Growing Kingdom People – To My Friend in Pain

To My Friend in Pain,

I cannot imagine how you felt when you heard the shocking news of the loss of your loved one.  Perhaps the world stood still for you, as a crushing weight of unimaginable grief drove you to your knees and tears streamed down like a flood.

Some pain lasts for a moment, but not the broken heart.  It remains open, twinging at every new and unwelcome piece of information.  We rehearse the news that breaks our hearts, hoping that at last we will realize there has been a mistake.  But, as the moments and hours pass, we embrace reality, and darkness overtakes us.

This week I have thought of you often.  I wonder if there is any life left in you.  If you can sense your surroundings and receive comfort from your friends and family.  If not, please do not be frightened.  You will feel again.

I wish I could answer questions you might have.  An investigation might reveal certain facts about a sequence of events, but we are still left to wonder “why?”  Or perhaps, more accurately, “why not?”  Why could there not have been an intervention.  An interruption in the order of things, leading to a better conclusion.

For now, the pain remains.

While I have few answers, I offer lessons learned from my personal journey.  Our paths are unique, yet, we pass many of the same signposts along the way.

Signpost #1: We are never really alone.  Though others surround us, it is easy to feel isolated as few, if any can fully understand our suffering.  Still, they are there.  People who love us walk with us and the God who knows us watches over us.  We should not fear the sound of silence, but cling to the reality of presence and wait for our senses to return.

Signpost #2: We still have purpose.  Our purposes, together with our hopes and dreams are woven into the fabric of our relationships.  When the people we love leave us, we are left to think our future has vanished.  While it is true the tapestry of our lives may be torn, the God of comfort and creativity can weave a new pattern.  The damage will always be visible.  It should be.  But it will not prevent us from continuing our journey

Signpost #3: A thin veil separates us from our loved ones.  I do not understand all of the nuances of eternity.  The Bible tells me when I am absent from the body, I am home with the Lord.  But where is the Lord?  Indeed, He abides in me through the presence of the Holy Spirit, but He also sits at the right of the Father in glory.  If I am with Him when I leave this life, then my loved ones who die in Him are there now.  And if He is there and also in me, then the distance between this reality and the other must be closer than it first appears.  If nothing else, the Lord draws the two points together as we await the rolling back of the heavens like a scroll and the full revelation of His glory.  We cannot touch our loved ones who have left us, but the One who touches us holds them.

Signpost #4: Indescribable joy awaits us.  No, we do not suddenly feel the burden of grief lifted from our shoulders, nor should we feel there is something wrong with our faith if we do not.  Still, the shadow of unimaginable pain cannot forever cloud the vision of indescribable joy.  Our joy is not indescribable because it has overcome the pain, but because it can be found in the midst of the pain.  Joy is the product of hope restored.  It is the reclaiming of our senses and the awareness of our connection with the Father.  Joy sustains us.  It restores us.  It opens our eyes to something new in the presence of our broken dreams.

The signposts on our journey of pain may not be embraced at once.  At first, it is probably enough to observe them.  To know they exist.  Then, in time, they will guide us to a place of resolution.  And from that place we will resume our travels.

I will pray for you my friend.  Your pain does not make you less of a believer.  Instead, it proves you are human, limited by your earthly perspective.  Hold on, you who are loved.  Hold on until morning.  You are not alone, and the signposts of your journey remind you there is a better day.

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Growing Kingdom People – Big Mistakes in Bible Times

Big Mistakes in Bible Times

Perhaps you are aware, our political system is currently in disarray following some unpopular decisions at home and abroad.  I have been thinking about the implications poor judgement has for all of us, and these examples from the Bible that illustrate the point:

Adam and Eve were given a choice in the Garden of Eden.  They could have obeyed God and lived in paradise forever, but instead they rebelled and were cast out.  God redeemed Adam and Eve and helped them pick up the pieces of their tragedy, but the trajectory of their lives and our world were forever changed.

In a fit of anger, Cain rose up against his brother Abel in a field.  Cain was jealous because God had preferred Abel’s sacrifice over his own.  There were many ways Cain could have processed his jealousy, but he chose violence and killed Abel.  Relationships between human beings have never been the same.

When King Solomon died, his older, wiser counselors recommended to his son and successor, Rehoboam, that he back off on his public projects.  Solomon had taxed his kingdom too hard, and it was time for a break.  However, some of Rehoboam’s young buddies had a different opinion.  They believed he should be more demanding of his nation, to show people who was boss!  The plan backfired and the ten northern tribes of Israel succeeded.  The nation of Israel never recovered.

In the early church, a husband and wife by the name of Ananias and Sapphira decided to embellish a contribution they had made to the church.  The gift they gave was theirs to keep or give, but their lie threatened the purity of the early church, prompting God to strike them dead.  Yup.  It really happened.  Be careful when you report your charitable contributions on your tax return.

During the time of the early church, there was a king by the name of Herod Agrippa.  Herod was the grandson of Herod the Great, the Herod who wanted to kill baby Jesus.  Herod Agrippa was extremely arrogant, and one day he dressed in some flashy royal clothing and emerged to make a speech to his people.  The crowd shouted, “The voice of god, and not of a mortal.”  But an angel of the Lord struck Herod down as he was speaking, and the Bible says because he didn’t honor God, he was eaten by worms and died.  In that order.  If only Herod had hired a smarter speech writer.

There are many other bad decisions found within the pages of the Bible.  Many of them became pivotal points in history.  It is very hard to take back a bad decision, which means we should seek wisdom and good counsel when we are presented with important choices.  The more arrogant we become and the less willing we are to listen to others, the more likely we are to do something stupid.

I am reminded of Proverbs 11:14: “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure.” (Proverbs 11:14) Smart people can go far on their own intellect and experience, but sooner or later, without wise counsel, they will fail.

The good news is, God accepts us when we make bad decisions, and redeems us for His purposes.  But if we can limit the collateral damage we cause in the lives of others, life will be even better.

We all make mistakes, but those who refuse to admit their mistakes and listen to wisdom are just plain…

…well

…”mistaken.”

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Growing Kingdom People – Living with Control Freaks

Living with Control Freaks

I’ve been studying the subject of control.  Specifically, I am trying to understand people with control issues.

All of us can be controlling at times, especially when we sense our lives are out of control. The best outlet for our need to control is a healthy behavior that gives us some mastery over our circumstances. Examples might include exercise and the completion of manual tasks, as long as we don’t slip into an obsessive pattern.

Classic signs of a controlling personality or “control freak” include:

  • Jealousy when others establish relationships or participate in activities with people the controlling person believes himself to be in relationship with.
  • The need to tell exaggerated stories in which the controlling individual is the hero who saves others from life situations.
  • Frustration when posed with simple questions. Controlling people don’t want to share their processes or plans openly as it takes away their ability to change their narrative to suit their personal needs.
  • A tendency to share negative perceptions and information about others, even to the point of fabrication, while downplaying other people’s hard work and accomplishments.
  • Intentional or unintentional sabotaging of the efforts of others to prevent situations in which the controller might be overshadowed by others’ success.

I find it interesting those who are truly in control don’t feel a need to control. This is why classy sports coaches are able to honor their teams and their opponents after bitter defeats. They are in control of their person and know they will regroup and find success in the future.

Perhaps this is why the only One (the Godhead) who can be said to have complete control, has the ability to pursue His vision while permitting others to exercise free will and rebellion. God (and the Son and Spirit) is in control. His eternal plans are unchangeable, except in those areas where He has providentially permitted free choice.

At times, it may appear as though God has lost control. But when evil overwhelms us and sin damages our souls, God remains on the throne. He guides us through our valleys, cleanses us of unrighteousness and promised us an ultimate victory.

Ironically, although we want a God who controls undesirable events in our lives, we resist divine authority over our unholy behaviors and diseases of the heart. Then, when our sinful behavior causes us pain, we blame God for letting us suffer(or others for not taking more responsibility for our personal spiritual journey).

If God controlled everything in my life I wouldn’t need to let the Holy Spirit develop self-control in me, or to pray for wisdom and discernment. Come to think of it, God may be the least controlling person in my life.

And the only One who is truly in control.

It is up to me to decide whether I am going to play the freak or trust the Father.

 

 

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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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