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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Growing Kingdom People – Why You Might Not Want to Pick Up a Bible

Why You Might Not Want to Pick Up a Bible

I wish I understood density. I am “dense” at times, and not always able to comprehend the scientific mysteries of the universe.

NASA recently sent a Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) to the International Space Station. NICER represents the first mission to examine neutron stars. Neutron stars are collapsed stars with incredible density. How dense? It is thought one teaspoon of neutron star matter would weigh a billion tons on earth!

That’s right.

A billion tons.

I can’t wrap my brain around this number because I am anchored to this world where a ton is a ton. Ask me to point to a ½ ton pick-up and I will do so without a moment’s hesitation. Sometimes I have a hard time picking up a package and I will say, “This weighs a ton!” Actually, it is inconceivable I could pick up a ton by myself. But at least I can conceptualize how much I would be lifting if I could life a ton.

But a billion tons?

Whew! My arms hurt just typing it out.

This brings me to another dense topic: the Word of God. God’s word is also not of this world whether it is spoken or written.  It comes from the mind of God and has been revealed by the Holy Spirit and transmitted through faithful servants. Human words have the power to inspire and change the course of history. God’s Word can also do these things, but it also possesses supernatural qualities. God is all-knowing and His wisdom surpasses man’s capacity for understanding. We must presume God has only revealed truth we are capable of grasping and its impact on our lives is according to His eternal purposes.

Now that’s heavy.

The prophet Isaiah writes, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (55:9-11)

How dense it the Bible?

I read somewhere the Gutenberg Bible weighs 14 pounds.

The one I preach from weights much less.

But if we were to weigh any Bible by its spiritual density, I think the figure would be…

…to borrow a line from Buzz Lightyear…

…”to infinity and beyond!”

There is nowhere God’s Word can’t go and nothing it can’t do.

The next time you pick up your Bible be careful. It’s heavier than you think.

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Growing Kingdom People – “The Human behind the Tiger.”

The Human behind the Tiger

Monday morning Tiger Woods was found asleep in his car on a Florida roadway. The engine was running, the brake lights were on and the right blinker was flashing.  No alcohol was found in Tiger’s system, but he was charged with a DUI, possibly due to a reaction to prescribed medications.

I saw Tiger Wood’s mug shot in the paper this morning. There is something about an arrest picture that takes us by surprise.  We aren’t used to seeing celebrities at their worst, and a droopy eyes portrait at a police station isn’t flattering for anyone.

Thankfully, no one was hurt or killed as a result of Tiger’s impairment, and hopefully the golf icon who brought so much joy to the world will get the help he needs. It is possible his condition was the result of an honest mistake, or it could indicate a deeper problem.  Either way, I hope things turn around for Tiger.

What do you suppose your arrest picture would look like? Maybe you have one.  If you don’t, when you wake up tomorrow morning, look in the bathroom mirror and take a mug shot.  Don’t comb your hair or shave.  Don’t put on any makeup or wipe the crud from your eye lashes.

Just take the picture, and post it online.

What?

You don’t want people to see what you look like when you are still waking up in the morning?

Why not?

The reason is obvious. You aren’t at your best.  Few of us are.

When are we at our best? Probably, when we have had time to shower, shave, wash, blow dry and comb our hair, put on our best clothes and get enough blood pumping so we can keep our eyes open.

Are we less human after we do these things? No.  But we have successfully hidden the parts of our humanity we don’t want others to see.

The truth is, even if we posted our wake up picture, we still wouldn’t be showing people our humanness. In fact, our disheveled portrait might not be an accurate representation at all.  Our face might say, “I don’t want to get up,” while our heart and mind are already thinking about the joy the Lord has planned for us that day.  On the other hand, if we are one of those people who wake up looking like a model, we could be falling apart on the inside.

Looks can be deceiving.

However, there is someone who is never fooled. In the Old Testament, when Samuel went to the home of Jesse to identify a king for Israel, God gave him these instructions: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  This advice led Samuel to choose David, the least likely candidate among all of Jesse’s sons.

This is exactly how God sees us. It is how He sees you.  He knows your heart and your thoughts.  He knows your struggles.  You are always very “human” to God.

With this in mind, I want to encourage you not to try to be anything else…anything else but human. Why waste time with appearances when God already knows what is on the inside?  When we are honest with Him, we can start dealing with our fears, hurts and sins, and move on to the life for which we were created.

If you have never been arrested I hope you never have a mug shot. But always remember God sees you as you are.

In so many ways you are already “busted.”

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