Growing Kingdom People – “Shut the Door!”

“Shut The Door!”

You will likely be hearing a great deal about “financial literacy” in the months and years to come. Financial responsibility has always been important, but cultural trends have made it more difficult for parents and grandparents to pass down basic management skills. So “financial literacy” is being included in school curriculums from kindergarten to college.

For years, the routine remained pretty much the same. After finding a job people received their first paycheck. They opened a bank account, cashed their check, deposited what they could in savings and kept the rest in their pocket for their daily needs. Some had running tabs at local gas stations and department stores, but they paid them off as soon as possible.

In my home as a child, there was always a clear line between how much something cost and how my behavior affected the bottom line. If I held the front door of our house open too long on a winter day my father would yell out, “Shut the door!” Why? Because he didn’t want to heat the whole neighborhood.

Now, the line is not so clear. Our paychecks go directly to the bank. We use debit cards and credit cards to purchase items at the store, unless we shop online. And taking money out of savings is as easy as the click of a button. We can pay our bills by direct deposit, which further distances us from the cost of living. Some people have told me they don’t check on their paycheck or bill amounts much anymore. They just pull up their balance to see what they have left.

In addition to these cultural realities, if others are paying for some of our needs, we can become totally detached from our true circumstances. If we exceed the data package on our cell phone, we’ll never know unless the people paying the bill complain. There is little motivation to turn off a light when we leave a room. Or…

“Shut the door! You’re heating the whole neighborhood!”

It’s a fact of life. The more removed we are from what something costs, the less we care about what we are spending.

Perhaps this is why Jesus never shied away from the cost of grace. Jesus personally paid our debt of sin with the blood He shed on the cross. When we receive it, it comes to us free of charge. There is no point in trying to repay Jesus for His gift since we couldn’t match His level of sacrifice if we tried. This is the nature of grace.

Although we can’t pay for grace received, it does impact our future in a major way. For the rest of our lives we demonstrate our gratitude to Jesus by putting Him first and by looking for opportunities to serve in His name. We don’t do these things out of guilt, or with the false notion we are balancing a redemptive ledger sheet in heaven. We do them because the cost of our salvation reminds us of the depth of God’s love and the value of grace.

This is why we should never become detached from the things Jesus did to rescue us. It is the reason He asked us to eat the bread and drink the cup, representing His body and blood given for us at Calvary (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). It is why Paul asked the Ephesian Elders to care for God’s precious flock, the church (Acts 20:28). And it is why we need to live pure lives (1 Corinthians 6:20).

It’s funny.

Not really funny.

It’s sad, really.

Jesus, who purchased our gift of grace with His own blood is often pushed aside by the things we don’t believe we can live without (but probably could).

I would like to challenge you with something. When you have an opportunity meditate on some of the ways your life is being poured out. Line up the receipts that line your pockets. Go to your Facebook page and reflect on your GPS trail. Consider where you spend most of your time. Ask yourself these questions:

• What does my accounting say about my priorities?
• What am I teaching my children about what is important?
• What kind of example am I setting for others who look up to me as a committed believer?
• How many times a day do I stop to think about what Jesus did for me?
• How many of my words and actions are guided by my reflections on the cross?
• Do my actions match my words? My public prayers? My self-perceptions?

I am not one to remove myself from the world. I remember the old adage that says, “He was so heavenly minded he was of no worldly good.” On the other hand, I think we could all do with a little more detachment from the world and a little more (or a lot more) attachment to the cross.

Perhaps our GPS should be permanently pinned to Calvary.

It might be time to “shut the door” so the life God has redeemed isn’t used to fuel the world.

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Growing Kingdom People – Jesus and Tariffs

Jesus and Tariffs

Traditionally, a tariff is something countries use to impose a tax on imports and exports, with the goal of encouraging citizens to produce and purchase more products at home. As I am sure you are aware, it has recently been used as a pressure point in the development of foreign trade deals and immigration policies. I will let the professional economists decide whether this is good or bad for our country. I have never been in a boardroom where billions of dollars are at stake and I don’t fully understand the dynamics at play.

But I do understand how the cost of something impacts our behavior, and ultimately, our souls. Many of Jesus’ illustrations focused on this relationship.

In His parable of the farmer who built bigger barns to store a bumper crop so he could “eat, drink and be merry” God said, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:20) The farmer’s barns were expensive, but the cost of a self-absorbed life was much more expensive. Had the farmer considered the costs, he might have contemplated different priorities.

In 1 Corinthians 6, the Apostle Paul was appealing to those who thought it was alright to claim Christ as their Savior while living a promiscuous life. Even today, there are those who want Jesus to “stay in His lane.” They want eternal life, but they don’t want Jesus telling them how to conduct their sex life. Paul wrote, “You were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

Once, Jesus shared the example of a man who decides to build a tower before calculating the costs. He forms the foundation, but runs out of money before finishing the project. Then he becomes the town joke. Jesus went on to say we must give up everything to follow Him.  I don’t believe Jesus was saying we can’t have possessions, but we must realize everything we have is subject to His kingdom goals when we decide to follow Him.

During Jesus’ ministry, a successful young man asked Him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus quizzed him on his faithfulness to God’s commandments and he passed with flying colors. Then He added a troubling challenge: “”If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21) Obviously, Jesus doesn’t ask everyone to sell their possessions as we know His closest disciples continued to own their fishing boats and homes.  But, in this man’s case, Jesus knew he would have trouble following Him if his decision cost him nothing.  He could continue to live with the delusion that good behavior would get him into heaven, or he could give his heart to the Lord. But he couldn’t do both.

The message of Jesus is clear. Following costs. Fortunately, the incomprehensible price for our salvation was purchased on the cross. It is this price that establishes our priorities and determines the place the kingdom of God has in our hearts.

I don’t know if Jesus would have an opinion on tariffs or not. Perhaps He would say the same thing He said when some of His enemies tried to trip him up with a question on paying taxes. He said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22;21)

Maybe we should spend a little less time worrying about foreign policy and a little more time thinking about eternity. Both are important, but I feel certain one is more critical when it comes to our souls. If you aren’t sure which, give me a call. I would love to talk trade with you!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Growing Kingdom People – Mass Shootings and Faith

Mass Shootings and Faith

The Hampton Roads area was struck with tragedy last week as twelve innocent people lost their lives at the hands of a single shooter.  The funerals will begin this week.  The physical wounds of those who were injured and the emotional wounds of those who have lost loved ones will last a lifetime.

Every time one of these events occurs, the airwaves light up with experts and politicians who have opinions on how we might prevent the next mass shooting.  The debate doesn’t change much.  Do we need more guns or fewer guns?  How do we balance security measures with freedom of movement and normalcy?  Should we have more gun control or put more guns in the hands of people who can respond to emergencies?  And are there better ways to identify and stop those who might commit these horrendous crimes? 

These are important discussions, as are tangible steps that might come out of them in an effort to bring about change. 

However, one perspective is frequently absent from the public forum.  What role does one’s spiritual life play in the decision to take innocent lives? 

There may be a number of reasons why faith is only a part of the response to a mass shooting and not a part of the solution.  Some people likely see “religion” as a part of the problem.  Certainly, terrorist acts fall into this category as shooters often show signs of having been radicalized by terrorist organizations.  Others likely believe religious people should “stay in their lane” and work to pick up the pieces after an event. 

While I don’t think it helps when Christians try to solve violence with worn out clichés and angry rants, I do believe the root of the problem is spiritual.  As long as humans inhabit the earth, we will continue to witness violence and the suffering of the innocent at the hands of evil-doers.  But there are some very good reasons why faith may be the most important solution to the problem.

Our faith in God instills and reinforces the idea of the sanctity of life in our hearts and minds.  Punishment is a deterrent, but the core belief that we are created in the image of God changes how we see others and how we respond when we think we have been treated unfairly.

The Lord’s church provides a sense of community where others help us with our struggles.  This doesn’t mean going to church will keep people from harming others.  In fact, since the church is a place for hurting people, there is a good chance those who commit violent crimes will have some connection to a church family.  But for those who take their walk with the Lord seriously, the church is a place where they learn grace, forgiveness and compassion.  It is a place of confession, love and restoration.  There is no way to know how many acts of violence have been prevented because the people of God helped a brother or sister work through their anger. 

The Bible teaches us numerous ways to process our negative feelings toward others.  For example, it tells us it is alright to be angry, but we should never let the sun go down on our anger (Ephesians 4:26).  We should respect and depend on those in authority to carry out justice if we believe we have been wronged (1 Peter 2:13-14).  We should remember, while we might take steps to protect ourselves from those who want to hurt us, and it is permissible to seek justice through the proper authorities, vengeance belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:19).  The Bible also teaches conflict management (Matthew 18:15-17) and records the Parables of Jesus, which teach mercy, and forgiveness (Matthew 18:23-35). 

It is hard to say whether one principle or lesson from the Lord will prevent someone from following through with a plan to kill innocent people.  I realize there are conditions of the mind that escape us.  Yet, I propose even some of these are partially a result of a heart and mind that has not been tempered by biblical truth. In addition, we should not assume people with mental disorders are not capable of being tempered by spiritual truths. 

There are many nuances to this subject.  “Religion” is not the same thing as a sincere walk with Christ, and even the latter can be used by those who have lost perspective to justify their actions.  Humans are messy.

Still, I am convinced people of faith are grounded in principles that help them cope with the kind of anger, bitterness and resentment that can lead to violence. 

I would like to hear more people talk about the heart and soul of our nation and how wandering from God has helped lead us to our present circumstances. It is time to look beyond “thoughts and prayers” and ask ourselves how serious we are about viewing our world from God’s perspective.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Growing Kingdom People – Don’t Shoot the Weatherman

Don’t Shoot the Weatherman!

Our friends and family members in the Midwest have been suffering through a horrific storm season.  Some predict flooding along the Mississippi River will surpass that of the Great Flood of 1927.  I wasn’t alive then, but I have seen some of the water lines on the walls of buildings that survived.

Lives have been lost.  Livelihoods have been destroyed.  Lifetimes of memories have been washed downstream. 

This is serious business folks!

If there is a silver lining in the pain people are experiencing, it is that satellite imagery and early warning systems have kept the death toll relatively low.  Of course, this is of little comfort to those whose loved ones didn’t escape, but for many who have had time to seek shelter there is reason for thanksgiving.

Perhaps this is why a TV weatherman recently lost his cool and lectured his viewing audience.  Meteorologist Jamie Simpson of Dayton, Ohio, had broken into regular programing to follow the path of a tornado that was approaching his community.  Soon, he began receiving unkind comments from those who were upset their show had been interrupted.  Some told him to “just go back to the show”.  Others accused him of staying on their air to feed his ego. 

The show?

“Bachelorette”.

I will be honest and tell you, I would personally not get upset if “Bachelorette” was interrupted for a tornado warning.  In fact, I wouldn’t mind if it was preempted by a cattle auction. 

Ok, so I might be a little upset about the cattle auction.

I know.  I know!  I’m the same person who can watch a marathon of hunters shooting alligators in the head on “Swamp People”.

It just never gets old.

Let’s move on.  Here is the quote from the weather forecaster: “This is a dangerous situation, OK? Think about if it was your neighborhood. I’m sick and tired of people complaining about this. Our job here is to keep people safe and that’s what we’re going to do. Some people complaining that it’s all about my ego – stop. Just stop right now. It’s not. I’m done with you people. I really am. This is pathetic.”

Good for him!

Please don’t misunderstand.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling disappointed because our evening of viewing pleasure was messed up by a tornado warning.  It’s just that the healthiest solution to disappointment is redirection.  When something as simple as a television show is interrupted, we should be able to find value in our circumstances and discover something of equal or greater value to occupy our time. 

It’s ok to be disappointed, even if our losses are trivial.  But the weatherman is correct in calling out my pathetic existence if a TV show defines my happiness. 

How would I tell a family their loved one died because my local weatherman listened to my complaints and asked his station to return to my favorite show?

Is one more bullet in an alligator’s head really that important?

No. 

In fact, it might be just a bit pathetic under any circumstances.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Growing Kingdom People – A Point Observed in the Abortion Debate

A Point Observed in the Abortion Debate

The debate between “pro-life” and “pro-choice” is heating up.  Some of the fervor is being driven by the recent passage of laws either loosening or tightening abortion restrictions.  Behind this is the fear or hope that “Roe vs. Wade” will be revisited by the Supreme Court.

Before I share my “point observed”, I wish to clearly state that I support the “pro-life” side of the debate.  I believe when life is created by a man and a woman, it is their responsibility to protect and nurture that life.  I know there are various indicators we use to define what constitutes life, but I believe it begins at conception.  I personally find it strange that we get excited about a speculative piece of data that suggests life exists on other planets, but we diminish the significance of human conception, which, given a healthy set of circumstances has repeatedly proven to lead to the birth of a child. 

My “point observed” focuses on silence.  There certainly isn’t much silence in the arena of public debate.  People are screaming, picketing and committing criminal acts to promote their position.  The news media is in a feeding frenzy. 

And everywhere, locked inside wombs throughout the world, are babies. 

They are silent. 

I wonder what they would think if they could see and hear the commotion their presence is creating in our world.  Would they be confused that the same grown-ups who chose to bring them into existence were arguing over whether they should be allowed to continue their journey?

I will step over a line momentarily as I consider babies who were conceived as a result of rape or incest.  I understand the reason many, even on the pro-life side, support excluding these circumstances from anti-abortion laws.  In these cases, a man and woman have not entered into a consensual or equal act resulting in a pregnancy.  It is abhorrent to think of how a woman’s life can be forever altered because of the sinful and illegal actions of a rapist or family member.  This is unfair, unjust and undeserved.

However, I continue my thought process to consider how this might seem to the baby being formed in her or his mother’s womb.  How would we explain that his or her life is not valuable because of how conception occurred?

I do not wish to answer all of the finer points of the abortion discussion here.  It simply bothers me that the one at the center of the debate is silent. 

I heard the other day that it was cruel to bring an unwanted child into the world?  How do we know?  Has the child said he or she feels a particular decision would be cruel? 

Since babies are silent, we cannot base our conclusions on their desires or feelings.  We must discern how we might feel, knowing what we know now of life, and how we are going to interpret abortion in light of our moral convictions and sources of truth. 

I have already shared my position, but that still doesn’t reveal what a baby might say in the matter.  Which brings me to the ultimate question.  When someone is incapable of speaking on their own behalf, what should we do?

This is where we sometimes put words in an unborn child’s mouth.  Or we reach conclusions for them, based on our life-experiences.

I know I am merely rambling about a point that will not change.  Unless babies start finding a way to share their thoughts inside the womb, they will forever be silent. 

It upsets me when I see images of people shouting and picketing in the streets.  The one who will be affected most by other people’s decisions has no say. 

They didn’t ask for any of this. 

They are innocent.

I suppose this is why the debate at hand centers around who holds the power to make choices for them. 

Regardless of where people land on the issue, I personally would like to see more reflection on the one who, through no fault of her or his own, is silent.

The argument in the city square is deafening.

So is the silence in the womb.

There you have it. We are no longer able to listen, and the innocents cannot speak.

No wonder we are in such a mess.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Growing Kingdom People – A Testimony and Prayer from Butch Peebles

A Testimony and Prayer from Butch Peebles

This week, our church family held a celebration service for Butch Peebles. Butch was a rough and tumble man who epitomized the phrase “one of a kind”. He was also a man after God’s heart. A few yeas ago, Butch was diagnosed with cancer. In this testimony and prayer he expressed his feelings as he faced the future:

The Day I Was Humbled

“Determined to face the diagnosis with faith, thankfulness, pride and dignity. Faith and thankfulness remain. Dignity stripped away and pride was replaced with humbleness.

O Lord thank you for this blessings. God bless the innocent that suffer worse than I, that are more deserving of your grace, and mercy. Prepare me to accept your destiny. It will be your will and not mine! Thank you for this opportunity to serve you in suffering. God thank you for the people that showed me so much love, empathy, and compassion. God forgive me for my pride, selfishness, lack of empathy, and my never ending lack of patience. Forever thankful Lord for your blessings. Thankful that it was you that took me down in love and not my enemies., Amen, your humbled servant. Butch Peebles.”

A Prayer on Monday

Just two days before he was killed in a tragic accident, Butch came to our church building to pour his heart out before God. After his visit he sent me this message:

“All I could think to do was get as close as I could to God!…Thankfully I did reach God and he did sooth me and made me able to breathe again.”

Today, Butch is breathing the oxygen of heaven. Indeed, God works most powerfully through those who walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Growing Kingdom People – The Royal Writhe

The Royal Writhe

“How any woman does what they do is beyond comprehension.” Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, will certainly be remembered for these affirming words following the birth of his first child. The “woman” on his mind is Duchess Meghan Markle, and his reference is most certainly to the birthing process.

Indeed, a woman’s willingness to endure the trial of childbirth is universally and historically acclaimed. Biblical authors use birth as a default metaphor when they want to describe a time of intense trouble or trial. A Psalmist once wrote of enemy kings who experienced “pain like that of a woman in labor” as they approached the intimidating grandeur of Mount Zi0n (Psalm 48:6). In a prophecy against Babylon, Isaiah wrote, “Terror will seize them, pain and anguish will grip them; they will writhe like a woman in labor. They will look aghast at each other, their faces aflame” (Isaiah 13:8). And the Apostle Paul used childbirth to describe the state of a world in need of redemption: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22).

Such words!

“Terror, pain, anguish, writhe, aghast, flame, groaning and pain.”

“Writhe?”

Whew! How any woman does what they do is beyond comprehension.

I suspect, if Harry maintains the same level of introspection in the future that is evident today, he will broaden his context. Yes, moms are amazing, but not just because they give birth, as incomprehensible as that might be.

“Writhe.” I can’t get that word out of my mind.

How moms serve and bless their children throughout their lives is beyond comprehension. Whether a mom adopts, fosters or births, the demands of parenting require heroic devotion. And the work isn’t getting any easier.

Loving moms commit their lives to the task of helping their children navigate the world, and preparing them for adulthood. I don’t mean to suggest they do it alone, and I am also aware some children are raised by fathers, grandparents or other guardians. But for my purposes here, I am focusing on mothers who pour themselves out for their children, and the honor they deserve.

Children come to us as mysteries. We may know a few things about them, whether they are a boy or girl, easy going or prone to discontent. Do they sleep through the night? Will they have curly or straight hair?

As our children grow many mysteries are revealed such as personality traits, natural giftedness and personal challenges. Perceptive Moms take note of these revelations as they emerge, and strive to prepare their children to take on the world.

I admire the nurturing process Moms pursue on behalf of their children. Mothers are talent scouts, career counselors, therapists, doctors and theologians wrapped up in one. And all of this before a child’s first day of school.

There are dark days too. Days when a two-parent home become a single-parent home. Medical tests that indicate the role of Mom is going to be a lot harder than expected. Financial struggles. A “falling out” with a neighbor. Car wrecks. Emergency room visits. A call from the Principal’s office. A call from the police station. The door slamming on its hinges and the words no mother wants to hear: “I hate you!”

“Writhe”.

It’s not just something that happens in childbirth.

And yes, Harry, you were most right. If anything, your comment was just a bit narrow. But then, people understand you were merely speaking in the moment. How any woman does what they do is beyond comprehension. Obviously, this is true of women in general, with or without children. But we get it, and I am sure Meghan loves you for it!

Now, we await a name. I personally believe “Larry Ray” would be quite royal.

“Hear, Hear!”

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment