Growing Kingdom People – Money Has Its Day

Money Has Its Day

Have you ever thought about how many days are named after a financial exchange?

For years, families braved “Black Friday”, the insane first official Christmas shopping day after Thanksgiving.  Then came “Cyber Monday”, which reduced the Christmas shopping traffic in box stores and city streets as people were able to purchase presents online.  There remains the first shopping day after Christmas, when we return and exchange gifts, but since the day for Christmas changes, this day doesn’t have a name of its own.

There are other days.  Everyone looks forward to “payday”, even if the pay is directly deposited into their checking accounts.  “Tax Day”, April 15th, is our deadline for filing our income taxes, and “Tax Freedom Day”, is a moving day which represents how long we have to work to pay our taxes.  In case you are wondering, this year, “Tax Freedom Day” is April 16th.

Christmas Day falls into a different category.  On this day, we celebrate the birth of our Savior.  Christmas Day is a day to honor a person.

But perhaps there is more.

The angel told Joseph to name Mary’s baby Jesus.  The name “Jesus” means “to rescue” or “to save.”  Jesus was going to save God’s people from their sins, and the price of salvation would involve the pouring out of His life on the cruel cross of Calvary.

The cost of our salvation was incurred through our sins.

The payment was delivered in a manger, somewhere in the little town of Bethlehem.

While it is true, the price for our salvation was not paid until that horrible day when Jesus gave up His live on a cross, the assurance of having our debt of sin erased was already on earth, rocking in the arms of a young mother.

It is only natural that we would not want to consider this truth on Christmas Day.  Christmas Day is a day to rejoice over God’s goodness.  It is a day for giving, and for showing love to everyone we meet.

There are no chocolate crosses in the candy aisle at Christmas (personally, I would prefer that there never be a chocolate cross as it seems strange to make a snack out of the instrument of torture used to kill Jesus).  But the cross was clearly visible in the manger.  The birth of Jesus was a precursor to the day He would cover our sins with His blood.  The day the payment was made and Satan was utterly crushed.

Which is probably why Satan worked so hard to destroy Jesus before He had a chance to grow up.  Satan didn’t see a baby in a manger.  He saw a payment, and the day his dark kingdom would go down in smoke.

And speaking of days…Satan will have his day too.

On that day none of the other days will matter.  “Black Friday”, “Cyber Monday”, and all the rest will be swallowed up by the “Great Day” (Revelation 6:17).

Get ready.

Some day only one day will matter.

 

 

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Growing Kingdom People – Killing Thanksgiving

Killing Thanksgiving

Recently, I conducted a brief study of thanksgiving in the Bible. Since there is some dispute about the location of the first official Thanksgiving on American soil, I thought perhaps I could help reduce hostilities by finding proof of an ancient Thanksgiving service recorded in scripture.

I did, indeed discover some good candidates, not the least of which were Miriam’s song and dance by the Red Sea and the Last Supper. However, I must report the Bible actually begins with the sinful suppression of thanksgiving, not its celebration.

The killing thanksgiving story starts in the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve were enjoying paradise. Their only restriction was that they were not to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden. Satan appeared and convinced them they had every reason to be ungrateful. True, they had everything they could possibly want, but the Deceiver convinced them God was holding out. It wasn’t enough to live in perfect harmony with one another and all creation. They wanted the fruit. They wanted to be as wise as God. How could they be grateful when there was something they couldn’t have?

You may know the rest of the story in the garden. Adam and Eve rebelled against their Creator, ate the fruit and fell from grace. They killed thanksgiving.

Next came the first offspring, Cain and Abel. In the course of showing gratitude to God through personal sacrifices, Abel was singled out and praised for the superiority of his gift. Cain became enraged, rose up against Abel in a field and murdered him. Instead of being grateful for a brother with whom he could share his life, Cain became focused on what he was missing – God’s affirmation. So, he killed thanksgiving.

I see an important truth in these early events in human history. Thanksgiving grows out of an appreciation for what we have. Ingratitude is a product of focusing on what we don’t have.

If you doubt this truth, consider children who always get what they want, but continue to disrespect and dishonor those who sacrifice for their well-being. The list includes parents, teachers and basically anyone else who gives to them, including their peers.

Consider citizens who take the work of law enforcement personnel for granted. These caring servants protect us from harm while we are sleeping peacefully in our beds at night. But we test them by breaking the law, call them derogatory names and assume the worst when they are accused of wrongdoing.

The point of Thanksgiving Day is to express gratitude for our blessings. Most people try to be on their best behavior to demonstrate they understand what the celebration is for. This requires more patience on the road and at the grocery. It also means we try to love Aunt Ruby, even when she insists everyone try one of her raw oysters. And when she brings a present for one of your siblings because he is her favorite. Just saying.

If we can hold on for one day, we can go back to being ungrateful the day after. Just in time for the Christmas shopping season!

The fact is, Thanksgiving Day, and the gratitude that goes with it, is often just a worn-out theology which we no longer believe. We may not really feel blessed, but we will show thanks one day a year for appearances’ sake.

With a week to prepare, I want to encourage you to examine your heart. Don’t just work on your list of things to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. Consider how you can possess a spirit of gratitude every day of the year. If you don’t think this is possible, perhaps you need some careful self-examination as you consider how you view God’s blessings.

To help us all in this regard, we should remember everything we have is a gift from God. Nothing we have came into existence without God’s creative genius. The materials out of which we build our possessions and the intellect to fashion them for our purposes are His.

Where is your focus today? Are you envious of the things you don’t have or thankful for your blessings?

The answer to this question will greatly impact the quality of your Thanksgiving celebration.

Don’t play Thanksgiving.

Live it!

“As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Col. 2:6-7)

 

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Growing Kingdom People – Big Time Weather Forecast

Big Time Weather Forecast

With winter weather upon us, I have a question: How many times do you check the weather forecast in the course of a day?

People have always been concerned about the weather, but greater access to meteorological data has turned an interest into an obsession. Our local news stations are aware of our need. That’s why they repeat the weather forecast at least three times, in various ways, during a single broadcast. Add to this the Weather Channel, weather apps and weather notifications, and it’s no wonder the current temperature and chances of rain are two pieces of information we don’t want to live without.

With this said, there is one truth regarding the weather that has remained largely constant for thousands of years. Humans can predict the weather with some accuracy, but they don’t create it. I realize clouds can be seeded to stimulate precipitation, and man-made pollution impacts weather patterns. But, until a human replicates a storm front or stirs up a tropical depression from scratch, I will echo the phrase often attributed to Mark Twain: “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

This doesn’t mean our environment is out of control. It just highlights the fact we are not in control. But we know who is.

God is still in charge of the weather. To prove my point, I want to make you aware of the forecast He made thousands of years ago, which has been 100% accurate since it was issued. The forecast following the great flood was as follows:

“As long as the earth endures, seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:22

All of these things came to pass and continue to this day. I write this as the sun descends toward the horizon, bringing another day to completion.

Please don’t interpret this to mean we should throw up our hands when it comes to global environmental concerns that are influenced by man. I believe God has given us dominion over the earth, which means we have a responsibility to carefully steward what we have been given; for ourselves, for the benefit of future generations and as a way of honoring our Creator.

What it does mean, though, is that God should factor heavily in any perspective we have about the weather. No, we should not ignore science. If the weatherman tells us to seek shelter, then by all means we should do what he says.

However, we should also ask whether or not we have adequately sought the Lord’s counsel. I am not saying we should pray about whether or not to seek shelter from an impending storm. God gave us a brain for a reason!

But have we asked God to help us steward what He has made? Do we still believe He can alter the course of nature if He chooses?

At the very least, do we still stare in wonder at our world’s complexity and it’s ability to moderate millions of factors at once?  Observing, researching and predicting the weather is what man does. Keeping it all in motion is what God does.

The next time snow blankets the ground, don’t praise Mother Nature. Praise the Lord for His faithful, timeless prediction in the time of Noah.  Don’t worry.  I’m not going to call you out for referring to Mother Nature as long as you realize she isn’t real.

And anyway, in defense of mothers everywhere, why is it we almost never talk about Mother Nature on a pretty day? She is always responsible for storms that bring disaster.

Seek shelter in the storm.

Pay attention to your notifications.

But put your full trust in the ultimate Weatherman.

I’m referring to the Weatherman who started the planets spinning. You will see some of His handiwork tomorrow when the sun rises and the moon disappears.

So it has been since the beginning.

So it will be until the end.

 

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Growing Kingdom People – The Meaning of the Black Cat

The Meaning of the Black Cat

Black cats have generally been considered as omens of bad luck or an indication of a satanic presence. In the time of the Pilgrims, some thought black cats were “familiars” (demons) in league with witches. However, in other cultures, black cats have been considered a sign of good luck, or either good or bad luck, depending on which direction a particular cat was walking.

This past Monday night, with six minutes to go in the NFL Cowboys/Giants game, a black cat appeared on the field. Immediately, the commentators began speculating about its meaning for the home team, the Cowboys. It appeared to me the cat was walking mostly from left to right, which according to folklore, means good luck is coming. The Cowboys won the game, so I guess it all fits.

I am not a superstitious person, and I don’t think the Cowboys win had anything to do with a black cat.  Well, perhaps it did if the Giants believe in folklore and allowed the cat incident to influence their play.

Regardless, I am intrigued by the human bent toward superstition.  Please know that I have no desire to condemn others for innocent routines they believe make them more successful.  People are probably not going to be led into the occult by claiming to have a lucky golf club, a special coin in their pocket or a favorite hat.  More problematic, I believe, is the tendency to project superstitious thinking on our relationship with God.

Some examples include:

  • The belief we have displeased God when we encounter trials.
  • The belief we are doing something right when we experience good things.
  • The belief God will reward us with health and wealth if we claim it to be so.
  • The belief we are more blessed than others because we are better people.

I am not suggesting there is no connection between our actions and God’s blessings.  Or that God doesn’t reward us when we are faithful.  There is no doubt in my mind we will find greater fulfillment in life if we obey God.  On the other hand, it is possible to do everything right and still suffer.  It is also important to trust God when life doesn’t make sense, and when we feel we are being treated unfairly.

In truth, this is not how a walk with God works.  Jesus once said His Father makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and unjust (Matthew 5:45).  God doesn’t promise an easy life, but He does promise to bless us.

Superstitious people interpret God’s love in light of their circumstances, and they act in godly ways to get what they want.  The danger in this pattern of behavior is that we might believe things about God that are untrue, based on our circumstances, and we will only act in godly ways when there is something we want.

God is not a God of “lucky charms”.  He is a God of blessings, seen and unseen, present and future.  God even uses bad things He didn’t cause to help us grow in our faith.  When I view God through the lens of superstition, I try to control Him for my own purpose.  When I see Him as a faithful God who blesses me in ways that serve His purposes, I learn to roll with the punches and watch for His hand to move in everything.

This is not the same as watching a black cat waltz across a football field.  I’m not saying God can’t work through a cat.  He has used animals before.

But I think we can all agree the cat on the Dallas gridiron didn’t appear to be supernaturally led.  Had he been, he would have lifted a paw to toward heaven when he walked into the end zone.

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Growing Kingdom People – To My Friend in Pain

To My Friend in Pain,

I cannot imagine how you felt when you heard the shocking news of the loss of your loved one.  Perhaps the world stood still for you, as a crushing weight of unimaginable grief drove you to your knees and tears streamed down like a flood.

Some pain lasts for a moment, but not the broken heart.  It remains open, twinging at every new and unwelcome piece of information.  We rehearse the news that breaks our hearts, hoping that at last we will realize there has been a mistake.  But, as the moments and hours pass, we embrace reality, and darkness overtakes us.

This week I have thought of you often.  I wonder if there is any life left in you.  If you can sense your surroundings and receive comfort from your friends and family.  If not, please do not be frightened.  You will feel again.

I wish I could answer questions you might have.  An investigation might reveal certain facts about a sequence of events, but we are still left to wonder “why?”  Or perhaps, more accurately, “why not?”  Why could there not have been an intervention.  An interruption in the order of things, leading to a better conclusion.

For now, the pain remains.

While I have few answers, I offer lessons learned from my personal journey.  Our paths are unique, yet, we pass many of the same signposts along the way.

Signpost #1: We are never really alone.  Though others surround us, it is easy to feel isolated as few, if any can fully understand our suffering.  Still, they are there.  People who love us walk with us and the God who knows us watches over us.  We should not fear the sound of silence, but cling to the reality of presence and wait for our senses to return.

Signpost #2: We still have purpose.  Our purposes, together with our hopes and dreams are woven into the fabric of our relationships.  When the people we love leave us, we are left to think our future has vanished.  While it is true the tapestry of our lives may be torn, the God of comfort and creativity can weave a new pattern.  The damage will always be visible.  It should be.  But it will not prevent us from continuing our journey

Signpost #3: A thin veil separates us from our loved ones.  I do not understand all of the nuances of eternity.  The Bible tells me when I am absent from the body, I am home with the Lord.  But where is the Lord?  Indeed, He abides in me through the presence of the Holy Spirit, but He also sits at the right of the Father in glory.  If I am with Him when I leave this life, then my loved ones who die in Him are there now.  And if He is there and also in me, then the distance between this reality and the other must be closer than it first appears.  If nothing else, the Lord draws the two points together as we await the rolling back of the heavens like a scroll and the full revelation of His glory.  We cannot touch our loved ones who have left us, but the One who touches us holds them.

Signpost #4: Indescribable joy awaits us.  No, we do not suddenly feel the burden of grief lifted from our shoulders, nor should we feel there is something wrong with our faith if we do not.  Still, the shadow of unimaginable pain cannot forever cloud the vision of indescribable joy.  Our joy is not indescribable because it has overcome the pain, but because it can be found in the midst of the pain.  Joy is the product of hope restored.  It is the reclaiming of our senses and the awareness of our connection with the Father.  Joy sustains us.  It restores us.  It opens our eyes to something new in the presence of our broken dreams.

The signposts on our journey of pain may not be embraced at once.  At first, it is probably enough to observe them.  To know they exist.  Then, in time, they will guide us to a place of resolution.  And from that place we will resume our travels.

I will pray for you my friend.  Your pain does not make you less of a believer.  Instead, it proves you are human, limited by your earthly perspective.  Hold on, you who are loved.  Hold on until morning.  You are not alone, and the signposts of your journey remind you there is a better day.

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Growing Kingdom People – Big Mistakes in Bible Times

Big Mistakes in Bible Times

Perhaps you are aware, our political system is currently in disarray following some unpopular decisions at home and abroad.  I have been thinking about the implications poor judgement has for all of us, and these examples from the Bible that illustrate the point:

Adam and Eve were given a choice in the Garden of Eden.  They could have obeyed God and lived in paradise forever, but instead they rebelled and were cast out.  God redeemed Adam and Eve and helped them pick up the pieces of their tragedy, but the trajectory of their lives and our world were forever changed.

In a fit of anger, Cain rose up against his brother Abel in a field.  Cain was jealous because God had preferred Abel’s sacrifice over his own.  There were many ways Cain could have processed his jealousy, but he chose violence and killed Abel.  Relationships between human beings have never been the same.

When King Solomon died, his older, wiser counselors recommended to his son and successor, Rehoboam, that he back off on his public projects.  Solomon had taxed his kingdom too hard, and it was time for a break.  However, some of Rehoboam’s young buddies had a different opinion.  They believed he should be more demanding of his nation, to show people who was boss!  The plan backfired and the ten northern tribes of Israel succeeded.  The nation of Israel never recovered.

In the early church, a husband and wife by the name of Ananias and Sapphira decided to embellish a contribution they had made to the church.  The gift they gave was theirs to keep or give, but their lie threatened the purity of the early church, prompting God to strike them dead.  Yup.  It really happened.  Be careful when you report your charitable contributions on your tax return.

During the time of the early church, there was a king by the name of Herod Agrippa.  Herod was the grandson of Herod the Great, the Herod who wanted to kill baby Jesus.  Herod Agrippa was extremely arrogant, and one day he dressed in some flashy royal clothing and emerged to make a speech to his people.  The crowd shouted, “The voice of god, and not of a mortal.”  But an angel of the Lord struck Herod down as he was speaking, and the Bible says because he didn’t honor God, he was eaten by worms and died.  In that order.  If only Herod had hired a smarter speech writer.

There are many other bad decisions found within the pages of the Bible.  Many of them became pivotal points in history.  It is very hard to take back a bad decision, which means we should seek wisdom and good counsel when we are presented with important choices.  The more arrogant we become and the less willing we are to listen to others, the more likely we are to do something stupid.

I am reminded of Proverbs 11:14: “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure.” (Proverbs 11:14) Smart people can go far on their own intellect and experience, but sooner or later, without wise counsel, they will fail.

The good news is, God accepts us when we make bad decisions, and redeems us for His purposes.  But if we can limit the collateral damage we cause in the lives of others, life will be even better.

We all make mistakes, but those who refuse to admit their mistakes and listen to wisdom are just plain…

…well

…”mistaken.”

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Growing Kingdom People – Living with Control Freaks

Living with Control Freaks

I’ve been studying the subject of control.  Specifically, I am trying to understand people with control issues.

All of us can be controlling at times, especially when we sense our lives are out of control. The best outlet for our need to control is a healthy behavior that gives us some mastery over our circumstances. Examples might include exercise and the completion of manual tasks, as long as we don’t slip into an obsessive pattern.

Classic signs of a controlling personality or “control freak” include:

  • Jealousy when others establish relationships or participate in activities with people the controlling person believes himself to be in relationship with.
  • The need to tell exaggerated stories in which the controlling individual is the hero who saves others from life situations.
  • Frustration when posed with simple questions. Controlling people don’t want to share their processes or plans openly as it takes away their ability to change their narrative to suit their personal needs.
  • A tendency to share negative perceptions and information about others, even to the point of fabrication, while downplaying other people’s hard work and accomplishments.
  • Intentional or unintentional sabotaging of the efforts of others to prevent situations in which the controller might be overshadowed by others’ success.

I find it interesting those who are truly in control don’t feel a need to control. This is why classy sports coaches are able to honor their teams and their opponents after bitter defeats. They are in control of their person and know they will regroup and find success in the future.

Perhaps this is why the only One (the Godhead) who can be said to have complete control, has the ability to pursue His vision while permitting others to exercise free will and rebellion. God (and the Son and Spirit) is in control. His eternal plans are unchangeable, except in those areas where He has providentially permitted free choice.

At times, it may appear as though God has lost control. But when evil overwhelms us and sin damages our souls, God remains on the throne. He guides us through our valleys, cleanses us of unrighteousness and promised us an ultimate victory.

Ironically, although we want a God who controls undesirable events in our lives, we resist divine authority over our unholy behaviors and diseases of the heart. Then, when our sinful behavior causes us pain, we blame God for letting us suffer(or others for not taking more responsibility for our personal spiritual journey).

If God controlled everything in my life I wouldn’t need to let the Holy Spirit develop self-control in me, or to pray for wisdom and discernment. Come to think of it, God may be the least controlling person in my life.

And the only One who is truly in control.

It is up to me to decide whether I am going to play the freak or trust the Father.

 

 

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