What’s Mine is Yours

I want to write a few articles on giving. Many people discuss it, normally preachers from a pulpit, or some charity. I want to look at it from the perspective of a Christian layperson, which is the majority of the Christian world. What does God expect of us and why? After all, He is the Creator, can’t He just handle people’s needs? Before I go there I want to talk about what giving is not and what it is.

In U.S. culture there are two major points of view on giving, both of which are wrong, at least if one claims to be of the Christian faith, and many of these people do. First, there is the crowd that many call “liberals”. To be fair though, you can be liberally minded with money and have a “conservative” viewpoint. This view basically believes everyone should give their money away to those that have less. On the surface it sounds okay, except they believe people should be compelled to give their money, mostly out of the belief that people are naturally selfish. While also not totally wrong, that is not giving.

Taking something that belongs to someone else and giving it to another is not a form of giving. It’s a form of theft. Yes, we all like Robin Hood and would look to think of ourselves in that vein. Unfortunately, when you give away something you have not earned that’s not giving. Giving involves sacrifice. Giving means you are giving up something you earned, something you worked for, and you are giving it to someone who has done nothing to earn it. It is the very essence of the Gospel message. Grace, by its very nature, is given freely. So compelling others to “cough up the dough” is in no way virtuous. To be honest, it’s as selfish as those who have given nothing because you are taking the credit for an act you have not performed.

Then there is the second point of view. This view says giving occurs when you give what is yours, but it’s your stuff so you don’t have to give any of it if you don’t want to. While true, this is also very selfish and many who claim to be Christians hold to this. I mean, obviously it comes across on the surface as selfish, but then this same group will often push charities they “support”. Support is in quotes because oftentimes the louder the “givers” squawk the less they actually give. Giving, as I noted above, is sacrificial. The act of giving is also consistent. Giving a one time giant check to “Make a Wish” maybe admirable, but that isn’t a real sacrifice. The spirit of giving is on going. As I mentioned, giving is the act of Grace. Jesus did die once for our sins, but that one act gives eternally.

So giving is the consistent act of voluntarily giving up what you have earned to those who are in need and have done nothing to earn your favor. Notice I’ve mentioned nothing about percentages. That’s coming in my next article, and trust me, it is not at all what you are thinking.

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Just an Ordinary Week

Ever notice how we seem to abhor the ordinary. At least this seems true in the U.S. It’s like that car commercial where the people request more drama because it was far too easy to buy their car. We measure our success or greatness not out of surviving another day, not by how stable and balanced we manage our lives, but by how crazy things can get and how we survive the tornado.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of drama outside our control. However, there is also a lot of drama we add in on ourselves. Call it bad decision-making, uncontrolled ambition, short sitedness etc. We often find ourselves in the middle of a storm we create ourselves.

In Acts 5:1-10 there is an interesting story of a couple named Ananias and Sapphira.They were a couple who by cultural standards were doing okay. They were financially stable and by all accounts quite ordinary. However, they evidently wanted to be somebody, they wanted to be noticed in this small community on early Christian believers in Jerusalem. So while so many were selling what they had to give to the poor, they too sold a field. However, instead of simply giving the money, they gave the impression that they had sold the field and were giving every last penny to the church in an effort to exhort themselves. Unfortunately, God would have none of this sort of thing in His fledging church and short story shorter, they both were struck dead.

I would encourage you to read the actual story, it’s quite short and far more interesting in how they meet their demise. While this couple did not survive their self-made drama, they do show us an important aspect of our humanity. We want to be noticed. Let’s be honest, most of us who blog do so because we feel a burden to share our ideas with others and the way we measure our success is by how much we are noticed here. Something I’m afraid I don’t excel at.

So what’s the point? Jesus promises us a life of peace. He promises His believers, and those who would decide to follow Him, that He will give you life and give it abundantly. He promises a lighter workload etc. in addition to eternal life. So why does it seem churches are often led and filled by people who are going twenty different directions or seem under undo amounts of stress to get the next VBS done, or the next big outreach completed? It’s because we aren’t living our lives according to Jesus but according to ourselves.

Don’t take me wrong here. Jesus never indicated we shouldn’t work or sacrifice. This is the Savior who told us to pick up our cross daily and follow Him. However, there is a balance in this life. Jesus often went off by himself to pray or commune with God. Jesus needed downtime. While He walked the earth He showed us how to live a balanced life, and He even took on those who would throw off that balance. This even included a storm that was threatening a boat He was sleeping in. When the disciples woke Him up from much needed sleep He rebuked them, and then He rebuked the storm and calmed it down. While the Bible doesn’t say it outright, all indications are He then went back to sleep. You also find gaps between events. Indicating times of ordinary quiet travel that gave Jesus the downtime He needed.

It’s okay to have ordinary times in your life. Everything doesn’t have to be cranked to eleven all the time. God guides our lives. He wants to give us quiet so we can recover from whatever challenge or lesson was put before us to perfect who He created us to be. He also knows what is coming up ahead. Sometimes He even allows us to rest for extended periods of time because of all we have done and the toll it has taken on us. That’s okay. Rejoice in the rest. Praise God for the quiet. Be at peace in the calm. Showing the peace of God in our lives and being a witness to what He has delivered us from is a powerful witness. After all, those in the midst of a storm don’t need to know others are also in the storm. They need to know the Good News of deliverance on the other side, and to see that it isn’t just words.

Walking in the Way of the Lord

Psalm 16:11English Standard Version (ESV)

11 You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

I remember when our third son was around 12. He told us he wanted to be a U.S. Marine. We though this was very odd because none of his brothers were in the service yet. While my dad had served in the Air Force I was scratched from enlisting in the Navy due to my health. As he got older he never swayed. As the time approached he kept saying he had to enlist. We pleaded and begged him not to join. First, because his oldest brother had joined the Marines, gone to Iraq, and frankly we felt that was enough stress on us as parents. Secondly, we wanted to make very sure he understood his choices. He kept telling us that God wanted him in the Marines.

Well push came to shove and he went in. Since that time he has managed to walk out of tank tech school, right into the commander’s tank and his first deployment. A deployment some “tankers” wait their whole career for and never get a chance to do. Now he is in California on another choice assignment and he hasn’t even reached his second year yet. It seems everything he attempts just brings success. I think about the verse above as I consider his career so far. Who am I to say he isn’t where God wants him to be?

Often times we think of God’s calling as something related to ministry, or say a profession like a doctor. We don’t realize that God calls people everywhere. Does that mean everyone is called specifically? Not always. However, when you are called to something you should follow through on it. God has certainly used our son as an example and a blessing to others where he is. He has been used in ways none of us could have foreseen, but we look on it now and agree he is where God intends. So if you feel God moving you in a direction but it does not seem “spiritual” don’t ignore the prompting of His Holy Spirit. God has a special call on your life, follow through no matter where it leads.

Maybe you have not had a direct calling. God still has a purpose for your life and He still calls us to live a life of obedience. If you follow Jesus, God is going to bless you, and bless others through you. Never assume only those who are called to a specific purpose have a ministry. The Bible says God’s eyes roam the earth looking for those who are obedient to Him so He my strongly support those whose hearts are completely His. Your life matters. You may not understand how, but God does. You are created with His purpose in mind. Live your life focused on the Lord and you will be amazed where He takes you and the lives He touches through you.

Hippies, Happiness and Providence

We have been on a much needed vacation. By we I mean my wife and I. Thus my absence from my newly formed blogged. We are in a little town called Nederland, Co. Our son lives nearby. The best way to describe it is a hippy village. I don’t mean that in a bad way. As a native Californian who grew up in the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s hippies were laid back, independent, chilled  people. That’s what you find here. Most are naturalist. While I can agree and appreciate many of their views on man’s role in nature, and even back them up in Genesis, I can’t say I personally feel the urge to go full hippy. Be that as it may, it has been nice to be in the middle of the Rockies and be able to lay back and do what we want or don’t want and not feel like anyone cares. God has been giving us exactly what we needed.

Then yesterday morning God’s providence came roaring in. We were having breakfast on the deck of this little 23 room lodge when a woman, who was also staying there, came out to say good morning. When asked where we were from, she asked if we were with the other gentleman from Charlotte. When we said no, she went and got him. It turns out this man is not only is from Charlotte, has several children like us, but one of his kids even lives down the block from us in our own neighborhood. Talk about small world! He was visiting his son here just like we are. They are all strong Christians. His son, over the years, had broken his back four times. He ended up out here and has gotten into growing medical marijuana (There is a difference). Now it turns out his son not only grows this, but his dad retired from Pfizer and help bring Advil to the market many years ago. We had a long discussion, as you can imagine with my condition, about how things work, and is there a way to use Marijuana without getting high. Turns out there is.

There is such a thing as non-thc cbd oil. CBD is found to have many health benefits, and in oil form has a zero high to it once the THC is removed. North Carolina recently passed a law making it legal to sell this drug. While learning this the father made a comment that I had thought before, but never heard from an expert in the medicinal field. He said,”There really is so much we do not understand in medicine and so many ways nature itself can heal us.”

God is constant, that is all over the Bible. One of God’s constants is judgement and mercy. If you read Noah’s story closely, you will find  in Genesis 8:21-22 God removes his curse from the ground of the earth. While life is shortened, and to this day we feel the climate changes, earthquakes etc. from this catastrophic event, we also see the beauty it left behind. I am fully convinced that God has given us what we need to survive, at least for the time we are given. It is in our own ignorance and pride that we miss the boat. We ignore the medicines found in plants because we associate it with ancient rituals, or some misguided psychosomatic solution. Instead we use man made chemicals, many of which can cause worse issues with their side effects.

So what is the point here? Well there are two actually. First, don’t let you pride get the better of you in this life. There is so much of this world we simply don’t understand. Explore, learn, grow and in doing so grow closer to God. The second relates to this. All of God’s creation tells His story. Just as we are made in His image, much of his creation tells of His character beyond the beauty and glory of a sunset or canyon view. The more we take time to learn from it, the better our lives will become. By this I don’t just mean medicines. We can learn that God is God, He has provisions for all of us, and much like Salvation in Jesus, we simply need to stop, listen, learn, and accept His provisions.

How?

How can anyone explain the blessings of God? I’ve seen it done two ways in my walk with God. You have one group that tend to understate what God has done. They will look at the blessings in their life, and in a moment of false humility underplay what God has done for them. Then you have the other group. This is the group that comes off like a bunch of jerks. They normally stand up, proudly declaring what their faith has brought about and how anyone can do it. Treating God like He is some kind of magic Genie.

I probably fall in the former group, or tend to not say anything at all. I do this to avoid becoming like the second group. The truth is, it is hard to give God the full glory in our lives because it’s hard to explain God’s grace to others. Let’s be honest, we don’t deserve anything good God gives any of us. Also, God working in our lives sometimes happens exactly the way we expect it to, and other times it is so far from what we expected we wonder if God was in the result at all? (If we are being honest.)

I wrote earlier about my son’s accident and how it had weighed on me. I asked friends to pray for wisdom as his accident, and the doctors reaction, are being investigated. I don’t want to go into the details here, other than to say things could have been handled better. The net result of this prayer has not only been a serious look at medical processes for head injuries at my son’s base, but a thank you letter to me from the U.S. President to me, including him complimenting my “Dad” commitment. Now of course part of me wants to puff up and be like, “Yea man, who’s your daddy?” In reality though, it’s God answering prayer. Now, how can I explain this in such a way that it glorifies God?

Is it right to say if you stand up for the right things you’ll hear from a President, King, or CEO from some company for doing the right thing? Maybe, while the Bible does mention the faithful may appear before leaders, it doesn’t guarantee anything. In fact, in our society you are just as likely to be destroyed as lauded. So what is the message here the glorifies God? If I had to nail this down, it is that God is always faithful and never predictable. Ask me what I wanted three weeks ago and a miraculous healing of my son’s head, and all the problems with the doctor immediately fixed, would have been my preference. Ask me two weeks ago and I would have said protection of political fallout. Ask me two days ago and I would have said just for everything to go back to the way it was. Then God has the President send me a letter. A small simple typed note on official letterhead and suddenly I am encouraged more than I have been in many weeks.

My answer to everyone reading is to continue to trust God. His ways are surprising. He knows what you need even when you don’t know. God’s timing is perfect and his outcomes cannot be guessed. God is faithful, never lose hope, faith, or most importantly His love.

 

True Courage

During my first son’s experience in  Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island I had him read all about David. I would read it as well, and wee would exchange letters. Normally his letters would tear your heart out. My letters would often focus on David’s life. As we studied, it became apparent that David was not this great super warrior charging ahead of God’s armies. Instead, he was just a man. Often times he was a man in great distress. We always like to say “Never Fear” when it comes to the Christian faith, but David knew fear. The difference was David brought his fear to God.

Psalm 40 is a great example of how David thought. The first part praises God for His faithfulness, His deliverance, and his strength in times of trouble. Then we hit the verses above. It is like David is reminding himself, and letting God know that he knows God is faithful. Then David comes to the real source of the song. He is overwhelmed. Of course near the end of this Psalm David once again reminds us of God’s salvation.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been overwhelmed with all the work and responsibility I have been given lately. Add to this my pain levels that are increasing and it does indeed feel impossible at times. However, God is faithful. I cannot explain it, but prayer, honest prayer, daily prayer, makes all the difference. Much like David, when I drop all my weight at the feet of Jesus I find the troubles of the day much smaller.

David is probably one of the most courageous people in the Bible. Yet it is clear his courage originates first and foremost with God. While we may not all be surrounded by armies and death, we all face our challenges that will threaten our livelihood, families, friends, and reputation. Things that have been, are, or will be out of our control. Like David, it is okay to admit when our courage leaves us. In fact, it is in those moments of greatest distress we find God. He stands there, not only as a loving and forgiving Father, but also as the Creator of the universe. Our problems to Him are small. His salvation and deliverance from them is swift and sure.

Overwhelmed

Normally I post one or more bible verses dealing with a particular subject, but this time I’m changing things up. First because it has been awhile since I’ve posted. Secondly, because we’ve had so much going on and I want to share what God has shown me.

Our third son got a somewhat serious head injury while working on the tanks with the Marine Corps. Diagnosis and treatment have proved problematic. While I think we are on a good course of action now, it was not without much unneeded drama. Add to this that those actions appear to have hurt his recent performance review, and this dad has had his fill his fill of excitement and disappointment for the year. Of course I have three other sons who we pray for and advise as they move forward in their lives, so it isn’t like this is an abnormal series of events for us.

I have been dealing with my disease. My hands have gone through a lot of pain. While they are better, they still ache. My frustration with current voice technology has led me in an ongoing battle with pain medication. Yes, I’m talking about THAT kind of pain medicine. While pain medicine has improved a lot in relation to dosage via time release capsules for me it still increases my anxiety. My battle isn’t so much addiction since euphoria is not something I have to deal with. It’s a choice between being pain free enough to work or having peace of mind.

Finally work is actually going great. Although I have to say I wonder now if part of the reason Daniel prayed everyday was because of the responsibilities that were given him while in exile. After so many years in the IT industry, I finally have been given a position that coincides with the experience I have gained. However, add to that the above dramas and the fact they have given me the most difficult project because they believe I am the most qualified, and it is all very overwhelming.

I think about Daniel, the apostles, all those who God grew. I think about the cups that overflow. Nobody mentions the responsibilities that come with that. Well, unless you include the “Spider Man” movies. We often talk about pushing outside our comfort zone. I have to say for me it’s been a process of being patient with where God has had me for years to get me to appreciate the full weight of what He has put under me. I now realize I can’t possibly carry this load without God. Posterity, career, the lives of others, not just my own life, are all tied to daily decisions I now make. Advice is no longer free when given to your adult children because their steps will be impacted by decisions and advice you’ve given, or refrained from.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I think that fear stems from looking over the cliff of life and understanding that without His wisdom and His peace we will eventually self-destruct in our own selfish desires and carry those people we care about most over the cliff with us. Without His Grace through Jesus we will never receive that wisdom and peace we so desperately need.