Saturday, August 30, 2014

Winning the Lottery

by Tim Howard

A man named Joe became a Christian and was told that God would provide for him financially if he prayed. In response to that understanding the young man began to persevere in daily prayer and asked God to help him win the Lottery, which was over 10 million dollars. This went on for a month but nothing happened. Finally in frustration he told God how upset he was and he heard God speak in an audible voice.  He said: “Joe, you have to meet me half way – please buy a lottery ticket!”

Sometimes we expect God to do a supernatural act when we aren’t willing to do our part and do what is naturally possible. I’m not an advocate of purchasing lottery tickets but if you should win 10 million dollars, what would you do?

We might have different answers to that question but I think all of us would use it for some similar things. First, I think all of us would pay off our past debt. The very first thing I would do is to wipe my slate clean, get free from my indebtedness that was incurred from my past and start over with a fresh start.

The second thing I think all of us would do is to buy something new and secure a future that is financially bright. Possibly a new home, a new car or visit a plastic surgeon and get a new you. Money in the bank does not guarantee a bright tomorrow in all areas but it can help ease some of the uncertainty in the practical dimension.

Looking at these things from a spiritual perspective I believe we would want the same things. All of us have a past that we would like to change – in part. If only we could go back and change some of the decisions we made, some of the experiences we had or some of the relationships we developed.

The Bible says our past is littered with sin. Sexual sin abounds. Many have chosen to live as they choose and resist following God’s path for sexual relationship. Addictions of all sorts have been troublesome because we try to medicate ourselves in a way that doesn’t produce positive results. Our past is filled with the sin of bitterness and resentment releasing a spirit of revenge. If you are reading this and exclude yourself from some of these sins or others – maybe you are dealing with the sin of Pride.

The Bible records a tremendous verse that addresses our past and our future. 2Cor. 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Notice the word ‘anyone.’ Paul is saying that no matter who you are, what sin has littered your past – sexual, addictions, bitterness, pride etc… You can be forgiven by Christ and have a new beginning for a renewed future.

In Christ your history doesn't determine your identity nor set your boundaries for the future. Anyone who walks with Christ will win the Spiritual lottery. You don’t need ‘luck’ to win. You simply need to put your faith in Christ.  He will then wipe out your past sins – even though there may be some present day consequences and gives you something new – a bright future. The old has past and the new has come! I don’t know about you but that’s good news.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Owner or Hireling

by Andrew Cromwell

In John chapter 10, Jesus tells a story about sheep and shepherds. In it He describes two different kinds if shepherds. One is a hireling. The hireling doesn’t really care about the sheep. He is there for the paycheck. He has no intentions of staying on the job long term. If a wild animal attacks the sheep, the hireling runs the other way to protect himself.

But there is another kind of shepherd. This second shepherd is an owner shepherd. He is there not just for the money but for the long term. He loves and cares about the sheep. If there is something that threatens the sheep he is willing to actually put his life on the line to protect them.

When it comes to our lives, we all have to make a choice whether we are going to play the role of the hired hand or of the owner. We can see the bigger picture and live focused on the betterment of others, or we can live selfishly and seek purely after personal ambition. We can seek to leave a legacy that will endure into the future but that will cost us, or we can simply be in it for ourselves.

There are many roles we play in life; you might be an employee, a husband or a wife, a father or a mother. All of us have played the role of a son or a daughter, a friend and a community member. And most of us have had times when in those roles we failed to see the bigger picture. We were in the relationship for personal gain or personal pleasure. As soon as the going got tough, we got going.

And then there have been times when we have played the more difficult role. We have made the choice to be invested deeply in the relationship. We have cared enough to see beyond our personal wants and desires and have chosen to stick in and stick it out. We have committed to work through problems and not just work around them (or walk away from them). We had skin in the game, we were owners.

Owners leave a legacy. They build for the future. They impact future generations. They are world changers because they have decided to leave their world better than how they found it.

Legacy builders don’t happen by accident. No one drifts into leaving a legacy because a legacy takes time, determination, and commitment. But building a legacy is worth it every time.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Inside Out

by Tim Howard

OK, I admit it, I like playing with my grandson’s Transformers. Who wouldn’t? Alien robots who can disguise themselves by transforming into everyday machinery – a truck that changes into an airplane or a car that becomes a mighty battleship with the ability to launch missiles is exciting.  I like things that change! Full disclosure:  I also liked the movie ‘Transformers’ and it’s sequels… Now you have the full confession!

Change is one of those things in life you can count on. It happens – whether you want it to or not! One day you are young and see yourself in a certain way – then years later, the mirror of life reveals some changes in your looks, your status, your motivations for living and the goals which you pursue. Sometimes these changes seem to be for good and other times not so good.
Unfortunately many of us struggle with change when the force of it encroaches upon our comfort zone. Our desire for comfort and convenience can often lead to a resistance to change and catapult us into a life of maintenance rather than adventure. Change is important because it’s the first step to transformation.

Change initially modifies behavior but the goal of transformation is to alter your value and desires. The Bible isn’t primarily focused on ‘change’ but upon ‘transformation.’ There’s a big difference.

When you are transformed you ‘become’ someone who is different. You can change the channel on the television; change the way you dress or change your direction but stopping there doesn’t address the real issues – only the external ones. God is ultimately interested in a change that leads to transformation – a change that happens from the Inside – Out.
Allow me to give you a personal illustration of what I mean. Recently I was on vacation and allowed myself to eat anything I wanted. That resulted in a few added pounds to carry around. Seven days prior to the end of my time away I was looking at myself in the mirror and decided to make a change in my diet. I wanted to lower my calorie and fat intake! That decision led to other behavioral changes.
For breakfast I had to stop myself from eating that egg, bacon and cheese sandwich, which had 460 calories and 20 fat. For lunch I had to say no to that tempting Southern Smokehouse Bacon Big Mouth Burger that offered 1610 calories and 107 fats.  (The very name of that burger ought to say something to you.) So I did! I had oatmeal for breakfast and a tuna sandwich for lunch. I made a change for 7 days but I wasn’t transformed.

How do I know? Because one of the signs that you haven’t been transformed is – you want to go back. Transformation happens when you no longer want that burger. In fact, you now desire something that doesn’t make you lethargic. Something that doesn’t makes you sleepy. Something that isn’t unhealthy.
Transformation is experienced when your values have shifted and your desires have shifted to such a point that you want to go ahead and not back. It happens when you want to change the inside as well as the outside.
Jesus made a scathing statement to the religious leaders who only focused on external change. Matt. 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”

Jesus calls for a change that leads to transformation – Inside and Out!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Drop Your Weapon

by Andrew Cromwell

Everyone knows that the first thing the police do when they are going to arrest someone is to search them to make sure they don’t have any hidden weapons. And of course, if there is ever a time when the perpetrator draws a gun or pulls out a knife, there is a showdown during which they shout “drop your weapon!”

Even if the “weapon” is a toy gun or even something fairly harmless, law enforcement is trained to treat any potential threat in the same way. They seek to disarm first and then further engage the suspect. 

The smart perp will summarily throw his weapon to the ground and throw up his hands. The not so smart ones end up on reality TV or the evening news. 

Even if you have never personally had this kind of encounter with the police (and I hope you never do), we all have the potential to draw our weapons and fire. I’m not talking about physical weapons, but instead relational weapons. Words that wound, stares that kill, threats and ultimatums that choke the air out of a relationship. These are the weapons that we use on even the ones we love the most.

Some of us have prepared our weapons complete with hair triggers and hand grenades and we are ready to draw and fire at a moment’s notice. The instant we get angry, we begin to lob crushing insults and ugly names. We throw daggers made out of the past—past failures that we save for just these moments—and we aim for the heart. 

Many times after years in a relationship, we have armed ourselves with quite an arsenal. And even the smallest conflicts are ripe with the threat of all out nuclear war. Couples who once loved and would have done anything for each other, now suit up everyday as if preparing for battle. Any time of peace is merely a temporary ceasefire. No one has laid down their weapons, they have only withdrawn for the moment.

For those who are tired of the war, I suggest a new strategy. Drop your weapons and refuse to pick them up ever again! If you want to forge a lasting peace, you will never succeed if you are always carrying a dagger in your back pocket. 

How do you do this? Forgive. Forgiveness means you give up the right to pull out those weapons made up of past offenses and failures. You don’t keep bringing up old junk. 

Forgiveness doesn’t have to be a two way street (which is one of the reasons we usually don’t do it very well). You don’t have to wait for the other person to also forgive. You also don’t un-forgive them the moment they hurt you again. 

This difficult practice can change everything. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” We have been forgiven by God, even though we didn’t deserve it. Maybe we need to share that same forgiveness with the people we are closest to?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Rest Robbers

by Tim Howard

Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which people have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while they sleep. It disrupts a person’s sleep and when they awaken they don’t feel rested. I know, because I am one of those who struggle with this.

You may not be wrestling with this disorder but you may be robbed of rest in other areas. You can lose sleep when you are worried about your past decisions. Especially if your past choices are causing negative ramifications in the present – true rest becomes elusive.

You may be among those who are restless and losing sleep over the current world conditions.  The threat of global recession, continuing wars, famines, natural disasters and incurable diseases – they can rob a person of their rest.

What about the future? The fear of the unknown, the uncertainty of what lies ahead, the possibilities of disaster that awaits. All these things can be rest robbers unless you follow God’s prescription for finding peace.

In Hebrews chapter 4 the author shows us a way to find true rest.  This rest is defined as a ‘peace from God’ that will allow you to sleep all night long and have pleasant dreams.  Check out what Paul the Apostle says in Philippians 4:7.  He tells us that this peace defies logic because it’s not connected to external things.  You can be in the middle of a raging storm and still sleep like a baby.  Mark 4:38 records a time when Jesus did just that.

The goalie who played for the United States soccer team alluded to this scripture in Philippians when he recently said: “I am blessed to be living a dream.  And yet, if it all went away tomorrow, I know I would still have peace. That probably sounds crazy to most people, but that’s the kind of peace Christ gives. It is rooted in His love and it surpasses all understanding.”

There is a peace that grows strong when you stop worrying about your past and fretting about your future. Those two things are not the solution and do not produce peace or rest.

When you won’t leave the past hurts, the problems, the misunderstandings, the grudges and the resentments behind – they infect your present reality and don’t affect it in a positive way. 

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah tells us:  ‘Do not be obsessed with the former things or continually focus on the things of the past.” Why? They will rob you of peace and rest.

Regarding the future, Jesus said these words in Matthew 6:34 …do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Your decisions today actually shape your tomorrows and release God’s peace now. You can determine today that the rest of your days will be the best of your days. 

We were not created to live in the past or the future but in the present.  Rest and peace are not available to those who are obsessed with ‘what was’ or overly focused on ‘what will be’ – but to those who choose to embrace ‘what is.’ 

When you are at peace – you rest well. World peace in the external realm can only happen when people have an internal peace. God offers a peace through Jesus that is an eternal peace and can be experienced internally and externally. This possibility was declared by the angels “Peace on Earth…”