Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Just give

Very 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.

My 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.

First 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.

Secondly, 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.

And 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.

But 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.

Nonetheless, 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.

I 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.

Giving 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. 

As 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.

The 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 2!!!

Have a blessed week of giving!


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Color commentary

I 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!

As 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.

Moses 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.

One 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.

In 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?

Yes 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.

When 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.

I 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.

The 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.

Importantly, 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.

The 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.

Let’s 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.

Obeying Jesus,


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Complete the handoff!

It’s 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.

The 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.

As 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 we fumble.

In 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.

This 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.

If 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?

It 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.

This 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 definition, fumbling.

Blessings in the strong and reliable name of Christ Jesus,


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Will the buck stop with us?

“The buck stops here.” 

President 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 indifferent.

I 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. 

This 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.”

I 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.

That’s 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.

As 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)

What’s 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?

Josiah 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.

In 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.

Let’s 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.

Standing tall in the light of God’s word,