon tragedy as the names of other victims were released and the possibility of poor weather as a cause was suspected.

Then came the controversy.

The controversy was almost certain to emerge, but it’s timing took many Kobe fans by surprise.  By now, you are probably aware of Kobe’s past moral lapse with a young woman in a hotel room and her claim the event was not consensual.

That’s really all I want to say about that.

What I would like to address is the complicated position we are in as Christians when we search for the right words to speak in such cases.  At the risk of entering dangerous waters, I feel compelled to share the following thoughts:

Sexual assault should never be trivialized.  I am old enough to have lived through a number of seasons in which this crime has been brought to the public’s attention.  The present message seems to be that sexual assault is often overlooked or dismissed when powerful people are involved.  Victims are afraid of reprisal by their attackers or negative public opinion.  Of course, there are also those who falsely accuse, which further complicates the issue.  In any case, sexual assault is not something that can be ignored.

Kobe Bryant made a terrible mistake when he was unfaithful to his wife.  Consensual or non-consensual, his act was adulterous.

Kobe Bryant attempted to make peace with the people he hurt and with God.  This doesn’t excuse what he did, but it does demonstrate remorse.  After the hotel event, Kobe’s wife Venessa filed for divorce and the couple separated for two years.  Ultimately, Venessa withdrew the divorce papers and she and Kobe reconciled.  Kobe also re-engaged with his Roman Catholic roots and began to practice his spiritual walk again.  Does this prove Kobe was telling the truth about the hotel event and his accuser was lying?  Of course not.  The doubts regarding the incident were something Kobe had to live with as a consequence of his actions.  It simply shows us how he responded.

I believe it is possible for Christians to weep over Kobe’s adulterous act, show compassion for the woman who made the accusation and still respect Kobe’s basketball talent while grieving over the lives lost in the helicopter accident.  We may have opinions, but we should grieve over the things that should be grieved over and rejoice over the things that deserve rejoicing.  Kobe’s life was full of tragedy and triumph.  It is unchristian to say he got what he deserved, but just as unchristian to ignore the scars he might have inflicted on others.  Scars and grace are realities for those who follow Jesus.  We cannot afford to “take sides” and say one or the other doesn’t matter.

If you are not familiar with the Christian walk, this is the paradoxical world believers walk in.  We can’t expect to live in a sinful world and proclaim the message that sinners can be saved by grace without encountering some mental conflicts.

Here is where I land:

Acknowledge the seriousness of sin.

Comfort the victims of sin.

Celebrate redemption.

Mourn the loss of all life, and the potential that passes with it.

God’s grace doesn’t erase the scars sin leaves behind.  But the scars don’t define His grace.

I know these are hard truths to grasp, and even harder truths to put into practice.  But I believe they are true.

If they aren’t, I can tell you we are all in a lot of trouble.

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Growing Kingdom People – “Be My Valentine – God”

Be My Valentine – God

This week, I saw a message on a church sign that read, “Be my Valentine! – God”.  I assume the message refers to God’s love for us and His endless appeal to accept salvation through His Son Jesus.

But the church history side of me can’t overlook the literal meaning of the message.  Allow me to explain.

There are varying theories on the origins of Valentine’s Day.  Most of the narratives focus on a Christian leader from the third century who was martyred for his faith.  Some believe St. Valentine married Roman soldiers against the wishes of the Empire, which may have led to his association with romantic love.  It is also thought he harbored enemies of Rome.

Many twists and turns can be found in the stories of St. Valentine, but most seem to agree on these points:

  • St. Valentine was a Christian who shared the love of Christ with his world.
  • Rome executed St. Valentine for spreading the message of Christ and other infractions on February 14th.
  • While St. Valentine had opportunities to save his own life by submitting to Roman demands, he refused.

Now back to that phrase on the church sign.

Incidentally, I had a third-grade teacher who insisted we call “Valentine’s Day” “Valentine Day”, since it honored a person and did not begin as a time to share gifts of love with others.  She scarred me for life as I still feel guilty when I write, “Valentine’s Day”.

Where was I?

Oh yes.  The phrase.

If we really want to be God’s “Valentine”, historically speaking, we must share the good news of Christ Jesus with our world, defy all forms of paganism, and lose our head in the process.

Actually, lose our head.

You know… “chop…chop”.

As in “lopping off.”

And even if we don’t literally lose our heads for the sake of the gospel, we should give up our lives daily for those around us.  This is what it means to “take up our cross and follow” Jesus (Matthew 16:24).

My point is, while we must never forget how much God loves us, when we say we want to be His Valentine, we should not presume His love is a one-way street.  When it comes to God’s love and grace, accepting involves surrender.

God is, indeed, looking for people who can be His Valentines.

And I must tell you, the offer requires more than a 30 second stop at the Valentine’s Day card section at our local drug store.

Not that I would know anything about that.

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Growing Kingdom People – Caucus Ruckus

Caucus Ruckus

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not an expert on the caucus system.  I know it is a means by which some state political parties choose their nominees for the presidential ticket.  I am also aware the system involves more interaction between participants as they gather in meetings to discuss the candidates.  In the case of the Iowa Caucus, local citizens gather in each of the state’s 1,681 precincts which meet in schools, churches, libraries and homes.

By now you are probably aware of the ruckus.  The much-anticipated Iowa Democratic caucus has turned into a confusing mess, due to an apparent code error in the App that is supposed to gather the results.

This “meltdown”, as it is being called by some media outlets, has taken on a life of its own.  Perhaps you have seen the memes.

As politicians ponder the implications of this embarrassing situation, I would like to suggest a biblical connection.  There is another ruckus of eternal proportions that has been going on for a long, long time.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus died on a cross outside of Jerusalem, as an offering for the sins of the world.  According to the Bible, this amazing act of love was a major defeat for Satan.  Jesus’ sacrifice made it possible for everyone to seek redemption and be freed from spiritual bondage.  Three days later Jesus rose from the grave, validating His authority over sin, and His ability to raise us up when we pass from this life.

Enter the ruckus.

Satan isn’t about to go down without a fight, and one of his most effective tactics is confusion.  He uses our troubles to deceive us into believing Jesus isn’t really victorious.  Once, Jesus was addressing those who were putting more faith in their earthly heritage than the grace of God.  He said, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. 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, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)

How do we know Satan is lying?  When he moves his lips.  Lying is his “native tongue.”

You would think there would be no question regarding our victory.  After all, Jesus died, was buried and rose again.  This message, also called “the gospel”, has been proclaimed since Mary Magdalene saw Jesus alive at the empty tomb.

Still, the ruckus continues.

People dismiss the resurrection.  They doubt their worthiness.  They deny the power of God.

Those caught up in the ruckus say, “Who am I to believe?”  “Am I really victorious?”

Allow me to answer this second question:

“Yes!”

Our victory is a sure thing!  When Jesus rose, the earth shook, and Satan was dealt a stunning defeat!

Well, not really that stunning, considering who defeated him.

Yet, the deception continues, and people still seem confused about the results.

This is why I wanted to take a moment today to make certain you are aware of the facts.  It goes something like this:

God – Winner of Eternal and Glorious Victory

Satan – Destined for the Lake of Fire

It doesn’t matter how many meetings take place at this point.  Nothing is going to change the outcome.

 

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Growing Kingdom People – The Coronavirus: A Reminder

The Coronavirus: A Reminder

Last Sunday, a young woman in our church approached me, following our time of worship.  She asked if I could talk with her about a prayer need.  We moved to a conversation spot in the Lobby and she began to share her concern.

The woman is from Wuhan, China.  Wuhan is the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak, where the virus was first identified.  At the time of my writing, there are approximately 4,500 reported cases of Coronavirus on Mainland China, and 106 deaths.

In our conversation, I learned of my friend’s elderly parents who have been told, along with other citizens, not to leave their home.  She was preparing to visit her parents for the first time in three years when she received word that all flights to her hometown were cancelled.  My friend from worship is able to talk with her family members and friends over the internet, but is still fearful and saddened she is unable to see them in person.

Who knew?

Next Sunday I will be asking our church family to pray for a young woman among us who is concerned for her family in Wuhan.

I will be honest.  When news of the Coronavirus broke, I checked out reported cases online to see if they were anywhere near my loved ones.  I was worried the virus might find its way into our population and threaten them.

Then I talked with my friend from Wuhan.  She isn’t concerned about the virus coming to America.  She is concerned about her family and is frustrated because she can’t be with them to make sure they are safe.

The unique circumstances of our loved ones took our hearts in two different directions.

I think of Jesus and His choice to enter human history in a manger in Bethlehem.  While He was with His Father, He was safe.  He didn’t have to worry about evil people because they couldn’t stand in the presence of His father.  Sin doesn’t exist in heaven.

What did He do?

He left the safety of heaven and came to earth in human flesh.  He took on the role of a servant, and gave His life on the cross to save us.  Had Jesus been my son I might have told Him to cancel His ticket.  It’s too dangerous down here!

But Jesus did what people do when they have loved ones in trouble.  He came to be with us, and gave His all to rescue us (John 3:16).

As the young woman and I continued to converse, I was thinking, “Good thing your flight to Wuhan was cancelled.  You might have contracted the virus.”  But I sense she was thinking, “I wish I could go home.  I’m not worried about the virus.  I just want to make sure my parents are alright.”

While it is true, Jesus already had the cure for sin, the cost was extreme and He bore the burden in its entirety.  I still marvel that He came for people like me, especially when I consider His options.

But He did.

I’m so glad He did.

We will be praying for my friend’s parents.  My guess is, they are thankful she isn’t coming.  No one wants to see their loved ones hurt.

Including God.

What does that tell us about the depth of His love for us?

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Growing Kingdom People – Stop Saying “I Don’t Care!”

Stop Saying, “I Don’t Care!”

A few days ago, I was in a conversation focused on the possible outcomes of political events in our country and their implications.   A participant in the conversation said, “I don’t care anyway!  I’ll probably be dead before I have to worry about it.”

The person who made this comment is around my age, though I’m not planning on either one of us meeting the Lord anytime soon.

Of course, you never know.

This isn’t the first time I have heard someone suggest he isn’t concerned about the future here on earth because he is planning on being in heaven before things get worse.  I realize life is complicated, and there is some comfort in knowing we won’t have to manage any more than necessary.  But, in my humble opinion, our eternal reward and the joy we will experience in heaven is no reason to ignore what happens here after we are gone.

Consider these things we should care about:

We should care about global, national and local politics that will impact the future.  What happens between and within nations now will will affect those who remain after we are gone.  Our children and grandchildren will inherit the intended and unintended consequences of decisions made by leaders today.  The dreams for a better life that existed in the minds of our forefathers must not die with us.

We should care about the environment others must live in after we are gone.  Global warming and sea level rise are certainly critical issues in our world today.  But I think our attitude toward the environment can be seen on a much more personal level.  Not long ago I was waiting at a stop light when the door of the car in front of me opened slightly and the driver plopped a fast food bag to the pavement.  When the light turned, she drove away, clipping a part of the bag with her back tire and spreading trash across the roadway.  If you have ever been to an impoverished, and politically corrupt country, you may have seen piles of trash and people living in them!  Every time I see someone throw a piece of trash out of a window I think of those places and wonder what is taking place in the hearts and minds of our citizens.  We should care about the environment we leave behind.

We should care about people who are outside of Christ when we leave this world.  Have you ever wondered why faithful believers who are in the last years of their lives love to see younger people serve in the church?  Why do they still send cards of encouragement to younger leaders, even though they themselves are no longer able to participate in most church activities?  They do it because they have given their whole lives to the mission of the church and they are thinking about the work that will continue after they are gone.  They know the believer’s walk with the Lord can be hard and they want those who come behind them to remember they are loved.

We should care about the long-term consequences of sinful and destructive behaviors.  When we see wickedness increasing, we can’t help but think things are only going to get worse.  Some people have told me they are glad they won’t be around to see how terrible things might become before Jesus returns.  I understand.  And I will admit, sometimes I feel a sense of powerlessness when it comes to healing the diseases manifesting themselves in our culture’s soul.  But none of us are truly powerless.  We can pray for our world and spread goodness with our last ounce of energy before we leave this earth.  We can die in hope because of our Savior, but we can also leave behind a message of hope to those who will be loving people through their messes in the years to come.

Hopefully, you can see there is every reason not to say, “I don’t care!”  More than anything, such an attitude doesn’t speak well of those who have put their trust in Jesus.  I realize some may see this as a statement of faith in the glory to come.  I get it.  But just because we are getting closer to eternal glory doesn’t mean we should stick our nose up at those who are going to be here a while.

Join me in caring…

…about all kinds of things and those who come behind us.

I have reaped the benefits of the vision of those who went before me all of my life.  Those who follow me deserve the same.

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Growing Kingdom People – Are You Crazy?

Are You Crazy?

It appears everyone is crazy.

Hardly a day goes by without a public figure suggesting an opponent has some form of mental derangement or deficiency.

Is this really the case?

Perhaps, in some instances.  But, not all irrational behavior indicates a serious mental condition.  In fact, it is possible the behavior is not irrational at all.  It could be the result of rational fear and a personal feeling of powerlessness.

The people who are said to be doing and saying “crazy” things in our culture, are often afraid of losing something.  The list of somethings includes rights endowed by God and the Constitution.  Also included are treasured principles such as freedom and justice.

Perhaps you could complete this sentence focused on someone you consider to be crazy: “You’re crazy if you think you are going to take away my _____________.”

I am not a highly skeptical person, and I don’t spend a lot of time working through conspiracies.  But I do believe the only reason some people haven’t taken away some of the things I value is because they haven’t had an opportunity.

Crazy, you say?

Hang on…

I’m going to make a hard-right turn into a Bible topic!

Whoooooooah!

Are you still with me?

Good.  Sorry for the scare.  Let’s see, where were we?  Oh, yes…

Consider the fear we might have of Satan’s work in our lives.  Is it irrational?

On one hand, yes.  Satan was defeated at Calvary, and has no ultimate power over us as we cling to our hope in Christ.

On the other hand, no.  Satan works extra hard to exploit weaknesses in the lives in an effort to diminish the work Christ calls us to as His people.

It all comes down to opportunity.  In Ephesians 4:27, the Apostle Paul wrote, “and do not give the devil a foothold.”  The Greek word used here for “foothold” can also be translated “location” or “opportunity.”  The idea is that the devil looks for a single vantage point from which to launch an all-out assault on our lives.

Now let’s suppose we are speaking to Satan when we say, “You are crazy if you think you are taking away my ______________.

What might you put in the blank?

“Peace of mind?

“Confidence in God’s grace?

“Moral integrity?

“Family?

“Prayer life?

“Time with God’s Word?

Crazy, you say?  Satan could never take away these things in our lives?

Perhaps.

Unless he has an opportunity.

Which is all he needs.

To believe otherwise is…

Well…

Just plain irrational.

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Growing Kingdom People – Jeopardy, Alex Trebek and The Answer Is…

Jeopardy, Alex Trebek and the Answer is…

Whether or not you are a Jeopardy fan, you are probably aware that Alex Trebek is battling pancreatic cancer.  Unfortunately, his cancer is advanced and the prognosis is disheartening.  Alex is facing his disease with tremendous courage and continues to host his show with excellence.

I have watched Jeopardy since I was a kid, and many things have changed.  Art Fleming was the host then, and the winnings were considerably less.  When a contestant made a selection, a piece of cardboard was removed from the dollar figure, revealing the text.  The show was in black and white, as well.

Black and white.

You see, once upon a time, in a land far away, TVs didn’t show color.

Never mind…

The one thing that has remained constant in the game of jeopardy is the practice of presenting a contestant with an answer, which must be met with the correct question.  The question (which is also the answer) must be phrased in the form of a question.

I have been thinking about the story God has written in His Word and the way He often uses this same methodology.  In other words, sometimes He gives us the answer before we ask the question.  For example, Adam and Eve didn’t ask God what they needed to do to be saved.  But God gave them the answer.  In an allusion to Jesus’ victory on the cross, God gave Satan a glimpse into his future: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

And the answer is, “Is there hope for the human race as a result of the fall?”

Biblical prophecy is often an answer before the question is asked.  This is because God knows the answer before we ask the questions.  He knew our need before we were a twinkle in our parents’ eyes.  And He knew how His story of redemption was going to culminate on the cross from the moment He spoke those words to the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

We have many questions.  This is to be expected since life can be complicated.  But I have discovered many of the answers are already on the board.

Or in God’s Word.

If we take the answers more seriously, we might learn to ask more questions, such as, “What must I do to be saved?”

I realize we are accustomed to asking the questions, then seeking the answers.

But perhaps it would be wise to do things in reverse every now and then.

“Yes, we should do that!”

“What do you think?”

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