Friday, January 30, 2009

Living Passionately

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come
that they may have life, and have it to the full.

-- John 10:10

It’s said that if you find a job that lets you do what you love, you’ll never work another day in your life.

That’s a good observation when it comes to career planning. But it’s also true when it comes to life in general. And Jesus agrees. In fact, we read in the Bible that He came to give us life, and to give it abundantly. This shows that God doesn’t want us to live each day just by going through the motions in a dull, meaningless existence. But how many of us do just that? Too often, it seems like life is just about getting up, fighting commuter traffic, spending eight or more hours on the job, eating dinner and then going to bed. One day fades into the next, month after month and year after year. And then the day finally comes when we look back at our lives and wonder what happened.

What’s the answer? The first thing is to grasp and accept the fact that our time on this planet is limited. That’s true whether you’re in your 20s or 90s. One day, God will call you home. So since our deaths are inevitable, don’t let that day come with regrets about what could have been.

Instead, live each day passionately.

That’s quite a mind-boggling concept. One way to start is by living like you actually know the day and the hour of your passing. This will reveal your true priorities and spotlight the people, causes and activities that mean the most in your life. They’re your passions.

But one or two disclaimers: Before pursuing any particular passion, be sure that it’s God-honoring. And what invigorates you also needs to last into eternity. For instance, Jesus’ passion was always to do God’s will. Jesus even went so far as to explain that His words weren’t His own, but were His Father’s. He also explained His actions by remarking that He did only what He saw His Father doing.

“Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?” Jesus asked. “The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”

Discovering your life’s passion might be obvious for some people but elusive for others. Ask God to reveal His will for you in this critical area of your life. And once He has, pursue it whole-heartedly in the time He’s given you. And then let that passion become contagious – so much so that those who aren’t Christ-followers will ask what (or really Who) drives you.

Are you living a passionate life – one that’s God-honoring and abundant? If not, don’t let could have become should have. Your some day is right now.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Doing Right With What’s Left

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.

-- Ecclesiastes 5:10

Money talks. And often it just says, “Good Bye.”

According to the Federal Reserve Board of San Francisco, that’s the reality in millions of American homes. Families live paycheck-to-paycheck as they dip into savings to cover the minimum interest payments on their maxed-out Visa and MasterCards.

We’ve also embraced a risky buy-now-pay-later approach to household finances. And the nation’s personal savings rate – the amount of money remaining after taxes – is dangerously low. The Commerce Department reports a 2006 personal savings rate of negative 1 percent, the worst showing in nearly 75 years! Obviously, this dismal performance will reap a bitter harvest as the nation’s population ages and approaches its retirement years.

What’s the cause of this financial mess? There are actually several. First, Americans have become more productive and are generally earning more. When they believe their increased incomes are likely to continue, they’re willing to spend more. Call it the wealth effect: folks who become richer or think they’re richer tend to spend more. And let’s not forget our access to easy credit. How many of us have fallen for those low introductory interest rate offers that flood our mailboxes each week?

So how can we climb out of this ever-widening money pit? As with the important things in life, it all comes down to priorities.

First, set aside the first 10 percent or more of your income for God’s work by giving it to the church. This tithe sets our priorities by putting God first in our lives and focusing our faith on Him to meet our needs. Next, set aside the next 10 percent or more for personal savings. Major expenses – like a leaky roof, auto repairs or doctors’ bills – are bound to happen. (And don’t forget about retirement!) But if you save little by little over a long enough period, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how your money has grown. And it will be there when you need it most.

This all leads up to the obvious question: After you’ve given to God and then to yourself, how do you handle the rest of your income?

The specific answer varies by person and his or her unique situation. But there are some general rules of thumb for being good managers of our resources. First, we need to discipline our desires and be satisfied with what God has given us. Buying the newest, shiniest and most state-of-the-art, must-have item is rarely necessary if last year’s model still works fine. We also need to acknowledge the reality of our situation. If we’re spending more than our income just to keep up with the neighbors, a good reality check can put things into much-needed perspective. Do you always need that $4 cup of designer coffee? Finally, draw up a specific plan by budgeting your money toward what counts most. (And then stick with it!)

When it comes to money, it really is all about priorities. How we handle what God gives us is a tangible test of our trust and willingness to make Him our Number One. And if we show Him we can handle just a little while honoring Him in the process, He can use us to advance His Kingdom on Earth by putting us in charge of much more than we can ever imagine.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Saving Grace

Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.

-- Proverbs 13:11

“Money in the bank is like toothpaste in the tube,” writer Earl Wilson once observed. “Easy to take out, hard to put back.”

Isn’t that too true? The fact is that we live in a buy-now-pay-later culture. Millions of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck and spend their money as soon as they get it. And if an unexpected expense (or the latest electronic gadget) comes along, it’s second nature to put it on the trusty MasterCard or American Express and worry about the bill later. So with such an unrealistic approach to money and finances, is it any wonder that foreclosures and bankruptcies have reached unprecedented levels?

Deep down, we know the importance of saving for the future. Just as we need to purposefully set aside the first portion of our income for God’s purposes, we also need to follow that by paying ourselves. That means putting predetermined amounts in the bank, rainy day funds or perhaps toward investments like stocks, bonds and annuities. If that sage advice sounds a little boring and a bit too much like work, it can be. But think of common sense money management as like regular workouts at the gym. There’s always a certain amount of pain starting out. But practice it long enough and your bank account will definitely see the gain.

During His brief but world-changing ministry, Jesus taught His first followers about the proper relationship with God, family, neighbors and even enemies. But Christ also spoke extensively about money-related issues. In fact, the Bible is full of financial wisdom that’s as applicable today as it was centuries ago. So what do the Scriptures tell us about savings and fiscal discipline?

The first step is to give the first 10 percent or more of our income to the church. This honors God by actively promoting His purposes on earth and demonstrating our faith in Him to always meet our needs. Never forget that God can do more with the remaining 90 percent of our income than we can do with all of it. The second step is to appreciate all that God has already given us. If we foster an attitude of gratitude, we’re unlikely to spend what we don’t have on unaffordable material possessions that we don’t really need in the first place. Next, we need to attack debt and anticipate tough times. That means paying off those credit cards with their sky-high interest rates and setting money aside for the tough times and unexpected expenses. These steps can help your savings accumulate little by little over time – particularly when your money earns compound interest.

Above all, be rich toward God and invest in the eternal. Saving for the future is certainly important. But also look for ways to put your money to work promoting God’s interests. That might mean giving toward a special church initiative, supporting overseas missionaries or maybe even starting your own community ministry! Ask God in prayer to show you what to do and clear a path to let you do it. He knows our motivations and rewards those who honor Him.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Giving from the Heart

"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it."

-- Malachi 3:10

The statistics are literally heart stopping.

According to the American Heart Association, coronary heart disease (CHD) causes about 1 of every 5 deaths in the United States. For 2009, the respected health organization estimates that 785,000 Americans will have a new coronary attack, and about 470 000 will have a recurrent attack. And recent mortality rate data reveal that nearly 2,400 Americans die of cardiovascular disease (CVD) each day. That’s an average of one death every 37 seconds!

And there are more sobering numbers. About every 25 seconds, an American will have a coronary event -- and about every minute, someone will die from one.

It’s obvious that our nation faces a cardiac crisis. But there’s another serious heart problem that doesn’t involve cigarette smoke, cholesterol management or low fat diets:

Far too many Christ-followers lack a heart that’s willing to give according to the resources God has richly given them. And when they do open their pocketbooks, it’s often done grudgingly.

But that’s not the example God has given us through His Word, the Bible. If there’s a two-word lesson that we can learn from God’s principles about money and possessions, it’s be generous.

We worship a God of generosity. And He wants us to follow His example and spread His Kingdom -- even here in Central Virginia! One way to do that is to follow the Biblical principle of the tithe, which means giving the first 10 percent of our income back to Him through the Church. Of course, the God who created the universe with a Word hardly needs our money. But following this savvy practice accomplishes several purposes. In addition to enabling the church to better spread the good news about Jesus Christ, help Christ-followers grow spiritually and benefit our community, generous, purposeful giving shows how much we differ from society. The world teaches that cash is king and that he who has the most toys wins. Money and possessions are its god. But Christ-followers are to give away what will rust and fade away for something much more permanent and valuable. Our Lord also knows our inner nature; if we didn’t give to others, our selfish natures would take over.

There are many reasons why Christ-followers fail to give to their potential. For some, it’s a lack of sound Biblical teaching on the matter. For others, it might be a lack of financial planning or even debt issues. And unfortunately, basic selfishness often figures into the equation.

“Who has known the mind of the Lord,” we’re asked in the Book of Romans. And that’s a great question when it comes to money. After all, what if He had told us to give 80 percent of our income and live on the remaining 20? But He didn’t. Instead, we should ask ourselves if we believe that our God – the one who raised His own Son from the dead – is able to let us do more with 90 cents than we ever could on our own with the whole dollar.

The Bible doesn’t advocate gambling. But when it comes to money and possessions, this is one time when putting your bottom dollar on God’s abilities is the safest bet of all.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

All Hands On Deck

Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, so that his people would learn to serve
and his body would grow strong.

-- Ephesians 4:11-12

Are you one of the millions of people who vacationed on the high seas last year? Whether you sailed to the Caribbean, Alaska, Bermuda or the Greek Isles, the voyage was probably as memorable as some of the ports of call. That's because modern cruise ships are literally 24-hour floating cities populated by thousands of fun-seeking passengers from all over the world. Rising several stories above the water, many large vessels entertain their guests with onboard movie theaters, gourmet restaurants, bustling nightclubs and full service gymnasiums. Some cruise ships even have basketball courts, rock climbing walls and miniature golf courses. And if you're looking for shopping bargains in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, the duty-free store is on Deck 10. Then take the glass and chrome elevator five decks down for your haircut, massage and manicure.

Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, one of the world's largest cruise ships, is over 1,100 feet long and serves more than 4,300 guests at full occupancy. Each day, its restaurants serve thousands of meals and its laundry cleans just as many towels, sheets and table linens. And behind it all are hundreds of talented, hardworking crewmembers - all dedicated to making their guests' vacations as fun and memorable as possible. A ship's crew includes an army of stewards, cooks, mechanics and even daycare attendants - and that's not to mention everyone assigned to navigating the ship. From captain to cabin boy, every crewmember has a critical role in helping their vessel sail effortlessly through both calm seas and choppy waters.

Like a full service cruise ship, the church also needs dedicated people to help it operate efficiently and grow its passenger list. That's because a church is much more than a group of people who meet on Sundays to listen to the pastor and sing along with the musicians. The Bible tells us that God has given every Christ-follower certain gifts, talents and resources for advancing His Kingdom on Earth. Some of the uses are obvious - like singers and musicians serving in the praise band. Others have important gifts with behind-the-scenes applications - such as bookkeepers or office managers who help the church use its resources wisely. For every gift, talent and resource employed in the secular world, there's also an application for strengthening the body of believers known collectively as The Church.

Jesus' earliest followers were a diverse crew from many walks of life. Some were fishermen and one was a tax collector. Even Jesus Himself had carpentry skills. Now, 2,000 years later, Christ still seeks followers willing to represent Him in our community and serve others by using what God has already given them.

"Come, follow me," Jesus once told fishermen Peter and Andrew, "and I will make you fishers of men." If we're willing to follow the first Christ-followers' examples and open ourselves to the great possibilities, Jesus will no doubt use us to lead and strengthen His Church. It's up to each of us to respond to His simple - yet radical - invitation.