Thursday, November 20, 2008

A piece of the pie

It’s not even Thanksgiving yet but we’ve already had plenty of folks lining up at the table this week trying to get their piece of the federal bailout pie. It was quite disheartening to hear that the CEOs of the big three car companies didn’t have enough sense to realize that travelling to DC by private jet at a cost of around $20,000 a piece probably wasn’t the best PR move one could make when asking for a $25 billion dollar loan from taxpayers. A first class seat on a commercial flight from Detroit to D.C. would have been around $800, not only monetarily less expense but a whole lot less costly in the court of public opinion. I wonder at what point flying commercial stopped being good enough for these three guys? At what point did life require flying on a private jet to be complete? Do they now have enough? Obviously not, now they need $25 billion more of your money and mine.

Contentedness is the art of being satisfied with what we have or even with less than what we have if that's what's required. Learning to be content is a tough lesson even for us non-CEOs. We have so much, but often continue to focus upon the things we do not have. We think, “I know I have this car. It runs. It’s paid for (or almost paid for). It’s ok, but if I just had that car, then I’d really be happy” Or perhaps we lament “I have this job. It’s alright, but if I just had that job, then everything would be better.” Maybe such thinking even invades church life: “I know our church is doing ok today, but if we just had that program, then we’d really be on our way.” We’re thankful for what we have but think true happiness resides right around the corner.

Life should have taught us already that what we need will never be found around the next corner. I mean, has anyone ever found happiness around the next corner? How could they? The next corner by its very nature is always out of our reach. No, if happiness or better yet contentedness is to be found, it must be found today. Where do we find enough for today? In God alone. A song by the band Switchfoot prayerfully requests of the Lord, “Let me know that you love me and let that be enough.” One of the prophets puts the sentiment this way, “I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him’” (Lamentations 3:24). Life with God teaches us to differentiate between what we think will make us happy and what will really make us whole. Jobs, things, even people come and go, but the Lord can be ours forever. So, as you dole out the portions of your mashed potatoes, stuffing, and turkey this week., pause to thank God for the countless blessings he has already given you. Then take a moment to confess to him that regardless of the size of your piece of the pie, with the Lord as your portion, you are confident that you will always have enough.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” – 2 Peter 1:3.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What would you do with $46 billion?

What could the church in America do with an extra $46 billion? That’s how much extra money the authors of the new book, Passing the Plate, say the church would have if just the “committed Christians” tithed (they define committed Christians as those who attend church at least a few times a month). For starters, notes Ron Sider who recently reviewed the book for Books & Culture, the church could send 150,000 new missionaries next year. Or they could decide to provide theological training for 50,000 pastors in the developing world. Or perhaps they might decide to provide food, clothing and shelter for all 6,500,000 current refugees in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East combined. Or they might decide to sponsor 20 million needy children worldwide. When I think of the story of the loaves and fishes, I think, who knows, if we simply gave what we had, Christ might take that, bless it, break it, and give it out in such a way that we could do everything on the authors’ list.

When I think of God's judgment as outlined in passages like Matthew 25 and realize that God often judges our sins of omission more harshly than our sins of commission - I shudder to think what judgment will fall on a people who have simply failed to share $46 billion with the least of these in this world. People often ask why God allows so much suffering to exist in the world. We might start by asking why do we? What suffering might be alleviated if just the church in American began to give in generous ways? I attended the Baptist General Convention of Texas Annual Meeting earlier in the week and one of the challenges coming out of the convention was to more than double the Offering for World Hunger this next year to $2 million dollars (this is the offering we take up at the door on the way out of church on Sundays in which we observe the Lord’s Supper). What would it take to achieve this goal? Have every Baptist worshiper in Texas give just $1 dollar next week. That’s it. A one Sunday offering where everyone gives a dollar would meet this “bold” goal. Truth be told, Texas Baptists should be giving $10 million, $20 million, $100 million to fight world hunger.

Our church is a generous church. Very likely, for the second year in a row, we will set a new record for offerings received. God has used these offerings in a variety of marvelous ways. Meals have been served to the hungry, visits have been made to the prisoner, care has been extended to the hurting. The gospel has been taught and modeled to hundreds of people in San Angelo and beyond. That beyond has included just this past year, Mexico, Costa Rica, Bolivia, and Ethiopia. We’ll give away through Cooperative giving, through the Wallers’ Ministry, through other partnership ministries and designated gifts, over $300,000 to ministries outside the “walls” of our own church. And yet, I wonder, what else might have happened, where else might we have gone, if we as a church collectively tithed?

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough to receive it” – Malachi 3:10.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

More choices to make

Whether you are excited or disappointed with the election’s outcome we must all face the truth that just because the voting is over doesn’t mean there aren’t choices still to be made. Voting alone does not mark the grand total of our responsibility as citizens of the United States. It certainly doesn’t stand as the only choice necessary for those of us who also claim to be citizens of a heavenly kingdom.

Some other decisions we must now make –

In relating to my opponents, will I choose kindness or mean-spiritedness? If my guy won, can I be gracious in victory? If my guy lost, can I be gracious in defeat? Can I forgive the hurts caused during this election? “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

In relating to our new president-elect, will we as Christians do more than simply give lip service to the idea of praying for our leaders? The presidency is a complex and dangerous job. The pressures Obama faces are unimaginable. Whether or not we’re excited by his election or disappointed by it, he needs more than our emotions. He needs our prayers. “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

In relating to God, will we put our hope in men or in God alone? While we are to pray for our leaders and wish for them the very best (for when they succeed, we succeed), as Christians we continually remember that our ultimate hope, our redemption, our salvation, comes from Christ alone. As Paul put it in his letter to the Colossians:

We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.

“He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he's there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross
” (Colossians 1:15-20 The Message).