few of us … if any … consider ourselves wealthy. We spend most of our thought on the subject
concerned more about what we don’t have rather than what we do. I know our teenagers do. It’s almost as though we actively deprive
them of anything new, good or valuable.
Dare I say that we adults aren’t any different. All we have to do is change our frame of
reference to see a far different reality.
weekly reading through Deuteronomy 14 – 20, Psalms 17 – 23, and 1 Chronicles 16
– 22 entails obviously a great deal of history and law, but encompassed within
that is a great deal of wisdom. I would
posit that a balanced view of history and God’s law will naturally lead to
wisdom. In any event, in Deuteronomy 15
I was struck by a good bit of wisdom, which also provides an apt reminder of
our standing and our responsibility (verses 10 and 11).
Give generously to the poor,
not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do. There will always be some in the land who
are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and
with other Israelites in need.
of all, we should ground ourselves a bit.
The command is to “give generously to the poor” … it doesn’t say, “give
generously to the poor if you’re not one
of them.” Why? Because we must recognize that we are NOT one
of them. No matter what we think about ourselves, we have to
recognize that we are blessed. Even if
we are the less well off out of all the other people we know, we are still
wealthy compared to 99.9% of our world.
There is always someone worse off than us.
our wealth is least of all defined by our bank account and / or material
possessions. To think in that way is
shortsighted in the extreme. What does
that mean? It means we’re wealthy with a
variety of gifts the Lord’s entrusted to us.
Most all are non-financial, and have to deal with our talents and our time. I think few of us realize how valuable our
time really is, and if we shared even a small portion of what is available to
share with others we’d enrich many in ways we couldn’t quantify.
therein lies what I think is the most poignant part of the message to me in
this passage. When it struck me, I
really didn’t fixate much on the giving money aspect of it. I take that seriously, don’t get me wrong. Because the point remains, no matter how bad
off I am, or how tight I have to make the financial belt, someone always has a
financial need more acute than mine. I
particularly love taking the opportunity in incredibly random ways to bless
someone … anonymously, even in small ways.
It really is the thought that counts.
where I think there is a HUGE way to make a difference in blessing those that
are “poor” is with our time and talents, and especially with our time. Don’t misunderstand … I recognize how
precious a commodity time is, and the requisite demands on it. I would also never advocate us taking that
precious time away from our primary responsibilities in our spouses, family,
health, and workplace (and in that order, by the way), especially given that
our spouses and family are usually the victims of erroneous prioritization.
we have ways to give of our time and to “share freely with the poor and with
other [people] in need.” With the
“windshield time” in my commuting back and forth to San Diego, I have great
opportunities to spend time on the phone with people in my life … family and
friends who, I must admit, without the commute it might be difficult to stay
connected with in the daily routine of things.
How I enjoy talking and catching up, hearing about their needs, and
praying with and for them. In the same
way, even in the moments when I don’t actually spend time talking with them, I
spend time praying for them. “Wait!” you
might say. “How is that giving to
them?” I would argue it’s the essence of
giving to them … giving of something I have that they don’t. Myself.
recognize that there are “poor” and there are “poor”. When most of us read a passage like the
above, we think of financially poor folks, homeless or whatever. I certainly acknowledge that that’s what
Moses was talking about, but it would be the pinnacle of a copout for us to
take the spirit of that admonition and say, “Well, as soon as I find a poor
person, I’ll give them some pocket change.”
The spirit here is that of sacrifice and sharing something in which I have
greater possession than someone else.
It’s the spirit of sacrifice that evidences the action of loving the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and
strength … and our neighbor as ourself.
to the “poor” entails meeting someone’s needs.
I think that’s as deep and technical as it needs to get. If we have means, and someone has needs …
well, that’s a match literally made in heaven.
The problem tends to be more about our willingness to see
those opportunities. And of course, to
act upon them.
Willy Wonka says in Willy Wonka and the
Chocolate Factory, “time is a precious thing … never waste it.” To me, the best way to not waste time is to “give [it] generously to the poor, not
grudgingly.” Let’s seek the Lord
prayerfully this week and ask Him to reveal to us opportunities to be generous
with our time … even if otherwise seemingly simple ways to give of our time. Call someone you haven’t talked with in a
long time. Pray for someone who just
happens to pop into your mind. Better
yet, call a person you haven’t talked with in a long time and pray for them on
the phone. Stop when you see someone
with a broken down car on the side of the road (if it’s safe to do so of
course) and help them by calling AAA … or praying for them. Help an old person leaving the supermarket
with a bundle of groceries. Whatever …
it doesn’t matter what it is. Just give
to the poor.
unmitigated fact about doing so? Just
like it says in the passage … “for the
Lord your God will bless you in everything you do.” I can attest personally and directly … no
doubt can many of you … that when I give to the poor, not grudgingly, the
BIGGEST portion of blessing is upon me, not on the object of the giving. Only God can make that 1+1 equal more than
a blessed week of giving!
love the movie The Wizard of Oz …
1939 … classic movie. When I was a
little guy I had a set of vinyl albums that played the entire movie verbatim.
It got the point that I remembered the first probably 20 – 30 minutes of
the entire movie, dialog, sounds, etc. Everything
word for word. But I think I loved most about
that movie was how it was in black and white (some of you younger folks might
not know what this means … ask your parents) until Dorothy emerges from the
house in Munchkin Land and the scene immediately changes to the most
outrageously vivid color you can imagine.
Incredible stuff! You almost feel
like you can see things when the color kicks in that you couldn’t see before
the color came about. Details that
couldn’t be noticed in the black and white … context one couldn’t see, like the
color of the ruby slippers, etc. Yeah, I
loved the movie and still do!
I perused my reading this week through Deuteronomy 7 – 13, Psalms 10 – 16, and
1 Chronicles 9 – 15, I came across a familiar passage that struck me in a less
familiar way than it had previously. It
comes in Deuteronomy during the sermon that Moses is giving to the Israelites
to send them off into the promised land … without him. In this passage he gives some pretty key
reminders to them, including verses 9 – 12 and 16 – 17.
If you obey, you will enjoy a
long life in the land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors and to you,
their descendants—a land flowing with milk and honey! For the land you are about to enter and take
over is not like the land of Egypt from which you came, where you planted your
seed and made irrigation ditches with your foot as in a vegetable garden. Rather, the land you will soon take over is
a land of hills and valleys with plenty of rain— a land that the Lord your God
cares for. He watches over it through each season of the year!
“But be careful. Don’t let
your heart be deceived so that you turn away from the Lord and serve and
worship other gods. If you do, the
Lord’s anger will burn against you. He will shut up the sky and hold back the rain,
and the ground will fail to produce its harvests. Then you will quickly die in
that good land the Lord is giving you.
is sharing a crucial message with the children of Israel about the blessing of
obedience and the consequences of failing that obedience. I think there are definitely applications of
these concepts to us, but is Moses trying to tell the Israelites (and us) that
if we are obedient, things will always work out great for us, and that if we
aren’t obedient, God is going to punish us and deprive us from the blessings
we’d otherwise receive? I don’t think
so, but I do think there are principles being outlined here that we need to
grab on to and apply to our lives.
unfortunate and inescapable reality of life is that bad stuff happens, even to
the most devout and obedient followers of Christ. People get cancer. They get in car accidents. They lose homes to financial distress. The get other types of illnesses. It’s terrible, but it’s true.
a similar way, the disobedient and wayward survive their defiance, flourish
with good health, enjoy wealth and riches, live long lives, etc. So, what’s the story? Is Moses wrong in what he was outlining to
the Israelites? Was his admonition only
for the specific time and in that specific circumstance?
and no. I believe he was spot-on in that
it was factually-speaking God’s covenant with the Israelites at that time. But I think it also has applicability for us. I just think the meaning isn’t quite what
we’d take away on face value. How
so? Sort of like watching The Wizard of Oz.
we obey God, live in a way that He desires, that brings Him honor and glory,
our lives take on a level of visual clarity that is missing entirely when we
live in disobedience to Him. If the
sometimes inevitable bad stuff does come to pass, God allows us the ability to
live through it in His frame of reference.
Certainly, we don’t see how our plights interweave with that of everyone
else in the world (the way God does), but I think he gives us vision to see
that there is something greater at work.
That there’s a possibility of blessing through the difficulty. It’s like when we get to see Munchkin Land
and Oz in crazy amazing Technicolor on the big screen back in 1939 (or even in
19XX – haha – when I was a kid). We
might be able to notice details we wouldn’t have been able to see in black and
white (without God’s intervention and interaction and frame of reference). We can see with greater depth perception than
without the color … allowing us context that we otherwise rob ourselves of if
we neglect to align our obedience to His desires.
realize that Moses’s references aren’t to color versus black and white, but
notice how descriptive he is regarding the land the Israelites are about to
inherit and notice what a vivid portrait he paints. The word picture of “a land flowing with milk
and honey” brings forth images that allow us to see what must have been the
lifelong dream of many of God’s promised people. And, while the other references are not quite
as visual, they are no less effective at portraying a texture of the promise
that lends reality to something not quite realized.
same is true with how God leads us through tumultuous times. He allows us to see a reality beyond what we
can touch and feel because we haven’t reached it yet.
the opposite is true as well. When we
choose our own way (as Moses says, when we “turn away from the Lord and serve
and worship other gods”) … by definition, the opposite of God’s plan for us …
we rob ourselves of the ability to see in tangible, vibrant ways how God is
positioning our existence to bless us and to bring us to His intended end.
choice is, of course, ours. It is clear
from the passages above from Deuteronomy 11.
We can choose to obey, or we can turn away from the Lord and “worship
other gods.” We can choose color, or
black and white. Clarity, or
obscurity. Depth, or shallowness. Context, or hopelessness.
go before God this week and prayerfully ask him to show us any areas where we
are choosing black and white. Ask Him to
make you (us) open to any change or correction He shows us, so that we can
align our desires and behaviors in obedience to what He wants … so we can enjoy
the full-blown Technicolor life He wants to show us.
pretty common knowledge that one of the most treacherous aspects of an Olympic
relay race is the hand off of the baton.
I’ve watched teams in the past during my college years working on the relay
and while one would typically think that they’d spend all of their time running
and getting faster, a relatively disproportionate amount of time is spent
somewhat slowly, working on the hand off.
same is true in football. Quarterbacks
and running backs spend a lot of time ensuring that they can complete a handoff
without fumbling the exchange.
I read this week through Numbers 36, Deuteronomy 1 – 6, Psalms 3 – 9, and 1
Chronicles 2 – 8, the concept of making sure not to mess up the handoff struck
me, particularly as I covered Deuteronomy 6.
Through much of these passages, whether it was talking about genealogies
(Chronicles) or reminders that Moses was giving the people about God’s
provision and intervention (through much of Deuteronomy thus far), it was clear
that the concept of completing the handoff was critical. And in much the same way as with relay teams
and football backfields, it’s something at which we must work to perfect lest
Deuteronomy 6, Moses is giving some final messages to the Israelites near the
end of his life and ministry. One of THE
most well-known, quoted, and regarded passages in the Bible comes during this
part of his sermon. It’s known as the
“Shema” in Hebrew, which opens up verse 4, and means “hear” or “listen”. Verses 4 through 6 are certainly worth a read
when you have time, and probably to committing to memory. While I believe these are incredibly pivotal,
in this message I want to focus on the following verses, 7 through 9. In order to set the stage, however, let’s see
what Moses says in verses 4 through 6 of chapter 6 …
“Listen, O Israel! The Lord
is our God, the Lord alone. And you must
love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your
strength. And you must commit yourselves
wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.
is the first part of the handoff. It’s
like the preceding leg of the relay, or the snap from the center to the
quarterback in football. If you don’t
get that part right, the next step can’t happen. In this case, note that Moses is making clear
the first principles of faith. Very
straightforward facts … there is one God and one God alone … our responsibility
(a personal one that we alone can acknowledge, receive and carry out) is to
love Him with all our being … and we must commit to being the type of people
that spend our life in pursuit of that standard (while we must acknowledge of
course that we can never attain it).
Without those precedent steps, no next step is possible. What is the next step? The handoff (verses 7 – 9) …
Repeat them again and again
to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the
road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on
your forehead as reminders. Write
them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
and only if we are able to run the preceding leg of the race, to cleanly get
the snap from the center, are we able then to handoff the baton to the next leg
or the ball to the running back. What
does this mean?
means to pass along the first principles to following generations. Of course, we must first have the principles
to pass along, but then we’re to “repeat them again and again.” We’re to “talk about them when you are at
home and when you are on the road.” Of
course, we can’t talk about something we know nothing of, so the first part is
to make sure we know from whence we speak.
Knowing, following, modeling God’s Word is the way we “love Him with all
our heart, soul and strength.” Just as a
runner can’t pass a baton that’s been dropped, or a quarterback can’t hand off
a ball that’s been fumbled at the snap, we can’t handoff faith we haven’t
developed. But once we do, the natural
and following step is to pass it along.
week, let’s ask the Lord in prayer to reveal anywhere we are not cleanly
getting through the first step. Let’s
ask Him to root out anywhere we aren’t being faithful, where we aren’t allowing
His love to not only permeate our soul, but to emanate from us. Then, let’s ask Him to equip us to faithfully
and reliably handoff that faith … whether to our kids (if we have them), to our
friends, to our neighbors, to strangers we encounter in the myriad situations
daily, and so on. Doing any less is, by
in the strong and reliable name of Christ Jesus,
Harry Truman kept a sign on his desk in the oval office with that phrase on it,
to indicate that he was ultimately responsible for making decisions that
affected the country. He recognized that
he couldn’t pass the responsibility off to others, to deflect the blame, etc.,
because at the end of the day, he was the decision-maker, right, wrong or
love the accountability expressed in those words … basically, “look no further
because it’s on me.” I have to say, in
my professional career I’ve seen far less accountability exhibited by those who
otherwise desired the status and position of leadership. It’s unfortunate, too, because those
individuals can oftentimes otherwise have all the chops to be great. When you do see that level of responsibility,
it’s a beautiful thing.
week, as I read through Numbers 29 – 35, Psalms 146 – 150, and 1 – 2, 2 Kings
20 – 25, and 1 Chronicles 1, one such example shone through. It’s in 2 Kings 22, in verses 8 – 13. In this passage, we read about King Josiah of
Judah, the southernmost of the two divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Unlike most of the kings of Judah, and all of
the historical kings of Israel, Josiah is said to have done “what was pleasing
in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of his ancestor David. He did not turn away from doing what was
right.” In those days, that meant
stopping the worship of false gods and idols.
Josiah did that and so much more, but it came first from a recognition
of a travesty, taking culpability for it, and remedying the wrong. We read …
Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the court
secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the Lord’s Temple!” Then
Hilkiah gave the scroll to Shaphan, and he read it. Shaphan went to the king and reported, “Your
officials have turned over the money collected at the Temple of the Lord to the
workers and supervisors at the Temple.”
Shaphan also told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a scroll.”
So Shaphan read it to the king. When the
king heard what was written in the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes in
despair. Then he gave these orders to
Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the
court secretary, and Asaiah the king’s personal adviser: “Go to the Temple and speak to the Lord for
me and for the people and for all Judah. Inquire about the words written in
this scroll that has been found. For the Lord’s great anger is burning against
us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words in this scroll. We have not
been doing everything it says we must do.”
love how Josiah took ownership of the situation. It says he first “tore his clothes in
despair,” demonstrating the character of someone who took personal
responsibility for the situation. What’s
probably more important, the response he exhibited was on the basis of having
God’s word revealed to him. He noted
that there was a morality gap a mile wide and rather than look to the
culpability of others, he accepted culpability on himself and on the people he
was charged with leading.
the essence of leadership, noting that even when it’s not your fault, it’s your
fault. At the very moment that Josiah
recognized the depravity of the people in relation to God’s law, he reached a
crossroads. There were manifold
reactions he could have had, including blaming others, looking past the facts,
justifying that times were just different, etc.
Instead, he recognized the moral timelessness of God’s standard, and he
decided that the buck stopped with him.
leaders, when we decide not to do the right thing, we decide to do the wrong
thing. Josiah put a stake in the ground
and said, “we have not been doing everything it says we must do.” He realized that anything short of obedience
was disobedient. It’s that clear when
we’re leading organizations and other people, whether businesses, nonprofits,
classrooms, or our homes. We have the
primary accountability as leaders to fully align those we lead or risk moral
deterioration “like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of
dough.” (Galatians 5:9, NLT)
our stance in our companies, families, etc.?
Do we take responsibility, good or bad?
Do we crane our necks looking for whose shoulders look broad enough to
bear the weight of our blame? Do we do
our best Usain Bolt impersonation and run like crazy to get away from the
responsibility? Or, do we stand up tall
and give observers a full and complete view of where the buck stops? Do we grasp the fault firmly and take action
to remedy the situation?
did. He stood tall and decided enough
was enough. Not only did he put his
country on his shoulders in terms of who was to be denounced, he took personal
charge of making things right. He
instituted the changes necessary to correct the immorality that plagued the
nation. He saw it through. We must also.
It’s one thing to shoulder the blame and do nothing about it. That’s hollow bravado. It’s quite another to take the blame and be
the one who casts the vision of remediation and leads the rest of the people
through to seeing it to fruition. That
is a heroic leader. A buck-stopper.
the end, Josiah saw change through, but unfortunately it didn’t stick due to
shortcomings of his descendants. But
that’s not the point. Change occurred in
Josiah’s time because he identified the issues, owned them and enforced the needed
change; those around him were eternally affected. We have the opportunity for the same
impact. We just need to stand up and be
accountable. The contrast to the norm
these days is enough to inspire and while it might not change and entire
organization, community or nation (although it just may), it might change a
life. That’s not insignificant.
prayerfully ask the Lord to give us the strength and courage to stand tall and
shoulder the responsibility when we notice immorality or deviance in the
domains in which we lead. It doesn’t
matter whether it’s a big or small, commercial or personal, spiritual or
secular environment. Right is right, and
most times lasting change requires one solitary soul to stand up and stop the
buck there and then. Let’s be that
buck-stopper! Then, let’s correct the
course and finish the job. Where we see
nonconformity with God’s standard of excellence, let’s be the impetus for
transformation. God will honor it and
lives WILL be changed.
tall in the light of God’s word,