Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1 Tim. 6:17-18)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Is Meekness Really Weakness?

Photo by dullhunk
What Is Meekness Anyway?

I think a lot of people are really confused about the quality of meekness. They are under the assumption that if you have the quality of meekness, then you must be some kind of weak, nerdy dude or something. If you are meek then you must just cower in the corner and take all kinds of abuse from everybody. No, this is not exactly the correct portrait of meekness.

According to Merriam-Webster, to be meek is defined as enduring injury with patience and without resentment. Some words that are related to meekness are down-to-earth, lowly, humble, modest, unassuming, and unpretentious. Another popular definition of meekness reads strength under control. If you possess the quality of meekness, then when you are personally attacked, you have enough self-restraint to not lash out at those who are attacking you. You are able to maintain self-control through a difficult situation.

In today's society, I would claim that this is a very rare character trait that is very seldom seen in everyday life. On most occasions, when people are attacked, they immediately have a knee jerk reaction and push back against their attackers. God's desire for His children is display the quality of meekness during times of adversity.

What Does God's Word Say About Meekness?

Meekness is a quality that is held up in God's Word as an ideal, worthy personality trait and addressed in several passages of Scripture. When Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, He mentioned in Matthew 5:5Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

In a listing of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, we read, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. The last two fruit in this list, gentleness and self-control, are the exact same qualities that are displayed in meekness. In fact, the King James Version interprets this as meekness.

Moses was considered to be the meekest man ever to live. Numbers 12:3 states, Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth. Moses was also God's friend who probably had the most intimate relationship with God of any human being. But Moses was no push over. He leaned on God for his strength during difficult times as he lead the Israelite people through the desert on their way to the Promised Land.

On His journey to the cross, Christ Himself demonstrated the quality of meekness - strength under control. At any time, He could have called legions of angels to rescue Him from his capture by the religious leaders,  as well as the beatings and crucifixion that followed. He could have called out to God the Father, who could have sent fire from heaven to consume His enemies or opened up the earth under their feet and swallowed them up. Instead, He remained silent. He endured the beatings and crucifixion for our sake. He demonstrated incredible strength by remaining in control of His emotions.

How Can You Demonstrate Meekness In Everyday Life?

When I consider a modern day example of meekness in today's world, I think of former President George W. Bush. Love him or hate him, he definitely possess the unique quality of meekness. As President, he was beat up about his faith, his family, his policies, about his pronunciation of words, and so on. You name it, his critics criticized him about everything. But what did George Bush do when he was personally attacked? For the most part, he displayed great strength under control through staying silent, ignoring his critics, staying true to his personal convictions and faith in Almighty God, and leading the country through a very difficult time period following the attack on 9/11.

If you are a leader of anything, whether it be your family, a company, a Bible study class, or a church, then there's a good chance you're going to get criticized. Our natural, fleshly response is to push back and attack those who are attacking us. I know firsthand how easy it is - I've been there and got the t-shirt.  The next time you're attacked, though, try something different. Just ignore your critics. Lashing out at your attackers just fuels the fire, anyway. Display the fruit of the Spirit by living with an attitude of meekness. At the end of the day, you're going to come across as the mature, intelligent individual while your critics won't. More importantly, you will make God smile. You will display growth in your walk with Him.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Imperfections Can Be Useful

Photo by Johnny Vulkan
New Is Not Always As Useful

Have you ever had to count through a brand new stack of paper money? The other day, I withdrew some money for my cash budget envelope system, and I was having a few challenges sorting out my money. In my stack of cash, I had several brand new, unused dollar bills that were difficult to grab onto and separate.

Once I was finally able to pull them apart, I ended up taking each dollar bill and gently bend, pull, and twist each one so that it had a few small wrinkles and imperfections in them so that they would no longer tend to stick to each other. After taking a little time to do that, I could easily re-stack the cash and quickly count through it.

Life Experiences Can Be Less Than Perfect

When I was younger, my life seemed pretty "perfect." Am I saying that I am or was a perfect person? No way, but looking back now some 20 years ago, I can say that life didn't seem as complicated or full of little problems. And, I'm not saying I didn't have issues back then. I guess they were just a much different set of issues. I can view that time as being like a clean, fresh stack of dollar bills. You could say that I didn't have a lot of experience under my belt.

But, over the course of time, we go through various life experiences. We encounter difficulties. We work through our problems, gain wisdom, move on, encounter more challenges, draw upon our previous experiences, grow as a person, and so on. As we travel through life, we get a little more worn, a little more used. Little imperfections rise to the surface of our lives. We now have multiple life experiences to draw upon when we need them.

The weird part is that as we grow, mature, and gain little imperfections through our life junk, we start to become more useful. People start to seek out our advice and counsel. People start listening to what you have to say - shocking! And they really listen to you when you have successfully and maturely worked through some big, heavy life stuff. At least, this has been my experience.

What Are Your Imperfections?

God has uniquely designed you as a human being. He has given you a certain set of talents, abilities, time, and money. Over time, He also gives you (or, at the very least, allows) a unique set of life experiences. Some of those experiences may be extremely positive, and some of them may be negative.

Negative life events can range from the death of a close family member, health problems, job loss, divorce, financial problems, and so on. Positive life experiences from which we learn and grow can be anything from graduating from college, navigating a successful career, growing a great business, getting married, raising a family, and living out your unique calling in life. Whatever positive and negative circumstances we encounter through life, we change. We become more useful to ourselves and others, assuming that we maintain a mature response to our circumstances.

In James 1:2-4, we read the following about our personal growth as a result of the trials of life:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
We need to embrace whatever challenges come our way through life. Through the difficulties, we learn and mature. As we mature, we gain knowledge and wisdom. We can then turn around and use this knowledge and wisdom to not only help us through the next set of hurdles in our life, but so that we can also turn around and help others through their problems as well.

So, how "sticky" are you? Are you so "perfect" in your own little world that you're not terribly useful to anybody? Do you think you have life all figured out that you no longer need to grow and mature? If so, you're probably not very useful to yourself or to others around you. Think about it.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

How To Discover Your Worldview On Money

Photo by TW Collins
A Biblical Worldview Versus A Societal Worldview

Last week, I attended a brief meeting with some local financial experts and pastors regarding how these experts could best meet the needs of church members in our metro area. One of the discussions we embarked on was the difference between what should be a Christian's worldview of money versus the worldview of our society.

The conclusion we came to was that for the average "Joe Blow" Christian warming a pew on Sunday mornings, there is not much difference between how believers in Christ handle their money versus how unbelievers handle their money. Over the years, the universal church has allowed society's money views to permeate the church culture. We've gotten to the point where in many of our churches, that pastors can't even address the money issue from a Biblical perspective with their congregants out of fear that their people will not attend, or worse yet, move their membership to another church out of anger.

It has always struck me as strange that money is such a taboo subject in most churches, when the Bible has such a wealth of material and wisdom on the subject. God does care how we save, spend, invest, and give the money He has entrusted into our care. If believers could and would trust God with their wallets at the same level as they trust Him with their souls, then there would be a lot fewer Christians in financial crisis - guaranteed!

Society's Worldview On Money

If I could sum up the societal worldview on money in one word, I would use the word conformity. The world money system and philosophy wants you, whether you are an unbeliever or believer, to follow their financial path from cradle to grave.

As children, they want you to become conditioned to turn your wants into needs through a constant bombardment of commercials on kids and teen TV. They also want you to learn the art of impulse buying at the store through careful kid's product placement at eye level. Once you leave the nest of your parent's home, they want you to saddle yourself for the next few decades with massive college student loans and credit card debt. Once you leave college and start a family, the world's money system wants you to follow the path of car loans, home mortgages, and additional consumer debt.

Am I trying to say that there is some great conspiracy to get the average family heavily into debt by the time we enter our 20s and 30s? No, not exactly. But, I will say that our societal money system has "normalized" the use of credit and debt in general in order to keep the financial wheels, so to speak, constantly in motion.

The Biblical Worldview On Money

If I could sum up the Biblical worldview on money in one word, I would use the word surrender. A Biblical worldview of money begins with God. We must acknowledge that God owns everything in the entire universe. In 1 Chronicles 29:11-12 we read:
Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.
If believers in Christ were to truly acknowledge that all things belong to Him in the first place, then we would understand that we are simply managers of whatever He has entrusted to our care. We would make better financial decisions because our desire would be to please Him in our management of His money.

As Christians, we must surrender our control of the money, possessions, assets, abilities, and time given to us back over to God. And, if we have truly surrendered our control of these things, then our ultimate desire will be to please God with all that we have. We will begin making better financial choices as we yield our control over to Him.

How Do You Discover Your Worldview?

The easiest way to discover your own personal worldview is to determine how you view "your" money and assets. Is God even in the picture when it comes to how you utilize your money, possessions, assets, abilities, and time? Consider asking yourself the following questions in order to determine your financial worldview:
  1. Do I acknowledge daily that all things come from God?
  2. Have I surrendered my control of what I have been given back over to Him?
  3. Do I have a spirit of thanksgiving for what has been entrusted into my care?
  4. Do I demonstrate faith in God to take care of my financial needs and wants?
  5. When I have financial questions, do I turn to the world for financial advice, or do I turn to His Word and spiritually mature believers for guidance and wisdom?
  6. Do I pray through major purchases that will tie up extensive amounts of money for long periods of time, such as cars, homes, investments and so on?
  7. Do I have a spirit of generosity? Do I generously give back to God through my local church in order to support His Kingdom work here on earth?
In what ways do you perhaps need to shift your thinking from a societal worldview to a Biblical worldview?

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What's Your First Symphony?

Photo by I am I.A.M
The First Symphony

The largest work any music composer can ever compose is a symphony. When I say "symphony," I'm referring to an extended piece of music of sophisticated structure, usually for orchestra [Source: Wiktionary]. Depending on the composer and what musical era he was from, a typical symphony with 4-5 individual movements can last from 20 minutes to over an hour and a half! We're talking about a major piece of music that for some composers took years to write, and they typically don't just write only one in their lifetime. They write several. They have poured their hearts and souls into these musical masterpieces.

All of the major symphony composers started with a first symphony. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Sibelius, Mahler, and a host of others all started with one work, then wrote another, and then another. The interesting point here is that for many of these composers, their first symphonies were really nothing to write home about. For many, they were solid works of music that were a starting point to learn and grow as a symphony writer. Mozart could not have written his "Great" Symphony No. 40, without first writing his Symphony No. 1 and then the other 38 symphonies that would follow. Beethoven's great "Choral" Symphony, his ninth, could not have been written until he was able to get the first one down on paper, as well as the other 7 symphonies that would follow. Each one of these symphony composers had to start with their first big symphonic work, make mistakes, learn from the experience, and then move on to a second, a third, and so on.

Start With One

No matter what our calling in life is, there will always be a beginning point from which we must start. For the pastor, there has to be the first sermon that must be written and preached. For the author, there must be a first book that is slaved over and published. For the blogger, there must be a first post that is published online. For the web designer, there must be a first website that is designed, programmed, and placed online. Whatever we do in life, we have to start somewhere.

Here's the scary part, though. Starting the process of any big task can be a paralyzing event. Because the end product seems so huge, then the process seems unbelievable difficult. We have a tendency to just give up before we've even truly begun. The composers, the writers, or the designers who accomplished their first big work, though, started with one note, one word, or one sketch and built something from scratch. They simply took one small step, then another, and another until the work was finished. Was their very first major work a complete success? Maybe and maybe not, but they learned from the experience in order to step out and create other great masterpieces. They didn't procrastinate. They took massive action.

What's Your First Symphony?

So, what's your first symphony? What's the one BIG thing you have burning in your soul to accomplish? Have you chunked it down into smaller action steps to make the desired outcome more manageable? Are you taking some action, however small it might be, in order to get you closer to your goal. Acknowledge that your first one may not be your best work and do it anyway. Grow as a person. Learn from the process. Get outside your comfort zone and start writing that "first symphony."

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

We're Not Worthy!

Photo by Saima
Wayne's World

For those of us that have been around a little while, you may recall the comedy sketch Wayne's World from Saturday Night Live, which eventually spun off into a couple of hit movies by the same name. The sketch and movies featured the hilarious comic stylings of Mike Myers and Dana Carvey.

You also may recall Wayne and Garth's little catch-phrase that they used upon meeting rockers Alice Cooper and Aerosmith, "we're not worthy." When they met these famous musicians, they would bow repeatedly and say their now famous line.

I don't know if you've ever been in a situation like that, when you've met some famous people for whom you have a tremendous amount of respect for. It can be an extremely overwhelming and humbling experience, to say the least.

A Liturgical Reminder

A few weeks ago, I was extremely blessed to have the opportunity to participate in the worship service at Christ Church in Jerusalem. Christ Church is the oldest protestant church in the Middle East and aligned denominationally with the Anglican Church. As Anglicans, the church service is, of course, based on liturgical worship.

Being raised Baptist, I am not extremely familiar with the various forms of liturgical worship, but I've been in enough liturgical services to understand the form and flow. I have an appreciation for this style of worship. The cool part of experiencing a different style of worship is that I think you pay attention to these differences in worship when you step out of the comfort zone of your personal "normal" worship service.

As a stewardship pastor, my spiritual "antennae" went up immediately as we came to the Offertory section of the liturgy at Christ Church.  As the congregation corporately read the liturgy, I was immediately drawn to the following words:
"...all things belong to You. We thank You for giving us Your only Son even though we were not worthy of Your generosity. Pour your refreshing Spirit on us as we remember Him in the way He commanded through these gifts of Your creation..."
As I read these words with the congregation, I was given by the Holy Spirit several important reminders. First, we are not worthy of His generosity. God freely gave us His only Son in order for us to be in a relationship with Him. There is nothing we can do in order to earn His generosity. He loved us so much in spite of our total unworthiness that He provided an incredible gift of salvation for our souls. Second, we constantly need to remember the spiritual refreshment that the Holy Spirit provides to us through our salvation. And third, that regular reminder of His generosity comes to us as we respond to that generosity through giving gifts back to Him. Giving financial gifts during the time of offering should be an important response on our part in our worship of Almighty God.

The Response To His Generosity

So, how about you? Do you often contemplate and consider the outpouring of God's generosity to you through His generous gift of salvation, even though we are totally unworthy of that gift? When you come to the time of offering in your church, what is your financial response? Do you give anything at all? Do you give begrudgingly or out of a sense of obligation?

This week in your church, I would encourage you to take a different view of the time of offering. Remember what God the Father did for you in providing His Son, Jesus Christ, as the ultimate sacrifice for the penalty of your sin. Then ask yourself this question, "what should be my response to God's outpouring of generous love for me, when I'm not even worthy of that love?" I believe God's Kingdom would be radically transformed if His Church would simply respond to His amazing generosity to us.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Rich Get Richer

Photo by mark_the_legend_foster
Those Evil Rich People

I believe a lot of wealthy people get a bum wrap in today's society. Perhaps this is nothing new. Many people probably have the view that rich people are just really lucky; like, they won life's lottery or something. Sure, some people have probably been blessed with perhaps more than they deserve, but the majority of wealthy people are wealthy because they understand the inner workings of finances. They are excellent producers as well as managers.

The Parable Of The Ten Minas

Even Jesus addressed the issue of financial management for the believer through a parable in Luke 19:11-27:
While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’
   “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’
   “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.
   “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’
   “‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’
   “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’
   “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’
   “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’
   “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’
   “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’
   “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’
   “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’”
The Rich Get Richer For Good Reasons

Wealthy people are excellent producers. They understand what it takes to make money on a consistent basis, whether it be through a specific talent (such as athletes, musicians, actors, etc.), a high-powered corporate-type position, or a small business. These people know how to generate revenue.

And these people who know how to make money, more often than not, know how to wisely manage their wealth. They spend less than they earn, and what they do spend, they spend it wisely. They invest a size-able portion in investments with good returns. They are proactive and do something with the money they have been blessed with. They understand that taking a cash position is a losing proposition. So, they take some calculated risks, invest their money as wisely as possible, and typically do well. They also often give a portion of it away. They understand the value of living life with an open hand.

It would also seem that money attracts more money, as well as those that are talented at producing more cash flow, receive more. We can see the principle displayed in the parable of the Ten Minas. At the end of the story, the master gave the one mina from the lazy servant over to the servant that earned ten minas. Then, the master completed his assessment of his servants productivity by stating, "...everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away."

The Lord Wants You To Be A Good Manager

From the passage above, we can get the sense that the Lord wants us to manage well whatever He has given us to manage. An interesting observation from this passage is that each of the ten servants got exactly the same amount of money - one mina. Apparently, one of these servants was a high-octane investor because he was able to roll one mina and earn ten more. I want to know that guy's investment strategy!

According to Jesus' story, another servant did well by earning five more minas from his original one. The third servant mentioned in this story did nothing with his mina, though. He just sat on it. He protected the money. He took a cash position so that he would neither gain money or lose money. When the king returned for an accounting of his money from his servants, he was definitely not happy with the third servant.

Takeaway For The Christian

Okay, so what's the takeaway from this parable for the believer in Christ? First, I think we need to view this parable in light of the fact that Jesus is most likely referring to more than just money. He has given us time, talents, and money to invest for Kingdom purposes. We need to be proactive in utilizing all of the resources He has blessed us to manage.

Second, the Lord wants a return on whatever He has given you to manage. If He has given you a musical talent, then you better be busy investing energy into growing that talent for Him. Practice, take lessons, and do whatever it takes to increase that musical ability. Then, use that talent for God's glory. If God has given you a lot of free time, then volunteer to help your church with various projects, ministries, or missions trips that they have going. If God has blessed you financially, then you need to manage that money well, spend and invest it wisely, and give back to our Lord, generously!

Third, nothing is too small to manage. If you are faithful with the smaller portions, He's then going to trust you with even more to manage. Whether the time, talent, or money is large or small, everything is a test of your management ability.

So, if you were to assess your management skills today, how would you fare? Would you fire you? Or, would you give yourself even more stuff to manage?

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Reward of a Life Well-Lived

Photo by Telestar2000
The Promise Of Eternal Rewards

In Revelation 22:12-16 we read the following words of Jesus through the writing of the Apostle John:
“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
In this passage, our Lord reminds His followers of His imminent return. When He does return, He promises that He will be bringing a reward for each of us according to what we have done while living here on this earth. The word done used in this passage carries with it the implication of an enterprise we have undertaken to do. The meaning of this word also carries the idea of any product that is accomplished by hand, art, industry, or mind.

Once God has adopted us into His family through the saving work of Jesus Christ, He has an enterprise in which He wants us to be busy working. He has called each of us to be engaged in a holy calling that builds up the Kingdom of God. The Lord has promised that we will be rewarded in accordance to what we are able to produce. What an awesome day that's going to be!

Take Action On Your Gifts And Calling

God has called each of us to a specific task in His Kingdom. He has gifted you and He has gifted me with specific talents, abilities, relationships, time, and finances in order to accomplish His Kingdom work. As a result, we have a three-part task before us.

First, we need to get busy discerning how God has uniquely shaped us. We need to spend time in introspection, looking deeply within ourselves for how we "tick." We need to know ourselves so well that we know what our passion in life is and what motivates us to get up in the morning. We need to have a firm grasp of our various abilities, skills, spiritual gifts, and God-given talents.

Second, we need to discover how God wants us to use these various gifts and abilities in order to build up the Kingdom of God. Once we have a clear idea of how God has shaped us, then we need to determine what we bring as individuals to the corporate church body. If we have leadership abilities, then we need to seek out leadership positions. If we have the gift of teaching, then we need to be on the lookout for teaching opportunities. If we have musical talents, then we need to get involved in the worship team, and so on.

And third, we need to produce. We need to get busy about the work for which we have been called by God to do. Our various parts in the Kingdom of God are not just going to happen by accident. We need to take purposeful action in order to fulfill His will and work for our lives.

What Work Do You Have Before You?

So how has God gifted you? What work does He want you to engage in for the Kingdom? Are you being obedient in doing what He has asked you to do, or are you in rebellion against what He has planned for your life?

If you're still having difficulty determining His work for you, then go through the three-step process that I mentioned above. Take time to know yourself and how God has shaped you. Once you have a clearer understanding of yourself, see how your unique gifting can be used to build up God's Kingdom. Once you know what God has planned for your work, then get about the business of doing it. Take massive action!

The cool part of all this hard work for the Kingdom is that we do have a promise for eternal rewards when we reach heaven, so don't give up. Jesus will be ready to reward you for what you have done, one day soon!

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