Growing Kingdom People – Hurricanes, Earthquakes and Tornadoes

Growing Kingdom People – Hurricanes, Earthquakes and Tornadoes

“Why are so many disasters taking place right now?”

Have you asked it?

Have you heard it?

I have.  There are at least four possible “quick answers” to this question:

1) The end is near and God is sending us a sign to warn us.

2) We have messed up the earth and we are experiencing nature’s wrath.

3) We are in an unfortunate cycle that just happens to be concentrated in our hemisphere.

4) We are being punished by God for our lack of faith.

Although we are inclined to reject some of these possibilities, they all have biblical validity. Jesus predicts earthquakes, famine and pestilence in Luke 21:11.  Whether He was talking about events in the near future or those at the end of time, they were clearly supernatural signs.

God put us here to manage the earth, and if we have been poor managers we have no one to blame but ourselves. Yes, it is possible we have finally crossed a line and permanently altered our environment.

When we look at natural disasters that occurred in the Bible, we realize some of them apparently occurred naturally, as a result of the processes placed in motion at creation. Granted, the entrance of sin into the human race (the “fall”) might have changed how these processes impact the human race.  But they are a part of life, such as the famine Naomi and her family experienced (perhaps aided by foreign invaders who had a nasty habit of destroying crops) that led to their departure from Bethlehem.

Finally, we are aware God has used natural disasters to pour out His wrath. The flood stands as a testimony to the fact God’s patience is limited.  The Bible assures us the world will never be destroyed again by a flood, but this doesn’t mean God will never supernaturally manipulate the natural means He set in order to punish the wicked.

The only one of these four possibilities we can discern with any level of certainty is perhaps the second, since we can measure man’s impact on his environment and monitor the consequences. However, even here we are unaware of others factors that might be at work and we are limited by a very small window of data within the earth’s history.

So what do we say to people who want to know “why?”

I believe two responses are always appropriate. First, we should always be humbled by natural disasters.  They are a time to remember how small we are and how brief life is.  We must use every moment of our lives for the glory of God and make sure we live with the right priorities because we never know when everything we have worked for will be blown away.

Secondly, we should look for ways to redeem disaster. Disasters provide an opportunity for the people of God to show grace and love to those who are in need.  This is why it is not appropriate to judge those who are suffering when they are doing their best to survive.   It is not our job to determine people are merely getting what they deserve.  It is our job to love them and point them toward the Lord.

We should be humble and loving and have the attitude of the apostle Paul who said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

I hope things settle down and we are spared further disasters in the near future. Even as I write these words Puerto Rico is being slammed hard by Hurricane Maria.

My advice?

Humble yourself and pray. Then ask God how He might use you to share His love and grace to those who are suffering.

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Growing Kingdom People – Those silly weather reporters

Growing Kingdom People – Those silly weather reporters 

We have all seen them. They stand in high water, walk through rubbish and blow in the wind.

They are the weather reporters who stand in the middle of the storm to bring people like us the latest.

Limbs are crashing down.  Rain is pelting the sidewalk.  Someone is driving through two feet of water.

Boy, will they be sorry!

Honestly, I’m not sure they are necessary…the outside reporters, that is.

That’s right. The cameras show us what is happening.  We could still get the same news if they stood in a safer location.

Besides, its dangerous!  Weather reporters get hit by flying debris all the time.

So, if it isn’t absolutely necessary that they be there (which I don’t believe it is), and if it is dangerous to be there, why do they do it?

Obviously, one reason they do it is for ratings.

Storms “sell.” It is much more exciting to see an actual person getting blown to the ground than a twig from a tree floating across the sidewalk.

Oh, we hope they don’t get hurt!

But do we, really?

As long as people stand for a crash at a NASCAR race, we will have reporters standing in storms.

But there is another reason.  There is something to be said for someone who is able to put us in the story as it unfolds. We can’t be there, but they can.  We live vicariously through them. Weather reporters stand in the storm for the same reason correspondents travel with troops in military vehicles.  They don’t want to just “bring the news”.  They want to take us “to” the news.

Sometimes I ponder why Jesus came in human flesh. The Bible says He came to “dwell” with us, and therefore we know He understands our condition.  He also represented us on the cross where He bore our sins.

Yet, there is another reason Jesus came as He did that I often overlook.

Jesus came to “dwell” with us, so He could show me how to “dwell” with others. When you picture Jesus during His ministry, what do you see?

A man reaching out to the sick and outcast?

A teacher walking into people’s darkness to show them the way out?

A suffering servant?

Jesus came for me, but He came for you too. He came for everyone everywhere.

And while He showed us what He was willing to do for us, He also demonstrated what He wants us to do for others.

At His last meal with the disciples before the cross He washed their feet, then said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15).

The next time you read the gospel and you find Jesus in the middle of a challenging moment in His ministry, don’t just think of His love for you. He does love you, no doubt!  But realize He was showing you how to love others.

In His famous teaching on caring for the needy, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45).

Do you want to stand in the storm too?

You can.

You should.

You must.

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Growing Kingdom People – The First Day of School

The First Day of School

Why is the first day of school such a big deal?

Other than the obvious.

Students are eager to see their friends again.

Parents take pictures of their children in their new clothes.

And their new back packs.

Mom’s cry.

Kids are nervous.

Teachers pray God will give them the grace to deal with challenging students – who have a way of making themselves known in no time.

Why else is the first day of school a big deal? Perhaps…

The first day represents a new start.  Every school year has its trials.  Some are worse than others, but a new year gives both students and their teachers an opportunity to start fresh.  We joke about our “permanent record”, but teachers know squirrely students sometimes outgrow their behavior.  Then there is that intangible connection certain teachers and students make that creates an environment where the “light” finally dawns.  Newness always suggests possibilities.

School brings structure.  Summer is a time to unplug.  The school year plugs students back into the process of education.  This doesn’t mean they don’t learn without structure, or that summer vacation experiences aren’t important to a child’s formation.  But schedules, assignments and expectations hold student accountable to the learning process, and encourage personal growth.  For some children, who have no other structure in their lives, school may be the only place they find others who believe in their success.

School helps parents let go.  Looking back on my experience as a parent, I believe it took me 18 years to let go of my children.  When they were born, my wife and I took care of all of their needs (Ok, my wife took care of them and I helped).  But as they grew, they became more independent with each passing day.  When they left home it was hard to walk into their empty rooms, but I knew they were ready to make their mark on the world.  School was a huge part of the process.

Every school year is filled with success and failure, laughter and tears. Three are fees to pay, supplies to buy, trips to sponsor, and those occasional unsolicited meetings with teachers.

You didn’t have these kinds of meetings with teachers?

My mom did.

Not so much with my older sister.

Or with my younger brother.

I was special.

Your child is special too, and he or she will be fine. It’s all a part of the process.  Keep praying and enjoy the journey as you see God’s potential unfold before your eyes.

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Growing Kingdom People – Overwhelmed

Growing Kingdom People – Overwhelmed

Today our church leadership is researching an avenue for helping a church family impacted by Hurricane Harvey. The situation is serious and will undoubtedly get worse before it gets better.

It seems no matter how much we prepare for natural disasters we are never ready for the “worse-case scenario.” When havoc strikes we quickly discover critical gaps where people failed to do their jobs.  And as the water rises, figuratively or literally, we reach a point where our system are completely overwhelmed and all we can do is pray.

Not that we don’t pray all along.

But unlike action-adventure films where the hero always has one more trick up his sleeve, in real life we can run out of options. At that point we are at the mercy of nature’s fury unless God, in His providence and wisdom, chooses to intervene.

Just so you know, I believe when our options run out and we lose our lives, God is still merciful. He brings us home to live with Him for eternity and He comforts those who are left behind.

I am merely acknowledging the fact we have limits.

We can be overwhelmed.

Of course, it is possible to think we are overwhelmed while we still have options. For this reason we should not give up easily or expect others to take over when we are capable of doing more.  The feeling of being overwhelmed can also come and go.  Today we feel as if we have nowhere to turn.  Tomorrow we wake up rested and catch our second wind.

But when we have been through our second, third and fourth wind and there is nothing left. When we have used up every resource we have.  When we honestly don’t know what to do next.

We are overwhelmed.

One of the most important steps we take when we reach this place in our lives is to approach God and others with an honest assessment of our circumstances. Admitting we need help doesn’t come easily for most of us.  Letting others help is even harder.  If you have ever had to rely on others when you were overwhelmed you know first-hand how humbling it is to let someone else care for your needs.

It can be embarrassing.

Our privacy is invaded.

Word gets out.

And we are sometimes concerned we will never be able to repay people for the things they do.

But here’s a piece of good news, should you ever find yourself overwhelmed: Most of the people who will reach out to help you have been overwhelmed themselves.  That’s right.  In my experience, the vast majority of those who will drop everything they are doing to make sure someone else is taken care of in a time of need have personal experience in the realm of the overwhelmed.

So should it ever happen to you, don’t be crushed by the fact you need others. There are probably people around you who have been waiting for an opportunity to share the mercy God has shown them with others.

This is the way God grace travels down the line. We freely give what we have received, and one day you will have an opportunity to help someone else going through an overwhelming season.

Pray for the good people in Texas. Some of them have already reached the point where there is nowhere to turn.  Ask God to be merciful toward them and to intervene in their situation and deliver them from harm.

I think of these words from a Rich Mullins song: “We are not as strong as we think we are.”

No sir.

We certainly are not.

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Growing Kingdom People – How to Set Others Up For Failure

Growing Kingdom People – How to Set Others Up For Failure

Most of us do well on tests if we know the questions in advance.

I had a professor in college who always told us what he was going to ask on his tests, and he never asked us anything without advanced notice. I always aced his tests.

Another professor didn’t give us the questions, but he gave us a general idea of the “kinds” of questions he would ask on his tests. I usually aced those tests as well (if I studied).

But there was this one professor…

I still get angry!

It was terrible!

He would ask us questions we hadn’t covered in class or in our readings. One semester I was so frustrated I confronted him in his office and he chased me down the stairs with a broom.

Seriously!

Then his wife died and he married my cousin.

Honest!

Didn’t see that one coming.

Anyway, it still isn’t fair to expect someone to know the answers when they don’t know the questions, or when they haven’t covered the material.

So why do we test people without giving them the information they need to be successful? Why do we wait for them to pass a test they didn’t even know they were taking?

I see it all the time.

Wives and husbands argue: “You should have known!”

How?

Good friends feel let down: “You should have known!”

How?

“What I really needed…”

“But I didn’t know.”

“Well, you should have!”

“How?”

Could it be when we set up tests for people without letting them know the questions, we are practicing a form of legalism? Legalism is hypersensitivity to rules that are used to judge others.  When we create a test and judge others based on their performance, isn’t that the same thing?

Then we post the test results by sharing them with others.  Yup.  We set up tests for the people who love us, judge them based on their response, then share the results with others.

Yes, I do it too.

I have discovered I have a lot more grace in my life when I remember people can’t read my mind, see my feelings or know the details of my day. On the other hand, when I have unrealistic expectations, bitterness and resentment start to take root in my heart.

And guess who is waiting to exploit the condition of my heart by destroying my relationships with the people who love me?  The same one who has been setting people up for failure since the beginning of time.

Stop testing people and you will rediscover God’s grace. You will nip bitterness and resentment in the bud.  And if there are others in your life who keep sliding you more tests and fueling your bitterness and resentment, withdraw from the class immediately!  You may not know it, but they are actually testing you.

My old professor wasn’t such a bad guy (God bless his departed soul). And I didn’t fail his class.  He gave me a “B.”

I earned an “A”.

But I’m not bitter.

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Growing Kingdom People – A Response to Charlottesville

Growing Kingdom People – A Response to Charlottesville

With the video from last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville still rolling on the news, and controversy over how people in authority responded brewing, I wish to offer a perspective. I concede the issues at play in the clash between protestors are complex.

As you know, the occasion for the protest was the immanent removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. The debate over the statue has its own complexities.  There are those who look unfavorably on Lee’s role in the Civil War, but believe the statue should remain as a reminder of one of the darkest eras in our country’s history.  There are those who want the statue to stay because it provides a rallying point for their ideology.  And, of course, there are those who want the statue removed because it represents a past that includes slavery and a culture of injustice and inequality.

Then there is the privilege of free speech and the discussion over when free speech becomes an excuse to spread hate or encourage violent acts. Our rights should not be allowed to infringe on the rights of others, but defining this line can be challenging.

How are Christians to respond in this time of chaos and debate? What can we learn from these troubled times and what is God calling us to do?  I offer the following thoughts for your consideration:

God is calling us to see people as He sees them, not as we see them.  When God sent Samuel to pick a king for Israel he cautioned him against choosing someone based on appearance.  He said, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).  I am not suggesting we pretend we are all the same color or come from the same background.  Rather, we should understand that although we have different skin tones and heritages, God does not define us by these things.  At the risk of entering into a scientific field that is out of my skill set, I have read that as a white man I might have more in common genetically with an African than my white neighbor.  Whether or not it is this simple, it does put skin color and heritage in perspective.  The genes that define color are a relatively small piece of our DNA.

God is commanding us to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31).  We really can’t get around this command.  Not only are we told to love others, but our “others” include our enemies and those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).  We can disagree and debate, but when differences of opinion turn to hate we are in spiritual danger.  Did you know Jesus said we are in danger of going to hell if we hate our brother? (Matthew 5:21-22).  If you think this doesn’t apply to people you disagree with, fine.  Tell it to the judge.  Not the judge at the courthouse but Jesus who, at the end, will separate those who obeyed His will from those who didn’t.  We can’t hate our neighbor and love God.  It is biblically, theologically and logically impossible.  And in case you are wondering, I think it is sometimes necessary to go to war.  But we should never be driven by hate.

God is using us to teach a younger generation. How we respond to conflict leaves a lasting impression on our children.  We may think otherwise because children are so durable and generally more accepting of others.  But they will remember our words and actions.  In Proverbs 22:6 we are told to train up a child in the way he should go with the promise he won’t depart from our teaching when he is old.  We use this passage to promote good parenting, and rightfully so.  But the same principle is true of bad parenting, or bad adult behavior by anyone.  When we hate we create havens for demons in our children’s hearts, and someday we may be sorry we didn’t use teachable moments to show the people we love a better way.

God is asking us to be salt and light. (Matthew 5:13-16)  Salt seasons and preserves.  Light exposes the darkness.  The Word of God that works in us and the Holy Spirit that dwells in us transforms us into reflections of Jesus.  When people see Jesus in us, they understand there is a better way to treat others with whom they disagree.  They remember we respect one another because we are made in God’s image.  And when we understand this as our role, we extinguish hate and bigotry when it attempts to take root in our own hearts.

Hate is a cancer I believe we will always have with us as a result of our fallen human nature. But we can manage it and thrive in the midst of it.

A final reminder. It isn’t enough to remember what Jesus said.  We must remember what Jesus commanded.  If people who claim to love Jesus obeyed Him there is a good chance Charlottesville would not have happened (Matthew 7:21-23).

 

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Growing Kingdom People – “You’ll Burn Your Eyes Out!”

Growing Kingdom People – “You’ll Burn Your Eyes Out!”

On August 21st Americans will be treated to an event of astronomical proportions.  A total solar eclipse will be visible within a 70 mile swath from Oregon to South Carolina. The course of the eclipse is known as the “path of totality.”

I probably won’t be in the path of the eclipse. I’ll be working that day, and I have always been a bit nervous about staring into the sun, even with protective eye gear.  The ultraviolet rays of the sun can burn the eye’s surface, and overexposure to the intense light of the sun can permanently damage the retina.  I read somewhere that UV exposure from the sun can literally “cook your eyes right out of your head.”

Not a pleasant thought.

I know there are UV filters that are specifically designed to protect our eyes should we decide to look at the sun. I trust they are adequate.

I’m just not going to look. I’ll watch the video on the evening news instead.

The upcoming solar eclipse reminds me of an account in the Bible.  When Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Law, he asked God for a favor. He said, “Now show me your glory!”

God said, “No way! You’ll burn your eyes out!”

Ok, He didn’t say that.

But He did say this…

“I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (Exodus 33:19-23)

I don’t know if God’s glory will blind you, but it will kill you!

This means, spiritually speaking, we are always in the “path of totality.” We are always exposed to the awesome, burning, eternal glory of God.  So why are we still standing?

It appears God doesn’t reveal His full glory to everyone, and when He does, He protects those who are in His presence with His hand. He hides them in the cleft of a rock (Yes, that’s where the line in the famous hymn “He Hideth My Soul” comes from).

But here is a very cool supernatural fact: it is possible for anyone to experience God’s glory in Jesus. The writer of Hebrews tells us the Son is the “radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Hebrews 1:3).  Not only this, but Jesus brings us into the presence of His Father, unashamed, through His cleansing blood.  If it were not for Jesus, we couldn’t stand in the presence of God as we do, but because of the cross we come before Him in confidence and full assurance.

You might say we stand in the “path of eternal totality” and live to tell about it. We live because He died.

You can look into the solar eclipse on the 21st if you want.  Be sure to wear authorized eye protection if you do.

Just make sure, the next time you come before God in prayer, you consider why you are able to do so without fear. It is because the perfect reflection of God’s glory took away your sin on the cross.  Keep your eyes fixed on Him.

It’s ok. You won’t burn your eyes out.

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