Growing Kingdom People – Why Did Florence Turn South?

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Why Did Florence Turn South?

Praying is relatively easy. While some of us may be more comfortable than others when it comes to putting our thoughts into words, we can usually think of something to say to God.

It’s God’s answer to our prayers that challenge us.

Just a few days ago Hurricane Florence was taking aim at Virginia. The region where I live wasn’t in the eye of the storm, but we were definitely going to feel its destructive power. On Monday I stopped at a local grocery to stock up on water. The place was packed with nervous shoppers. That night I prayed for God to spare us the worst.

And He did.

Not only did God spare us, but as you know a high-pressure system blocked Florence from coming our way and sent it spiraling in the opposite direction. Some local forecasters said the hurricane’s change in course was “bizarre.”  That’s a word people use to explain away their mistaken predictions.  But, it was unusual and unexpected.

Then, our friends in the Carolinas took the brunt. As thankful as we are for our circumstances, we cannot freely rejoice because others are suffering. Had the storm turned out to sea we could all celebrate. But instead, we are left scratching our heads, and doing what we can to ease the pain of others.

What happened?

Did God really spare us, or were we just the fortunate recipients of a strange weather phenomenon? Did people in the Carolinas forget to pray? Or did God dismiss their prayers because of something they did wrong? Were they being punished? If we are merely subject to meteorological conditions, then why pray? Or if God is going to do what He has planned to do in spite of our prayers, then why bother?

This subject is much too complex to sufficiently answer in a small devotion. But I thought it might be helpful to offer a basic framework of understanding.

God can and has “caused” natural disasters to influence human history, but only on very rare occasions. The great flood in the time of Noah is a good example. For the most part, God “allows” disasters to occur. While we may not see much difference between causing and allowing, the distinction is important. We live in a broken world that is suffering physically as well as spiritually as a consequence of sinful human choices. In His wisdom God allows the resulting bad things to happen to good people, including things like hurricanes.

I’ll be honest. I don’t like the fact that anything bad is allowed to happen to anyone who doesn’t deserve it. But I trust God’s heart and I am not going to reject Him because I disagree with something He has allowed.

Within the spectrum of the things God has allowed, there is also evidence He will change our circumstances based on our personal prayers and choices. God doesn’t have to perform a miracle, or work outside of natural processes to bring about such changes. He has the ability to move in people’s hearts and “nudge” events in our lives to help us. His help might be as simple as showing us how we can help ourselves. Or it might involve a series of events involving people, places and things that could not possibly be a coincidence.

Back to Hurricane Florence.

I don’t believe God saved us from harm and allowed our friends in Carolina to suffer. Need I remind us all, the hurricane season isn’t over.

Instead, I believe God “allowed” us to escape the storm through a natural weather pattern, as strange as it might have been. He could have intervened and lifted the high-pressure system that protected us. I am thankful He let “nature takes its course” (the nature He created, which has been corrupted by the entrance of sin in our world).

I don’t believe God “caused” the storm to hit the Carolinas, and I know for certain there were many people praying for Him to intervene. In His wisdom He “allowed” it. I don’t understand why. I don’t like it. But I’m not going to get stuck in my response to it. There is too much to be done.

I do know this: God walks with us through the things He allows. So please don’t believe for a moment God has abandoned the people of the Carolinas. In fact, He is walking with them in their darkest moments.  He is there in the flood waters, in the hospitals and in the funeral homes. He loves them and will not desert them in their time of need.

What about us?

I believe God “allowed” us to escape harm so we can follow His will by being instruments of His mercy for those He has “allowed” to suffer. We have a choice. God isn’t going to make us help others. But I believe He is going to give us the opportunity and the ability to do so, because I believe it is His will.

It’s ok to thank God for “allowing” us to escape the storm.

Just remember why He did it. He did it so we would answer His prompting to care for our world. God didn’t permit us to escape because we are better people. He did so in order to put us in a better position to help others.

I have no doubt there are those in the Carolinas praying right now for God to send someone to help them. I believe He has already chosen to intervene through us. He will do it through our gifts, and perhaps later, through the work of our hands.

If these prayers of our friends in Carolina aren’t answered, don’t blame God.

We hold His answer in the palm of our hands.

 

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Growing Kingdom People – I’m a Fan of Serena

I’m a Fan of Serena

I’m a fan of Serena Williams. I’m a fan of most any American who is successful on the world stage. The “Williams Sisters”, as they are so often called, have dominated women’s tennis for years, and Serena’s performance following childbirth and the complications that followed is absolutely amazing.

But there is that unfortunate incident that occurred recently at the U.S. Open, in which Serena called an umpire a “liar” and a “thief” because he disciplined her coach for cheating, and her for her behavior following the penalty. Her young opponent, Naomi Osaka, though booed by the fans upon her victory, remained collected and showed incredible maturity and class throughout.

Soon after the completion of the match Serena voiced her belief that male and female tennis players are treated differently when it comes to poor behavior on the court. I have not watched enough tennis matches to know if Serena’s claims are justified, but it would not surprise me to discover there are those who are intentionally harder on women players because they expect them to act more “lady-like.”

Regardless, I wish to praise Martina Navratilova for a wonderfully true statement she penned in the wake of the U.S. Open Women’s Championship. She wrote, “Serena Williams has part of it right. There is a huge double standard for women when it comes to how bad behavior is punished — and not just in tennis. But in her protests against an umpire during the United States Open final on Saturday, she also got part of it wrong. I don’t believe it’s a good idea to apply a standard of ‘If men can get away with it, women should be able to, too.’ Rather, I think the question we have to ask ourselves is this: What is the right way to behave to honor our sport and to respect our opponents?”

As I pondered these words, my mind turned to my personal walk and the excuses I have used to explain away my behavior. If you don’t already know it, preachers are held to a different standard. I am not talking about the standard that all leaders in the church should be expected to uphold. We are, after all, leaders. The Bible is clear that more is expected of us. God does have a double-standard when it comes to leaders and I understand (Acts 20:28).

But there are other, non-biblical standards. When I was a very young minister, I was once called out for playing golf on Sunday afternoon, even though I was playing with a Deacon, and my membership to the golf club had been given to me by the men’s Sunday School class. I also got in trouble, once, for shopping at the “Catholic” grocery instead of the “Protestant” one. Other church members shopped at the “Catholic” grocery, but since I was the preacher at a non-Catholic church, the standard was different for me. In response my wife and I decided to shop at the non-denominational Kroger in a town ten miles down the road.

Stick with me. I promise you this is going somewhere.

I have talked with Christians who don’t like the double standard that is applied to them because of their faith. In fact, they are reluctant to let others know they are believers because they are afraid they will be treated differently. Teased perhaps. Or worse yet, cut out of opportunities because others assume they will be too religious to mix well with the team.

Regardless of the double-standards we identify in our lives, if we become overly sensitive to how unfairly we are being treated, we can miss the point. The point Martina so eloquently expressed.

Our goal should be to live in such a way we are always bringing honor to the Lord. The petty stuff we have to deal with in life is just that. It should not produce a chip on our shoulder that leads us to act out of character.

Does this mean sometimes we will have to accept misperceptions people have of what it means to be a Christian? Yes. Will we encounter those who are quick to judge our behavior as being hypocritical, even though their lives are riddled with inconsistencies? You can bet on it.

But if we rant and rave about how wrong it is for people to treat us unfairly because of our faith, what good will it do? And need I mention what Jesus had to say about the subject? “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” (Mat 5:11-13 NIV)

I’m still going to watch the Williams sisters play tennis, and cheer for them to win. Because, after all, I can’t hold them to a higher standard than I hold myself. I must admit I have smashed a few proverbial rackets in my lifetime.

And if you have a problem with that, I would like to use one of my challenges.

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Growing Kingdom People – A Tribute to Teachers

A Tribute to Teachers

What does a small memorial site on a gravel road have to do with the centuries-old Office of the President at the College of William and Mary?

Charles Griffin.

And who was Charles Griffin?

Charles Griffin was the first known schoolteacher in North Carolina who was later hired as a Professor at William and Mary.

But back to the memorial on a gravel road.

Last weekend my wife and I followed some signs that led to Fort Christanna, a 300 year-old historical site near Lawrenceville, Virginia.  The signs took us down a mile-long gravel road to a stone memorial. The story we discovered there goes something like this:

In 1714 Virginia Lt. Governor Alexander Spotwood opened Fort Christanna to protect the peace and to offer protection and opportunity to the Siouan and Iroquoian Indian groups. The Siouans accepted, but the Iroquoians declined the invitation because they didn’t want to live with the Siouans.

I guess human nature hasn’t changed much.

Spotwood’s efforts were not entirely benevolent since the peace he kept was very good for the newly formed Virginia Indian Company, a profitable trade venture.  The fort was state-of-the-art, pentagonal in shape, with cannons on all five corners.  Inside, Indian children learned to read and write English, and to read the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.

Upon inspection of the fort, a Reverend Hugh Jones reported that 77 Indian children could read and write and repeat their Christian catechisms “tolerably well.” In addition, students from one of the Siouan tribes, known as the Saponys, respected their teacher so much they wanted to make him their king.

The teacher?

Charles Griffin.

Fort Christanna thrived for three years until a trade rival with political connections in England successfully cut off Spotswood’s funding.  Spotswood was forced to close the fort, but some Siouan tribes continued to live at the fort site.

Charles Griffin moved on.

To become Professor and Headmaster at an Indian school on the campus of William and Mary.

A building called the Brafferton was constructed for the Indian school in 1723 and functioned as an educational facility for Native Americans until Thomas Jefferson closed it in 1779.  By that time enrollment was scant and funding for the school had been severely impacted by the American Revolution.   The Brafferton now houses the Office of the President of the College of William and Mary.

Now you know the historical connection between the Fort Christanna (which, incidentally, Spotswood named for his Savior and His Queen) memorial and the College of William and Mary.

But the most powerful connection isn’t between a pentagonal fort and a building on a college campus. It is a teacher. By all reports, Charles Griffin was not just in the right place at the right time to take on the role of teaching Native Americans. He was an incredible teacher! Even before taking up his post at Fort Christanna, his resume demonstrated a level of giftedness beyond measure.

Charles Griffin changed lives through teaching.  Admittedly, the era of Indian schools in Colonial America was full of paradoxes. The first students at William and Mary’s Indian school were six boys who had been purchased from an Indian tribe that had captured them from their enemies.  But Griffin imparted knowledge and Christ’s love in the best way he knew how. And his students loved him enough to want to make him king of their tribe!

Talk about “teacher of the year!”

I thought this might be a good story to start the school year. Teachers are gifts from God, and only God knows the potential that has been unleashed in our world through their efforts. We may remember them at a small memorial on a gravel road, or by a grand example of Georgian architecture on a college campus. But we remember them. They are the thread that weaves through our existence as a people.

They and the gift of teaching God has given them.

To Him be praised. To them be honor.

To all be a blessing, because of the Charles Griffins of the world.

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Growing Kingdom People – Progress Does Not Equal Promiscuity

Progress Does Not Equal Promiscuity

There is a misperception that progress requires a loosening of moral values. It is thought that, perhaps, our traditions keep mankind from reaching its potential. Religion is commonly implicated in this conspiracy as values are fundamental to faith in God.

The logic goes something like this: “Traditional moral values are promoted by religious people. Many of these values keep me from living as I wish. Since I will be happier if I am able to live as I wish, then I must progress past archaic religious rules that keep me from reaching my potential.”

I don’t mean to suggest some religious beliefs have not required an overhaul to make human progress possible. I am thankful we no longer believe the earth is the center of the universe. Thank you, Copernicus and Galileo! I know it wasn’t easy.

But, just because some religious beliefs have held us back does not mean all religious beliefs run counter to progress. I should also add that religious beliefs are not necessarily biblical truths. For example, the notion the earth was the center of the universe was an incorrect interpretation of scripture that led to the formation of a theology which has been proven to be wrong. God didn’t misinform us. Instead, we created a man-made system and attached God’s name to it.

And then there is promiscuity.

As they used to say, “Preacher, now you’ve gone to meddling.”

Well…

First, let me say I don’t in any way mean to be insensitive to the mistakes we have made in our lives.  I have committed my life to the vision of restored lives through the saving message of Christ.  God takes us where we are and shows us a better future.

With this said, I for one don’t think promiscuous behavior is progress. This includes all forms of sex outside of marriage, including pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex and “Oh, I’ve already been married, but I’m single again, so its ok to have sex” sex.

When someone tries to convince me that promiscuity is a form of progress I think of…

…lives that have been turned into nightmares due to sexually transmitted diseases.
…dreams that have been shattered because of an unfaithful spouse.
…Christian witnesses that have been destroyed because of promiscuous relationships.
…bad marriages entered into because couples failed to honor God in their sexual practices.
…entire families that have disintegrated because of bad moral behavior.

I don’t see anything progressive about any of these situations.  In fact, I think promiscuity is regressive. It destroys the work of generations of parents who have worked hard to leave a legacy of godliness with their children and grandchildren.

This may sound silly, archaic, judgmental and old-fashioned.  If it does, I would like to introduce you to another word:

“deflection.”

No.

It’s the truth. Live for God and progress. Ignore God and watch your life fall apart.

I know. Sometimes we can honor God and still face heartache. And some people ignore God and seem to be doing pretty well.

No one said progress would be easy.

But progress isn’t promiscuity. Of this I am sure. If you don’t believe me, check out today’s Center for Disease Control’s report on sexually transmitted disease. Our country is facing a dangerous four-year trend of destruction.

Not progress at all.

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Growing Kingdom People – Why the Reaction to “Truth isn’t Truth?”

Why the Reaction to “Truth isn’t Truth?”

I don’t always believe clarifications when someone in the public eye tries to explain a controversial comment. But I believe Rudy Giuliani when he says of his statement “truth isn’t truth”: “My statement was not meant as a pontification on moral theology but one referring to the situation where two people make precisely contradictory statements, the classic ‘he said, she said’ puzzle. Sometimes further inquiry can reveal the truth other times it doesn’t”.

To make myself clear, I believe there is such a thing as truth. God is truth, in His person and as the source of scripture, both of which I hold to as the basis for my life and faith (1 John 5:20). Not only this, but I believe the majority of our societal illnesses are the result of a departure from our reliance on God and His Word as our standards for truth. How can we build a house when we can’t agree on the principles that form its foundation?

But back to Giuliani’s statement.

Why should we be surprised when someone says, “truth isn’t truth”? Is this not the philosophy of our age? Do we not say, “That may be true for you, but it isn’t true for me”?

Is truth relative or is it absolute? If it is absolute, then, truth is always truth. If it is relative, then, truth isn’t truth, or at least not necessarily truth.

I have not scoured the news reports in reaction to Giuliani’s words, and I don’t mean to demonize political camps. But, I suspect, were I to investigate those who seemed shocked at the idea that “truth isn’t truth”, I would discover some of them actually believe what they pretend not to believe. The more honest reaction might be, “You are right Rudy. In our culture we create our own truth, but I intend to prove my truth is more reliable than yours.”

There are many statements throughout history that have challenged our moral compass. Perhaps you are old enough to remember when John Lennon of the Beatles said, “We are more popular than Jesus.” Was he right? Probably so, if the group’s dominance of the world stage and mass media were the criteria. Probably not, if one were to take into consideration the millions of people at the time who didn’t follow or appreciate John Lennon and the Beatles.

I am not naïve to the struggle for truth, or the dilemma of how we interpret it once we find it. While I believe God is the source of absolute truth, I realize there are many opinions on how that truth should be applied. There will always be tension when we try to discern the relationship between things like mercy and justice or love and discipline.

It is actually unfortunate that truth has been caught up in the countless opinions we share. Just because we disagree doesn’t mean there isn’t an ultimate source of truth.

My point in all of this is, before we make a big deal out of Rudy Giuliani’s comments, we should consider that, perhaps, he is merely describing what has become reality in our culture. Maybe, we no longer believe the truth is the truth.

We behave as if it isn’t.

We say it isn’t.

Why should we be surprised when someone calls it the way it is?

Sounds like the truth to me.

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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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