Growing Kingdom People – When Something Affects us All

When Something Affects Us All

Our perspectives change when something affects us personally.

People in the Midwest don’t get too rattled by hurricanes. People on the coast do.

People in the south don’t worry much about snowstorms. People in the north do.

Children don’t worry about retirement. Retirees don’t worry about homework. Farmers rarely check the morning commute and city dwellers don’t pay much attention to grain prices.

However, this doesn’t mean none of these items are connected. Hurricanes on the coast can spawn tornadoes in the Midwest. Snowstorms can snarl air-traffic throughout the country. Children who don’t do their homework might not be able to provide the services retirees need. And city dwellers will be impacted by grain markets when the price of their morning bagel goes up.

Presently, our entire nation is learning a lesson in things that affect us all. We have had government shut-downs before, but this is the longest. And it is affecting us all. Perhaps you have seen pictures of trash littering the landscape of our national parks because the employees who normally pick it up aren’t working. In my part of the country, not only are government agencies sending their workers home, but the service industries that support them are suffering. Restaurants are adjusting orders from venders and venders are adjusting orders from suppliers.

People living from paycheck to paycheck are stressed and some of their creditors are short on compassion. It is beginning to affect us all.

As humans, we have an amazing ability to detach ourselves from things we don’t think will have an ultimate impact on our lives. Poverty and crime are problematic in society, but we don’t worry about either one until a robbery is reported in our neighborhood or we discover a friend is about to become homeless. We pay little attention to the specifics behind diseases until someone we love is struck down.

Detachment isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We couldn’t survive if we had to think about all of the world’s problems all of the time. In a sense, detachment is a gift from God that helps us maintain our sanity.

But every now and then it is good to be reminded how many things that affect some of us really affect us all.

The Bible makes this truth crystal clear. In the Apostle Paul’s teaching on the church, which he refers to as the “Body”, he writes: “If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has arranged the members of the body, every one of them, according to His design. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you.’ Nor can the head say to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we consider less honorable, we treat with greater honor. And our unpresentable parts are treated with special modesty, whereas our presentable parts have no such need. But God has composed the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its members should have mutual concern for one another. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:18-26)

We read it.

We hear it.

But until we experience it, we don’t completely understand it.

Very little happens that doesn’t affect us all.

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Growing Kingdom People – Piling On

Piling On

There are rules against “piling on.” In football, “piling on” involves jumping on top of a player, unnecessarily, after he has already been tackled or the play has been blown dead. More commonly, we see referees hand out penalties for “unnecessary roughness”, or a “late hit.” But the basic idea is the same. It is illegal, and potentially dangerous, to inflict more pain on a player who has already been stopped in the field of play.

Last Sunday I saw a different expression of “piling on” at the end of the Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears football game. Bears kicker Cody Parkey missed a game-winning field goal. Perhaps you saw it.  The ball hit the upright, then bounced off of the crossbar.

Double-doink.

Eagles win.

Then came the “piling on.” Broadcasters showed a montage of Cody’s misses in the second worst season of his career.  Surely, millions of viewers shook their heads in disbelief.

But wait!

The missed kick was later ruled a blocked kick when a frozen video frame revealed a defender’s hand had changed the trajectory of the ball.

There was no need to “pile on” after all!

Funny thing about “piling on.” It usually happens in the heat of play, and the higher we get on the pile, the less we know about what’s really going on at ground level.

“Piling on” just seems like the thing to do.

I am not suggesting there is never a good reason to collectively attack a problem. But, in most cases, it appears to me people “pile on” because it feels good to be a part of the pile. It satisfies all of our longings: the need for belonging; the need to feel self-justified; the need to feel superior.

I wonder what Jesus would have to say about “piling on?” He loved, taught and showed compassion on the crowds. Then they accepted a bribe to shout “crucify Him!”

Killing Jesus just seemed like the right thing to do.

Which only goes to prove…

There’s something attractive about a pile.

Perhaps, if we thought more before we jumped on the pile, we would make wiser decisions and give truth more time to emerge.

I guess there will always be a pile to jump on.

Or “in”, as the case may be.

If we are smart, we will stay out of piles.  All kinds of piles.

Otherwise, someday, we may find ourselves at the bottom of one.

My advice…

“When the play is dead, walk away!”

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Growing Kingdom People – Do We Really Have to Save Christmas?

Do We Really Have to Save Christmas?

Have you ever noticed how many Christmas shows involve the Christmas that almost wasn’t? One of the earliest “no Christmas” near misses occurred in that discouraging line from Santa in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”: “Christmas is going to be cancelled!”

Since then, it seems Santa and Christmas Day have had to be rescued more times than Congress has left our nation’s capital without passing a budget.

Sorry. Let’s just say it’s a wonder Santa has stayed employed considering how many times he has nearly let Christmas slip through his fingers.

“Saving Christmas” has more than one meaning, depending on the context.

It might involve an extraordinary effort to carry on a family tradition. Or a campaign to raise money for a family that has been left homeless at Christmastime.

As a church leader, I have participated in more Christmas programs than I can count. I remember a few times we had to pray for God to save us due to an unprecedented number of sick participants or threatening weather.

But Christmas came anyway.

It always does, with or without us.

While Dr. Seuss doesn’t specifically define the meaning of Christmas in his book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, he is spot-on when he writes, “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

Perhaps Christmas, in its man-made form, needs to be rescued. But God’s redemptive plan, revealed in the person of His Son Jesus, doesn’t.

Not that it hasn’t been at risk.

The long trip to Bethlehem could have led to a miscarriage.

The conditions in the animal stall could have caused an infection.

Herod tried to kill Jesus.

But the first Christmas was never really in trouble because it was the “fulness of time” (Galatians 4:4). And when God decides its time, nothing can stop Him.

I love the Christmas traditions our culture honors, and I will continue to celebrate them whole-heartedly. However, I will not worry when Santa faces his next crisis. I’ve seen it all before and Christmas always comes regardless.

That’s because Christmas means a “little bit more.”

Actually, a lot more.

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Growing Kingdom People – But What Do I Know?

But What Do I Know?

The church family I serve has been engaged in an outreach effort called “Christmas Unwrapped”. Multiple teams of servants have visited a variety of locations to share the message of Christmas and show the love of Christ.

I personally established the scope of “Christmas Unwrapped” as a ministry to those who “may not have the means or opportunity to worship at our church campus during the Christmas season”. I felt this was one way our congregation could pursue Jesus’ command to care for the “least of these” in the gospel of Matthew (Matthew 25:31-46).

But what do I know?

Last Sunday morning a young lady walked forward at the end of our worship service to bring her struggles before the Lord and His people. We surrounded her, embraced her and listened as she described how God was moving in her heart.

Some of her friends who had come to worship with her surrounded her too. It was obvious they loved her and were thankful for what God was doing.

Oh.

And it turns out the entire group of ladies was from a “Christmas Unwrapped” location.

You know.

One of the locations where people didn’t have the means or the opportunity to come to our church campus at Christmastime.

Guess I was wrong. They found a way.

God found a way.

I created a parameter.

But what do I know?

At the risk of letting myself off the hook, I recognize there is nothing wrong with creating a plan. It is good to have expectations and design anything we do for the Lord with those expectation in mind. Even Jesus used strategic methodologies, such as when He told His disciples they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Of course, Jesus was…

Well…

Jesus.

He was in a position to know what He was doing. To know the perfect will of His Father in heaven.

But what do I know?

Evidently, not as much as I think.

It’s ok.

In fact, I am praying God will prove me wrong again.

I think He does so quite often, just to keep me honest.

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Growing Kingdom People – Does God have a Punch Card?

Does God have a Punch Card?

It seems everyone has a loyalty program. I have so many rewards tags on my key chain, I have to be careful when I scan. Otherwise, I might try to enter my health club with my hardware store tag, or buy groceries with my auto parts store tag.

My favorite loyalty program is the one at the store that supplies my morning caffeine fix. Every seventh drink is free, and every now and then my store loads me up with bonus points. Presently, I am carrying almost 30,000 points. A few more and I’ll have enough for a new BMW!

Not really.

All I know is, when I scan my card in the morning the cashier says, “When you gonna cash in them points?”

I just shrug. Point hoarders are a unique breed.

Do you suppose God has a loyalty program? Does He keep track of our good deeds and send us a blessing when we hit certain milestones? And if He does, how does the system work?

Ten smiles at a stranger for one answered prayer?

Seven days of kindness for a new inspection sticker on our car?

Four trips to church for a good dentist report?

Silly?

Be honest.

Have you ever expected something special as a member of God’s reward club?

Please don’t misunderstand. God does reward us. While I don’t quite understand how God will bless us in heaven, I believe we will receive a reward.

But it isn’t a point system.

Our reward is really Christ’s reward which He shares with us. He paid off our debt of sin at the cross and invites us into His kingdom by grace, through faith (Titus 3:7).

Christ wants us to be loyal, but not for the purpose of earning our salvation. We already have our reward when we put our trust in Him, but we are loyal because we are compelled to give Him our undying devotion.

We should still smile at strangers, do kind acts and go to church. God will work through these things to bless us. They are indeed signs we want to be engaged in a lifestyle that honors the One who gave His life for us.

It’s just that we could never punch enough credits to earn our salvation.

There was only one punch.

Ok, perhaps two.

There was a knock-out punch at Calvary and a second at the empty tomb.

What happened there deserves the highest loyalty.

But no card to carry.

Good thing. My key chain is full.

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Growing Kingdom People – Christ at the Border

Christ at the Border

The clash between Central American migrants and U.S. patrol agents in Tijuana is on my mind. It is likely on your mind too.

How should Christians respond?

With compassion. (Matthew 25:34-46)

With respect for authority. (Romans 13:1-7)

With discernment, especially if we choose to exercise our conscience through a non-violent form of civil disobedience. (Acts 5:29)

And with a spirit of “Christian Liberty” if other followers of Jesus choose a response that is different than our own. (1 Corinthians 10:23)

This is a tough one for followers of Jesus, but I think one principle should reign supreme. In everything we should make sure God’s love is evident in our lives.

In our behavior toward migrant people groups.

In our behavior toward authorities.

In our behavior toward one another.

The struggle we face is understandable. Hate is not.

In the midst of the Tijuana situation, another border has come into view. A few days ago, we received word John Allen Chau had been killed by the reclusive tribe that lives on North Sentinel Island. John was attempting to share the message of Christ with the tribesmen.

No doubt about it. The tribesmen of North Sentinel Island need to know Christ. Yet, it occurs to me they were merely doing what we are doing as Americans. They were protecting their way of life. Medical professionals have warned that outsiders pose a tremendous health risk to the inhabitants of the island, since an intrusion would expose them to a number of dangerous diseases. There are also sociological risks to the community structure of the tribe, which has always been a dilemma as the church has sought to share Christ in remote regions of the world. It is unlikely the islanders are fully aware of these risks, but we can’t blame them for protecting their borders.

Please don’t misunderstand. I repeat, the tribesmen and tribeswomen of North Sentinel Island need to know Christ. There was nothing ungodly about John Allen Chau’s efforts. People will have differing views on whether or not he was misguided, but he certainly had no evil intent. And maybe someday someone will find a way to reach his killers and Chau will be credited with opening the door to the hearts of the tribesmen.

However, this further complicates our thought process as we attempt to resolve the Christian answer to the situation in Tijuana. Which side of the debate are you on in regards to the Central American migrant caravan? How do you feel about the tribesmen who killed John Chau? I must add, he was attempting to enter North Sentinel Island illegally.

I’ll admit, I am trying to stir things up.

Not among brothers and sisters in Christ (since the Bible identifies this as a serious sin against God).

But between me, myself and I.

Some internal struggles were not intended to be easy.

I am convinced followers of Christ who try to make them so are probably missing something.

Or choosing to ignore something.

Borders have a way of pushing the limits and forcing us to examine our walk with Christ.

Eventually, we all find ourselves at the “border of our hearts.” That’s where every clash begins.

 

 

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Growing Kingdom People – The Narcissist In All of Us

The Narcissist In All of Us

Narcissus was a mythological hunter known for his beauty. He was attracted to beautiful things and others were attracted to him.  But he rejected his admirers and treated them with such disrespect, some crumbled under the weight of rejection and took their own lives.  Narcissus was eventually destroyed when he fell in love with his reflection in a pool of water and short-circuited because he was unable to love himself as much as he loved himself.

We derive the term “Narcissistic” from Narcissus. Psychology Today identifies the hallmarks of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder as “grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration. People with this condition are frequently described as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, and demanding.”

The Narcissists I have encountered see themselves as uniquely brilliant, creative and justified in any behavior they choose. They blame others for their imperfections and demean anyone who doesn’t see the world as they do. They make promises they don’t keep, make excuses for the harm they cause others and feel a need to draw attention to themselves when they fear someone else is in the limelight.

I will be honest. I have trouble with Narcissists. I don’t mind walking with sinners, since I am one as well, and I realize we are all in need of God’s grace. But people who disrespect others, and especially those who have loved and sacrificed for them, are outside of the realm of my comprehension.

Which, ironically, is likely how they view me. As one unable to fully comprehend their near perfection.

Why am I picking on the Narcissist? Because there is a little bit of him in all of us. Our fallen human nature draws us toward self-centeredness and our culture reinforces our behavior.

How do we counter this unseemly trait?

Thanksgiving!

Thankful people are forever mindful of the people who have contributed to their success. They never presume they have “made it on their own”, and they are not intoxicated by independence. Thankful people remember they were created by a good God and they feel a sense of accountability for the life He has given them. They show sorrow when they sin. Sympathy when others are hurting. Appreciation with others are generous.

Thankful people don’t make excuses for their behavior. They see themselves as stewards of time, talent and opportunity, and they seek to improve themselves so they can bless others.

By the way, just because I have trouble with Narcissists doesn’t mean I don’t love them. I hurt for whatever pain they must be harboring that leads them to act the way they do. I am saddened by the relationships they destroy and the sorrow they bring into the lives of those who care about them.

I propose the time we spend in thanksgiving is one way to avoid hints of Narcissism in our lives. Thanksgiving Day is an opportunity to teach our loved ones they have been blessed to be a blessing, and to remind them they must be eternally grateful to the Giver of all things.

Let Thanksgiving Day be a time when we step back from our self-crazed culture and regain our perspective. A time to care for others.  A time to put others first.

Even Narcissists.

Remember the Apostle John’s words, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

I am forever thankful He did.

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