The religious culture in which I was reared in the great American Southwest was dominated by Southern Baptists and fundamentalists. Much of that religion was “Thou shalt NOT!” Thou shalt not drink alcohol, smoke, or dance. Some added “Thou shalt nots” to movies, lipstick, and co-educational school rooms. All greatly disapproved of sex. Women were expected to obey their husbands.

As I became more knowledgeable about Jesus, I realized that Jesus was not about narrow-mindedness, harsh rules and condemnation of others, but was more committed to love, service, generosity, giving, and healing. He was about lifting the downtrodden, forgiving “sinners,” and inspiring people. While Jesus did warn about the consequences of perverse behavior and negative thinking, He called us to be “children of God.” Our role is to think of ourselves that way; to see others, too, as children of God. We are to think and behave in a fashion that is true to our “pedigree” as children of God.

Today, we celebrate “Derby Sunday.” Pilgrim Chapel is likely one of the very few congregations to celebrate after a sporting event. But, in some ways, the Kentucky Derby reflects Christian values. The Derby is surely THE most popular and celebrated horse race in this country. As such, it requires the very HIGHEST COMMITMENT from owners, horses, jockeys, trainers, and all others involved. The most successful horses are usually those with fine PEDIGREES and that have trained hard. Each horse in the race runs that race but once. There are no “do-overs.” Race fans celebrate.

To be a Christian is to have Christ as your leader. It is to take your attitudes, your thinking and your behavior from Him. That means your HIGHEST COMMITMENT. It means to claim and to own your PEDIGREE as a child of God. It means to give your very best ONCE (NOW); there will be no “do-overs” of this moment, and there may be no tomorrow at all. Thus, we are called to lives that are positive, joyful, serving, giving, helping, healing, lifting and inspiring others. And, life—this divine gift of God—is to be CELEBRATED. Praying, meditating, listening, singing, dancing, eating and drinking are all elements of the celebrative life.

Each of these elements is endorsed in the Bible. And, while there are other Bible passages full of condemnation and judgment, they are rarely helpful. Enlightened men and women have learned that what we concentrate on…. and practice shapes us to become what we are.

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