Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Give like you’ve won the lottery

Well, I’m guessing you didn’t win the billion-dollar lottery last week.  It is fun to dream though, isn’t it? Even knowing that the odds are remarkably against us, when the stakes get that high we all imagine how such a windfall would change our lives.  I love watching the media coverage as random folks are interviewed and asked what they would do if their numbers came up. Although the specifics vary, there is usually the typical response that they would give to some charity or help people in need.  Seems like people believe that if they had an insanely large amount of money they would certainly be generous with it.

I was watching one of those news pieces last week and the cynical side of me reared its ugly head. I wondered if that person was generous now, even though they’re not a billionaire. I asked myself, “If a person is not generous with what they have, why would they expect themselves to be generous with what they might have?”

I think we’re all like that. I am. We think that if we had a lot more, then we would be generous.  If we had enough money to really make a difference, we would certainly be humane enough to make the world a better place. And that’s a good sentiment. What good human being wouldn’t want to use that money for the common good?

As good as that sounds, that thinking may be dangerous.  We must resist the belief that my generosity is only meaningful if it’s big. Jesus would beg to differ:
  • He compared God’s kingdom to a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds.
  • He praised a widow woman who gave only pennies to the temple treasury even as others were giving much more.
  • Jesus commended those who only had a cup of cold water to give away, but did it in His name.
  • Jesus once received a donation from a boy who had only five loaves of bread and two fish. That little gift that even the disciples doubted could make a difference was enough to feed 5,000.
Jesus seemed to be delighted by people who gave like they won the lottery even when then hadn’t.

The world doesn’t need more lottery winners.  The world does need more people who are generous with what they have, even if it is little. So, don’t wait for the mega-millions, powerball, or sweepstakes to be a generous person.  You can be generous - you need to be generous – with whatever you have.  All of us need to give like we’ve won the lottery!

The one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much. (Luke 16:10)

Monday, September 24, 2018

A New Perspective on Ugly Sweaters

Has anyone actually purchased this sweater? And if so, why!!

I am not stylish. I will never be named “best dressed” minister. I do not enjoy clothes shopping. Yet, even though shopping is a task, there are occasions when I do need to pick up an item or two and even though I don’t have an eye for what’s fashionable I can sense when something is absolutely garish. There seem to be some items that make you wonder how they ever ended up in a store. Some things are just so ugly you wonder if anybody has actually bought them.
That recently happened to me but then I looked at the situation from a different point of view. Since it is in a store, whoever buys for the store must have looked at that item and thought, “Wow, that’s very fashionable. I bet we could sell this in my store.” And going beyond that, whoever designs clothes must have sat down at their clothes-designing table (or wherever clothes are designed) and conceived that article of clothing and thought, “Wow, I’ve done a great job on this. It is beautiful. I am going to turn my concept into an actual article of clothing. I’m sure this article of clothing will be a big seller.”
I began to realize that even though it does not appeal to me, it does appeal to someone. The article of clothing that I consider appalling was someone else’s well-thought-out idea – an idea that they loved and cherished. That would go for clothes, cars, art, and just about everything – perhaps even people.
Let’s all be honest, there are some people who don’t appeal to us. I know it’s wrong, but it happens. There are people that just don’t sit right with us. It may be the way they look, the way they talk, they way they smell – there are any number of factors that might elicit in me a similar response that I had to that garish piece of clothing. “How could anyone love this person?” I might conclude.
Maybe I need to look at people from a different perspective.
Assuming you believe that God has created every person and since that person is on planet earth, He must have thought it was a good idea.  God must have sat down at his people-designing table (or wherever people are designed) and thought, “Wow. I’ve done a great job. I’m going to turn this idea into an actual person. I’m sure this person will be loved by everyone just like I love them.”
That doesn’t mean that I have to like every shirt. But what does it mean that every person who has ever lived is a uniquely designed creation of the good and perfect God? What does it mean that God has created each person in His image, the ones you like and the ones you don’t like?
That co-worker down the hallway. The neighbor down the street. The cashier at the store. The senator in Washington. The boss. And the list goes on. When God created them he said, “Wow. I’ve done a great job. I’m going turn this idea into an actual person.”
Maybe when we start seeing every person as designed and loved by God then we might be able to “love our neighbor as we love ourselves.”

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Go to Church - It's Good for You!

Seems like we’re always looking for ways to make life better and there may be one way closer than you think:  Going to church! Several studies have indicated that church attendance is good for your health (both physical and mental), good for your marriage, good for your kids, and may even add a few years to your life. It’s almost universally accepted that regular church attendance yields many positive benefits. (I’ve included some links at the end of this post if you want to check out some of the research yourself.)

Now, I know the saying, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.” So, what the research is talking about is more than just popping in and out of a building for an hour or so every once and a while. We’re talking about regular church attendance and an ongoing involvement in the community and service of the church.  It’s hard to deny – going to church is good for you.

Paul says as much when he writes to his protégé in the faith Timothy saying, “Training your body helps you in some ways, but serving God helps you in every way by bringing you blessings in this life and in the future life, too." (1 Timothy 4:8, NCV) Seems like Paul was ahead of the research on this one.

So, what are you waiting for, Christmas? I hear they’re open every Sunday and some even on Wednesdays.  You can probably find a group of Christians meeting on any night of the week.  If you’ve grown out of the habit of going to church, now’s the time to get back.  If you’ve never been to church, give it a try.  It’ll be good for you!


Why Do People of Faith Live Longer?

5 Surprising health benefits of church attendance

Should you raise your kids religious? Here’s what the science says

How declining church attendance harms society

Religion may be a miracle drug

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Choosing the prize over popularity

One had more fans, but the best player got the trophy
It’s not the norm that a sporting event makes headlines not for who won, but for who almost won. Yet that was the case for this year’s PGA Golf Championship.

For the first decade of this century, Tiger Woods was THE golfer. He was racking up victories at a record pace until injuries and personal problems derailed his historic career. It had been nearly a decade since he won a tournament and many fans as well as experts had serious doubts as to whether he would be able to contend, let alone win, a professional tournament.  Earlier this month Woods almost broke through at the PGA Golf Championship coming in second place, and it was this surprising performance that made headlines. In fact, his runner-up finish seemed to get more press than the actual winner of the event.

Watching golf in person is a lot different than most sporting events. Some spectators hunker down at one location and watch as the various players play through, but many choose instead to follow a particular player from hole to hole. Also, the typical golf tournament is played through four days, Thursday to Sunday. On the first two days the players tee-off in more or less a random order.  But on the weekend, the order of play is determined by the player’s score, meaning the players at the top of the leaderboard tee off last and, naturally, finish last.  On Sunday, the final round, Woods’ group was the next-to-last group while the final group consisted of those players ahead of Tiger. The eventual winner came from that final group.

Normally the final group would have the most travelling fans following them, especially if one of the golfers in that group is in contention (which was the case in this tournament. In fact, the leader going into the final round never relinquished his lead). The odd thing about this tournament is that the vast majority of fans were following Tiger, not the leader. The runner-up clearly had more fans than the winner. Despite having fewer fans Brooks Koepka held on to win the championship by two strokes.

As the trophy was being presented to Koepka an irrefutable fact dawned on me – the trophy always goes to the best player, not to the player with the most fans. And that’s true not only in golf but in just about every pursuit.

I think too often we make choices based on how many “likes” or “followers” we’ll get.  We confuse popularity with success. We crave fans more than victory.

Jesus was appalled by those who put their morality on display to be seen by others. Religious people who do what they do to attract more fans, Jesus said, may get a lot of followers but they won’t receive the trophy from God.  The great missionary Paul made it a point to focus on pleasing God, and not people. Paul said the servants of Christ can’t be in the business of people-pleasing.

As Brooks Koepka hoisted that trophy I was reminded of that irrefutable fact that even applies to our spiritual lives - the trophy always goes to the best player, not to the player with the most fans.

Run in such a way as to get the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Blind Spot Detection

Last month my wife and I went on a road trip to Tennessee with my in-laws.  We took their car that was equipped with a newer technology (at least newer to me) called “blind spot detection.”  A light illuminates on the side mirror when there’s a vehicle in that area to your right or left that isn’t covered by the mirrors.  If you put your blinker on to change lanes, a little buzz goes off warning you that there’s a danger you perhaps can’t see. It’s a little annoying but comes in handy.  I suppose the annoyance is worth the potential danger it is intended to prevent.

The fact of the matter is that when we’re driving we can’t see all the potential dangers around us simply from our vantage point in the driver’s seat. When we are taught to drive, we are trained to use our rear-view mirror to see what’s behind us.  We use the side mirrors to see what’s to the right or left of us.  Now many cars have a rear-view camera that lets us know what is directly behind us.  We rely on all these different points of view to help us avoid accidents and safely arrive at our destination.  Granted, it’s a little annoying checking all those mirrors, but the annoyance is worth the potential danger they are intended to prevent. It would be unwise to drive a car and not use these safety devices.

Life is a journey and, like driving a car, there are dangers along the way.  Some danger we can see plainly.  They’re right in front of us. However, life has a lot of dangers that sneak up on us.  Dangers that are only detected by using our mirrors.  We all have blind spots and we need mirrors to help us avoid danger.

I’d like to think that the loving and wise people in my life are my mirrors. I look to them to advise me. To warn me of the dangers that I can’t see.  Sometimes they beep at me to alert me.  Granted, the beeps of advice are sometimes annoying, but I suppose the annoyance is worth the potential danger they intend to prevent.

It’s not uncommon for people to dismiss the advice of others.  At times we even discourage it telling people “to mind their own business” or scolding them saying “who made you my boss” or even misapplying the scripture “judge not.” Dismissing the advice of others would be tantamount to tearing off all the mirrors in our cars because they annoy us. Ignoring advice, even when it is annoying, is just plain foolishness.

Do you have mirrors? Are you using them? Do you welcome advice or dismiss it? Don’t you realize that we all have blind spots and need input from others? Maybe instead of cursing those who beep at you, you need to thank them. They are your blind spot detection system.  Those beeps, however annoying, may very well save you from unspeakable harm.

Plans fail without good advice, but they succeed with the advice of many others.
Proverbs 15:22 (NCV)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

My Dad on the Sideline

As Father’s Day weekend approaches I have many memories of my dad, but one always comes to the forefront.  It’s when I was a senior in high school.

Growing up I was a good-but-not-great athlete.  I loved playing anything but early on baseball became my passion.  I started organized ball at age 8 and played through high school.  At about 12 I started playing football and actually was pretty good.  As quarterback, I was MVP of my youth teams and the clippings from the local paper made me think pretty highly of myself. As I entered high school there was talk of my ascension to starting quarterback of the varsity squad, but a funny think happened on the way from sophomore year to junior year.  I stopped growing!  My height became a liability and my arm strength hadn’t developed.  Entering my junior year, others soared past me and I was relegated to the backup.  So that year after the agony of summer football camp I chose to bypass football to concentrate on baseball.  It was a painful decision, but I wasn’t eager to put in all that work to ride the pine! 

It was the right decision, but I struggled with feelings of being a quitter.  I felt that others perceived I was not tough enough to play football, and that bothered me.  I didn’t want to be known as a quitter, so I decided to play football my senior year even though I knew there was little chance of getting any meaningful playing time. I was deep on the depth charts but worked as hard as the rest.  I never missed a practice, gave it my all, and cheered from the sidelines on gameday.

Practices were the worst.  As a backup, I’d run the second team offense against the first team defense, and boy did we take a beating. There were two constants from that season. One was me getting my bell rung day after day. The second constant was my dad.

At the end of each practice I could look up and there he was in the distance watching his son. And as he watched I could feel a sense of love and pride he had in me just as if I were the star of the team.  That difficult season of football taught me something about him that I have valued all my life.  That lesson made all the hits worth it.  My father’s love for me was not based on my accomplishments.  He loved me because I was his son.

My dad was an ordinary man. A blue-collar working man born in the 1920’s and served in WWII.  As many men from that generation, he rarely voiced his feelings.  He was not well educated. He was not a theologian.  But my dad on the sideline, proud of his second-string son, taught me a lesson that has shaped my image of God more than any lecture, professor, or upper-level college class.  He taught me that God, my other Father, loves me not based on my accomplishments, but because I am his son!

Your Father really loves you.  And I mean, he really loves you! I pray that this Father’s Day you feel that love and approval not because of what you’ve done or haven’t done, but because you are his child.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!
And that is what we are!
1 John 3:1

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

“Whack-a-Mole” Syndrome

Remember the old arcade game “Whack-a-Mole”? If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a brief description.  It’s a table about waist high with five holes where toy moles would randomly pop up and almost immediately pop back down.  The object of the game was to use a padded mallet to whack the mole before he disappeared back into his hole.  It was two minutes of frenzied fun!

The game took on a broader social meaning representing any futile and repetitious action. It became a symbol for the frenzied pace of our lives where one problem pops up, we try to whack it, and, as soon as that one is taken care of, another problem surfaces. Whack-a-Mole became emblematic of our lives - problem after problem consuming our time and energy leaving us exhausted and stressed.

Have you ever found yourself playing a non-stop game of Whack-a-Mole? I have. The pesky mole of family issues pops up, and then the worrisome mole of financial woes appears, and before you know it, the bothersome mole of sickness taunts you, and then the irritating mole of work-place worry surfaces.  Mole after mole after mole.  At the end of the day you stand there exhausted. When you finally get to lay your head on your pillow, the moles of the day continue to pop up in your mind robbing you of the rest you need to play another round the next day.

Whatever the source of our moles, God knows there are so many things that can obsess our minds and deprive us of the rest and joy he wants us to have.  Jesus gives considerable time to this in Matthew 6:25-33 as part of his longest recorded sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. I recommend you read the text itself but allow me to try to summarize a few words of advice from Jesus.
(1) Don’t exaggerate your problems.  Some of the things we worry about may not be as significant as we make them.   Are we able to distinguish between wants and needs? Do we trust that God knows our needs?  An obsession with getting everything you want will never end.  Be satisfied with and thankful for the daily provisions from God.  Develop the discipline of contentment in your life and many of those moles will disappear.
(2) See the futility of worry.  Jesus says, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27) Of course we need to do what we can do to address problems and circumstances in our lives, but incessant worry accomplishes nothing. The English clergyman William Ralph Inge said, “Worry is interest paid on trouble before it comes due.” Many of the things we worry about never come to pass.  Take care of what you can today and face the next day when it comes.
(3) Keep spiritual matters at the top of the list.  Jesus says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) Ask yourself, “Will the mole that is bothering me so much today have any meaning or significance in my life in 10, 20, or 30 years?” Most importantly, does what's bothering you have any eternal significance? Living from a spiritual/eternal point of view brings today’s problems into perspective and often helps alleviate the grip that passing afflictions have over us.
God doesn’t want us to live in a frenzied state of worry and panic, and he assures us that he will share those burdens with us.  He promises to somehow see us through if we’ll only lean on him and find peace in his presence and his promises. So, put down the mallet and remember the words of Peter, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)