My mother and father made sure I started early…
Each week I was given a shiny silver coin on my way to Sunday School. It was my responsibility to make sure that coin made it into the offering bank in my classroom. It was always fun to hear it clank off the bottom of the white plastic church we used for our children’s offerings.
As I grew older, wiser and ornerier, we would fill our pockets with pennies, knowing that we could get maximum satisfaction from the multiple clanks they would surely make.
Even in our boyhood silliness, we were doing the right thing.
Some things from childhood stick with you––hard habits to break. When it is a good habit, however, this is extremely good news. In those early years, I picked up a good habit––giving back to God.
Giving back to God is a strange proposition in our world. As with all good things, it has been tainted by the selfish cravings of men. However, it deserves some thoughtful clarification.
Passing the plate––especially the televangelist’s electronic plate––has really taken it on the chin in our greedy society. Even without the scandals, we have great difficulty releasing what we see as ours. For even though we might believe God gave us everything, it’s awfully difficult to give Him anything.
Biblically, we give a portion of what we’ve got back to God to be used for His work through our local place of worship. Throughout the scripture, woven into the fabric of the righteous man, was a commitment to give back to God a part of what was given to him.
A man was given ten cows; he gave God one back. A man was given many acres of wheat; part of his harvest was given back. A man earned a wage; he gave God the first tenth. This is called tithing. God gives us all we have––we give a tithe back to Him. The tithe is His––we come to terms with that and obey or we retain it for ourselves, keeping it from God.
An offering (i.e., missionaries, relief aid, supporting a third-world child) is a sacrificial gift above and beyond our tithe. It hurts a little to give it for it is given out of sacrifice. Whereas the tithe is given out of obedience, the offering is given out of sacrifice. We give up something to make it possible. It could be one less meal “out-to-eat” or an unnecessary toy. It is “given up” for God and His people.
Many people support local and foreign charitable projects. These are men and women who could use this amount of extra cash each month on their own needs. Surely, they have plenty of ways to spend this money. Even with lots of unmet needs of their own, they make a commitment to help others with their unmet needs. It hurts. We “give up” a lot each month for the sake of God and others.
Does that make sense? Sound crazy? Yes and no. Yes, it is crazy from a practical administrative standpoint: Don’t give away something that you can use for yourself. On the other hand, it makes perfect sense in God’s economy: It is more blessed to give than to receive. You gain by giving up. You multiply by sacrifice.
Bottom line: People who give liberally are always blessed liberally. It works. The more you unselfishly channel your funds, the more you have to work with. I don’t know how to explain it other than knowing––really knowing––from experience. All my life, I have given back to God money that I could have used (and wanted to use) only to find that God takes what I have left and makes it go further than what I had to start with. This is called the “ninety-percent miracle.” He has never failed to keep His end of the bargain.
For you? If you check it out––and trust me on this––you are going to experience the joy that only comes through giving. Start with something. Try it out––the tithe and the offering. Obediently give back to God what is His (the tithe). Set aside something extra to help others. Try it for six months. If you are not better off by then, I’ll stand forever corrected. If you are better off by then, you will have discovered the greatest thing to ever hit the human race, for…
… you can never outgive God––I am a result of generations of folks who have tried!by Pastor Doug
I love to play cards.
It is something I can do well. Unlike the game of golf, I am actually competitive when it comes to playing cards––I always have the possibility of winning.
I like the thrill of playing cards because every once in awhile I get dealt a hand that is just simply remarkable. You know the hand––every card you possibly need to run the game from the first trick. What a tremendous feeling!
My wife hates it when I get dealt such a hand. She claims I am not a good sport, for she believes, in such situations, the proper etiquette is to lay your hand down at the beginning of the game and save everyone else the mystery. And the misery.
I like to play it out–-card by card. There is great joy in capturing each trick individually. In the world of cards, the perfect hand only comes around every once in awhile. I simply milk it for all its’ worth.
Having the hand of a lifetime is a wonderful thing. Simply stated, there is satisfaction in knowing how it ends––knowing what’s up and watching it happen. We always love to know the final score.
It must be great to be God. God always knows the outcome.
The Scripture records the story of Lazarus on his death bed. He was dying and there was hope Jesus would be able to heal him. Word was sent to Jesus of Lazarus’ condition. Instead of rushing to the scene to heal him, Jesus “stayed where he was two more days.” In the meantime, Lazarus died.
It seems Jesus stayed too long. Why in the world did Jesus not hurry over to heal his friend? When needed most, why didn’t he go rescue him from death? Why let him die?
This is what Mary and Martha wanted to know. Mary boldly stated, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Jesus, however, was interested in building faith. He already knew the outcome. He knew Lazarus would live again––raised to life. He deliberately laid down his cards slowly. He wanted to make sure everyone’s faith would increase. He was looking to heal faith, not just heal bodies.
So, why did Jesus wait for four days?
Obviously, he could have kept his friend from dying in the first place. He could have brought him back to life ten minutes after his death. Instead, he waited four days. Why?
Perhaps, had he healed him instantly, the experts would have concluded Lazarus was merely in a coma or, even, a deep sleep. Instant healing might have saved some agony, but everyone’s faith would have stayed unchanged. Remember, Jesus was interested in building faith.
Being dead one day, two days or even three days still could be misinterpreted as not really being dead. But after three days, all hope of resuscitation from a coma would be abandoned and in the hot Palestinian climate, decay would have begun.
In other words, after four days, Lazarus was truly, unmistakably dead. And the scripture even says he smelt like it! Death stinks. Lazarus stunk.
When it comes to faith, how can we be sure it was really God and not just coincidence? In this situation, the person had to be really dead. Jesus waited four days when he could have done the same thing in four minutes. He wasn’t waiting for his sake but for ours.
As long as it is humanly possible, we are tempted to handle the situation ourselves and, therefore, divert the glory to ourselves. When it is humanly impossible, only God can fix it and only He can receive the credit.
How can we be sure it is really God?
When you conclude it cannot be done or there is absolutely no way it will ever happen or it is humanly impossible, you are primed and ready for a miracle. You are ready for the power of God.
Looking for a miracle? Remember Who already knows the outcome. Remember Who’s in charge of the deck of cards. How He chooses to lay down the cards will only make our faith––in the eternal scheme of things ––that much better!by Pastor Doug
Much to my mother’s dismay, I loved to make mud.
Mud is a versatile thing: you can shape it, sling it, eat it––you name it––it can be done with a little mud.
That was then; this is now.
Now, I am much more under control when it comes to mud. I am an adult after all, with a reputation to keep. I no longer run wildly for a puddle of water. I am certainly beyond making (and eating) any mud pie! Nowadays, I only wear mud when I absolutely have to…
This is probably about where the blind man, as recorded in the Gospel of John, found himself. Even though he had been blind since birth, he still probably had a few reservations about wearing a little mud, too.
I am sure he knew the difference between mud and dry dirt. I am sure he knew when water was combined with dirt it made mud. I am sure he knew what it felt like to be clean. But, most of all, I am sure he knew what it was like to not be able to see.
Sight is something you just take for granted. Your ability to read these very words is something for which to be thankful. Take your sight away and your entire world changes.
I’m thankful for glasses. I’ve worn them since first grade. Although I received my share of “four-eyed” comments, I’m sure glad I live in a day allowing me to see what every other 20/20 sees.
Sight is a blessing from God even if it requires a man to wear a little mud on his face.
Jesus spit on the ground and made a little mud. Placing the mud on the blind man’s eyes, he instructed him to go into the middle of town and wash his eyes clean.
The blind man was obedient. Into the waters of the Pool of Siloam, he bent down as a man with mud and blindness and came up as a man with clean vision. For the first time in his life, he was able to see!
Jesus never seemed to operate in the norm. He always had an unusual way of going about his business of touching people’s lives. When you mix spit and dirt, you’ll get mud every time. This odd combination seemed to be a curious concoction for healing a blind man.
Why in the world would Jesus use such a formula to heal? Did the combination have a medicinal use––a righteous, particularly potent conglomerate? Or, was the combination to be symbolic of the creation? After all, God did create man from the dust of the ground.
It is hard to know––but one thing is for sure––the blind man did not care about the theological basis for his healing. He admitted what he did and didn’t know. When asked, he simply stated, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
This man was really desperate for sight, for his actions required a high level of risk. Washing mud off your face in the middle of town would surely cause a scene. Everybody knew the blind man, The mud on his eye sockets would be hard to disguise. Walking to the pool would require passing many curious people. Washing your face in public had to be humbling.
What if it doesn’t work? Won’t I look like a fool?
Someone once said there are three approaches to life. You can either choose to be a risk-taker, a caretaker, or an undertaker.
The most disabling tool against our personal progress is the fear of failure. It is the real reason why we don’t fully trust God––why we don’t set impossible goals. Even if it requires a little mud on your face, can you really believe in God without ever trusting in Him?
So, how do you eliminate the fear of failure?
First of all, you have to redefine it. Failure is not not reaching your goal. Failure is never setting a goal––even one that is impossible. It has been said today’s impossibility is tomorrow’s miracle. The Bible clearly shows us nothing is impossible with God. The very word impossible should not even belong in our vocabulary. It simply should be a nonexistent word. The Apostle Paul wrote we could “do all things through Christ.”
Therefore, redefining failure is the first step in eliminating your binding fear.
The second step is to refuse to compare yourself to others. Comparison will always lead to false evaluation. For, inevitably, you will always find somebody who is doing it better and that will make you discouraged. Or, on the other hand, you will always find somebody who is doing it worse and that will make you proud. Either way, you lose.
Impossible goals should not be based on what you think you can do, but on what you believe God can do. In fact, you haven’t really believed God until you’ve attempted something that can’t be done in the power of the flesh.
Wearing mud on your face is risky. However, wearing mud on your face often brings the miraculous. The scripture reminds us in our weakness, He is strong. Bottom line: God can do more in five seconds than what you can do in five decades.
Personally, you can rely completely upon your own wisdom and strength. It will take you somewhere, probably not far from where you already are. Or, you can tap into the power of God. It will take you anywhere, especially right to the middle of God’s good, perfect, and pleasing will.
The same God who has the ability to turn the water into wine, heal the sick, feed the thousands, walk on the water and restore sight to the blind, can fix your impossibility––even if it means the risky and humbling chore of wearing a little mud.
Give me the mud; Seeing is pretty cool.by Pastor Doug
To celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary, while we were still child-free, my wife and I rented a car and drove through eleven countries in Europe. We relied completely upon a stack of AAA maps and a Fodor’s Guide to Budget Europe.
After making lots of wrong turns, we made a decision, keeping our marital peace. Since we had never visited the continent before, we came up with the following motto: “No turn can be a wrong turn if every turn is a new turn.”
It worked. We enjoyed all of our turns!
Most of the time, our definition of happiness is a seamless day. We like life to be a straight line. A good day is a day in which we get from A to B as quickly as possible.
How do we define a bad day? A bad day is likened to a bumpy line. We hate not being able to get from A to B quickly. We like to plan; we like to control the plan.
Life isn’t always straight. We’re not always able to lose 20 pounds by the given date. Not every student graduates in 4 traditional years. Our plans to become completely debt free by the end of the year are sometimes derailed by unforeseen circumstances. The “ladder of success” is not climbed by everyone. A husband and wife’s decision to have children is sometimes more difficult than imagined. Raising children is not always painless. Even the best of marital bliss meets the unwelcome, uninvited times of struggle.
The road of life is often bumpy. The sea of life is often stormy.
It sure was for the first century disciples of Jesus.
After a long day of ministry, they got into a boat and headed for their next assignment––the city of Capernaum. Jesus was not with them. However, while crossing the lake, they met a violent storm that ended their smooth sailing. After about nine hours of rowing, they found themselves facing harsh, life-threatening waves.
People tend to be “result-driven.” They like to get from A to B as quickly as possible. Remember, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
God rarely uses straight lines.
Abraham looked for a son. God gave him a century to build his faith before he became a father––the father of a great nation. Joseph knew that someday he would lead his older brothers. God used false accusations, unjustifiable imprisonment, betrayal and other setbacks to prepare him for his future. Moses was born to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. God used forty years in the desert to prepare him. The Israelites longed to see the Promise Land. God turned an eleven day trip into a 40 year adventure.
In each situation, God used a process to bring about a result. God tends to be “process-driven.”
Rather than moving them quickly across the lake, Jesus allowed his disciples to struggle. Sure, it ate up some time and caused some discomfort, but it also made them realize they needed help.
Often, we see similar situations as wasted time and unnecessary suffering. We look to achieve the result quickly so that we can move on to the next thing––getting from A to B as quickly as possible.
How can a good God allow such circumstances? Why are storms a part of our daily routine? Why can’t our days be filled with straight lines? Is it because God is cruel or because God is good?
The Apostle Paul saw God as one who uses suffering to produce the inner qualities that never come to those who only know smooth sailing. Trials produce perseverance, character and hope for the future. These essential ingredients can only be found in those who’ve learned to trust in God.
In other words, the days filled with straight lines produce little character. The bumpy, stormy days are not pleasant, but are inwardly invaluable.
Walking upon the water, in the midst of the storm, Jesus sees his disciples strenuously rowing. He says to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” They hear his voice and recognize him, bring him into the boat and, immediately, he takes them safely to the other side.
Are your children having struggles? Do you think a quick fix is what they need? Are you struggling financially? Do you think winning the lottery will bring you a better life? Are you experiencing the pain of a broken relationship? Do you often wish you could lose all feeling for that person? Is it a reoccurring temptation? Do you think that instant deliverance is the answer?
How are you suppose to endure the storms of life?
Anything is possible, but most of the time, you will only have one good option. You’ll obediently get into the boat, grab a hold of the oar, face the storm and look for God to come. And, when He does, I hope you’ll consider inviting him into your boat.
Let Him take you to the other side.by Pastor Doug
“Take out a clean sheet of white paper. It is time for a…”
In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus gives his disciples a…pop quiz.
It was just before the lunch bell and, probably, they were very hungry––not a great time for academic pursuit. The subject was mathematics. He gave them a multiplication problem. Remember those? Their job was to provide an answer, a solution.
They’d enjoyed a day of outdoor education on the side of a mountain when Jesus sprung the question. A crowd of people gathered and, after counting some five thousand male heads, not including women and children, Jesus quizzed them with an everyday math problem.
“Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”
It was lunchtime and everyone was hungry. The appropriate expectation was to feed all of the hungry people. Every educator knows that an empty stomach makes learning difficult. Before the afternoon session could begin, Jesus felt as if everyone should take a break and eat lunch. Together.
That’s what I like about Christ. A lot of his stories involve eating. I love to eat. It would have been great to spend my seminary years learning (and eating) alongside Jesus. Utilizing an everyday event, Jesus employed the common to do the miraculous. In the process, valuable learning took place.
Philip, the local expert, answered first. His insight came from years of common sense. It really wasn’t a difficult question to answer because the facts were so obvious. Just for everyone to have one bite of food, it would take two-thirds of a year’s wage to feed them. In other words, they had no budget for entertaining such a large crowd.
Even if we could, we couldn’t. We cannot afford to do something like this. His simple math showed that Jesus’ math simply did not add up. It was a good, innocent question but a hard, impossible reality.
When faced with similar situations, we cringe, fear, worry, and are extremely uncomfortable. We don’t like being taken out of our comfort zone. We throw up our hands and cry, “It’s impossible! It cannot be done!” Big problems overwhelm us every day. Big problems, the ones that go against our best knowledge of fundamental mathematics, simply aren’t realistic.
It seems as if the only folks who escape the world’s problems are the ones who reside at places like our local cemetery, Memory Gardens. The rest of us, still on this side of the river, still among the living, never escape the struggles of life. To be alive is to face daily challenge!
From an adult point of view, God’s math––most of the time––simply doesn’t add up. After years of seeing it done one way, it’s extremely difficult to believe any other way is possible.
That’s why you got to love kids. They’re not yet spoiled by patterns and trends, especially the patterns of this world. As far as they’re concerned, a little bit can make a lot. Providentially, a young boy from the crowd offers Jesus his lunch. He offers Jesus the answer key for the pop quiz.
“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish,” Andrew, another of the disciples, offers in desperation. Obviously, even the simplest student in the class knows something is better than nothing. Andrew qualifies his answer by saying, “But how far will they go among so many?”
Go ahead. Do the math. Over five thousand mouths divided by five small loaves and two small fish. Now we are talking about crumbs per person––not bites, and certainly not full stomachs. This real life problem was shaping itself into a hospitality disaster. An invitation to a luncheon is generally hollow if you, well, get no lunch.
The boy, obviously without an understanding of math, offered what he had––nothing less, nothing more. Seeming to know no better, he was naive enough to believe that his lunch would make the difference.
God seldom looks for big. We seek big. We’re the scientists. God’s not the one in the lab coat crunching the data. He’s the Creator and He looks for willingness. His math is different from ours. He takes our availability and times it by His ability and it equals everyone being fed––all five thousand plus of them, full stomachs and leftovers for supper!
It’s what I would call the miracle of multiplication.
The good news is that it still happens today. All the time. Everyday. In big ways and in small ways. Sometimes the numbers are in the millions, the tens of thousands, and sometimes the numbers only involve your immediate family. The miracle of multiplication is when our math falls short and His math springs tall.
Every time I give God what I’ve got, He always takes it many times farther than I ever, in my best effort could have gone. (When I say my best effort, I mean my fantasy Braveheart freedom speech rah rah, on my white horse, holding my large sword, with the music playing in the background!) The hours I give to him are multiplied in return beyond comprehension. The resources I spend on Him are given back in ways that logically do not add up. The best of who I am, when offered for His service, is used way beyond what seems humanly possible.
Would you like to see some heavenly math in your life? Trust him with your time and see if you do not end up with extra hours at the end of your day. Trust Him with your financial resources and see if you do not end up with a bit extra in your checkbook. Trust Him with your abilities and see if He uses them far beyond what you thought was ever possible.
It’s called Heavenly Math 101. God’s ways are not our ways, especially when it comes to numbers. His ways, in case I need to remind you, are always better. He’s God. You’re not.
“So, take out a clean sheet of white paper. It is time for a pop quiz. Your question today is: Describe something that only God can do.”
Write it down. Turn it in. Trust the Grader.
His math is good.by Pastor Doug
Larry Walter made the evening news because he decided to fly.
He went down to the local military surplus store and bought 45 weather balloons and several tanks of helium. He attached the balloons to his lawn chair and anchored his chair to the bumper of his jeep. Packing some refreshments and a loaded BB gun (to pop the balloons when it was time to return to earth), he cut the cord and, to his surprise, found himself floating at 11,000 feet.
He stayed up there, sailing around for fourteen hours, totally at a loss about how to get down. However, when he drifted into the approach corridor for LAX, his situation now became serious.
The Navy eventually was able to rescue him and bring him back to safety. As soon as Larry was on the ground, he was arrested. When asked by a reporter why he did such a thing, Larry replied firmly, “A man can’t just sit around!”
In the Gospel of John, a story is told about a severely crippled man, ill for thirty-eight years. He was sitting on a mat. After talking to this man, Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
The scripture tells us that “at once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” Thirty-eight years without working limbs. Immediate healing. A lifetime spent going one direction. A complete reversal. A man who had to be carried was now able to walk. What a sight it must have been!
But, I’ve got to admit, I am a little puzzled as to why Christ asked him to pick up his mat? Why not leave the filthy thing behind? He didn’t need it anymore. Why not separate the memory of his past from the reality of his future?
God has a pattern of using simple, everyday things. He asked Moses to use his rod. Samson used the jawbone of a donkey. David utilized his sling and a few river stones. This man used what he was sitting on. God can use anything.
His mat was his bedding. It was his identity. It defined him. It spoke of dependence upon others. It probably had became a fixture in town after 38 years. It was his home.
So why was it important for him to carry his mat?
Perhaps, it was his security. It provided comfort, routine, predictability. Even though he longed for something different, it was, at least, secure. He loved it; he hated it. He couldn’t live with it; he couldn’t live without it.
Now, it represented a radical reversal of his condition. For years, the mat had carried him and defined him, speaking of his despair. Now, for the first time in his life, he carried the mat, for he had been healed.
So, what are you sitting on? Have you lived with a dependency? an addiction? a inferiority complex? a defeated spiritual attitude? a non-repairable relationship? a confusion of who you are in Him?
Perhaps you are saying, “I can’t kick it. I can’t lick it. I just don’t have what it takes to get over it.” How have you become stuck in a desperate place? How have you become psychologically, spiritually and emotionally paralyzed?
It is time to stop making excuses. It is time to stop skirting the issue. It is time to start taking God at His word. It is time to allow Him to transform the very thing on which you’ve been sitting for such a long time.
“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
After all, a man can’t just sit and around…by Pastor Doug
Jack Canfield had an extra moment of time, so he walked across the street to watch a Little League game. He didn’t know any of the players––he just knew the game.
“What’s the score?” he asked the kid on first base.
“We’re behind 14 to nothing,” he said with a smile.
“Really?” he replied. “I have to say you don’t look very discouraged.”
“Discouraged?” the boy responded with a puzzled look, “Why should we be discouraged? We haven’t even been up to bat yet!”
When does faith become faith? Is it before or after?
The gospel writer tells the story of a “certain royal official whose son lay sick in Capernaum.” He begged Jesus to come and heal his son before he died. Jesus told him that his son would live. “The man took Jesus at his word and departed.” When he got home, he realized that his son had, indeed, been healed.
On what side of the Red Sea did the Israelites experience faith? On this side? Or on that side?
On what side of your Red Sea do you experience faith? On what side of the situation are the men separated from the boys? Those who do from those who say they do? Those who live by faith from those who say they do?
It does not require much faith to wonder whether or not my friend, Ben, can play the guitar. It would be an act of faith for me to even take it out of the case.
Picking the Clippers is not an act of faith anymore. Picking the Lakers is. Loading up the car and driving to Newport Beach for a little sun does not require much faith. Driving the car to Honolulu would.
Being nice to someone you enjoy is rather easy. Being nice to the one who has hurt you deeply is a little more difficult. Bringing kids into the world because you are “supposed to” is not faith. Having kids because you want to see them change the world is. Working for the established, large company is a bit less faith than starting a company from nothing.
Even going to church this Sunday in our country is not a great act of faith. Whereas, going to church this Sunday in North Vietnam is. Furthermore, believing and saying is still not the same faith required as believing and doing.
After Jesus healed the royal official’s son, the household then believed Jesus’ words. The official only needed Jesus to say it. Who experienced true faith? Those who saw the boy healed or he who believed the boy would be healed?
Are you discouraged? Odds against you? Are you on this side of the Red Sea? Just remember whose team you’re on . . .
“Why should we be discouraged? We haven’t even been up to bat yet!”by Pastor Doug
There is a story of identical twins. One was a hope-filled optimist. “Everything is coming up roses!” he would say. The other was a sad and hopeless pessimist. Everything was sad and dismal. The worried parents of the boys brought them to the local psychologist.
He suggested to the parents a plan to balance the twins’ personalities. “On their next birthday, put them in separate rooms to open their gifts. Give the pessimist the best toys you can afford, and give the optimist a box of manure.” The parents followed these instructions and carefully observed the results.
When they peeked in on the pessimist, they heard him audibly complaining, “I don’t like the color of this computer . . . I bet this calculator will break . . . I don’t like this game . . . I know someone who’s got a bigger toy car than this . . .”
Tiptoeing across the corridor, the parents peeked in and saw their little optimist gleefully throwing the manure in the air. He was giggling. “You can’t fool me! Where there’s this much manure, there’s got to be a pony!”*
Have you ever been in a situation where everywhere you look, it seems so hopeless, so dismal? . . . and yet you know somewhere, somehow, some way there has got to be a pony just around the corner.
We call that faith.
Someone once said, “Faith is the pencil of the soul that pictures heavenly things.” The New Testament writer explained faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
Faith is taking the risk to believe that the God, who created everything, who is omnipresent (everywhere), who is omniscient (all-knowing), who is omnipotent (all-powerful) is capable of solving our problems, snags, dilemmas, set-backs. Imagine that kind of God trying to fix our dilemmas. He sure seems more than up to the challenge.
And yet, we struggle. We fret. We worry. We fear.
Then, we risk. For, even when we know the situation, we trust––we act in faith.
Noah built a very large boat even though he was sitting in the middle of the desert. Joshua went ahead and walked around the walls of Jericho seven times even though that’s not how you typically won wars. The servants at the wedding in Cana poured out the newly made wine even though they knew it had just been water.
We act in faith, too.
We forgive even though we know that they were in the wrong. We give even though it’s risky. We pray even though we cannot see the face of the One we pray to. We trust even though we’re told it can never work in this set of circumstances. We believe even though the evidence might point in the other direction. We have faith even if it has never happened this way before.
When we face the impossible, we, by faith, turn to the One who functions only in the possible. He can make it happen.
When we are given a box of manure, we look for the pony.
* (A Second Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul, p. 180)by Pastor Doug
Approx. 1450 BC. Updated: 2014 AD.
I have been watching people like you for years and years. It is amazing that nothing really changes. It is remarkable that even though you have more technology and information, you still do the same things as those who came before you.
You call it compulsive behavior. I call it sin. No matter what you call it, we are talking about the same thing. It is the destructive force that ruins lives––lives like yours. What starts out innocently becomes all-consuming. Every part of your life becomes captive. Every thought. Every decision. Everything.
It effects the way you worship me. It consumes your calendar––you work harder and harder only to find yourself get further and further behind. It makes you unable to tell the truth. Not only does nobody else believe you, but you do not even believe yourself. You want something that you do not need until it burns a scar in your mind.
You cannot look at the neighbor’s car without being sick in envy. You cannot find joy in your wife because you’re convinced that his wife will be so much better. You even find yourself taking things that are not yours––things you never rightfully earned.
Consequently, you are ineffectively taking advantage of the life I have given you. You have no joy. You are stuck in a life that is filled with compulsion, behavior that is out of control––a far cry from the life I intended.
I know how to help you. I know what you need. You need to be delivered from this bondage, because compulsive behavior is slavery in its deepest form.
It was not my intention to enslave my people for “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
Therefore, here are ten ways to discover freedom. It is my intention to free you by giving you a map for living that keeps you away from the lands of slavery––a map where I will highlight the fertile land, the land where I want you to go.
If you will allow me, I will trace the land of bondage in red. Stay away from these areas. Do not go near their borders. Do not cross into its’ territory. It will destroy you. It will take away your freedom. These lands will enslave you.
I know that if I leave you alone, you will find yourself trapped in those lands of bondage––states of forced servitude to habitual behaviors. However, if you will listen to me, then you will find a life that will be flowing with milk and honey.
Because I am the Lord your God, make sure that these ten guidelines rule your journey:
Have no other gods before me. I am the one and only God. There can be no other gods, especially before me. Trust me. I know. You can look for yourself and spend valuable years coming to the conclusion that I have already told you.
I also know that there will appear to be options of whom you will choose to serve. They are not the real thing, no matter how they appear. Your heart can only be given to me. When I look inside of you, I will not tolerate seeing anything other than me. I am the one and only God. Serve me alone.
Have no idols. Do not bow down to anything other than me. Whether it is from the sea or the land, I created it––it came from me. How can you think about worshipping something less than the God who created all things. Just because you can see it doesn’t mean it has any special power. Just stop and think about it: why would you want to commit your life to something that I could wipe away with one word?
Use everything I have given you to accomplish what I have called you to do. Utilize your machines. Rule over all of nature. Celebrate your creative artistic works. Milk cows. But, come on, bow down to them? That’s something that will lead you to emptiness, to fear––to great bondage.
Do not misuse my name. All I am is wrapped up in my name. All my power, all my authority, all my holiness is seen in my name. Your lips are never to use my name is a way that would bring shame to me. May the words of your mouth be pleasing to me, especially when they involve my name.
I take speech seriously. I spoke the world into existence. My only son is the living Word. My name stands for who I am, what I will teach you and the direction your life will follow. Since all of who you understand me to me is part of my name, use it with honor, with reverence and with respect.
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Therefore, work for six days but give me the seventh. Because this is the day that I have made, worship me and not the day. I want you to rest. When I created the world, I did so in six days and I took the seventh day to rest. I did not rest because I was tired. I rested because I wanted you to rest. My resting made this day holy.
Of course, if you are not careful, you will find yourself a slave to work–-what you call a workaholic. This is not my idea of healthy behavior. I want you to live in balance not in slavery.
Everything in creation has been made to rest. The soil will need to be rested. Your oxen and your horse will need rest too. Give your employees the day off. Do not make them work themselves into the ground. Use this day to honor me.
Honor your father and your mother. Therefore, treat your family with sanctity. Prize them highly. Care for them and show them affection. Treat them with honor and respect. Be aware that the family is an important part of who I have made you to be. When it is discarded and cast away, you will never be who I have made you to be.
It makes me sad to see men and women show contempt for their very family––the essence that defines their human connection, the root of their earthly existence. Children are a heritage from me. Families who honor me are families who operate effectively.
The way your children will learn to honor you is how you have shown honor to your parents. Forget about saying one thing and doing another. Honor them as you would be honored. Then, you will live long in the land that I intended for you.
Treat life with sanctity. Do not murder. I created you, fashioning you after my very image. Your life has been given dignity because your life reflects who I am. Therefore, if that is true for you, then it must be true for every man and women. When you snuff out the very life I gave, it is as if you have snuffed out me.
The ultimate insult that you could give me is to reject the my very nature by murdering another. Once you cross this line and use your power to destroy life, you have done your best to destroy what you have of me. Life is precious. Do not trade in the freedom to enjoy life for the bondage that will come when you deliberately choose to destroy life.
Treat marriage with sanctity. Do not commit adultery. The marriage between a man and a woman is intended for their mutual joy. The intimate bond they share should not be broken by a compulsion to be with another. Purify the marriage bed. Keep it holy. Spend your days keeping your promise to be faithful till you are parted by death.
Keep your body pure and free from the mess of sin. Husband, give yourself only to your wife. Wife, present yourself only to your husband.
Allow nothing to taint the purity of your intimate relationships. Find pleasure only in your spouse. Do not fill your mind with images of other women or other men. These graphic memories will destroy the purity of the joy you share. Do not reduce the gift of sexuality to a joke. Preserve it. Honor it. Protect it. Find the freedom to enjoy, not be a slave of it.
Treat your property with sanctity. Do not steal. Everything you have has been given to you by me. You have everything you need to do my will––nothing more, nothing less. What you do not have that I think you need will be provided for you when the time has come.
In the meantime, be a good steward of all that you own. Do not take what is not yours. Do not take what you have not earned. Focus on me and the things of this earth will take care of themselves. Never let the desire for stuff become a compulsion that rules your heart. Use things. Serve me only. Then, you will have freedom to enjoy all things, even that which you do not own.
Treat the truth with sanctity. Do not lie. Only speak the truth. May your heart be as my heart, filled with only that which is true. Never believe that your life will be easier by lying. It only destroys the freedom that I have given you.
When you lie, you trade in the freedom that comes with an honest mind for the bondage of a mind that is enslaved with deception. To believe anything other than the truth will only destroy you as each lie adds additional weight upon the load you will carry. Speak the truth and your load will be free.
Do not lie to your boss. He will never trust you with important responsibilities. Do not lie to your wife. Each lie will drive her further and further away from you. Do not lie to your friends. They will find others with which to share their lives. Tell the truth and live in the freedom I always intended for you to enjoy.
Treat your motives with sanctity. Do not covet. Take your eyes off of your neighbor’s stuff. Enjoy the things that I have given you. Take your eyes off of your neighbor’s wife. Find deep joy in the wife of your youth.
Be content with what you have. Be content with who you are. Be content with what I have designed you to do, called you to be. Enjoy the freedom of knowing that I have lovingly crafted and blessed you with gifts from above. Never desire something other than that freedom, for you will spend your days missing opportunity upon opportunity to enjoy the world I have given you.
I want to protect you from the lands that will enslave you. Sure, it may glitter and it may seem to be full of pleasure, but that is merely a facade for the desolation that lies within.
If you, however, have crossed those boundaries and have found yourself trapped in the prison of your sinful behavior, then . . .
• Admit you have a problem. If you will confess your sin, I will be faithful and just to forgive you of your sin. Are you willing to admit you have taken residence inside a land that you are unable to leave––a land with walls so high you cannot scale them?
• Allow healing to come to your life. I will forgive you. I will be the strength of your heart. I will never leave you or forsake you. I will go before you. I will be your God.
• See the wisdom of my ways. Follow them day and night. Tie them around your neck. Never forget them. Listen to them. Enjoy the life I have given you. Always stay in the land I have provided. Never desire to be a slave again.
Bottom line: I want you to look like me. Since you were created in my image, you will function best if you look like me. This is how you ought to act because it best reflects my character, my nature and my will.
I am a God of freedom. Be a people of freedom.
For not only will you find joy, but I will too!
Love, God––the One who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.by Pastor Doug
I am a pastor.
It is my job to be moral. I get paid to be a person of integrity. Professionally speaking, I must be committed to living righteously. Throwing aside my morality would be job suicide, the end of my career. I do not have the luxury of dichotomizing my private life from my public life. They must coexist harmoniously.
Regardless of how fair that expectation feels, I have an obligation to back up the message I proclaim with a suitable, complimentary lifestyle. I cannot say one thing on Sunday and live a different thing come Monday. I am not striving for perfection, just striving to live a life worthy of my calling.
My morality, however, goes beyond my profession. As a follower of God, I am called to be moral. If I identify myself with Him, I am called to live differently. Regardless of my ministerial duties, I have a vested interest in being moral. When I live ethically, I become a better man. I am at my best.
A concern for morality makes you a better person. When you are living within the boundaries of integrity, you function at your peak capacity. You are productive, focused and much better at doing what you do best. Morality isn’t just for men of the cloth. It is for all who want to experience life to it’s fullest. It should be an expectation of all in leadership.
So what about politicians?
Does their private life influence their ability to lead? Is it any of our business? Should we vote on the basis of a candidate’s character?
If a political office is best held by one who is both productive and focused, then it is also important that the person campaigning for the job has a high sense of morality. A troubled personal life, like it or not, will hamper their effectiveness as a leader.
A politician who adheres to ethical conduct finds himself free to lead effectively, not bound by an impossible standard of self-righteousness. Morality frees. Amoral behavior constrains.
When God gave us the Ten Commandments, He did so with the intention of simplifying our lives. There is incredible freedom found in living God’s way. Likewise, ignoring God’s advice only complicates one’s plight.
If an elected official has a record of living morally, he/she has a greater potential for increased effectiveness. Likewise, a scandalous private life binds the potential of a public leader. His/her commitment to duplicity erodes his/her effectiveness for public service. They may indeed fill the position with adequate competence, but they never live up to their God-given potential.
Here are a few examples of how an abandonment of God’s ways affect the way one leads:
Honor your father and your mother. A leader who publicly dishonors his/her father and mother is psychologically inferior to one who publicly honors his/her parents. The anger and bitterness directed towards immediate family cannot be overlooked while on the job. It stifles productivity.
You shall not commit adultery. You may not desire to know the details of a politician’s adulterous affair, but you can bet that the energy invested in the cover-up was taken away from the energy that should have been spent leading.
You shall not steal. Stealing is a rationalization that is made in order to compensate for the lack of some commodity in one’s life. An elected official who can do this type of mental–moral gymnastics is an official who cannot be trusted. If you cannot trust their integrity, you cannot be led by them. Their public service will be seen as fraudulent.
You shall not give false witness. Reckless use of information to destroy or falsely accuse a political enemy may win initial votes but it will, in the long run, deteriorate one’s perception of the truth. Without a handle on the truth, a leader wanders aimlessly, helping nobody at all.
Bottom line: morality matters. God’s moral criteria is not just a method to discriminate those of opposing beliefs, it is a practical, pragmatic way of filtering worth.
My vote is worth something. I choose to spend it on the one who is willing to be used to their God given potential.by Pastor Doug