Saturday, February 27, 2016

Let's Go

Then Jesus said to all the people: "If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross each day and follow me."

-- Luke 9:23
The June 6, 1944 landing on the French beaches of Normandy--the bloody event best known as D-Day--involved an estimated 2 million Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen, plus thousands of naval vessels and aircraft. About 17 billion pounds of supplies supported it. And if it weren't for a stubborn weatherman and a general who were willing to risk the outcome of World War II, this history-changing operation might have turned out quite differently. 

American, British and Canadian troops Eisenhowerhad trained for D-Day for months. And the German military knew that an invasion of Europe would come from England sooner or later. The question was where...and when. June 5 was the original date with destiny. But the weather was questionable and could make the English Channel treacherous for the thousands of vulnerable landing craft and support vehicles. 

Dr. James Martin Stagg, the Allies' lead weatherman, advised postponing the massive invasion. However, he also told General Dwight D. Eisenhower that he expected a break in the clouds on June 6. Several members of the meteorological team disagreed with Stagg's interpretation of the weather charts. But after considering the situation for just 30 seconds, Eisenhower made his commitment. 

"OK," he announced. "Let's go."

Commitment is a rare quality that God has valued in his people for thousands of years. For example, Joshua, one of the great servant-leaders of the Old Testament, displayed this trait when he challenged the tribes of Israel to choose who they would serve: the false gods of their ancestors or the one True God.

"But as for me and my household," declared Joshua, "we will serve the Lord." 

That was his "Let's go" moment. But how about yours and mine? There's no such thing as a neutral commitment or relationship. After all, you're either following or being followed. So here's the big question that every Christ-follower must answer: Where are you headed--and where are you taking others?

The answer just might determine your destiny.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Investing in the Eternal

How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you.

-- Psalm 31:19

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

Can you relate to that? After all, ours is 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 MasterCard or Visa and worry about the bill later. So with such an unrealistic approach to money and finances, is it any wonder that our nation has so many foreclosures and bankruptcies?

During his brief earthly ministry, Jesus taught Investhis 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.

And what do the Scriptures say about smart money management?

One biblical principle is to give the first 10% (a "tithe") or more of our income to the church. This honors God by actively promoting his purposes on earth and demonstrating our faith in him for meeting our needs. It's also a reminder that God can do more with the remaining 90% of our income than we can do with all of it. Another precept is to appreciate all that God has 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. This means developing a budget, spending less than we earn, paying off those credit cards (particularly the ones with sky-high interest rates) and setting money aside to cover unexpected expenses. Following these steps can help our savings accumulate little by little over time--especially when it earns compound interest.

Above all, we must be rich toward God and invest in the eternal. Saving for the future is obviously important. But let's also look for ways to put our money to work promoting God's interests. In addition to a weekly offering at Sunday worship, this might involve giving toward a special church initiative, supporting overseas missionaries or maybe even starting a community ministry. Whatever it is, 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:

"'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 there will not be room enough to store it.'" 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Heart of the Matter

"Warn the rich people of this world not to be proud or to trust in wealth that is easily lost. Tell them to have faith in God, who is rich and blesses us with everything we need to enjoy life. Instruct them to do as many good deeds as they can and to help everyone. Remind the rich to be generous and share what they have. This will lay a solid foundation for the future, so that they will know what true life is like."

-- 1 Timothy 6:17-19
Did you know that cardiovascular disease claims more lives each year than all forms of cancer combined? 

According to 2016 figures from the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the leading global cause of death, accounting for more than 17.3 million per year--a number that's expected to grow to more than 23.6 million by 2030. What's more, about 2,200 Americans die from it each day. That's one every 40 seconds.

It's apparent that the world faces a cardiac crisis. Heart HandBut there's another serious heart problem that doesn't involve cigarettes, cholesterol management or low-fat diets. Instead, far too many Christ-followers lack a heart that's willing to give generously according to the resources God has richly given them. And when they do manage to open their pocketbooks, it's often done grudgingly.

That's not the example God sends us through his message in the Bible. If there's a two-word lesson that we can learn from scriptural principles about money and possessions, it's that we should be generous. After all, God is the ultimate giver. Let's consider for a moment the many gifts that we've received. They vary somewhat, but tend to include our health, job, home, family, friends and church. And of course there's God's ultimate gift: the forgiveness of our sins and an eternal relationship with him through our faith in Jesus.

God also wants everyone to be a cheerful giver--particularly one who refuses to hoard their blessings. But to do that, we must trust him rather than our riches. After all, bank accounts and retirement funds can disappear overnight through unexpected circumstances and economic turmoil. Just look at some recent headlines about the stock market to confirm that.

What's the benefit of being generous with our money, time and possessions? As the Apostle Paul tells us through the Book of 1 Timothy, giving back richly toward God and his purposes renders much more than a warm feeling of satisfaction. Think of it as a guaranteed high-yield investment with dividends that we'll enjoy forever in the world to come. In fact, God challenges us on our preconceived notions about money. Through his unique design, giving richly results in getting more:

"By doing that, they will be saving a treasure for themselves as a strong foundation for the future," Paul explains. "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 generous giving a spiritual habit and being rich toward God, we'll become more like Jesus to help change our community, the world--and ourselves--for the better. 

That's the heart of the matter.

Saturday, February 6, 2016


With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

-- Isaiah 12:3

Millions of Americans are out of work, politicians are mired in scandal and the economy is questionable at best. If you believe the media, there's not much to feel happy or joyous about these days. But the truth is that billions around the world would do just about anything to trade places with us. That's because even the poorest of the poor in the United States are considered rich (at least statistically) when compared with the rest of the humanity.

Of course, poverty and wealth are relative Rejoiceterms. And they don't go hand-in-hand with misery and happiness. Money and possessions can be blessings, but having a big bank account is no guarantee of contentment. A recent Gallup poll seems to confirm this biblical truth. It reveals that Paraguay--a relatively poor nation--has a population with the most positive emotions in the world. And the populations of other impoverished lands such as Ecuador, Guatemala and Honduras follow close behind on the happy list. Meanwhile, Singapore--a nation with one of the world's highest per capita gross domestic products (GDP)--didn't make the survey's Top 10. Even the residents of El Salvador and Nicaragua were more upbeat!

Regardless of what advertisers would have us believe, money and possessions can't buy happiness and joy. In fact, the Bible reveals that for many people, excessive wealth can actually be a stumbling block to spiritual health. Rather than a reaction to something external--like a new car or piece of jewelry--real joy is an internal source of gladness and thanksgiving that helps us see the true picture though the most difficult of circumstances. As Christ-followers, our relationship with Jesus grants us access to our Creator--a loving Father who hears our prayers and looks for ways to bless us. So no matter how bad things get in our lives, we already know that our ultimate story will end on a very positive note.

The Apostle Paul wrote about this principle from personal experience:  

"Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea," he wrote in 2 Corinthians. "I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers."

That doesn't sound like a fun-filled existence. Yet Paul wrote that he was joyful.

With so much negativity in the world today, what's the secret to achieving a joy-filled, Christ-centered life? The Bible tells us to blend thanksgiving for our blessings and authentic, regular prayer with discernment--the ongoing intentional functions of living, thinking and acting positively. Christ-followers must habitually look for the good and dwell on the positive.

When we have lives that are filled with joy, even the most unpleasant of circumstances can't bring us down. Paul spent years in prison chained to his guards while under the constant threat of death. But he always prayed thankfully. And instead of feeling sorry for himself, he used his plight to change the lives of fellow prisoners and jailers alike--all while writing much of what we today know as the New Testament.

Yes, times are tough these days--and there seems to be little to smile about. But Paul's advice to today's weary Christ-followers is all the more simple and profound:

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!"