Saturday, January 25, 2014

Generous for God

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. 

--  Matthew 10:8

It's the type of feel-good story that renews our faith in humanity. At least a little bit.

According to a recent article in the Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star newspaper, two men entered a local Cracker Barrel restaurant. They then requested the grumpiest server because they wanted to make him or her laugh. The hostess replied that there were no unhappy employees there, so she seated the gentlemen with the happiest one of them all.

The men proceeded to ask their 18-year-old server Tip(Abigail) a series of personal questions as they ate their meals. And what she told them was eye-opening. It turns out that after her mother had years earlier suffered a brain injury in a car accident, Abigail and her siblings were forced to spend years in abusive foster homes. (Their birth-father was an unfit parent and their foster-father is still in prison today.) And while her past was bleak, Abigail's future was on hold because she didn't have enough money to pay her second semester tuition at Trinity Bible College in North Dakota.

Intrigued by her upbeat demeanor, Abigail's customers asked her how she could be so happy in the face of such adversity.

"God has blessed me with a lot of things," she explained. "I'm doing good. That's all that matters to me."

After they finished their meal, one of the diners revealed to Abigail that he, too, once attended Trinity. He then proceeded to write three checks: one to the college for $5,000 (Abigail's tuition), another for $1,000 (for anything Abigail wanted) and another for $100 (a tip to split with the other Cracker Barrel server). It was a remarkable demonstration of generosity.

Celebrity billionaire Donald Trump says that how we treat waiters and waitresses reveals a lot about our character. His advice is simple: "Don't forget to leave a big tip." And there's considerable biblical support behind it. As Christ-followers, our faith grows as we continue to learn God's ways for living in the world and changing it for His Kingdom. It turns out that generosity is one of those remarkable character traits that we should acquire and put into action along the way. This is particularly relevant since we in 21st Century America are all so very rich--at least when compared to most of the planet's population. According to recent data from the World Bank, 1.4 billion people in the developing world (about 25%) live on less than $1.25 a day!

"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment," the Apostle Paul once instructed his protégé, Timothy. "Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share."

Centuries after Paul was inspired to write those words, Christ-followers continue to be called to be generous with the time, talents and possessions that God gives them. After all, our generosity brings joy to others because we're thinking more about the recipient than ourselves. What's more, our generosity brings joy to God. That's because we become more like Him when we're rich toward others.

And why not? After all, God is the ultimate role model for generosity: 

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son...

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Greater Good

Do your work with enthusiasm. Work as if you were serving the Lord, not as if you were serving only men and women.

--  Ephesians 6:7

John Glenn accepted challenges that few would dare to even consider. The Ohio native joined the Marines, became a fighter pilot and completed nearly 150 combat missions in World War II and the Korean War. Glenn also set a world speed record as a military test pilot and later became an executive at Royal Crown Cola. Years later and still hungering for the challenges of public service, he successfully entered the cutthroat world of national politics through his 1974 election to the United States Senate.

Such accomplishments alone would shine bright on any resume or job application. But Glenn is best known for something else: saying yes to the challenge of becoming the first American to orbit the earth. Asked later what he was thinking as he sat high atop the NASA rocket that would blast him into space, he replied, "You're thinking you're sitting on top of the most complex machine ever built by man, with a million separate components, all supplied by the lowest bidder."

John Glenn's willingness to accept great challenges made him a national hero. But while most of us will never become a senator, travel to outer space or run a corporation, we'll still face crucial tests in life. They're challenges that demand hard answers. Are we willing to sacrifice our own short-sighted plans in favor of God's will and direction?

God's call comes in many different forms and often touches our career, family, money--or just about anything else we hold dear. And it can also defy human logic. Let's consider the familiar Old Testament story about Abraham and Isaac. After years of fervent prayer, Abraham's wife Sarah finally became pregnant and gave birth to Isaac--even though the couple was very old. Abraham and Sarah were thrilled and grateful for their long-awaited child. But soon came God's call.

"Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah," God told Abraham. "Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."

It was a shocking demand. But it also seemed senseless to Abraham because God would never ask for something so precious. (Or would He?)

Even so, Abraham obeyed God in faith, took Isaac to Moriah and built a sacrificial altar. But there's a happy ending to the story. Just as Abraham raised his knife to slay Isaac, one of God's angels called out.

"Don't hurt the boy or harm him in any way!" the angel said. "Now I know that you truly obey God, because you were willing to offer him your only son."
Sacrificing our perceived self-interests by venturing into the unknown can be scary under any circumstance. We need to remember, however, that God's plans and promises--the "Big Picture"--always extend beyond our immediate line of sight. Human knowledge is limited. But what we do know is that He'll always provide for us when we say yes to Him. And not necessarily with what we want or expect, but with what we really need.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who leads us and makes our faith complete. He endured the shame of being nailed to a cross, because he knew that later on he would be glad he did. Now he is seated at the right side of God's throne!

--  Hebrews 12:2

The Christ-follower's faith-journey is often compared to a hike along an uneven, winding road or a perilous climb up a craggy mountainside. We can never know what's around the bend or over the next hill. Our vision is limited. And it's all too easy to lose our footing on the steep inclines and fall back a little.

A faith-journey is also like a narrow, rocky Focustrail along a canyon's edge. There's little margin for error. But there are usually signs that warn travelers to stick close to the path. Unfortunately, our tendency is to take our eyes from the destination and choose an attractive detour. Alternative life-routes may offer the prospect of fun and adventure for a while. But unless these ways mirror God's ways, the ultimate result is failure and disaster.

"There is a way that appears to be right," Proverbs 14:12 tells us. "But in the end it leads to death."

God--like a warning sign posted by a waterfall--urges us to stay on the true path that leads to life. He knows that life's problems, temptations and tragedies await us around the corner. It's when we go our own way that we trip headlong after compromising our principles with the world's values. And instead of taking responsibility for our actions, we ask God why He permitted the predictable outcome.

Rather than literal boulders, hairpin turns and washed-out bridges, the hazards along our faith-journey typically involve issues like unemployment, broken relationships, missed credit card payments and chronic illness. To persevere through these obstacles, our call is to stay close to our Guide--and always remember that we worship a God who's much greater than our circumstances. He's led us safely through the rough times before...and He can do so again today. And through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, God has already overcome the greatest life-hazard of them all: sin.

Have you lost your way along your faith-journey? To get back on the path, focus on Jesus' lead...and then follow Him home:

"I am the way and the truth and the life," He assures us. "No one comes to the Father except through me."

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A New Resolution

"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?" God asks. "I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."

--  Exodus 5:4

It's often an uncertain economy. Sometimes it's a midlife crisis. But whatever the reason, people from coast to coast are reinventing their life's work--and ultimately--who they are. In his book What Should I Do with the Rest 2014of My Life?, author Bruce Frankel highlights several remarkable individuals who turned their back on the past to do something completely different. Thomas Dwyer--a 70-something former U.S. Intelligence officer--joined a dance troupe. And then there's Deborah Jack, who left her two-decade-long career in financial publishing after a layoff...and went into business for herself with a Fetch! Pet Care franchise.

"As much as I loved my Wall Street clients, they never jumped up and down when I walked in the door the way my clients do now," Deborah says. "This is a great business. I never have any bad days."
These success stories are nothing less than inspirational. But even so, many folks avoid new things--particularly as they get older. However, big changes can reap even bigger rewards. And as the saying goes, people often don't see the light until they feel the heat.

There's no argument about that in the Bible. In Genesis, we read that God told Abraham--who was an old man at the time--to leave his beloved country for a far-off land. And because he obeyed, Abraham became the father of Israel. Moses also had a midlife crisis that drastically altered his career path. Raised in the Egyptian royal family, he fled the country after killing a cruel taskmaster, and then spent decades in obscurity as a shepherd. But God never forgot Moses. And He used His unlikely servant to switch gears yet again. This time, it was for Moses' return to Egypt to tell the Pharaoh--the world's most powerful ruler--to set God's people free.

God may or may not call you to make drastic changes to your career or address. But He does call on everyone to make a profound spiritual change--one that lets us see through His eyes and take on His perspective. As Jesus puts it, we all must be born again.

The word-picture the Apostle Paul paints in the Book of Ephesians is that we must strip off the old self and put on the new--much like exchanging filthy rags for a beautiful new wardrobe. But how do we do that with so much distraction and discouragement around us? It all begins by admitting that we're fatally flawed individuals who have failed our Creator, our neighbors and ourselves. And since there's nothing we can do to save ourselves from the resulting fallout, the next step is to acknowledge through faith that we need a Savior. 

The only One who can save us is Jesus Christ--the One who died in our place to pay for our sins in full. After all, we can never be good enough or perfectly follow a set of laws to meet His impossibly-high standards. It's only through Jesus Himself that we can become what we need to be: a new creation.

The timing of this crucial truth is hardly coincidental. So as we begin a new year, let's do more than make half-hearted promises about changing for the better. Let's instead start 2014 with a new resolution--and a new life--that redefines who we are and how we'll make the world a better place.