MAKE A DIFFERENCE

And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” [Mark 9:35 (ESV)]

chicory - bee“Dream small. Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all. Just let Jesus use you where you are, one day at a time,” sang Josh Wilson. Reminding me that a tiny rock made Goliath fall and five loaves and two fish fed them all, he sang that it is simple moments that change the world. I thought of his song when I received an email from a local charity including the sentence, “We may not be able to change the world, but we can change the world for some people.”

Tomorrow is “Make a Difference Day,” an annual national community service event that has been held every fourth Saturday in October since 1992. The single purpose of this day is to improve the lives of others. In a way, it’s a nationwide day of dreaming small and changing the world for someone!

Volunteers from across the nation will participate. Teens in Plymouth, Michigan, will rake leaves and do outdoor work for seniors and the disabled while volunteer gardeners in Budd Lake, New Jersey, will be winterizing the community garden. Trees will be planted in Vancouver, Washington, volunteers in Fort Collins, Colorado, will be going door to door, swapping out incandescent light bulbs with free LED ones and, in Cincinnati, people will assemble and bag the ingredients for 150,000 meals. These are small dreams; none of them will change the world, but they will change some people’s lives.

Dranafile Bojaxhiu was dreaming small when the widow extended an open invitation to the city’s poor to dine with her family. She told her daughter Agnes, “Never eat a single mouthful unless you are sharing it with others,” When asked who their dinner guests were, she replied, “Some of them are our relations, but all of them are our people.” Dranafile wasn’t dreaming big but she was making a difference.

Dranafile’s daughter Agnes became a nun and moved to India. Better known as Mother Teresa, Agnes had no big dreams when she ventured into Calcutta’s slums; her goal was simply to aid “the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for.” Starting small with an open-air school and a home for the dying destitute, she founded the Missionaries of Charity (a community of twelve) and then established a leper colony, an orphanage, a nursing home, a family clinic and a string of mobile health clinics. By the time of her death in 1997, there were more than 4,000 Missionaries of Charity and thousands of lay volunteers. Her small dream has grown to over 600 foundations in 123 countries. Sometimes, small dreams can become big ones. Sadly, there is still poverty in India; Mother Teresa did not change the world but, like her mother, she changed some people’s lives.

Lord, show us how to change the world, one life at a time. Through loving acts of service, may we make a difference, not just tomorrow, but every day.

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. [Mother Teresa]

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. [Matthew 5:16 (ESV)]

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IT’S NOT OURS TO KEEP

When the poor and needy search for water and there is none, and their tongues are parched from thirst, then I, the Lord, will answer them. I, the God of Israel, will never abandon them. I will open up rivers for them on the high plateaus. I will give them fountains of water in the valleys. I will fill the desert with pools of water. Rivers fed by springs will flow across the parched ground. [Isaiah 41:17-18 (NLT)]

giant swallowtail butterflyYesterday, I wrote of God’s provision, yet I can’t help but wonder. If God promises His divine provision, why are there still people in need?

There was to be no permanent poverty in Israel. In the Old Testament, we find complex laws and social practices that were meant to ensure that no one lived in need. To eliminate food scarcity, every third year there was to be a special tithe of crops for the Levites and those at risk like foreigners, widows and orphans. The Israelites were to leave the edges of their fields unharvested and anything dropped during the harvest ungathered; this portion could be gleaned by the poor. There were laws against exploiting the vulnerable through usury or by demanding unreasonable collateral. Every seventh year was to be a Sabbath year when loans were forgiven and Hebrew slaves were released from servitude. The land would lay fallow and any produce that grew by itself was free to all. Additionally, in the Year of Jubilee, celebrated every fifty years, economic disparity was further minimized by returning all real estate (whether sold, mortgaged or leased) to its original owner.

The poor in the Bible were not much different than today’s poverty-stricken: the people without land or the economic, legal, or political resources to be self-sustaining. A diverse group of the marginalized, they were day laborers, subsistence farmers, indentured slaves, beggars, prostitutes, widows, resident aliens, the disabled and infirm. God’s vision wasn’t a welfare state but rather one that allowed families to have the opportunity to provide for themselves. The Sabbath and Jubilee years were a fresh start for those who found themselves in poverty. Unfortunately, the reproachful words of the prophets to Judah and Israel tell us that God’s laws were not obeyed.

The story is told of two businessmen. Like me, the first was troubled by the abject poverty that exists in the world today and wondered about God’s promise of provision. He said, “Someday, I hope to ask God why He allows poverty, famine, and injustice when He could do something about it.” The other man replied, “I’m afraid that God might ask me that very same question.”

Perhaps God has fulfilled His promise to provide by filling our wells with blessings. The problem is that we haven’t done our part by passing along His provision. Instead of letting His gifts flow through us to others, we’ve plugged the pipeline and are keeping His gifts for ourselves. We’ve been freed from the Old Testament laws but we haven’t been freed from the obligation to love our neighbors. Could we be holding the provision that God has promised? Could we be the answer to someone’s prayer? For those of us with water in our wells, perhaps it’s time turn on the faucet and let His blessings flow.

We are not cisterns made for hoarding, we are channels made for sharing. [Billy Graham]

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. [1 John 3:16-18 (NLT)]

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ON A SLIDING SCALE

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. [2 Corinthians 9:7 (ESV)]

Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you. [Deuteronomy 16:17 (ESV)]

mourning dovesIn the midst of all the tedious and repetitive regulations regarding sacrificial offerings in Leviticus, we find evidence of God’s love and mercy. For several sacrifices, a distinction was made between offering requirements for the wealthy and the poor. Called korban oleh v’yored, it was a sliding scale for sacrifice based on a person’s economic position. In Luke’s gospel, for example, we learn that Mary and Joseph brought two birds as their sacrifice after Jesus’ birth. Had the family been wealthier, they would have brought a one-year old lamb and a pigeon or dove and, had they been poorer, they would have brought only two quarts of choice flour.

The purpose of those sacrificial rituals in Leviticus was to strengthen man’s relationship with God, not to impoverish him. Our sacrifices are to be offered lovingly, humbly, obediently, joyfully, and willingly; that can’t be done if we can’t afford what we’re offering. When a Florida church embarked on a massive building program several years ago, the pastor asked the members to prayerfully reach deep into their pockets to pay for the new sanctuary. He then reminded them that the amount given would vary considerably among his parishioners. For one elderly woman, an extra twenty-five cents a week would constitute as great a sacrifice as a $25,000 check from a retired CEO. Each was asked to give only as he or she was able. This ancient sliding scale of sacrifice tells us that the pleasing aroma of sacrifice has nothing to do with the size of the sacrifice but rather with the heart that accompanies it.

The Magi arrived in regal robes and offered expensive gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus. There wasn’t a little drummer boy at the nativity but, had there been, the child playing his best “Pa rum pum pum pum” would have been as valuable a gift as those lavish ones. God in His grace does not discriminate against the poor or the rich. Moreover, let us never forget that, even more than our sacrifices, God wants our love and obedience.

You can always give without loving, but you can never love without giving. [Amy Carmichael]

Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. [1 Samuel 15:22 (ESV)]

And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. [Mark 12:33 (ESV)]

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YOUR MISSION

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. [Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT)]

dahliaIn 1978, Merck Research Laboratories was approached by a scientist who thought a drug he was developing to treat parasitic infections in animals might be useful in treating a parasitic infection in humans. Called onchocerciasis or river blindness, it is transmitted through the bite of black flies and had no known cure. The pharmaceutical company faced a dilemma. Since onchocerciasis is found only in third world areas, the people needing the medication could never afford to buy it. How could the company expend money to develop a drug they’d never be able to sell? Nevertheless, they did and, in 1987, Merck announced that, for as long as was necessary, they would give away the drug (Mectizan®) for the treatment of onchocerciasis to any country that needed it. Eleven years later, they expanded their commitment and started donating Mectizan® for the treatment of Lymphatic filariasis, a mosquito-transmitted disease which can develop into elephantiasis. Since 1987, more than a billion treatments have been donated to thirty-three countries and the World Health Organization forecasts that both diseases could be eradicated by 2020.

Typically, in business, if there’s no chance for profit, there’s no chance for the project. In the case of Mectizan®, however, Merck saw the company’s primary goal as getting the drug to the people who needed it rather than getting a return on their investment. This mindset goes back to a statement by George Merck in 1933 that the company’s mission was to develop scientific breakthroughs to benefit humanity. In 1950, he elaborated by saying, “Medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits.” Merck’s CEO in 1978, Dr. Roy Vagelos, further clarified the company’s mission by directing its scientists to put medical needs before profits and to think of their work as a quest to alleviate worldwide human disease and suffering.

Jesus gave us what’s known as the Great Commission; recently, our northern church wanted to clarify how it intended to fulfill that command. At a congregational meeting to formulate a mission statement, the story of Merck putting people before profit was shared to illustrate the importance of knowing our purpose and what we will or won’t do to achieve it. It’s not just churches, businesses or charitable foundations, however, that need to articulate their mission. “What is my objective? What have I been called to do and how will I do it?” are questions each of us should ask of ourselves and our families.

In that same 1950 speech, George Merck said, “The all-important question in research, which must be asked constantly, is: what is the right thing to do? … We cannot rest till the way has been found…to bring our finest achievement to everyone.” I’m not in medical research but Merck’s words apply to us all. What is the right thing to do? How can we bring our finest achievements to others? A good place to start is to ask two more questions: “What would Jesus do and how would He do it?”

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. [John Wesley]

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. … Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. [Romans 12:2,21 (NLT)]

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OUR STUFF

I had everything a man could desire! … Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. [Ecclesiastes 2:8b-10-11 (NLT)]

We all come to the end of our lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day we were born. We can’t take our riches with us. [Ecclesiastes 5:15 (NLT)]

chipmunkWhile reading Ecclesiastes, I thought of comedian George Carlin’s “Stuff” routine that was first performed for Comic Relief in 1986. In his monologue, Carlin made fun of our obsession with consumerism, the importance of stuff in our lives, and described our houses as places to keep our stuff while we go out and buy more even more of it! When we downsized eleven years ago, we got rid of all sorts of stuff. Yet, when I walked into our storage room recently, it looked like all that stuff had returned and brought along friends! Where did it come from and why did we ever think we needed it all?

The King of Israel, Solomon also was the King of Stuff. Denying himself nothing, he had 500 gold shields, an elaborate throne of gold and ivory, pure gold goblets and utensils, 12,000 cavalry horses and even more horses for his 4,000 chariots. Along with all of the gifts he received from other kingdoms, he took in the equivalent of over $1.1 billion a year in tribute and taxes. Every three years, his fleet of ships returned with more horses and mules, gold, silver, robes, ivory, apes and monkeys. He collected women as readily as the rest of his possessions and ended up with 700 wives and 300 concubines. With 1,000 women in his household, I’m sure there was a vast amount of stuff in the harem, as well. Yet, in spite of all that stuff, Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes are not the words of a happy or contented man.

Having lots of stuff becomes a burden; we must take care of it, insure it, worry about it, and find a place to put it. Some people have so much stuff that they hire professional organizers to sort it all out. In fact, a few of us have so much stuff that we must rent storage units for some of it!

Apparently, retailers don’t think we’ve collected nearly enough of their stuff so they fill our mail boxes with catalogues and our in-boxes with advertisements for even more of it. They want us to think that the new stuff is better than the old and that we can never have too much of it. Then, since we can’t take our stuff with us, we must decide who gets it when we’re gone. We write wills and put labels under the figurines, behind the pictures, or on the boxes. What we don’t understand is that, while they’ll be happy to get our money, our heirs probably don’t want our stuff. It’s meaningless to them; besides, most likely, they have too much stuff of their own.

Wealthy and wise, Solomon had lots of stuff but lacked contentment. Money can buy many things but it can’t buy joy, meaning or purpose. Contentment is not found in stuff but rather in our confidence in the sufficiency of God.

You say, “If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.” You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled. [Charles Haddon Spurgeon]

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. [1 Timothy 6:6-8 (NLT)]

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THE GATEWAY SIN

You must not covet your neighbor’s wife. You must not covet your neighbor’s house or land, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. [Deuteronomy 5:21 (NLT)]

roseIn spite of many states having legalized its use, countless studies suggest that marijuana is a “gateway drug” meaning that it may lead to the use of other stronger more addictive drugs. I’m not going to enter into that argument but I’d like to use the word “gateway” as it regards to sin. Just like marijuana (when compared to heroin or cocaine) seems innocuous, coveting (when compared to murder or stealing) seems like an insignificant sin. After all, who does it harm? No sin, however, is insignificant and every sin is an offense to God

While desiring God, wisdom, right living, and faith is good, the tenth commandment’s coveting is desiring what God doesn’t want us to have or what rightfully belongs to another. Masquerading as envy, jealousy, resentfulness, lust, longing, selfishness, greed, materialism, desire, craving, bitterness, and even wishful thinking, it is one of the easiest commandments to break. Just as a rose by any other name is still a rose, coveting (no matter what you call it) is still coveting and easily can lead to more sin. Coveting is a “gateway” sin because it can lead us deeper into the enemy’s darkness.

Consider Achan who disobeyed God’s direct command to take none of Jericho’s plunder for himself. Coveting the spoils of war, he stole a beautiful robe, 200 silver coins and more than a pound of gold. His coveting led not just to stealing but also to murder when 36 of his countrymen died in battle and his family was killed in punishment for his sin. David coveted his neighbor’s wife and then committed both adultery and murder to have her. Coveting Esau’s rightful blessing, Jacob stole it from his brother and failed to honor his father. King Ahab coveted the field of Naboth; when Naboth refused to sell it, Ahab’s covetous heart made him so sullen and angry that he refused to eat. His wife Jezebel then hatched a scheme in which two of her minions falsely accused Naboth of cursing both God and king; the man was stoned to death and Ahab claimed his field. Ahab’s coveting led to breaking the commandments about false witness, murder and misusing the name of the Lord. It would seem that when we want something that isn’t ours to have, we’re likely to break several other commandments to get it!

Indeed, coveting is a gateway sin!

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. [1 Timothy 6:6 (NLT)]

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