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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Growing Kingdom People – The Mainstream Liberal Media

The Mainstream Liberal Media

Ok.

I’ll admit it.

The title of my devotional thought today was only a lure. But I do wish to address the issue of the press.  Or perhaps I should say, the issue of the fact that Christians are involved at all in the issue of the press (stick with me – I know it is tempting to bug out at this point).

Our world generally perceives Christians as followers of conservative agendas and enemies of the mainstream press. I won’t delve into the truthfulness of this perception, except to say there are always threads of truth in perceptions as well as exceptions.

The main thing I must battle as a spiritual leader are the associations people make with Christians as a result of their general perceptions. For example, I am extremely concerned about the health of our planet and believe Christians should be at the forefront of ecological research. Yes, I am aware some people exploit issues such as global warming as platforms for political gain. But this doesn’t change the fact God made us stewards of His creation. A piece of litter carelessly tossed from our car window is an affront to God – an attack on the beauty of His handiwork. Therefore, I am dismayed when Christians dismiss ecological concerns and when non-Christians see people like me as a danger to the environment.

Allow me to share these thoughts for your consideration as I think about perceptions and our Christian witness to the world:

We should speak by doing. Several years ago, I recruited a church member to help me organize an ecology club in our church. For years, young people in our ministry cleaned up trash on the Chesapeake Bay and raised oysters to release into the Bay. We once participated in an Earth Day celebration where we won first prize in a recycled goods fashion show. Most of the people at the celebration looked at us like we were from another planet. They couldn’t figure out why Christians were at Earth Day. We were there to remind them God’s people were responsible for telling the world about the very first Earth Day recorded in the book of Genesis. How might our witness change if people associated Christians with genuinely caring for our earth instead of supporting a particular political agenda?

We should be known for truthfulness. I understand the logic behind hyperbole. Exaggerations attract attention. But when we stretch the truth to counter the untruths others share, we aren’t really helping. We might think the facts will end up somewhere in between the two untruths, when in reality most people just see two lies on polar ends of an issue. Jesus once confronted spiritual leaders who used exaggerations to prove their point (like those who claim to swear on top of a stack of bibles). He said, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37) People of the truth should be known as people who speak the truth.

We should represent the character of Christ. It is possible to speak the truth and to be strong in our beliefs without disrespecting others or acting in an unchristian manner. It is true, Jesus once called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” and He accused the same group of being like “whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones.” These weren’t exactly phrases one might use in a casual greeting card meant to encourage. But a careful examination of the scriptures reveals Jesus never devalued people. While He exposed bad behavior He never made fun of people’s “person.” Even in His strongest message to people like the Pharisees we can find Jesus’ sincere desire to see people turn their hearts toward God and put aside their self-righteous behavior. When we say the right things in the wrong ways, all we do is build up a bigger wall that keeps people from seeing the light of Christ in our lives.

Choose a news network if you wish. We are certainly free to pick our sources, and to prefer one newscaster over another. Just remember, we are talking about the media. Christians do not represent a news source.  Alright, if you work in the news business you do, but hopefully you get my point.  While powerful, no press is as influential as the collective witness of a people who serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. When we forget this fact and become obsessed with the news we are undermining the very truths we are trying to promote.

Which news outlet is my favorite?

Well, SportCenter, of course.

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Growing Kingdom People – Is it Safe to Eat?

Is it Safe to Eat?

When the remnants of Hurricane Michael rolled through our neighborhood, we lost power. We were able to keep things in perspective, especially in light of the horrific aftermath of Michael’s landfall at Mexico City Beach, Florida.

But there was the food.

And the condiments.

We tossed almost everything.

The decision wasn’t an easy one. Our power was out just long enough to thaw most everything, but not long enough for the food to get warm. We did a little research on the internet and finally decided it was better to be safe than sorry.

In similar ways, when we have a power failure in our walk with the Lord, the outcome is hazardous, to us and to others.  But how do we know we are in trouble? Permit me to borrow from our food experience as I attempt to explain:

We know we have a spiritual power problem when the light stops shining. A powerless refrigerator is a dark refrigerator. In the same way, when we grow lax in our study of God’s Word and our prayer life, we find it harder to expose areas of our walk that need attention. As the Psalmist reminds us, God’s “word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105).

We know we have a spiritual power problem when something smells rotten. Refrigerators inhibit the growth of bacteria, and when they stop working the food starts to spoil.  I am not suggesting one can tell how close we are to the Lord by smelling us, although we have heard “cleanliness is next to godliness.” Yet, when we live apart from the spiritual power God offers, old habits return. Satan’s influence grows, and our witness is corrupted. Paul warned the Corinthians, “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:3)

We know we have a spiritual power problem when the water stops flowing. If you have a water dispenser on your refrigerator, you know it stops working when the power goes out. The water is still there, but the motor that dispenses it can’t work without power. One day, when Jesus sent His disciples on a mission to the “lost sheep of Israel” He said, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 9:8) God has poured grace into our lives, and He wants us to share what we have with a lost and dying world. The Lord’s “living water” never dries up, but when we distance ourselves from its source, we stop functioning as a conduit to the world.

When the world meets followers of Jesus who are walking in the light of His truth, striving to keep old sins in check and overflowing with love and grace, they take notice. When they see the opposite, it repels them.

Like spoiled food.

Unfit for consumption.

Quick, close that refrigerator door!

No sense smelling the place up just because we have lost power.

Using another metaphor, Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” (Matthew 5:13)

Stay connected to the power. It takes discipline, but it’s worth it.

Especially when we see the storm approaching.

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Growing Kingdom People – Hold On!

Hold On!

My grandfather, whom I worshipped as a kid, once called me out during a tobacco cutting lesson. After mutilating a small patch of tobacco, I was ready to quit, but my grandfather said “You give up too easy.”

I had no choice. How could I give up while my grandfather was watching? I pushed through my lesson and cut tobacco until sunset. I’m sure there have been better tobacco cutters, but I doubt any of them have been as deeply impacted as I was that day.

My first take-away was that I absolutely did not want to be a tobacco farmer. It’s just as well since, now, I would not want to contribute to the harmful effects of smoking. And I really don’t think I would have been a good farmer.

But the most profound gift my grandfather gave me that day were the words, “You give up too easy.” I have tried to prove him wrong ever since.

Last night I turned on a local sports station in my car to catch the New Orleans Saints football game from the Mercedes Benz Superdome. My timing was perfect! In the next play, Drew Brees broke Peyton Manning’s passing record to become the all-time passing record holder in the history of the NFL. Later, I watched the play online and was touched by the celebration of the fans, the players from both sides and Peyton’s family.

I’m sure I am not the only one who reflected.

On the horrific conditions in the Superdome in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As a “shelter of last resort” the population in the dome swelled to nearly 20,000, gang fights broke out, innocent people were attacked and a National Guardsman was shot.

The Saints were already considering a move to another city and that year they ended the season with a record of 3-13.

To say this period in the history of the City of New Orleans and the Saints franchise was a “low point” is an understatement.

It was the lowest of the low.

Meanwhile, Drew Brees was trying to rebuild his career following shoulder surgery when the Saints picked him up as a free agent, uncertain of his future.  The future turned out to be much better than anticipated as Drew led his team to a Super Bowl victory in 2009.

But, then came “Bountygate” when it was discovered Saints players were being paid to injure opponents.

Some said, “Now, it’s over.”

Over for the Saints.

Over for Drew.

Fast forward to that wonderful touchdown play last night when Drew Brees broke Peyton Manning’s record, the crowd cheered, and Drew hugged his kids and his tearful wife.

Last night was proof my grandfather had something very right.

The difference between those who live to see better times and those who don’t is relatively simple: the former group refuses to give up.

One of my favorite gospel songs is “Hold On”, in all its variations. I think it must come from Jesus who said we shouldn’t look back once we take hold of the plow (Luke 9:62).

I’m not for raising tobacco, but it is ironic that perhaps the best lesson I ever learned came when I was surrounded by seven-foot burley plants.

If the hand you have on the plow is starting to slip and you’re thinking of giving up, permit me to say…

“You give up to easy.”

You’ll never see a better day if you give up now.

Hold on!

Just a little bit longer.

Hold on!

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Growing Kingdom People – What’s the Big Deal about Kavanaugh?

What’s the Big Deal about Kavanaugh?

I know, I know!

This is a big moment in American history. The stage was set two years ago when a conservative candidate was elected President. The voting public knew, in advance, the next President would likely appoint at least two Supreme Court Justices.

Enter Kavanaugh, a conservative who will have the opportunity to apply our country’s constitution to legal issues for many years to come.

Add the present sensitivity to the sad reality of sexual abuse and misconduct, and the timing of the Kavanaugh nomination in relation to the mid-term election, and the current turmoil in our country becomes quite predictable.

This is a showdown! Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday have passed the entrance to the O.K. Corral and the Cowboys are gathered in an open lot. History will record the outcome.

It is a big deal. I get it.

I only wish we were more concerned at other times about the issues that seem to be so important now.

Drinking to excess.

Immoral behavior.

The objectification of women.

The assassination of character.

Lying

And various other topics that are dominating our public discourse.

Again, I get it. A Supreme Court Justice is an incredibly powerful individual, and the position demands a careful examination of his qualifications and character.

But a question keeps floating through my mind. After the dust settles and the court position is filled, what will become of our discussion? Will we still be concerned about drinking, parties, promiscuity, objectification, character, lying, etc.?

If a public figure gets busted, perhaps.

But other than that, do we care enough to make changes in our culture, our communities and our homes in order to nurture a different kind of society? Will the things people call “shameful” now, revert to the status quo later, or worse yet the presumed preferences of a spiritually bankrupt people?

The current battle in connection with Mr. Kavanaugh’s nomination is rampant with hypocrisy.

On all sides.

We simply are not who we claim to be when we evaluate others in light of who we think we are.

Please understand. I have my own desired outcome for the Supreme Court nomination process. It isn’t that I am not fully engaged in what’s going on, or am not concerned about the things I hear.

I only wish the moralistic language I hear now was more reflective of the country I live in 365 days a year.

Now that would be a BIG DEAL!

The rest is just talk.

Not always the nicest talk.

But talk.

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