30 December 2012

'til Debt Do Us Part


For the last month, unless you dwell under a rock, you've undoubtedly been hearing all about the ‘Fiscal Cliff’ we face as a nation and what terrible fate awaits for all mankind if our elected officials don’t come to the rescue and pass some sort of law to save us from going over the edge.  But, both sides of the political aisle have ‘dug in’ and the battle over our nation’s moneybags looks to be bloody.

But, no matter which side of this debate you’re on, we expect congress to act in a fiscally responsible way.  But, why should we expect our government to act differently than we do? We tell our elected officials we want fiscal responsibility. We tell them to balance the budget, reduce the deficit, and to use zero based budgeting.

This is like the pot calling the kettle black. Fiscal responsibility must begin at home first. As Americans, we spend on average $1.33 per $1.00 earned. Why are we in debt? Because we have allowed ourselves to accept debt as the ‘norm.’  We have become so comfortable with debt, that the government spends $1.58 for every $1.00 it takes in.

The bible talks a lot about money and Jesus talked a lot about money.   Why is debt talked about so much? Why did Jesus talk about money so much? Because debt traps you and it binds you.

In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, one in ten verses deal directly with money.  In all of scripture, over twenty-three hundred verses talk about money.  That is five times as many that talk about prayer.  That’s five times as many that talk about faith.  Managing wisely God’s resources IS a profoundly spiritual topic. Surprise!

Proverbs 22:7, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”  The Hebrew word that is translated as servant is the word ebed, which very literally means a slave or bondage.  If you are in debt, you are a slave and in bondage.

The vast majority of Americans are in financial bondage.  We are slaves to our finances.  How do you know if you are in financial bondage?  If you have ever said something like this, “I would love to tithe, but I can’t.  Because I am so afraid there won’t be enough to pay the bills.”  That is bondage.  If you have ever felt like God was calling you to do something, but you don’t have the money for it:  bondage.

If you have ever had “it” break again, (I don’t know what your “it” is that always breaks) and you don’t have the money to fix it, that’s bondage.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart is also.”

If we live in the most prosperous country on planet earth, and yet, we cannot live within our means, and we need more than what we earn, hoping and thinking that will make us happy, our treasure IS in this world.  If our treasure is here, our heart is here as well, and that is a problem if we call ourselves Christians.

We have been led to believe it is normal to have a student loan payment, credit card payments, car payments, or house payments.

I’m sick and tired of normal.  I am mad that the church of Jesus Christ hurts financially:  that we as believers can’t give generously, and we can’t make decisions with freedom because it’s all financially related.  I hope you get mad too because that will motivate you to do something about it.

I am sick and tired of seeing God’s people hurting, fighting, miserable, and buying more, thinking that will bring happiness. They are just cutting their throats even more with self-inflicted financial pressure.

Businesses for years have been very successfully marketing debt, and they have succeeded in convincing a generation of Americans to feel good about being in bondage.
“Got another credit card in the mail.  Praise God.”

God didn't send that credit card!

Imagine this:  No student loan payments, no payday loans, no car payment, no credit card payment at 21% kicking your butt daily, or even no house payment!

Right now you are saying to yourself this is impossible.

It’s not impossible.  If you apply a few years of discipline and hard work, financial peace is possible.  Not only is it possible, it is one of the most freeing things that you could ever imagine.

Do not aspire to be ‘normal.’  Normal is fighting, hurting, worrying, and feeling stress and panic.  Normal is a life immersed in materialism.

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world…” says Romans 12:2.  

How are we going to get there?

Hard stinking work, sacrifice, discipline, faithfulness, and consistency.  Well known author and radio personality Dave Ramsey calls this determined behavior ‘gazelle intensity.’  If you have ever seen a gazelle chased by a lion, what does the gazelle have?  Intensity.  The gazelle is running for his life.  You are fighting for yours.

Proverbs 6:5, “Free yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter.”

As followers of Christ, we don’t keep our hearts in this world.  We will choose to not be a servant or a slave to anyone or anything except…Jesus Christ.

24 December 2012

What Child is This?

Many families participate in great Christmas traditions this time of year.  We have a couple ourselves.  One is a carryover from my wife’s upbringing. 

Growing up in her home, whenever the phone rang between Christmas Eve and Day, they would answer it, “Christmas Eve gift!” The purpose was to be the first to say it to another family member that was calling.  It was fun tradition before caller ID and cell phones. But as traditions go, this one isn't practiced very often now because everyone knows who’s calling before the phone is answered.  The fun was explaining “Christmas Eve gift” to an unsuspecting person on the other end of the line. 

Our own tradition as a family is to go to a local Christmas tree farm every year, ride the hay wagon out into the orchard, and pick out our tree together, which required cutting it down ourselves. While this sounds like a Norman Rockwell painting, it’s not. But that is a story for another day.

During this time of year, Christmas carols are played and sung everywhere.  One memorable song is “What Child Is This?” As we ask ourselves that very question, I would like to let the Word of God answer it: 

What child is this?

Behold Jesus, the baby.  Isaiah prophesied about Jesus before His birth in Isaiah 7:14:  “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel.  Which means ‘God with us’” I imagine the listeners of this prophesy would be blown away to hear, 700 years before His actual birth, that the Savior they've been anticipating will be born of a virgin; a birth so historical, it split our calendar in half:  BC -before Christ and now AD - “anno Domini,” which is Latin for “in the year of our Lord.”

‘Behold Jesus, the Lamb of God!’  John the Baptist made this bold declaration recorded in John 1:29.  The next day, John saw Jesus coming toward him.  He said, “Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!”  I envision everyone hearing this stopping dead in their tracks.

They would have known what John meant because they lived in a time where there was a sacrificial system.  They would have been annual observers of the Passover, remembering how God delivered Israel from bondage and said, “I’m going to send a death angel to pass over, and everyone who does not have their doors covered with the blood of the lamb will be destroyed.  But, if you have the blood of the lamb …” 

Practicing this in their day, the people would take an innocent lamb, slit its throat, and the blood would drain into a container.  They would take a sponge and paint the blood along the top of their doorpost.  This is an Old Testament picture of the blood of the cross of Jesus.  ‘…and those who were covered with His blood, the death angel would pass over and they would be spared.’ 

Revelation 5:12 says, “Worthy is the Lamb, Jesus, who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.”

Behold!  Jesus, the man.  John, chapter 19:5:  Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe.  And Pilate said to them, “Behold the man.”

Jesus, miraculously, was all God, and at the same time, all man.  He was God in human form.  He was God in the flesh.  However, He was not an ordinary man.  This man was God and was so full of God’s love that He overflowed with compassion.  The Greek word that is translated as compassion is the word ‘splagchnizomai.’  It means to ache from the deepest part within for people.  It is an inner yearning. 

And when He saw people, He would be moved with compassion. 

The very depths of this love Jesus had for mankind is exactly what took him to the cross:  the innocent Lamb of God paying the price for all of our sin…saving us from eternal separation from God.  ‘For God didn’t send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:17.  Behold, Jesus our savior!

Who else is Jesus? He is King, to be returning soon. Revelation 22:12 says, “And behold I am coming quickly, and My reward is with me to give to everyone according to his work. I am the Alpha and I am the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” 
When Jesus was born over two thousand years ago, He entered this world as a lowly servant inside of the manger.  When He returns, He will come as the King!

Who is this Child?  He is Christ, the Lord!

Merry Christmas and “Christmas Eve gift!”

16 December 2012

I... Must... Perform

Many years ago a man conned his way into the orchestra of the emperor of China although he could not play a note. Whenever the group practiced or performed, he would hold his flute against his lips, pretending to play but not making a sound. He received a modest salary and enjoyed a comfortable living Then one day the emperor requested a solo from each musician. The flutist got nervous. There wasn't enough time to learn the instrument. He pretended to be sick, but the royal physician wasn't fooled. On the day of his performance, the impostor took poison and killed himself. The explanation of his suicide led to a phrase that found its way into the English language: “He refused to face the music." When you're living a lie, eventually "your sins will find you out."

An increasingly common lie that way too many of us believe is that “we are what we do” – the ‘performance’ lie.  

When we buy into the notion of the performance lie, our identity comes from what we have accomplished, and wrongly so.  Last month, you may have been the top producer at your company, and now you feel valued. Or, maybe you didn't do well last month, and now you feel like a loser.  Perhaps you earned a raise which left you feeling good about yourself.  Or, on the other hand, the job you have doesn't pay as much as you think it should and you don’t feel very valuable.  This ideology gets really twisted when we start receiving our worth from what our children accomplish:  “My kid can do a round off, flip/flop, side-spring, and your kid can’t even do a cartwheel.”

When we believe the performance lie, we identify who we are by what we have.  We find ourselves dissatisfied, wishing, “If only…I had that car he drives.” This mentality can land us upside down in debt, a slave to payments for the next 72 months. But, at least you got the cool car you drive to define you instead of being able to give back to God what is His.

When we believe the performance lie, we also gain our identity wrongly from what people think about us.  Remember this, and never forget it:  You are not what you did.  You are not what you do, and you are not what you are going to do.  You are who God says you are.  You have to let that truth settle in your heart.  What people think about you is secondary to this.  And, if you believe this, you’ll lose concern for what people think about you.

As a Christian when asked who are you, how do you answer? You may say, “I’m a carpenter, or a banker, or a lawyer.”  The problem with that answer is that’s not who you are, it’s what you do.  You are this: “…a new creation in Christ.  The old is gone; the new has come.”  You are the beloved of God.  You are a joint heir with Christ.  You are seated in heavenly places.  You are a child of the king.

It’s important that we don’t mix up the ‘who’ and the ‘do.’  Let God define those.

If you are stuck in the performance lie right now, it is easy to find yourself over- committed, over-stressed, and even freaking out.  There’s so much going on, you may be wondering, “Can I keep it up?”

When you believe your worth comes from what you do, you expend too much energy  trying to prove yourself, and you are actually doing more than God wants you to do.  Hear the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:29-30 “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Most people I know would say, “My yoke is hard, and my burden is heavy.”  You know why?  Because, “ I've got to make sure everything looks right so everybody will think we've got it all together!”

Jesus says if you’re yoked with Him and you are doing life with Him, the yoke is easy.  The burden is light.  He will empower you, it will be a joy-filled journey led by His spirit, and if there’s too much going on, perhaps you're doing something God doesn't want you to do.

09 December 2012

Are You an Asset or Liability to Christmas?

I hate Christmas. 

There, I said it. Why do I hate Christmas, you ask in horror? Well, here are a few of my reasons: 
  • Stores that begin their big Christmas sales in September. Seriously? Can’t we enjoy Halloween candy and Thanksgiving before we bring out the fat man?
  • Black Friday. Need I say more?
  • Snow. It brings out the worst in already bad drivers, and it is really, really cold.
  • Tacky Christmas decorations. If your house looks like this:
Your neighbors HATE you. Seriously, this has gone too far.
  • Frosty the Snowman. I like my snow inert and on the ground. 
  • Christmas music.  How many times on average in one day can you listen to tired carols done hip hop or in a country remix bleating over the PA system in every store and shopping mall on earth?
  • Fruit cake. If a cockroach or rat won't eat it I won't eat it. Besides, the taste and texture leaves so much to be desired that no amount of eggnog will wash away the lingering aftertaste.
  • Well meaning Facebook postings like this one:  “It’s Christmas! NOT X-mas!!! Don’t remove Christ from HIS birthday!!! Post this if you agree…Please don’t X out the Lord!!! (I want to see this on everyone’s wall!!!)….. If you agree please repost…”
If we insert reality, most people who write X-mas aren't trying to “X out the Lord.” 

And yes, I've heard (and used) the argument that the X stands for Christ in Greek. Doesn't that, then, make us sound like we over analyze the unimportant? 

How can we reach a dying world by being legalistic and beating people over the head with our pre-lit signs that say “Jesus is the reason…?

As Christians who take on this persona around December, we can easily ‘come across’ like a man who brags, “I don’t drink, cuss, watch TV or read the newspaper, and, if you want to be just like me, you can be a Christian, too.” 

I cannot imagine Jesus acting this way.  Do you recall stories of Him judging things and people as he strolled by? Have you ever read about Jesus reacting strongly toward people regarding forms and customs? He did, but not to the lost and dying world around him. He did chase the money-changers from the Temple, and He hassled the Pharisees whenever he could about being clean on the inside as well as the outside. 

Jesus reserved those words of correction for people who professed to be followers of God, but weren’t. You know, like the people who post the righteous stuff on their Facebook page right above their horoscope reading for the day or their photos of getting wasted at the game the night before.

This isn't a suggestion that it is okay to drive Christ out of Christmas. What I am saying is that truly showing the love of Jesus to people in a meaningful way is far more Christ-like and important than getting agitated if someone writes X-mas. We will win the world to Christ by being like Him:  loving, caring, sacrificial, and benevolent. Not by being snarky, critical, and legalistic.

So this year, post this on your Facebook page or Tweet it: “Filled with love for others this time of year. God bless you and keep you and your family safe.” Or “I am taking time to remember what a great gift God gave me at Christmas, his son Jesus.”

1 Corinthians 11:1 "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ."

Try living like Jesus this Christmas.

02 December 2012

I'm Not Good Enough

We've all heard a lie or told a lie.  Some of the more common lies we are familiar with are:

  • The check is in the mail.
  • I'll start my diet tomorrow.
  • We service what we sell.
  • Give me your number and the doctor will call you right back.
  • This offer limited to the first 100 people who call in.
  • Your luggage isn't lost, it's only misplaced.
  • Leave your resume and we'll keep it on file.
  • This hurts me more than it hurts you.
  • I just need five minutes of your time.

But, a very common and destructive lie that Satan has plagued so many Christians with is “I’m simply not good enough.” If we were to be honest with ourselves, many of us have battled Satan’s lie or are even still harassed by it.

Moses is one of my heroes of the bible.  In Exodus 4, God Himself called on Moses to deliver His people from bondage. Moses felt the same way many of us feel when facing that kind of a moment: he felt ‘not good enough.’

Moses replied to the Lord in verse 10, “Oh, Lord, I’ve never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”  In other words, he was telling God, “I am not good enough.”

Moses was battling with this lie just like many of us do.  In verses 11-13, God speaks truth to Moses, but, Moses’ own sense of inadequacy was speaking even louder.  God responded: “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

This is where we would expect Moses to relent, “Okay, that settles it.  God’s in on it.  God’s going to deliver…nothing to worry about!”  But, to the contrary, Moses mutters “please send someone else.”

Too many of us have bought into Satan’s crafty lie that has led us to some dangerous, and false, conclusions about our lives such as, “Since I’m not good enough, I can’t make a difference….Why even try? …I’m average, and I fail at everything I do.”

You are not the sum total of your past experiences.  You are not the opinions of others.  You are not what happened to you in the past.  You are WHO God says that you are.  So, whenever that lie creeps into your thoughts, replace it with truth.

The truth is what God says about you.

What does God say about you?

God says you are called by Christ.  I Peter 5:10, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ.”

God also says you are complete in Christ.  II Peter 1:3 says that “His divine power has given us everything we need.”

Money, things, and people don’t complete you.  Christ does.

Are you missing something?  Find it in Christ.

Need peace?  In Christ, you find a peace that the world doesn't even know anything about.

Assurance?  He is your assurance.

Strength?  His strength is made perfect in your weakness.

Blessings?  Blessings that are eternal far outweigh the things of this world.

Comfort?  He comforts like a mother comforts her child.

Whenever you see the word ‘complete’ used in the New Testament, most of the time it comes from a Greek word that refers to a ship. It means a ship that is fully manned.  In other words, the ship has everything that is needed to get to the next destination.  So, think of your life like that.  You’re the ship; Jesus is the captain.  He’ll make the wind blow your sails whenever necessary.  And, everything you need, He will provide.

You are complete in Christ.

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