Got Potential?

You bet you do. You were created for a unique and eternal purpose.

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One Oil Drum at a Time

November 13th, 2009 · 1 Comment

“In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.” (Exodus 15:13)

I once heard a story about two young men who made a goal of riding through the Sahara Desert on motorcycles. There aren’t a lot of street signs in the Sahara and this was long before the days of GPS devices. They navigated by oil drum. A single oil drum marked the beginning of their journey and they could just make out another on the distant horizon. As they neared the oil drum on the horizon the one they had departed from grew fainter. When they arrived at the second drum they could just make out a third on the distant horizon. Quite quickly after striking out for the third drum, the first disappeared completely from the horizon behind them. Their entire trip, they could never see more than three drums, and for the vast majority of their journey through the desert all they could see was two; the one behind them and the one in front. Eventually they made their way across the world’s largest desert and most forbidding terrain, on motorcycles, navigating drum to drum.

I don’t know how many oil drums it takes to get across the Sahara but I imagine it’s a lot. Those two young men displayed a unique faith that when they left the first oil drum for the next that there would be a third somewhere on the horizon when they reached the second, and that there would be a fourth when they reached the third. Every oil drum they left on their way to the next led them deeper into the desert. At some point in their journey (they had no way of knowing when) they reached the halfway mark and with each oil drum they were traveling further out of the desert. Their perspective, however, throughout the entire trip, was just the oil drum behind and the one ahead.

Purpose Weekly is all about discovering and living out the purpose for each of our lives. But that journey doesn’t come to us in an Automobile Club ‘Trip Tik’ (those were page by page, turn by turn map books that AAA would custom make for you before you headed out on a road trip – way better than oil drums). Today I’ve got a GPS suckered to my windshield. A GPS is sort of like hi-tech Trip-Tik’s; I just punch in an address across the country and it plots the fastest course and tells me if I’ll arrive in time for lunch two days from now. But it’s sort of like the oil drums too, in that it only displays the next turn, not the whole trip.

So what’s your life journey plotted on? GPS? AAA Trip-Tik? Oil drums? God told the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart …” (Jeremiah 1:5) God had Jeremiah’s life plotted, for His purpose, before Jeremiah was born. Like Jeremiah, God’s got your life’s journey mapped out, for His purpose, turn by turn. “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” (Ephesians 1:11)

Your life isn’t an accident and it wasn’t an afterthought. Before the first atom of creation was spoken into existence, you were a part of God’s big plan. Think about that for a second. You (and I) exist as a part of God’s purpose in the universe. Your oil drums were laid out a long time ago. If you’ll open your eyes, you can see the drum behind you and the one ahead of you.

A lot of religious people have argued for a long time that if God has your whole life planned out then you really don’t have a choice in the matter; they call that ‘predestination’. You’re pre-destined for whatever fate God has laid out for you, so why bother looking for the next oil drum? Just keep walking, if God’s got everything laid out you’ll run into it eventually. A bunch of other religious people have argued that you choose your own journey; you can either head for the next oil drum or head the opposite direction or just sit down. It’s up to you whether you follow the path you’re on or strike off for a new one. This way of thinking is called ‘free will’.

The ‘predestination’ folks and the ‘free will’ folks are always arguing because they think that people can’t be pre-destined and have a free will at the same time. And they’d be right … if it was one of us laying out the route. But it’s not one of us who laid out the route in the first place; it was Him. And He can choose us for His purpose and let us choose at the same time.

When Elaine and I travel, I’ve pretty much quit using maps and just rely on my GPS. I punch in the destination address, the GPS figures out where I am and plots a course to where I’m going, and then it tells me to turn right out of our driveway. Even if I’m going a thousand miles from home it’ll only tell me to turn right out of our driveway … until I’ve turned right out of our driveway, then it tells me to turn left off our street. Kind of like the oil drums.

Another thing my GPS does is realize when I’ve gone off course. A few seconds after I’ve failed to turn right when the computer voice said “turn right” the computer voice will say “recalculating” (there’s edge to the computer voice when it says “recalculating”, like it’s frustrated that I couldn’t follow a simple command; maybe it’s just my imagination). Then it will re-plot my course and give me a new “turn left” or “turn right” or “turn around” to get me back on track.

Maybe that’s how predestination and free will work at the same time; the course is plotted and I follow it until I take a wrong turn, then the course is immediately re-plotted to steer me back on track again. I’m just glad I don’t hear a voice from heaven say “recalculating” every time I screw up. That would be more than I could bear.

Anyway, I doubt if my little GPS story is how all that works; a lot smarter people than me have been trying to figure out the whole predestination vs. free will thing a lot longer than I have and they’ve never gotten it completely resolved. I guess that trying to resolve questions we’re not capable of figuring out is part of our human nature. Just like holding predestination and free will in His palm of His Hand in perfect harmony as part of His eternal purpose is part of God’s nature.

*****

Going back to those two guys on the motorcycles – what do you imagine ever possessed them to cross the Sahara Desert using only oil drums as their guide? There’s no way two sane people would cross the world’s biggest desert by going from one oil drum to the next … unless they knew that someone had placed those drums along a specific route – the shortest, safest path across the Sahara. That makes sense.

I’ll continue to make my way from drum to drum; not because I’ve got faith in the drums, but because I’ve got faith in the One who put them there.

→ 1 CommentTags: faith · God's purpose · love · money

“ye are gods” Part 2

November 5th, 2009 · No Comments

“How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.” (Isaiah 14:12-15)

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)

Last week I gave you my two cents worth on Dan Brown’s new novel, The Lost Symbol. Plenty of meat up front – a lot of baloney in the end. What did Dan really want us to take away from this book? “Ye are gods.” Dan’s idea (not just his, it’s an old, old idea; I’ll explain a little further down) that we have in us, the ability to chart our own paths, demonstrate our own wills and shape our own realities – since, admittedly, we’ve been created in God’s image, we have the ability to become gods ourselves.

Dan even uses scripture to back it up, “… ye shall be gods …” (Psalm 82:6) He didn’t use the whole verse, which doesn’t bother me terribly; Bible ‘verses’ as we know them today, were invented by Robert Stephens, a 16th century printer. What bothers me is that Brown took a tiny snippet “… ye shall be gods …” and ripped it out of context for his own purpose. It’s an old trick.

Let me explain.

Satan (the name means ‘adversary’) wasn’t always known as Satan; once he was called Lucifer (‘daystar’ or ‘son of the dawn’). The prophet Ezekiel gives us a glimpse of what Lucifer was like before his fall. “You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you …” (Ezekiel 28:12b-13a).

Lucifer was a creature of beauty and power; then something happened. “Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor.” (Ezekiel 28:17) “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’” (Isaiah 14: 13-14)

There was a time in creation when just one will existed; the will of the Creator, God. Then, because he regarded his own beauty and majesty as something worthy of independence, evil entered into the heart of Lucifer. Lucifer mounted an offensive on heaven to exert his will against the will of God. “I will make myself like the Most High.” It didn’t work out as planned. Satan and his allied angels were thrown out of heaven (Luke 10:18), down from the “mount of assembly.” There were now two wills in the universe; that of God in heaven and that of the adversary, Satan, on earth.

“Then God said, ‘Let us create man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’” (Genesis 1:26) God created Adam, breathed life into his nostrils and placed him in a garden that He had made.

Satan was nonplussed by this turn of events. That God, the One who cast Lucifer, ‘Son of the Dawn’ from heaven to this dusty little ball in exile, should demonstrate His attention on such an insufficient creature as man was really too much. In the same way that Satan was cast down for pitting his own will against the will of God, he would see to it that this puny usurper, Adam, and his mate would trip and fall under the weight of their own independence.

God, in His purpose, didn’t create angels or men to be without the power to demonstrate their own wills. Satan and his hosts proved that angels could submit to the will of God or oppose it. By putting a tree in the garden that Adam and his mate, Eve, could eat of, but were forbidden to, proved that God had given them the choice as well; submit to His will or don’t, the power was in their hands from the beginning. It was Satan who made them aware of it by twisting the words of God.

“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1)

Eve corrected him, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it or you will die.’” (Genesis 3:2)

Satan first twisted God’s words to deceive the woman; when that failed he resorted to discounting the words of God altogether. “‘You will not surely die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” (Genesis 3:4)

“You will be like God.”

The desire to be like God, to demonstrate his own will against that of his Creator, to raise himself up for admiration and worship; that was Lucifer’s downfall.

The desire to be like God, to know the difference between good and evil and judge for himself which path he would choose; that was the downfall of man.

“… Ye are gods …” the promise in Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, is just the retelling of an old story.

There was once One will in the universe. Now there are billions. God will not always contend with fallen angels and men. There will come a time when that One will reigns again, “on earth as it is in heaven,” (Matthew 6:10). We, having the choice, will conform our wills to His … or not. But one will will reign. We are not gods, not in ourselves anyway; but we do have the opportunity to become the children of God, joint heirs with His Son. That’s His will.

*****

Last week I promised that I’d explain what the psalmist meant when he stated “… ye are gods …”

Unlike Dan Brown, I’ll give you a bit more of the passage so we understand the context in which the statement was made. “They know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. ‘I said, “You are ‘gods’; you are all sons of the Most High.’ But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler.” (Psalm 82:5-7)

The translation ‘gods’ in this passage is the Hebrew word ‘elohim.’ Even though the form is plural is can have a singular meaning ‘God’ or it can mean ‘gods’, ‘idols’, ‘mighty ones’, ‘judges’ or even ‘sons of God’.

Here’s the context of the whole Psalm. The psalmist starts off saying that God presides over the great assembly of ‘mighty ones’ or ‘judges’ (elohim) – those who have been given the authority and responsibility of passing judgment on the affairs of men – the people in power. But they’re not judging very well – they’re corrupt. “How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?” These ‘judges’ think of themselves and ‘gods’; they ‘rule’ over the affairs of men. But God says these corrupt ‘judges’ (elohim) walk around in ignorance and darkness. He admits, “You are ‘gods’; you are all sons of the Most High” (I’ve bestowed upon you the station of ‘elohim’) But you’ve abused the power and privilege I’ve given you; you will lose your sonship, your ‘god’ status and die like mere men; you will fall like every other creature I’ve given power and authority to that has abused My appointment for their own glory and according to their own will (Satan must have winced at that one). The psalmist concludes: “Rise up O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are your inheritance.”

Adam was created in God’s image, a ‘son’ of God. When he fell by demonstrating his own will against the will of God he lost his ‘sonship’, he was no longer a creature “in God’s image.” To restore Adam and his race, another ‘Adam’ was required. This time God’s only “begotton Son”, truly God and now, truly man, took upon his own flesh man’s penalty for demonstrating his will against God’s and provided the way that leads men back into the ‘image of God’.

Satan deceived himself into believing that because his countenance was like that of a god he could become like God. He passed that deceit on to man; that by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, man could become ‘like God’. Dan Brown and his ilk pass the tradition down to us today; by our knowledge of good and evil, by our mastery of the things of this world we can become gods unto ourselves, masters of our own destiny.

If it didn’t work for Satan and it didn’t work for Adam, what makes Mr. Brown think it will work for us?

We can’t create ourselves in God’s image. We can’t conform God into our image (although we try). We can only, through God’s Son, Jesus, the Christ, conform ourselves into His image and then truly become sons and daughters of God.

→ No CommentsTags: Stars

Ye Are Gods?

October 27th, 2009 · 3 Comments

“They know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’ But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler.” (Psalm 82:5-7)

I read Dan Brown’s new book The Lost Symbol last week. I should have known better – Dan Brown was the guy who brought us the DaVinci Code. The DaVinci Code, if you remember, was the fast paced, action filled novel in which Brown tries to convince us that Jesus really didn’t die on the cross and later married Mary Magdalene and produced offspring whose lineage may be around today.

Uh-huh.

According to Dan, Jesus didn’t die on the cross; therefore mankind’s sin debt wasn’t paid. If he didn’t die then he didn’t rise from the grave – no resurrection. And if he didn’t die and wasn’t resurrected and later got married and had children, then he’s not really God.

Wonderful philosophy. Thanks Dan.

The DaVinci Code tried to make God into man. Brown’s new book The Lost Symbol does its best to make men into gods. To convince us that we’re really gods Dan quotes three words from the Bible, ‘ye are gods.’ He also throws in the Torah (isn’t that part of the Bible?), the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao and whatever other ‘scriptures’ he can come up with as proof that they and the ‘prophets’ (Jesus, Mohammed, Confucius, Buddha and Tom Cruise) all came to share the same message with mankind; ‘ye are gods’.

I’ve got to surrender the point to Dan; those three words are in the Bible – right after “They know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken” and right before “But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler.” Dan fails to work the full context into the book – besides it would kinda ruin his thesis: “We have the power to become gods within us, all we gotta do try … or become Masons.

I’ve also got to admit that Dan writes a pretty fast moving, action packed story. That’s what hooked me; I’m a sucker for action. Other than being fundamentally wrong, the problem with The Lost Symbol is that the bad guy is dispatched and all the action is over by page 460 … the book doesn’t end until page 509. Dan fills the last 49 pages trying to back up his thesis, ‘ye are gods’ with a gobblety-gook philosophy built on a foundation with all the firmness of a fresh cow patty on a warm summer day (*Hint to Dan: stick with the fast moving action; it works for you.)

It took me the better part of a day to get through The Lost Symbol. It’s a day I won’t get back … forgive me Lord. My recommendation: save yourself twelve hours and thirty-bucks.

*****

When I was a kid I heard what the Bible said the world would be like in the last days and I wondered at how such things could practically come to be. The thirteenth chapter of Revelation predicted that, in the last days, ‘the earth and its inhabitants would worship the beast’ and that everyone would receive a mark and only with this mark could anyone buy or sell anything. I couldn’t imagine all of the earth worshiping a single ‘beast’ or the entire world buying and selling only enabled by a mark which the ‘beast’ gave them.

What I couldn’t imagine was believers falling for something like this. Surely the requirement of a single world religion (all men worshiping the same ‘beast’) and a single world economic system requiring a ‘mark’ given to each person by the ‘beast’ would take years to set up and the cooperation of every nation and religion on earth. Not only would Christians see through this and rebel, free people from every corner of the earth would rise up against the idea of the world’s religions and economies being controlled by a single ‘beast’. I just couldn’t see how we could all roll over and allow something like this to happen, especially when the Bible had already warned us against it.

A lot of water has passed beneath the bridge since the day I first learned about the prophecies of the ‘beast’. What was impossible has become possible. It’s happening before our eyes and, yes, we’re rolling right over – not only allowing it to happen, but joining right in.

Thirty years ago I couldn’t imagine an economic system in which an individual wouldn’t be allowed to buy or sell anything unless they carried a ‘mark’ on their hand and forehead. But that was before Debit Cards and Electronic Funds Transfer. When was the last time you paid cash (currency, not a debit card, credit card or check) for a major appliance? When was the last time you paid cash at the grocery store instead of sliding your debit card through the machine and punching in your PIN? Don’t deceive yourself into thinking that writing a check is any closer to cash than a debit card. The cashier inserts your check into a slot in the register which reads the magnetic coding and withdraws the money from your account at that moment. No different than a debit card.

We are well on the way to getting rid of cash altogether – it’s dirty, it cost money to print money, it’s hard to track, and trading all those different currencies of all those different countries slows down the global economy. Yep, cashless is cleaner, neater, and more efficient – all anyone needs is a number in the system and a PIN code – a ‘mark’, if you would; one on your hand (or in your hand) and one on your forehead (or in your memory … and in the database memory).

Well, I guess that part of the prophecy has already come true.

But what about everyone on earth bowing down to worship the ‘beast’? The world’s Christians would never stand for it! Other religions, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists and the rest would refuse to bow their collective knees to a single entity. Surely the idea of a single world religion is practically impossible.

Sorry … we’re headed there too. We don’t mention the words ‘Christian’, ‘Jew’, ‘Moslem’, ‘Hindu’ or ‘Buddhist’ much in public anymore; it’s just not politically correct. ‘Faith Based Community’ is a much easier term. It’s more homogeneous – not so ‘in-your-face’ as those stark declarations of an exclusive belief system.

And as for those few who can’t accept that all religions are of the same value and truth – for those who stubbornly cling to a single belief systems as ‘the truth’ – we call those folks ‘Fundamentalists’. And as for those who actually live out the tenets of their faith without regard to society’s accepted common practice? Those folks are what we call ‘Extremists’.

And everyone knows (as the media has so aptly indoctrinated us) that ‘Fundamentalists’ are whackos and ‘Extremists’ are dangerous. It doesn’t matter that some groups demonstrate their ‘fundamentalism’ and ‘extremism’ by detonating suicide bombs and others by refusing to call good what God says is evil. Throw ‘em all in the same pot – once we get rid of all the ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘extremists’ the world will be safe for all of us who have no clue what to believe. We’ll be free to believe whatever Channel 2 or Dan Brown tells us – it won’t matter what we believe as long as we do as we’re told and don’t take any of it too seriously.

In order for the prophecies in Revelation 13 to come true, all the world needs to do is to replace freedom and truth with control and deceit. For better or worse, we’re well on our way to accomplishing that goal. And if you’re not completely deceived yet – if truth still looks like truth and lies still look like lies – just keep reading Dan Brown’s books, you’ll get there.

“Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.” (Matthew 24:4)

*****

Next week we’ll talk about where Dan Brown may have gotten his ideas (theyre not so new) and what the Bible really means when it states ‘ye are gods’.

→ 3 CommentsTags: last days

The La-Z-Boy

October 18th, 2009 · No Comments

By Jenny Lou Jones

With the birth of our first child, Lance told me that he’d help me rock our new baby to sleep if only I’d agree to buy a La-Z-Boy.  His argument was that all decent and caring fathers had one thing in common—a big, boxy wad of material that calls itself a chair.  Instead of La-Z-Boy, it should be named as the 51st state.  And even though the chair had its own zip code, we bought it.

I know that all the shows on HGTV would throw out any large chair made of “suede-like” fabric that resembled a small house with arms.  Vern or Candice or Genniveve would toss it in the HGTV dumpster with all ceiling fans and anything with barn animals on it.  But no one could argue its healing qualities when the boys rocked each other to sleep every night.

Once a man puts his behind in the chair for the first time, he instantly adds whiskers, muscles and testosterone.  As he sits in it, the chair becomes human and wraps its arms around him and gives him a soft place to lay his head.  The chair is the embodiment of his mother, father, first crush, his wife, his childhood dog and all who love him.

Whole stores are dedicated to this nesting chair.  I’ve even seen little plastic tables that attach to the arm.  There are chair caddies to store all 52 remotes, a golf magazine, a used Kleenex, a Porsche and several small power tools. It’s like a throne where all things needed are within arms reach so there’s no reason to get out of the chair at all.  Any well seasoned chair could feed a man for days just from the cereal and potato chip crumbs in between the cushions.  I’ve heard that if someone invented a La-Z-Boy with a catheter, the inventor could top Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s wealth combined.

One night I heard our 5 year old son screaming, “Help me, somebody, help me.”  I ran downstairs and Landon had his head stuck in the part that is the foot rest.  When I say stuck, I mean, really stuck.  Lance was out of town at the time so I called my neighbor.  He had to take off the whole bottom half of the chair to free my little circus performer.  Landon looked at me when it was done and said, “I just wanted to see if my head would fit.”

Our now-grown son, Landon and his wife Laura, will have to start looking for a bulky chair soon because they are in the process of adopting a child from Russia.  So far, they’ve filled out three inches of paperwork and have sent it off to an agency.  After several months, they got the okay and high-tailed it to “the ends of the earth” to meet their mystery child.  They are excited to begin their journey of becoming a family and eventually having 2.5 children, a dog, and a white picket fence.

After their initial meet and greet, Landon and Laura brought home a video of meeting their 15 month old son.  At the beginning of the video, we saw a nurse walking in and placing a small, dark-haired boy in Laura’s arms.  In the movies, the child would instantly understand what was going on and grab his new parents and give them a wink and a high five.  But what really happened was Little Boy lay stiff backed in Laura’s arms.  He constantly tried to comfort himself by grasping his own hands.  He gazed over their heads and around them, but never really looked at them for any length of time.

The next day showed a softening and Little Boy relaxed some and ate applesauce that Landon fed him.  As we watched the last day evolve, we saw a more comfortable Little Boy look directly into his soon-to-be parents’ eyes.  He began to relax, to feel comfortable and to sprawl over Landon and Laura’s laps.  I commented that he was sitting on them like they were his personal La-Z-Boy.

Then right before the video ended, we watched as Little Boy’s hand reached out to Landon and grabbed his finger.  Yep, it was like an ending to a Hollywood movie.  But the story isn’t over quite yet.  Laura and Landon are back home waiting until their Russian court date is set so they can bring back Little Boy. They can hardly wait until he can run around and make too much noise, knock over prized possessions, track mud on the carpet, and hear those dreaded words…”Wait until your father gets home.”  Little Boy doesn’t even know what’s ahead, but his parents can see the future with him in their family.

When I think about how I am with my Heavenly Father, I wonder if I ever come to Him stiff-backed.  Even as God sees what would be good for me, I find myself uncomfortable with trusting His future plans.   If I take the time and spend some days with God, I slowly relax into him, His will.  His desires become my desires.  I look around and see that he has brought me into his family.   I slowly relax with him and into him and sprawl in his lap because I can trust who He is.  As I reach for Him, I put out my hand and he wraps his hand of security, of certainty, of comfort around my finger.

*You can follow the process of Landon and Laura’s Russian adoption on www.landonandlaura.com .

→ No CommentsTags: peace · purpose

Cracks in the Sidewalk

October 11th, 2009 · 3 Comments

By Jenny Lou Jones

During my elementary years, I walked home after school.   Well, it was more like I lollygagged and meandered, especially down the big hill that ended at my house.  That last perilous slope was littered with cracks in the sidewalk that I had to avoid to keep my mother’s back intact.  Where did that superstition come from…step on a crack and break your mother’s back?  Even at a young age, I didn’t want to believe it.  But just in case, I tiptoed around any cracks that would endanger my mom’s spine.

Superstitions came into vogue in the early centuries when poly-theistic gods were popular.  People at that time believed that everything was a god; there was a sun god, a wind god, a sky god, etc.  And whatever people did, they would try to avoid angering any of the gods.  “Knock on wood” to ward off bad luck came from people who were asking for favors from the tree god.   Can you imagine those prayers?  “Dear deciduous bark covered structure…would (wood) you save me from all harm including nuclear disaster.”  That’s just absurd!  The only trees that I’ve seen that interact with people are on the Wizard of Oz.  That’s when the trees threw apples at the Dorothy and her trio and their attitudes were not of a deity caliber.

Our God doesn’t ask us to knock on the Keebler elves’ house for good favor or to avoid cracks in cement.    We can break a mirror any old time without incident.  Nor do we need to spit when we talk of someone who has died.  We don’t even have to remember to eat black-eyed peas for New Year’s Day.

When we encounter bad times, it’s not the doings of a silly god that lives under our bed or in a closet.  Actually, it’s life.  Just plain old life.  We aren’t given favor from God when we give more money or keep all of the ten commandments.  God doesn’t keep a tally card of what we have or haven’t done.  Boy, I’m glad.

It’s easy to follow God when we come into money or good times.  But the same God of good things is also the God of tough situations.  It’s the hard times that send us longing, searching, and praying for God’s help.  The rougher the problem, the more we pray.

My favorite quote from  A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis is, “I pray because I can’t help myself.  I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping.  It doesn’t change God, it changes me.”

God isn’t sitting up on a puffy cloud waiting for us to get just one more person to pray for our dilemma before He “grants our wish”.  He asks us to pray, in both good and bad times, because it changes our desires to line up with his will.

The closest I’ve ever felt to God was during the time that I had leukemia and a bone marrow transplant.  It was a tough time.  But it was a special time.  I almost felt God’s breath behind me.  I sensed God’s presence and I knew that God was with me, around me, and in me so I could face what lay before me.

I would love to tell you that the feeling is still that intense with me, but it’s not.  My explanation is that He comes in the worst of times to be our feet so we can walk. To be our hands to hold on just a little longer.  To be our mind so we can make good decisions.  And be our spirit when our soul feels wounded.

Even if we work our hardest at keeping all of the ten commandments, that doesn’t keep us in perfect health with a perfect marriage and perfect children while working in the perfect job in the perfect town.  What we do have is a God who sent a perfect Son to help carry all of our burdens.  We can call on our Savior for help during calamity and praise him in abundance.

So we can feel free to step on cracks, open an umbrella inside the house, and thumb our nose at a black cat crossing in front of us.   But whatever we do, we must remember to accept the One who frees us from excessive finger crossings and all the other superstitions that the ancients thought would keep them in good graces.

God bless you! (this too can be superstition).

→ 3 CommentsTags: Courage · faith · Fear · God's purpose

Why Did God Allow This to Happen? Part 2

October 3rd, 2009 · 1 Comment

Last week I wrote about why God would allow bad things to happen to people. Whether bad things were initiated by another person or by nature – like a tsunami or an earthquake. I also mentioned David Pawson’s book, Why Does God Allow Natural Disasters. The book came from a three hour TV series in which Pawson was asked to answer the question in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami of 2004 that killed 230,000 people.

When I wrote about this last week none of us had any idea that a Tsunami, triggered by a massive offshore earthquake, would kill over a hundred people in Samoa and another earthquake would rip through Indonesia shortly after, killing over eleven hundred people. Death tolls are still rising as victims are discovered. This week there’s a fresh relevance to the question, and we’re still looking for an answer. Why did God allow this to happen?

I also gave you three answers I felt were insufficient in the face of great tragedy:

1. Suffering is a mystery. We can’t understand it because we’re not God. His ways and thoughts are higher than ours. We’ll never understand why God does what He does; all we can do it trust Him.

2. Sometimes God allows bad things to happen so we can step up and show our goodness in the aftermath.

3. God loves us; He is there with us in the midst of suffering, but He is powerless to stop our suffering.

For reasons I explained last week, those answers aren’t good enough for me. This week I’ll share with you my best answer to the question: Why did God allow this to happen?

When we see or experience a tragedy in which innocent people suffer, either at the hands of other people or through an act of nature we believe that things like that shouldn’t happen in this world – that God shouldn’t let those things happen to ‘innocent’ people. When bad things happen to ‘good’ people, God gets the blame.

So is it really God’s fault?

If God is all-powerful and all-loving why doesn’t He prevent bad things from happening to ‘good’ people? And if those kinds of things happen, then He must either not be powerful enough to prevent them or not loving enough to care. Why bother serving a God like that? If we were to put the questions honestly it would be, ‘Why bother letting a God like that serve us?’

I believe the question, Why did God allow this to happen? and the concept that if bad things do happen, it’s somehow God’s fault, stem from the fact that we have no clue of our present situation.

For the most part, people believe that what we’re experiencing right now is life, and the planet we live on is a pretty sweet spot to be. Get a ‘Life is Good’ bumper sticker, send the kids to soccer, put a steak on the grill and kick back – this is life and it feels pretty good … until something bad happens.

Where is God!? He’s supposed keep bad stuff from happening to me while I’m enjoying life! I’m a good person this shouldn’t be happening to me. And since it is, God has somehow failed in his duty; what kind of God is that?

You really don’t have any idea of your situation, do you?

Life isn’t good. This world isn’t the sweet spot in the universe. And you’re not good or innocent, so don’t blame God when bad stuff happens. If we got what we deserved this planet would have been an interstellar charcoal briquette a long time ago. Only by God’s grace, love and infinite patience do we even exist today.

Let me explain.

The world is broken and we’re the ones who broke it … at least our great, great grand-parents did, and we inherited their genes. When Adam and Eve chose to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:6) they chose a path that led to their own deaths, the deaths of all their offspring and, because they were responsible for it, the frustration of all creation (Romans 8:20). In eating from that tree they exercised their own will above the will of God. The knowledge of good and evil put them in the driver’s seat. Now instead of God, Adam and Eve could decide what was good and what was evil. They passed that knowledge down to you and me.

We exercise our judgment about right and wrong, good and evil, over God’s. We call it independence – He calls it rebellion. When people rebel against their king the country goes into civil war. We’ve been in a civil war with God since that day in the Garden. And that’s where we live now. Things aren’t as they should be and life (as we know it) isn’t ‘good’.

Instead of asking, Why did God allow this to happen? We ought to be asking, Why didn’t He just burn us to cinders and start over?

Because He is all-powerful and all-loving.

When God created Adam He created someone ‘after His own image’; someone He could have fellowship with. And He created a place where Adam could live and rule over; a place that wasn’t ‘frustrated’ by man’s dominion. God even created a tree thats fruit would allow Adam to live forever. But because God wanted a friend and not a robot, He created in Adam the ability to choose. And out of all of the choices to be made in a new world there was only one that led to death.

Of course, that was the one Adam went for (I’m not letting Eve off the hook, but let’s face it, Adam was in charge). From that point forward Adam was a walking dead man. So are his offspring. This world, before that moment, was a good place; now it’s not. He initiated his will over God’s and not only did it lead to his and our deaths, because nature is subject to man, it led to the natural world’s ‘frustration’ over the position Adam put it in. Things in the natural world aren’t as they should be. The Bible says, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:20-21)

We’re walking dead people and we live in a world that’s broken and longs to be fixed. What we’re experiencing right here and now isn’t life, and the world we live in isn’t as God intended it. The problem isn’t that God allows bad things to happen; it’s that we think this is real life and the world’s a great place to be.

Over and over again the Bible refers to life as something we haven’t experienced yet. “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:14)

“It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.” (Matthew 18:8) “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25)

Why did God allow this to happen? He didn’t. We did. We’re a people and a world in rebellion. Remember the parable Jesus told about the landowner who planted a vineyard, built a wall around it, installed a wine press and a watchtower, and then he rented it to some farmers and went away on a long journey? (Matthew 21:33-40) Whenever the landlord sent his people to collect the rent the farmers would beat them and toss them out without paying the rent they owed. Finally the landlord sent his son, figuring, ‘surely they’ll respect my son.’ The farmers, seeing the landlord’s son, figured, ‘he’s the landlord’s heir; if we kill him the vineyard will be ours!’ And so they did.

We’re the farmers. This isn’t our vineyard and our believing it is has messed things up royally. We’re not the landlord and we were never meant to be. But we pretend the vineyard belongs to us and disrespect its true owner. Then when something bad happens we ask, “Why did the landlord allow this to happen?” Silly farmers.

In his time, the landlord will step on this rebellion and set things right. And someone is going to pay the price. As a matter of fact, Someone already has. In spite of ourselves, God loves us. But God isn’t just all-loving and all-powerful, He’s all-righteous. That means the books have to balance. What Adam started brought the death penalty to all mankind. The price must be paid in order to set things right again. If we had to pay the price for our own rebellion there wouldn’t be any more us. God knew that. He also knew that the only one who could pay the price without sacrificing the entire human race was His own Son.

And He offered Him up.

The next time tragedy strikes, before you ask, “Why did God allow this to happen?” Remember what He did allow to happen; He allowed His Son to pay your debt.

*****

We live in a war zone. And in a war zone bad things happen – to the good guys and the bad guys, to the innocent and not so innocent. Things are not as they should be. But they will be one day. The landlord is coming back. That’s when life begins. That’s when the world really will be the sweet spot in the universe.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Pawson’s book in which he gives a possible answer to why God would allow things like the Asian tsunami to happen.

“I believe it was a global warning – that God was reminding us of his justice, that we all deserve disaster, that we all deserve to die, even prematurely and violently. But it was also a reminder of his mercy, because he is not wiping us all out. He is giving those of us who survive even more time to repent, to think again and get right with him. The real questions we need to be asking ourselves now are these: Why do I cry out to God when I am suffering and not when I am sinning? Why do I cry out to God in terror but not in temptation? What am I really worried about in my life – my discomfort or my disobedience?

“Turning to God and saying, ‘God I need your help; I need you to make me into a good person so that I can live in your new world’ – that is when things really begin.”

→ 1 CommentTags: Obedience · suffering · Thriving in Tough Times · Trust

Why Did God Allow This to Happen?

September 22nd, 2009 · 2 Comments

I had lunch with a friend last week and he had a question for me. He mentioned, Jaycee Lee Dugard, the little girl in California who was kidnapped by Phillip and Nancy Garrido and used as a sex slave for eighteen years, bearing two children by Garrido during the time.

My friend’s question was, “Why did God allow this to happen?” It didn’t seem fair to him that an innocent little girl should suffer through such a terrible and prolonged tragedy. In fact (he’s been reading his Bible) it didn’t seem fair when God threatened to kill Moses because he had neglected to circumcise his son (Exodus 4:24), and it didn’t seem fair when God killed Uzzah for putting out his hand to steady the Ark of the Covenant (I Chronicles 13:10), and it didn’t seem fair when God killed Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, for using ‘unauthorized fire’ in their burnt offering (Numbers 3:4). The entire Old Testament, in my friend’s eyes, is a collection of nightmare stories demonstrating the unfairness of God.

“Why is God so unfair?” “Why did God allow this to happen?”

It was a coincidence (not really) that I had brought a book for him that day, Why Does God Allow Natural Disasters?, in which author David Pawson seeks to answer, or at least pose the proper questions, on the subject of why God allows bad things to happen to ‘good’ people. The material in the book came from a three hour television series in the aftermath of the 2004 Asian tsunami that killed 230,000 people. A lot of what I told my friend and what is in this letter, stems from Pawson’s book. If you’re asking the same question, I strongly recommend you read Why Does God Allow Natural Disasters?.

What we think about God has everything to do with the questions we ask about Him. And when something seemingly bad happens to someone seemingly good, the question, “Why did God allow this to happen?” reflects some basic assumptions the questioner makes about God.

First of all, if a person doesn’t believe God exists, he certainly wouldn’t ask why God allows bad things to happen. If there is no God, events can only be acts of nature or man. A non-existent God certainly has nothing to do with it.

The same is true for agnostics – people who aren’t convinced whether or not there is such a thing as ‘God’, and if there was, he/she/it would be unknowable or unknowing of man. Under those circumstances, it’s certainly not fair to question a God, who, if he/she/it is even out there, “Why did you allow this to happen?”

Only people who hold two basic assumptions about God can ask, “Why did you allow this to happen?” The first assumption is that God is capable of preventing anything bad that happens to people. The second assumption is that God ought to prevent anything bad from happening to people. Simply stated, the person asking God, “Why did you allow this to happen?” assumes God is all-powerful (nothing is stopping Him from acting on man’s behalf) and all-loving (an all-loving God shouldn’t allow bad things to happen to people).

My friend must believe that God is all-powerful and all-loving; otherwise his question wouldn’t make sense. Do you believe God is all-powerful and all-loving? If you do (I do too, by the way), then why would God allow bad things, whether an act of nature like a tsunami, or an act of man like kidnapping a little girl, to happen? If He loves us and is capable of preventing bad things from happening to us, why doesn’t He?

Is God really all-powerful? Can He do anything He wants? To be perfectly honest, there are a lot of things God can’t do. Pawson claims that he’s made a list of thirty things God can’t do. I can think up three right off the bat: He can’t tell a lie, He can’t break a promise, and he can’t let a debt go unpaid. But as far preventing bad things from happening to ‘good’ people, God does possess the power to act, and He has in the past.

If you believe what is recorded in the Bible as fact, as I do, then you know that He can control nature – He parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could escape the Egyptians and then caused it to flow back on Pharaoh’s army, killing them all. He stopped the sun from going down for a day at Joshua’s request in the middle of a battle against the Amorites (Joshua 10:13).

God also has the power to prevent bad people from acting. He blinded the men of Sodom when they stormed Lot’s house in an effort to take and rape God’s messengers. He confused the language of the men building the tower of Babel. God does have the ability to act on nature and on men.

But does He want to? God loves everybody, right? And if God does love everybody why would he allow people to suffer? This is the number one question skeptics ask believers.

Does God really love everybody? The Bible doesn’t say God loves everybody. If you’re thinking John 3:16, we haven’t got the room to get into it here but we’ll tackle just what John 3:16 says and doesn’t say in a future letter. In the mean time, read the third chapter of John instead of just the sixteenth verse (John didn’t divide his gospel into chapters and verses, that was done by well meaning guys who shouldn’t have 1200 and 1500 years later, respectively) or read Pawson’s book, Is John 3:16 the Gospel?

Even the though the Bible never states that God loves everybody, it mentions who God hates in plenty of places. “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the Lord says. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” (Malachi 1:2) “Because of all their wickedness in Gilgal, I hated them there.” (Hosea 9:15)

Before we go too far down this path, let me go on record: I believe that God is all-powerful and all-loving. It’s just not the kind of power and love most of us are looking for. We want a God who has the ‘power’ to do our bidding at the snap of our fingers and a God whose ‘love’ will overlook any sinful practice we value more than our relationship with Him. We want an all-powerful, all-loving God at our disposal, under our terms. Contrary to some very trendy church doctrine, He’s not that kind of God.

But let’s get back to my friend’s question, whether it’s a tsunami that kills 230,000 people or a sicko that kidnaps a little girl: “Why did God allow this to happen?”

Before I give you what I believe is the right answer, let me give you a few popular answers I believe don’t cut it.

Wrong answer #1: Suffering is a mystery. We can’t understand it because we’re not God. His ways and thoughts are higher than ours. We’ll never understand why God does what He does; all we can do it trust Him.

There’s some truth to this answer; we can’t understand everything God does, because He’s God and we’re not. But God wants us to love Him and want us to understand our existence from His perspective. That’s what the Bible is all about – that’s why He gave it to us – to understand Him in terms of His relationship with us and ours with Him. He sent His Son to us, not only to pay the price of our sin, but to show us Himself. God has gone out of His way to explain Himself to us; we just haven’t been listening. I may not know why God has allowed some great tragedy to take place, but I do know that, ultimately, there is a purpose in everything that happens. I will look for that purpose, ask Him to reveal it, and trust Him to fulfill that purpose while I’m waiting for an answer.

Wrong answer #2: Sometimes God allows bad things to happen so we can step up and show our goodness in the aftermath.

After the tsunami hit, people and countries from around the world came to the aid of those whose lives were devastated. We saw an international outpouring of charity, assistance and unity. It is true that man can show his very best side in the worst of circumstances. But do you really think God allowed 230,000 people to die in the tsunami so relief agencies could show their stuff? That kind of answer denigrates the victims and the heroes. It also fails to deal with the reverse. Great tragedies also allow people to act their worse. Looting was widespread after the tsunami subsided. People were gathering corpses and claiming them as relatives to receive relief money. Children, whose parents were killed in the tsunami were kidnapped and sold as orphans for adoption. Tragedy doesn’t always bring out the ‘good’ in people.

And what does this answer say about God? God, who is all-powerful and all-loving, allows nearly a quarter of a million people die just so some of the rest of us can show our ‘goodness’ to the survivors? As Pawson says in his book, “We have a high view of our goodness and a low view of His badness.”

Wrong answer #3: God loves us; He is there with us in the midst of suffering, but He is powerless to stop our suffering.

Believe it or not, this is a common ‘Christian’ answer. Liberal theology tries to convince us that God began this universe (in some sort of foggy mix of intention, creation and evolution) and that He loves us (whether He created us or we evolved – they’re really not sure) but He’s powerless to interfere with nature or the affairs of man; it’s up to us to make a better world.

Miracles aren’t the result of a loving powerful God ‘interfering’ in human affairs. God doesn’t heal sick people; those who do suddenly exhibit an unexplainable reversal of their illness are simply exhibiting a ‘psycho-somatic reaction to stressful stimuli’ or ‘coincidental spontaneous remission’. God can’t affect the laws of nature. That a tornado averts its path or lifts over a house in which people a praying is simply a quirk of nature, no super natural interference should be inferred.

These three answers to the question, “Why did God allow this to happen?”, all of them common to ‘Christian’ thought, don’t and shouldn’t satisfy us when tragedy strikes. Our God is all-powerful and all-loving and He wants us to understand why He acts or refuses to act when bad things happen to ‘good’ people.

Next week we’ll get into why I believe there’s an answer to “Why did God allow this to happen?” and what the answer is. Until then trust His power and His intention in your life.

→ 2 CommentsTags: suffering

In Defense of Strays

September 11th, 2009 · 4 Comments

“So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.” (Genesis 2:20)

We’ve got a cat named ‘Baby’.

Let me back up. We’ve got four cats, six dogs, somewhere around fifty fish (the kind you feed, not the kind that feed you), and we’re house-parents to a horse.

‘Baby’ is the kitten of a stray who showed up at our house about twelve years ago to give birth to her first litter. We found homes for all the kittens but one. The stray became ‘momma cat’. The kitten, by default, we named ‘baby cat’. We have two more recent arrivals down at the barn. They were dropped off by someone who apparently didn’t mind the idea of allowing cats to reproduce, but wasn’t keen on taking responsibility for the product. The gray kitten is ‘gray kitty’; the black kitten is ‘black kitty.’ Now you’re getting the drift of our naming system.

Most of our animals are strays. Let me clarify; they’re not really strays, they didn’t wander away from home – they’re drop offs. Our property is far enough off the beaten path to be ‘attractive’ as a one way bus stop for unwanted pets. So their arrival doesn’t reflect the animals so much as their previous owners. Because we know its probable fate Elaine and I can’t ignore a drop-off. We can’t let it die of starvation or predation (the two choices available to strays out here), so we take it in, feed it and, usually, doctor it. Once the animal is reasonably healthy, we can’t find it in ourselves to take it to the Animal Shelter (that lottery ticket doesn’t usually pay off for the animal).

And that’s how ‘Baby’ and most of the rest came to live with us. She, along with ‘momma cat’, is a deck cat. That’s an ‘outdoors only’ cat; she can roam where she wants but usually hangs out on the deck. It’s a step up from a barn cat, but definitely not house cat status. It’s a casual relationship but we’re all okay it.

Baby got sick a few weeks ago. She started dropping weight dramatically and by the time we figured that her condition was beyond a home remedy she had one paw in place cats don’t come back from. I took her to the vet and the prognosis wasn’t good. Her liver had pretty much shut down and her own body fluids were poisoning her. At this point, we had two options; a practical one and an expensive one. And the expensive one was a gamble at best.

We had to make a decision. This is a cat we’re talking about … technically, a stray cat. At twelve years, she’s a pretty old ‘baby’; it’s not like she’s in the prime of her life. And we’re not on the Fortune 500 list of America’s richest couples; we had already dropped a significant chunk of change at the vet’s just finding out what was wrong. Option A would be practical (cheap) and humane. Option B would be expensive and, as the vet put it, “like a roll at the tables in Vegas” – a gamble at best.

We didn’t (don’t) have the money to spend on ‘Cat ICU’ without some pretty heavy consideration. I asked God to give us wisdom about what to do. Elaine asked God to heal the cat. That’s Elaine– if you’re going to ask God for something, you might as well ask Him for what you really want instead of what you’re willing to settle for. He’s God; healing a cat isn’t a huge request. She teaches me some amazing lessons.

This was one sick cat. There was a pretty good chance it wouldn’t make it through the night. By the next morning, I thought, our decision might be made for us. But the sun came up and the cat was sitting on the deck. Not well … not any worse … but not dead. We gave it another day. The next morning the cat was sitting on the deck. Not well … not any worse … but not dead. Time to make a decision.

I called the vet. “Look,” I said, “This is a twelve year old cat – a deck cat. If the cat is going to die and there’s nothing we can do about it, I’m okay with that. But if the cat’s going to die because of what we didn’t do, then I’m not okay with that. If the cat’s still fighting, I’m not going to throw in the towel just yet.” We brought the cat back to the vet’s for four days of ‘Cat ICU’.

That was a week ago. The cat’s back home. Not well … not any worse … but not dead. Every morning we medicate the cat (against its will) and force feed it with a syringe and a teaspoon several times a day (really against its will). She’s not giving up, so we won’t either. And we’re still praying for her. Healing a cat isn’t beneath God (I prayed for a roto-tiller once, but that’s another story). God cares about cats.

God made us in His own image (Genesis 1:27). God made animals for our sakes (Genesis 2:18-19). He made us to care about animals because He cares about animals (Matthew 10:29).

Without making too much of this, how we care for our pets, may be a shadow of how He cares for us. A stray cat is a stray cat, not a lot of intrinsic value associated with that. But there’s something in us that makes us take it in. Maybe because we know what’s going to happen to it if we don’t. We care for the stray, give it food and shelter, love it – not because it’s lovely or valuable, but because it needs love – it needs someone to value it.

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” ‘Loved’ in this passage is the Greek word ‘agapao’. It describes a love that requires action or a love that assigns value to the object being loved. In short – God loved us because we needed loving and any value we have is derived from the fact that He loved us enough to act by sending His Son to save us.

So, in a way, we love Baby and our other strays because, initially, they needed loving. And by demonstrating our love for them by giving them a home, feeding and doctoring them, they take on value in our hearts.

Like I said, I don’t want to make too much of this, but it helps me see God’s love for me; not that I deserved it, but that I needed it. And it cost something.

*****

About the money:

The money for ‘Cat ICU’ was there when we needed it. It always is.

I quit believing that I was my own source a long time ago. I work to make a living, people buy books or pay me for my time; I know that. But I’m not my source; neither are the people who write me checks. God is my source. That’s not just spiritual lingo (I hate spiritual lingo), it’s reality. And I didn’t come to realize it by some leap of faith or holy epiphany. It’s come by experience. We do what needs to be done and whatever is required to make it happen shows up when we need it. That’s how it is … and certainly not because of any particular goodness on my side. He’s faithful to provide even when I’m not so faithful in holding up my end of the relationship. I guess that’s ‘agapao’ – loving me because I need loving.

Until next week,

Steve Spillman

→ 4 CommentsTags: agape · Site News

Breaking Free of Groundhog Day

September 4th, 2009 · 1 Comment

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

For the last few weeks we’ve talked about the old man who was crucified when we became new creatures in Christ. But that old man (or old woman) keeps popping up, staying in control of our bodies through our old habits and actions that pull us back in the grave with it. And we got a pretty good idea of just what those habits and actions were; the Bible calls them “the acts of the sinful nature.” If you missed last week you can check them out by clicking here.

If we refuse to kill those acts of the sinful nature in our own lives we’ll die. Even if we claim that we’ve been ‘born again’, if we continue to take our orders from the old man, we’ll die. “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21) That’s the downside.

But I promised you good news this week. Here’s the upside:

When we crucify the old man by killing all the deadly baggage he brought with him (“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” – Galatians 5:24), the Spirit fills that void and begins to transform our new ‘born again’ personalities. Not our does our ‘new man’ enjoy the promise of life eternal, the Spirit’s influence makes our lives here and now infinitely better.

After Paul told the Galatians about the acts that would lead them to certain death, he told them what would naturally be produced in their lives by putting those acts themselves to death. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Fruit isn’t something you do; it’s something you get. It comes about on its own as a result of what you do. When you “crucify the sinful nature with its passion and desires” you make room for the Spirit to fill all the cracks and crevices where your old man dwelt before you killed him. When you’re filled with God’s Spirit instead of your own old sinful nature a lot of wonderful fruit grows as a result.

Let’s talk about quality of life for a second. Man is absolutely wrapped up in making his life better. That’s what success programs, get rich quick schemes, advertising and striving for a better job, bigger house, and newer car are all about – making our lives better. So we buy into the program, listen to the propaganda and work ourselves into an early grave; just so we can get more or nicer stuff, so our lives will be better. But our lives don’t get any better; we just get busier trying to pay for and maintain our stuff. When are we going to figure out that more stuff doesn’t equal a better life?

You want a better life? Stop for a second and listen. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

What is quality of life about if not those things? I don’t care if you live in a tent or in a mansion; if your life is filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control more stuff isn’t going to improve on that. Chances are it’ll just get in the way.

The amazing thing is that we don’t have to go out and get love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We don’t have to develop the habits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. They’re fruit. They come on their own as a natural result of God’s Spirit living in us because we’ve made room for Him by “crucify[ing] the sinful nature with its passion and desires.”

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are signs that God’s Spirit is calling the shots in your life. And the only way He’s going to call the shots is if there’s not somebody else in there already in charge. The Spirit will never force Himself into your life. You’ve got to make room for Him. I’ve said it before, being ‘born-again’ requires dying first. If you say that you’ve been born-again but you refuse to crucify your old sinful nature, you’re just kidding yourself … but you’re not kidding Him. “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” (Romans 8:9)

Funny as it sounds, eternal life and enjoying love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control right now doesn’t come from being good. It comes from not being bad. We’re not good; we can’t be. Jesus taught us that. “No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)

So am I saying that eternal life and life here in the Spirit is a matter of not being bad? I know what you’re thinking. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” So it’s not a matter of being good or bad; all we have to do is believe, right?

Well, you can’t get to heaven just by doing good things, but you can’t get to heaven if you’re doing bad things either; no matter what you believe. Believing in God’s Son isn’t a matter of lip service. Saying the sinner’s prayer without changing your life isn’t going to do you any good … sorry. And believing in God’s Son isn’t holding some cerebral position: “I believe Jesus exists.” Even the demons believe that (James 2:19).

Believing in God’s Son is a lot more than saying you believe or thinking you believe. And if you’re going to cling to what Jesus said in John 3:16, you’d better be prepared to accept what He said in the next breath as well. “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:19-21)

Believing in God’s Son means changing your existence completely. If your existence hasn’t changed neither has your belief. Belief in God’s Son will save you when it’s real enough to change your life. And changing your life means crucifying your old man and his deadly habits every time they pop up (that’s daily – for some of us it can be hourly). When you crucify those deeds that lead to death you make a place for the Spirit to reside – He won’t share space with death.

And when the Spirit resides in your life good things happen. Fruit springs up and ripens all on its own. Your personality and actions start to reflect love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. You’ll have a life that all the money and stuff in the world will never buy. Thirsty people will hang around you just to catch some of your splash. And they’ll get some too, because you’ll become a spring of living water. When you kill death, Life fills you, and when you’re full you’re able to share life with others. I can’t imagine anything better.

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Groundhog Day … Again

August 26th, 2009 · No Comments

Last week we talked about how being born again into life requires dying first; crucifying the old man whose behavior leads us into death. We also figured out how we crucify the old man – we kill his deeds, the behavior that leads us to death instead of life.

Remember the old joke: “A man goes to the doctor and says, ‘Doc, It hurts when I do this.’ The doctor says, ‘Then don’t do that.’”

Dumb joke. Simple point.

There are acts that lead to death. If you don’t want to die – don’t do them. What are those acts? Paul made a list for the church in Galatia.

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21)

That sounds like some pretty bad stuff; you and I don’t do any of those things. I mean ‘witchcraft’ and ‘orgies’? C’mon, these are bad folks we’re talking about; not us. And ‘debauchery’? Who even knows what that means? If the list sounds a little irrelevant; if you think you’re safe, if you think it’s a list of stuff other people do, let me break it down – just so we’re sure that it has nothing to do with us.

Sexual immorality – the Greek word Paul used here was ‘porneia’. Porneia covers the gamut of sexual sin – sex with someone you’re not married to, homosexuality, lesbianism, bestiality and incest. It’s the word we get ‘pornography’ from. Remember what Jesus said? “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Galatia didn’t have Internet access or cable TV when Paul wrote his letter. Today we’re more technologically sophisticated and discreet with our sexual sin ….

Impurity‘akatharsia’ in Greek. Literally, it means ‘uncleanness’. Not just lustful thoughts, but impure motives. Akatharsia also refers to a luxurious or profligate (recklessly extravagant) lifestyle. Remember the TV show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”? While we’re ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ as Donald Trump sips champagne from a glass slipper, death creeps in and strangles us. According to God, that kind of life isn’t ‘extravagant’; it’s ‘unclean’.

Debauchery‘aselgeia’ in Greek. It’s also translated ‘sensuality’. The word refers to a life without restraint – ‘anything I want, anytime I want it.’ Sounds like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous again, doesn’t it? The word Aselgeia is built from the negative particle ‘a’ and a presumed root ‘selges’ meaning ‘continent’. So ‘aselgeia’ can be translated literally ‘incontinent.’ Not a pretty picture, but spiritually accurate (I’ll leave you to figure that one out).

Idolatry – ‘eidololatreia’ in Greek. That means worshipping false gods. There were a lot of false gods worshipped during Bible days. Thank goodness we don’t have much of that anymore! But one false god from the old days did survive; and it’s got more worshippers today than ever. And the idols to this god are everywhere. These days it seems like the only real competition to the One True God. Jesus warned his followers about worshipping the idols to this false god. “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Witchcraft – okay, for sure, we don’t have to worry about this one. There may be some nuts out there that practice witchcraft, but not us, right? Greek word – ‘pharmakeia’. Sound familiar? How about ‘pharmacy’? Pharmakeia (witchcraft) means literally, “using or administering drugs to achieve a desired ‘magical’ result.” I’ve looked, but I can’t find anywhere in the Bible that distinguishes illicit from prescription drugs or homegrown from synthetic. If you’re using or administering drugs to achieve a desired ‘magical’ result, you’re practicing witchcraft. You figure it out.

Hatred – here’s a good respectable sin; way more acceptable than witchcraft or sexual sin. Some translations of the Bible use the word ‘enmity’, which means ‘a deep seated dislike or ill will’; literally – the state of being an enemy. Hatred can take a lot of forms. I can hate the bad guys overseas or on the other side of town. I can hate the kid with the throbbing sub-woofers next to me at the stoplight. I can even hate someone in my own household. Hate doesn’t have to be in your face with guns, knives and fists; it can be secret and as subtle as a spiteful look or an unkind comment.

Discord ‘eris’ in Greek. It means contention, strife, arguing, quarreling. Sounds like a typical family breakfast on a weekday.

Jealousy‘zelos’ in Greek. It’s where we get the word zeal from. That doesn’t sound so bad. The Bible says that God is jealous for His people. That’s God, not us. Jealousy in the hands of people turns too easily into bitter envy. Jealousy is the root of disorder and wickedness in the world. There was an angel named Lucifer once. His jealousy nearly destroyed the earth, expelled a third of Heaven’s angels and did incalculable damage to the family of man.

Fits of rage‘thumos’ in Greek. Its root word ‘thoo’; in English ‘kill’. Thumos is rage that quickly boils up like a pot on a stove, to the point you want to kill someone, then quickly subsides. Ever been cut off by some jerk on the freeway and feel that ‘fit of rage’ boil up? That’s thumos.

Selfish ambition – ‘eritheia’ in Greek. Strong’s Concordance defines ‘eritheia’ as “a partisan and fractious spirit which does not disdain low arts.” I’m not positive what ‘low arts’ are, but they sound like something politicians use to gain an advantage over their rivals. That’s what selfish ambition is – politicking. Doing whatever it takes to one-up the next guy. That’s how it’s done in Washington. Too often that’s how it’s done at work at school and even at church – putting yourself ahead as the expense of others.

Dissensions – ‘dichostasia’ in Greek. It means discord, division, dissension. If we’re all one Body, born into one Christ why is there a church on every corner, each featuring its own brand of ‘one Body’, ‘one Christ’? I belonged to a church once where the preacher spent more time railing against other churches than he railed against sin. Pitiful.

Factions – ‘hairesis’ in Greek. It’s where we get the word ‘heresy’. Hairesis means literally, ‘the act of taking’ or ‘capture’. In the church it means ‘capturing’ your own brand of truth or opinion and building a fort around it. We have a much cleaner word for it today – denomination.

Envy‘phthonos’ in Greek. Envy is looking at someone else’s the stuff or position, feeling pain that you don’t have it and ill will toward the person who does. It’s an absolutely ridiculous practice and is best left to the advertising industry and television reality shows.

Drunkenness‘methe’ in Greek. This is an easy one; it means ‘drunkenness’ or ‘intoxication’. It also means buzzed, smashed, under the influence, inebriated or tipsy. It’s not a glass of wine at dinner or a beer with your burger. It’s killing the bottle or six pack singlehandedly.

Orgies‘komos’ is the Greek word. And it’s not what the word ‘orgy’ has come to mean these days; ‘reveling’ is a better word. ‘Partying’ is and even better word. It’s not getting together socially with a few friends. It’s bar hopping, boot stomping, cow tipping, rolling around in the street at 2:00 AM partying.

At the end of his list Paul ads “and things like these” to cover anything he may have forgotten. The Galatian believers didn’t have a Jewish background and they had led a pretty loose life before coming to faith in Christ. Some Jewish believers came over to ‘straighten them up’ by telling them that in order to be saved they had to follow the Law of Moses, including circumcision. Paul had the balancing act of teaching them that their salvation was through faith, not through following the law – they were free from the law of Moses, but their freedom didn’t give them license to live their old sinful lifestyle. They were subject to a higher law – the law of the Spirit.

We’re not much different than the Galatians. We live in a society where most of the acts of the sinful nature, if not totally acceptable, are pretty much tolerated. There’s not much on that list that will land you in jail and none of it would get you the death penalty. In the society we live in, those things just aren’t that big a deal.

But here’s the problem and here’s why I took the time to list them and explain what they really mean. These acts do carry the death penalty. “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21) The reason I took the time to pull each word apart is that ‘the acts of the sinful nature’ aren’t some irrelevant list of sins only ‘bad’ people do. They’re sins you and I commit every day. Don’t think so? Look at the list again. I’m ashamed of how many times my actions (remember – we’ll be judged by our actions, not our intentions) popped up in that list. You and I aren’t all that different; if I’m on the list, chances are you’re on it somewhere too. If you can’t seem to find yourself anywhere on the list, sit down with God and ask Him what “and things like these” means in your life. He wants to conform you into the image of His Son, and if you ask Him, He’ll point out what’s got to go.

One final word of warning:

Paul wasn’t writing to the general populace; he was writing to Galatian believers. “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8).

*****

One more week of Groundhog Day – but next week is the good news. If you’re tired of strife, tension, worry and defeat, and you’re looking for a life of peace, joy, and love, then I’ve got you’re answer. I promise – next week, nothing but good stuff.

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Groundhog Day Part 2

August 17th, 2009 · No Comments

“Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” (Romans 8:5)

In my last letter I talked about how what I want to do, I don’t do; but the very thing I don’t want to do, that’s what I find myself doing. In my mind I want to do what’s right, but in my body, there’s another will at work – one that overrides my mind and puts me doing the very things I’m trying so hard to avoid.

That other will, at work in the members of my body, seems to control things; no matter how hard I try to overrule it with my mind, I’m powerless over its grip on me. And that will has no interest in my long term survival; the things it makes me do to satisfy its selfish desires have already led me to a death sentence and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

But wait! We also read that Christ came to earth and died to cover the penalty of that death sentence – the one the members of my body got me into. When he died, the death penalty was paid for me and you and everyone else on this planet. And when he rose again from the dead, he proved that death no longer had any power over him.

There’s a name for the will that is at work in the members of my body to get its way in my life – it’s called death. Before Christ came and paid the price death demanded, I was powerless to fight it. Even though I knew what I should be doing, I followed what death wanted me to do. It was too powerful for me, I didn’t have a choice – I had to go along. But when Christ paid that price he took away death’s power to control me.

But that’s not the whole story. Jesus knew that in order to break death’s grip, he would have to die; he also knew that in order for his disciples to break death’s grip in their own lives, they would have to die as well. He was talking to them about his death and theirs when he said, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.” (John 12:24-26)

Jesus was telling them that he was going to the cross to die in order to give life to many. And that, if they wished to have life, they must follow him and die as well. The only way to life is by dying first. Jesus died literally; he was killed on the cross, and then three days later he rose to life again, literally, having (literally) broken death’s power over him, and through him, death’s power over all men was broken.

The death Jesus required of his disciples wasn’t a physical death on the cross, although some of them suffered that demise. It was a spiritual death; in order to rise again to life, spiritually, with death’s grip broken. That’s the way it works; it’s impossible to become ‘born-again’ without dying first.

Being ‘born-again’ isn’t a matter of saying, “I’m sorry for my sins,” or ‘inviting Jesus into my heart,’ or ‘making a decision for Christ.’ None of these terms are mentioned in the Bible as requirements for being ‘born again’. Being ‘born again’ means first dying to the life ruled by the flesh (repenting) so that through faith (believing), we are born into a new life. That’s what baptism represents – dying (going under the water) and then being reborn (coming up out of the water). Our problem is that we want to be born again without dying first. We like the idea of being a ‘new creation’; we just don’t want to kill the old man to get there.

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” (Romans 6:4-6)

Without repentance (killing the old man by turning away from the acts and attitudes he represents) there isn’t any salvation (no new life, no new creation). Repentance isn’t saying I’m sorry. When God convicts me of my sin, I ought to be sorry; but saying “I’m sorry for my sins” is absolutely meaningless if I’m not sorry enough to rid my life of them.

Equally meaningless are, “inviting Jesus into my heart” and “making a decision for Christ”; unless my ‘inviting’ and ‘deciding’ mean that I’ve nailed my old man to the cross and left him behind. There’s no other way around it; I can’t have new life unless I’m willing to kill my old one.

But, as I know only too well, because my new man still lives in my old body, its previous owner doesn’t stay dead. He comes back to haunt me on a regular basis. Jesus was crucified and died once, for all. He didn’t have to do it again. But when he spoke to his disciples about following his lead he said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Imagine that! Imagine the horror and pain of the crucifixion. Jesus told his disciples that if they want to follow him, they must pick up their own cross and be crucified with him. Jesus said not only, “pick up your cross and follow me to your crucifixion.” He said, “Pick up your cross daily!

Because my body didn’t die in my crucifixion, my old man can resurrect himself in the members of my body, raising his ugly head, refusing to stay dead. But when he resurrects himself, it’s my spiritual obligation to nail him to the cross again, even on a daily basis.

“Therefore brothers, we have an obligation – but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live …” (Romans 8:12-13)

So how do I crucify my old man daily? By putting to death the misdeeds of the body … daily.

And how do I do that? Those misdeeds of the body have been burned into me; they’re a part of my habit patterns. I want to do what’s right, but I find myself doing what’s wrong. The wrong I don’t want to do is the very thing I find myself doing!

How do I put to death the misdeeds of the body? By a conscious act of will. In my body, the shackles of sin and death are still clamped to my wrists and ankles. Like the elephant, my leg is still tied to that stake. And I’ve been bound for so long that there’s no earthly reason for me to believe I’ll ever break free.

But that’s what Christ did when he went to the cross; by dying he broke the power of those bonds, they can’t hold me anymore. And that’s what I do when I go to the cross; I put to death the old man who says these bonds hold me. With every conscious act of will that I “put to death the misdeeds of the body,” I shake free the shackles that were unlocked at the cross. I pull free from the stake that no longer has the power to hold me down. I crucify the old man by crucifying his deeds; he no longer has the power to hold me.

I crucify him daily; some days, moment by moment. But by every act of my will as a new man, I break the power of the old man to have its way in my life. I learn, through experience, that sin’s power to bind me is a lie; its power was broken long ago. The chains are there, but they’ve lost their grip; all I’ve got to do is shake free.

*****

Next week we’ll talk about just exactly what those ‘misdeeds of the body’ are, exactly how to ‘put them to death’ and what kind of fruit will grow and thrive in when that old man dies.

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Groundhog Day

August 6th, 2009 · 1 Comment

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil that I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me who does it.

“So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:15-24)

*****

Remember the movie “Groundhog Day”? Phil Connors (Bill Murray) goes to bed on the evening of February 2 (Groundhog Day) only to wake up the next morning on February 2 (Groundhog Day) … again. Everyone in town, except Phil, is unaware that they’re repeating the same day. Phil goes to bed the night of his second Groundhog Day and wakes up the next morning only to find out that it’s February 2 (Groundhog Day) … again!

In the movie, Phil knows he’s repeating the same day, so he varies his actions, pulls outrageous stunts, and changes his routine day after day – anything to break out of this apparent time-warp. The townspeople, completely unaware that the day is repeating itself, act exactly the same, go through the same motions and give the same greetings day after day.

Sometimes I feel like I’m repeating Groundhog Day … except everyone else is outside the time-warp, conducting their lives, moving from one day to the next. I’m the one stuck; repeating the same motions, day after day, trapped in my old habits, unable to move forward. Every morning I know what I want to do, but I don’t do it; instead, by habit, I do what I don’t want to do, and Groundhog Day repeats itself … again.

Sound familiar?

Paul was in the middle of writing a letter to the believers in Rome when he started in on, “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Paul was talking about sin. I imagine that Rome wasn’t a place very conducive to living a righteous lifestyle. It was the capital of the empire and everything was available. Kind of like pushing together Las Vegas, New Orleans, New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and adding public hot tubs.

Earlier in his letter to the Romans, Paul explained that, if they had been born again in Christ, they had died to sin – they were no longer slaves to its power. Through his death, Christ covered man’s sin, and no matter how much sin increased, God’s grace through Christ’s sacrifice increased even more to cover it. So man was free from sin’s power and consequently free from sins death penalty!

Why then, if Christ beat sin and man was no longer in it’s evil control, was Paul admitting that, “I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members”? If he was set free from sin why hadn’t anyone told his body? Ahhh … that’s the problem, isn’t it?

In my mind, Christ has set me free from sin’s power, but my body lags behind, still following those same trails I cut when sin had me in its grip. It’s like there are two me’s fighting for control; the re-born me, who delights in God’s law, and the old me, abiding inside the members of my body, still following those old habit patterns of sin and death. So that, even though I want to do the right thing, I find myself doing the wrong things.

Woe is me! How am I ever going to get out of this miserable existence?

At least Paul found himself in the same spot, and so, apparently, did the Romans. If we’ve been born again and set free from sin’s power, how come we’re still trapped in the middle of it? Paul gives a simple and profound answer; one that I had missed over and over again.

“Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! So, then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:25)

I knew Paul was trying to give me the answer, but I never could figure out just what he was saying the answer was. “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Yup, great; I’m all for that, Thank you Lord, you’ve set us free … now what’s the answer. After the Thanks be to God thing, Paul is right back where we started – “I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” There’s got to be an answer in there somewhere!

That’s when the Holy Spirit shined a little flashlight on the spot I’d been missing. “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” That’s the answer! “… through Jesus Christ our Lord!” I’d read that passage a hundred times and every time I read it: “ThanksbetoGodthroughJesusChristourLord!” All one train going down the track, like ThankyouJesus! I was looking for the answer after the sentence, not in the sentence!

Question:” Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Answer: “Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Ding! The lights are now on!

When Jesus paid the penalty of sin by laying down his life as a sacrifice for all of us, he broke its power to control us. It’s like every person in the world was lying in a dark prison cell, shackled hand and foot with heavy chains. Jesus, in his act of redemption (buying us back from sin), entered the prison and went around to each inmate and turned a key that opened the lock that fastened our chains. He didn’t shake off the chains and walk us out of prison; he opened the locks that held our chains fast.

Before Christ rescued us by his death, we were powerless to break free of our chains no matter how hard we struggled because the lock that held the chains in place was still locked. But now that Christ has turned the key and opened the lock that gave sin its power, all we have to do is shake off the chains and walk out of prison! The chains are still there, still wrapped around the members of our bodies, but lock’s been opened, the chains by themselves can’t hold us! That’s the answer!

*****

If you’ve spent any time in church or listening to motivational speakers you’ve heard the story of how circus trainers keep elephants fastened to a stake. Adult elephants, of course, are too powerful to be held by a rope fastened to their back leg, tied to a stake. They’ll simply pull with their fastened leg and jerk the stake from the ground. An adult elephant is too strong to be held in place by a single stake.

But the circus trainer knows this, so he starts when the elephant is just a baby, just learning to walk about. The trainer drives a stake into the ground and fastens one end of a rope to the stake and the other to the baby elephant’s leg; when the animal realizes its back leg is tied it goes berserk! It jerks and pulls and runs around the stake and hollers, but the baby elephant doesn’t have the strength to free itself by pulling the stake from the ground.

Exhausted by the struggle and failed attempts to free itself, the baby elephant eases its fight against the stake and learns to live within the confines of the rope tied to its leg. In time the elephant gives up pulling against the stake entirely. It knows that as long as the rope is tied around its leg it will never be free from the stake, so it doesn’t bother trying. The baby elephant grows into an adult and that rope is still there and the adult elephant never pulls against it to try the stake. And that’s how you keep and adult elephant in check.

*****

We’re going to talk about chains and locks and ropes and stakes for the next few weeks. If we are really only held in place by chains with no locks or a rope tied to a stake that we could easily pull from the ground, why don’t we free ourselves? Come back next week; we’ll work on that.

Until then, give that rope a little tug.

In Jesus,

Steve Spillman

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‘Enough’ is an Illusion

July 30th, 2009 · No Comments

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Matthew 6:26)

Of all the times I’ve asked God to help me or to provide something for me, I don’t remember ever asking Him for someone I can help or provide for. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve always asked to get. I’ve never asked to give.

I’ve given and I’ve helped plenty of times (whatever ‘plenty’ means). I just don’t know that in the million times I’ve asked God for something, I’ve ever asked Him for the opportunity to give something to someone else. Maybe I have … but I don’t remember.

I’m probably not alone in this. I used to think my situation was unique, but the more I talk to folks the more I discover that I’m about as unique as a BB in a ball bearing factory. If I suffer from a form of evil selfishness, it’s probably a very common strain.

But the term ‘selfish’ doesn’t really cover this; it’s deeper. Maybe ‘backwards’ fits.

Think about our most popular giving verses. “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” (Luke 6:38) Is it just me or is the emphasis always put on what we’ll get in return, “… pressed down, shaken together and running over …”?

Here’s a TV favorite, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” (2 Corinthians 9:6) TV guy translation: ‘Sow your seed today (i.e. send me a check) so that you may reap the Lord’s bounty.’ Emphasis on the reaping.

Sorry, I’m picking on the TV guys again. That game can be played just as easily in person, by mail, on the radio or on the internet. TV just works better.

Still, I don’t hear the other seed verse much on TV; “… unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24)

And for heaven’s sake, don’t mention, Matthew 19:21 during share-a-thon week! “Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.’” First of all, the remit to address is wrong; secondly, there’s no customer back-end: “you will have treasure in heaven.” Where’s the payoff in that?

That’s enough sarcasm for one week.

The point I’m making is we’ve got giving backwards. We’re all about giving when it means we’re doing the receiving, and we can be talked into a little giving ourselves when we’ve got iron-clad guarantees that we’ll get a big return on our investment; but we don’t focus much on giving just because that’s what Jesus did and told us to do.

We’re to give to others because He gave to us … end of story. What we get, if anything, as a result of our giving is completely irrelevant to our reason for giving. And in God’s economy giving is way bigger than getting. Getting is a by-product of giving like lint is a by product of putting towels in the dryer. It comes with the process but it’s certainly not the reason to dry towels.

It would be extremely cool to balance out my God give me this, prayers with God who can I give to prayers. I’m going to start doing that. If you want to do the same, go ahead.

And if you’re stumped on who to give to, here’s a hint: open your Bible and read who Jesus gave to and who he told others to give to, and then read about who the apostles had the early churches taking up collections for. Chances are we’ve got a lot of the same kinds of folks around today. They’re as good a place to start as any.

*****

On a completely different note that has absolutely nothing to do with the subject above. I was pondering about something a few nights ago. Here it is:

What would it be like if we only kept enough of our resources to survive for one year? Everything else we gave away. Where would we be after the year was through?

What if we reserved enough for just six months – giving everything else away? What if just enough for one month? What if we kept just enough for a day? What would our lives be like if we lived only in the moment; keeping what we needed at the moment and giving everything else away? What if we even gave away what we needed? Would we survive then?

‘Enough’ is an illusion. I’ve never had enough material wealth to feel secure in what I had. But I’ve always managed to eat and always had somewhere to sleep. I’ve worried about not surviving many, many, many times in my life; but I’ve always survived. And starvation has never really been a serious personal threat.

Security in anything but God is an illusion. Outside of Him, security does not exist. The sudden disappearance of our investment accounts and retirement savings in the last two years has proven that. ‘Well, at least we’ve got food on the table and a roof over our heads.’ That’s true … unless you’re one of the millions who have lost your job due to the economic meltdown and your home in the mortgage crisis. ‘Well, at least we have our health.’ True dat … unless the swine flu, salmonella, HIV, or a city bus gets you first. There really isn’t a fool proof source of security in this world … just ask Michael Jackson.

Security can only be found in a personal God, Whose loving care surrounds you and engulfs you. His security is everywhere; proving itself every day, moment by moment. And yet we cling to an illusion and worry.

How hard would it be to simply let go of all the things that promise security but can’t provide it, and cling to the One thing that proves over and over to be the only real source of security?

What would our lives be like if we tested that security daily by giving everything else away and resting only in God’s promise to provide?

Pretty seditious questions, I know. Not very practical really. How would we pay the electric bill and where would the money for next week’s groceries come from?

Oh well … just a thought.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33-34)

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Knowing your Route from your Destination

July 23rd, 2009 · No Comments

“I’ve always gotten to where I’m going, but it didn’t look the same.” Sounds a little like a Yogi Berra quote, doesn’t it? It’s not. It’s a Steve quote, just ask Elaine, she’ll vouch for me. I’ve always had a decent idea of where I needed to be, sometimes I had a vague idea of how to get there; but by the time I arrived and looked back, I see that how I got there was never the way I imagined it when I started out.

This whole explanation sounds kind of circuitous – which, I guess, reveals why I get to where I’m going but not by the route in which I began.

There’s a story about a guy who was crippled and wanted to be healed. There was a pool in Jerusalem called Bethesda that was said to have healing powers. When an angel stirred the water the first person in the pool was healed of whatever affliction he or she possessed. This place and its healing powers were, of course, very popular among the afflicted. With the crowd around the pool, each waiting for the water to be stirred, each racing to be the first to enter the pool, the crippled guy in our story didn’t have much of a chance. He just couldn’t get to the water in time.

Not that he hadn’t been trying; he had lain by the pool for thirty-eight years. It seemed like the way to go thirty-eight years earlier – he was crippled, he wanted to get well, the first person into Bethesda pool after the angel stirred the water was healed – he’d go to Bethesda pool and jump in when the water moved. It sounded like a good plan, it just hadn’t worked. Too much competition; it was the same plan everyone else at the pool had. Their goal was to get into the water first and only one of them could accomplish that each time.

Jesus came by Bethesda pool, he saw the crowd at the pool and learned about the guy who had been there thirty-eight years, trying, but failing, to be the first one in. Jesus asked him a really simple question; “do you want to get well?”

Well, duh! He’d been sitting by the pool for thirty-eight years, trying to be the first one in. It was impossible, there were too many others, all trying to accomplish the same goal, and they were faster than him. He’d never be the first to get in.

The man replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

But Jesus didn’t ask him if he wanted to be the first to get in the pool. He asked the man if he wanted to get well.

Thirty-eight years earlier the man wanted to get well; that’s why he had come to Bethesda. But his route had been blocked by everyone else at the pool with the same plan. For thirty-eight years the guy had associated getting into the pool with getting well. Somewhere along the route his destination became the pool.

With a simple question, Jesus reminded the man of his original destination. “Do you want to get well?”

And then, with a single command, Jesus brought him there. “‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” (John 5:8-9)

Gee, that was simple.

I believe we all have an idea of where we really want to go. I also believe that we tend to get lost on the way. Let me clarify: we get lost in the way. Instinctively we know our destination, our purpose. It’s been planted in us by the same Creator who knew us and intended our purpose before He began His work of creation.

We know it, but we don’t know it. At times our spirit seeps into our daily grind and we get a glimpse of where we need to be; but still, we don’t know how to get there. We think we know how to get there, because others have gone before us; there’s a road map to get to where we think we’re going, so we take it. And before long we get hung up on the route and forget we have a destination.

Jesus has a way of dispensing with roadmaps. He was there at the first planning meeting. He knows your destination and he knows how you’re going to get there. He sees it as it should be, as it was intended – not necessarily how you imagine it.

You’ll get to where you’re going, but I promise you this; it’ll be by a route you didn’t imagine. Just when you’re feeling like that guy at the pool, Jesus will come along and say, “Get up!” And you’ll be where you’ve been going to all these years. It may not look exactly like you thought it would, but you’ll know it’s perfect. Just where you’re supposed to be. That’s his grace at work.

*****

Here’s how I remind myself of the difference between my route and my destination.

Jesus taught his disciples a simple prayer; it included the phrase, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s what I ask for, because I know that His kingdom comes to this earth through my heart and His will is done on this earth through my life. My purpose is buried in His purpose.

He knows exactly what I’m supposed to do, where I’m supposed to be and how I’m supposed to get there. I don’t always know, and I’m easily confused. That’s why I start each day with that prayer; it’s kind of like a system reboot, setting me on the route each day toward a destination I can sense but not quite recognize. And when I get there and look back, I’ll realize that it’s where I’ve been headed all along.

If this still sounds a little too much like Yogi Berra to you I’ll leave you with this.

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” – Yogi Berra

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” – God (Jeremiah 29:11)

I’m going with God on this one.

→ No CommentsTags: God's purpose · Prayer

The Five Covenants of God

July 7th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Tithing still remains a controversial issue in the church, even though I straightened everything out two weeks ago. Boy, I wish more people would read this letter.

Amidst the many comments I received from “Forget About Tithing” was one from T___.

“… I did read what you said about tithing but it has been pounded into my head by the church, other Christians and my in-laws, so I didn’t fully comprehend what you were saying.  I did understand yet I didn’t.  Does that make any sense to you?  My husband and I are having a tough time financially with the economy the way it is and my husband being a General Contractor but we’ve been tithing even though we need more money to pay our bills and mortgage.  We do have some commitments to on-line Christian messengers (here she names a list of online newsletters and ministries she supports) When I have spoken to R______ at P_________ (one of the online newsletters: ‘partner’ fee: $10 – $25 monthly) he was adamant about us tithing first no matter what bills we had or if we couldn’t make our house payment.  I’m so confused and distressed about this because I want to do what the Lord wants me to do and I’m afraid NOT to tithe at least 10%.  I’m going to go back and re-read your article in hopes that I understand it better and also hoping that I can use that info to explain to others, like R_____ at P_________, that they are not correct in insisting that I make that 10% no matter what.  Would you have any other scripture that would both make me more comfortable with this concept and also help me to discuss this with the others that insist we MUST tithe?  Thank you so very much, Mr. Spillman, for taking time out of your very busy life to answer my questions, it is so appreciated.  God Bless You.  Your Sister in Christ, T______.”

Here’s my answer to T____:

Just because your church, your in-laws or a guy with an internet newsletter says it, don’t make it so. Opinions are like bellybuttons; everybody’s got one. God’s opinion is the only one that matters. Test what they (we – I’m a guy with an internet newsletter too) say against God’s Word – all of God’s Word and in context of who you are – a new covenant Christian, not an old covenant Jew. If what they (we) say is confirmed by God’s Word and His Spirit, great. If not, it’s toxic waste – walk away.

My opinion? You’re free. Forget about tithing. You’ve been born into a new covenant that makes the old covenant obsolete. Whoever wrote the book of Hebrews was trying to explain this to the Jews. Here are a few excerpts from chapters 7 and 8.

“The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” (Hebrew 7:18-19)

“Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.” (Hebrews 7:22)

“By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:13)

The Jews (to whom the book of Hebrews was addressed) were steeped in the Law of Moses and the traditions of men. They couldn’t get past the old covenant because it had been pounded into their heads all of their lives (sound familiar?). That’s why the writer of Hebrews had to explain the new covenant in terms the Jewish people would understand.

Moses gave 613 laws to the people of Israel to obey. Tithing was one of them.

Two things I’d ask R____ at P__________: a) if he’s dead set on following the law of tithing is he dead set on following the other 612 laws as well? “… all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.” (Romans 2:12) b) Does he consider your $10 – $25 monthly ‘partner’ fee to his newsletter part of your tithe, a donation or a subscription fee? If he says it’s part of your tithe, he’s wrong; we’ve already covered that and you can stop paying it. If he says it’s a donation or a subscription fee, then you can include it or remove it from your monthly budget based on your current financial obligations and value received from the newsletter.

If you’re still confused about tithing and your obligation as a Christian to Jewish law, here’s your next step. Ask God to reveal His truth to you through His Word and His Spirit. Open your Bible to the book of Hebrews and start reading.

As I said a few weeks ago, the new covenant doesn’t reverse the old covenant; it’s supersedes it, making it irrelevant. It’s like a water-use law in a drought stricken city. During a drought certain laws about water usage come into effect – ‘don’t wash your car,’ ‘don’t water your lawn’. When rains are abundant, the drought laws are irrelevant. They’ve been superseded by the reality of rain.

What the law of the old covenant was powerless to do (make men righteous) the law of the new covenant through Jesus the Messiah has already accomplished.

“‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the Lord. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the Lord. ‘For I will forgive their sins and remember their wickedness no more.’” (Jeremiah 31: 33-34)

Spiritually speaking, there’s no drought, the drought laws don’t apply, the rain has come. Tithing is an old obsolete drought law; there’s a new law written on your heart that supersedes the old – give freely, as He leads.

*****

The most profound and simply explained teaching on this subject outside of the Bible that I know about is David Pawson’s ‘The Five Covenants of God.’

It’s a two part audio series (two hours of teaching). And it’s available through Purpose Weekly as an Mp3 download or on two CD’s; here’s a free sample: ‘click here’.

If you’d like the full two hour teaching session just contribute any amount God leads you to Purpose Weekly.

Whatever you give, it’s a contribution; not a tithe or a fee – that way you’re free to do what He wants. (If you think He wants you to have them for a penny, remember that I have to buy them from David Pawson’s audio distributor; CD’s, of course, cost more to make and ship than MP3’s – do whatever honors God, and yes, I sent a complimentary audio download to T____ .)

For MP3 download of “The Five Covenants of God” by David Pawson, click here:

MP3 Download NOTE* IMPORTANT FOR YOUR DOWNLOAD! (After your donation a confirmation page will appear. Click on the orange box that says “RETURN TO TRUE POTENTIAL PUBLISHING, INC.” to begin your download. If you fail to receive the download after donating, leave me a comment in the section below and I’ll forward the download link.

For audio CD’s (2) of “The Five Covenants of God” by David Pawson, click here:

Audio CD’s

→ 2 CommentsTags: Church · David Pawson · God's Voice · money · possessions · Site News · Thriving in Tough Times

Giving as a Spiritual Transaction

July 1st, 2009 · 1 Comment

“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

We received a lot of comments from last week’s letter, “Forget About Tithing.” You really need to read some of them (just click the “Forget About Tithing.” link).

I figured I’d get some harsh rebuttals from pro-tithing clergy, but not so; apparently the pro-tithing clergy don’t read this letter or they don’t have a good argument in their defense … or they agree with what I said (it’s the Word that says it, I just point it out). A couple of pastors commented, and they agreed that giving, not tithing is where a Christian’s heart should be.

My dear friend Roger, a pastor in the Midwest said:

“Pastors preach on tithing for a variety of reasons – mostly wrong ones. Steve, in regards to giving and tithing, I often think that pastors get the cart before the horse. If we had more church members grounded with sound doctrinal stability, filled with love for their Savior, and driven with child-like enthusiasm for His Word, our churches would discover themselves in a wonderful position to be effectively empowered by God to reach the lost. (Realistically, this is what we are to be about in the first place.) …  Oh how our churches need pastors who will get along with God, hear from God, rightly divide what God has said, apply it to themselves, and then proclaim it to others! Lastly, we need always remember that many ignorant pastors attempt to use their Bibles as toolboxes to brow beat parishioners into conforming into preconceived plans for their pastorate. Some never realize, and may never accept, that many of their parishioners may be walking with the Lord, living in His Word, and discovering that God is leading then differently.”

Linda, also from the Midwest, is the wife of a pastor:

“God so loved that He gave and continues to give, the message of the Scripture from the gitgo is give. Everything we have is a gift from God, perhaps we believe we deserve it but it is only by God’s blessed grace that we have the necessities and luxuries of life. Scripture teaches us to be good stewards of God’s gifts and talents. These gifts came from the Lord and in gratitude we return to Him a portion of what He has given us. Giving for me boils down to one thing that we love and trust God with everything we have.

Rather than being “grudge gifts” our offerings to God are to be joyous expressions of love, faith, trust & gratitude. God desires surrender of everything we are and have to Him. I question if one is unable to give a tenth how in the world will one ever be able to surrender all to Him? In my opinion money is the easiest to give it is the surrender of our hearts and being to Him where the rubber meets the road.

Our family for one is daily discovering the unfathomable love of our Father. We have learned the blessings of giving and we started the journey with Mal. 3:10 and we have been blessed beyond our wildest dreams.

May all your journeys with the Lord be blessed!”

Amen! My kind of clergy.

*****

Last week I told you that when I searched for tithing in the New Testament I was stunned at how little it was mentioned and what was written was either in a negative context or referring to an Old Testament event. My conclusion? There’s nothing Christian about tithing.

Well, I figured that giving was Christian and that I’d see what the New Testament had to say about giving. It happened again … I was stunned. My assumption about giving, like my assumption about tithing was way off base. I figured that giving was about sharing my money, my stuff, and my time with others – those less fortunate, those in need and those who dedicate their lives in ministry to others. I wasn’t wrong, wrong – giving is about that; but it’s not about that.

First of all, remember I said that tithe/tithes/tithing show up only seven times in the New Testament? Give/gives/given/giver/gift show up over 500 times in the New Testament!

The next thing I noticed was that the overwhelming majority of those give/gives/given/giver/gift references are about God giving us something – eternal life, love, spiritual gifts, and earthly necessities.

Then I noticed that there were a lot of references about what we’re to give God – thanks, glory, honor, and praise (and finally an account of our lives).

Finally, there are references about giving to others – to the poor, to those who ask, to our brothers and sisters in Christ, to those who serve in ministry full time, and to other churches.

What struck me was that when I thought about Christian giving it was always in terms giving to my church in the offering, or giving to another ministry or charity, or to a person or family in need. It was always about giving money or stuff or time to someone else. That’s what I assumed Christian giving was all about. But when I looked at what the Bible actually said about giving, it was overwhelmingly about God giving to me, and then a distant second, about me giving to God, and then a far distant third about me giving to others.

Then the light went on. It was so obvious – so in front of my face all the time. Giving isn’t about money or stuff or even time. Giving is a spiritual transaction. It’s initiated by God. He gives to us first. He gives us life and love and every spiritual blessing to nurture us as we grow to become what He has purposed us to be. He gives us every physical blessing we need to survive while we live here on earth. He is our Father in the most intimate, most profound, most original way we can imagine. His gift to us is relationship.

And we are created to respond. Our giving to God – thanks, glory, honor, and praise – is a response to His giving to us. The giving and receiving is what makes us whole; it’s our relationship with He Who gives. It’s intimate and personal; it’s about His love and our response. It’s a spiritual transaction.

Money and stuff and time are physical currencies. And any physical currency we hold, everything we own and our life itself isn’t equal to the gift He first gave us. That’s why our obligatory response is giving him thanks, glory, honor and praise – it’s the only thing we possess that is of any value to Him. God doesn’t take cash and he doesn’t need our stuff.

But He has provided a way to respond to His giving that comes as close as we’re going to get to making a proper gift of our money and our stuff and our time. That’s when we give to others.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I need clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me …. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)

He uses our physical gifts to others as a spiritual conduit back to Himself. That’s the only way our money and stuff and time can be turned into something of value to Him.

Giving money and stuff and time isn’t a financial transaction, it’s a spiritual transaction. It’s a response to the inestimable grace and mercy He has given us. Our response to God is to treat others with the same love and mercy and generosity he has given us.

*****

A word about churches and pastors.

God told Moses to take an offering “from each man whose heart prompts him to give” (Exodus 25:2) to build the first tabernacle. The first and second temples in Israel were built with tax money. The tabernacle and the temples were where God’s Spirit dwelt while He was with the people of Israel.

Today God’s Spirit dwells inside His people and we are His tabernacle and His temple. God doesn’t dwell in buildings; He dwells in us. That building you go to on Sundays and Wednesdays isn’t a church; it’s just a building. God doesn’t dwell there … unless you (the church) are inside. The place the church (you again) gathers and worships can have a steeple, or big glass windows, or it can be a gymnasium, or a barn or a living room. The building you worship in doesn’t matter … unless you try to make it matter by committing more honor and resources to it than it’s due. Buildings aren’t monuments to God; they’re monuments to men.

Here’s your responsibility: Whatever building you get together in, it usually has expenses associated with it. Make sure they’re covered. If you can pay for cable and lattés each month, you can afford your share of the upkeep on your place of worship. Pretty simple.

God provided for the support of the tribe of Levi – the priests of Israel. Part of the Old Testament tithes went to cover this expense. As we discovered last week, tithing was a Jewish thing; it’s not a Christian thing. But those who work for God full time have a right to support from those they serve (I Corinthians 9:3-11); that is a Christian thing. If your pastor’s family is the poorest family in the church, shame on you. Honor God by honoring them.

As for other ministers – evangelists, missionaries, street preachers, and the myriad of other God servants that come your way via television, radio, the internet – do what God leads you to do. Just make sure it’s God leading you and not the guy on stage.

Above all, remember that giving what you’ve been given is an act of worship. It’s an intimate personal spiritual transaction between you and the One Who gives all good gifts. It’s not your response to men; it’s your response to Him.

→ 1 CommentTags: money · possessions

Forget About Tithing

June 24th, 2009 · 19 Comments

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:23-24)

Wow.

I was just looking for a scripture on tithing. I wound up in a shouting match with Pharisees. But let me tell you how this all started.

Remember my last letter? We had just finished up an eleven week series on ‘thriving in tough times’ and at the end of the letter I made the comment that I didn’t have a clue on what we should discuss next, but that I’d go ask (Him). A few hours after the letter went out a suggestion came in.

“I have an idea about what to write next about! Tithing! Your thoughts please! If it is that the Lord so leads you.

Given these tough economic times – churches are feeling the pinch and thereby pinching their parishioners. As we have already discussed privately through emails – I find no evidence for tithing 10% in the New Testament at all. Why not share with the rest what you believe the Bible says on the topic? God bless! Carol”

*****

At first I didn’t want to tackle this. Do I really need to poke my thumb in the eye of the establishment? Don’t I do that enough already? I’m not a pastor or an elder or a church accountant. And I’ve never been accused of being an expert on church doctrine. Tithing is a church thing (boy, did I find out how true that statement is). So I really don’t have a horse in this race … do I?

But tithing is also a money thing and I’m always talking about money. The reason I talk about money so much is that we’re so hung up on money; most of our waking thoughts and decisions revolve around it and our obsession with it tends to screw up more important things in our lives.

There’s something more important than money? Yeah, I know it’s a shock, but it’s true. There are things in our lives right now that will last forever and things that won’t. Money is one of the things that won’t. Those things that do last forever should never be at the mercy of those things that don’t.

If tithing is a church thing and a money thing, it’s probably a biblical thing too. So I’d better look into it. For an amateur, I think I have a pretty good idea of what’s in the Bible. Of course, every time I actually look in the Bible I’m disappointed by how little of it I really do know. Tithing was like that.

What I figured I knew about tithing probably isn’t very different from what a lot of folks think they know about tithing. You give 10% of your money (up front – not after expenses) to the church – that’s the part you owe God. Tithing is biblical … it’s got to be, or else we wouldn’t get the tithing sermon when things around the parish are tight. And, as Carol put in her note, now that we’re in tough economic times, “churches are feeling the pinch and thereby pinching their parishioners.”

So, according to the Bible, are we supposed to tithe 10% to the church? Well, tithing is biblical; according to Strong’s Concordance ‘tithe,’ ‘tithes,’ or ‘tithing’ shows up thirty-nine times – thirty-two in the Old Testament and seven in the New. On the other hand, ‘Philistine’ or ‘Philistines’ shows up 285 times – all in the Old Testament. ‘Philistines’ are statistically 7.3 times more biblical than ‘tithing’.

But I can’t remember the last time I heard a really good sermon on Philistines. My father was a preacher and he called me a Philistine when I exhibited less than exemplary table manners, but other than that, I don’t remember a lot of pulpiteering on the subject. The reason that Philistines are so unfairly underrepresented compared to tithing may be that Philistines are more or less irrelevant to church finances.

Another reason that we don’t hear a lot about Philistines in church may be that they’re not mentioned once in the New Testament – they may be more or less irrelevant to the church. A good example of what not to do, maybe, but not a people we deal with on a regular basis like the Israelites did.

It’s unfair to lump Philistines and tithing together in the same basket; I know that. And it’s sure unfair to imply that pastors only preach on tithing for the money. But they do.

Tithing isn’t really as irrelevant as the Philistines, is it? All thirty-two Old Testament mentions are telling the Israelites how and when to tithe and what’s going to happen to them if they don’t. A passage in the third chapter of Malachi is a tithing sermon favorite:

“Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse – the whole nation of you – because you are robbing me. 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.” (8-10)

Using the scripture above in a tithing sermon, we church members are supposed to be the Israelites robbing God and the church is supposed to be the storehouse. Problem is, Malachi was talking to real Israelites about bringing real food into a real storehouse. He wasn’t talking to Christians about bringing cash into church. We just apply the passage that way.

What about those seven mentions in the New Testament? We’re New Testament people, that makes it relevant to us right? I checked into that.

Technically, Jesus only mentioned tithing twice; once in Luke 11:42 (Matthew 23:23 is a repeat) and once in Luke 18:12. Neither mention was complimentary – he was beating up the Pharisees for the hypocrisy of their tithing. The balance of tithing mentions (in Hebrews) is part of a short passage recounting Abraham giving a tithe of war spoils to a priest named Melchizedek (which is a pretty interesting story in itself and we can discuss it if you guys want a ‘Tithing Part II’).

The verdict? Bad news. Tithing is not a New Testament teaching. It’s not a church teaching (at least it’s not supposed to be). It’s an Old Testament teaching and it was for the Israelites. It’s as irrelevant to Christians (at least the Gentile ones) today as eating pork and circumcision. My advice to pastors? Never preach another sermon on tithing. My advice to parishioners? Never pay another tithe to the church. You’re not supposed to. Tithing died with the Law.

Before you get all worked up, let me mention one other thing.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not do away with it. Jesus didn’t kill the Law, he made it irrelevant. The Law says ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Jesus said that even if you call your brother ‘empty head’ you’re in danger of the fire of hell. The Law says, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ Jesus said that if you even look at a woman in lust, you’ve already committed adultery in your heart. The Law says bring ten percent of what you own to the priests. Jesus said, ‘go and sell everything you have and give it to the poor.’

Nobody preached about tithing in the early church because it was irrelevant.

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)

“There were no needy persons among them. From time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he has need.” (Acts 4:34)

We lost that somewhere along the way. The church became The Church instead of you and me. The Catholic Church (which was The Church) reinstituted the tithe back in the seventh century as a way to finance buildings and get people paid. The Baptists (who weren’t around in the seventh century) reinstituted tithing in the 1870’s. Tithing as a church doctrine is a man thing, not a God thing.

But giving as a church doctrine is a God thing (there’s a lot more to be said on that subject).

Tired of tithing sermons? Here’s a cure – give. When you were born again in Christ, you died to this world. You don’t own anything. If you can’t give up one tenth of what you think you possess, you deserve the tithing sermons. And if your pastor actually experienced church members giving away 10% of what they earned, tithing sermons would fall into extinction faster than the Dodo.

*****

One last thing … Don’t sell old Malachi short. The Law requiring tithing may be irrelevant to us but the principle isn’t. I loathe preacher clichés, but this one’s got me backed into a corner. “You can’t out-give God.” What can I say? It’s true.

“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.”

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Remembering Your Citizenship

June 10th, 2009 · No Comments

“… but our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20)

Since this is the last week of our Thriving in Tough Times series, I’ve been reading over the last ten letters (the whole series) in order to review what we’ve covered and come away with the heart of what we’ve learned. The series covered plenty. Here’s a rundown of what we’ve looked at in the last ten weeks:

· Week One: Adopting a Christian Worldview

· Week Two: Putting Spiritual Priorities Ahead of Physical Priorities

· Week Three: Attending to Physical Priorities

· Week Four: Living a Stewardship Lifestyle

· Week Five: Pursuing Your God Ordained Purpose

· Week Six: Living Debt Free

· Week Seven: Tempering Your Faith in World Systems

· Week Eight: Living in Community

· Week Nine: Surviving the Next Three Days

· Week Ten: Light Shines Better in the Dark

The heart of what we’ve learned about thriving in tough times? We are residents of this world, but our citizenship isn’t here.

Why is that so important? Why is understanding that we’re not citizens of this world the key to thriving in this world – especially in tough times? It’s in understanding that our lives here are only a temporary situation – 100 years at best, and most of us don’t make it nearly that far. But that’s just our lives in this world. Our spirits (the important part of us) were made to last forever. Actually, it was originally intended that our bodies lasted forever too, but we broke that part of us a long time ago.

That brings up my other reason why, in order to thrive during tough times in this world, we need to consider ourselves residents, but not citizens. Like our bodies, originally intended to live forever, this world is broken too. It began dying when sin came into the creation.

It’s important to understand the difference between ‘the world’ as a system – a way of seeing things and a way of behaving – and ‘the world’ as this earth, part of God’s creation, just like our bodies are part of God’s creation – even though they’re both broken right now.

Our bodies and the earth itself suffer from living under the world’s system – sin. Sin can be defined as exerting your own purpose and will above the purpose and will of your Creator. It started with an angel named Lucifer and he conned our great-great grandparents Adam and Eve into the same sin. That’s the system we all live under now – if we’re citizens of this world.

Before Jesus provided a way out of the broken condition we and this planet live under by paying for what we broke, there wasn’t any way not to be a citizen of this world’s system – we didn’t have a choice. But he came here from heaven to be born and live as a man in the midst of this world’s system and then gave himself as the only possible sacrifice that would pay the price required to eventually restore, in us and on the earth, what had been broken.

His death and resurrection opened up a path for us to die spiritually, renouncing our citizenship in this world’s system and be reborn into God’s kingdom, taking on the citizenship of that world. For the time being our bodies are stuck here, residents of this world, but not citizens of its system. We’re waiting patiently for things to be restored to their intended state when Jesus comes back to this planet to rightfully claim what he paid for 2,000 years ago. Not only will this earth undergo a restoration that will take it through the next thousand years, our old dead bodies will be swapped for new bodies that, according to their original intent, will never die.

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22-23)

That’s why treating this world as your home is like putting up drapes and hanging pictures on the walls of a ratty old bus station and forgetting that you’re only there to wait for your bus. Wake up! It’s a ratty old bus station; it’s not your home. You’re not a citizen of the bus station; you’re just here waiting for a ride. Don’t cling to the plastic bench and call it home.

Thriving in tough times – down here at the bus station – begins by remembering it’s just a bus station. Remember too, that the One who has you at this station has promised to provide for you while you’re here. Sure, the bus station has its own way of doing things, but you’re not a citizen of the bus station; while you’re here, live under the laws of the country you belong to.

By considering your work here and everything you possess as a stewardship to the One who really owns it, your time spent here will be far superior to living under the rules of the station. And stay away from the station’s easy credit policy; the last thing you need is to be indebted to a ratty old bus station.

And don’t think for a minute that spending time waiting at the bus station is some sort of cosmic accident. You’re here for a purpose; make use of your time. There’s a pretty good chance that the person picking out curtains and pillow shams on the bench next to you isn’t aware that this isn’t her home. You might want to share with her that there’s a bus coming and this is just a waypoint.

“So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household …” (Ephesians 2:19)

*****

What we’ll cover next week? I have no idea. But I’ll go ask.

Until then, remember your citizenship.

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Light Shines Better in the Dark

June 9th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Thriving in Tough Times Part 10

“For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.” (James 1:11)

There’s nothing pleasant about tough times. Employment is better than unemployment. Paying your mortgage is better then being kicked out of your home by foreclosure. Repairing your old car isn’t as fun as buying a new one. Tough times are just that. Nobody likes going through them, but here they are.

We retool our thoughts and habits to survive through the tough times and wait for better times to return. But I don’t know anyone that actually looks forward to tough times. That would be kind of sick wouldn’t it? I mean, what good do tough times do us? Wouldn’t it be better if we were all fully employed, fully mortgaged, fully transported and fully funded? That’s the American dream. What’s wrong with that?

Everybody deserves to own their own home. Everyone deserves a new car – that’s why they make new models every year. Everyone deserves new furniture, new clothes, and every Friday night out at Applebee’s. Right? That’s what the TV says – and since we’ve fully bought into the idea that everyone deserves their own TV (or two) and 200 channels filled with spokesmen telling us what everyone deserves, we’re all well informed.

When dark days come along and everyone doesn’t get everything everyone tells us everyone deserves we call it ‘tough times.’ Like what we’re in now. Surely, nothing good can come of it.

Or can it? Could there be any positive purpose behind living through tough times? You should have asked my Grandpa. Here’s not here anymore, he’s in heaven. Most of his generation is gone now too. Grandpa and his generation lived through a time in this country’s history called the Great Depression, and that experience profoundly affected the rest of their lives.

You’d be surprised at the similarities between life just before the stock market crash of 1929 and the stock market crash of 2008. Never in America’s history had consumerism, easy credit and market speculation taken hold of citizens as it did in the Roaring Twenties.

By 1914, Ford had produced just half a million automobiles. But by 1929 there were 26 million registered in the United States. Henry Ford put owning an automobile within the reach of every American. At the same time another great development hit the public – electrification. Electric power in American homes meant new appliances to be made and bought. By 1929 over one million refrigerators, one million washing machines and millions of radios had been purchased. American factories, thanks to Henry Ford, had developed assembly line systems, which meant they could make more products cheaper and faster than before, which meant the manufacturers had to find more consumers, which led to a few more inventions – mass advertising and easy credit. For the first time, Americans were told “you need more stuff” and “take it home today but pay for it later.”

Of course, the companies making the stuff were booming so ordinary citizens were putting more and more of their cash into the companies’ stock. Finally, we were smothered in stuff, smothered in easy credit and the companies whose stock we owned were smothered in inventory. Then the credit stopped. Then the buying stopped. Then the jobs went away. On top of the economic devastation, the weather seemed to turn against them as well; a year’s long drought turned America’s farming heart into a great Dustbowl. It wasn’t a good time.

Sound familiar yet?

Did any good come out of the Great Depression? Any positive outcome for a time of such economic devastation? We know that the Depression generation developed habits that defined our society for years – thrift, hard work, saving for a rainy day, aversion to credit, a unique combination of self-reliance and community, and a shared faith.

As the Depression generation aged and began to pass from society, the lesson learned seemed to pass with them. Less than eighty years after the greatest economic disaster this country has ever faced, we’re repeating it because we’re repeating what caused it. Only this time we’re doing it to the tenth power.

Did you know that we (the USA) are over 11 trillion dollars in debt right now? We owe China $1.8 trillion. If we paid them a million dollars an hour (just principle, no interest), it would take more than 200 years to pay them back. What if they want their money tomorrow?

We’re in this folks and we’re going to be in it for a while. So let’s look for positive purpose behind what we’re going through; what are the lessons we can take away from this experience, and what opportunities do tough times hold for us as followers of Christ?

Fat times breed fat bellies (I’m talking physically and spiritually). The positive purpose behind tough times is that they burn fat. They burn away the laziness, selfishness, and complacency that comes along with the feeling that we’re secure with all the stuff piled around us. When all our stuff and prestige and activity melt down with the economy we’re forced to answer the question, “where does my security really lay?” Is it in the stuff or in something else? When a person’s sense of security goes away one of two things happen: he sets out in search of a new source of security, or he loses hope.

That’s why I started this series ten weeks ago with “Adopting a Christian Worldview.” You’ve got to know who you are and where you stand in the universe before you can understand the ultimate source of your security.

Good times are easier to cope with than bad times, but here we are. What lessons are we going to take away from this experience? That’s what weeks 2 – 9 were all about – teaching us to live like we weren’t madly in love with the false sense of security all this stuff seduces into (visit http://gotpotential.org for a review). We’re not citizens of this world. We’re not supposed to buy into all the baubles it tries to sell us. When we do, and when the baubles go away, we’re laid bare by their false promise. If you don’t live for the promise of worldly goodies when times are good, you won’t be devastated because they didn’t keep their promise when times are bad.

The most important purpose of tough times? Light shines brighter in the dark.

I’m appalled at all the stories of suicide that have been reported lately due to financial collapse. These people were your next door neighbors (if you live in a really nice neighborhood). These folks were walking advertisements for the American Dream. And they killed themselves over bad mortgages. It’s not just a tragedy, it’s obscene. It makes me angry and it should make you angry too.

The world’s success system is a lie. When people buy into it and it goes bad, the ground they stand on vanishes beneath their feet.

But tragedy brings opportunity. There wouldn’t be any heroes without a war. No rescuers without a disaster. I believe we’d all be better off without wars and disasters, but that’s not our reality. We’re in a spiritual war right now. All tough times do is expose the victims.

But you’re not a victim; you’re a hero, a rescuer. You’re not devastated when this world collapses around you because you belong to another world. A better one. The reason you’re still here is to be a light for folks who haven’t figured that out yet. If they’re sinking in a world that’s collapsing all around them and you’re standing on a rock and offer them a hand, what do you think they’re going to do?

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15)

How’s your shine?

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Surviving the Next Three Days

May 20th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Thriving in Tough Times Part 9

“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.” (Mark 13:8)

I saw on the morning news that we’ll be into hurricane season next week. We live in the Southeast so hurricanes are an issue. In the Midwest tornadoes are on the menu for this time of year, although we get our share of those down here as well. I also saw on this morning’s local broadcast that Los Angeles suffered another aftershock from Sunday night’s 4.7 earthquake. I guess that no matter where you live, there’s a natural disaster of some sort right around the corner.

Last night I watched a documentary about just how America’s financial meltdown started on Wall Street and spread to Main Street. And how, if you can imagine it, it could have been much, much worse. I guess if a natural disaster doesn’t get us, we’ll create a man-made one to do the job.

Scary stuff.

For the last eight weeks I’ve been writing about ‘Thriving in Tough Times’. I began discussing the issue at 30,000 feet, trying to give you the big picture before we got down to details. I figure that we’re so adept at creating our own personal ‘natural disasters’ in daily life that we’ll do ourselves in before the next hurricane, tornado or financial meltdown has the opportunity.

Solving any problem, for me, begins with a look inside and then focusing on the big picture. Once I have those two squared away, I can move on to the details. That’s why I put this series in the following order (just click the link to these previous week at the top of this post to scroll back), covering the big stuff first, and then working my way down to the details.

Week 1: Adopting a truly Christian worldview

Week 2: Putting spiritual priorities ahead of physical priorities

Week 3: Attending to Physical Priorities

Week 4: Living a stewardship lifestyle

Week 5: Pursuing your God ordained purpose

Week 6: Getting out of debt

Week 7: Tempering your faith in world systems

Week 8: Living in community

The turmoil this world is going through isn’t going to be over tomorrow. Jesus will return one day and set things right, but he told us himself that great trouble would befall the world before he returns (read Matthew 24 and Mark 13). The only way we’re going to survive the tough times we’re in now and the tougher times to come is by having our priorities right – big stuff first.

This week, however, we’re going to be looking at the short term. In all of our preparation for eternity and for long term spiritual and financial welfare in tough times, I don’t want us to lose sight of being able to survive the next three days. In the same way some folks have never prepared to survive eternity or even their retirement (whatever that means these days) a lot of folks aren’t even prepared to survive three days in the event that their umbilical cord to the grid is temporarily severed.

Natural disasters do that; sometimes man made disasters do it too. Should a disaster, sudden and short, befall you, would you be able to carry on for three days without Starbuck’s, the ATM, Edison Electric or the Dish Network? Or would you be praying for the Red Cross truck to set up shop on the curb outside?

Short term disasters happen all the time. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, got caught with their pants down after hurricane Katrina. More than 1,400 people in Louisiana died and hundreds of thousands lost access to their homes or jobs and were separated from family members. For the folks who went through the storm and its aftermath, it wasn’t what they would define as a ‘short term’ disaster.

FEMA knows now that a Katrina-like disaster can happen at any time, and they know that it will; they just don’t know when and where. So they’re prepared – as prepared as they’re going to get, anyway. You know their first line of defense? Convincing you to be prepared. What they’re saying is, “we’ll do what we can folks, but if you want to survive, you’re chances are better if you take care of yourselves.” That’s comforting.

So when and where is the next natural or man made disaster going to take place? FEMA doesn’t know; neither do I. But they’re more regular and widespread than you might think. The president of the United States declared a state of disaster or emergency 377 times between 2000 and 2007. There were 92 declared last year – that’s almost twice a week; they’re getting more frequent. And they’re spread pretty evenly across the country; unless you live in western Colorado or parts of Nevada (of course your chances of freezing in the Rockies or getting lost in the desert go way up), there’s a pretty good chance your home will show up on a FEMA map one day.

What to do? Well, the first (and the least) you can do is to prepare yourself and your family for a short term disaster. That means having a plan for where to go (and what to bring and how to pay for it) if you have to leave your home for a short time (evacuate). If evacuation isn’t possible or it’s not called for, do you have a plan for living through that same period of time without the benefit of electric or water utilities? Can’t make coffee without water – got a few gallons stashed in the closet? Can’t watch the news on TV or listen to the radio without electricity – got batteries? How about groceries? Do you really think the time to stock up is after a natural disaster? If you can get to a grocery store and, by some miracle of grace, it’s open and there’s something on the shelf, you’re not counting on the ATM to spit out twenties when you put your card in, are you? What makes you think that service is going to be up and running – got some cash just in case?

I’m not talking about the end of the world (yet), I’m talking about something bad that happens somewhere in this country almost twice a week.

I write about being prepared for eternity. I write about being prepared for long term tough times. Are you even prepared for 72 hours without power, water or the grocery store? If your life will be turned upside down by a few days without this world’s life support pumping into your veins, what does that say about what or Who you’re counting on in the long term? The neighbor you’ve been trying to convince that peace and hope can only be found in a personal relationship and trust in a God who cares for you and takes care of all of your needs is sure going to be impressed when you run from your house screaming in panic because your Mr. Coffee won’t work.

Preparation for the long term is essential. You can be captain of Fort Survival and still spend eternity in hell. But preparing for the short term is a part of wisdom. There are always plenty of panicked, lost, hurting people during and after a disaster. If you’re one of them, how can you be of any help? In good times people aren’t interested in why they’re lost; in bad times they start listening. It would be a tragedy if all it took was a glass of water to open an opportunity for you to share living water with a thirsty soul and you were fresh out.

Three days. Is that too much to ask?

*****

There are plenty of websites with lists detailing what you should have on hand in case of a short term disaster. FEMA’s is a good one, and you paid for it so you might as well take a look. Here’s a link to the FEMA site: http://www.fema.gov/plan/index.shtm. Make a plan, make a list and start checking it off. In the event of a disaster, when FEMA does finally show up, offer them a cup of coffee.

Next week we’re going to talk about the purpose behind tough times. Light shines brighter in the dark.

Until then, keep your batteries charged.

Steve Spillman

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