Saturday, March 7, 2009

Saturday Selection

Today's selection isn't as personal as others I have recommended. The reason I recommend it is that it's done by a young man named Pete who, along with his wife Maria, are trying to navigate this surly economy by using Biblical principles. Pete is a journeyman rather than an expert and I appreciate his perspective.

Check out Bible Money Matters for an interesting viewpoint.

I trust I will be here with you tomorrow.

Friday, March 6, 2009

But, Can I Afford It Later?

For a season of a few years, Cathy and I got into the habit of getting up early on Saturday morning and going to area yard (garage, rummage, patio -- what do you call them?) sales. They can be a great way to stretch a person's money, but they can also be a great way to pay someone else so we can haul off their junk for them!

At one of those sales, I remember seeing a brand new, stainless steel Thermos in a gift set with a travel mug. I love coffee and never met a nice mug I didn't want to take home! The price was reasonable -- five bucks -- and I picked it up for purchase.

About that time, Cathy finished rummaging through some possible treasures and looked up to see what I had. "You already have travel mugs you don't use," she said. "Why do you want another one?"

The lady managing the sale heard the comment and Cathy told her, "He just can't seem to pass up another coffee mug."

To which the hostess replied, "Count your blessings. My husband does it with cars, sometimes buying as many as three or four at a time!"

I got home with the mug and Thermos. I don't know if I actually used the mug more than once. I have regularly used the Thermos for the past 15 years.

But that's not the point of this post. I heard Chuck Swindol once say that every thing we acquire costs us...twice. It costs us when we get it -- even gifts cost us in some, minute way -- and it costs us to take care of it.

I have seen this principle lived out with large and small items. Perhaps the epitome of it lies in a story I heard one time. A very young man lost both his parents in an accident. The parents had a very tiny estate and the young man received it as the only money available to begin his adult life. He took the bulk of it and bought a new pickup truck, paying cash and leaving him with a few thousand dollars. He took the rest of the money and spent it all on "toys" to customize his truck. He had nothing left for things like...!

Almost immediately, he had an accident. He wasn't hurt, but the truck was a total loss. Too bad he had hadn't learned the lesson of affording something later.

Want to set yourself free? Take inventory of what you have that you really can't afford. Then ask God to help you get rid of it!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Church Signs

I think the sign I saw in front of a church was hilarious...

"Fact: all penguins walk in single file. At least the one I saw did."

Cathy never laughed.

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How Much Can I Give?

Part 2

Frustration and anger are poor foundation stones for a life. A mind clouded by emotional pain can make choices that were never considered on clearer days. Brighter days. More innocent days.

Her journey into darkness had started with a misplaced trust. A broken heart. One tiny decision that erupted into a volcano of destruction.

Her father spat on her when he found out. Her mother walked away, weeping. Her brothers called her vile, filthy words as she begged for forgiveness. They physically threw her out of the house. Even her few items of extra clothes were denied her.

Alone. Destitute. To whom could she turn? By now, every house in the village knew. Her shame. Her failure. Her impurity.

Nothing. She had nothing except her pretty, young body. Then she saw the vial attached to the leather strand around her neck. The gift from her parents when she had come of age. It was the custom. Every father worked for years to provide his daughter with this treasured gift. The gift she and her family would present to her husba...

But he, the one chosen, the focus of her dreams...he had spat on her, too. Remembering, she ripped the cord from her neck and raised her arm to fling it away. But she couldn't let go. She grasped it as she fell to the dirt, sobbing.

At first, she planned to sell it and and move far away. Until someone showed her another way to get money. Now she placed it on a small shelf in her little house. At times she broke into fresh tears when she looked at it. At other times she held it up in mock victory over the hypocrites who condemned her. The ones who quietly came up her path at night.

But, when she left the tiny place, she always took it with her. She had sown a hidden pocket in the folds of her dress. Thieves wouldn't easily steal her treasure.

It was in the afternoon when she heard the Teacher was in town. The entire marketplace was abuzz with word that he would be at a Pharisee's house that night. The despised religious leader gathered his robes and walked the other way when he saw her. He would not be so brave in front of this man whose reputation was of compassion, healing and hope.

She must see this Jesus of Nazareth tonight. She would cover her head and veil herself until she was inside. She didn't know why, but she was drawn to him. Just hearing the stories of those to whom he had spoken was enough. What would she say if he acknowledged her? What would she ask? She didn't know. For some strange reason, she didn't care.

She knew the whispers and the sneers she would receive. She no longer cared about that, either.

It happened the moment she looked into his eyes. He saw into her soul. He could see her bitterness. He felt her anguish. Tears formed at the corner of his eyes and he quietly said one word that no one else could hear.


She suddenly saw herself. As he saw her. The first sob burst from her lungs.

As her tears subsided, she wanted to say, "Thank you." But how? Then she felt it. The slight bulge of the vial she always carried near her.


Thank you for joining me today. I have taken a few liberties to share this story from Luke 7. Historians say that the Jews of that day often gave small alabaster vials of perfume to their young daughters as a part of their dowries. We don't know if that's the way she received hers. We do know that she was a sinful outcast in her town.

Jesus said in similar passages in Matthew and Mark that this gift and the woman who gave it would always be remembered wherever people spoke of Him. Watchman Nee, a much persecuted Chinese pastor, wrote that the reason for remembering is simple. We, you and I, are alabaster vials. When we receive Jesus by faith, He is the costly perfume. His sweet essence is released from us through our brokenness.

In a very sobering way, I am like this woman. I have been forgiven much. She gave him her most precious treasure and so must I. I have few riches and relatively small talents. I have no fame and little influence.

So I give Him myself.

How much would you give?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

How Much Can I Give?

The gathering darkness of the warm spring day took the edge off the heat in the small room. The guest had honored the host with his presence. As he reclined, the few others who were invited joined him at the table.

The people of the community, as was their custom, began to slip in the door and take their places around the perimeter. Some stood, others squatted on the floor. Occasionally a child would shoulder in, often being shushed by its father.

As the light waned, the burning lamps started making their presence known. They added heat with their light and this increased the closeness of the air. It didn't matter, though. Every eye and ear was focused on the unfolding conversation at the low table.

The finer points. The technicalities. The thrusts and parries of argument. These were the issues that brought people to this little room. On this night. The drama was too interesting to pay much attention to the heat. Would this be the night someone would finally stump him with a question? Would he have a response none of them had ever imagined, but, when considered, made perfect sense?

They listened and pondered, when, from somewhere back in the crowd, she slipped forward. She was right next to him by the time they noticed. What was she doing here anyway? Didn't she know her place?

He didn't say anything about her standing there. He looked on with apparent tenderness as she began to weep, but he said nothing to her. As she looked into his eyes, her body started convulsing with deep sobs. Her tears splashed onto his feet and she quickly dried them with her long, unbraided hair.

As she gained control of her weeping, she reached into the folds of her garment and pulled out a small vial. Alabaster. She broke the small neck on the vial and the fragrance overtook the room. Pure nard. Expensive enough to cost a year's pay for some of the poor farmworkers in the area.

For her, it was part of the dowry she never used. Instead of a husband, she had chosen a life of pleasure. The parade of men never stopped. Rich, poor, young, old. From miles away, they all knew the road to her house.

And every day, another small part of her died inside.

Until tonight.

He had said few words, but she knew he forgave her.

What could she give in return? Her most valuable possession.

The conclusion...tomorrow.

Monday, March 2, 2009

I Have A Confession To Make...

...I'm not very religious anymore.

That may sound strange. I'm a pastor, after all! I have to admit that, for years, I got a warm feeling in my heart every time I saw a fish on the back of a car. (Unless it was one of those Darwin thingys.) Each time I saw one, I thought, "Those are my people! They're one of US!"

I don't think that way anymore. Why? Because the natural conclusion is that everyone who isn't one of us is one of them. And the more I read the Gospels, the more I am amazed at Jesus. He seemed to live in an us and them society, too. The difference? The us of His generation constantly criticized Him for hanging around with them! I'm convinced that, if they had cars back then and two different ones stopped to offer Jesus a ride, He would have intentionally chosen the one without the fish.

Now that I have your attention, you might not be surprised at a type of conversation I occasionally have with new people at our church. It goes something like this... After a service, some one/couple/family finds me in our lobby. They smile, shake my hand and tell me their names. Often they tell me what a great service we just had and a little bit about themselves. In the course of just a few sentences, they begin to show their obvious attitude that they are insiders. They're not like those people outside the church. Usually their vocabulary is punctuated with terms that only insiders could understand.

Now don't get me wrong. I love people like that. How can I not? I was one for so long! But something changed. Now it is my responsibility to make them aware of something so that they won't be misled...

I say something like, "It seems from your background and the way that you describe yourselves that you really enjoy spending time with church people. I need to warn you that we aren't very religious in our church. We go out of our way not to use churchy language. We try to meet people where they are and every week we have people attend here who aren't sure about Christ. They don't know if they want to follow Him or if they will believe in Him. They do know that they are welcome and can come as long and often as they want and won't be considered outsiders."

In live conversation, I don't think I'm as careful with my words as in the above paragraph. I bluntly told one couple, "I don't think we're as religious as you are."

They didn't come back. I have a feeling that they are out there somewhere praying for this heathen pastor they met.

I hope so, anyway.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

When I Grow Up...

...I want to be a fireman...policeman...garbageman...brain surgeon...

A friend of mine recently asked me for input. He has a truly rare decision to make, given our shaky economy. He has a job in which he is growing and valued. He is reasonably secure in this current position and the only thing that might change this is the current economic instability. What his current job can't do is pay him any more than they currently pay. He understood that reality when he sought the current job a couple of years ago.

Out of the blue, he was asked to consider another job somewhere else. It is in a field where he has some extensive experience. That job should be at least as secure as his current one. AND it pays significantly more.

"Do you have any advice for me as I consider my options?" he asked.

"I can't give you an answer," I said, "but I can help you know what questions to ask as you make a decision."

Here are some of the types I questions I suggested...

1. What do you want to do? He applied for his current job because he wanted to do it. He has remarked numerous times about how glad he is to work there. Is he considering the new one because of money only or is it something he will want to do in the long run?

2. What are your responsibilities to your family? He has had two previous jobs that often took him away from his family. His current job doesn't demand much travel so he can be at home with his wife and kids at night.

3. How will each job impact your long-term goals for your life? I believe the people make decisions about "a living" and "a life." "A living" is how we pay our bills; "a life" is how we find significance. His current job has helped him greatly in the significance area. Will changing jobs affect that?

These are a few of the kinds of questions my friend is exploring. What questions would you ask?