Modern Idolatry

I think sometimes when we read the Bible and it’s warnings against idolatry we can become a little conceited or arrogant. Because we read things like Exodus 20:4 that says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

Our modern, “enlightened” ears find it hard to believe that people would create something and then call it their God. We see it as complete foolishness and folly like Isaiah did in Isaiah 44:16-17: “Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

And while there are many places that still worship something they themselves have made, most of us would never be won over to this kind of faith. We understand that God cannot be made by our hands lest we be God for making Him. So maybe many of you, like me, saw the countless warnings of the Old and New Testament a bit redundant and unhelpful.

But recently I have been doing a group study by a pastor named Timothy Keller and he shared some thoughts on what idolatry truly is. So I wanted to share some of the bits I picked up from it with you because I think it will help us see this dangerous sin lurking in each of our lives.

First, because we do not make carved images like people of ancient times, we must identify our idols. Carved wooden images of before have been replaced with our more modern idols of status, possessions, fame, acceptance, approval, work or even independence. We have not, like we wish to believe, become more intelligent and enlightened than our ancestors. Rather, we have just exchanged the idols of old for new ones to fit our modern culture. So while idols may continue to be something we can hold, (money, possessions, a person), they are more likely something we dream of, want, wish to attain or strive for.

For each person the idol may be different, but if you look deeply they are there. You can find your idol mainly in two ways. First, think of the thing you are most afraid to lose and that is most likely your idol. So for example, if you are worried about people not liking you, then your idol is most likely approval. If you are most worried about your job or career not working as planned or becoming a failure, then you may have a work idol. Secondly, look where you spend your time and money. If all of your time and money is spent trying to make yourself look good, (clothes, make-up, the gym, etc..), then your idol is probably your appearance. If you spend your time and money on a specific social cause, then that may be your idol.

The thing about idols is that not every one of them is inherently bad. Social justice, people liking you and being successful at work are all good things. But they become idols when they take the ultimate or supreme place in our lives. This is why God’s first commandment was “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3). Because idolatry is a sin we must take this seriously. I hope that each of us can take a long look at our lives, (our greatest fears, our greatest desires, where we spend our time and money), and try to identify which of these modern idols are taking hold in our life.

Secondly, once we have figured out which idols we struggle with, we need to smash them. Just like God commanded the Israelites to smash the idols in their midst, (Exodus 23:24 for example), we too must smash our modern idols. But doing this may be more difficult than it sounds because there is nothing physical to smash most of the time. If you idolize your appearance it doesn’t mean you need to beat yourself up. And if you idolize approval it doesn’t mean you need to be a jerk so people won’t like you. Rather, smashing idols is moving them back down to where they belong and putting God back up where He belongs.

How can this be done? Hard work, will power and trying your best won’t suffice, especially if this particular idol has had a hold on your life for a long time. Also, if you remove this idol it is likely another will fill it’s spot, (many of us struggle with multiple idols so if we take down one another one will pop up quickly). So we must displace the idol or idols in our life with something greater: God.

God alone can and deserves to take the highest place in our lives. He alone is able and He alone is worthy. In order to do this, we first must repent. We must confess to God our idols and not pretend like they are not a problem, (“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” 1 John 1:9-10). One we have confessed and recognized this idol in our life, the idol starts to lose it’s power and hold over us. So we first must come to God in humility and confess whatever it is we have placed above Him.

Next, we need to work at replacing the idol with God. This is done by spending more time and money focused on God than our prior idol. This is done by spending more time in prayer and studying God’s Word than on whatever idol took that place before. This is also done by finding greater joy and peace in God alone and recognizing that this idol can never give us the joy and peace that God alone can. And as we continue to do this we begin to see God reigning in our lives where He alone belongs.

Now this isn’t some quick two step process to get yourself idol free. This is something that takes years and will have to be done over and over and over again as new idols pop up in our lives. But if we continue to confess and repent before our Great God and daily crucify our desires and misplaced joys then we can start to have victory over these idols in our life by, through and for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So I hope that we can all come to realize what idols are holding power in our lives right now. Look at your time, your money and your fears and see what thing, (maybe even a good thing), is wrongly taking the place of God. Then repent, confess and go back to God for His help. May we not be so arrogant as to think the warnings of idolatry were only for those in the ancient world. May we see these dangerous modern idols for what they are and daily displace them with He alone who is worthy to be Lord of our life.

Antiques

This summer my beautiful wife and I walked around an antique store. The store was massive with hundreds or maybe even thousands of items from decades long ago. And what struck me as I was looking at all these amazing relics of the past was that at some point in time, someone had worked very hard to make enough money to buy these beautiful objects. Maybe they had worked overtime just to make enough money for their family to enjoy such an object. And years later here it was, in an antique store.

So my question for each of us today is: what are you working for? It’s a question deeper than just the love of money but rather what is the reason you work and earn a salary? Why do you have a job and for what purpose do you work hard? Today I’d like to discuss two wrong motivations and two right motivations for our hard work.

The first wrong motivation is to put all your hard work and dedication into something that is temporal. When I say temporal I mean something that will not last or will fade with time. Solomon has the same thing to say in Ecclesiastes 2:18-26. Here he basically realizes that for him to work hard to earn nice things and money only to have those nice things and money go to a “fool” when he dies is a waste. Why should he, or we for that matter, work our whole lives only to earn some stuff that will end up in an antique store one day?

This usually plays out in one of two ways. For men, this will be electronics, tools, cars, or something else that he is interested in. While owning stuff isn’t a sin it can become one when we make that thing our pursuit and it becomes an idol and we end up working our lives to gain future garage sale items. For women, this usually plays out in purchasing things for your appearance. Clothes, shoes, purses all end up at Goodwill eventually.

And this even translates into how much emphasis you put into your physical beauty. While I do appreciate that my wife does wear makeup and does look nice for me I never want her to invest all her time, money and energy into trying to stay young a beautiful because that would be focusing on a temporal thing. I once had a student tell me her biggest goal in life was to always look young and beautiful. I told her a story I once heard of a wise man who picked up a pile of dirt and said, “this was once the most beautiful woman in the world.” This student had the wrong motivation.

Now before any of you accuse me of being irresponsible with my savings let me make a note. I do believe that each of us should have a job and earn money based on the gifts God has given us, (Paul is a great example of this in Acts 18:3). We also are to save accordingly for the future and to provide necessary, (key word here is NECESSARY), things for our family, (1 Timothy 5:8). But we cannot use these things, (being responsible with my money, saving, etc…), as a crutch or an excuse to use our money primarily for temporal things.

The opposite of working for the temporal is the good motivation for our hard work and dedication. This is working for the everlasting. Notice that no product or vacation is everlasting, (and memories don’t count cause they die when you do). That means for us, our ultimate goal is not something but rather some purpose. Jesus says it clearly in Matthew 6:19-20. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

Making your life about stuff only adds worry. You are worried your stuff, (your car, house or the stuff in it), might break, get stolen or get lost. And if your purpose is tied to your possessions you only end up brokenhearted when they inevitably fade. But Jesus offers us the chance to spend our time, money and energy on something greater. These “heavenly treasures” he speaks of are our chance to use our resources to reach out to those around us with the Gospel of Jesus. Use your house as a place to invite people to study God’s Word. Use your car to drive people to Church. Use your money to fly overseas and hand out Bibles and clean water to those who have neither.

When we choose to invest in the eternal rather than the temporal we find joy not in our possessions but rather in how they can be used to bring glory to God. This leads to the second wrong motivation for why we work, and that is to purchase unnecessary wants that end with us. What I mean is when we spend our resources just trying to gain other resources to make our lives greater or more comfortable we have missed the mark.

Rather, a healthy motivation is to use our hard work and resources to gain other resources that can spread to others. It is basically multiplication versus addition. And if you are older than 3, you know that multiplication will always yield the greater result. When we work hard just to gain stuff to add to our collection we only do addition. But when we work hard to use our resources on others we see multiplication. This is because we cannot serve two masters as Jesus says in Matthew 6:24. We either will serve Jesus and thus use our resources to multiple His glory or we will serve Mammon, (or money, possessions, etc…), to attempt to add to our stockpile of goods.

I saw a great example of this firsthand when I was in college. I went to a Christian conference with a group of men from my Church. I was the youngest guy there and as a college student, didn’t have a lot of extra income to spend. I had a job though and felt I was able to afford anything on the trip that was needed. The night before the conference we went out to dinner and a man from our Church named Dennis offered to pay for my meal. I told him I had a job and could afford it and that he didn’t need to do that. But he insisted and said, “When I was younger an older man at Church did this for me, so now I am doing it for you. And one day, you will do it for others.”

And since then I have had the chance to do the same thing for others. Dennis could have saved his money and bought something nice for his house with it. He could have just put the money in the bank or towards a nice vacation. But rather he decided to use his money that he had worked hard for to take care of someone and his influence was multiplied.

So my hope is that we don’t spend our short time on earth chasing after future antiques. And that we don’t spend our limited time just gaining things that only add up when we have the chance to use our resources to multiply God’s Kingdom. So may we rightly understand why we work and use our resources for the eternal. May we always seek to multiply our resources by using them on others rather than just adding to our stuff collection. And may we do it all for the glory, honor and praise of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Social Club or Meaningful Community?

The word meaningful has lost some of it’s meaningfulness. In this era of quick thrills, bells and whistles, our definition of meaningful can be summed up in whatever makes me feel good now. We say a sermon we just heard was meaningful, yet we completely forget the speakers message a week or so later. A song that was meaningful for me in college is now a mere afterthought. And sadly, the really meaningful people in my life can change every few years.

With this loss of a deep, long sighted meaningfulness, it is no wonder that our Christian communities are the same. Whether it is Church or a small group, we have traded meaningful community for cheap thrills. We go to get “recharged” or “refueled”. Some of us go to be entertained or because we are lonely. Christian community is now an event, not a lifestyle.

Here’s my problem. Social clubs provide a great chance for people to mingle and feel connected, but they rarely transform lives. True Christian community is so special because of its ability to completely transform. This idea is perfectly portrayed in a line from the classic song “Amazing Grace”: “I once was blind but now I see.” The amazing transformation that Jesus offers is actually fleshed out through a deep, meaningful community of believers.

I want to stop here and read Acts 2:42-47. As you read this, consider if there is any type of community other than Christian community that is like this. Also consider if your current Christian community is like this.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Wow. That is what I want to be a part of. Many don’t like Christian community because they accuse it of being stale and religious. But the above passage does not sound stale or religious at all. The early Christians lived out their faith. They weren’t looking for entertainment or for some weekend refueling. They were looking for deep meaningful community. The kind of community that awakens the dead.

Now what should we do in light of such a verse? Well the absolute last thing you should do is go and complain to your Pastor that he is not doing a good job. Or worse yet, leave your Church and start searching for one that clearly does the above. While some of us may need to reconsider what Church or small group we attend, most of us have a better option.

My advise for those of you looking for this type of community is to start right where you are. “Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.” (1 Corinthians 7:20). Here Paul is specifically addressing slaves. He encourages them to remain slaves rather than try and free themselves. His point can be taken that the Lord has placed you in a set of certain circumstances in which He has planned for you to make a difference. Yes there are times when the situation isn’t good, the community is unfruitful and we must change. But today I want to focus on how we can help our community right where we are.

There are three quick things I want us to consider in trying to achieve a more meaningful community. The first is service. Just as Jesus pointed out in Mark 10:43-44 “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” Of course, Jesus did this himself by dieing on the cross for us, (Mark 10:45). Leaders of Acts 2 communities are people willing to serve. So leaders, let us serve and in doing so set an example for our people to follow.

Second, we must be generous. Generosity is one of those traits we all think we have yet none of us really do. Giving 10% to Church and some money to charities at Christmas time, but then spending more money on yourself and family than the money you gave is not exactly generous. In the community described in Acts 2, you see that they gave to all “who had need.” We Americans do not like to give or share our possessions because we feel we have earned them and that if others haven’t then they are lazy. This attitude is reeking havoc to generosity and meaningful community in America. Let us remember it’s not our stuff anyways, we are just borrowing it from God for 60-80 years, and thus can share it with others.

Last, we need urgency. The early Church leaders believed Jesus would return any day and thus lived a life of study and evangelism. We don’t expect Jesus to come back anytime soon, so we have grown lazy and complacent. Do you feel an urgency to share the Gospel with those around you? With those around the world? Do you feel an urgency to help someone in desperate need? We don’t live with any urgency because our lives have become too comfortable. I once read a quote by a Christian that said, “Once I get too comfortable somewhere I know it is God telling me it’s time to move somewhere else.” Our communities need urgency in sharing the Gospel and proclaiming the Good News to the Nations.

Again, all three of these things can be done right in the community in which you are. Lead by example. Complaining and accusing only destroys community. Rather, take these things to heart and live them this week. May we stop being satisfied with entertainment and recharging and instead seek after meaningful, committed community. May we be willing to serve, give and do so as if the world were about to end. May we be the community of believers that Christ can call His Bride.

Where Up is Down and Less is More

I work a lot with University students. The nice thing you get to see when working with students is a lot of anticipation and hope for the future. Almost every student thinks they will have a great future. It is rare to meet a student who thinks, once they graduate, they will live a mundane meaningless life. They all want to be the top dog, the highest on the corporate ladder, and have everything needed to make them comfortable.

Sadly, this is the lie of culture. These students, like many of us, have believed that the higher position you are the happier you will be. Or the more stuff you own the more pleasurable your life will be. However, time after time we find that this is just the opposite. The more you have the more you want. The higher you climb the more you want to see the top. And once you get there, then what?

Now I am not saying that it is bad to try your best. Being a CEO is not a sin, (well sometimes it could be depending on how exactly you work as a CEO). In fact, we are told to work in all things as if we are working for God, (Colossians 3:23-24). So to work hard and to try your best is not a bad thing at all.

The problem is, we have made it our focus and our goal. Rather than working as to glorify and honor the Lord, we are working to glorify ourselves or to make more money to live the opulent life we think will bring us joy. While this longing for more is good, (I believe it is an actual longing that can only be filled by the Lord), we have decided to stuff it with temporary, worldly pleasures.

As C.S. Lewis once said:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Now let’s consider an alternative Kingdom. This Kingdom does not consider your high position but rather considers your humility and service to others, (Matthew 20:25-27). This Kingdom doesn’t care how much you own but rather focuses more on how much you give away, (Luke 18:22). In fact, the King of this Kingdom was a homeless servant who gave his life for his people, (Mark 10:45). This is the Kingdom of God.

And because of sin we have exchanged this amazing Kingdom and King for lesser pleasures offered to us by the world. So I want to challenge us all in two ways.

First, for non-Christians, are you really finding joy in your life? Is the constant struggle to climb the ladder of success and to live a more comfortable life really bringing you peace, joy and love? My guess is if you really examine yourself and your situation, it’s probably not. That longing you have for greatness is a longing to know the King. Rather then continue to believe the lie that says you are the King, will you realize that Up is Down and Less is More? Will you come to Jesus, in humility, and confess your sins and serve the True King?

For Christians my challenge is for us to make God’s Kingdom visible here on the Earth. The early Church did just that.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” -Acts 2:42-47

Can we Christians live in such a way as to show the world God’s Kingdom? Can we truly believe that pleasure and joy in God is far greater than any pleasure possibly offered here on earth? Yes Christians, we agree with these statements, yet our lives rarely reflect it. We say Jesus is Lord and spend more time and money on ourselves than serving our King. Your time and money will point you to who you serve. Christians, does your life reflect that of Jesus or do you merely give whatever scraps you have left from yourself to your King?

So may we all see that bigger is not always better and more is not always all that it’s cracked up to be. May we stop playing with mud when the beach is available to us. May we stop exchanging true joy for fleeting pleasures. Instead, may we follow our King’s example. May we humble ourselves just as he humbled himself and give just as he gave, (Philippians 2:6-8). May we live as if we are residents of God’s Kingdom rather than Satan’s.

Tis the Season for Change

Thanksgiving is just a few days away. For many of us that means food, family and football. But for others of us it means the last day before the big Christmas season kicks off. I have always wondered why they call it black Friday. Yes it is the biggest shopping day of the year, so maybe for men it is also the darkest/saddest day of the year.
感恩节将至。对于很多人来说意味着食物,家庭和足球。 但是对于其他人来说是圣诞节前的最后一个节日。 我经常疑惑为什么人们称之为黑色星期五。 的确,它是一年中最大的血拼日。很多男士也称之为一年中最黑暗的日子。

But I want to challenge us all this year to make a change. I know it has almost become cliche, but I really feel like we have all lost touch with what the Christmas season is really supposed to be about. “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20:35). We have all heard the second half of that verse even if we have never opened our Bible, but rarely does the whole idea put forth in this verse make it into our Christmas festivities.
我建议你们挑战自我来次新的转变。我知道这很迂腐,但我还是感觉到我们都渐渐遗忘了圣诞节本应具备的意义。 我凡事给你们做榜样,叫你们知道应当这样劳苦,辅助软弱的人,又当纪念主耶稣的话:施比受更为有益。(使徒行传20:35)

Christmas is a time to remember the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We celebrate because the King has come into the world. And then we follow our King’s example. We serve. We give. We sacrifice. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45). My question to you is, are you really serving, giving or sacrificing?
圣诞节是记住我们的主,我们的救世主降生的日子。我们庆祝因为我们的君王已经来到这个世界。我们要跟随祂。我们付出,我们牺牲。“因为人子来,并不是要受人的服侍,乃是要服侍人,并且舍命,做多人的赎价”(马可福音10:45)

Here’s what I mean. Did you know that 1% of annual Christmas sales in the US could lead to more than 1 million rescue operations for those trapped in forced labor or the sex slave trade? (http://www.ijm.org/content/advent-conspiracy#). Just a puny 1%. That tells me we are spending a whole lot on things we don’t really need while neglecting some of the most glaring needs of this generation.
这是我们的理解。你知道每年1%圣诞节的销售业绩需要花费1百万美元支付那些大规模的劳动力。只是1%呀。 这告诉我们我们在一些不必要的事情上花费很多,却忽略了这一代最重要的东西。

We do give. Problem is we are busy giving to those who can and will give back to us. I buy a gift for you so that or because you bought a gift for me. We buy each other more stuff that we think we need today but will end up in the trash, the garage or that random junk drawer within five years. Worse yet, we teach the next generation that having more stuff or materialism is what is important. Christmas is not the time to teach materialism, it’s the time to teach the Gospel message through giving and service to those most in need.
我们也会付出。问题是我们忙于为那些会给予我们回报的人付出。我买礼物给你因为你曾经送给我。我们为彼此送我们需要的礼物,但是五年内我们会把它们遗弃。更糟糕的是,我们教我们的下一代得到更多的东西,唯物主义才是最重要的。圣诞节不是教孩子们物质的时候,而是通过付出,给予去传授福音。

So I am proposing something radical because that is exactly what kind of life Jesus calls us to lead. As you are making a Christmas list or sharing with your loved ones what you want, I want you to check out this website: https://secure3.convio.net/ijm/site/SPageNavigator/HGC_Home.html. This is a charity I give to and can say they are doing some great work in the world. They have numerous needs and opportunities for you to help.
所以我现在提出一些比较激进的想法因为那才是耶稣想让我们去实现的。当你在计划圣诞行程时候,我希望你能看看这个网页。 这是我奉献的慈善机构,我敢说他们真的为了这个世界做了很多 很好的事情。 他们有很多地方需要你帮助的。

What I am proposing is that you ask others to donate to a need instead of buying you a gift. Now I am not telling to to donate instead of buying gifts for others. You still need to buy your family and friends gifts as they have asked. But maybe instead of asking for an iPhone you could ask that someone receives emergency medical attention. Instead of a new bike, how about a bike for someone who desperately needs one in order to get to work or school. Instead of more PS3 or Xbox games, how about freedom for someone caught in slavery against their will.
我的建议是你可以请求别人捐赠而不是给你买礼物。我的意思不是说叫别人捐赠不叫别人买礼物。如果需要你同样需要为家人朋友买一些东西。但是你可以请求别人捐赠一些紧急的医疗用品而不是Iphone。 相对于一辆新的自行车,那些急需自行车去上班去上学的呢?相对于PS3等游戏机,想想那些为自由而奋斗的困在奴隶?

And this is just one great charity. There are numerous others that have needs that you could help with. I find it interesting that when the economy isn’t good, giving, especially charitable giving decreases. However, I don’t feel like Christmas spending has decreased much. Woe to us if we are a generation that continues to indulge in pleasures while millions are in desperate need. And that goes for me as well. If any of you are looking to get my anything for Christmas, you can find my list here.
这只是其中一个慈善机构。还有很多的机构很多的人需要我们去提供帮助。我发现有时候很有意思,当经济萧条的时候,奉献,特别是慈善奉献会减少。但是,我从来没感觉到圣诞节的支出费用会有多大的减少。 哎,我们还是处于一个沉湎于享乐而很多人却在受苦的年代。如果你们从我这里得到圣诞礼物,你可以看看我的单子。

So may we no longer celebrate Christmas by celebrating the false gods of materialism and pleasure. Rather, may we be willing to give without expecting in return. May we will be willing to sacrifice our comfort for another’s freedom. May we stop following culture’s command for more, and rather follow Jesus’ command to give. Let’s start a new tradition this Christmas season and write a Christmas list full of treasures in heaven on it, (Matthew 6:19-20).
所以我们应该不要继续敬拜物质与享乐的神了。 愿我们大家都能发自内心的不求回报的付出。愿我们都能真心的为了别人的自己牺牲自己的舒适。 愿我们都能停止跟随文化,而去跟随耶稣基督。让我们一起开心新的一切,开始新的圣诞传统,积累天上的财富。 (马太福音6:19-20)。

Slow Down

So I have been a little busy this last week. How about you all? Is anyone not busy out there? I feel like we have replaced the word “good” with “busy” when someone asks how we are doing. We have managed to pack our daily lives full of tasks, appointments and people. But in all this busyness, do we still have time for God?

I would argue that probably the thing causing the most damage or harm to a Christian’s walk with God is our schedules. We have hundreds of different people or jobs that require our attention. And because these seem to be more clearly visible and urgent we set our Bible down and go deal with whatever the problem is. We have pushed our time with God back to “when I have a moment.”

But just as any relationship suffers when we don’t invest time into it, so does our relationship with God. If I only spend time with my girlfriend once I have completed all of my other daily tasks she won’t be all too happy and our relationship won’t grow. Yet, for some reason, we do just that with our relationship with God. So how can this change?

Well I don’t have some grand secret to making your life easier. I can’t add an hour to each day or tell you some master plan to improve your efficiency by 25%. But I can tell you some things that have helped me.

First, get your priorities straight. Most of us will make sure we spend time with loved ones. Most of us make sure we sleep 6-10 hours a night. Most of us have time for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And many of us make sure to watch the same television program each week. But when it comes to our Bible or prayer time, we just squeeze it into whatever is left. We have given God left overs.

David says in Psalm 63:1, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” I love this picture of David desiring to know the Lord. Very few of us actually know what it means to be starving. But watch us get just a little hungry and we will not stop until we can eat. Do you ever get like this with the Word of God? Do you ever desire it so much you will not stop until you can study or pray or worship? I think we have our priorities way out of line when our God is given mere left overs.

Secondly, I think we need to simplify. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” We need to find time to be still before the Lord. Devotion time on your way to work in traffic helps the road rage, but doesn’t really help us focus on God. Checking your cell phone at Church every 10 minutes for a score update isn’t being still before the Lord. Praying and doing five other things isn’t being still with God.

I find it interesting that many older people I talk with wake up at 5 or 6 am and do their devotions each morning. It’s not like they got old and started doing this, but have been doing it for over 50 years! Their generation understand the importance of starting the day out in silence with the Lord. If you are having a tough time finding time to be still before God, try waking up a little earlier.

Finally, I think it’s good to schedule or organize time to spend with God. I know some worry that this will take the spiritual aspect out of it, but I can promise it doesn’t. When we get busy, having a schedule makes sense. We schedule other important things in our lives, so why wouldn’t we schedule time for our most important relationship? The thing is, you have to stick to it. We often start with a great schedule, but soon something happens, our schedule gets thrown off, and we are back to handing God whatever was left from our busy day.

This is why scheduling is related to the idea of simplicity and priorities. For example, if I have a date scheduled with my girlfriend, I am not going to call that off unless it is an emergency. Treat your devotion time as if it were a date with your Heavenly Father. Don’t allow it to be something you can do another time, but make it an important part of your daily life.

So I hope that each of us can try to slow down a bit. Yes I know you are busy. I just don’t want your busyness to be your undoing. So get those priorities straight, get organized and even wake up earlier if need be. I can tell you that there is nothing more important than having daily time with God.

Money in the Bank

So as promised, I will be talking about money this week. I feel like money is one of those subjects we all have an opinion about, but also are worried to talk about very openly. It seems like everyone has some great plan or perspective on money, but in reality, most of our words don’t match up with our actual monetary transactions. Because money is such an important part of our lives, I feel like how we view, earn and spend money reflects where our heart really is.

Our culture has much to say about money. Advertisements continually try to convince us that money and stuff will lead to happiness. So many of us have bought into the idea of “Work hard, play hard” or “My best life now” that many of our lives center around money. Now as Christians we know that “the love of money is the root of all evil,” (1 Timothy 6:10), but I feel like we Christians use this verse to defend our lifestyles. We claim we don’t love money, (because that would be evil!), but our actions tell a different story. Or, we err on the other side and become so tight with our money people wouldn’t describe us as “joyful givers” (2 Corinthians 9:7), but rather as stingy misers.

So what does the Bible have to say about money. Well actually the Bible has a TON to say about money. But being from a baptist background, I am going to focus on three key points I think each of us need to practice.

The first is the idea of good stewardship. This is for those people out there who can’t seem to save any money. The Bible teaches us that God gives each of us different blessings, (talents, finances, etc..), that he expects us to use for His Kingdom and glory. In Matthew 25:14-30, we read about three men. Two men used their blessings while the other just wasted it. We can see that God expects us to use whatever He has blessed us with to yield an even better return.

In order to do this, we cannot just be frivolous spenders or stingy savers, but must learn how to invest and grow the blessings God has given us. Some practical things you can do to help you use your finances in order to grow them and yield a better return for the Kingdom are to make a budget, plan ahead and distinguish between needs and wants. I feel like these three things will help you plan, invest and utilize your financial blessings for the King. A good website to help with some financial planning from a Christian perspective can be found at crown.org.

Secondly, we need to be generous. I feel like Christian generosity and giving has decreased greatly since America’s economy has worsened. Christians, when times get tough, we need to be the ones on the forefront of giving. Yes you need to be responsible with your money, (as I said above in being a good steward), but I feel like we often use stewardship and responsibility as an excuse not to give.

Isn’t God in control, (Ephesians 1:11)? Isn’t God the one who gives and takes away, (Job 1:21)? Rather, most of us live like this man: “And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry!” (Luke 12:18-19). Sounds kinda like retirement or the American dream doesn’t it?

We have become so consumed with safety that we are unwilling to do bold things with our money for Christ. Again, we need to be good stewards and provide for our families first, but does my family really need an SUV when a minivan will do just fine? Do we need a 6 bedroom house when only 4 of us live there? Do we really need all those things in our garage, spare bedroom or shed? My guess is Christians are just as over indulgent as those outside the Church, we just do it in a less obvious way.

Finally, we need to remember to be content. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” We are so busy “keeping up with the Jones’” that we have forgotten that it is completely unbiblical to do so! Instead, Jesus tells some to sell all they have, (Matthew 19:21), and to not lay up treasures on earth but rather focus on treasures in heaven, (Matthew 6:19-21). I feel like we identify more with the rich young ruler mentioned in Matthew 19:16-24 than we want to admit.

While I don’t know how this will look in your specific life and situation, I do what to challenge to you take a long hard look at how you are using your finances. Are you saving for the future? Are you investing so that money earned today can be used to serve the Lord in the future as well? Are you content with the old car you have, or do you have to get that nice new BMW? Are you living within your means or even BELOW your means so you can give more money away to those who are really in need?

I want to close with the story of George Mueller. Mueller was a Pastor who lived with his wife in England in the 19th century. He noticed that there were many children on the streets, so he decided to open his home as an orphanage to them. He never asked for any support or money from anyone. He just saw a need and met it. George and his wife prayed to God to provide rather than asking others. Well over their lifetimes, the Mueller’s opened five orphanages and housed over 10,000 orphans! They also were able to fund all of these houses on donations they never even asked for! Rather than fund raisers and asking others, they went to their Heavenly Father who “knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8). May we be willing to do the same and live radically with our money for the glory and praise of our King.

The Beauty of being Wanted

It’s nice to feel needed isn’t it? I think it is human nature to enjoy the feeling that someone needs us. Mom’s love it when their children need them, (well maybe not when they are little all the time, but wait til they get older and leave the house!). We love the responsibility at work to know that we are a necessary part of our companies success. Or we like to join organizations or clubs to feel like we are needed by the group. Even kids like it when their friends can’t do something and need their help.

Even as Christians, we love feeling needed. We sometimes think, “I bet God loves me so much because of all this amazing work I am doing for Him,” “If I were not here, this work would not be done,” or “I am so necessary and helpful to my Church.” But the truth is, none of those statements are true. Read your Bible and you will see that the exact opposite is true. God doesn’t need you. “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” Matthew 3:9.

Depressing isn’t it. To think, I used to value myself and my importance in this life so highly, but the truth is, I am not all that important. If I am replaceable by a rock, then am I really needed? In fact, my life is only a small blip on the radar of history. “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:14. 100 years from now, most likely no one will know my name. 99% of us won’t make it in the history books or leave such a legacy that people still talk about us for years to come.

And after reading this you may not feel cheerful. Why should I do ministry or serve God if He doesn’t even need me? Why should I even care if it will all be forgotten anyways? Well those are understandable questions which is why we must understand this important truth: We are not needed by God, but we are wanted. It may seem like a minor difference, but let me unpack it a bit.

The truth is, God doesn’t need anything. Within the trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God has everything He would ever need. Some people like to think God was lonely, needed love or needed help so He created man. But God already has perfect community and love within the trinity and an all-powerful God does not need any help from weak and pathetic humans. Even our most righteous acts to God are only “filthy rags” to Him (Isaiah 64:6). So man was not created out of any necessity, but rather out of a desire.

God, being perfectly loving, holy and good, wanted to share Himself. He wanted to share the good things in His creation and ultimately Himself with us. God’s ultimate goal and desire is to get glory and praise for Himself. Now I know many of you are thinking, “Wow, God sounds so selfish!” But think about this, if God was seeking the glory or praise of anything else, would He still be God? Whatever deserves our highest praise is God. Thus, God gives glory and praise to the only one who is worthy of it: himself.

And that is what makes the Gospel more and more amazing. Jesus did not save us out of necessity. Jesus didn’t have to come down. Jesus didn’t have to die on a cross and bear all our sins. He could have stayed in heaven and let us all go to hell. We didn’t deserve it and he didn’t have to. But He wanted to.

That should inspire us. Instead of feeling depressed because God doesn’t need us, we should instead feel humbly in awe that God wants us. Think about how messed up you and I are! And the perfect God who created everything wants us! That means a lot more to me than if God reluctantly needed me for some task.

Which is how we need to view our lives. In John 16:33 Jesus tells us that He has overcome the world. He doesn’t tell us that we will overcome, or give us a guide on how we can do it. Rather, Jesus tells us to take heart and trust Him because He has overcome! I think too often, in service, work and even our lives, we put too much stock into our own ability to overcome. Will power and dedication, although two very good traits to have, are not the answer to overcoming sin in your life. Jesus is!

So stop serving God or doing anything for God as if He needed you. Stop trying to come to God with filthy rags full of pride. Rather, in humble gratitude serve God. Remember the words in Ecclesiastes 12:13 “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

May we all see how amazing it is that the God of the universe wants us. That we are not needed like some part of a machine, but rather are wanted like a beloved child. And may we respond with humble service to our King out of gratitude and desire to worship God who alone is worthy of our praise.

Is Gratefulness Dead?

So before I start this week, I need to mention that whole May 21st end of the world thing. I want you all to know that not all Christians were on board with that group. In fact, most of us were completely against it. Matthew 24:36 makes it pretty clear that not even Jesus himself knows when the end will come. So how could we, messed up sinners, presume to know if the Son of God doesn’t even know? But I do want to extend grace and hope to those who did think May 21st was the end. Come back to Jesus. Come back to what the Bible really teaches and not some “secret code” that you think the Bible has. Jesus’ grace is great enough even for misinformed people.

Anyways, this week I thought I would talk about something that has been bothering me lately. It seems more and more people are busy marching along in life, not knowing the dangerous path we are all on. It is the slippery slope of “more”. Our world has become a world of bigger, better, and faster. No matter what culture you live in, the driving force behind it is this idea of getting more. It could be more money, more friends, more happiness, more experience, more knowledge or more anything.

But is this a good thing? Is this drive for more and more really something that is making our lives and those around us better? I am afraid that in our pursuit of “more” we have forgotten two very important words: gratefulness and contentment. Think about it. Nowadays do we talk about someone in a complementary way using those two words? Usually they are used in a negative sense. “He just seems to be content with his life,” is used rather than, “Wow, he is so content with his life!” For some reason we have associated contentment with laziness and lack of ambition.

And this is the lie of “more.” Satan and the world wants us to believe that true joy and life is just barely out of our reach. If we just have a little more (insert whatever you think you need more of) we will have joy and meaning in life. So we keep trying to get more of whatever that thing is but the more we get the more we want! The danger is even when we get what we thought we wanted, we are still left wanting more. It seems to be a never ending cycle.

That’s why I have started to wonder if gratefulness is dead. I had just finished teaching some students and was walking to another lesson earlier this week. Teaching English is often frustrating because the main reason students want to learn English is to get a higher paying job so they can buy more pleasures. As I was walking, I saw a man on a cart who had no legs and was rolling down the street.

That’s when it hit me. All week I had been hearing people with different life problems but very little gratefulness. I heard lots of complaining and worrying but not much contentment. How many of you are grateful you have two working legs? How about two working eyes? Clothes? Three meals a day? Friends? The Internet? How many little things do you take for granted everyday that others would love to have? Look at your life. I can honestly tell you that if you are able to dress yourself each morning and walk to work you are amazingly blessed! Yet instead of being grateful for these blessings we seem to forget how much we really have and complain about minor inconveniences.

The saddest part is that we are so ungrateful for the most amazing gift ever. Yes it is an amazing gift of God that you have good health, enough money to live on and loving friends and family. But all of that is nothing compared to the fact that the only Son of God died for you. A perfect man suffering a terrible death for ungrateful sinners. And instead of being satisfied and content with Jesus we think we need more of what the world offers in order to be happy.

But there is hope. The Bible teaches that the answer to the trap of more is contentment and gratefulness. “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). God is enough. Actually God is not just enough, He’s more than enough! You don’t need God and money, God and a good job or God and a spouse. While money, job and spouse are all good things on their own they are not God. True contentment in life can only be found in Jesus Christ.

And that’s what I hope you all do this week. I do want you to find more, but not more of what the world has to offer. My prayer for you all this week is that you would find more of Jesus. That you would love, honor, serve and glorify God more. That you would find your hope and joy not in more stuff but in more Jesus. That you would all realize that God is more than enough for you and that true joy, gratefulness and contentment in life are only found in Him.

May we be like Paul in our outlook on life: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13). May we stop seeking more fleeting pleasures and instead seek to know the risen Son of God. May we realize that Jesus Christ is truly more than enough.