Growing Kingdom People – Do I have to be “This” or “That”?

Do I Have to Be “This” or “That”?

First, a confession…

My family roots go back to the coal mines of Eastern Kentucky and a sharecropper’s farm in Athens, Kentucky. That’s Athens with a long “A”, and it happens to be the place where Daniel Boone moved his family when he parted ways with Boonesboro.  The road my grandparents lived on is called the  “Athens-Boonesboro Road.”

I was never a coal miner or a sharecropper, but I carry much of the culture associated with these livelihoods inside me. I was taught to work hard every day, save everything possible and watch out for the “Fat Cats” who were looking for ways to take away what little you had.  My family members went on to hold some of the highest offices in the state (including Governor, State Treasurer, U.S. Representative and Mayor, Sheriff and County Clerk of Lexington).  My summers were spent attending local political rallies, shaking hands with candidates and helping a few of them hammer their signs on the courthouse lawn.

When I became an adult I developed my own political views.  As major political parties re-crafted their platforms (though their fundamental differences remained the same), it became harder for me to associate my identity with a single political perspective.   Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love politics!  I also understand people who labor for a cause within a particular party have to be somewhat “sold out” to certain ideals.

What does all of this have to do with the point I wish to make?

It’s just background information to hopefully help you understand where I am coming from.  As a preacher I am careful not to bring my personal political views into the “pulpit” because I don’t want people thinking they must have an allegiance to a political party to go to heaven (I have talked with those who think this is the case and I don’t buy it).   Yet, I am not one to dismiss politics and disengage from social rhetoric.  God needs us to dialogue with others on important topics affecting our culture.  If we don’t, we are guilty of marginalizing the wisdom we find in His Word.

What bothers me most is that we seem to be increasingly unable to talk about our personal perspectives and observations free of labels.  The thinking goes like this: “If you believe that, then you must also believe this.”  Such is the stuff of stereotypes that often mischaracterize others.

Perhaps it is only human that we attempt to systematize people’s ideas.  This is how we come to believe most rich people are greedy, most poor people are incapable, most religious people are intolerant and most irreligious people are un-spiritual.  I have found all of these labels to be false.

Maybe you have already plotted me somewhere on a chart.

“Oh, he’s one of those…”

In truth, most social movements, whatever their nature, are really alliances. People are willing to align themselves with others with whom they sometimes disagree, as long as there is agreement on the big things.

So is there anywhere we can align ourselves with others who sometimes see things differently for the purpose of accomplishing something that has the potential of transforming our world?

Yes!

Let me introduce you to the church.  Or rather allow me to share the Apostle Paul’s introduction: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Does being one in Christ mean we will one day come to agreement on every issue in our culture?

I don’t think so.

Actually, I would hope not since that would mean our brains had died.

This also doesn’t mean political and social views don’t matter since they often shape policies that touch on important biblical principles. But it does allow me to be in favor of something like women’s rights (Because we are one in Christ) and still speak against abortion (Because it is a sin to take the life of an unborn child).

“Wait a minute!!!  You said you don’t get political!  Besides, you can’t believe this if you don’t believe that!”

Yes I can, because I am free in Christ.  I am not bound by a party.

I am bound by the blood of Jesus that poured out on a cross.

Jesus is my “this” and “that.”

More accurately, He is my “all” (Colossians 3:11).

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Growing Kingdom People – No Shame in a “S***hole.”

No Shame in a “S***hole”

It’s not like we’ve never heard the word. And although it has been called “vulgar” by some, it is still a part of life for many.  I’m not talking about the President’s reference to other countries.  I’m referring to that building out back where some people still go to…well, to “go.”

Here’s how it works. You dig a hole, put the outhouse on top of it, use the hole until it is full of…you know, move the outhouse aside, dig a new hole and fill up the old hole with the dirt from the new hole, move the outhouse over the new hole and repeat.

I realize an outhouse is inferior in many ways to an indoor bathroom. If you have ever used an outhouse in the middle of a cold winter’s night and opened the door to find a critter inside, you know what I mean.  But there are some advantages.  You don’t have to worry about backups.   You don’t have to clean the toilet.  And if you like privacy when you are going to the bathroom, you will have it.

Unless your grandchildren pull the door open and start to yell and wave their hands as cars pass by.

I’m not saying anyone would do such a thing. Just a possibility.

The practical reality of “S***holes” is what makes using it as a slur against underdeveloped, corrupt or war-torn countries so wrong. My grandparents, who had one of those famous outhouses behind their house, were merely doing their best to make a living with the circumstances they had been given.  They also had a coal stove and a galvanized washtub where we all took baths on Saturday night.

However, while my grandparents had an outhouse, their lives were anything but inferior. They worked hard, fed their children, served in the Lord’s church, and loved their neighbors.  In time, my grandfather took a second job as a Deputy Sheriff in town, which led to a long political career.  Both of my grandparents’ children (one of which was my mother) went to college and when my grandparents passed away they left an incredible legacy of faith and faithfulness.

Obviously, I am proud of my family. But I am also proud of the fact they did all of this even though they lived with a “S***hole.”

I will not get into the politics of the slur that will certainly go down in presidential history. It is true, immigration to our country needs to be managed in an orderly fashion.  It is also possible governments might intentionally send their “problems” to our country so they don’t have to deal with them.  I get it, and I realize we should be careful we don’t let our emotions blind us to the games people play.

Still, it is wrong to suggest people have no potential (or the implied possibility they have no “worth”), just because they come from an undesirable country. It is also foolish to think the community experienced in such places is somehow less meaningful than our own or that someone from a more advanced culture will be a better citizen.

And perhaps we should remember, one of the reasons some parts of the world can be characterized as “S***holes” is because more advanced cultures have repeatedly used them as their outhouses.

Please understand. I am not arguing the case of immigration.  Rather, I am pushing back against the highly disturbing notion that we are capable of discerning which human beings will make us better and which ones will make us worse.  We must also remember the stern words of Jesus regarding our responsibility to those who find themselves in a “S***hole” (Matthew 25:31-46).  I know, Jesus didn’t use the word!  Or did He? (Luke 14:34-35).

Before we start ruling out what people can contribute because of their circumstances, maybe we should remember the contents of such a “hole” can be found everywhere. Just because we have processing plants to keep things sanitary doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

What can I say?

It happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Growing Kingdom People – Armchair Quarterbacks are Everywhere!

Armchair Quarterbacks are Everywhere!

It’s playoff season! Perhaps you are still yawning from Monday’s late-night overtime period to determine this year’s college football champion.  On the professional football front, the playoff teams are set and the journey to the Lombardi Trophy begins this Sunday.

Have you seen any bad calls yet? Any coaching mistakes or poorly thrown passes?

Unless you have found a parallel universe where people don’t make mistakes, my guess is you have. Not only are there mistakes in football, but we have the advantage of watching the games on large high-resolution televisions with instant replay from multiple angles.

In slow motion.

It’s fine to watch football with these amenities, and even yell and scream at the screen when things don’t go our way. As long as we are self-aware.

We are not as talented, physically, as the people we are watching. We lack their conditioning, and if we had to play a full game, we would be huffing and puffing on the line of scrimmage by the end of the first quarter.   Or the first play.  The crowd would rattle us.  The other team would intimidate us.  To borrow an old adage…

… “It ain’t as easy as it looks!”

But we still make the calls from the comfort of our recliner. We tell the coach who to play, accuse the referees of bias and wonder why 19 year-old kids make mistakes when thousands of people are cheering and an opponent is preparing to use his body as a missile against them.

“Ahhhhh….Dear, can you bring me some more salsa and chips?”

It’s no mystery we make calls in other areas of our lives, whether or not we are in a position to speak authoritatively. How so?

We tell other people what they should have done and what we would have done had we been them.

We judge people’s hearts and decide for ourselves whether or not they were giving their best.

We talk about other’s weaknesses.

We lay blame.

Some armchair quarterbacks even make fun of others and heap insults on them.

On social media if necessary.

But this doesn’t mean nothing physical is happening.  I have reached the conclusion armchair quarterbacks are actually involved in an aerobic activity.  When they attack the television screen they receive a rush of adrenaline.  Something happens with their chemistry when they tell an experienced coach he is an idiot or a talented player he is a loser.  Tearing others down feeds their ego and makes them feel good inside.

I don’t remember when I recognized this truth in myself, but I freely confess I have been guilty.  I have put others down to experience the rush that comes with the feeling of superiority.  It’s an addiction.  It’s also wrong (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

I still yell at my television screen during a big football game. After all, I’m an American!

But I try to remember the truth. The truth is, I am just a spectator, and until I have the talent, stamina or opportunity to line up with a team in a championship game, I need to keep my opinions in perspective.

Although I don’t think I would miss a short field goal in a big game.

How hard can that be?

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Growing Kingdom People – Three Reasons I Don’t Need More Reasons

Three Reasons I Don’t Need More Reasons

From time to time I see a post validating a human opinion with “reasons”.  It seems if we can provide a list of observations supporting our opinion it carries more weight.  The most popular lists of reasons are seven and ten since biblical numbers add even more credibility to one’s views.

This year I have vowed not to read any opinion lists. Here are my three reasons why (I remind you three is the number of the Trinity):

Opinion lists often mischaracterize others. They are laced with assumptions and presumptions, half-truths and insinuations. Lists play into stereotypes in an attempt to evoke a collective “Yea! That’s what we’re taking about!”  But in the end, mischaracterizations are unfair and dishonest.

Opinion lists often take scripture out of context. It is amazing how a verse from the Bible can appear to prove something it does not. When something is not a clear matter of salvation we must make sure we are not leveraging the Word of God for our own purposes.  In the movement of churches I serve we have a slogan that says, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty and in all things love.”

Opinion lists are often crafted in ways that insult and judge others. They claim to be humble, biblical and unbiased, but they can reflect hidden discontent and ill-will. List makers are certain they have proven they are right.  Their targets sometimes dig in their heels and fight back.  No one wins and the cause of the kingdom suffers.

Actually, I haven’t sworn off lists completely. Here are two for your consideration:

There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, 19 a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

And God spoke all these words: 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before1 me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand  generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. 8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. 13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:1-17)

My suggestion for the New Year? Work on these lists first, and when you have them mastered, then you can start on some of your own.

 

 

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Growing Kingdom People – Why I Put the Magi at the Manger

Why I Put the Magi at the Manger

Some Christmas traditions are non-biblical. This doesn’t mean they are necessarily un-biblical or contrary to fact.  It’s just that they involve conjecture in areas where the Bible is silent.

For example, we don’t know how Mary traveled to Bethlehem, but it only makes sense a pregnant woman would not walk the entire distance. So the donkey story works.  A wagon might have been better under the circumstances, but it could very well have been a donkey.

Then there is the pesky topic of the Magi. Most manger scenes place them there with the shepherds on the night Jesus was born, but the prevailing theory is that they came later.  Why?  For at least two reasons.

When the Magi arrived at Herod’s palace, he inquired as to the circumstances that led them there to see the One who was to be born King of the Jews. They told him they had followed the star from the east, and it was the timing of the appearance of the star that led Herod to kill baby boys in Bethlehem that were two years of age and younger.  It is easy to see why this would point to a late arrival by the Magi.

Secondly, when the Magi found Jesus He was in a house, not a stable. It is thought Mary and Joseph transitioned to something more permanent as they waited for God to tell them what to do next.

These reasons, and the fact a word commonly used for an older child was used in the Magi reference, certainly suggests the visit came later.

But then again…

It is true Herod determined the scope of his murderous scheme by considering the appearance of the star. But we must remember Herod was a nut!  It would not be beyond him to use a two-year time frame, just to satisfy his paranoia and make absolutely sure he exterminated Jesus.  We also don’t know if Herod or the Magi had any idea how old Jesus was at the time they stopped at the palace, or what the exact relationship was between the star and Jesus’ birth.  Could the star have appeared a considerable amount of time before the birth of Jesus to bring the Magi there at the time of his birth?

There is also evidence to support the first century practice of attaching rooms to houses where animals were sheltered. The Bible only says Jesus was in a manger.  It doesn’t say He was in a stable.  If Joseph’s relatives lived in Bethlehem, it is possible a distant cousin opened his home to Mary and prepared a place in the room where animals were normally kept.  Perhaps this is the same “house” where the Magi found Jesus.  I will add that it is necessary to make the additional non-biblical presumption that Joseph set up a carpenter shop in Bethlehem to sustain his family for two years.  They could not have used the gifts from the Magi for income, if indeed they did not come when Jesus was born.

All of this means it is possible the Magi joined with the shepherds in their worship, but that none of them were standing in a stable.

This brings me to the main reason I put the Magi at the manger in my manger scene at home: The figurines belong to me and I can put them wherever I want!

Just kidding! (Although, this is true)

I put them there because it doesn’t violate a specific scriptural fact and because I like to think of everyone who saw the baby Jesus worshipping Him at once.

I wish I had been there!

So put your Magi wherever you want. Just don’t lose sight of the splendor of that night.  What a night it was!

If you don’t believe me, just ask the Little Drummer Boy.

Now that one is a stretch!

Merry Christmas.  And “pa rum pum pum pum….”

 

 

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Growing Kingdom People – Are You “Out of Your Tree?” This Christmas?

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Are You “Out of Your Tree” This Christmas?

Some seasons in life are happier than others. Christmas is a holiday season that is supposed to make us happy, regardless of our circumstances.  But we know this isn’t always the case.

Last Christmas my wife and I almost didn’t put up our Christmas decorations. This would have been a huge departure from the norm since Christmas is one of our favorite times of the year and things like ornaments, mugs and figurines have a way of connecting us to a lifetime of memories.

It is hard to explain why we felt the way we did. One reason was certainly the fact we were traveling out-of-town to be with our family for Christmas and even our local celebrations were in other people’s homes.

We were also emotionally drained as a result of some terrible pain people we loved were experiencing in their lives. It wasn’t that it didn’t “seem” like Christmas.  We just didn’t have a strong desire to create the atmosphere in our home that had brought us so much joy over the years.

There was a time in my life when I would have thought people were crazy or “out of their tree” if they decided not to decorate their house for Christmas. Now I understand.  When all of your energy is being used to keep yourself afloat emotionally, there isn’t much left for celebrating.

Still, we put up the tree.

No, we did not believe God would be disappointed in us if we left our decorations in the box. The Bible doesn’t say anything about Christmas decorations.

We put up the tree because we believed it was something we needed to do for ourselves. We needed to reflect on our memories and we needed to create an atmosphere in our house that challenged our trend toward self-absorption.

Christmas is a joyous time of the year, but this year might be different for you. Perhaps you have lost a loved one or endured a divorce.  Maybe you are in the midst of cancer treatments, a court case or a business downturn.

Are you beginning to think you are “out of your tree?”

It’s ok. We all go through difficult times in our lives.

Do what you must, but I want to encourage you to put up the decorations anyway (literally or figuratively). We are all raised differently, but I still remember my parents responding to some disfavor on my part by saying, “You are going to do it and you are going to like it!”

Sometimes we have to make ourselves create an environment that helps us focus on better things.

Happier things.

This does not mean we are ignoring our problems or pretending we feel good when we don’t.  It’s just good advice. When life is hard, make up your mind you are not going to let Satan exploit your circumstances to make things worse.  Troubles are temporary, but the hope of Christ is eternal.

“For today, in the city of David a Savior has been born who is Christ the Lord.”

Even if you don’t feel like anyone is in charge right now, trust me.  Christ is still Lord!  No one and no thing can stand against Him.

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Growing Kingdom People – My $2.22 Christmas Tree

My $2.22 Christmas Tree

My wife and I were preparing to celebrate our first Christmas together when we purchased a beautiful live tree for the church parsonage. That night I started coughing.

And coughing.

And coughing.

Around 2:00 in the morning I tossed the tree out the front door.

As a kid I had suffered from asthma and our family converted to an artificial Christmas tree. I was certain enough time had passed and the live tree would not be a problem. But I was wrong, and the next morning our neighbors saw the strange sight of the preacher’s Christmas tree in the front yard of the parsonage.  Christmas was three weeks away.

I don’t think I ever explained what happened to the neighbors. They were used to preachers doing strange things.

The next weekend my wife and I drove to a nearby town to shop for artificial Christmas trees. We found a 7 foot Scottish Pine on sale for $80.00. At the time, $80.00 was a huge chunk of change for a luxury, but we didn’t want to miss our first Christmas celebration so we made the purchase.

Last weekend we put up our tree. It’s the same one we bought on that emergency Christmas run 36 years ago. The good news is, after 36 years, the cost-per-year of our $80.00 tree has been reduced to $2.22! Oh, there are a few limbs missing, and the tree has lost some of its fluff. But at this point, we like having it around.

The price of our tree has been offset by the years we have used it. In contrast, the Christ we celebrate at Christmas paid a price once and for all, and after thousands of years the cost has not diminished in the least. As Paul writes in Romans 6:10, “The death He died, He died to sin once for all.”

There will never need to be another Christ.

Or another payment.

The price was paid once for all, and continues to cover sinners with grace, even though the earth’s population has exploded since the day Jesus died on the cross.

As we calculate the cost of Christmas this year we need to put “door-buster” deals, Internet discounts, bonus coupons and credit card points in perspective.

God spared no expense. He pulled out all the stops for the first Christmas so the world would know His plan for the redemption of mankind was unfolding.  Years later, His Son hung dying on Calvary as a substitute for sinners.

Christmas has always been incredibly expensive.

Long before it turned into a commercial bonanza, God gave His best.

His all.

Anything we try to add to the celebration is just trimming on the tree.

It is impossible to outspend God at Christmas. The best we can do is share our blessings with others so they will know His Son too.

I need to go, now. I have some old ornaments and lights I need to put on our tree.

But that’s another story.

 

 

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