Saturday, May 23, 2009

truly rich

I have been meeting with a small group of men in my community for the last 8-9 weeks to encourage one another in our spiritual lives. We have been studying the 30 Core Competencies of our church: 10 Beliefs, 10 Virtues and 10 Practices. For a while, I've decided to add some thoughts about each Competency to my blog so that readers can follow our discussions.

This week, we looked at the Core Belief of "Stewardship" which simply affirms: "I believe that everything I am or own belongs to God." We studied 1 Timothy 6:17-19 where the unmistakable theme of Paul's charge was "riches." First, he cautions Timothy not to put his hope in material riches but to put his hope in spiritual riches found in God. If Timothy pursues rich deeds instead of dollars, he will eventually discover a treasure in heaven. This passage echoes Jesus' words in Matthew 6:19-21:

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

The main point of both texts is that the truly rich life is determined, not by what we gain, but by what we give. In this way, it really is "more blessed to give than to receive" [Acts 20:35]. God supplies us with material riches to bless others in need. Through acts of generosity and grace, we enjoy spiritual richness which lay an eternal foundation and leads to true life.

In his excellent book, What's So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey reflects on "the atrocious mathematics of the Gospel." Jesus suggested that the first should come last, the least would become greatest, and leaders are servants. Paul noted that "dying is gain." The constant theme is that God's people are to become the "biggest losers." Addition by subtraction. Which means that stewardship is not about me simply managing my stuff. Rather, stewardship is me recognizing that my stuff is God's stuff, given on loan, to give away to others. As I spend myself to meet the needs in my community, I live. And then I realize how very rich I truly am.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

maintaining unity

This morning, during our staff chapel, I used Pastor John Piper's excellent reflections on preserving unity amid diversity. As a leadership team, we must strive to "preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" [Ephesians 4:3]. Piper's six principles are worth reading for anyone. See his Taste&See post here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

humility wins out

Kris Allen wins. He's the newest American Idol--a dark horse leading from the back of the pack. He is the exact opposite of his contender, Adam Lambert. He's understated, unspectacular and unpretentious. And, for this reason, he was the underdog...not expected to win according to Idol blog posts. But, character upstaged talent. In a surprising move, America voted for humility.

No doubt, Kris will need some coaching to help him stand in the spotlight. But, I'd like to think that his meekness, not his music, won the day. It makes me wonder if this is what attracted so many people to Jesus. The Lord would never have gone platinum with back-up singers, yet He was humble--completely unexpected for a Messiah.

As I watched Kris' genuinely-surprised win, I longed to be more unvarnished and less perfected. More heart, less haughtiness. A little more like Kris, and much more like Christ.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

mom to me

Almost 20 years ago, I "left and cleft" [my made-up past tense of "cleave"]. Snipping the apron strings of my natural mom, I married my college sweetheart who became mother to our three fantastic kids. During our marriage, she's also been quite a "mom" to me. Tiffany is tireless in the way she takes care of our family needs, invests in our children and serves me as a perfect helpmate. She inspires my walk with Jesus Christ and makes me want to be more of a husband to her. So, this Mother's Day, I thank God for my mom, Fran Daniels. But, I also thank God for a mother who takes first place, at least in my heart. Tiffany, I thank God for you!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

for you and 10 friends

This week, I received three seemingly unrelated emails that converged into one very disturbing reality. The first email offered me free money (amazing!). That's right. Apparently, the federal government has stacks of cash laying around in the basement of some building just waiting to be claimed. If I would respond quickly, I might qualify! First come, first served. Honest.

The second email urgently pleaded with me to sign a petition to fight a piece of legislation. The tone of the letter was reminiscent of Edmund Burke's warning: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." If I "click here" I really could make difference.

Like you, I get dozens of these emails a day. Fortunately, most of them get rerouted to my junk mail folder and I never have to deal with them. It's the third email that troubles me. It's a reflection on "the joy that comes from appreciating the little things in life," or something nostalgic like that. I get one of these messages, usually with an attached Powerpoint presentation, embedded hymn audio, Thomas Kinkade painting or tear-jerking story scribed in 8 different exotic fonts.

This week's email of the "little things" included puppies, the breath of a sleeping baby, fresh laundry on the backyard line and the tinkle of wind chimes in the spring breeze. Then [and this is my frustration], I read the line: "Send this to at least 10 friends right now and see what God does! Don't break the chain. If you REPLY and add nine friends to this list, you will be amazed at the incredible 'little things' that will begin to happen in your own life."

Oh brother. In the words of John Stossel, "Give me a break!"

Do we really believe that there's a blessing to be gained because we spammed 9 friends (now former friends) with an email framed with 1980's clip art pictures? Does anyone really think they can twist God's arm into giving them the goods because they passed on the poem? If you do, I know a rich woman in Uganda who would like to send you $100,000.

I can guess three reasons why we continue to get these emails...even from well-intentioned Christians. First, many people are desperate for a touch from God. Their time with God has grown so cold that they're genuinely hoping that something--anything--will ignite the fire of revival. Second, some have lost a view of sovereignty. Many people in the Bible viewed God's blessings as something to be earned. No doubt, God rewards faith [Hebrews 11:6]. But, God does many good things apart from human action. He isn't a divine marionette waiting for us to pull His strings. He does act in mysterious ways. Finally, some are unsure of their identity. To confess, I have been tempted to forward some of these emails because I haven't wanted to be the one that copped out, broke the chain or caused the universe to spin off its axis. That's fear. And, it's a misunderstanding of who I really am in Christ.

So, please don't be offended if I don't pass the emails along. I'll connect with God and enjoy His goodness the old fashioned way: by grace. I hope you will too.

[Please send this posting to 10 of your friends in the next 10 minutes so they will be encouraged too :-)]

looking up

A temporary Sunday School teacher was struggling to open a combination lock on the supply cabinet. She had been told the combination, but couldn't quite remember. Finally, she went to the pastor's study and asked for help. The pastor came into the room and began to turn the dial. After the first two numbers he paused and stared blankly for a moment, and then he looked serenely heavenward while his lips moved silently. Suddenly he looked back at the lock and quickly turned to the final number, opening the lock. The teacher was amazed. "I'm in awe at your faith, pastor," she said. "It's really nothing," the pastor answered. "The number is on a piece of tape on the ceiling."

Tomorrow morning, I'm scheduled to attend a gathering at a downtown church to support my friend, Jerry McCullough, Arlington School Superintendent, who will be speaking at a breakfast for the National Day of Prayer. Though our President has chosen not to recognize the day like previous Presidents [see today's news report], thousands of other Americans from all walks of life will pause to remember the importance of prayer.

I preached on prayer this last week as a conclusion to our short, Spiritual Warfare series. But, let me be honest: Prayer is hard for me. It always has been. I actually enjoy the dialogue of prayer. It's just the discipline of getting to the conversation that is a daily challenge for me.

Still, I am convinced that prayer is where spiritual battles are fought. Prayer is how we lay claim to the power of God to "stand firm" with spiritual victory. Prayer is how we wear the armor of God [Ephesians 6:10-20]. Prayer is turning to God, talking to God and trusting in God. Apart from the practice of prayer, none of us can unlock the supply cabinet of heaven--God's resources for abundant living. So I write to remind you--and me--to keep looking up in prayer.