Growing Kingdom People – Is it Safe to Eat?

Is it Safe to Eat?

When the remnants of Hurricane Michael rolled through our neighborhood, we lost power. We were able to keep things in perspective, especially in light of the horrific aftermath of Michael’s landfall at Mexico City Beach, Florida.

But there was the food.

And the condiments.

We tossed almost everything.

The decision wasn’t an easy one. Our power was out just long enough to thaw most everything, but not long enough for the food to get warm. We did a little research on the internet and finally decided it was better to be safe than sorry.

In similar ways, when we have a power failure in our walk with the Lord, the outcome is hazardous, to us and to others.  But how do we know we are in trouble? Permit me to borrow from our food experience as I attempt to explain:

We know we have a spiritual power problem when the light stops shining. A powerless refrigerator is a dark refrigerator. In the same way, when we grow lax in our study of God’s Word and our prayer life, we find it harder to expose areas of our walk that need attention. As the Psalmist reminds us, God’s “word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105).

We know we have a spiritual power problem when something smells rotten. Refrigerators inhibit the growth of bacteria, and when they stop working the food starts to spoil.  I am not suggesting one can tell how close we are to the Lord by smelling us, although we have heard “cleanliness is next to godliness.” Yet, when we live apart from the spiritual power God offers, old habits return. Satan’s influence grows, and our witness is corrupted. Paul warned the Corinthians, “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:3)

We know we have a spiritual power problem when the water stops flowing. If you have a water dispenser on your refrigerator, you know it stops working when the power goes out. The water is still there, but the motor that dispenses it can’t work without power. One day, when Jesus sent His disciples on a mission to the “lost sheep of Israel” He said, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 9:8) God has poured grace into our lives, and He wants us to share what we have with a lost and dying world. The Lord’s “living water” never dries up, but when we distance ourselves from its source, we stop functioning as a conduit to the world.

When the world meets followers of Jesus who are walking in the light of His truth, striving to keep old sins in check and overflowing with love and grace, they take notice. When they see the opposite, it repels them.

Like spoiled food.

Unfit for consumption.

Quick, close that refrigerator door!

No sense smelling the place up just because we have lost power.

Using another metaphor, Jesus said, “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.” (Matthew 5:13)

Stay connected to the power. It takes discipline, but it’s worth it.

Especially when we see the storm approaching.

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Growing Kingdom People – Hold On!

Hold On!

My grandfather, whom I worshipped as a kid, once called me out during a tobacco cutting lesson. After mutilating a small patch of tobacco, I was ready to quit, but my grandfather said “You give up too easy.”

I had no choice. How could I give up while my grandfather was watching? I pushed through my lesson and cut tobacco until sunset. I’m sure there have been better tobacco cutters, but I doubt any of them have been as deeply impacted as I was that day.

My first take-away was that I absolutely did not want to be a tobacco farmer. It’s just as well since, now, I would not want to contribute to the harmful effects of smoking. And I really don’t think I would have been a good farmer.

But the most profound gift my grandfather gave me that day were the words, “You give up too easy.” I have tried to prove him wrong ever since.

Last night I turned on a local sports station in my car to catch the New Orleans Saints football game from the Mercedes Benz Superdome. My timing was perfect! In the next play, Drew Brees broke Peyton Manning’s passing record to become the all-time passing record holder in the history of the NFL. Later, I watched the play online and was touched by the celebration of the fans, the players from both sides and Peyton’s family.

I’m sure I am not the only one who reflected.

On the horrific conditions in the Superdome in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As a “shelter of last resort” the population in the dome swelled to nearly 20,000, gang fights broke out, innocent people were attacked and a National Guardsman was shot.

The Saints were already considering a move to another city and that year they ended the season with a record of 3-13.

To say this period in the history of the City of New Orleans and the Saints franchise was a “low point” is an understatement.

It was the lowest of the low.

Meanwhile, Drew Brees was trying to rebuild his career following shoulder surgery when the Saints picked him up as a free agent, uncertain of his future.  The future turned out to be much better than anticipated as Drew led his team to a Super Bowl victory in 2009.

But, then came “Bountygate” when it was discovered Saints players were being paid to injure opponents.

Some said, “Now, it’s over.”

Over for the Saints.

Over for Drew.

Fast forward to that wonderful touchdown play last night when Drew Brees broke Peyton Manning’s record, the crowd cheered, and Drew hugged his kids and his tearful wife.

Last night was proof my grandfather had something very right.

The difference between those who live to see better times and those who don’t is relatively simple: the former group refuses to give up.

One of my favorite gospel songs is “Hold On”, in all its variations. I think it must come from Jesus who said we shouldn’t look back once we take hold of the plow (Luke 9:62).

I’m not for raising tobacco, but it is ironic that perhaps the best lesson I ever learned came when I was surrounded by seven-foot burley plants.

If the hand you have on the plow is starting to slip and you’re thinking of giving up, permit me to say…

“You give up to easy.”

You’ll never see a better day if you give up now.

Hold on!

Just a little bit longer.

Hold on!

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Growing Kingdom People – What’s the Big Deal about Kavanaugh?

What’s the Big Deal about Kavanaugh?

I know, I know!

This is a big moment in American history. The stage was set two years ago when a conservative candidate was elected President. The voting public knew, in advance, the next President would likely appoint at least two Supreme Court Justices.

Enter Kavanaugh, a conservative who will have the opportunity to apply our country’s constitution to legal issues for many years to come.

Add the present sensitivity to the sad reality of sexual abuse and misconduct, and the timing of the Kavanaugh nomination in relation to the mid-term election, and the current turmoil in our country becomes quite predictable.

This is a showdown! Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday have passed the entrance to the O.K. Corral and the Cowboys are gathered in an open lot. History will record the outcome.

It is a big deal. I get it.

I only wish we were more concerned at other times about the issues that seem to be so important now.

Drinking to excess.

Immoral behavior.

The objectification of women.

The assassination of character.

Lying

And various other topics that are dominating our public discourse.

Again, I get it. A Supreme Court Justice is an incredibly powerful individual, and the position demands a careful examination of his qualifications and character.

But a question keeps floating through my mind. After the dust settles and the court position is filled, what will become of our discussion? Will we still be concerned about drinking, parties, promiscuity, objectification, character, lying, etc.?

If a public figure gets busted, perhaps.

But other than that, do we care enough to make changes in our culture, our communities and our homes in order to nurture a different kind of society? Will the things people call “shameful” now, revert to the status quo later, or worse yet the presumed preferences of a spiritually bankrupt people?

The current battle in connection with Mr. Kavanaugh’s nomination is rampant with hypocrisy.

On all sides.

We simply are not who we claim to be when we evaluate others in light of who we think we are.

Please understand. I have my own desired outcome for the Supreme Court nomination process. It isn’t that I am not fully engaged in what’s going on, or am not concerned about the things I hear.

I only wish the moralistic language I hear now was more reflective of the country I live in 365 days a year.

Now that would be a BIG DEAL!

The rest is just talk.

Not always the nicest talk.

But talk.

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Growing Kingdom People – “This Hurts Me More Than It Hurts You”

“This Hurts Me More Than It Hurts You”

Sound familiar?

These are the words some of our parents spoke right before they disciplined us for disobeying them. I remember, once, I challenged the logic and told my parents they were wrong.

Once.

When I became a parent, I understood. Few parents enjoy disciplining their children, but the ultimate goal is to associate their actions with a lesser pain now so they will be inclined to avoid a greater pain later.

The reason it hurts us to discipline our children is because we are inherently wired to protect them from harm. Not only do we not like to see them suffer, but we don’t like the rejection that comes with judging their behavior. We want their lives to be easy and we want them to like us. Discipline usually involves neither of these, therefore, it hurts us when it has to be given.

It doesn’t get any easier as we move through the seasons of life.

I think often of the Old Testament prophets. We often perceive them as mean, crusty gun-slingers who rode into town, blasted some sinners, and rode into the sunset as they looked back to see God rain down fire and brimstone on their unrepentant audience.

This is an inaccurate and unfortunate stereotype.

God’s prophets gave up everything to deliver His message of warning and grace to those who needed to hear it. They slept without a bed to rest on or a roof over their heads. They were hunted down, mocked and ridiculed. And when they told the truth they became the bad guys. The shunned.

Why?

All because they were willing to share what God gave them with those who needed to hear. To lead people who were disobeying God into a time of repentance so they would know His blessings.

Did they love their audience?

You bet, they did. In fact, in some cases they were speaking to people they had known all of their lives. Friends and family. Neighbors.

They loved enough to allow the people who needed to hear the truth abuse them, and sometimes kill them. This is the sad reality Jesus referenced in His parable of “The Workers in the Vineyard.” Jesus placed Himself in the parable as the One who was ultimately killed by those who refused to listen and honor the owner (God) of the vineyard (Mark 12:1-11).

I know it is hard to understand the logic of God when we are being disobedient. It is easier to dismiss and perhaps lash out at those who care enough to tell us the truth.

But rest assured, just because we don’t feel loved doesn’t mean we aren’t being loved. And just because someone tells us they love us doesn’t mean they are really thinking about our best interests.

I still appreciate people in my life who are willing to hurt more than they are hurting me.

I didn’t say I like them at the moment they are telling me the truth.

But in my better moments I know they love me with a love that is willing to sacrifice everything to protect me from harm.

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Growing Kingdom People – Why Did Florence Turn South?

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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