Growing Kingdom People – The Only Superior Race

The Only Superior Race

I struggle with the public debate on race. It isn’t that I don’t think the debate is important. It’s just that I wish it was unnecessary. We waste so much time finding reasons to hate one another.

As I was preparing to enter my last year of elementary school in Indianapolis, Indiana, I was assigned to a new school as a part of a city desegregation plan. It was a difficult time in my life, as I was separated from most of my classmates and placed in a strange place under unusual circumstances. I was in my share of fights that year, including one with a switchblade pushed up against my ribcage. My attackers settled for a stomach punch and let me go.

The rest of the details are unimportant. What is noteworthy is the distaste I developed for prejudice. I dreamed of a day when people no longer judged one another based on a “book’s cover”, but on the story inside. And I was naïve enough to think that day would come.

I also thought Captain Kirk and Spock were like brothers.

Oh well.

One of the most disheartening facts of life is that as long as people have anything that distinguishes them from others, there will be a reason to hate. I am convinced, if there were a people group where everyone had a freckle on the top of their left ear, there would be some reason for those without the freckle to distrust them.

For this reason, although I would like to say we settled everything when I was in elementary school, I realize this is a fantasy. There are also layers of prejudice that cannot possibly be uncovered in a generation. Understanding is a process that never ends.

But lest we forget, I feel a need to remind us all of an ultimate reality: there is only one superior race. The good news is, we are all members of it.

The human race that is.

All of the ignorant things people say in an attempt to place one heritage above another fall flat in the face of Genesis 1:17 which reads, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Made “in the image of God” sounds superior to me.

Please realize, I am not blind to the cultural differences that separate us. These play into the stereotypes that perpetuate our prejudices. But it makes me sad when we use our differences as an excuse to hate rather than an opportunity to enrich our lives.

I have resigned myself to the high probability that prejudice will always be with us. I suppose we must all choose how we will proceed, but as for me, I am going to do my best to see people through the eyes of Jesus. The Apostle Paul once wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

As far as I can tell, there is only one distinction I should care about as a believer: whether someone knows Christ or not. And I am commanded to love both groups with the heart of God.

So, no matter what, the defining characteristic of those who are a part of the superior race is love.

If I can’t love, then maybe I’m not a member after all.

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Growing Kingdom People – Was the Moon Landing Fake?

Was the Moon Landing Fake?

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the day Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface, the notion that the moon landing never actually happened is alive and well. In a recent poll, it was discovered 10% of Americans believe the whole thing was staged. Of these, 41% believe the waving of the American flag gave the hoax away, 10% believe shadows from studio lights are visible in film footage, 12% think radiation would have killed the astronauts and 14% don’t think there is enough moisture on the moon to produce a footprint.

I suspect some in this 10% are inclined to doubt most anything. I have met people who like to take contrary positions because they enjoy participating in the unconventional, or because known facts run counter to their personal prejudices. There is also a natural tendency to believe our government is covering something up. If they lied to us about the aliens who landed in Roswell, New Mexico, how can we trust anything they say?

Regardless of the motivation, one thing is certain: it becomes easier to cast doubt on historical facts as time passes. Of the 10% in the survey who believe the moon landing was fake, 3% are over the age of 54 and 18% are between the ages of 18-34. This is because, people like me who were 11-years old when we watched Neil Armstrong take his first step on the moon, have a greater investment in the experience.

While it is notable to hear that more people are jumping on the “fake moon landing” bandwagon, it is much more frightening to hear of an increase in those who are trying to disprove horrific events like the Holocaust. Historical events don’t change, but our reverence for them, and our ability to find eye witnesses who can corroborate the evidence does.

I have come to the conclusion some people will believe about anything that aligns with their perception of reality and personal ambition. Once they zero in on an agenda, they no longer care about the truth. Interestingly, Proverbs 6:16-19 shares six things God “hates.” The items on the list are classic examples of falsehoods with references to the chaos they can cause.

The quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana) has never been truer. But perhaps worse than those who cannot remember the past are those who rewrite the past to suit their own purposes. When we forget the past, we fail to learn from other’s mistakes. When we try to rewrite the past, we refuse to learn and promote a false foundation. This is like taking our friends out to skate on thin ice when we alone are aware that someone fell through the day before and drowned.

Was the moon landing fake?

No.

But if you believe it is, see me.

I own a lake resort in the Mojave Desert I am trying to sell.  I have misplaced the deed, but I can work something official up for you if you are interested.

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Growing Kingdom People – The 4th of July and the Existence of God

The 4th of July and the Existence of God

Why do we prize freedom?

In part, because we are aware of the alternatives. In dictatorships, entire nations are expected to serve the whims of self-absorbed leaders. Under the oppression of slavery, humans are exploited for their masters’ purposes and discarded when they are no longer needed.

The American Revolution was sparked by English tyranny and over-taxation. Once the “shot heard around the world” was fired, there was no turning back.

We prize freedom because it provides the opportunity for self-determination. When we are enslaved, our free will is reduced to a choice of obedience or disobedience.  But when we are truly free, we can blaze our own trails and create our own expectations.  We may voluntarily submit to a higher authority, but only if we choose.  In choosing, we also accept the blessings or consequences associated with our choices.

What does this have to do with God?

Without God self-determination makes no sense. If God does not exist, then we have no “unalienable rights”. There can be no such thing as “life” (qualitatively speaking), “liberty” and the “pursuit of happiness.”

One might say, “Nonsense! I am free to say there is no God, and I can proclaim liberty from the notion of obedience to a Creator who directs morality.”

One can say such things. But on what basis? How can any of us embrace liberty as a good thing, if indeed there is no basis for good things? The best we can say, without God, is that we are pursuing a life that provides a perception of personal happiness. Our definition of happiness must be based entirely on emotion, and we can never really be sure if we are happy, or if we have merely been led to believe we are happy by those who are using us for their purposes.

Oh, yes. I forgot to mention this often-overlooked reality. A sense of freedom without God puts us at the mercy of other people’s agendas. We have nowhere to turn for a moral compass or an eternal purpose that transcends our human experience. Those who put their faith in God rise above the world. Those who reject Him become pawns to the ones who are capable of exerting the strongest influence over their lives.

Why do you think dictators begin their consolidation of power by destroying faith-based communities? They know the hardest people in the world to control are those who put their faith in God. Those with a strong understanding of unalienable rights?

The self-determined!

Some people use the 4th of July to honor “God and Country”. This is a good thing, as long as we don’t put our country above God.

May I suggest we also see this day of celebration as proof positive of the existence of God. What could possibly motivate millions of people to dress in red, white and blue and declare their freedom, if they didn’t believe in its moral value?

Our hunger for freedom is a sign of our belief in God.

Without Him, there isn’t much to celebrate. Man does not life by fireworks alone.

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Growing Kingdom People – Some “Letter Game” Alternatives for Vacation Travel

Some “Letter Game” Alternatives for Vacation Travel

Have you played the Letter Game on a long trip? The one where you work your way through the alphabet as you see letters on billboards and road signs?

Ok. I know times have changed. The Letter Game is not so critical now that technology has made it possible for us to play video games, watch movies and work on our computers as we ride.

Hopefully, not while we drive.

There are also long stretches of highway where billboards have been removed to preserve the natural beauty of the landscape.

And to be honest, I don’t think I would want my children reading some of the billboards that do remain.

All the more reason to look for alternatives during this year’s vacation travel. I would like to present the following possibilities with a biblical focus:

Record religious vanity plates and consider or discuss their theological implications. Paul once wrote, “all things are permissible, but not everything is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23). A Christian’s best intentions for a spiritual message on a license plate might not be so beneficial. When you see GDSFVR1, LVN4JC, MIBLSNG or some other rendering of a religious perspective, consider whether it is true and even if there is truth in it, does it benefit the cause of Christ?

Look for cities and towns named after Bible places. Research the reference, and if you have internet access, try to discover why the name was chosen. Some common ones you might find are Lebanon, Goshen, Bethlehem, Shiloh and Salem. Were the names just pulled out of a hat, or do they say something about the people, geography or history of the community?

Identify views that remind you of places or things described in the Bible. Look for “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10), the cedars of Lebanon (Psalm 92:12), the cleft of the rock (Exodus 33:22) and the “birds of the air” (Matthew 6:26). If you are fortunate, you might even see a rainbow (Genesis 9:13).

Pray for people who are involved in accidents. Many travel horror stories begin with “we got behind an accident.” This may be the most difficult adjustment of all to make, but instead of fuming over a traffic jam, or complaining about the carelessness of other drivers, we might do well to have someone pray for those involved. We can pray for injuries, hardships and those who have made honest mistakes but nevertheless find themselves in trouble with the law. They will possibly be the ones in the back of the State Trooper’s car when you pass by.  In humility, thank God for His mercy over you as you travel.

These are merely possibilities. I realize we will be greatly focused on making it to our destination as quickly as possible and without any mishaps. And, of course, there are other things we can pray for, such as the will not to abandon our unruly kids on the side of the road, and that God would help us keep a reign on our tongue when some idiot pulls out in front of us.

I’m sorry.  I mean when a motorist makes an ill-advised lane change in our proximity.

Travel is hard, and it is nothing new. We can only imagine what Mary and Joseph said when they realized they had accidentally left their 12-year old Messiah in Jerusalem.

Since we can’t reclaim the time we spend in a vehicle, perhaps we can redeem it.

And remember to “Stay Alive – Drive 55!”

Oh, sorry. Showing my age again.

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Growing Kingdom People – “Shut the Door!”

“Shut The Door!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s funny.

Not really funny.

It’s sad, really.

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

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

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

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

Perhaps our GPS should be permanently pinned to Calvary.

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

 

 

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Growing Kingdom People – Jesus and Tariffs

Jesus and Tariffs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Growing Kingdom People – Mass Shootings and Faith

Mass Shootings and Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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