Growing Kingdom People – A Response to Charlottesville

Growing Kingdom People – A Response to Charlottesville

With the video from last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville still rolling on the news, and controversy over how people in authority responded brewing, I wish to offer a perspective. I concede the issues at play in the clash between protestors are complex.

As you know, the occasion for the protest was the immanent removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. The debate over the statue has its own complexities.  There are those who look unfavorably on Lee’s role in the Civil War, but believe the statue should remain as a reminder of one of the darkest eras in our country’s history.  There are those who want the statue to stay because it provides a rallying point for their ideology.  And, of course, there are those who want the statue removed because it represents a past that includes slavery and a culture of injustice and inequality.

Then there is the privilege of free speech and the discussion over when free speech becomes an excuse to spread hate or encourage violent acts. Our rights should not be allowed to infringe on the rights of others, but defining this line can be challenging.

How are Christians to respond in this time of chaos and debate? What can we learn from these troubled times and what is God calling us to do?  I offer the following thoughts for your consideration:

God is calling us to see people as He sees them, not as we see them.  When God sent Samuel to pick a king for Israel he cautioned him against choosing someone based on appearance.  He said, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).  I am not suggesting we pretend we are all the same color or come from the same background.  Rather, we should understand that although we have different skin tones and heritages, God does not define us by these things.  At the risk of entering into a scientific field that is out of my skill set, I have read that as a white man I might have more in common genetically with an African than my white neighbor.  Whether or not it is this simple, it does put skin color and heritage in perspective.  The genes that define color are a relatively small piece of our DNA.

God is commanding us to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31).  We really can’t get around this command.  Not only are we told to love others, but our “others” include our enemies and those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).  We can disagree and debate, but when differences of opinion turn to hate we are in spiritual danger.  Did you know Jesus said we are in danger of going to hell if we hate our brother? (Matthew 5:21-22).  If you think this doesn’t apply to people you disagree with, fine.  Tell it to the judge.  Not the judge at the courthouse but Jesus who, at the end, will separate those who obeyed His will from those who didn’t.  We can’t hate our neighbor and love God.  It is biblically, theologically and logically impossible.  And in case you are wondering, I think it is sometimes necessary to go to war.  But we should never be driven by hate.

God is using us to teach a younger generation. How we respond to conflict leaves a lasting impression on our children.  We may think otherwise because children are so durable and generally more accepting of others.  But they will remember our words and actions.  In Proverbs 22:6 we are told to train up a child in the way he should go with the promise he won’t depart from our teaching when he is old.  We use this passage to promote good parenting, and rightfully so.  But the same principle is true of bad parenting, or bad adult behavior by anyone.  When we hate we create havens for demons in our children’s hearts, and someday we may be sorry we didn’t use teachable moments to show the people we love a better way.

God is asking us to be salt and light. (Matthew 5:13-16)  Salt seasons and preserves.  Light exposes the darkness.  The Word of God that works in us and the Holy Spirit that dwells in us transforms us into reflections of Jesus.  When people see Jesus in us, they understand there is a better way to treat others with whom they disagree.  They remember we respect one another because we are made in God’s image.  And when we understand this as our role, we extinguish hate and bigotry when it attempts to take root in our own hearts.

Hate is a cancer I believe we will always have with us as a result of our fallen human nature. But we can manage it and thrive in the midst of it.

A final reminder. It isn’t enough to remember what Jesus said.  We must remember what Jesus commanded.  If people who claim to love Jesus obeyed Him there is a good chance Charlottesville would not have happened (Matthew 7:21-23).

 

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Growing Kingdom People – “You’ll Burn Your Eyes Out!”

Growing Kingdom People – “You’ll Burn Your Eyes Out!”

On August 21st Americans will be treated to an event of astronomical proportions.  A total solar eclipse will be visible within a 70 mile swath from Oregon to South Carolina. The course of the eclipse is known as the “path of totality.”

I probably won’t be in the path of the eclipse. I’ll be working that day, and I have always been a bit nervous about staring into the sun, even with protective eye gear.  The ultraviolet rays of the sun can burn the eye’s surface, and overexposure to the intense light of the sun can permanently damage the retina.  I read somewhere that UV exposure from the sun can literally “cook your eyes right out of your head.”

Not a pleasant thought.

I know there are UV filters that are specifically designed to protect our eyes should we decide to look at the sun. I trust they are adequate.

I’m just not going to look. I’ll watch the video on the evening news instead.

The upcoming solar eclipse reminds me of an account in the Bible.  When Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Law, he asked God for a favor. He said, “Now show me your glory!”

God said, “No way! You’ll burn your eyes out!”

Ok, He didn’t say that.

But He did say this…

“I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (Exodus 33:19-23)

I don’t know if God’s glory will blind you, but it will kill you!

This means, spiritually speaking, we are always in the “path of totality.” We are always exposed to the awesome, burning, eternal glory of God.  So why are we still standing?

It appears God doesn’t reveal His full glory to everyone, and when He does, He protects those who are in His presence with His hand. He hides them in the cleft of a rock (Yes, that’s where the line in the famous hymn “He Hideth My Soul” comes from).

But here is a very cool supernatural fact: it is possible for anyone to experience God’s glory in Jesus. The writer of Hebrews tells us the Son is the “radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Hebrews 1:3).  Not only this, but Jesus brings us into the presence of His Father, unashamed, through His cleansing blood.  If it were not for Jesus, we couldn’t stand in the presence of God as we do, but because of the cross we come before Him in confidence and full assurance.

You might say we stand in the “path of eternal totality” and live to tell about it. We live because He died.

You can look into the solar eclipse on the 21st if you want.  Be sure to wear authorized eye protection if you do.

Just make sure, the next time you come before God in prayer, you consider why you are able to do so without fear. It is because the perfect reflection of God’s glory took away your sin on the cross.  Keep your eyes fixed on Him.

It’s ok. You won’t burn your eyes out.

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Growing Kingdom People – The Church: Cow, Goat or Bride

The Church: A Cow, a Goat or a Bride?

Every now and then the words in a hymn the church of my childhood used to sing pops in my head: “From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride.” The bride is the church of the Lord Jesus and the hymn is “The Church’s One Foundation.”

You may have heard the term “bride” applied to the church. If you are male and it seems weird to think you are associated with a bride, don’t leave me yet.  You can still be a bride and not give up your “man card.”

The bride metaphor in the New Testament describes our relationship with Jesus in the cultural context of marriage. In Jesus’ day, future husbands selected a future bride, then went to their father’s home to prepare a dwelling.  This betrothal period allowed the bride to prepare for her future life in her father’s house while the groom prepared for his in his father’s house.  This is the basis for Jesus’ words to His disciples in John 14 where He told them He was going to prepare a place for them.

One day Jesus will come back for His bride and there will be a victorious marriage feast in heaven. The bride metaphor helps us understand Jesus love for His church, His willingness to sacrifice for her and His jealous nature toward anyone who would mistreat her.

Which brings me to my topic: bride abuse.

No, I am not talking about physical abuse in a third-world country, although some people do physically abuse the Lord’s church. Rather, I am thinking of some abusive ways people view and use the church for their own purposes.

Since the church is Jesus’ bride, we should take this abuse seriously. Jesus doesn’t like it when people mess with His bride.  I wouldn’t.  Would you?

Some people treat the church like a cow.  How would you like it if someone called your bride a cow?  Ok, so people may not call the church a cow, but they view her as a “cash-cow”.  She is a place where people have resources that can be used for personal gain.  Over the years I have seen Christian organizations and parachurch ministries leverage their influence to take resources from the Lord’s bride.  Many churches choose to share what God has given them with those who are serving in different ways or in different places.  We find this taking place in the Bible when the Apostle Paul promoted a fund for the struggling church in Jerusalem.  Sharing the church’s resources with others is wonderful.  The Lord wants His bride to be generous.  Yet, some manipulate local churches through criticism, the use of confidential member information and false promises.  They are quick to belittle the value of things taking place in the local church, but show up to ask for money to support their vision.

Some people treat the church like a goat. Before I make my point here, I want to acknowledge the church is imperfect.  Christ’s bride has been made clean by His blood, but redeemed people don’t always represent the church as they should.  However, collectively, there is no greater force on earth than the Lord’s church, where people empowered by the Holy Spirit shower grace on a lost and broken world.  Still, there are those who like to blame the church for more than her fair share of problems.  She is the perfect scape-goat.  In fact, even the Lord’s people habitually beat up the bride when they either don’t get their way or aren’t happy with the way their lives are going.  For some, it is always the church’s fault they haven’t experienced the spiritual success they desire.  It never occurs to them, if they are in Christ, they “are” the church.  We all have a personal responsibility for our own growth process, and if we see things the church needs to do, God might be calling us to meet the need instead of criticizing others for their failure to do so.

The bottom line is, Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. Do you know anyone who has proposed to the love of his life and is preparing for a wedding day?  Can you imagine taking advantage of his bride or slapping her around in his presence?  What do you suppose would happen?

I feel pretty sure Jesus feels just as strongly about His bride, the church.

Fair warning. Be careful how you treat her.  Some day you will come face to face with her Husband.  I understand He has quite a powerful left jab.

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Growing Kingdom People – Five Teens, A Drowning Man and Me

Five Teens, A Drowning Man and Me

Would you rather drown in a lake or spend eternity in hell?

I know. It isn’t much of a choice.   You have probably already answered, “Neither!”

Allow me to rephrase my question. Do you think it is more important to save a man from drowning or from going to hell?

Ok. So the answer gets a bit more complicated.  You might say, “Both!  If possible I would want to save a man from drowning and hell.”  On the other hand, if I was talking about the same man, it would be more important for him to have eternity in order than to be rescued from drowning.

Truthfully, we can’t imagine wanting either one of these things to happen, and the question is a bit quirky because one is not necessarily contingent on the other.  A man might drown and still end up in hell.  He might be saved from drowning and end up in heaven.  If he knows the Lord he might drown and go to heaven, but if he doesn’t know the Lord he might be saved and still end up in hell.

You are probably tired of my rambling on these two topics which are most serious in nature. But perhaps you have already surmised where I am headed.

A few days ago five teens watched as a 32-year-old man drown in a lake in Florida. Not only did they watch, but they taunted him and recorded his death on their smart phones.   The dying man screamed for help.  The teens on shore laughed at him.  Then they posted their video on social media.

We are shocked and horrified by what happened, and rightfully so.  It also appears it is going to be hard to charge the teens with anything more than a misdemeanor.  It isn’t a crime in Florida to refuse to help a drowning man.  This is possibly because such a law could hold someone legally responsible for deciding not to risk his own life to save another.

But to laugh at a dying man, video his death and leave the scene?

There ought to be a law against that.

Which brings me to a point that has likely occurred to you by now: What is our exposure for watching people go to hell while we stand by and do nothing?

“Hey!  That’s not a fair question!  How do I know if someone is going to hell?”

“Do they know Jesus?”

“I don’t know.”

“Have you asked?”

“No.”

“But you see them almost every day?”

“Well, yes.”

“Then you are standing around while they could be going to hell.”

I know I am being harsh, but this is a real conversation I am having with myself today. In addition, I am thinking of the times I have laughed at people’s behavior with no thought of whether or not they know the Lord.  I have even watched one of those TV shows where broken people show up to yell at each other and take lie detector and DNA tests to decide if they are still going to live together.  After all, it’s entertaining!  Right?

Entertaining like laughing at a man drowning in a lake?

And putting it on a media platform for the whole world to see?

I’ll be honest. My heart is crushed.  Crushed for the man who drowned after crying out for help.  For his family.  For the misguided teens whose souls and lives are in grave danger.

But mostly I am thinking of the people I have watched drown in the sea of life and die without Jesus. Of the times I have made light of their plight and my cavalier attitude toward their eternal destination.

I can’t do anything about the situation in Florida except stand with others and mourn the moral demise of our culture. But I can do something about the people I know in my life who might not know Jesus.

What’s stopping me?

The fear that some of my peers standing on the shore with me might laugh at me?

My preoccupation with my smart phone and social media?

Woe is me.

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Growing Kingdom People – If it Ain’t Broke Stop Pretending

If it Ain’t Broke – Stop Pretending

I fear we have lost the meaning of true brokenness.

When I first read the book “Unbroken”, the war story of Louie Zamperini, I nearly stopped reading for the sake of self-preservation. The description of Louie’s mistreatment and torture at the hands of his captors seemed endless.  Page after page of indescribable pain left me empty and sickened.  But I pushed through, partially because I decided if Louie was strong enough to survive I could find a way to finish the book.

In case you missed the obvious, I want to highlight the name of Laura Hillenbrand’s title: “Unbroken.”

Did you catch that?

“Unbroken”

Not “Broken.”

A wildly popular book about the survival of a war hero wasn’t about his brokenness, but rather his un-brokenness.

Please know this: I believe people can be broken, and I hurt for them. In fact, I have spent my whole life binding up the wounds of people who have been broken by other people and life’s circumstances.  If you don’t think you can be broken, think again.  It can happen to any of us.  And when it does we are thankful we have a Heavenly Father who puts the pieces of our lives back together again.

However…

I think it is possible to be dishonest with ourselves and others when we say we are broken. Here is how:

When we are the ones trying to break others. That’s right.  We all hate to lose, and when we try to hurt others and people stop us, we don’t like it.  The true intentions of our hearts have been exposed and we play the victim.  But it is erroneous to say we are “broken.”

When we don’t get our way. Children expect to get what they want if they create enough chaos in other people’s lives.  But when they meet those who are as strong willed as they are they don’t know what to do.  Neither do grown-ups.  The only conclusion we can reach when we don’t get our way is that we have been treated unfairly.  We claim our spirits are “broken.”

When we are held accountable for our behavior. It is hard to come clean.  If we are submissive to others who are trying to help us we can actually reach a place of “brokenness” where God can transform our inner being.  But if we play the role of a victim and hide behind a mask, how can we say we are “broken?”  Embarrassed perhaps.  But not “broken.”

When we make up stuff.  I don’t know any other way to say it.  If we say we are broken and we are telling people things that aren’t true, or leaving out important details in order to characterize ourselves as mistreated victims, then we are living out a fantasy.  People who make up stuff may have found a way to live with themselves, but they are not “broken.”

I want to repeat my belief in brokenness.  As I have said, I base my entire ministry on the conviction people are broken and they need someone to stand in the gap for them and help them find healing in the Lord.  Perhaps this is the very reason I grow weary of those who use tearful expressions of brokenness when it is more likely they have left broken people in their path than that they themselves have experienced brokenness.

I should say there is a sense in which those who use the “broken” motif as a shield against taking responsibility for their own actions might indeed be broken. It is possible their inner brokenness is driving them to hurt others, demand their own way, behave any way they choose, and make up stuff.

It’s just that the consequences they suffer as a result of their choices are self-inflicted and are not the result of being victimized.

With the exception that our heart’s deception means we have been caught in Satan’s snare. So in that sense we are all victims.

Not innocent victims.

But victims.

Which is why we need to truly be broken.

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Growing Kingdom People – Are God’s Angels in Danger of being Grounded?

Are God’s Angels in Danger of being Grounded?

Authorities are grounding jetliners in Phoenix! Tuesday’s forecast calls for 120 degrees and the American Airlines Bombardier CRJ aircraft isn’t rated over 118 degrees.

Other planes can fly. But the CRJ is grounded.

We are so used to air travel it is hard for us to fathom it could be too hot for an airplane. Too snowy, perhaps.  Too much lightening, absolutely.

But too hot?

Today I was preparing a sermon about angels and it occurred to me I have never considered whether or not there are any circumstances under which God might ground His angels. I have seen movies where angels were being tested before they were given their wings (Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life”) or held accountable when they started to forget their calling (Dudley in “The Preacher’s Wife).  But I have never heard of an angel being grounded.

Except for…

Yea, you’ve probably already thought of it.

A lot of people believe Satan is a grounded angel. The plot goes something like this: Satan (Lucifer) used to be a good angel, an “archangel”, serving alongside Gabriel and Michael.  During a time when angels could choose their own way, he rebelled again God and was cast out of heaven.  Now, as he knows he is already defeated, Satan spends his time as God’s chief adversary, trying to lure others into his darkness (Isaiah 14:12-15 King James Version).

I’m not sure how this event limited Satan’s flight, but it certainly put him on a collision course with eternal fire.

But what about the other angels who serve God now? Are they prone to grounding?  Does heat impact their performance?

I don’t think so.

In Psalm 91:11 we are told the angels will guard us in “all of our ways.” Not just when our ways are easy.  Or so-so.  Or terrible.  “All of our ways.”

When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown in a fiery furnace by king Nebuchadnezzar, not a hair on their head was singed. A fourth man appeared in the furnace with them and some have speculated that it might have been Jesus. Nebuchadnezzar believed it was an angel (Daniel 3:28).  If it was an angel, then we have our proof!

The angels that flew around the altar in Isaiah’s vision (Seraphs) seemed unaffected by the burning coals there. One of them even appeared before Isaiah with a burning coal in his hand! (Isaiah 6:6)

I think it is safe to say angels don’t have a performance rating. They aren’t impacted by heat, cold, or any extremes we experience on earth.

Which means there isn’t any valley we walk through they can’t enter. There is no fire we experience they can’t endure.

This is one reason we can say  God is with us in every situation, and He sends His ministering angels to care for us. (Hebrews 1:14).  Nothing prevents God from reaching us in our time of need.

The CRJs will begin flying again soon in Phoenix. But by the time they take off the angels will have performed a million tasks in the city, unhindered by the heat.

Is it hot where you are today?

Don’t worry.

The angels have already been cleared for take-off.

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Growing Kingdom People – Rhetoric, Attempted Murder, and the “Fire of Hell”

Rhetoric, Attempted Murder, and the “Fire of Hell”

Our country was brought to its attention this week when a madman violently attacked a gathering of political leaders who were practicing for a charity baseball game. The big takeaway: “We need to dial back our hateful rhetoric in our country, respect one another more, and learn how to agree to disagree.”

I could not “agree” more. Words are powerful, and thoughtless words can be downright deadly.

But don’t take my word for it.

In Matthew 5:21-23 these words of Jesus are recorded: ‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.  Again, anyone who says to his brother, “Raca”, is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell.’

In case you missed it, let me put it this way: “If you murder someone with your words, you could go to hell.”

I know there is a lot of theological ground to cover here, which I don’t have time to go into in such a short devotional. Please don’t think it’s all over if you have been guilty of calling someone a fool.  First of all, the more specific meaning of this last infraction refers to the declaration that someone is worthless.  Secondly, God is gracious toward us when we do such things.  Jesus says if we do this we will be in “danger.”  Not that we will go to hell.

So it isn’t the end.

But we are in danger.

Obviously, calling others names and questioning their worth is no way to manage our anger. Why do we do it?  I have seen these patterns emerge over the years and toss them out as possibilities:

Some people assassinate the character of others because they don’t get their way.  In the church this could involve anything from a failed attempt to leverage the resources or people of the church for personal gain or anger over not being selected for specific roles.

Some people judge others because they have a legalistic spirit.  Legalists frequently find fault with others in regards to some biblical truths while ignoring other truths in their own lives.  Ironically, if someone accuses a brother or sister in Christ of wrongdoing to others and hasn’t attempted to reconcile in person, he or she has broken one of the most fundamental teachings of Christ (Matthew 18:15).  This is the way legalism works.

Some people criticize others because they are filled with guilt. When a sin is eating us up on the inside, we lash out at others. Perhaps our ability to find fault in others helps us live with ourselves.

Maybe you have found yourself having a conversation with someone who continues to speak poorly of others. You might consider the following:

Do I know what I am hearing is the truth?  Have I checked things out for myself?  I have learned the hard way people will lie to me about their experiences with others, or leave out vital parts of the story.  When I check things out for myself I am sometimes disappointed with my sources, but thankful I was diligent with my pursuit of the truth.

Am I being played? We all have hurts in life. We all have times when we don’t get what we want, when we are prone to legalism, and when we carry around un-confessed sin.  People who assassinate the character of others are very good at appealing to the normal hurts we have experienced in life (Read the story of Absalom as a good biblical example -2 Samuel 15:1-6).  Before we know it we have traveled with them for so long and burned so many bridges there is no turning back.

Am I honoring God? This is the most important question of all.  The reason Jesus was so strong in his warning in Matthew 5 is because He knew His Father was serious about checking the behavior of those who say hateful things about others.  When we say something that unfairly casts another person in a bad light, we are calling God a liar.  We are suggesting the people He has created are not “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14).  And we are claiming to be a people of grace while failing to show grace.

God doesn’t look on such things lightly.

Which is where the “hell fire” comes in.

I’m not saying we could go to hell if we have the wrong rhetoric and spread bad things about others.

But Jesus did.

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