Growing Kingdom People – The Meaning of the Black Cat

The Meaning of the Black Cat

Black cats have generally been considered as omens of bad luck or an indication of a satanic presence. In the time of the Pilgrims, some thought black cats were “familiars” (demons) in league with witches. However, in other cultures, black cats have been considered a sign of good luck, or either good or bad luck, depending on which direction a particular cat was walking.

This past Monday night, with six minutes to go in the NFL Cowboys/Giants game, a black cat appeared on the field. Immediately, the commentators began speculating about its meaning for the home team, the Cowboys. It appeared to me the cat was walking mostly from left to right, which according to folklore, means good luck is coming. The Cowboys won the game, so I guess it all fits.

I am not a superstitious person, and I don’t think the Cowboys win had anything to do with a black cat.  Well, perhaps it did if the Giants believe in folklore and allowed the cat incident to influence their play.

Regardless, I am intrigued by the human bent toward superstition.  Please know that I have no desire to condemn others for innocent routines they believe make them more successful.  People are probably not going to be led into the occult by claiming to have a lucky golf club, a special coin in their pocket or a favorite hat.  More problematic, I believe, is the tendency to project superstitious thinking on our relationship with God.

Some examples include:

  • The belief we have displeased God when we encounter trials.
  • The belief we are doing something right when we experience good things.
  • The belief God will reward us with health and wealth if we claim it to be so.
  • The belief we are more blessed than others because we are better people.

I am not suggesting there is no connection between our actions and God’s blessings.  Or that God doesn’t reward us when we are faithful.  There is no doubt in my mind we will find greater fulfillment in life if we obey God.  On the other hand, it is possible to do everything right and still suffer.  It is also important to trust God when life doesn’t make sense, and when we feel we are being treated unfairly.

In truth, this is not how a walk with God works.  Jesus once said His Father makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and unjust (Matthew 5:45).  God doesn’t promise an easy life, but He does promise to bless us.

Superstitious people interpret God’s love in light of their circumstances, and they act in godly ways to get what they want.  The danger in this pattern of behavior is that we might believe things about God that are untrue, based on our circumstances, and we will only act in godly ways when there is something we want.

God is not a God of “lucky charms”.  He is a God of blessings, seen and unseen, present and future.  God even uses bad things He didn’t cause to help us grow in our faith.  When I view God through the lens of superstition, I try to control Him for my own purpose.  When I see Him as a faithful God who blesses me in ways that serve His purposes, I learn to roll with the punches and watch for His hand to move in everything.

This is not the same as watching a black cat waltz across a football field.  I’m not saying God can’t work through a cat.  He has used animals before.

But I think we can all agree the cat on the Dallas gridiron didn’t appear to be supernaturally led.  Had he been, he would have lifted a paw to toward heaven when he walked into the end zone.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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…



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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…


…get his ass in gear.

Sharpie Pen that!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment