28 January 2013

Loyalty... the Forgotten Virtue

In 1947 Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson both played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and they were great friends. Jackie Robinson was the first African American baseball player to break the race barrier. This was such a radical move for that day that some of his own teammates even turned against him. There were also many fans that responded to his presence in baseball with death threats.

Once, during a game in Cincinnati, while Jackie Robinson was playing second base, the crowd started throwing stuff, booing, and shouting horrible things. Short Stop Pee Wee Reese, a white player, took his glove, threw it down in the dirt, walked over to the Jackie, looked up at the booing crowd, and put his arm around his friend. The crowd fell completely silent.

Robinson later shared that that one simple act did more than save his career, but probably saved him in more ways than we could have imagined. Pee Wee Reese’s gesture was such a special moment in history, a statue capturing the two men commemorates this act of loyalty between friends.

Many will say they are loyal friends, but who can find one who is truly reliable? Proverbs 20:6

King David had a son, Absalom; it was his third son. His son committed a horrible crime; he murdered a man and went on the run for his life. He was very afraid, even though David was faithful to him.

About three years later, Absalom returned with a big army to overthrow his own father's throne. David had been faithful to him, and yet he was being disloyal to his own father. So now King David was on the run trying to save his own life.

There was a warrior by the name of Ittai. Ittai was basically a mercenary; a hired guy who was the commander of 600 men.  Ittai, though he had no real skin in this game, volunteered to fight on behalf of David.

2 Samuel 15:19-21  The king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why should you come along with us? Go back and stay with King Absalom. You are a foreigner, an exile from your homeland. You came only yesterday. And today shall I make you wander about with us, when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your people with you. May the Lord show you kindness and faithfulness.” But Ittai replied to the king, “As surely as the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.”

Not only did Ittai proclaim loyalty, but he proved it as he led his 600 men into battle and fought so faithfully that later David elevated him to be in charge of about a third of his troops.

When asked, most men will say of all virtues, the one that is most forgotten in today’s society is loyalty. If we conducted a survey, most would say disloyalty is a very significant problem. The same people that claim disloyalty is an issue most likely consider themselves to be very loyal.

But we should remember that disloyalty is very difficult to see in the mirror.

Today, we could easily find the mindset: “I'll be loyal to you, but if I'm ever not, it's because you deserved it…you pushed me beyond my limits. However, if you're not loyal to ME, then disloyalty is now actually a big problem.”

All disloyalty is born out of a divided heart.

God created us to love and to have an intimate, ongoing fellowship with us.  He was so loyal to us, that while we were still sinners -while we were being disloyal to Him- He sent His one and only Son to die for our sins.

Even when we are faithless, disloyal, God, in turn, remains faithful, loyal, to us.

“What does God want from me?” you may ask. God asks for all of our hearts.

Jesus said, "love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all your mind and all of your soul, and all of your strength.”

It would have been easier for Ittai to have just left David to fight his own battle instead of risking the lives of himself and his men.

It would have been easier for Pee Wee to have let the crowd have their way with his friend Jackie and mind his own business.

But true loyalty is proven, not proclaimed.

20 January 2013

“Goose is dead.”

Those fateful words, spoken by Commander Mike ‘Viper’ Metcalf, were a crushing blow to Lt. Pete Mitchell.  Mitchell, known by call sign “Maverick,” already knew that Goose had been killed during a cockpit ejection.  It threw the F-14 pilot’s life into a tailspin.  Although the board of inquiry clears Maverick of responsibility, he feels guilty for Goose's death, losing his own aggressiveness for flying. Maverick, whose “…ego was writing checks his body can’t cash,” refused to get back into the saddle.

The movie? Top Gun.  Soon after graduating from fighter weapons school, Maverick, along with  Iceman/Slider and wingmen Hollywood/Wolfman, were deployed back to sea aboard the USS Enterprise to deal with a crisis situation. Their orders were to defend a communication ship which had become disabled in enemy waters and to return fire if attacked by hostile Soviet assets in the area. Iceman and Hollywood were the first two US planes in the air, and they quickly encountered five Soviet MiG-28 aircraft determined to shoot them down. Hollywood’s aircraft gets hit, leaving Iceman to fend for himself until help arrives. That “help” was a paralyzed Maverick, who was coming to the rescue by himself, due to a catapult failure aboard the carrier.

As Maverick spots Iceman below facing five-against-one odds, and with a strange guy seated behind him, he simply pulls the plug.

“Maverick’s disengaged!” shouts Slider.

To me, no word is more impactful, or personal, than the word “disengage.”   Those who have served or are serving in the military know the word “disengage” means “to withdraw forces from close action.”

In the world we live in, it means to “check out.”

In the past few months, the news has been filled with several shootings at schools, movie theaters, and in the streets of our nation’s cities by young men—mere boys.  If we were to lay out all of these acts of violence and compare them side-by-side, there are several similarities. But, the one thing they all have in common is the role models of the shooters.  Those role models were rappers, action movies, comics, and violent video games.  It would be easy to respond by pointing to those influences and say “that’s what’s wrong” or “it’s the ease of access to weapons.”

However, our problem is not the weapons, it is boys without boundaries whose fathers have “disengaged.”

"Don't fail to correct your children. You won't kill them by being firm, and it may even save their lives,” says Proverbs 23:13-14 (CEV)

Men, you are the leaders of your families. You might be reluctant to assume that role. You might even deny that it falls to you. Nonetheless, you are your family’s leader, whether you choose to believe it or not.

Leaders are always the highest-priority targets in any war.  Satan knows that if he can kill the commander, the troops will be easier to defeat. Cut off the head and the body dies. In case you missed it, the body in this analogy is your family—you are the head. You are needed.

You may not think of yourself as being particularly influential or even successful in life. Maybe you don’t make a lot of money, lead a large group of people, save lives, or invent amazing gadgets. Maybe life has even beaten you down, and you’ve lost confidence in your abilities. Consequently, you don’t think of yourself as a big deal. But you can bet your boy does. He thinks you’re a very big deal. He doesn’t know or care what the outside world thinks. He only knows that between the walls of your home, you are about the biggest, wisest, most powerful person alive. Oh, he knows you’re not perfect. But he doesn’t care, because you’re just good enough to be indispensable in his life.

Our pastor was fifty before he finally quit believing that his own dad could whip King Kong Bundy, were he to pay their home a hostile visit.  Yeah, dads are a big deal.

13 January 2013

What's in Your Wallet?

Do you know what percentage of income the average person in Japan saves each year?  They sock away 18.2 percent of their annual income. In contrast, the average American SPENDS $1.33 for every $1.00 earned.

This boat won’t float for long.

Proverbs 6:6-8 says, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!  The ant, it has no commander, no overseer, no ruler, and yet it stores provisions in summer and it gathers its food at harvest.”

The ant instinctively saves for a “rainy” day. We also should exercise the sense to save. There are three “circumstances” we are going to put into practice for saving:

1. We are going to save for emergencies.  “What emergencies?” you may ask.  Your plumbing will back up, your car will break down, or someone in your family will get sick and go to the doctor.

2. We are going to save for purchases.  You may need a new couch; you may want to go on vacation. The idea is to save up and pay cash. We’ve just had Christmas, and you may not have even begun to pay for that spending. Decide not to do that anymore, instead, save up and pay cash for gifts.

3. We are going to save for the future.  You may want to retire or see your kids go to college. You are going to save for that.

Proverbs 21:20, “In the house of the wise there are stores of choice food and oil, a foolish man devours all he has.”

A modern day telling of this verse could go like this:  In the house of the wise, people survive on less than they take in, and they save for the future, but the foolish live paycheck to paycheck- which is what 75% of Americans do, spending more than they earn.

Having ‘stores of choice food and oil’ will require you to prioritize your money by planning, budgeting, and making your money behave.  This has to be done because you most likely have a certain amount of money to live on.

It will be necessary to clearly define, in your life, what a need is, what a want is.

Think of it like this: You need to eat; you want to go to a restaurant. Those are different things. You need a roof over your head, but you may want a 3-bedroom house with a 2-car garage.  

The problem for so many people is they spend money on wants, leaving insufficient funds to provide for needs.      

Prioritize your dollars.  Most have a certain amount to live on each month, so it is important to put a priority on each dollar.

For example, let’s say its payday, and to keep things simple, let’s say you get paid $10.  Your first priority as a follower of Christ is to always tithe, that is, give 10% to God.  And, it should always be the very first dollar.

Your second priority is to pay for your living expenses.  You have to eat, and you have to sleep somewhere.  Until now, in this scenario, your living expenses have been higher than they really should be, and nine of your ten dollars has been spent on those living expenses.

But, you have decided to be aggressive about eliminating your debt. You've sold your car and got a less expensive one.  You stopped drinking expensive drinks.  Maybe you cut back in some areas, and, after aggressive planning, you have managed to actually save $2.00 from your living expenses.

You are going to put that $2.00 toward your ‘third priority.’

Your third priority is the “Oh, no” fund.  It is $1,000.00 that you are going to work your buns off to set aside for emergencies.  Two dollars doesn't sound like much, but, you have been taught tithing, and God has blessed you.

You landed a side job this month, and earned an extra dollar. You also sold something on Craigslist and made another $1.00.  In your very first month, you could end up putting $4.00 into the “Oh, no” fund.

Before long, it is payday again, and the cycle continues.  After you do this for a few months, you will have $1,000.00 in your “Oh, no” fund.

It is time to focus on debt elimination once you have established your “Oh, no” fund. Don’t let your enemy talk you out of this.  If you hang in there, when most people give up, within a short period of time, except for probably what you owe on your home, you will be debt-free.

Managing wisely the resources entrusted to you by God is one of the true marks of spiritual maturity.  What you do with what God provides reveals what you really believe.

This practical advice is not meant to curb your reliance on God; it is to open your eyes to applying His word to your everyday lives.  He is still sovereign; He still gives and takes away.  He is our Jehovah Jireh, our provider.

Let’s do our best with what He provides.

06 January 2013

What did that Cost?

Where are the people that have the money?  Just looking around at ourselves and our neighbors we see people that have the home, the car, the toys, the look, and the debt, but not the money.  Many Americans today are pretenders.  We are pretending to live a lifestyle that we cannot really afford.
Proverbs 13:7 says, “One man pretends to be rich, but in truth he has nothing.” Another verse, Proverbs 12:9, “Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant than pretend to be somebody and have no food.”  There are two groups of people in America; those that “have paid” and those that “have not paid…yet.”

The real differences between these two groups are the questions we ask. And, all too often, we as Americans have learned to ask the wrong questions.  What we tend to ask when buying something is, “how much money down is this going to take?”  And, “how much is it going to cost a month?”  Instead of asking “how much is the real cost?”

Another example is when someone walks into a business and asks “what’s the most I can get into for the least down?”  We have forgotten to ask what is the real cost, not just the financial cost, but the lost opportunity costs that bind us to the point where we can’t give, where our marriages are stressed because we are fighting and worrying about finances, where we can’t give our kids opportunities because we have bought things that we didn't need with money that we didn't have to impress people that we don’t even know.

What is the real cost of our unbiblical stewardship?

In our country, we've been programmed to believe debt is normal and that debt is necessary.  But debt, as we have come to accept it, didn't use to be the norm.  Go back in time about 80 years, and in 1929, only 2% of the homes in America had mortgages against them.  Forty years later, only two percent of homes did not have mortgages against them.  That’s how fast our mindset changed.

The average American owes $15,418.00 in credit card debt with an average interest rate of 19%.  If only the minimum required payments of $245.00 per month were made, it would take almost 30 years to pay off that debt.  Some of you will be dead before the debt is satisfied.

What does this really COST?  

What if you decided you were not going to be like everyone else and you were not going to simply buy whatever you wanted?  Instead, you choose to be prayerful.  You are going to make decisions based on direction from God.  And, you are going to exercise self-discipline.  Instead of owing $15,418.00, you could be faithful enough to do what grandma used to say and save that $15,418.00 instead.  Over time, investing that minimum payment with the money you saved could earn you a 10% per year return on your money.  Practicing this for 30 years could net you an $864,288.03 nest egg.

Are you thinking, “I had no idea what the real cost of this DEBT really was.”

What should we do now? We train our money and make our money behave.

In Proverbs 25:28, the Bible says, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.”  If you don’t have control of your money or any area of your life, you are like a city whose walls are broken down.  You are vulnerable to whatever comes along.

You are like the little kid in Wal-Mart who wants a toy or a candy bar and will throw a fit until you get it:

Child: “I want it!”
Mom: “No, Johnny.”
Child: “I want it!”
Mom: “No, no, no, Johnny!  Now, be good.”
Child: “I want it, NOW!”
Mom: “Okay, okay, if you will be good, I’ll just give it to you.”

The problem with this mindset is right now little Johnny still lives inside many of you.  Only now, Johnny wants a boat, a truck, a motorcycle, or whatever.  You've got to get control of the little kid inside and train him to shut up.

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