Saturday, October 25, 2014

Instant Replay

I, I am the One who erases all your sins, for my sake;
       I will not remember your sins.

-- Isaiah 43:25

There are few do-overs in the game of life. But sometimes there are in the game of golf. For example, if a golfer slices his shot into the woods or a deep sand trap, he might ask his opponent for a mulligan--a chance to try again.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could get a mulligan every time we fail in life? Like for the times we speak rudely to a family member or cut off another motorist in traffic. Or when we gossip about someone at church or "forget" to report some income on our tax forms. Better still, what about a do-over for that night (20 years ago) when we shoplifted on a dare from a friend? Big or small, our failures in life can weigh heavy on our hearts. We just can't stop thinking about them and all of the "would-haves-should-haves."

If we could only erase those ugly moments in time and start over with a clean slate! Yes, every one of us can use a few mulligans.

The Apostle Peter understood this common desire. Although he was one of Jesus' earliest apostles, witnessed his Master's miracles and even walked on water--until his faith ran out--the bold one called The Rock failed the big test. Peter had earlier assured Jesus that he would stand by Him no matter what...and even die if necessary. But only hours after Jesus' betrayal and arrest, Peter denied even knowing Jesus. And not just once...but three times!

That's pretty sobering stuff. But the good news for us is that God is well aware that "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." We can find His solution to this universal problem throughout the Bible.

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness," we read in 1 John. And this passage from Proverbs lends us even more reassurance: "He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy."

A popular bumper sticker sums it all up. "Christians aren't perfect..." it reads, "just forgiven." It's when we desperately need a mulligan to cover our failures--whether on or off the golf course--that we can always count on God's undeserved kindness. We just need to confess our shortfalls to Jesus in faith.

The result is a clean scorecard: a complete and total do-over.

"How far has the Lord taken our sins from us?" the Psalmist asks. "Farther than the distance from east to west!"

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Keep the Change

Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely,
who conducts his affairs with justice.

-- Psalm 112:5
It's both a newsroom cliché and a sign that there's still some good left in the world.

Every once in a while we come across one of those feel-good stories about a customer who leaves an overly-generous tip for their waiter or waitress. This past ChangeApril, for example, The Daily Mail reported that a diner in Clinton, NJ, added a $1,000 tip to his $80 tab because he heard that the server (a fellow dog-lover) faced a huge vet bill after her pet swallowed a ball. And just a few years ago, another newspaper claimed that billionaire Donald Trump left a $10,000 tip on his $82 meal tab. 

"How you treat your waiter or waitress reveals a lot about your character," explains The Donald. "So don't forget to leave a big tip."

He calls this principle his Waiter Rule.

Whether Donald Trump's alleged dinnertime exploits were true or just another urban legend, his Waiter Rule is real food for thought. And there's also 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. And this is particularly relevant since we modern-day Americans are all so very rich--at least when compared to most of the world's population. According to recent data from the World Bank, about 2 billion people live on less than $2 a day!

This statistic should put our individual financial situations--bleak or otherwise--into perspective. Millions of Americans may be unemployed, on welfare or receiving food stamps, but that still reflects incredible wealth against the backdrop of the poverty found in Africa, India or even Mexico. So how should we "millionaires" respond to this reality?

"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 told his protégé, Timothy. "Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share."

We can never out-give our Creator with our riches, even if our last name happens to be Trump. But we can positively impact our friends, neighbors and even total strangers through our generosity. It's a biblical Waiter Rule that not only brings joy to others, it brings joy to God.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

One for the Money

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

-- Matthew 6:24 

The essence of being a Christ-follower is accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior. So rather than following the world's wisdom about life, relationships, possessions and money, Christ-followers see these things in a very different light. That's because our minds begin to transform as soon as we follow Jesus in earnest. What once seemed so valuable and desirable loses its luster and fades into oblivion. The world's silver and gold begins to rust.

If you're a Christ-follower, you've Money Keyaccepted God's offer to meet all of your needs in every area of your life. That covers deeply intimate issues involving significance, happiness, value and self-worth--and of course--our money and possessions. Unfortunately, too many of us depend on the size of our bank accounts, 401ks and stock portfolios for security. We struggle for years to build up a nest egg. But even when we make it to the top by the world's standards, the so-called victory turns out to be a worthless idol that gains us nothing once we leave this life.

As the saying goes, money is a fine servant but a terrible master. We start confusing our self-worth with our net worth. And it's then that we turn good but neutral things (money and possessions) into god things.

So who's the master of your money, time...and stuff?

It's a question with eternal implications. After all, what we do with our God-given resources is an ongoing test of how we put the True Master first in our lives. As Christ-followers, we're to recognize that ultimately, everything belongs to God. We're simply caretakers while we're here on earth. And no matter the size of our bank account, we can't take even a dime with us. We must therefore ask ourselves if we're spending our money on the world's definition of success or investing it where it will make an eternal difference.

Money and possessions aren't evil. It's only when we abuse them through bad choices and priorities that they can become a slave-master that pushes God aside. But Jesus has a better way. He sees these gifts as tools for helping other people, achieving justice and spreading His Kingdom here on earth. And besides, it's all His, anyway. So let's open ourselves to His will and use our God-given resources as He sees fit.

"Well done, good and faithful servant," Jesus says. "You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!"

May these be the words that greet us as we enter His Kingdom. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Generous Toward God

"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'

-- Matthew 25:23 

Compared with most of the world's population, Americans are incredibly rich. When we're hungry for a snack, all we have to do is walk to the kitchen for some fresh fruit--or more realistically--a bag of chips and a tub of Rocky Road ice cream. And if we're running low on supplies, a quick trip to the supermarket or gourmet shop fills up the fridge in no time. We quite literally enjoy an embarrassment of riches.

Even Americans who receive government Gift Cardassistance are rich by the world's standards because they may have excess time or money to share with others. However, regardless of our place on the economic ladder, Christ-followers are called to give richly because God continues to bless us with so much. 

But here's a secret: He really doesn't need our money.

That's something you won't hear in most church services. But since God can speak all creation into existence, part the sea with His hands and live among us in human form (through Jesus Christ), it's safe to assume that He doesn't need a large bank account or an American Express Gold Card to get things done.

So why for centuries have Christ-followers been called to be generous with their resources? First, God is the ultimate giver. And He wants us to be that way, too. Think about the many gifts He gives us every day. Our blessings vary, but they tend to include things like health, job, home, family, friends and church. And what about God's ultimate gift to us: forgiveness of our sins and an eternal relationship with Him through our faith in Jesus?

God also wants every Christ-follower to be a cheerful giver. But to do that, we must trust Him rather than our riches. After all, bank accounts and retirement funds can be wiped out overnight through unexpected circumstances and economic uncertainties. Just ask anyone with a 401k!

As the Apostle Paul explains it in 1 Timothy, giving back richly toward God and His purposes renders much more than just a warm feeling of self-satisfaction. Think of it as a guaranteed high yield investment with dividends you'll enjoy forever in the world to come. God challenges us to overturn our preconceived notions about money and finances. Through His design, giving richly becomes getting more:

"By doing that, they will be saving a treasure for themselves as a strong foundation for the future," Paul says. "Then they will be able to have the life that is true life."

It's every Christ-follower's mission to serve as God's hands and feet on earth by feeding the hungry, healing the sick and housing the homeless. So by making generosity a spiritual habit and thus being generous toward God, we'll become more like Him to help change our community for the better. Jesus sums up this principle through this reminder to us in Matthew 25:40:

"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.'"