Growing Kingdom People – “I Have Been Called to Testify”

I Have Been Called to Testify

Perhaps you have been watching some of the Senate hearings regarding Michael Flynn, Sally Yates and Russia’s alleged interference in the most recent presidential election. The issue is current, but the questions are as old as time: “Who knew?”, “What did they know?”, “When did they know?” and “What did they do about it?”

Just so you don’t think I am using the “old as time” phrase loosely, consider the case of Adam and Eve. God told both of them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and He granted them the free will to choose.  Let’s apply the questions.  “Who knew?”  Adam and Eve.  “What did they know?”  That they were not to eat from the tree or they would die.  “When did they know?”  In the beginning.  “What did they do about it?”  They disobeyed.  The answer to these questions pretty much sum up the situation.

Fast forward to God’s throne room on the final day. I know there are numerous theories related to the end of time and the sequence of events.  But for our purposes here, let’s just focus on a possible line of questioning we might have with God about the mission.

You know…the mission.

You do know don’t you?

Just in case, let’s answer the questions as we might answer them on that day:

“Who knew?” We all did.  Before Jesus left His disciples He sent them into the world to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).  During His ministry Jesus talked about the fields that are ready for harvest (John 4:35), and the “least of these” who need to know God loves them (Matthew 25).

“What did they know?” That those who die without Jesus will be lost for eternity (Mark 16:16).

“When did they know it?” When we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior we knew about His payment for sin and the gift of eternal life.  We heard, “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16), which meant the mission was for everyone.

“What did they do about it?” This is the kicker.  We don’t like to think of Christ’s mission to a lost world in the same way we think of Adam and Eve’s disobedience.  We don’t even like to think of it as disobedience.  A better word might be “oversight” or “negligence.”

But Jesus said, “Go!”

Sounds like a command to me.

What I am suggesting is, we are all going to be brought before the Senate and questioned at some point. Please understand, this is not just a creative portrayal of the day we meet Jesus face to face.  Ok, so there is no mention of the Senate.  But Matthew 25:31-46 pretty much paints the same picture.

Senate hearings are intriguing because we all like to get to the bottom of a scandal. To have knowledge that could impact the security of millions of people and not act on it is a dereliction of duty if not a crime.

Exactly!

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Growing Kingdom People – “Holy Cow!”

Last Saturday morning around 4:00 a.m., lightning struck near a clump of trees in Missouri where several dairy cows were huddled to escape the rain. Later that morning the dairyman who owned the cows, Jared Blackwelder, discovered 32 of the cows were killed by the strike.  He was heart-broken.  Jared had raised the “certified organic” cows from birth and milked them two times a day to provide a living for his family.

I used to minister in a dairy community and am well aware of the affection farmers have for their cows.  As I thought about how Jared Blackwelder must feel my mind turned to a passage in the Bible I fear I may have misunderstood, to a degree.

In Psalm 50:10, God speaks through the psalmist when he declares the “cattle on a thousand hills” are His. I have always considered this a statement of God’s “Lordship” when it comes to the things we place value on in life.  The context of Psalm 50 is the Jewish sacrificial system.  The main point is that God isn’t looking for sacrifices.  Yes, He asks us to sacrifice.  He even commands us to sacrifice!  But what He really wants is our worship.

Where do the cattle come in? God wants us to know He doesn’t need our physical sacrifices.  After all, He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  Human ownership is irrelevant to Him, and if He needed a cow He could take one.  Maybe He has!  Maybe that’s what those UFO accounts are all about where farmers see lights in the sky and find the carcasses of dead animals the next day!

Nah.

Hopefully, you get God’s point.

So where have I gone astray in my interpretation of this passage? I now suspect I have not considered God’s investment in His cattle.  How many cattle do you suppose there are on a “thousand hills?”  Before the strike Jared Blackwelder owned 152 cows on his hill.  A thousand Jared’s would own 152,000 cows.  The idea, however, is that God owns every cow on every hill.

And He knows them.

That’s right. In the same passage in Psalm 50 God says He “knows” every bird, and every creature in the field is His.  Does God have names for every cow?  Does He call out for them?

“Bessie!”

“Elsie!”

Maybe not.

But maaaaaaaaybeeeeeee so.

All I am saying is we shouldn’t look at the cattle on a thousand hills that belong to God as things. They mean something to God.

Then why did 32 cows in Missouri die from an “act of God?”

Cut me some slack here. And besides – that’s a term used by insurance companies – not God.

Just have a little more respect for the cattle and try to see them through the eyes of the dairyman. I suspect his view of their place is creation is closer to that of God’s.

And if God cares for a single cow on a single hill among thousands…

…how much do you think He cares for you?

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Growing Kingdom People – In Position to Make the Call

In Position to Make the Call

Tomorrow afternoon, the church family I serve will celebrate the life of “Jess” Kersey, former pro basketball referee.  I have spent the last couple of days brushing up on my knowledge of ABA and NBA basketball and learning as much as possible about the life of a referee.

“Jess” Kersey was an extremely engaging official, and as I sit at home tonight watching an NBA playoff game, I have a new appreciation for the effort pro referees make to be in a position to call the game. They are athletes, judges, mediators, teachers and sometimes counselors.  And while they are sometimes at odds with players, they are a part of a bigger family that makes its living entertaining the world with a ball and hoop.

Most of us aren’t fond of rules, and even more so when the calls don’t go our way. But rules, and even the calls we don’t like, are easier to take when the person holding us accountable is engaged in our lives.

This point is what made Jesus and the legalist of His day different. The legalist stood at a distance and condemned sinners and tax-collectors.  Jesus ate and drank with them and invited them into a new relationship with His Father.  Legalists found lots of opportunities to beat others down and inflate their own egos.  Jesus looked for those who needed to be lifted up and humbled Himself in the form of a servant to show He cared.

We all need rules, or “commandments” as the Bible calls them.

That’s right. Rules are a good thing.

But they make no sense if we don’t know the “Ruler.”

We don’t even need to know the logic behind a rule if we know Jesus. Once we come to trust Him as Lord…

…that is enough.

I’m not saying we don’t have questions at times.  But we get over them because Jesus walks with us.  We know He knows best. “This is love for God: to obey his commands.  And his commands are not burdensome.”

I’m thankful my Ruler doesn’t stand at a distance. Believe me.  When it comes to making calls in my life, it would be much easier for Him if He did.

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Growing Kingdom People – United Airlines and a Trip to Hell

United Airlines and a Trip to Hell

Dr. David Dao may not be flying United Airlines anytime soon. After being forcibly removed from his seat and suffering broken teeth, a broken nose and a concussion, the doctor has become an international symbol for the rights of all airline passengers.

The lawyers and courts will sort out what happened to Dr. Dao, and who is at fault. I wasn’t there and I think it is unfair to pass final judgment on anyone based on a video clip.  At this point, however, public opinion might be the only verdict that really matters.

I do want to unpack one detail in this mess that struck a chord with me. Passengers were originally told their flight was overbooked, when in reality there were some airline crew members who needed to commandeer seats to get to their next assignment.  The fact that the needs of airline employees was elevated above the needs of paying passengers, which in turn led to an ugly and violent incident on the plane, is what probably troubles us most.

How dare they!

How could partners in a business whose mission it is to make sure people arrive safely at their destination put themselves above those they have been called to serve? I certainly don’t want to spend my hard-earned money to fly on an airline that treats me like a second-class citizen.  Do you?

And this is exactly why a lot of people are going to spend eternity in hell!

No. I’m not talking about the airline executives.  God’s grace covers them, as well as baggage handlers and TSA inspectors.  I just hope they don’t put the TSA inspectors in charge of heaven’s gate.

Instead, I am thinking of those who never find Jesus because those of us who are already on the journey are more concerned with pulling rank than making room. Perhaps you have heard of churches where people are so comfortable they ask guests to get out of their seats when they arrive for worship.  I think this is probably a rare occurrence, but it helps us make the metaphorical jump from the United Airlines event to Christ’s mission.

How do you respond when you are called on to “die to self” for the sake of those who will be lost if they don’t know Jesus…if they don’t have a seat on the plane? When you leave worship on Sunday do you spend more time talking about what you did or didn’t like about the service than you do the guests you didn’t recognize or take time to meet?  Do you think more about some issue you have with a brother or sister in Christ than you do your neighbor who is headed to hell?

Are you the crew member who sees a passenger as an inanimate object who can be disregarded, or are you a missionary who is praying, “God, give me one person to share your love with today?”

Be honest. Have you prayed this prayer, or something like it…today?  If not, that might explain your attitude, or your behavior.  Bad things happen when we are more worried about our own likes and dislikes than we are the eternal destination of the those who don’t know the Lord.

I am convinced if we pray for the lost, love the lost, and put the lost first, our behavior will change. Can we legally push people out of our way so the church can fulfill our personal desires?

Yes.

If that’s what we want.

If we think that’s what the Lord wants.

If we think that’s why we are here.

If we think that’s what the church should be.

Or it could be God is shouting from heaven…

“How dare they!”

I guess we must decide what kind of airline we are going to be.

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Growing Kingdom People – Why Dead Bats Matter to Christians

Why Dead Bats Matter to Christians

Have you checked the production information on your bagged salad yet? Most people have since hearing the troubling story of a dead bat some consumers found in their salad.  In this case, the term “consumer” should be taken literally.  That’s right.  Two poor people actually consumed a portion of their bagged salad before they discovered the decomposed bat.

If you are reading this devotion during a meal I apologize for this disgusting topic. I merely wish to point out the far-reaching impact this event has had on the company that produces the bagged salad and the retailers who sell it.  Every bag with a “best if sold by” date of April 14th and with the production number G089B19 (in case you have a personal concern), has been removed from store shelves.  Customers who purchased a salad involved in the recall should discard it immediately and contact the company for a refund.

Why?

Why should anyone be concerned about so many bagged salads when the dead bat was found in just one bag?

The Center for Disease Control says there probably is no reason to be concerned. But, just in case a small piece of the bat found its way into another bag, it is better to be safe than sorry.  You see, sometimes when dead animals decompose…

Oh, never mind. Let’s move on.

Jesus once talked about how a decomposing bat can contaminate an entire batch of salad. Ok, so maybe it wasn’t quite like that.  He didn’t mention anything about a bat.  Or a salad.  But He did say, “Watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees.” (Mark 8:15)  What did He mean?

Yeast is a single cell fungi we use in the baking process, most commonly to cause dough to rise through the release of carbon dioxide gas. It doesn’t take a lot of yeast to do the job.

The Apostle Paul used yeast as a metaphor for a number of evil practices, including false teaching, malice and wickedness (Galatians 5:9, 1 Corinthians 5:8), all beginning with small amounts of bad influence.

The yeast of the Pharisees, referenced by Jesus, focused on hypocrisy and legalism. These two are frequently found together when religious people burden others with unrealistic rules which they cleverly circumvent in their own lives.

Thus, both the Lord and the Apostle warn us about the impact of embracing small amounts of the wrong thing in our lives. One dead bat can lead to a total recall!  We should be aware of any foothold Satan secures in our hearts or minds that has the potential of growing into something bigger.  Certainly false teaching, malice, wickedness, hypocrisy and legalism are on the list.  But other destructive practices are as well.

We should flee from all sin, but if we sense we are nurturing something in our lives with the potential of growing into something bigger, it is best to deal with the problem while it is small. Doing so takes a good amount of humility and strength, but God has promised us He will show us a way of escape.

It is better to be able to look back on the eradication of a sin and say, “I’m glad we parted ways,” than to have regrets over what might have been.

If we ignore an evil influence in our lives, thinking it will never amount to anything serious, we could go…

Well…

…batty!

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Growing Kingdom People – And Maybe Christian Laettner

Maybe Christian Laettner

It happens every year. Someone shows a video of Christian Laettner’s shot that defeated Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional Final.  I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the video of Christian stomping a Kentucky player underneath the basket is never shown – but that’s just my unbiased observation.

I must admit, even though I wish that game between Duke and Kentucky had turned out differently, it was epic. But I am perplexed.  There have been other close games between great teams since 1992.  The Duke – Kentucky game wasn’t even a championship game.  So why is it special?

Certainly, rivalry and tradition comes to play. The fact that “the shot” occurred with 2.1 second on the clock is also impressive.

But still…

Here’s what I think. As amazing as the Duke – Kentucky finish was, I think the mystique surrounding it has more to do with the personal investment of fans and players than the game.  Please don’t misunderstand.  I am not saying fans and players no longer care about winning.  The shuffling of coaches after losing seasons is a testimony to the fact that winning is still the main thing.

Yet, there are other things. And it is these other things that don’t exist in a “one and done” era where players see one year of college play as a necessary hoop on their way to the NBA.  I am not promoting one path over the other.  I am simply stating what we all know: that players who finish their degrees and play for four years have a different level of commitment to their teams.  This doesn’t mean teams that rely on “one and done” players can’t win championships or that those who have four-year players are going to win championships.  It just explains why the Laettner shot that defeated Kentucky is still such a big deal after all of these years.  It occurred at a time when a player’s ultimate loyalty was to his team and his school, and it was generally assumed the NBA could wait.

So is there a spiritual lesson here?  Absolutely!

In the church I serve we call disciples of Jesus “Kingdom People.” Christians aren’t the first Kingdom People.  In Hebrews 11 there is a long list of people going all the way back to Abel who were “all in” when it came to letting God reign in their lives.  Some of them lived before Jesus came, but they were Kingdom People because they walked by faith and were willing to go where God asked them to go and do what God asked them to do.

I want you to know, I am “all in” when it comes to God’s kingdom, and I take what Satan is doing in people’s lives very personally. I take the defeats people experience because of sin personally.  I take people dying without Jesus personally.

Ok, so I can’t win the world. But that’s not the point.  I am a part of God’s kingdom and I know what He wants.  He wants the world to know Jesus.  I want the world to know Jesus.

It’s personal.

I hope it is personal for you too. I hope you weep over people who die without Jesus and look for people who need Jesus.  I hope you enter a worship space and look for people you don’t know who are sitting alone.  I hope you reach out to people who are hurting without Jesus.

Yea, that shot was personal. I still remember the dark cloud that settled over our family’s living room when it happened.

However, God didn’t send His Son to die for a basketball game.

But he did send Him to die for a basketball team.

And for Christian Laettner.

Yes, it is true. Some things are bigger than basketball.

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Growing Kingdom People – Refugee Status

Refugee Status

Last Sunday I shared some thoughts regarding refugees with our church family.  We were examining Pilate’s wife’s appeal on behalf of Jesus when she said, “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man” (Matthew 27:19).  Pilate’s wife was “suffering a great deal” as a result of a dream she had about Jesus.

The plight of refugees came to mind because they are innocent in their circumstances.  No, they are not sinless, and yes, some of them have probably made some bad choices that have made matters worse.  I feel certain there are also those who attempt to enter our country as refugees who seek to do harm.  But, as followers of Jesus, we can’t just bury our heads in the sand and ignore the refugee challenge because of these possibilities.  We also should resist characterizing refugees as wolves in sheep’s clothing who are nothing but a drain on our society.

Allow me to restate a simple philosophy that helps us understand our Christian calling as it relates to the potential risks refugees pose to our country.  In the Bible, we are told to honor government authorities because God has placed them over us and charged them with protecting us from bad people (1 Peter 2:12-14).  This doesn’t prohibit Christians from involvement in securing their homeland.  If any of us wish to participate in this way, I believe God will honor our efforts.

However, as those who have a higher calling, we have a special responsibility to our world.  Christ has commanded us to love our enemies, care for the hurting, and show compassion toward the unfortunate.  I don’t believe this is incompatible with government’s role.  While no system is perfect, Christians should live under the general assumption the refugees they meet have submitted to the legal processes necessary to gain entry into our country.  I am not so naïve as to think this is always the case, and certainly no one should turn a blind eye to something that doesn’t seem right.  But my main point is that a believer’s job is to show Christ’s love, not withhold it because he is suspicious of outsiders.

Here are some reason why reaching out to refugees is good for us all:

It is always good (perhaps I should say wise, necessary, eternally important) to be obedient to Christ’s command (Matthew 25:31-46).  Jesus didn’t just ask us to care for the needs of people who are like us, or even people who like us.  I believe Jesus directed us in this way because He didn’t want us to ever forget we are fundamentally paupers who have been made rich by His grace.  We aren’t as self-made as we think.  Not long ago I saw a Facebook post demeaning refugees because they couldn’t be trusted and were only here to take needed resources from our loved ones.  I was shocked because I recalled a time when the person who created the post contacted our church family for benevolent help with the shadow of bankruptcy hanging overhead.  God told Abraham (Genesis 12:2) he was going to bless him so he could be a blessing and Jesus (Matthew 10:8) told His disciples to share grace freely because they had received it freely.  Following Jesus’ command to care for those in need, keeps us from forgetting where we have come from.  We were once all refugees of sin in search of a haven of rest.

When we show compassion in the name of Jesus, we lead people to salvation.  I am not a proponent of a “social gospel” where we care for people in our community without any mention of sin and salvation.  Caring for people’s needs and omitting the gospel is like giving someone pain medication but refusing to remove a cancer that is the source of the problem.  However, when we love in Jesus’ name and proclaim Him, our compassion softens hearts, reduces suspicions and paves the way for grace (1 Peter 3:25).

When we care for refugees the world sees Jesus in His church.  The church is the body of Christ on earth.  When we collectively reach out to a people group with His love, the world notices.  Perhaps the world is not shocked to see us caring for those less fortunate.  After all, that’s what they expect the church to do.  But others will notice if we turn up our nose at those who are different and deny grace.  We remember the Good Samaritan who cared for a dying man on the side of the road, but we also remember the priest and Levite who passed by him.  When we attack refugees verbally, and toss God’s name in for good measure, the world is disgusted (James 2:8).

Are refugees in our community a concern?  Yes.  But when our concern for the things others might take from us is greater than our concern for what Christ might be calling us to do, we need to do some soul-searching.

Remember, once we were lumped in a broad category as well.  We were the “world.”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

 

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