Growing Kingdom People – Thanks for Nothing!

Thanks for Nothing!

We are approaching the day when Americans intentionally show gratitude. I feel certain there are some who pass on this opportunity, and perhaps even more who give a nod to thanksgiving without taking the time to honestly reflect on their blessings.

But for those of us who take advantage of this special celebration, there are blessings on top of blessings as we discover new reasons to be joyful. This joy often translates into generosity toward others as we seek to freely share what we have received.

As I think of God’s grace showered upon my family in this season, I would like to acknowledge some things that have NOT occurred in my life, for which I am thankful. I praise God for these blessings of “nothing.”

I am thankful for the tyranny that has not found a home in my country.  I am free to pursue my passions and dreams and take my stand against injustice in the city square if I so choose.  I can cross state lines to visit others unmolested by checkpoints and bandits.  Yes, I need to be wise in my stewardship of freedom and do my best to stay clear of evil people who love to exploit others in a free society.  But, this is a small price to pay for my freedom.  It is also a much smaller price than has been paid by those who have fought in our nation’s wars to preserve the freedom we all experience.

I am thankful for the crimes that were never committed.  We live in a dangerous world, and there is a chance most of us will be victims of a crime in our lifetimes.  Hopefully, this will be limited to petty theft and a few random acts of vandalism.   Have you ever stopped to think of how different things might be if it were not for local law enforcers who risk their lives to protect us from the “bad guys?”  When we are sleeping peacefully in our beds they are calling for back-up at a crime scene.  I am thankful I can live with relative safety because others put their lives on the line on my behalf.

I am thankful for the fires that never started.  I will add that I am thankful for those whose lives have been pulled out of the flames by fire fighters.  But what about the fires that never happened to begin with?  Years of code enforcement, advancements in technology and fire prevention programs have saved countless lives.  If my smoke alarm goes off on Thanksgiving Day, its OK.  I’d rather push a reset button than rebuild a house.

I am thankful for the illnesses that never turned into something worse.  We take so much for granted in the field of medicine.  Illnesses that kill people throughout the world are stopped in their tracks in our culture with a few dabs of antibiotic cream on a cut or a simple medical procedure.   Many people in our world have to walk days to reach clinics that provide basic medical care.  Others have nowhere to turn.  We have emergency centers conveniently located within minutes of our homes and they are available day and night.  I know medicine is costly, but it’s there when we need it.

I am thankful God didn’t let me get everything I deserved.  He saved me from sin by sending His Son Jesus to die in my place.  I have the hope of eternal life because of Jesus’ victory over sin and death.  This is, of course, my greatest blessing.  But there is more!  I am thankful for the grace God has shown me that has somehow brought me though every thoughtless, dumb decision I have made in life.  I am thankful for the people He has put in my life who put up with me in spite of my weaknesses.  And I am thankful for every opportunity I have had in life I didn’t earn.

And so, God, on this special Thanksgiving Day week, “Thanks for nothing!”

And at the same time, “Thanks for everything.”

You are my “All-in-All”.

My Redeemer.

My Provider.

“Nothing” comes close to You.

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Growing Kingdom People – The Right Thing for the Wrong Reason

The Right Thing for the Wrong Reason

Does the “why” behind our behavior matter as long as the cause is good?

Years ago a man in a church I served gave our leadership a check for $20,000. We were thankful until we discovered it came with some strings attached.  Half of the money could be used for any purpose, but the other half could only be used to create a ministry position in the church for his relative.  Furthermore, if we didn’t spend the money as he wished it all had to be returned.

We returned it.

Giving to the Lord is good. It is the “right thing”.  But whatever is right is nullified if it is done for the “wrong reason”.

Throughout my life I have watched people attempt to do the “right thing”, only to find out they were doing it for the “wrong reason”. In time, their efforts brought great pain into the lives of others.  And yet, they were convinced they were doing the will of God.

The prophet Jeremiah once penned this popular verse: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)  How can we examine our motives to make sure we don’t destroy the “right thing” with the “wrong reason?”

Avoid “whys” that are critical in nature. It might sound logical to take up a cause because someone isn’t doing their job or is failing to do things according to our standards.  But this assumes we are capable of perfect self-evaluation and that the people close to us are rational enough to see through our motives.  If we are doing anything because we don’t like the way someone else is doing it, and criticizing the same, there is a good chance we are doing the “right thing” for the “wrong reason.”  If God has truly called us to a cause, we shouldn’t have to criticize others to be successful.

Don’t assume because we are successful, by worldly standards, we are doing the “right thing.”  The notion that success proves God is with us is not rooted in scripture.  I am not suggesting God doesn’t go with us into battle.  The Jewish leader Gamaliel made this statement before the Sanhedrin in the case of Peter and John: “But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 5:39) However, just because God goes with those who do the “right things” for the “right reasons” doesn’t mean the reverse is true.  We cannot rightly say those who are successful must be doing the “right things.”  Success does not validate the “wrong reason”.

Don’t compare yourself to others. More than once in my life I have had to check my arrogance and confess the erroneous belief that I must be doing more “right things” than others because God hasn’t blessed them in ways that are obvious.  Or so I think.  Maybe God is blessing them, but I can’t see what He is doing because I have the wrong criteria.  Or maybe God wanted to use them in a bigger way, but I undermined what God was doing with my selfish behavior.  Sometimes I reflect on those times I might have damaged some “right thing” others were doing with my “wrong reasons.”  If you ever find yourself smugly handing out accolades to yourself and using the failures of others to puff up your pride, beware.  The Bible tells us a trip to the bottom isn’t far away (Proverbs 16:18).

It is good to do “right things”.

For the “right reasons.”

And to pray for others who are doing “right things.”

It is enough to guard our hearts and carry out the will of God daily.

This is definitely the “right thing.”

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Growing Kingdom People – When God’s Timing Doesn’t Make Sense

When God’s Timing Doesn’t Make Sense           

Today I voted. I hope you did too (or will before the day is over).

Have you ever wondered why we vote on the second Tuesday in November? Evidently, it’s because of farmers.  Not that they made the rule.  But it was because of them we vote when we do.

Ok, so it wasn’t “all” because of them. There was a time when every community could vote when they chose.  This meant some election results were tabulated and publicized well in advance of others, creating an unfair situation for candidates.

When congress decided it was best to have one election day, the day had to be determined. It was 1845 and our country was highly agrarian.  Therefore, it made sense to consider the needs of farmers when choosing a day.  Farmers went to church on Sunday, so that day was out.  Many of them took their produce to market on Wednesdays, so that day wasn’t good either.  Depending on the location of a farm, it might take farmers an entire day, perhaps two, to reach a poll.  Thus, Tuesday was chosen to allow for travel between Sunday and Wednesday.  Since farmers were busy planting their crops in the spring and harvesting in the early fall, it was thought the second week in November would offer the best timing.  Everyone could vote just before the weather became a problem.

Maybe someday the timing for general elections will change. But for now, if you are a farmer, enjoy the perk.  You deserve it for feeding the rest of us.

The timing of events usually has a cause, and once we discover it, it makes perfect sense. In the meantime, it can lead to frustration and impatience.

So it is with God’s timing.

I know some grow tired of clichés such as “There is a reason” or “All in God’s timing”, but if we believe God is in control then we must also assume there is a logic behind His timing.

The scriptures give us a few clues. In a conversation with his nervous brothers, Joseph put their minds at ease by assuring them he was not going to harm them for the pain they had caused in his life.  Joseph understood God’s timing and providence enough to be able to say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20).  When the apostle Paul was prevented from a planned trip to Asia (Acts 16:6), he attributed the change in plans to the Holy Spirit who wanted him elsewhere.  Paul was also aware that sometimes God allows Satan to mess up our timing, such as in the case of the apostle’s missed opportunities to visit the church in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:18).

Peter tells us God is patient in bringing history to a close because He wants to give more people time to repent (2 Peter 3:9). And James encourages us to endure hardship as we wait on the Lord, just as a farmer waits for his crops to mature (James 5:7).

But even with these biblical insights, we are left to discern how God might be working in our specific situation. Is He allowing us to suffer in order to show patience to others?  Is our way being purposefully blocked for a greater purpose?  Has God decided to let Satan impact our plans for some ultimate good?

In time, God might show us the answers to these questions.

Or not.

Unfortunately, we can’t Google “why?” and get the answer.

Well, we can, but the answers we find on the internet might prove to be unreliable.

The best answer, as hard as it is to accept, is that “While there is a reason, we may never know the reason.” Our ability to accept this truth may require extra grace.  It will certainly demand trust.

Just know that, while God’s timing may seem mysterious to us, there is a logic behind the veil that separates heaven from earth. It could be beyond our comprehension, which might be why God doesn’t show us everything.

Until He does, I will continue to vote on the second Tuesday in November.

Unless that changes.

Which it might.

But God…

…He never changes.

And His timing is always perfect.

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Growing Kingdom People – “You Too?”

“You Too?”

Several weeks ago the phrase “#Me Too” went viral in the wake of sexual harassment accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. “#Me Too” was borrowed from (and properly credited to) a 2006 MySpace campaign by Tarana Burke.  Tarana wanted to encourage women of color who had been sexually abused, particularly in impoverished circumstances.

While the rebirth of this phrase focuses on female victims we should add male victims, particularly children, to the sad trend of sexual abuse in our culture. “#Me Too” strikes a nerve in every community and in people of every persuasion.  Followers of Jesus should not only care about this disturbing reality, but they should support and participate in efforts to address the problem.

If I may depart slightly from this important issue for a moment, I want to focus on why “#Me Too” is the perfect banner for this cause. In 1960 C.S. Lewis published a book titled “Four Loves”, which studied the subject of love through the lens of a Christian and a philosopher.  In it he wrote, “The typical expression of opening friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’”

Perhaps this is why community is so important. When we share our lives with others and reveal our deepest secrets, we realize the fear of exposing our past is a means by which Satan exploits our pain for his purposes.  Once we compare notes with others a pattern emerges and the process of healing begins.

Jesus knew something about the healing power of “You Too?” confessions.  I use the word “confessions” loosely, knowing that sometimes the things we keep hidden are not our fault.  Why, then, do we choose to walk alone?  The answer to this question is not hard to discern, but more difficult to admit.

We are embarrassed.  When people sexually abuse us we naturally wonder if there was something we could have or should have done to avoid the situation.  Sexual abuse has the additional component of highlighting the most private realm of our human existence.  Sexual intimacy is a gift from God, but in the case of abuse it can produce misplaced shame.

We are afraid.  Sexual abuse often takes place in environments with people who have power over us.  A supervisor can influence the trajectory of our career and an accusation that cannot be proven can cost us our job and our future.  Without proof, we can be victimized a second time by those who accuse us of lying.  Since most sexual abuse takes place without witnesses, we believe our only choice is to suffer in silence.

We are wounded.  Victims of childhood abuse often have distorted views of sexual intimacy.  If this is our case, we may not understand sexual boundaries because we grew up experiencing the most horrible breach of trust imaginable.  Until we are exposed to healthy relationships we may think additional abuse we receive is a part of life or something we deserve because we are “bad” people.

I cannot tell you who to trust or when to say “You Too?” But I am convinced we cannot fully heal from past hurts without community.  This is why James wrote, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)  Don’t be thrown off by the word “sins” here.  I think James is talking about anything that requires healing.  It might also be worth noting that one of the most powerful moments in a victim’s life takes place when her or his abuser admits wrongdoing.  But whether or not this takes place, when we find believers who are willing to help us process our silent suffering we can finally begin to put down our burdens.

It is good those who have experienced sexual abuse are finding courage in community. Community, and particularly a community of faith, disarms Satan and exposes his lies.

Unfortunately, I still carry around more than my share of personal pain. Why?

Because I am embarrassed.

Because I am afraid.

Because I was under the impression that is the way things are supposed to be.

What?

“You Too!”

Now we’re getting somewhere.

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Growing Kingdom People – What Christians Should Expect From a President

What Christians Should Expect From a President

I hesitate to add one more document to the pile of Christian responses to our present political climate. It is hard to believe anything I have to say hasn’t already been said.  The following points, with which I agree wholeheartedly, have been established:

  • The fulfillment of the mission of the church is not dependent on political circumstances.
  • Political figures are flawed.
  • Ultimately, we must obey God above all others.
  • God is in control.

Yet, our situation is indeed unique. In our republic we have the right and the responsibility to influence our government through free elections and free speech.  We cannot dismiss politics from faith, nor should we try.  We must engage in the public discourse with reason and respect.

I could say much on the subject of “how” we go about these discussions, but I want to stay focused on what we might expect of our President in the process.

First, in regards to his personality or behavior, we should not expect him to go through a conversion experience upon his inauguration.  To expect otherwise would be like marrying someone we don’t believe we can live with in hopes of changing him, or her.  This doesn’t mean a President can’t change while in office (for better or worse), but the most likely scenario is that he is going to be the same person he was when he was elected.

Secondly, in regards to his leadership, we can expect our President to act out of a sincere love for our country. This love includes faithfulness to our Constitution and respect for our symbols of liberty, as well as an affection for the individual lives that make up our citizenry.  While our President is not a spiritual leader (although he might be spiritual), he is sometimes called upon to guide our nation in ways similar to biblical priests who addressed the pain of a hurting nation.  At times, he must provide comfort, confidence and counsel.  Perhaps you remember these words from a poem in Ronald Reagan’s speech following the Challenger disaster: “They slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.”

Third, we can expect him to care for our welfare.  When our security is threatened, we need to know our President is aware of the situation and is in control.  He needs to look, not only to present national security challenges, but down the road to emerging trends and risks.  Our welfare requires that we have good government (as opposed to one that is oppressive and corrupt), appropriate oversight of national systems, well maintained infrastructures and the means to respond to emergencies.

I realize there are a lot of “yea, buts” that could be inserted in my thoughts here.  Our particular political leanings will have a tremendous impact on how we rate our President’s performance in these and others areas of his office.

The main point I wish to make is that, as believers, we need to be more realistic when it comes to our expectations of political leaders and more proactive when it comes to the impact we are having on our culture. Here are some quick thoughts along these lines:

  • Younger people in our culture are highly engaged in the social and political issues at hand. Take time to talk with them about their thoughts and feelings. Quit blasting them on Facebook and invite them to dinner.
  • Since political leaders are capable of growing in their personal lives, if there is something you don’t like about our current leaders pray for God to move in their lives and hearts.
  • Look for voids to fill with God’s grace. If you believe our current political climate has damaged our collective national soul, begin to fill it in new ways by stepping up your concern for your neighbors and co-workers.
  • Have you let political differences drive a wedge between you and other brothers and sisters in Christ? Remember, this goes against everything the Bible teaches us about the church. If we can’t think of anything other than politics that binds us together as believers, then we need a spiritual makeover.
  • Time and energy are limited. Once our lives are spent we can’t reclaim them. Do you really want to look back on your life and say, “I spent most of it yelling at the TV?” What if we were able to say, “When I heard that I knew God was calling me to: (Insert your conviction)”.

Don’t get me wrong. I am passionate about my country and the events in American politics that impact my life.  This is why I don’t believe followers of Jesus can just say “God is in control” and disengage from the conversation (although God is certainly in control).

It’s just that there are bigger conversations.

Eternal conversations.

Like the one we are going to have when we meet Jesus and He asks us how we used our lives.

 

 

 

 

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Growing Kingdom People – What They Don’t Tell You

What They Don’t Tell You

Have you ever wondered if people around you are telling you the truth? I’m not talking about those who tell you an “outright lie”.  In case you didn’t know, an “outright lie” is bigger than a “white lie.”

That’s a joke.  No e-mails please.

I’m not even referring to lies of omission, such as the refusal to  speak one’s mind for fear of hurting someone’s feelings.  No, I am thinking specifically of our overconfidence with subject matter and the decision on other people’s parts to remain silent.

For much of my life I shared personal family folklore with anyone who would listen.  But eventually, some of my family members had the courage to say, “You know Larry, I don’t remember that.”

It is so sad when my family members mentally block out the events in our collective lives I know to be true.

Repression I guess.

I remember one of the first times I withheld the truth in this way. I am old enough to remember General Motor’s giant gamble on a subsidiary company named Saturn.  Saturn used a new collaborative design methodology and the end result was a smashing success.  However, as others began some of the same practices and Saturn sales declined, I started to notice Saturns were looking a lot like some of their GM counterparts.  When I brought the subject up in a conversation one of my Saturn-loving friends refuted my claim.  In fact, he vehemently denied GM ever had anything to do with Saturn.

I changed the subject and realized I had become one of “them”.  One of the ones who decide telling you the truth isn’t worth the trouble.

I don’t think deciding to hold our tongue is necessarily a bad thing.  James told us to be “slow to speak” so I guess sometimes this is the most godly thing we can do (James 1:19).

Yet, I have to wonder about all of the people out there who decide they aren’t going to tell you what they are thinking.

People like non-Christians.

They watch our double-standards, listen to our rants and put up with our worn out clichés. In the past some of them might have challenged us, but in doing so they have subjected themselves to self-righteous justifications, more rants, and Bible verses to support our clichés.

Meanwhile non-Christians stand confused by our tactics and entrenched in their stereotypes. How many times do they think it?

“It’s not worth the trouble.”

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting as believers we should shrink from the truth or water down the message of Christ.  But sometimes I believe we are so busy thinking of the next thing to say we don’t think to ask others to tell us more about what’s on their mind.

Sometimes people just need to talk things out.

Other times people have real questions they are trying to answer.

One thing is for sure.

They have something on their mind.

Which is why I worry about what people don’t tell me.

I am not sure how to create a safe place in our relationships with non-Christians that gives them the courage to share what’s on their hearts and minds. Maybe we need to worry less about creating anything and more about loving people enough to listen.  Don’t be afraid to listen.  You might not like what you hear, and you might not know what to say.

That’s ok.

In fact, I am inclined to think when we say nothing people are often more likely to reflect on their own words.

Ok, so you are afraid if we do this we will never tell people the truth?

That is what you were thinking isn’t it?

I KNEW IT!

 

 

 

 

 

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Growing Kingdom People – Pain Management

Pain Management

I am not much of an expert on physical pain management, although I support the practice. A few years ago I had shoulder surgery and my anesthesiologist gave me “the works.”  I can honestly say, with the exception of an unfortunate fall in the midst of my recovery, and my physical therapy sessions, I never experienced pain.  Thanks Doc!

But there is another kind of pain that has to be managed, and I have met several people recently who are suffering as a result. The pain started with Hurricane Harvey, was expanded with Hurricane Irma and hit a new threshold with Hurricane Maria.  Then came a massacre at a concert in Las Vegas followed by a fire in the NAPA Valley which took several lives.  All of these events occurred against the backdrop of intense social debate and tension between world leaders.  In addition, many are struggling with the sorrow that occurs in all of our lives when we lose loved ones, encounter disappointment and experience temporary defeat.

We call it “emotional pain.”

It’s real.

I would be remiss if I did not mention, while we may feel emotional pain as a result of events taking place around us, the physical pain of those involved in a crisis or tragedy is still quite real.

Just keeping things honest.

We manage emotional suffering in a number of ways. Sometimes we engage professionals in the process, which is always a good idea if we think we might be slipping into a serious depression.  However, I would like to suggest some ways we might manage our emotions as we seek to cope with more general forms of emotional pain.

Take time to sort through your emotions. Pain has a way of traveling.  When I suffered from shingles I learned the difference between a skin rash and a condition that attacks the nervous system.  A shingles rash on my shoulder shot darts of pain through my scalp.  Weird.  In the same way our emotions travel.  A news story about a natural disaster can exasperate the pain of a divorce.  Feelings of fear and doubt can mix with those of loneliness and resentment, producing a volatile cocktail of despair.  God knew we would experience these times of trouble, which is why He gave us each other and promised the indwelling gift of the Spirit.  We will still experience a convergence of emotion from time to time, but Christ is our Centerpiece who helps us with the sorting process.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

Ask God to help you avoid transference. As a minister, sometimes I am the object of transference.  When people are angry at God they take it out on me.  Sometimes they lash out at God and me, and sometimes just me.  It all depends on what they think God might do to them if they cross a line.  I’m not whining.  I understand, and we all have occupational risks.  However, sometimes when we transfer our emotions to innocent people we can permanently damage relationships, or catch someone at the wrong time and hurt them badly.  The Apostle Peter knew first century Christians had reason to be angry with God.  They had given their lives to His Son and as a result were suffering persecution and pain.  Peter wrote, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)  I believe this means it is alright to tell God we are angry.  We should cast “all” of our anxiety on Him.  He has broad shoulders and will love us regardless.  The more honest we are with God, the less likely we are to blame the wrong people for our trouble.

Try not to let your feelings distort the truth. When we are visited by many troubles, it is easy to lose hope, or to believe God has abandoned us.  Satan would love to exploit our emotional pain and lead us to believe there is no reason to keep up the fight.  However, we know it has been almost 2,000 years since the first church leaders faced immeasurable emotional and physical pain.  Most of them remained faithful, Satan’s schemes were overthrown, and the kingdom of God continued to expand.  The truth is, God will never leave or abandon us, and sometimes His glory is most evident in suffering.  The Apostle Peter addressed persecution in the early church with these words: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.  If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (1 Peter 4:12-16)

None of this suggests we should trivialize emotional pain, ignore signs of depression or use worn out clichés to deny the reality of our pain. Instead, we should pray for perspective, even as we take our suffering seriously and seek wise counsel from others.

We manage our pain by seeking God’s will and out-smarting Satan in our time of trouble.

Satan is a pain.

Let’s manage him.

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