Secret Money

One of the faith building things that happens in my life takes place when we put out an appeal for a particular project. They don’t necessarily happen every week, but usually I have the experience monthly.

Someone will come up to me quietly and say, “I can help with that.” Sometimes some cash is pressed into my hand, other times perhaps a check. I’ve had people contact me over Facebook, who have listened to me mention something in a sermon, then send money to help. I’ve had others bring items, household goods, and clothing, whatever is needed. Once in a while I will get the question, “How’s your freezer space?” Someone has some beef that they want used for Monday lunches, or families in need in the community.

I make sure that the shepherds know of the generosity, often at the request of the benefactor, anonymously. I made it a policy many decades ago to never handle cash without accountability to leadership. But what I’ve noticed, what I’ve been blessed to notice, is how often people are incredibly generous without any desire for others to know about it. Sometimes it might only be 20$, but sometimes it has been thousands of dollars.

Get it done. Let me help. Can you get this to that situation? I want to be a part of that. Those are common expressions. I walk away humbled and offering praise to God for such hearts.

Because I am at times a “point person,” these experiences come about. Tom and I have often shared stories of people in different situations who have used us to funnel funds to accomplish things that glorify God, ease suffering, create opportunity, and lift burdens.

I’ve been surprised by some who have been very cautious over the years. Jaded by televangelists who expect followers to buy them jet planes, they slowly become some of the most generous in trying to help local efforts. This happens when they see the results of the generosity of others. Those are acts of faith planting seeds of faith.

You might not see as many of these things, but I want you to know about it. I want you to understand that “without letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing,” people of faith do incredible things. From widow’s mite to a banker’s millions, people of faith have a heart of generosity.

Today, we will do a very “routine” Sunday assembly. Singing, praying, teaching, the Lord’s Supper, and an offering.  The offering might seem like “paying dues,” but it is far more than that. It is a discipline to instill generosity in us, so that faith might grow in others.

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How Do I Deepen my Relationship?

When Janet and I first met, she was about to turn 16 and I was approaching 18; we lived across Denver from each other. I was spending lots of time in a school of preaching while she was a junior in high school. We didn’t have the chance to see each other more than 2-3 times per week, often at church.

To begin to develop our relationship, much to the chagrin of her parents, we spoke on the phone. We could talk endlessly. The conversations were about the most menial things, the point was… we were talking. I wrote some letters, cards, that kind of thing. We just wanted to communicate. If we had been a generation with cell phones, we would have been constantly texting.

She was restricted on dating, so we didn’t go out much. I was restricted on income, so we didn’t go to fancy places. The point was, time together. Driving in the mountains, movies, fast food meals, and youth events, we made the most of every opportunity together. We created the time because we wanted a deeper relationship.

I’ve been studying how to help other disciples deepen their relationship with God. I use a number of “spiritual disciplines”: prayer, meditation, solitude, journaling, and study. I find them helpful. I interject others from time to time, but these five are my primary things. So how do I communicate these to others?

First, I am not sure that the “what” is quite that important. To decide between journaling (one’s record of gratitude, confession, submission and sacrifice) or prayer is not that important. All of the disciplines are pointed or directed toward God. The key is the focus, the intentionality, the purpose of being with God. Perhaps it is like distinguishing between the superiority of Instagram or Snapchat to communicate a message?

Second, to grow in a relationship with God requires communication and reflecting on God. It is something that must be a priority for us. So, there must be an allocation of time. For Janet, it is her travel time back and forth to work. She has that uninterrupted 2 hours per day. I use my morning meditation period; time I don’t answer the phone, deal with email, or have distractions around.

Third, evaluate from time to time. Is it becoming drudgery? Yes, at times, training yourself to be more spiritual is tiring. But we must press through. A shift in how you interact with God can often be helpful. Spend a day jotting notes of gratitude for his provision, for example.

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Sometimes a Man’s Gotta Do What a Man’s Gotta Do

Today, I trimmed my beard. I am not sure why today instead of yesterday, but today was the day. I looked in the mirror and thought, “That is too long, it needs a trim.”

I looked in the same mirror yesterday, but did not feel the compulsion. Do you suppose my beard grew enough overnight that suddenly it reached this point of no return? I don’t think so.

I remember looking in the mirror after a shower when I washed my hair and beard and seeing ringlets in my beard, but that was earlier in the week and didn’t prompt my looking for the trimmer. We trimmed trees from the fence and yard, hauling off a few trailers of limbs, hot dirty work, but I never thought, “Thin the beard.”

There is a point, a tipping point, when we decide enough is enough and are prompted to act. It is that moment of introspection, a gaze into the reflection of ourselves when we determine to see something different in the future.

Spiritually we are like that as well. We move along, perfunctory prayer life; meals… bedtime… with an occasional emergency prayer, but nothing deep and meaningful, no true interaction at the feet of God. One day, looking at the reflection of the man in the mirror, we say… “Not enough.” We reset, refocus, and repent before God.

Our time with meditation is no different. The same can be said of our reflection on God’s word, or his creation.

But why “Today?” Do we look that much more spiritually haggard? Are we that different than the day before?

Scripture addresses this to the people of God repetitively. Today, while it is still called today… Now is the time to act. The Hebrew writer’s point was that sin was deceitful, its impact is a hardened heart.

Resets are amazing things. The turn arounds that offer us refreshing and rekindling of the spirit can breathe new life into old bones. Prayers become new. Determination becomes solidified. Hope springs anew.

How do we reset? By gazing at that reflection in the mirror and truly seeing ourselves. Not harshly critical, but as our own best friend. “Buddy, you can do better than this.”  Then acting to assist in the change.

Today, if you harden not your hearts….

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Graduations and Milestones

As many are acknowledging milestones in their lives at this time of the year, I’ve been reflecting on some of them.

There are those who are experiencing milestones in their educational progression. Some are experiencing a first transition as kindergarten ends and they announce that they are ready to step off into the next 12 years of schooling. They can recite their letters, count to 100 or beyond and color in the lines. All things that are groundwork for the next great endeavor.

Others are completing high school, looking back with a nostalgic eye at friendships made, team work skills refined and a focus toward the future beginning to narrow. College, trade school, the work force – each begin to become weightier words as reality bears down.

For some, college ends with letters like AA, BA, MA, PhD being formed on diplomas that will decorate office walls after the tassels turn and the celebrations fade.

Not all milestones are academic, but still reflect determination and commitment. Some are forming families, acknowledging before friends and families a determination to join together to face life’s journey. Acknowledgment of history together, anticipation of pleasures and excitement that lay ahead, “I do’s” are exchanged, embraces are photographed and licenses are signed as another milestone is reached.

Sometimes the milestones are anniversaries, of birthdays, weddings, retirements, or deaths. Each in its own way becomes a marker on life’s journey.

Spiritually we see these markers in perhaps a different manner. A first prayer being formed at bedtime or a meal. Faith acknowledged as new birth is begun. An embracing of ancient traditions of communion, both with God and his people across time and in one’s immediate surroundings.

In all the acknowledgements of milestones, at least two components exist. The first is reflective in nature, while one stands at this point, behind them are individual after individual who shared the journey and offered support. The second is anticipatory, peering into a future, unsure of what lies ahead but longing to embrace it. A bit of fear mitigated by life experiences that have laid the groundwork for success.

Standing on the foundation of the past, leaning into the anticipation of the future, lives change. Not just the graduating class, the couple or new Christian, but the lives of all of those who have contributed their part to the journey.

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Spring is in the Air

Spring is here. I can no longer deny it. I’ve mowed a couple of times. The Kentucky Derby has been run. There have been a few tornado warnings around the state. These are all reminders to me that it is that time of the year.

Yet, when I sit on the porch with a cup of coffee, other things remind me. The chirping of the birds in the morning air can be overwhelming as each seeks out its mate, longing for new life and new beginnings. For me, Spring is that time, a time of new beginnings.

I’ve always suspicioned that God likes Spring as well. For if nothing else, we know our God is the God of new beginnings. Patient, tolerant, merciful, and kind, our God has offered to his people throughout all generations the opportunity to start again.

Cast from the garden, Adam and his family had the opportunity for new beginnings. Noah and his family after the Flood, were given the chance to start the world all over again. Abraham has a fresh start as he follows God to the new land of promise. Israel leaves Egypt with God in the forefront with a pillar of cloud and of fire. Once again a new beginning. Joshua leads them into the Promised Land, across the Jordan River, a new place to start.

We could talk of the Kings, restart after restart in the nation of Judah. Each of the prophets appeals to the nation, begin again with God. Captivity, then the return… a chance to begin again.

Finally, or perhaps at last, God calls it the fullness of time, Jesus comes to put God in the flesh and the process in motion. From crowds on the hillside, multitudes on the plains, crowded beaches, tiny synagogues, expansive temples, and ending in whispers on a cross, new beginnings are offered, seized, and sometimes ignored. Over and over, time after time, the occasions are presented to start fresh, once again.

As the new grass launches itself into the air, as flowers bud, then burst into bloom, remember the imagery. Catch a glimpse of the message of nature that echoes the voice of God: This is the time for new beginnings. Shrug aside the old, ineffective habits, open yourself to a walk that is in step with our God. Today, even the birds sing the New Song, if you have the ears to hear.

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God’s Intent

A question that I have been pondering during this last year was prompted by the story in 2 Samuel 14, about the widow from Tekoa who is sent to David by Joab to facilitate Absalom’s return to Jerusalem. Her statement is, “…the king does not bring back his banished son”, indicating the ‘appropriate behavior’ based on the statement, “This is not what God desires, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him.”

This is the rationale for David bringing Absalom back to Jerusalem, but was it good counsel, God’s counsel, or simply Joab’s manipulation?

It should be noticed that Joab often had his own motives for things, making behind the scenes moves to push the kingdom in directions he desired. So, the source of the statement comes overlaid with some less than pristine motives.

That being acknowledged, God has on numerous occasions used ‘shady characters’ to deliver spiritual truths.

My question is, if God did bring this into being, what does it tell me about the character of God? Is it consistent with what I learn in other places about God to make the statement that God doesn’t want those who are “banished” banished forever?

The principle which can be affirmed about God is that he is a ‘restorer’, a fixer. From the chaos as creation began, he brought order and structure. From a fallen humanity, through the second Adam, he brought redemption. He is patient, longsuffering, and hopeful toward his creation, always moving, shaping, and planning for a full restoration of all things.

Since God seems to be on the edge of his seat, ready to act in support of our efforts to return. Since he has historically acted ‘while we were yet sinners’, initiating our process to regain our earlier status, I find it consistent with what I know of the nature of our God to say that he does not want those who are banished, banished forever.

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Greater, More Important Commands

There raged a debate in Jesus’ day among those who enjoyed discussing Scripture. One day, as we might have guessed, someone asked the question of him. His answer is something that should school and inform our understanding of God.

Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus answers and sets the matter to rest. However, he follows this statement with one that illuminates all of Scripture. On these two commandments hang all of the Law and the Prophets.

That is a new statement, and in it we discover the hermeneutic (process for interpreting Scripture) that Jesus used. There were many who believed that one command was just as important as another. But that is not the case according to Jesus, and we see it applied throughout Scripture.

Keeping the Sabbath was a command that many used to their own hurt. As Jesus preached throughout his ministry and healed different ones, some laid in wait wondering if he would do good on the Sabbath. Work was forbidden, so people who were ill would just have to suffer, would they not?

Jesus describes the intent of the Law, man was not made to observe the Sabbath, rather the Sabbath was made to benefit man. It was easy, once you saw the purpose. It is God honoring to assist one made in God’s image by acting in kindness toward them. Loving them by caring for them, healing them, was in perfect accord with all of the Law and the Prophets.

Arguing about what could be done, how much was too much, or how far the sun was down on the mountain was missing the point of all that God had revealed about himself. It isn’t hard to see when one has the vision of God’s intent.

Mindless enforcement of commandments, moving away from God’s intent, or worse yet, blocking God’s intention becomes sinful. Feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, or aiding the sick is not contrary to God’s law, even on the Sabbath.

 

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Things God Rejects

There have been times when God gets fed up with the worship of those who claim to be his people. Historically, it has had less to do with procedure than it has been with the behavior of those who worship.

Amos 5 is an example that I ran across again this week.

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I am not pleased by your solemn assemblies. Though you offer me burnt offerings or your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard the offerings of your fattened animals. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.

It has always been an easier task to do church than to be church. Throughout history we’ve spent more time fussing over procedures than any other single thing. Folks have fought over the number of cups during communion, what monies collected can be spent on, what kind of songs to sing in the assemblies, harps or no harps, communion at the beginning, middle or end of the assemblies, Sunday night or no Sunday night, what kind of clothes to wear, if a building could be owned to assemble in, if a kitchen could be in that building, if a multipurpose room could look like a gym… And multiple other things that I have neither the time nor inclination to mention.

Amos asks, in the midst of all the controversies, “Is justice being evenly distributed?” “Is what is right truly the guiding principle that springs from you?” Not your ability to gain justice, but the ability of the weakest and most vulnerable of all?

God, in describing himself to Moses, states that he is, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the father on the children and on the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”

God wants this world to recognize his standards; singing songs, praying prayers while ignoring the vulnerable among us causes him to repudiate our worship.

 

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The God Who Draws Us In

He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.

He will not always accuse, neither will he keep his anger forever.

He does not treat us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.

For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward those who fear him;

As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.                                    Psalm 103:7-12

 

I often wonder what people believe about God. Sometimes their “jumpiness” or restlessness before him cause me to believe that they have not focused on what God has said about himself.

When Moses received the tablets cut by the finger of God, God passed by in front of Moses and made a statement about himself, about who he is. Much of that statement is quoted in Psalm 103, in fact it is quoted over and over again in Scriptures. It is the defining statement of God.

Yes, God is a holy God. Of this there can be no doubt. But look at the focus God makes when he is establishing his relationship with Israel. Merciful, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy. His focus is not on how to push us away, rather it is on how to draw us to him.

Take all of our sins; past, present and future… put them on the most powerful missile, launch them to the deepest part of the universe, galaxies, light years away, into a dark hole that we will never find… he sent our sins away from us.

No lingering guilt, no hint of a shadow, no tinge of dirt remains. God removes it, cleanses it, and takes it away, all so there is no impediment to our ability to enter into deep relationship with him.

The longing of God is not your faultlessness, it is you. He provides your ability to stand in his presence with great joy, trust that. Stop listening to the whispers of Satan and hear the word of God.

 

 

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What Do You Remember?

Along about the middle of July, I start thinking about my family. My father died the 16th of July and his father died on the 20th. In the middle of December my mind reflects on another loss. It seems that annual remembrances are important to me. Nostalgic? Sentimental? I am not sure, but powerful events in my life resonate deep within me. Each year, about that time in the month, I reflect, rehearse what I learned, the things I value, and commit to honor the memories in the coming year.

An early Easter holiday this year. For many throughout our world this is a season that remembers a time altering event. A risen Christ, a Messiah hoped for, then seemingly lost, before an earth shaking return, the story of Jesus contains every imaginable emotion. For many it will be read with tears and inexpressible joy. They “get it”.

For others it is a holiday about baskets, colored eggs, new dresses, bonnets, and white shoes. There may be family meals, dying eggs, toddlers waddling through a back yard attempting to fill an ungainly basket, baby rabbits or chicks, and other types of seasonal activities. When done with an awareness of the reason that a celebration exists today, they are fine. But for many it is only the seasonal holiday trappings. They may not believe in the resurrection, or even believe in the Christ.

Having knowledge of a time, or a celebration without noting the significance is empty and hollow. For me it makes no sense, like purchasing birthday cards because you like the picture, without sending them on to share with a loved one.

Paul cautions the early church about their failure to deem as holy the portion of their meal in which they observed the Lord’s Supper. For some, it appears they were just eating and drinking, enjoying social time without connecting it to the sacrifice of Jesus. Some were being left out, others were just filling their faces, but reflection on the Christ was not happening.

The problem – they didn’t create holiness in themselves around the event they were remembering. Today, remember to do more than celebrate, also reflect.

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