Sunday, July 31, 2011

National Curse

National Curse
August 1, 2011
Malachi 3:9 "You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me."

Economic blessing is something most every person of any nation desires. We'd all love the random large checks in the mail and jobs for all eligible workers. Everyone has day-dreamed of what it would be like to have an endless supply of money, or at least money enough for all the bills with a little left over. There is a known formula for putting yourself in the best position possible for making that happen, if you serve the Lord. You may have heard it as bringing the WHOLE tithe into the Lord's house (this is that ten percent of your gross income). You may read about it in Malachi chapter 3. But, there is another factor to consider when waiting for that economic blessing to fall from the sky. It is a curse that is experienced if "you" don't tithe.

In Malachi 3, the Lord was quick to judge the entire nation of Jews because, as a whole, they were not bringing the full tithe into the Lord's house. Certainly there were a few; there must have been some, who tithed faithfully and diligently in that whole nation of people. But regardless of how faithful the few tithed and waited for the financial blessing that was promised to follow, the entire nation was under a curse. It does not seem fair that the faithful would receive the same curse as all the others who didn't tithe. But the Lord was clear the financial curse extended to the whole nation, regardless of who was actually tithing.

Consider the United States today, the population of which is currently over three hundred million. A California research firm, The Barna Group, estimated that in 2007 only 5% of the U.S. population tithed on a regular basis. But in 2007, over 76% of the U.S. population identified themselves in different sampling polls as Christian. WOW! Talk about not putting your money where your mouth is! Yet, as a nation, and as individual Christians, we wonder why our economic blessing from the Lord seems non-existent. If you look at many other nations, the percentage of Christians is much lower and consequently, the percentage of individuals who tithe.

The percentage of Christians in the U.S. has declined steadily over the last decade and so, incidentally, has the financial success. It seems every year there are fewer Christians AND the percentage of those Christians who tithe declines. Could there be a correlation between the financial decline in the U.S. and the decline in individual giving? I would suggest that the Lord might be trying to send a message. I would also suggest that the first nation of individuals to dedicate themselves to the Lord whole heartedly (and put their money where their mouth is) would find the Lord's words in Malachi to be true!

In the Bible, a few couldn't carry the whole nation with regard to tithing and subsequent blessing. I would also suggest the same might be true today, in ANY nation. We don't have to start with every person, just everyone who claims to be a Christian. Instead of sending financial aid to other countries (though they need it), maybe we should send more missionaries. Instead of complaining that the politicians can't fix our own economic decline, maybe we should just start tithing on the money we DO have? That means all of those who call themselves by the Lord's name, not just a few faithful.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Jer 8:12-14, Malachi 3, Luke 6:38, Luke 12:31, 2 Cor 9:5

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Thanks and Multiplication

Thanks and Multiplication
July 25, 2011
John 6:11 "Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted..."

To want more than we have is part of the natural human condition. We are never satisfied with the amount that we have, however great or small. We always want more. Sometimes we work for it, sometimes we gamble for it, sometimes we wish for it, and sometimes we pray for it. We pray for it because, in the back of our minds, we know the Lord is the source of all things, who better to grant our wishes come true. But the source of wanting more of anything, except for a few basic needs, comes from our selfish, sinful nature. When we live with an insatiate desire for more (unless the subject matter is the Lord), we give sway to being ungrateful and eventually greedy. The Lord does not grant anything to us when it is born of our sinful desire.

Jesus was preaching to a very large crowd of people, approximately 5,000. The people were hungry and truly needed to eat. No food was readily available and there weren't any hot dog vendors around to meet the need. The only things available were a few loaves of bread and a few fish. You remember the story. Jesus multiplied the few pieces of bread and fish to feed all five thousand people. But if you read the story carefully, Jesus was not able to create the multiplication miracle until He had given thanks. The multiplication miracle did not come from being greedy or wanting more, it came from sincere thanks and appreciation for what the Lord had already supplied (the first loaves and fishes). Jesus would not have been able to perform the miracle if it were born of His selfish desire to simply have more or if He was being greedy. No, He was thankful, something you and I fail at every single day.

Consider, for instance, the last meal you consumed. It has become a tradition in Christian culture to say a small prayer of "thanks" before each meal. You've certainly done this once or twice. I've probably said a small prayer of thanksgiving a million times before I have eaten. But when was the last time you and I were sincerely and truly grateful for the meal we were about to consume. When was the last time our hearts were filled with appreciation to the Lord for supplying our daily bread? I've probably said a prayer of thanksgiving more times out of habit than I have out of a spirit of gratefulness. We are all guilty of this. Yet we have the audacity to ask for more, and I'm not simply referring to food. We live without a spirit of gratitude but still ask the Lord to open the floodgates of Heaven to give us more of the things we want.

The miracle Jesus performed in multiplying the loaves and the fishes was out of basic human necessity to fuel the body for survival. It was certainly not born of greed, adding excessive amounts to what He already was given. It was done only through a spirit of true thankfulness. But notice what happened AFTER Jesus had given thanks and created the unbelievable multiplication miracle. Each person who consumed their share of the loaves and fishes had as much as he wanted. Scripture doesn't say they consumed as much as they needed but they had "as much as they wanted." Wow, the outcome everyone wants from the onset, more of what we want regardless of need. The Lord only allowed that amount, though, because it was born from a spirit of thankfulness.

Try spending more time being thankful, truly thankful, than asking for more. You might actually end up with more of what you want anyway! The multiplication miracle you're looking for won't happen unless you're truly grateful for what you DO have.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Psalm 136, Neh 12:31, Jer 33:11, Mark 8, Matt 15, John 6:23, 1 Thess 5:18

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Everything is Mine

Everything is Mine
July 18, 2011
Psalm 50:9-10 "I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills."

Everything in the world belongs to the Lord. Everything! It is all His. He may do with it as He chooses and does not need any assistance from us. He may use His property at His discretion for all intents and purposes. This means the Lord may keep His riches to Himself or re-distribute to others for their consumption. Either way, everything is His. No matter what you have, it is not yours; it belongs to the Lord. Your wealth and property are not your own, they are His. The Lord said, "I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills." Let's examine this statement.

Bulls or goats in someone's pens were considered their property. The livestock someone could keep penned up was probably enough to feed an extended family for a year. At the time the Bible was written, a family could keep maybe a few bulls or goats in a pen, but not hundreds or thousands. It would have been too expensive. Naturally, animals in the forest would be considered anyone's game, but must be hunted. Cattle on a hill, however, were the choicest of property. If cattle were on a hill, they were put there by a wealthy owner or rancher under the protection of his herdsmen. The grass on a hill is considered a tougher grass that is harder to digest. It makes for a longer growth period to the time when the cow can be slaughtered for meat. However, the meat is superior. Cattle out in the open are also a target for predators or thieves; they are easily seen and readily hunted. Hence the need for herdsmen who could defend the cattle better from a hill than an unprotected valley. In short, if cattle were on a hill, they were placed there intentionally as a wealthy man's property.

But those cattle on that hill, the Lord said, do not actually belong to that rich man. The wealthy owner may place them there and think they are his property, but the wealth belongs to the Lord. The Lord said He owned the cattle on a thousand hills. He was suggesting that all the wealth of all the richest men combined were His alone. This is disheartening if you are one of those few rich men who put his cattle on a hill. In the United States alone, the richest one percent control about 42% of the wealth. The top 10% of people control about 93% of the wealth. That leaves seven percent of the United State's wealth divided in the hands of 90% of the population. WOW. How unbalanced that seems. But the Lord, He owns that top one percent's wealth. In fact, He controls it ALL.

What you have is not your own. You are entrusted with it and asked to be a good steward with it. But at any given moment, the Lord may do with it as He will. The Lord is apt to re-distribute His wealth as He sees fit to accomplish His own purposes. Don't be so selfish and think the little you have stored up belongs to you, to do with as you feel appropriate. It is the Lord's and He will do with it as He pleases. Change your mindset right now regarding the paycheck you will be earning this week. ALL of it is the Lord's. Feel blessed if He lets you use some of it for your own consumption, but feel extremely blessed if He asks you to re-distribute it to others who may need it far more than you. The Lord doesn't need your money, it is already His. If you consider it His from the onset, it will not hurt as much when He asks you to give some of it away.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Psalm 37:25, Psalm 50, Prov 13:22, Prov 18:10-12, Luke 16:11, 1 Tim 6:17, 1 Peter 4:10, Rev 3:17

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Lord Never Makes Sense

The Lord Never Makes Sense
July 11, 2011
2 Kings 5:10 ''Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, 'Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.'''

You have probably heard the phrase, "The Lord works in mysterious ways." Where this phrase came from, I don't know, but it is certainly true. While it is not found directly in the Bible, it is absolutely backed up by example after example when reading through its pages. In one such instance, there was a man with leprosy who was directed to wash seven times in the Jordan River. The man, Naaman, didn't like that idea; listen to his response in 2 Kings 5:11-12:

"But Naaman went away angry and said, 'I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?' So he turned and went off in a rage."

You and I respond like this, with doubt and disdain when we feel the path the Lord has for us does not make sense. We rationalize and recommend how best the Lord should work in our lives. But the Lord does not do things the way we think He should. Oftentimes, the Lord does not make sense. It didn't make sense for Naaman to wash himself in waters that he considered inferior. Naaman went off in a rage and did not receive the miracle he needed. He disagreed with the Lord and therefore did not receive what the Lord had for him. What a great lesson to learn for you and me. When we stomp our feet like a child and decide we don't like how the Lord is working, we can and will miss the miracle the Lord has for us. The Lord does not ask us to figure it out or to understand it; He asks that we submit to His way of doing things, to His recommendations.

Naaman wanted a super-human miracle to change his life, not an obscure method that required his submission and obedience. Submitting to the Lord's method required Naaman to have faith in the Lord, however random it seemed. You and I must do the same thing, submit to the Lord in order for faith to work its miracle in our lives and situations. If the Lord recommends it, it is best for us! But how often have we all deviated from the Lord's recommendations? We do this on a daily basis, apply our own rational thought and do things that make sense only to us. What makes sense to the Lord will not necessarily make sense to you and me. It isn't our job to figure it out; it is our job to obey and follow through with His recommendations. If you fight His way of doing things you will fight your own miracle. You have probably missed out on so many of the Lord's blessings for your life because you didn't do things His way.

Naaman finally, after the urging of others, submitted to the Lord's method. He did what made sense to the Lord and then received the miracle the Lord had for him. You will receive the Lord's miracle for your situation only when you do things His way. Don't make recommendations to the Lord on how best for Him to accomplish things in your life. Do things His way from the onset; your miracles will come to you so much more quickly.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: 2 Kings 5:1-14, Job 37:5, Is 55:8-9, Heb 1:1

Monday, July 4, 2011

End of Suffering

End of Suffering
July 4, 2011
1 Peter 4:1 "Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin."

I would like to be done with sin in my life. But in all honesty, I really don't want to get rid of sin; I want to get rid of the consequences of sin. I want to be rid of feeling convicted about my sin, but I don't really want to get rid of my wrongdoings. I would like to do whatever I want with no repercussions and still have the Lord's favor, regardless of how selfish I was acting. This is not an option, though, having your cake and eating it, too. You cannot live with sin in your life AND be pleasing to the Lord. You cannot serve the Lord AND serve your selfish desires. I've tried it and it does not work. You must choose the Lord's will or your own sin. Those are the only options.

There is a formula for getting rid of the sin in your life, but you won't want to hear it. In order to be rid of the sin in your life, you must take on the attitude of suffering. You won't want to admit it is true, but you must if you believe in the Lord and His Word. It is in plain print; Scripture couldn't be more clear. Read it for yourself, "Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin."

How unfortunate a statement for those of us who'd like to hang on to our selfish and fleshly desires. We want to end suffering in this present lifetime, not embrace it or endure it quietly. We want pleasure, not unpleasantness or discomfort. In fact, most moments of our lives are spent figuring out a way to enjoy things more and be rid of any amount of difficulty, work, or suffering. Some cultures, that aren't even Christian-based, embrace suffering as a lifestyle, but not us. We want all the fullness of Christ with none of the heartache. But to end our suffering on this earth would mean physical death or a life of filled with selfish, sensual satisfaction. Either way, it would mean the end of what the Lord wants for you and me right here, right now. The end of your suffering in this lifetime would be the permanence of sin.

On the flipside, though, if you embrace an attitude of suffering it would be the end of your selfish satisfaction, the end of your sin. Actually, listen to what Scripture says of those who choose to embrace an attitude of suffering. "As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God." Those who choose to lay down their selfish desires end up serving the Will of the Father. This is not self-punishment but laying down what you want in any and every circumstance, even if it results in no satisfaction for yourself. In order to live for the Will of the Lord, you must choose to set aside your own gratification. This would, as a result, mean the end of your life filled with sin. It doesn't wipe away your sin (the blood of Jesus took care of that) but it allows for your sinful nature to be put away, as all sin is born of selfishness.

Try it for a week, giving up anything you personally "want" in every and any circumstance. It will feel like suffering, but it will also make a way for the Lord's will to be accomplished through you. It will also mean you will have sinned a LOT less.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Matt 6:24, Mark 8:34, Romans 6:7, Philippians 1:21, Col 2:20, 1 Peter 4