Growing Kingdom People – Are You Crazy?

Are You Crazy?

It appears everyone is crazy.

Hardly a day goes by without a public figure suggesting an opponent has some form of mental derangement or deficiency.

Is this really the case?

Perhaps, in some instances.  But, not all irrational behavior indicates a serious mental condition.  In fact, it is possible the behavior is not irrational at all.  It could be the result of rational fear and a personal feeling of powerlessness.

The people who are said to be doing and saying “crazy” things in our culture, are often afraid of losing something.  The list of somethings includes rights endowed by God and the Constitution.  Also included are treasured principles such as freedom and justice.

Perhaps you could complete this sentence focused on someone you consider to be crazy: “You’re crazy if you think you are going to take away my _____________.”

I am not a highly skeptical person, and I don’t spend a lot of time working through conspiracies.  But I do believe the only reason some people haven’t taken away some of the things I value is because they haven’t had an opportunity.

Crazy, you say?

Hang on…

I’m going to make a hard-right turn into a Bible topic!

Whoooooooah!

Are you still with me?

Good.  Sorry for the scare.  Let’s see, where were we?  Oh, yes…

Consider the fear we might have of Satan’s work in our lives.  Is it irrational?

On one hand, yes.  Satan was defeated at Calvary, and has no ultimate power over us as we cling to our hope in Christ.

On the other hand, no.  Satan works extra hard to exploit weaknesses in the lives in an effort to diminish the work Christ calls us to as His people.

It all comes down to opportunity.  In Ephesians 4:27, the Apostle Paul wrote, “and do not give the devil a foothold.”  The Greek word used here for “foothold” can also be translated “location” or “opportunity.”  The idea is that the devil looks for a single vantage point from which to launch an all-out assault on our lives.

Now let’s suppose we are speaking to Satan when we say, “You are crazy if you think you are taking away my ______________.

What might you put in the blank?

“Peace of mind?

“Confidence in God’s grace?

“Moral integrity?

“Family?

“Prayer life?

“Time with God’s Word?

Crazy, you say?  Satan could never take away these things in our lives?

Perhaps.

Unless he has an opportunity.

Which is all he needs.

To believe otherwise is…

Well…

Just plain irrational.

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Growing Kingdom People – Jeopardy, Alex Trebek and The Answer Is…

Jeopardy, Alex Trebek and the Answer is…

Whether or not you are a Jeopardy fan, you are probably aware that Alex Trebek is battling pancreatic cancer.  Unfortunately, his cancer is advanced and the prognosis is disheartening.  Alex is facing his disease with tremendous courage and continues to host his show with excellence.

I have watched Jeopardy since I was a kid, and many things have changed.  Art Fleming was the host then, and the winnings were considerably less.  When a contestant made a selection, a piece of cardboard was removed from the dollar figure, revealing the text.  The show was in black and white, as well.

Black and white.

You see, once upon a time, in a land far away, TVs didn’t show color.

Never mind…

The one thing that has remained constant in the game of jeopardy is the practice of presenting a contestant with an answer, which must be met with the correct question.  The question (which is also the answer) must be phrased in the form of a question.

I have been thinking about the story God has written in His Word and the way He often uses this same methodology.  In other words, sometimes He gives us the answer before we ask the question.  For example, Adam and Eve didn’t ask God what they needed to do to be saved.  But God gave them the answer.  In an allusion to Jesus’ victory on the cross, God gave Satan a glimpse into his future: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

And the answer is, “Is there hope for the human race as a result of the fall?”

Biblical prophecy is often an answer before the question is asked.  This is because God knows the answer before we ask the questions.  He knew our need before we were a twinkle in our parents’ eyes.  And He knew how His story of redemption was going to culminate on the cross from the moment He spoke those words to the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

We have many questions.  This is to be expected since life can be complicated.  But I have discovered many of the answers are already on the board.

Or in God’s Word.

If we take the answers more seriously, we might learn to ask more questions, such as, “What must I do to be saved?”

I realize we are accustomed to asking the questions, then seeking the answers.

But perhaps it would be wise to do things in reverse every now and then.

“Yes, we should do that!”

“What do you think?”

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Growing Kingdom People – O Possum Baum

O Possum Baum!

Poor Zatara!

A man walked into a plane with an opossum.

No joke!  It happened.

Gerald Tautenhahn and his opossum Zatara, flew Jet Blue for a Thanksgiving visit with his mother in Texas.  But on the return trip he ran into trouble.  Gerald and his pet were kicked off of the plane after another customer saw Zatara escape from his carrier, and noticed it was not a cat or a dog.

Honestly.

What’s this world coming to when you can’t take your opossum with you on an airplane to visit mom?

Zatara joined a long list of other animals that have been escorted from airplanes, including a squirrel and a pig.  Though, you may be aware, a miniature horse by the name of “Flirty” was able to fly from Chicago to Omaha just a few short months ago.

He flew an airline that knew how to keep the “mane thing” the “mane thing.”

If I might borrow from a rather worn-out, but relevant phrase…

“What would Jesus do?”

Where would the Biblical narrative be without animals?

We assume there were animals in the vicinity of Jesus’ birth since He was placed in a manger.  That’s why the “cattle were lowing” in one of our favorite Christmas songs.

It is possible one of the shepherds who came to visit Jesus carried a lamb with him.  At least that’s what most nativity scenes seem to indicate.

People speculate that Mary rode to Bethlehem on a donkey, and perhaps used the same mode of transportation when she and Joseph fled to Egypt.

Jesus once called a Gentile woman a “dog” to make a point to the contrary, and He said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it was for a rich man to get into heaven.

Did you know you are more important to God than the birds of the air?  Jesus referenced them in His Sermon on the Mount.

A few days before His death and resurrection, Jesus rode a donkey into the city of Jerusalem.

Soon afterward, His good friend Peter denied Him and a rooster crowed.

And I would be remiss if I did not remind us all that Jesus was the “Lamb of God”, slain for the sins of the world.

To think that someone got bent out of shape over a cute little opossum on an airplane.  Jesus would have put the sweet creature in first class and kicked the complainer onto the “outer tarmac”.

OK.

Maybe not.

I feel certain Jesus didn’t need an emotional support animal since He had at least ten thousand angels at His disposal.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if Jesus boarded a jetliner with a pet.  What would we say?  Where would He sit?

Anywhere He wanted, of course.

And something tells me He might like Zatara.  They both know something about death.

Only Jesus was “playing” when he died.  And He created a much bigger commotion when He came back to life than an opossum on a plane.

Wherever you are, Zatara, Merry Christmas.  Jesus loves you more than you will know.

Whoa, Whoa, Whoa!

I should add that this devotion is what happens with too little sleep and too much caffeine.

Merry Christmas to all!

 

 

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Growing Kingdom People – Money Has Its Day

Money Has Its Day

Have you ever thought about how many days are named after a financial exchange?

For years, families braved “Black Friday”, the insane first official Christmas shopping day after Thanksgiving.  Then came “Cyber Monday”, which reduced the Christmas shopping traffic in box stores and city streets as people were able to purchase presents online.  There remains the first shopping day after Christmas, when we return and exchange gifts, but since the day for Christmas changes, this day doesn’t have a name of its own.

There are other days.  Everyone looks forward to “payday”, even if the pay is directly deposited into their checking accounts.  “Tax Day”, April 15th, is our deadline for filing our income taxes, and “Tax Freedom Day”, is a moving day which represents how long we have to work to pay our taxes.  In case you are wondering, this year, “Tax Freedom Day” is April 16th.

Christmas Day falls into a different category.  On this day, we celebrate the birth of our Savior.  Christmas Day is a day to honor a person.

But perhaps there is more.

The angel told Joseph to name Mary’s baby Jesus.  The name “Jesus” means “to rescue” or “to save.”  Jesus was going to save God’s people from their sins, and the price of salvation would involve the pouring out of His life on the cruel cross of Calvary.

The cost of our salvation was incurred through our sins.

The payment was delivered in a manger, somewhere in the little town of Bethlehem.

While it is true, the price for our salvation was not paid until that horrible day when Jesus gave up His live on a cross, the assurance of having our debt of sin erased was already on earth, rocking in the arms of a young mother.

It is only natural that we would not want to consider this truth on Christmas Day.  Christmas Day is a day to rejoice over God’s goodness.  It is a day for giving, and for showing love to everyone we meet.

There are no chocolate crosses in the candy aisle at Christmas (personally, I would prefer that there never be a chocolate cross as it seems strange to make a snack out of the instrument of torture used to kill Jesus).  But the cross was clearly visible in the manger.  The birth of Jesus was a precursor to the day He would cover our sins with His blood.  The day the payment was made and Satan was utterly crushed.

Which is probably why Satan worked so hard to destroy Jesus before He had a chance to grow up.  Satan didn’t see a baby in a manger.  He saw a payment, and the day his dark kingdom would go down in smoke.

And speaking of days…Satan will have his day too.

On that day none of the other days will matter.  “Black Friday”, “Cyber Monday”, and all the rest will be swallowed up by the “Great Day” (Revelation 6:17).

Get ready.

Some day only one day will matter.

 

 

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Growing Kingdom People – Killing Thanksgiving

Killing Thanksgiving

Recently, I conducted a brief study of thanksgiving in the Bible. Since there is some dispute about the location of the first official Thanksgiving on American soil, I thought perhaps I could help reduce hostilities by finding proof of an ancient Thanksgiving service recorded in scripture.

I did, indeed discover some good candidates, not the least of which were Miriam’s song and dance by the Red Sea and the Last Supper. However, I must report the Bible actually begins with the sinful suppression of thanksgiving, not its celebration.

The killing thanksgiving story starts in the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve were enjoying paradise. Their only restriction was that they were not to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden. Satan appeared and convinced them they had every reason to be ungrateful. True, they had everything they could possibly want, but the Deceiver convinced them God was holding out. It wasn’t enough to live in perfect harmony with one another and all creation. They wanted the fruit. They wanted to be as wise as God. How could they be grateful when there was something they couldn’t have?

You may know the rest of the story in the garden. Adam and Eve rebelled against their Creator, ate the fruit and fell from grace. They killed thanksgiving.

Next came the first offspring, Cain and Abel. In the course of showing gratitude to God through personal sacrifices, Abel was singled out and praised for the superiority of his gift. Cain became enraged, rose up against Abel in a field and murdered him. Instead of being grateful for a brother with whom he could share his life, Cain became focused on what he was missing – God’s affirmation. So, he killed thanksgiving.

I see an important truth in these early events in human history. Thanksgiving grows out of an appreciation for what we have. Ingratitude is a product of focusing on what we don’t have.

If you doubt this truth, consider children who always get what they want, but continue to disrespect and dishonor those who sacrifice for their well-being. The list includes parents, teachers and basically anyone else who gives to them, including their peers.

Consider citizens who take the work of law enforcement personnel for granted. These caring servants protect us from harm while we are sleeping peacefully in our beds at night. But we test them by breaking the law, call them derogatory names and assume the worst when they are accused of wrongdoing.

The point of Thanksgiving Day is to express gratitude for our blessings. Most people try to be on their best behavior to demonstrate they understand what the celebration is for. This requires more patience on the road and at the grocery. It also means we try to love Aunt Ruby, even when she insists everyone try one of her raw oysters. And when she brings a present for one of your siblings because he is her favorite. Just saying.

If we can hold on for one day, we can go back to being ungrateful the day after. Just in time for the Christmas shopping season!

The fact is, Thanksgiving Day, and the gratitude that goes with it, is often just a worn-out theology which we no longer believe. We may not really feel blessed, but we will show thanks one day a year for appearances’ sake.

With a week to prepare, I want to encourage you to examine your heart. Don’t just work on your list of things to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. Consider how you can possess a spirit of gratitude every day of the year. If you don’t think this is possible, perhaps you need some careful self-examination as you consider how you view God’s blessings.

To help us all in this regard, we should remember everything we have is a gift from God. Nothing we have came into existence without God’s creative genius. The materials out of which we build our possessions and the intellect to fashion them for our purposes are His.

Where is your focus today? Are you envious of the things you don’t have or thankful for your blessings?

The answer to this question will greatly impact the quality of your Thanksgiving celebration.

Don’t play Thanksgiving.

Live it!

“As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Col. 2:6-7)

 

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Growing Kingdom People – Big Time Weather Forecast

Big Time Weather Forecast

With winter weather upon us, I have a question: How many times do you check the weather forecast in the course of a day?

People have always been concerned about the weather, but greater access to meteorological data has turned an interest into an obsession. Our local news stations are aware of our need. That’s why they repeat the weather forecast at least three times, in various ways, during a single broadcast. Add to this the Weather Channel, weather apps and weather notifications, and it’s no wonder the current temperature and chances of rain are two pieces of information we don’t want to live without.

With this said, there is one truth regarding the weather that has remained largely constant for thousands of years. Humans can predict the weather with some accuracy, but they don’t create it. I realize clouds can be seeded to stimulate precipitation, and man-made pollution impacts weather patterns. But, until a human replicates a storm front or stirs up a tropical depression from scratch, I will echo the phrase often attributed to Mark Twain: “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

This doesn’t mean our environment is out of control. It just highlights the fact we are not in control. But we know who is.

God is still in charge of the weather. To prove my point, I want to make you aware of the forecast He made thousands of years ago, which has been 100% accurate since it was issued. The forecast following the great flood was as follows:

“As long as the earth endures, seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:22

All of these things came to pass and continue to this day. I write this as the sun descends toward the horizon, bringing another day to completion.

Please don’t interpret this to mean we should throw up our hands when it comes to global environmental concerns that are influenced by man. I believe God has given us dominion over the earth, which means we have a responsibility to carefully steward what we have been given; for ourselves, for the benefit of future generations and as a way of honoring our Creator.

What it does mean, though, is that God should factor heavily in any perspective we have about the weather. No, we should not ignore science. If the weatherman tells us to seek shelter, then by all means we should do what he says.

However, we should also ask whether or not we have adequately sought the Lord’s counsel. I am not saying we should pray about whether or not to seek shelter from an impending storm. God gave us a brain for a reason!

But have we asked God to help us steward what He has made? Do we still believe He can alter the course of nature if He chooses?

At the very least, do we still stare in wonder at our world’s complexity and it’s ability to moderate millions of factors at once?  Observing, researching and predicting the weather is what man does. Keeping it all in motion is what God does.

The next time snow blankets the ground, don’t praise Mother Nature. Praise the Lord for His faithful, timeless prediction in the time of Noah.  Don’t worry.  I’m not going to call you out for referring to Mother Nature as long as you realize she isn’t real.

And anyway, in defense of mothers everywhere, why is it we almost never talk about Mother Nature on a pretty day? She is always responsible for storms that bring disaster.

Seek shelter in the storm.

Pay attention to your notifications.

But put your full trust in the ultimate Weatherman.

I’m referring to the Weatherman who started the planets spinning. You will see some of His handiwork tomorrow when the sun rises and the moon disappears.

So it has been since the beginning.

So it will be until the end.

 

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Growing Kingdom People – The Meaning of the Black Cat

The Meaning of the Black Cat

Black cats have generally been considered as omens of bad luck or an indication of a satanic presence. In the time of the Pilgrims, some thought black cats were “familiars” (demons) in league with witches. However, in other cultures, black cats have been considered a sign of good luck, or either good or bad luck, depending on which direction a particular cat was walking.

This past Monday night, with six minutes to go in the NFL Cowboys/Giants game, a black cat appeared on the field. Immediately, the commentators began speculating about its meaning for the home team, the Cowboys. It appeared to me the cat was walking mostly from left to right, which according to folklore, means good luck is coming. The Cowboys won the game, so I guess it all fits.

I am not a superstitious person, and I don’t think the Cowboys win had anything to do with a black cat.  Well, perhaps it did if the Giants believe in folklore and allowed the cat incident to influence their play.

Regardless, I am intrigued by the human bent toward superstition.  Please know that I have no desire to condemn others for innocent routines they believe make them more successful.  People are probably not going to be led into the occult by claiming to have a lucky golf club, a special coin in their pocket or a favorite hat.  More problematic, I believe, is the tendency to project superstitious thinking on our relationship with God.

Some examples include:

  • The belief we have displeased God when we encounter trials.
  • The belief we are doing something right when we experience good things.
  • The belief God will reward us with health and wealth if we claim it to be so.
  • The belief we are more blessed than others because we are better people.

I am not suggesting there is no connection between our actions and God’s blessings.  Or that God doesn’t reward us when we are faithful.  There is no doubt in my mind we will find greater fulfillment in life if we obey God.  On the other hand, it is possible to do everything right and still suffer.  It is also important to trust God when life doesn’t make sense, and when we feel we are being treated unfairly.

In truth, this is not how a walk with God works.  Jesus once said His Father makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and unjust (Matthew 5:45).  God doesn’t promise an easy life, but He does promise to bless us.

Superstitious people interpret God’s love in light of their circumstances, and they act in godly ways to get what they want.  The danger in this pattern of behavior is that we might believe things about God that are untrue, based on our circumstances, and we will only act in godly ways when there is something we want.

God is not a God of “lucky charms”.  He is a God of blessings, seen and unseen, present and future.  God even uses bad things He didn’t cause to help us grow in our faith.  When I view God through the lens of superstition, I try to control Him for my own purpose.  When I see Him as a faithful God who blesses me in ways that serve His purposes, I learn to roll with the punches and watch for His hand to move in everything.

This is not the same as watching a black cat waltz across a football field.  I’m not saying God can’t work through a cat.  He has used animals before.

But I think we can all agree the cat on the Dallas gridiron didn’t appear to be supernaturally led.  Had he been, he would have lifted a paw to toward heaven when he walked into the end zone.

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