Growing Kingdom People – When Love Isn’t Love

When Love isn’t Love

In recent months, our nation has been flooded with stories of sexual abuse and promiscuity. The list of the accused includes government leaders, Hollywood directors, priests and pastors. In some cases, investigators have uncovered bizarre systems of child exploitation and human trafficking. Our culture is in shock.

One of the most disturbing threads weaving through these events is the misinterpretation of and misuse of what it means to “love” others. In fact, in many cases, those who harm others have convinced themselves they were actually loving their victims.

Many years ago I witnessed a man being attacked by a jealous husband who had evidence of an affair between the man and his wife.  As the wounded man was being treated for his injuries he said, “I can’t help it.  I can’t keep the love of Jesus inside.  I feel I have a ministry to women who are going through a hard time.”  A Christian brother standing over him wisely replied, “I think you need to find a new ministry.”

Love can be hard to define. We know it involves caring deeply for others, and there is a biblical word, “agape”, that describes sacrificial, unconditional love.

As with many words, sometimes what something is “not” helps us understand what it “is”. Consider these possibilities:

Love is not selfish. While the love we experience in our relationships helps meet the need we all have to be loved, this should not be our ultimate goal. If we are more concerned with being loved than loving, we will never do some of the hard things necessary to show sincere love. Certainly, this is true of parenting where a mother or father is willing to be unpopular with a child in order to correct his or her behavior.

Love is not disrespectful. Regardless of whether or not we think we are loving someone with our words and actions, if the people we say we love tell us we are making them feel uncomfortable, we should respect their feelings. We should not be angry when the people we say we care about tell us to change our behavior.

Love is not manipulative. Manipulation comes in many forms, but we “weaponize” love when we make it a tool in our desire to make people give us what we want. People are often lured into promiscuous relationships because they were told “If you love me, you will give me what I want.” In a similar way, those who have power over others can threaten them if they refuse to comply with requests in the name of love.

Love is not ungodly. From a spiritual standpoint, if someone is selfish, disrespectful or manipulative and tries to make us think their behavior toward us is “loving” when it is clearly ungodly, we should pull the wool from the wolf. Unfortunately, abusers often use “god-talk” and faith as they seek to justify their behavior. If something is ungodly it is not loving, since God is love.

You are likely familiar with this passage from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” We are quick to embrace the first part of this passage, but we often pass over the parts about truth and protection.

Several years ago, Charles L. Bailey Jr., who was himself the victim of abuse, wrote this in his book “In the Shadow of the Cross”: “I feel that some people have a hard time with the truths around us, not only the sexual abuse by priests, but all bad things. I call it chosen ignorance. This modified form of ignorance is found in people who, if confronted with certain truths realize that they have to accept them and thereby acknowledge evil, and that scares them. Opening up and letting the truth in might knock them off their perceived center. It is too hard, period.”

Some parts of real “love” are easy. Some are pleasant. And some are hard. But if we say we love, we will accept it all. If not, then maybe what we call “love” is really something else.

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Growing Kingdom People – Is Twitter Un-Christian?

Growing Kingdom People – Is Twitter Un-Christian?

I didn’t say, “Do some un-Christian things happen on Twitter?”

That’s a given.

But is it inherently un-Christian?

You probably think I’m nuts choosing such a random litmus test of Christian character. After all, there are a lot of other things in this world to worry about. Things that are clearly un-Christian.

Certainly, Christians have found a way to use Twitter to share the good message of Christ. It is used to announce church events, share inspirational quotes and pass along words of encouragement in times of trouble.

But it is also used to hurt, condemn, criticize and hate.

I present to you, James 1:19-20: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”

God knew Twitter was coming, so he gave us this verse.  He also knows I have a very warped sense of humor, so He has led me to stay away from Twitter for my own welfare.

But back to the James verse. Time can help us avoid Satan’s snares. When we take time to think before we speak, we are less likely to say things that are destructive and more likely to discover ways to outwit Satan. A quick tongue is Satan’s workshop.

So is a quick thumb that writes a tweet.

God’s wisdom instructs us not to share the first thing that comes to mind when we are angry or frustrated. Therefore, I believe when we find ourselves in this state of mind…

And we all do…

We should hide our cell phone and computer.

A tweet, an email, a text, or a Facebook post in a bad moment, can hurt others and undermine our character. I have never known anyone whose credibility went up when they criticized others on social media or sent hateful messages to the same.

I know there are those who say these forms of communication are here to stay and we should just get used to people using them to express their anger. They are like the gossip neighbors used to share over the back fence.

But surely, we can see the difference between a back fence and the Internet. Don’t get me wrong. Gossip is destructive, no matter where it is shared. However, a private conversation gives us time to try our ideas on for size, then discard them when we realize we are out of line.  Electronic communication is not as gracious.

Human nature hasn’t changed.

We don’t listen enough.

We speak too quickly.

We don’t manage our anger.

And Satan laughs his head off! In fact, I hear he has his own Twitter account. His ID is “CUNHell.”

Ooops! I just looked this up and it is already taken.

Well, there you have it.

I suppose Satan doesn’t really need an account. Why would he when he can just use ours?

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Growing Kingdom People – Seven People I Would Like to See Go to Hell

Seven People I Would Like to See Go to Hell

In a downtown church in Lexington, Kentucky, my father once preached a sermon that had the whole city in a stir. The title of the sermon was, “Seven People I Would Like to See Go to Hell.” The church my dad served had grown considerably under his leadership, and because of his influence in the community news of the sermon title spread quickly.

I am told the story was picked up by a news service and shared nationally. Speakers were placed outside of the church building so the crowds that gathered outside of the packed sanctuary could hear who the seven people were.

From what I hear, there was lots of speculation. Maybe dad had an enemy or two he wanted to hurry along into Hell’s flames. Perhaps a notorious criminal would make the list.

Some of the facts are a little fuzzy, since I wasn’t born yet, and I have slowly pieced together what I know from some eye-witnesses. But as the list began to unfold that Sunday morning, some unexpected names appeared. One was the Chairman of the Elders at the church. Another was the Mayor of the city. I don’t remember the positions of the other five.

Then my dad revealed a point of clarification that left everyone feeling somewhat cheated: He never said he was going to preach about seven people he wanted to see to “into” Hell, but rather go “to” Hell. In other words, there were some influential people in the community who would benefit from seeing the horrors of Hell up close as it would inspire them to be even more fervent in their efforts to introduce others to Jesus.

I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if anyone walked away at this point. I can only assume the message was a powerful one and that those who heard it left with their evangelistic spirit refueled.

Every now and then I think about my dad’s sermon. I wonder if it would be good for all of us to pay a visit to the gates of Hell. I know Hell isn’t a popular topic, and I am not one to scare people to death so they will accept Jesus. However, it would be irresponsible of me to dismiss the notion of Hell, since the Bible says it exists, or to fail to warn those who appear to be on their way there.

There are those who say, “I don’t need to see Hell! I have lived Hell here on earth!” I don’t doubt the fact many people have had some hellish experiences here on earth. It makes sense. The Prince of Darkness, Satan, flavors everything he touches with wickedness. It is as if he allows the flames of Hell to dance into the hearts and lives of those who open themselves up to any portion of his earthly ambition.

But if Satan’s footprint on earth is terrible, then the place God has prepared for his eternal punishment must be beyond any horror we can imagine. It is reality without the presence of God. Total darkness.

I am not suggesting non-believers go look into Hell, although it might benefit them for other reasons.  My dad’s message was to believers. We are the ones who lose our passion for the lost. We are also the ones who sometimes seem content to give up on the world because we believe people are too far gone.

A visit to Hell wouldn’t make us more judgmental or hateful. I think it would renew our vigor and fill us with compassion. Too much time has passed without an honest assessment of what the Bible says will happen to those outside of Christ and our role in rescuing them. No wonder Jesus lamented to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” (Luke 10:2)

I’m thinking of planning a trip to Hell. Would you like to go with me? If I get twenty people to go, my way is paid!

“To” Hell. Not “into” Hell.

And I get a cool piece of luggage filled with rock and roll CDs, poker chips and whiskey.

Just kidding!!!

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Growing Kingdom People – Do You Have a Criminal Record?

Do You Have a Criminal Record?

Criminal records are a big deal in our culture. If you are self-employed, own your own business, or have a squeaky-clean record, you may be far-removed from the issue. But for many, it is an ever-present reality.

Last week I saw a news report from a nearby city about a serious lack of public transportation bus drivers. There were two major reasons given for the deficiency: an improving economy, which gives drivers other job options, and criminal records, which eliminate potential candidates.

The term “criminal” can be interpreted in one of two ways. Technically, anyone who commits a crime is a criminal. But, we don’t normally think of someone who runs a red-light, as serious as their violation might be, as a criminal. A criminal is someone who runs a red light while evading police, after a robbery at the local 7-11.

When it comes to God’s law, we have all been criminals in the first of these ways. The New Testament writer James reminds us, if we break God’s Law in one place, we have broken His Law in its entirety (James 2:10). Fortunately, our guilt can be washed away because of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf.  His blood erases our record and sets us free.  However, if we reject this grace we are criminals in the second sense as we have declared open rebellion against God. Jesus warned us it would not go well for those who choose this path. (Matthew 7:23).

Do we have a criminal record?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

If we are in Christ, we did have one at one time.

But not anymore.

Our criminal past has been removed.  I once heard someone use the word “justify” to say the removal of sin from our lives makes is “just-as-if” we have never sinned.  This doesn’t mean we should forget our past. However, it does mean we are now “sinners saved by grace.” This is the same as saying we are no longer criminals. We are no longer in rebellion against God because we have drawn near to His throne of mercy and accepted His gift of forgiveness.

We may still have limitations in this life due to our past crimes.  If you are carrying a load of moving violation points on your driving record, I am sorry.  The blood of Jesus doesn’t erase those.  The boundaries society imposes on us are a part of the price we pay for our past.

Yet, God removes the shackles that keep us from bearing fruit in His name. It might take a long time to prove to others we can be trusted, but God’s eternal grace is immediate. Some of the most incredible transformation stories we will ever hear come from behind prison bars, where redeemed sinners live out the love of God in their daily lives and show others the way to the cross.

Whether you have an official criminal record or not, if you have not accepted God’s mercy you are weighed down by guilt and are limiting the potential He put in you.  God wants to free you and use you for His glory. He will help you navigate the twists and turns of life as you give Him your past and step into His vision for your future.

And in the meantime, as you are recreated into the person God wants you to be, obey the law. Running a red light might not keep you out of heaven, but it could get you there a lot quicker.

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Growing Kingdom People – The Dumbest Thing I Ever Did

The Dumbest Thing I Ever Did

If you are my relative or childhood friend, you need to know this is my devotion. You don’t get to vote. I alone have identified “the dumbest thing I ever did.”

It isn’t the homemade coffee can bomb in the back yard.

Or the BB in my cousin’s gut that was accidentally introduced into a game of lightning bug laser tag.

You can forget about the ten-foot fall through the hayloft barn opening.

Or the fire in the middle of my grandparent’s living room.

As well, I was too young to be held responsible for my personal trek across a four-lane highway when I was five and my father forgot to pick me up from school.

To qualify as “dumb”, I believe it is necessary to have a thought process which totally ignores the laws of physics or reason. Most of my examples above are in this category, but there is only one “dumbest.”

It was a lazy summer afternoon and my grandmother was in the basement doing laundry when I decided I needed to toast a cracker.

Dumb factor #1: Crackers are already toasted.

I slipped a cracker in the toaster and pushed down the lever. When it popped, the cracker turned sideways, making it impossible to retrieve with my bare hands. So, I grabbed a knife.

Dumb factor #2: I could have turned the toaster upside down and the cracker would have fallen out.

I stuck the knife in the toaster and immediately felt a strong surge of electricity pulse through my body. It was as if my hand was glued to the knife. I tried to cry out for help but couldn’t. With one, last desperate tug, I found the strength to pull the knife out of the toaster. It flew over my head and into my grandmother’s metal kitchen cabinets.

I remember shaking for the rest of the afternoon. I also remember unplugging the toaster and sticking the knife back in to retrieve the cracker.

Dumb factor #3: I could still have turned the toaster upside down to remove the cracker.

I count this mistake as my “dumbest” because it is the closest I have ever come to killing myself.

God is too kind to call us “dumb”. Instead, he uses the word “fool.” Look it up in a Bible concordance. I just did and had 78 hits for the New International Version of the Bible. Many of the references are from the book of Proverbs. A few have to do with how people are perceived when they act unwisely.  Most have one thing in common: they refer to a bad choice over a good one, either as a result of poor values or the inability to see the connection between unwise actions and negative consequences.

It is hard to pick a “most foolish” (aka “dumbest”) decision from scripture. But I will venture a possibility. The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14;1). I don’t mean to be unkind to those who have rejected God. I care deeply for these and hope they will reconsider their conclusions before it is too late.

However, it is important to consider the things one must ignore to proclaim “There is no God.” The list includes:

The unimaginable complexity and beauty of creation, from an expansive universe to the smallest particles of inner space yet to be discovered.

The creative genius and creativity of the human mind.

The relational nature of humanity, which allows people like you and me to process millions of pieces of data, spoken and unspoken, in our interaction with others.

The practical qualities of God’s Word. God’s Word works in our lives because He has supernatural insight into our inner beings. He knows all things and isn’t surprised by anything.

God’s intervention in our lives which demonstrates His faithfulness in times of trouble.

My personal list could go on and on. Are there things about God I don’t understand?

Absolutely!

Do I have doubts and questions?

Certainly!

But I am not going to let the smaller portion of things I cannot figure out about God keep me from trusting Him as a result of the considerably larger portion I know.

I would be a fool to reject Him.

And I ought to know.

I have been a fool before.

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Growing Kingdom People – Will You Make the Cut?

Will You Make the Cut?

The “Open Championship” begins this Thursday from Scotland. You may know it as “The Open” or “The British Open”. It is the grand-daddy of the four major professional golf tournaments, and the only one played outside of the United States.

And like all professional golf tournaments, there is a cut, identifying the players who go on to play the final two rounds for the championship.

But who makes it?

There was a time when anyone within 10 strokes of the leader made the cut. In 1993 Ernie Els struggled in the two opening rounds, but because he finished within 10 strokes of the leader, he made the cut. His final two rounds were much better and he finished in a tie for 7th place.

Then officials ended the 10-stroke rule. They were afraid, someday, so many golfers would make the cut they would have too many people playing in the final rounds. Now, the cut is set at 60, regardless of the scores.

Maybe you have watched second round play on TV and have seen golfers sweat out the cut. No one wants to rejoice when others fail, but that’s what it comes down to.

For the one who makes the cut.

Have you ever wondered where the cut is for heaven?  How good do we have to be to make it in?

100,000 sins or less?

10,000 prayers or more?

300 or more batches of macaroni and cheese for the church pot luck?

A tithe or more of our income?

Net or gross?

The list could go on and on.

But it doesn’t have to because none of these things have anything to do with our victory.

The cut is simple, really.

One night the Apostle Paul and Silas, beaten but not defeated, were in a prison in Philippi when an earthquake struck. Paul and Silas could have escaped, but they remained and used the opportunity to share their faith with a jailer. The jailer took them to his home and washed their wounds. While there, the jailer and his entire household listened to the good news of Jesus, came to faith, and were baptized (Acts 16:25-33).

How did the jailer and his household make the cut?

By grace, though faith in Jesus.

Jesus is “the cut.” With Him, we have eternal life. Without Him, we don’t.

This means we don’t have to wait for someone else to fail so we get in. We don’t have to pay any attention to the leader board. Fortunately, we don’t have to be “good enough.” We only need one thing.

Jesus.

Of course, my “Open” metaphor raises lots of other interesting questions.

Who is our caddy?

How do we make par? Birdie? Bogie?

Where is our “out of bounds”?

One good thing: We don’t get penalized for going in the water. In fact, Jesus commands us to do so!

I guess golf doesn’t align perfectly with the Christian walk, though the two do intersect at many points.

I know this because I have heard the Lord’s name spoken on a golf course on more than one occasion.

But that’s another lesson.

 

 

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Growing Kingdom People – Rescues That May Never Make the News

Growing Kingdom People – Rescues That May Never Make the News

Today the world rejoiced at the news that all 12 members of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach had been rescued from a cave in Thailand. I feel certain you have been following the story, so there is no need to repeat the details here. It was an amazing rescue, and those involved have every right to be proud of their accomplishment.

As you know, sadly, a retired Thai Navy Seal lost his life in the operation. You may also have heard a disaster was averted when Thai divers went in after the rescue to retrieve their equipment and the water pumps gave out.

Certainly, this rescue will be talked about for generations to come.

It’s wonderful!

A reason for celebration!

But, we know this: not all rescues become world-wide news stories. In fact, some don’t even make the local news. I thought this might be a good opportunity to reference those responsible as a way of thanking them for their sacrifice.

First Responders: Almost all of us know someone who was saved by a First Responder. Lists of First Responders vary, but they usually include firefighters, emergency medical teams, policemen and other law enforcement personnel. Anyone who responds immediately to an emergency is a First Responder, and those who do often risk their lives to save others in danger. So many people are saved by First Responders, their acts of courage and sacrifice often go unnoticed. But those who are saved do not forget.

Foster and Adoptive Parents: Parents who bring other people’s children into their homes are amazing. Not only do they pour love into children who need to know the world has not abandoned them, but they are willing to navigate a complicated and, at times, frustrating bureaucracy. I found some U.S. statistics from 2016 that record 467,435 children in foster care in September of that year and 57,208 children adopted for the entire year.  Great honor is due those who open their homes to children.

Substance Abuse Counselors: People who abuse alcohol and drugs risk destroying themselves and their loved ones. While it is true, their wounds are self-inflicted, they still need compassion. Those who are able to break the cycle of substance abuse can usually identify one or more people who stood by them when they had nowhere else to turn. Professional counselors and trained coaches save lives, as well as marriages and entire families.  We must pray for them as they carry a heavy emotional load.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers: Every time someone chooses not to have an abortion, at least one life is saved. Often, the key factor that moves frightened women to have their babies is a Christian ministry where they receive love, medical care, counseling, food and shelter. Throughout the years there have been clashes at abortion clinics between pro-life and pro-choice advocates. While I do not in any way wish to discredit those who choose to stand up for life in this way, it is also true the less visible work of coming alongside pregnant women and giving them hope takes place every day in crisis pregnancy centers across our land.

Gospel Messengers: I would be remiss if I did not include those who share the redeeming message of Jesus in my list. So many of those who are involved in the other rescue efforts I have listed here are motivated by a Savior who rescued them from sin and for eternity. People come to know Jesus every day, and He changes the trajectory of their lives. I know the results may be less tangible than when someone is pulled from a burning building, but they are no less real. More than one person who was introduced to Jesus has told me his live was saved, along with his soul.

I don’t in any way wish to diminish the importance of the rescue of the Wild Boars. I can only imagine how good it will feel for the boys to hug their parents and sleep in their own beds. I merely want us to remember the other rescues going on around us every day – in some cases every moment.

They will never make the news.

I’m not suggesting this is because newscasters don’t want to report them.  Many are reported.

There are just too many to count.

Perhaps this is why, when we can say 12 boys and a coach were rescued from a cave, we feel a sense of completion.

But make no mistake.

There are still a lot of people who need to rescued.

Maybe you know someone in peril.

Maybe you are the one being called to help.

Maybe I am.

Maybe we all are.

Maybe I should stop saying “maybe.”

 

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