Growing Kingdom People – Impeaching Jesus

Impeaching Jesus

“Impeachment” is a dangerous word in light of our current political environment.  Before I proceed, I think a definition is in order.  According to Merriam-Webster, to “impeach” is “to charge (a public official) before a competent tribunal with misconduct in office.”  Those who are pursuing the impeachment process against our President are suggesting he used his position to pressure a foreign leader into investigating the relative of a political opponent, in order to alter the outcome of an election.

It is not my desire here to suggest guilt or innocence in the case of our President.  However, the present debate led me to an interesting observation.  While Jesus isn’t a public official, He is a ruler.  If we claim Him as Savior, He is Lord of our lives.

We would probably never openly attempt to bring impeachment charges against Jesus.  After all, we don’t want to cast our lot with the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law who hounded Jesus during His ministry and eventually succeeded in having Him crucified.  But consider these possibilities:

We might accuse Jesus of misrepresenting the challenge of the Christian life.  We like to know Jesus is on our side, and evoke His name to sell everything from exercise programs to time shares.  But we resent Him when He calls us to set aside sinful behaviors or make significant sacrifices.

Yet, He said… “And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.” (Matthew 18:9) “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Why are we so surprised?

We might accuse Jesus of overstepping his authority.  We are thankful He has authority over sin and death and offers freedom from both when we accept Him as our Savior.  But since we possess a free will, we don’t want Him telling us what to do.  After all, this is our life, and we can do what we want.

Yet, He said… “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

Why are we so offended?

We might accuse Jesus of selfish ambition.  We crave adoration, so why should we live for His glory when there are so many opportunities to take personal credit for the things we do in His name?  Could it be Jesus is only concerned about Himself?

Yet, He said… “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) And again, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:18)

Why are we so reluctant?

We might accuse Jesus of mismanagement in regards to His church.  Christians are not perfect.  Sometimes the church fails to reflect the character of Christ and behaves in ways that are contrary to His teaching.  Shouldn’t Jesus do something about the hypocrites who wear His name?

Yet, Jesus said… “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.” (Revelation 3:19)

Why are we so self-righteous?

Jesus never promised us our walk with Him would be easy.  He is the King of Kings, and when we give Him full reign of our hearts, His lordship comes with expectations.  In spite of our struggles, Jesus will never stop loving us.  He took on the form of a servant and incurred the cost of our sins, so we could escape spiritual bondage.   Now, His power is seen through flawed, redeemed sinners who make up His church on earth.

No, we would not want to be accused of impeaching Jesus.  But if we call Him Lord while looking for reasons to deny Him access to our hearts, is He sitting on the throne or knocking at the door?

We can’t have it both ways.

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Growing Kingdom People – Reclaiming Redemption

Reclaiming Redemption

Our past has become our present. Rare is the day when a public figure isn’t called out for a past sin or indiscretion.

Sometimes the past needs to be addressed.  Most notably, evil predators who once used their power and position to abuse others, are finally being held accountable for their crimes. Courageous victims have been willing to risk everything in their quest for justice.

On the other hand, the past is also being used as a convenient tool in the hands of those who wish to destroy their enemies or justify their own bad behavior.  And even though we know we may not be getting the whole story, we are quick to believe the worst.

In the Bible, God used people with a tainted past to pursue some of His greatest missions.  Moses, the man who led Israel out of bondage, was a murderer and a fugitive. Rehab, who was a harlot in Jericho, joined the people of God and can be found in Jesus’ earthly lineage. The Apostle Paul was a Christian killer and Matthew, who wrote the first gospel, was a tax-collector. (f you are not familiar with the role of tax-collectors in Jesus’ day, they were known to overtax people for personal gain. They were also hated by their Jewish brothers for aligning themselves with the pagan Roman Empire).

Paul once called his rag-tag band of redeemed co-laborers “clay pots”. They were broken and chipped by their sinful past, worn down by their present difficulties, but used mightily for the glory of God. Paul noted that God is pleased to work through “clay pots” because the flaws of His servants makes His power more evident (2 Corinthians 4:7).

It is important that we not join our culture in immediately judging others because of their past. This is important from a fundamental perspective, if I understand the gospel correctly. But it is also a practical matter as we can miss a kingdom blessing if we shun others because of the personal baggage they carry.

When I was a young teen, I met a Christian from an eastern country at a convention and formed a friendship.  A few months later I overheard a conversation between two church members where one shared he would not allow his child to play with a new neighbor child from the same country as my friend.  The parent made demeaning comments, suggesting his new neighbors were probably heathens, and he didn’t want them to influence his child.  It never occurred to him that God might have brought the family members into his neighborhood so his family could share the love of Christ with them.  I remember seething inside. It was one of those moments as a young person that could have turned me away from Christ.

Fortunately, I had other adults in my life who were energized by opportunities to love those with questionable pasts. In fact, some of the most powerful influences in my life were redeemed sinners who bore the scars of some bad decisions, but carried the grace of Christ in their hearts.

I have had great role models in my life, but the ones that have nurtured my faith the most are the ones who relied most heavily on the cross. The Christians that have disillusioned me most were the ones who justified judgmental behavior by claiming a superior walk with the Lord.

What power is there is self-righteousness? The power of the cross is experienced by walking with those who understand redemption and celebrate the power of the cross.

I guess we will always be attracted to the dirt in peoples’ past. The cracks in other people’s’ pots somehow make us feel “put together”. But don’t be surprised if God chooses to do greater things through those who can’t erase their past than those who pretend they don’t have one.

 

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Growing Kingdom People – Religious Freedom and Persecution

Religious Freedom and Persecution

You may have been following the news surrounding the UN Summit, our President’s posture toward climate change activists and his speech about religious freedom.  I have never fit neatly into a climate change discussion.  I love the earth as a living example of God’s creative genius and my home, as well as the home my children and grandchildren will inhabit should Christ tarry.  Scientific research supports the fact that climate change is occurring, though I recognize there is disagreement about man’s role in the process.

At the same time, I know people from all sides of any national or international debate will exploit people and circumstances to make their point.  Therefore, I have learned to view protests, news reports and public speeches with suspicion.

With this said, I do appreciate the President’s words regarding religious freedom and persecution, regardless of any political motivations that might have been behind the timing of his comments.  We live in a “freedom bubble” and have a hard time understanding what it is like to live in a country where people are persecuted for their faith.  I am, obviously, very concerned for those who are persecuted for following Christ, but I don’t want anyone to be hurt because of their spiritual beliefs.  Religious freedom is a basic human right.

You may never have thought about how persecution takes place, even in countries that advertise religious freedom.  While I am not an expert on the subject, I will share some basics regarding the problem here:

Religious persecution begins with the ideology of those in power.  The American system presumably protects Christians from persecution, regardless of who is in control of our government.  This doesn’t mean persecution doesn’t take place, but if it does, it is unlawful and can be prosecuted.  However, in a country where an atheistic ideology or national religion is claimed, the government can become an arm of persecution.

Religious legality does not equal religious freedom.  The claim of “religious freedom” in a nation can be misleading.  For example, in India, it is legal to worship Christ.  But if one is found sharing his faith with another person, he can be arrested.  If someone becomes a Christian, and was not raised in a Christian home, there will probably be an investigation.  If it can be proved that a Christian influenced someone from a non-Christian home to accept Christ as Lord, the one who shared his faith can be imprisoned.

The law is used to entrap people of faith. When a government is intent on persecuting the church, laws are enacted that make it next to impossible to follow Christ.  I read recently where some churches in a region of China have been told to replace the 10 Commandments with quotes from a Chinese leader.  If this is true, then churches that refuse to comply can be accused of a crime against the state.  Church buildings can be confiscated, preachers can be put in prison and entire congregations labeled as outlaws.

Once a climate of intolerance and persecution is created, the general population feels free to persecute Christians on its own.  The government turns a blind eye to thugs who use allegiance to their own religion or their country as an excuse to persecute others.  Authorities might step in and prosecute those who murder or main Christians, but only in high profile cases where it is politically expedient to do so.

Can this happen in America?  I pray not, under our current Constitution.  But as you may be able to see, governments can play games with laws, and a Constitution is only as good as the will of the people to carry out its wishes.

I encourage you to pray for the persecuted church, and while it might seem strange for me to say, even for people of different faiths who are living in countries where they are mistreated for their beliefs.  I don’t have to agree with what people believe to hold to the conviction of religious freedom.  Everyone is created by God, and no one deserves to be unjustly harmed for their faith.  My highest hope would be that everyone would come to know my Savior Jesus, so their souls would be secure for eternity.  But I don’t want to live in a world where people are persecuted, hated and killed if they don’t.

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Growing Kingdom People – What is “Best” for our Children?

What is “Best” for our Children?

A few days ago, Felicity Huffman was sentenced for her role in a disheartening college admissions scandal where she schemed to falsify her daughter Sophia’s SAT scores.  In a letter to the judge presiding over the case, Felicity shared her daughter’s reaction to the news.  Sofia said, “Why didn’t you believe in me?  Why didn’t you believe I could do it on my own?”

Could Sophia have succeeded on her own?  If her SAT score was not high enough, could she have tried again or chosen an alternate path?

Certainly.  And as things have turned out, this would definitely have been the better choice.  But even without the scandal, it is highly possible an honest assessment of her strengths would have guided her to a place of personal satisfaction and fulfillment.

As a parent, I can testify that most of us want what’s best for our children.  However, best is a tricky word.  What’s best may not always be what’s easy, for us or our children.  Allow me to make a few “best” suggestions:

It is best that we spend as much time as possible with our children.  Unfortunately, due to financial realities or career expectations, many parents must spend extended periods of time away from their children.  I am aware of a mother who holds down three jobs to provide for her children.  However, I am also aware of households where parents work more than is necessary so they can purchase things they don’t need. They delegate the greater part of their children’s moral guidance and emotional support to others, and provide them with lots of cool stuff.  Yet, stuff is not the same as substance, and observation tells me children will ultimately choose their parent’s example over the instruction of others.

It is best that we hold our children accountable. Perhaps you have tried to hold a child accountable, only to run into a parent who defends him, unconditionally.  Some are convinced their children’s problems are always someone else’s fault, and their children are forever the victim.  It is good to protect our children from abuse or bullying, but there is something to be said for letting them fight their own battles and take responsibility for their own mistakes.  Even if the facts support their innocence, if our children are not in danger, it might be best to let them work through life’s injustices.  In doing so, our children might learn to treat others with greater sensitivity, or to use discretion in their conversations.  When we encourage our children to embrace life’s imperfections, and help them find their own solutions, they gain wisdom and learn how to manage difficult situations similar to the ones they will face as adults.

It is best to make the worship of God a priority in our child’s life. I have heard parents say they don’t want to burn their children out on church, for fear they will turn against it when they are older.  Certainly, children need balance so they don’t live in a religious bubble.  But experience tells me a child is much more likely to abandon something that has never been a priority.  Children not only need to learn about God, but they also need to experience growing up in a faith community.  In community, they learn how God takes people from every walk of life and puts them in His church.  They learn to demonstrate unselfish love and service, and find joy in walking with others sinners, saved by grace.  In respect to children burning out on church, I have discovered they are much more likely to dismiss church because of the things their parents say and do than they are because of overexposure to worship.

It is best that our children have a good example to follow.  This is the irony of Felicity Huffman’s crime.  In her desire to provide the best for her daughter, she robbed her of the best thing she had to offer her: a family name with a good reputation.  The best thing we can give our children is the best person we can be.  While we need to be careful what we share, we should acknowledge our sins and show our children, by example, how to repent, seek forgiveness and walk with humility.  This doesn’t mean we should live in a perpetual state of spiritual regret.  On the contrary, our children need parents who live confident lives.  Parents who have the courage to take on personal struggles and grow in their walk with the Lord.

If giving our children everything was the secret to success, then America should have the most perfect citizens in the world.  We know better.

The “best” is not what we think.

Yes, our children do deserve the best.

It is up to us to discern what it is and provide it in abundance.

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Growing Kingdom People – How to Use a Sharpie Pen

How to Use a Sharpie Pen 

You have surely seen the news story of our President’s edit to the projected path of Hurricane Dorian.  The humor isn’t in the prediction, as there was a time when Dorian could have found its way to Alabama.  It is the timing of the President’s projection (at a time when Alabama was clearly not in danger), and the use of a Sharpie Pen to edit a weather map that makes people laugh.

To be honest, I don’t get too involved in opinions about this sort of thing.  Our President loves to use sarcastic humor, and he relishes the reaction of the press, so there is really no way of knowing for sure whether his Sharpie edit was intentional or an indication he was out of touch.

Either way, the thought of the most powerful politician in the world using a Sharpie Pen to support his predictions reminds me of a third-grade classmate of mine who tried to change an “F” on her report card to a “B”.  The edit was wishful, but not very effective.

Lest we become too focused on the President, it might be wise to consider our own use of the Sharpie Pen in relation to God’s Word.  We are guilty of making some wild edits of our own, sometimes altering entire eternal projections in the process.

Consider these examples:

In regards to eternal salvation: The Apostle Paul wrote, “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).  I am not the proverbial “hell, fire and brimstone” preacher.  In fact, if anything, I don’t talk enough about eternal punishment.  But I can’t arbitrary take my Sharpie and extend the invitation into eternal life to include those who do not “obey the gospel.”  Believe me, I would if I could!  I’m a softy.  But, I would be untruthful in doing so.

In regards to how we handle conflict: The second greatest commandment is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).  Jesus said I am in danger of judgment if I am angry with my brother (Matthew 5:22).  So you don’t freak out when you become angry, I take this to mean, “If I remain angry and don’t seek reconciliation”, as anger only places me at risk.  But still.  I can’t draw a Sharpie circle around those I don’t like and say, “I am going to love everyone but these.”

In regards to compassion:  While doing loving things for others isn’t how we earn our salvation, if we ignore the needs of others, our understanding of the Lord’s heart is brought into question, as is our obedience to His will.  In His famous “least of these” teaching in Matthew 25, Jesus gave us this glimpse into His final judgement: “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” (Matthew 25:40-41) I might draw Sharpie asterisks by the people I want to exclude from compassion and try to squeak by with Christ.  But I don’t think He would be sympathetic to my justification.

In regards to morality: In every age, there appears to be “allowances” made for immoral behavior because it is accepted by society.  Two hundred years ago, Christians in our country owned slaves and traded them like cattle.  A hundred years ago, industrialists, many of whom claimed Christ as Lord, exploited workers and amassed huge fortunes while some went hungry.  Today, many believers are comfortable with casual sex and sex outside of God’s clear biblical directives.  In each of these cases, the Sharpie Pen has been and is being used to strike through commands we don’t like.

But one thing is certain: Just as sure as Hurricane Dorian was pushed to the right by a high-pressure system, God’s Word will be honored.  He will keep His promises, whether they be blessings or consequences.  I have wondered if God laughs or weeps at our attempts to change His truths.  Perhaps both, but I suspect He mostly weeps.

We can scribble, circle and strike-out all we want, but we must remember some words that came through Balaam.  They followed a very interesting encounter with a talking donkey (known as “Balaam’s Ass”) in which Balaam was reminded to be faithful with God’s instructions.  Balaam said, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.  Does he speak and then not act?  Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19).

Anyone who wants to play games with God’s Word should…

…well…

…get his ass in gear.

Sharpie Pen that!

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Growing Kingdom People – Total Devastation

Total Devastation

The word “devastation” is being used to describe the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian’s direct hit on the Bahamas.

“Total devastation”

“Complete devastation”

“Absolute devastation”

If you have seen some of the first pictures from the Bahamas, I feel certain you would agree, “devastation” is an appropriate word.  It is rooted in the Medieval Latin expression, “to lay waste.”

Although we see the images, it hard to fully grasp what has happened to so many.  People’s homes have been lost, communities erased and lives lost.

This terrible tragedy, and the proper use of the word “devastation” reminds me that some words are used so often, and in such insignificant ways, they lose their power.  I once heard a Christian college President, Dr. Matt Proctor, use the example of the word “awesome” to illustrate this point.  He noted how strange it was that the same word used to describe God, the Creator of the universe, was also used by some to describe a pizza.

There are other words that suffer the same fate.

We speak of “hell on earth.”  I have met people who have experienced such pain and sorrow in this life, I fully understand why they say they have “been through hell.”  But have they really?  I do not wish to diminish what others have endured, but there is one major difference between the horrors of hell and that of earth:  God is not present in hell.  At least on earth, we have a Heavenly Father to hold us, love us, comfort us and guide us.  I don’t think there is any way we can imagine what it means to experience pain outside of the presence of God, with the possible exception of those who have been victimized by something so dark and evil, God seemed non-existent.  But even in these cases, He was, indeed, present.  Hell, on the other hand, is a place of absolute separation from God.

Don’t worry.  I won’t criticize you for saying you have “been through hell.”  I get it.

I’m just saying, we must not forget the difference between a metaphorical reference and the real thing.  The same thing is true of positive words such as love.  How can my love for blackened chicken possibly compare to my love for my wife of 37 years?  Or Christ’s love for me on the cross?  For one thing, you will never catch me making a significant sacrifice for a blackened chicken sandwich.

OK, maybe a small one, such as driving an extra mile or two out of my way.

Hopefully, you get my point.

We throw words around loosely.  And in a day when personal, verbal attacks have become commonplace, we think nothing of using degrading words to describe others.  However, Jesus once said, if we call our brother an empty-headed fool, we are in danger of going to hell (Matthew 5:22).

That’s the real hell.  Not the pretend one.

Words matter.  The right word can help us fully appreciate what has occurred in others’ lives, such as those whose world has been devastated by Hurricane Dorian.

The wrong word can diminish a greater subject, or overstate a lesser experience.

If we can’t think of the right word, there is always an alternative.  We can remain silent (Proverbs 11:12).

At times, silence is the best word of all.

 

 

 

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Growing Kingdom People – Crazy Larry’s Almanac for the New School Year

Almanac for the New School Year

The Farmers Almanac has been in publication since 1818. In general, it provides long-range weather forecasts, employing old-school methods that existed before the invention of modern radar and satellite imaging. When I was a teen, someone gave me a copy of “Poor Richard’s Almanac”, a volume of predictions and wise sayings written by Benjamin Franklin under a pseudonym.

I don’t presume to be Benjamin Franklin, and I don’t understand all of the atmospheric data weather forecasters use for their predictions, but I wish to make some predictions and offer some advice for parents who will be sending their children off to school in a few days. To borrow from a common “almanac” saying: Take these with “a grain of salt.”

CRAZY LARRY’S ALMANAC – 2019

Children will be influenced and impacted by their school experience. Continue to ground them in who they are and whose they are so they aren’t defined exclusively by others.

Children will have bad days when they are treated unfairly and their self-image is bruised. Listen carefully to their pain, and love them, but try to help them understand the realities of life as they find ways to overcome them.

There is a possibility some children will be bullied or abused by others. If you notice drastic changes in your child’s mood or behavior over an extended period of time, try to get to the bottom of things and seek professional help if necessary.

Every child is different, and while we want children to succeed, there is a distinct possibility they will not fulfill our personal dreams and predictions. Stay loose in your expectations and continue to focus on the fundamentals of character, morality and truth.

Children will like some teachers better than others. While serious mismatches between teaches and students do occur, use less favorable circumstances as an opportunity to strengthen your child’s ability to adapt to different learning environments and to respect authority.

Remember how much you mean to your child. Take time in the midst of a busy school year to eat with them, shop with them, play with them and pray with them.

Big events in the world will affect your child, and though you may try to shield them at home, they will still be exposed to some information at school that will make them afraid. If your child mentions a disheartening news story, ask how it makes him or her feel, and look for ways to offer reassurance.

Your child will be exposed to ideas, words and actions that go against their upbringing. If they share, instead of just saying, “That’s terrible!”, take time to process why the things they have seen and heard bother them.

You may receive a note from a teacher telling you your child has misbehaved or is falling behind. Resist the temptation to rise to their defense and remember they are flawed human beings who need to learn accountability, responsibility and respect.

As your child grows and learns, your role will be increasingly marginalized in his or her eyes. Remember, you will always have a role, and pray for the wisdom to know how to let go while continuing to pour love and truth into your child’s life.

While you are not with your child at school, the Lord is there. As a steward of the life He has placed in your care, trust Him to collaborate with you as your child grows into the purposes He has prepared.

In all of these things, pray. We can’t be everywhere and in everything, but God can. He will continue to guide us all in His truth and lead us to a place where we can share in His blessings.

And there’s nothing crazy about that.

 

 

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