Sunday, March 29, 2009

A few weekends ago...

A few weekends ago it was it. It was the weekend when I realized it was time to cut the grass down. It was almost as tall as our daughter; if she sat down, we probably could lose her. Of course, she probably would have thought it was cool having her own little outside fortress in our backyard; being able to peer out into the yard and not be seen.

So Saturday, I get the stuff together to go to work. As I was out cutting it with our weed trimmer, I wondered how the grass got to be so tall in the first place. The sprinklers were off for the last several months, probably since last October. I mean, don’t plants need water? Is there that much in the ground to live on? Even prosper? Then God reminded me about Genesis… “In the beginning…” O’ no, I thought. I’m working in the yard. Seems that God always shows me something when I’m working in the yard. “Ok, God. What is it?” I asked.

He said, “Remember back in Genesis how I provided for the plants in the beginning? It hadn’t rained yet; the water came up from the ground to produce life and feed the plants, water the soil.”

“Yes, I remember” I replied. No answer. I think He was letting it sink in. The plants are being fed through the ground. Getting back to the basics; the way he intended things in the beginning. I thought about saving a blade as a reminder but it wouldn’t stay green; it had no roots to absorb water from. Roots! That was it! It’s the roots that transfer the nutrients from the soil and water to produce what the plant is intended for.

Later, I thought about different relationships with people. So many have drifted apart over the years; distanced themselves from one another. Friendships that were thought to be great disappeared. In many cases, they chose to drift away; in others they were just for the season you are in. He said, “these relationships weren’t intended to produce life; your relationship with me will. It’s also your choice. Choose to remain in Me, and I will provide for your needs just like the grass. Choose the world and its fruit will come forth.” I asked, “How will you provide?” He replied, “It’s not the way you think; My ways are not your ways. Through Me, I have Living Water that satisfies.”

Those that have their roots firmly planted in Him won’t be uprooted by every wind that comes. He may not provide through their homes, 401k’s, savings accounts, or any other means that we know of today. His Word is truth though – He will provide!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Stimulus Plan

It seems to be the topic everyone is talking about; the topic that everyone has an opinion on. Over these last couple of weeks, our nation has debated over whether to do a stimulus plan for the economy or not. They’ve debated how much we should do and what should be included. Should it include increased spending or decreased taxation? They’ve debated on the effect of the outcome and the consequences of such a plan. They’ve debated on what has caused this crisis and who’s at fault. They’ve considered who should be helped and who shouldn’t be based on who they think caused this crisis.

It’s tiring listening to the conversations going on; the opinions that are broadcast to the masses. So, here’s my opinion, my two cents. Get to the root of the problem and focus only on that!
Here’s the thing I don’t hear much about. Our economy is much like a see-saw kids play on. There’s a balance to it and if the kids weigh the same you could actually have the see-saw stay level. But what happens when one is heavier? They drop to the ground and would have to give a push off the ground to be able to keep moving. If they get off and just let go as they do, the other end drops to the ground and the child on that end can get seriously hurt.

The same can be said of our economy. An 800 pound guerilla got off the see-saw. Home values dropped dramatically; in Arizona some places have dropped more than 50%, most of that is in debt (aka someone else’s money). I’m not an economist and I may be oversimplifying the situation. In my opinion, when that much money has been pulled out of the economy in a relatively short period of time, people will get hurt and they won’t jump back in very quickly; it will take time to rebalance and trust who’s on the other end of the see-saw. In the mean time, there is substantially less money circulating in the economy causing fewer jobs and lower pay.

There are a few ways to off set that cycle whether it’s families, businesses, or government; currently we’re focusing on the government doing it. The entity that can produce more money (i.e. the government) can either spend their way out (increase government debt putting money into the economy now to be paid back later), increase the money flow (print more money which lowers the value of that currency which leads to inflation) or they can reduce taxes (leave more money in the economy and reduce government spending to match). Keep in mind, there still is a balance and each one has a consequence. And with each one of these, we’re trying to fix our money problems with money.

I personally don’t think our government should be fixing the problem in our economy by spending money or printing money. In doing so, they are simply getting on the see-saw. They shouldn’t be on it but govern the way it’s played on to maintain some sort of balance and fairness and to maintain the core values of the founding fathers of our nation. Had it been governed properly before, I don’t believe they would need to get on now.

But we still haven’t got to the root of the problem that we should be focusing on. You can’t buy your way out of a problem, whether it’s our economy, our relationships with others, marriages, etc. Only submitting to God’s plan will fix the problem. God has given us His Word to solve this crisis.

He tells us in Deuteronomy 8:17-20 -
You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.

It is God that gives us the ability to produce wealth when we seek Him. When our nation starts to seek God and His ways, then our nation will be healed and revived; we’ll have new inventions and discoveries develop wealth in our nation that will benefit others first. In the process of discovery and development of new inventions, we’ll increase our national production and cure our financial problems. When we return to our roots and be a nation under God called to be lenders not borrowers, we’ll reduce our personal and national debts and increase our influence in the world.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Battle Against Complacency

“Complacency is a tool formed in the pit of hell, used by the enemy to render us ineffective for the Kingdom of God.” ~ Tracy Keck

Several years ago, I had the incredible opportunity to attend Pastors and Leaders School, hosted by Phoenix First Assembly, a wonderful church in Phoenix that does outreach to poverty-ridden and crime-filled areas. It offers help and hope through ministry to gangs, prostitutes, substance abusers, runaway youth, the homeless, prisoners, etc, with phenomenal results. While there, I saw what a difference Christ makes in the lives of those who really encounter him. I saw living examples of the Scripture one who’s been forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47). And I left there with an awareness of how crippling complacency can be. The above quote is one that was included in my testimony to my church, about my experience.

Since then, I have kept that statement near to my heart, to remind me to be vigilant against the lull of complacency. I have seen how I can apply it in many situations. We Christians can be good people who really make a difference in this world, if we choose to look beyond ourselves and our current situation. Not everyone is meant to be on the front lines of a cause (though certainly some of us are), but we can support others who are, through our gifts of money and prayer. Once again, this hit home to me, just this weekend.

We went to a prayer meeting at our church on Saturday evening. When we got there, we discovered it was to be a bit different than normal. They began by showing a video of people who face terrible persecution for being followers of Christ in Iran. I have to be honest here, I had no idea there were even Christians in Iran, and I certainly didn’t have a soft heart toward Iran. After all, the Muslim extremists there have made their feelings and intentions toward both the U.S. and Israel pretty clear. But there are Christians there. And in the face of intense persecution and martyrdom, the Christian movement there is growing in both numbers and strength. (Of course Iran is only one of the many nations where Christians face persecution.)

Through this sad but hopeful, eye-opening video, I remembered once again, that we American Christians are blessed. And in some ways, I think our blessing is also a curse. We have freedoms and liberties that many only dream of. We have tons of churches to choose from and hop between. Most of us have multiple Bibles that we might read, but then again we might not if our favorite TV show is on, or we have something else to do. Because we have so much freedom and so many options, I think we mostly tend to take them for granted, and can even be contemptuous about them. Because our churches and Bibles are so readily available to us, we simply don’t use and treasure them the way we should.

This is not true in countries that do not enjoy religious freedom. If you choose to have a Bible in a country where you could be killed simply for having it, you’re probably going to read it faithfully and treasure it as one of your most precious and important possessions. If you could be abducted, thrown into jail and tortured for merely going to a Christian church, you’re probably not going to be inclined to leave it just because Sister So-and-So hurt your feelings. If you speak out for Christ and righteousness in a regime that is intolerant of it and you face most certain execution, it is highly likely that you are living for far more than yourself.

The wonderful and amazing part of all this, is that God is moving mightily in persecuted regions. I’ve heard it said that a church that is not afraid of martyrdom and persecution knows what it is to live for Christ. When people understand the reality of dying for something they live for, death loses its hold on them. When the body of Christ sees the most powerful moves of God, following the tragic loss of its leaders and members to martyrdom, how can they not be encouraged by the Comforter Himself?

It is easy for us to be complacent about the body of Christ, here in America. After all, our problems here really aren’t all that significant. But if we look beyond ourselves and beyond our borders, we can see clearly what our brothers and sisters in Christ face just for following Him. We may think there is nothing we can do, so we just do nothing. But there is something we can do. We can refuse to live in complacency. There are organizations we can support with our finances and our prayers. And most importantly, we can pray for those who are being persecuted. Prayer really can make a difference.

If you would like to join in praying for the persecuted church, but don’t really know where to begin, there is a great organization that can help. The Voice of the Martyrs has a monthly newsletter, with stories of those around the world who suffer persecution. Simply visit the site and sign up for the newsletter and it will be delivered to your home free of charge. You may also donate, if you feel inclined. Is it informative? I think so. Will it break your heart? I hope so. In addition, if you would like more information specific to Iran and the Muslim world, please check out Elam Ministries. They are bringing the Light to a very dark part of the world.

And remember, “Complacency is a tool formed in the pit of hell, used by the enemy to render us ineffective for the Kingdom of God.” Battle against complacency and win with compassion.

Monday, January 26, 2009

God Is Amazing!

Let me just say, God is amazing! I don’t understand it; I don’t have an agenda; I don’t even know what’s up next. But He never fails to bring me back to a central point about our foundations. It’s been in various conversations with completely different people and times over the last couple of weeks. And I know He’s not done with this topic yet because there are deeper truths and revelations that keep coming up.

Take the economy for instance. This country has and still is going through a great transition. From a country that was prosperous from acquiring stuff through debt to seeing the value of those items vanish and the results of that devastating economic transition. With unemployment on the rise, personal net worth dropping, companies struggling to survive and seeking government bailouts and laying off more workers, it’s become a vicious downward cycle. Now I believe we’re in a stage where people are afraid to spend or invest because they don’t know what’s next and they don’t want any more debt or losses. But the very fear of not knowing what is coming next will keep raising unemployment rates and lowering housing prices, it will keep the downward cycle going until we realize things are going to be ok.

Now, I’m not suggesting we should go spend frivolously or incur any debt. But the very thing we are afraid of will happen unless something changes the cycle. It says in Job 3:25, “What I always feared has happened to me. What I dreaded has come true.” I believe there are many people that have taken it to extremes - people that have jobs, have reserve funds, and have provision for their daily needs but are hoarding cash because of the tremendous fear in the world. I’ve heard from several that have said they’ve stopped taking the family out to dinner; they’ve stopped going on trips or to the movies; they’ve stopped giving to those in need. They’ve stopped doing the things they enjoy or doing for others; they’ve stopped living. I know it’s contrary to what the world says about building your savings, and unemployment is at 7.2% and likely will rise further. Look at it another way, that means that 92.8% are employed! The majority of the nation is at work and by eliminating extra spending this will continue to eliminate jobs. You might say, what difference can one person make and you’re right to an extent. Households make up 75% of our national economy and it would take many households to change the direction.

The point is this, what is it that rules our decisions? What’s the foundation that we are standing on? Are we living in fear of the future or hope for a better tomorrow, regardless of who the President is? This is a perspective I believe God has given me to challenge my thinking. By no means should you do anything different without seeking God’s direction. For me though, I’ve been a saver really for all of my life. He’s shown me that when I choose to buy something, someone else just might be able to keep their job. And that the resources He’s blessed me with should remain in motion so that other people are blessed also. He’s challenged me with the story of Ruth and Boaz, leaving remnants of the harvest so that Ruth could collect and feed herself and Naomi (Ruth 2). He’s shown me the value of observing the seasons as Joseph did and store up in the plentiful times to have enough for the lean years (Gen. 41-45). But now in my walk, I believe He’s challenging me to “give to others so that He can give back to you.”

- “Fear is faith contaminated”

- “There’s nothing to fear but fear itself”

- “Fear and faith cannot coexist”

- “Fear is False Evidence Appearing Real”

- “Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.” – James Thurber

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Time for Change

We are embarking on a season of change. That has been the mantra for quite some time now. We the people (though not me specifically) voted into the office of the President of the United States, a man who proclaimed he will bring about change. Of course, anytime there is a new Administration, there is change – it sort of goes with the territory.

I hope and pray that the change that comes with Barack Obama will be mostly for good, though I’m not overly optimistic that will happen. He and I appear to see certain things very differently, so I am a bit skeptical. But hey, I would love to be proven wrong. There are many people though who are putting their trust, their faith, and their hope in him. They are looking to him for guidance and direction to get them through this dark time. And he will offer it, because that’s what a President does.

Like others though, I won’t be looking to him. Yes, he will generally be considered to be the most powerful man in the world, but he is still just a man. These are difficult times that we are in, with war, terrorism, the economy, unemployment, etc. but in these times, God is doing something.

God is in control. And I believe with all my heart, that He has not turned His back on America. So things may not be as comfortable as we are accustomed too, so what? Does that mean we are doomed? Of course not! God is still on the throne and He can still make a way where there is no way. He can turn things around, He can take care of His children and He can bring about change.

We are all going through the storm right now, one way or another. But our storm doesn’t scare God, and we should stop making the storm to be more powerful than God. We don’t know what is coming next, but He does. If we know God, know His character, then we need not fear. We can, and should, put all our trust in Him.

Even when things don’t make sense to us, we can trust Him because He does things that don’t make sense to us (forgiveness, walking on water, raising the dead, etc). Our understanding comes from what we see and what we know, both of which is limited. But God sees and knows everything, so His understanding is infinitely greater than ours.

The time we are in is crucial to the Kingdom of God. Will we give Him our prayers, our worship, and our words? Will we give Him the honor and glory He deserves? Will we point others to Him, to help them find salvation? If we do, He will not disappoint us. Though the journey may be uncertain and maybe even a little dark, He will guide us along our path. We may stumble and even fall off the path, but He will hold us up or pick us up and will continue leading us always, patiently and lovingly.

Right now, everyone is clamoring for change. Right now, everyone is looking forward to a savior. But how many are missing the Savior? This is the time to be let His light shine through us to push back the darkness. After all, He is the only one who can really change and correct whatever difficulties we are going through.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” ~ Proverbs 3:5-6

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Trust In God

Saturday, I was playing with my daughter. She was laughing and smiling, having a good ole time! As we were playing, I was thinking about life from her perspective. She eats, sleeps, plays, explores and learns new things like a sponge. It’s amazing what she picks up! In all her days, she doesn’t have a single worry about where her next meal comes from or what it will be, she just knows that when she gets hungry, she’ll get to eat until she’s full. And when she’s tired, she’ll have a warm, safe place to sleep. And the rest of the day, she’ll have a place to play and her mom and dad will be there to comfort her and play with her when she needs it. Yes, she is blessed as all children should be, unfortunately there are many that aren’t as blessed.

Somewhere as we grow up though, we tend to wander from this state. We go through school, maybe college, get married and transition into a new season of life full of hopes, dreams and responsibilities. Seemingly, somewhere we lose sight of that childlike faith and peace. That sense that all of our needs will be supplied, that everything works out ok in the end. It may not be as we are going through it, but in time, all things work out for our good.

God tells us in Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. We often don’t know the end from the beginning. In fact, we truly only know what has happened. At times, God may give us glimpses of the future, but even those aren’t enough to know all that is to come. It’s never like His full, all knowing, all seeing perspective.

So the question is, not really knowing anything that will happen next, do we really trust Him over our thoughts, opinions and experiences? Do we acknowledge Him in all that we do and praise Him regardless of the circumstances? Can we wipe the slate of our minds clear and accept His Word as our compass and trust that the direction it’s pointing will yield the great life God intended us to live? None of these are easy questions nor do I live them they way I believe He desires for me to. I fall short and ask for his mercy knowing that life is a journey not a destination. But hopefully the depths of these questions illustrate the depth of trust that God desires of us.

Reading more of Proverbs 3 from The Message Bible broadens the illustration of what is being asked of us.

Don't Assume You Know It All (The Message – Proverbs 3:1-12)

1-2 Good friend, don't forget all I've taught you; take to heart my commands. They'll help you live a long, long time, a long life lived full and well.

3-4 Don't lose your grip on Love and Loyalty. Tie them around your neck; carve their initials on your heart. Earn a reputation for living well in God's eyes and the eyes of the people.

5-12 Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own.Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he's the one who will keep you on track.Don't assume that you know it all. Run to God! Run from evil! Your body will glow with health, your very bones will vibrate with life! Honor God with everything you own; give him the first and the best. Your barns will burst, your wine vats will brim over. But don't, dear friend, resent God's discipline; don't sulk under his loving correction. It's the child he loves that God corrects; a father's delight is behind all this.

Trusting in Him

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” ~ Proverbs 3:5-6

Sometimes we can read a Scripture verse and like it or love it. We might highlight it or underline it, and maybe, if we really love it, we might even memorize it. And that can be a good thing. But isn’t it also true that familiarity breeds contempt? I mean we can find it quickly and recall it quickly and sound really super spiritual about it, but aren’t we also then in danger of it losing the very thing that made it so special?

There are many verses that I love, that have really impacted me, given me wisdom, or brought me comfort. The above Scripture is one of them (In fact Proverbs is probably my favorite book of the Bible). It has been coming to mind a lot lately, for multiple situations. It has been awhile though, since I’ve really taken the time and effort to meditate on it. Read it again with me. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart. ~ Really Lord, with all my heart? All my heart? That’s a lot of trust. That is believing with everything within me, that He loves me and will take care of me no matter what. That is understanding I can come to Him with all of my thoughts, all of my emotions and all of my concerns, the good, the bad and the ugly. That is knowing He will always be available to pick me up and clean me up when I fall. That is having all confidence that His mercies are new every day, His judgments are just and that His promises really are for me.

And lean not on your own understanding. ~ But Lord, my own understanding is what I know! How can I lean on something else, understand something I don’t know? I see my situation, my circumstance, my storm; I know what common sense and my knowledge would dictate. But He is God and I am not. He is omniscient and I am not. He is omnipotent and I am not. He is omnipresent and I am not. I see with my natural eyes, He sees with spiritual eyes. He knows everything, and I know enough to know that I don’t know very much. He is everywhere, all the time, and I am only in my own little and limited world. His understanding is infinitely vast and complete, while mine is exceedingly narrow and lacking.

In all your ways acknowledge Him. ~ Do You really mean all my ways? When I’m strong and weak? When I succeed and fail? When I am confident and fearful? When I am going in the right direction and when I am lost? Yes. No matter what state I am in, He never changes. If I seek to know Him and do His will, He will always meet me. Whatever my situation I can, and should, come boldly before Him. And give glory to Him.

And He shall direct your paths. ~ But Lord, but what if I can’t see the path? He will direct my paths. I may misstep, get confused or turned around, but He will set me right. I may even fall and fail, but He is bigger than that and He can hold my hand, lift me up and give me a fresh start. A do-over. His plans for me are for good and the path He sets before me will lead me to those plans. While on the path, I may run into a highwayman, a thief who would come only to kill and to steal and to destroy. But I need not fear this enemy because he is a defeated foe.

When we are walking through the good times and the bad our trust in the Lord should not waiver, because He is faithful and trustworthy. We don’t know what we don’t know, so it is imperative that we don’t lean on what we do. By seeking Him and His will for our lives at all times, we have the opportunity to live the life we were created for. He doesn’t just set us on a path and leave us, but rather He is with us throughout, leading and guiding us like a Good Shepherd. Thank you, Lord!