Saturday, July 30, 2016

Money is a Big Deal

by Andrew Cromwell

Everyone knows that money is a big deal. There are songs about working for it. Movies about stealing it. Books about making it. Magazines that show pictures of incredible ways to spend it. You can go to seminars on how to manage it, invest it, grow it and multiply it. Entire businesses are built on giving money advice and figuring out ways to help people save what they have and grow it for the future.

Some people who have money, pretend they don’t. And some people who have none, act like they have a lot. Some spend their whole lives saving it and others, blowing it.

Yeah, it’s a big deal.

It’s a funny thing though, because as soon as you start talking about it, people get weird. No one likes to get told what to do with their money. This is particularly challenging when you’re a pastor like I am because people don’t like you to bring up money in church. The moment the subject comes up, people get mad.

But here’s the problem.

Jesus actually talked about money quite a lot. Like a lot a lot. Like more than heaven and hell combined. The only thing He talked more about was the Kingdom of God.

And here’s what it comes down to. Either God controls your money or your money controls you.

Jesus said it pretty bluntly when He said, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Apparently money is the kind of thing that is so corrosive on our hearts that the question of who is in control of it is critical. You just can’t have it both ways. And yet, that’s often exactly what we try to do. We want to love God and walk in the right way, but our attention keeps getting pulled in other directions. We feel bad because we know we are supposed to be putting God first, but we really, really want the new car, house, boat (or whatever you’re in to) and so we throw a few dollars God’s way to help alleviate our guilt and we spend the money without taking the time to ask Him what is best.

The only way that I know of to keep the green eyed money monster from taking control of your heart, is to put God first in this area. And the only way to do that is to treat your money like it is God’s and not yours. If it’s God’s money then you don’t get to spend it any which way you like. You don’t spend first and ask later. And you don’t decide how much to give based on how much is left in your bank account after you’ve bought what you want.

You have to flip all of that on it’s head. Because the truth is most of us treat Citibank or Chase like our God rather than God Himself. How? Well, we pay the bank first and put God second, third, fourth or last. But what if we set aside money from each and every paycheck to give as an offering to God first, rather than last. (There’s actually some guidance in Scripture as to how much we should set aside, but I don’t want to get too real here.) Wouldn’t that say something about our priorities? Only people who are serious about putting God first do that kind of craziness.

But people who live this way don’t live their lives driven by debt and out of control desires. They have killed the greed monster because they have decided that God is going to be first in their money rather than their money being first in their lives.

Who’s in control of your money? And how’s that working for you?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Dare to Dream

by Tim Howard

The Bible is full of stories about people who had dreams that were recorded for our education. And according to scientific data - All of us dream! We tend to remember the dreams we have while in the ‘REM’ sleep stage because it’s closest to our waking hours but dreams can happen at other stages of sleep as well.

Some are not remembered – Others are bizarre and downright crazy but sometimes they are helpful in teaching us some important things that can adjust our course, give wisdom for the decisions we make and help us better understand our circumstances. Some dreams come from God and others are rooted in the human brain.

God speaks to people through dreams… as is seen throughout scripture but He also gives people His dream for their lives.

You may recall Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister, who was a driving force in the push for racial equality in the 1950’s and the 1960’s.  He dared to dream. On August 28, 1963 he delivered his great, “ I Have a Dream” speech and made a lasting impression on this nation.  Here are a few excerpts to refresh your memory:

“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.  It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.  I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:   ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’  I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.  I have a dream today.”

God gave a Baptist minister His dream – What is God’s dream for you?

Listen to His words in Jeremiah. 29:11, “For I know the plans (dreams) I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans (dreams) to prosper you and not to harm you, plans (dreams) to give you hope and a future.”

God’s dream for you and your dream for you are often at odds with each other. His dream has everybody’s best interest in mind – but too often our dreams for ourselves are rooted in selfishness.

His dream for you may seem daunting, unattainable and even impossible but if the dream you have for yourself seems attainable, it’s probably yours. If it seems impossible, it’s probably His. I recall the words to the song: “The Impossible Dream” recorded in 1972. The lyrics in part say:

“To dream the impossible dream – To fight the unbeatable foe - To bear with unbearable sorrow – And to run where
the brave dare not go – To right the unrightable wrong
And to love pure and chaste from afar – To try when your arms are too weary… This is my quest – To follow that star
No matter how hopeless – No matter how far – To fight for the right – Without question or pause – To be willing to march, march into hell – For that heavenly cause… And I'll always dream – The impossible dream”

Dare to dream God’s dream for you! Don’t settle for your dreams for you – They are too small.

Matt. 19:26 But Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Your God Is Too Small

by Andrew Cromwell

In 1961, J.B. Phillips wrote a book entitled, Your God is Too Small. In it, the author outlines the tendency that we have to limit God. The message of the book is as revolutionary and accurate today as it was fifty years ago.

Chances are, the picture you have of God is too small.  

We all have these frameworks or lenses that we see God through. Sometimes the way we view God is based on something we learned from our parents or a Sunday school lesson we had when we were kids. It may be based on one or two verses from the Bible or some commonly repeated phrase (like “God helps those who help themselves”) that we have taken as Scripture.

Some of us see  Him as a Divine policeman, carrying around a billyclub waiting for us to make a mistake so He can whack us over the head. Others see Him as the white bearded, wise old man who offers sage advice but doesn’t get His hands too dirty. Still others see Him as a kind of Divine teddy bear waiting to wrap us up in His soft and comforting arms whenever we need it.

Here’s the problem: most of us are wrong about God.

Think about it. You and I are limited, mortal human beings. God is unlimited and immortal. You and I are physical creatures that are imperfect. God is immaterial and perfect. So how good do you think we are at understanding God? Not very.

We make conclusions about God all the time. Something bad happens, we shoot up a prayer, and then when things don’t turn out the way we want, we draw a conclusion about God. Someone does something to us and we blame God for allowing it to happen. We lose our job and guess who’s at fault for not saving it? God.

Or, we see God as easy. So we figure we can do whatever we want to do and that He will always be ok with us. He’ll give us a hug, pat us on the head, brush us off and pick us back up so we can go back out and keep acting stupid.

Whatever your current view of God is, the real question is, how do you get the right one?

The best way to get it straight is to go to a trustworthy source. There are plenty of “sacred texts” out there, but only one that I know of that aligns with the state of our world and the state of the heart of humanity. Whenever I read the Bible, I am confronted with a picture of God and a picture of the world that my heart tells me is true and accurate.

In John, Jesus said, speaking of anyone who wanted to know the truth, “set them apart in the truth, your word is truth.” If anyone wants to get their false image of God corrected, all that must be done is to hold it up to the truth. It works every time.

What are you doing to correct your distorted image of God? Maybe it’s time to get a better picture of the One who is perfect and who always has the best in mind for you. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Blessed Life

by Tim Howard

A few days ago we celebrated our 240th Birthday as a nation. Our family – like so many – put some burgers on the grill, had friends over to the house, shot off some fireworks for the kids and had a wonderful day.

We also took time to share and give thanks for some of the wonderful gifts we all get to experience because we live in such a great country.

We have running water to our houses 24 hours a day. Electricity is available to us and we only need to flip a switch. If a fire breaks out in your home – people you don’t even know will come and do everything within their power to extinguish it. Six days a week someone visits our homes to pick up an envelope and take it wherever you want. Wow - What a blessing!

As the conversation continued, we enumerated many other blessings. Things like cell phones, computers, navigational systems, 50-inch flat screen HD televisions, homes with a pool, cars that are fast and the list goes on. 
Wow – What blessings we have at our fingertips!

In the final analysis, however, we all agreed that the gift of friends, family and the freedom to worship God freely - topped the blessing list!

The song titled: ‘God Bless America’ is a prayer that God has answered!  We must never take for granted the great blessings we enjoy and the freedom afforded to all of us. How can we guard ourselves for this?

Two things come to mind from the life of David and Abraham in the Old Testament.

David in the Book of Psalms took time to give thanks and in doing so – reminded himself of God’s goodness.  Psalms 103: 2-5 “Bless the LORD, O my soul and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul forget not all his benefits. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things.”

Abraham in the book of Genesis heard God say:  - “I have committed myself to blessing you with the sole purpose of making you a blessing to others.”

How can we guard ourselves from – taking things for granted? By giving thanks to God daily for what we have and deciding to use our blessings as a means to bless others.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” Gal 5:13

Saturday, July 2, 2016

On Time

by Andrew Cromwell

I like things to be on time, don’t you? When I order something and I am told that it will be delivered to my doorstep in two days, it feels right when the smiling man in the brown truck shows up two days later to hand me my package. When I show up at the doctor’s office for my appointment, it makes my heart happy when they call my name at the appointed time. And when I tell my wife to be ready at 6pm so we can make it to the restaurant “on time”, I do so having set the reservation for 30 minutes later than she realizes so we won’t be late (this is purely hypothetical and I would never do such a thing and she’s never been late in her life).

Having spent some time in other countries, I have learned that not every culture is as obsessed with time as we are in the United States. Undoubtedly, we inherited some of that fixation from the British Empire which was known for the ridiculously accurate train schedules that you could set your watch by. Here if a business person tells you they have you in their appointment book for tomorrow, you expect them to show up tomorrow (and probably confirm with a text and a phone call when they’re on their way so you can be ready too and not waste a minute). But in other places in the world, time is a much less intense thing. People are not so specific about hours and minutes and they don’t anticipate that everything will happen quickly either.

In these more time generous places, if you are invited to visit at a friend’s house in the afternoon, you are welcome to drop by pretty much anytime after two in the afternoon and probably all the way until dark. In our time crunched society, the only person we give that much of a window to is the cable man (because internet and TV are more important than just about anything else to us). For the time generous, being “on time” is a very loose term that welcomes both those who are chronically early and those who are unceasingly late.

If you are anything like me, you have frequently fallen into the trap of starting to believe that just about everything in life should happen “on time.” And when it doesn’t, you get angry, frustrated, and disappointed. The problem with this is that you set yourself up to be ticked off pretty much all of the time. But when you think about it, I think you’ll realize that many of the things that we get angry about because they are late, are not necessarily late at all. It is just that we had decided we wanted things to happen more quickly than they actually did. And when our expectations were not met...we whined, complained, yelled, or whatever we did.

We carry this silly notion of time with us into every aspect of our lives. Parents become obsessed with their toddler’s development, haranguing the doctor as to whether Little Johnny is hitting all the metrics and marks. Shoppers throw fits in the grocery store when the line gets long and nobody gets on the intercom to open a new lane. And God forbid we don’t finish school, get the job, and fall in love when we should.

Truth be told, that really is a lot of it. At the end of the day, when God doesn’t do what we want Him to do “on time”, that’s when we really get mad. Or depressed. Or drunk. We throw our little fit because life didn’t happen the way we thought it should have. God didn’t heal the person we wanted Him to. He didn’t get me the job I wanted. And He won’t get my boss fired, no matter how much I pray about it. You get the idea.

The point is, maybe your and my perspective of what is on time and what is late is not all that great. Maybe it’s time we all take a chill pill and stop trying to control everything around us all the time. Because there really is Somebody that has it under control already (and He doesn’t need us to tell Him what time it is). 

In the Bible, in Galatians 4 it says, “in the fulness of time, God sent His Son.” God doesn’t make mistakes and He’s always on time — it’s just not your time and it’s certainly not my time!