Growing Kingdom People – “Do Something!”

“Do Something!”

The chant, “Do Something” rang from a crowd of frustrated citizens after the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. Soon afterward, a local Dayton band produced a song titled, “Do Something – A Call to Action.” The song calls on those in authority to do something about gun violence.

Indeed, we need to do something. Certainly, government has a role to play as our society takes steps in hopes of stopping future mass shootings. As I am sure you are aware, there are two sides to the gun debate, and a substantial crowd with varying opinions in the middle.

Regardless of your personal opinion and position, I suspect we can all agree we need to “do something.” In fact, as you are aware, someone did do something. Universal Studios pulled a satirical horror movie titled “The Hunt” which depicted people hunting fellow human beings for sport. They felt this was not the time for the release.

I applaud Universal Studios for their decision. They did something. However, I question their motives. Had the studio cared about the possible connection between screen violence and mass shootings, they would not have produced the movie to begin with.

I understand the chant, “Do Something.” We have all watched old westerns (which have their own share of violence), in which people are gunned down as the town’s people send out an S.O.S. for someone to come and restore order. My favorite is “The Quick and the Dead” where a female gunfighter (Sharon Stone) comes back to town to seek vengeance on the man (Gene Hackman) who killed her father while he was serving as Sheriff. The movie leads its audience to ask, “Can anyone stop this evil?” You may know, Sharon served justice on Gene, and as she tossed her father’s badge to a soon-t0-be Sheriff she said: “The law’s come back to town.”

It remains to be seen how we might bring law and order to the problem of mass shootings. Yet, I believe one thing: it will not be a single answer. The solution will be multi-faceted, and everyone is going to have to make a contribution. With this in mind, I offer the following ways we can help:

Do Something Action Step #1: Be serious about moral instruction and spiritual community. It is no secret our culture is becoming less literate of biblical truth and less committed to communities of faith.  If you don’t believe me, see what happens the next time some of the brightest and quickest minds on the planet find themselves facing a Bible-based category on Jeopardy. Can I be a good person apart from God’s Word? In some ways. Can I love people without being active in the Lord’s church? Yes. But the combination of planting God’s Word in our hearts, in our personal lives and in a spiritual community to which we feel accountable is where moral character is formed. If you want to do something to build a stronger moral foundation for your household and our society, read your Bible and be active in a church. I know it sounds simple, but I don’t know how anyone can demand others “do something” when they don’t make God a priority.

Do Something Action Step #2: Support and pray for law enforcement officers. These are the ones who bring law and order to our community. The unfortunate videos we see of officers doing bad things grossly distort reality. Every day, men and women put their lives on the line to keep us safe. They attempt to engage their communities and serve in ways that are never seen or reported. You can do something for law officers by buying their coffee in line at your morning caffeine station, or picking up their tab at a restaurant. When you see them in uniform, thank them for their service, and try not to be a pain by disobeying road signs and making them waste their time by giving you a ticket.

Do Something Action Step #3: Let those who peddle violence through various media know you don’t appreciation their work. Please understand, I am not saying products such as violent video games and movies always lead to violent acts. But they do make a contribution to the problem, and the principle of free speech is no more an excuse to mindlessly ramp up the depiction of violence than the right to bear arms is to dismiss the debate over things such as background checks. As they say, “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” (Well…some people still say it).

Do Something Action Step #4: Serve others. We can no longer afford to be self-absorbed in our culture. There are too many challenges in every fold of every fabric of society for us to think we will not be impacted by what happens to others. Consider a ministry that reaches out to neighborhoods plagued by drug trafficking, prostitution and poverty (not to suggest that these things always go together, but desperation puts people in a place of vulnerability where illegal activity finds fertile soil). Become a mentor for marriages, or a big brother or sister for a child who needs extra guidance. Teach a Sunday School class. Help out in your church’s Student Ministry. Join a prison ministry. Walk with people suffering from mental disorders. The list is endless, but I am certain our government can’t do all of these things by itself. To be honest, I don’t want a government that is big enough to do everything. That’s what we’re here for.

“Do Something!” Yes, we need help with corrective steps in our country that require political clout. But what happens after the next election when people move in and out of office, or the next election, or the next? We should not expect anything to happen in response to our “Do Something” chants if we aren’t willing to do something ourselves.

“Do Something” is no more profound than our “Thoughts and Prayers” when we do nothing.

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Growing Kingdom People – What God’s Word Says About Debates

What God’s Word Says about Debates

The Bible doesn’t declare debates are always helpful or well managed. But they are necessary, and leaders of the early church weren’t afraid to address tough topics in the interest of protecting the integrity of the gospel.

One of the most famous Bible debates is found in Acts 15. The topic was circumcision, but the principle at stake was much broader.  Allow me to explain:

Circumcision was the Old Testament sign of the covenant. All faithful Jewish parents circumcised their male infants in obedience to God. Since the first church of the New Testament was Jewish, members likely never considered the possibility they might worship with uncircumcised people groups.

Until the Gentiles became Christians.

Once this cultural line was crossed, the church became divided in its view toward circumcision. Circumcision was a sign of the old covenant and was not required to follow Christ. However, since it had traditionally been seen as a sign of faithfulness to God, it was hard for many Jews to fathom a church with uncircumcised believers.

One day some tightly wound troublemakers travelled from Judea to Antioch, where Gentiles were coming to Christ, and began stirring up dissention over the circumcision issue. As a result, the church at Antioch sent the Apostle Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to debate the matter with the church leaders there. This event is called “The Jerusalem Council.” In the end, it was decided circumcision was unnecessary, but an appeal was made that Gentiles “abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.” (Acts 15:29)

I read the account of this debate this week and found some practices worth noting in this season of political debate. I am not suggesting a spiritual debate is the same as a political one, or that we should expect politicians to follow Christian principles. But, perhaps, there is something to be learned from the early church.

The Jerusalem debate was rooted in a common bond. When Paul and Barnabas arrived. they were welcomed by the church, along with the apostles and elders there. Everyone knew the topic of circumcision was a difficult one, but people on all sides of the debate acknowledged one another as members of the same spiritual body. Political debates should begin with the same mutual respect for fellow Americans. We are all a part of a great nation, and we share a sacred responsibility to maintain the Constitution and the principle of freedom.

The Jerusalem debate began by celebrating spiritual victories. Paul and Barnabas rehearsed everything God was doing through them. We aren’t told how the apostles and elders initially reacted to their news, but we are told the people Paul and Barnabas met on their way to Jerusalem rejoiced over the progress that was taking place among the Gentiles. It would be unrealistic to expect political debates to begin with prayers of thanksgiving, although it wouldn’t hurt. But perhaps a more positive and grateful attitude on everyone’s part would be a good thing.

The Jerusalem debate allowed dissenting voices to express their opinions. I will add that this debate did not take place in public, where people with a growing faith could become confused or be hurt. However, within the closed context of the council, even the Christian Pharisees were allowed to speak. They, of course, were on the side of circumcision. We should expect we will not agree with everyone, regardless of the topic. But it is important that those with opposing views have a clear statement of belief and be allowed to share. The Pharisees said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5). There was no mocking or name-calling at the council. Everyone made their views known without attacking one another’s character or personhood.

The participants in the Jerusalem debate were good listeners. The Bible says, “The whole assembly became silent as they listened” (Acts 15:12). They were thinking instead of talking. Talk is good, but talk without reflection is often nothing more than talk. This may be the most disheartening characteristic of modern political debates:  they aren’t about listening.  They are about winning, not arriving at a mutually beneficial conclusion.

The Jerusalem debate ended with a good outcome. The requirements the council placed on the Gentile churches was a big opinionated. With the exception of sexual immorality, their requests were mostly a matter of personal preference. Yet, the Gentile church grew, and the circumcision issue was officially removed as an obstacle to the gospel.

This would be my personal hope for all aspects of our political process. Not that circumcision would be removed (in case I lost you in my transition). But rather that everyone would seek an outcome that would provide a blessing for our great country and our descendants. We are stewards of our society, and we cannot afford to view government merely as a means to feed our selfish ambitions.

The future depends on our ability to nurture what we have been given and leave it better than we found it.

On this, there should be no debate.

But I’m sure one exists.

 

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Growing Kingdom People – What Helps? – What Doesn’t?

What Helps? – What Doesn’t?

Jesus once said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) The Apostle Paul later wrote, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6)

These verses are always on my mind as I navigate our world in the name of Christ. They impact my words and actions, and remind me I am not living for myself, but rather for my Lord who has made me His ambassador.

First, let me unpack these verses a bit. We are as “shrewd as snakes” because living out our faith requires some street smarts when it comes to understanding how people think. The more ungodly the environment, the greater the challenge for Christians who strive to be authentic with others while remaining faithful to God. “Innocence” speaks to the sincerity of our motives and the purity of our lives. As God puts “opportunities” before us, we want to speak the truth in love, as we pour God “grace” into the wounds of a culture that appears to be rotting before our very eyes.

I encourage you to spend more time with these and other verses that speak to our behavior as followers of Christ. It is difficult to reflect Christ in everything, but we must aim for this goal if we hope to lead others to Him. Here are some thoughts as we consider “What Helps?” and “What Doesn’t?” when it comes to our example:

What Helps?

It helps to keep God’s love front and center in our words and actions. This doesn’t mean we should be controlled by our desire that others like us or agree with everything we say and do. Popularity is not the same as love. But if we forget to love, we are going to miss opportunities to lead others who feel unworthy of God’s grace.

It helps to walk in grace. We walk in the assurance of our salvation through Jesus, and as a result we convey the mercy of God in our interaction with others. We are not perfect people showing the world how to please God. We are sinners living out our testimony of God’s transforming power.

It helps to serve others. There were many things Jesus could have done for His disciples on the night He was led away to be crucified. But He chose to wash their feet and demonstrate His desire to put them first. Some people in our world are suspicious of religious people because they think they just want to use them for their own ambitions. When we serve, we counter this perception.

What Doesn’t Help?

It doesn’t help to put words in Jesus’ mouth. Recently, I saw a street preacher at a crowded event who had a sign listing the things God hates. I will confirm that some of the things on his sign are clearly identified in the scripture as things God hates. But two were not. They were opinions the preacher had drawn based on a couple of Bible verses that were taken out of context. It is hard for our world to hear God hates anything, though He does. It doesn’t help to add things to the list that don’t belong.

It doesn’t help to condemn some sins and commit others. Jesus accused the Pharisees of “straining out the gnat and swallowing the camel” (Matthew 23:24). I will never forget the day I drove two teens to a couple’s house to apologize for something they accused the teens of saying, which they considered to be disrespectful. During our conversation, the family dog knocked over some magazines on the coffee table and a pornographic magazine popped out. It was awkward, to say the least. Kind of funny. But awkward. Enough said.

It doesn’t help to drop Jesus’ name. Just because we find a verse that relates to our opinions or ambitions doesn’t mean Christ would approve of them. Some of the most unethical things I have witnessed in my life have occurred when caring Christians were manipulated by people who used guilt and misinformation to pressure them into supporting a cause. A friend of mine often says, “Don’t bring Jesus into it!” We want Jesus in our lives, but we shouldn’t use His name against His will.

It doesn’t help to be a jerk. I want to be careful here. A caustic personality does not necessarily prove someone doesn’t love Jesus. A lot of people have trouble in their relationships because they have been wounded in their lives. They don’t mean to be difficult. On the other hand, people can use religion to ramp up their sense of self-importance. They can be legalistic, arrogant and self-righteous. Humility is a hallmark of someone who walks with Christ. Pompous pride is a characteristic of those who claim to follow Christ, but don’t really think they need Him.

I have heard people say they believe in Jesus, but don’t like His people. This is not a biblical perspective since we are commanded to honor one another as members of the Body of Christ. It isn’t biblical, but it is understandable.

There are those who are going to belittle the name of Christ no matter what. Satan uses sin to blind the world to God’s grace and the hope He offers in His Son. But if we can remember what helps and what doesn’t, at least we can avoid the pitfall of playing into Satan’s hand.

I would like to take a couple of things off of that street preacher’s sign and give him a piece of my mind. But then, that wouldn’t help.

Sometimes, about all we can do is pray, which I would put in the “help” category.

If we can’t be perfect examples of Christ, at least we can be helpful.

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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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