WHAT’S YOUR ORANGE?

“There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich. [Luke 18:22-23 (NLT)]

orange“What’s your orange?” the teacher asked her remote learning class. Before having them answer, she explained the “monkey trap.” In Southeast Asia, hunters capture monkeys by drilling a hole in a pumpkin. The hole is just large enough for a monkey’s hand but too small for his fist. They secure the pumpkin to a tree, put a piece of sweet juicy orange inside the gourd, then retreat and wait. Eventually, an unsuspecting monkey comes along, smells the orange, and reaches through that small hole into the pumpkin. Once he’s grabbed hold of the orange, however, his fist can’t get back through the same hole. The monkey pulls and pulls but can’t free his hand. While he’s struggling to pull out his orange-filled fist, hunters easily throw a net over him. Not understanding that he can’t have both his freedom and the orange, he loses them both. After telling this story, the teacher again asked her students, “What is your orange? What is it you can’t release?”

This lesson was part of an expanded on-line curriculum at my grand’s high school. Its purpose is to address the emotional issues encountered by the teens in this strange time of social distancing and on-line classes. Whether the “monkey trap” is an actual technique or simply a parable, its lesson applies to Christians as well as pandemic teens. Do we have an orange (or two)?

We’ve all asked God to save us from one predicament or another but, after promising we’ll do anything He asks, we often add a condition to that prayer and tell God not to ask us to give up the “orange.” We’re deep in debt but we tell God not to ask us to sell the boat or downsize the house. When our marriage is in trouble, we tell God not to ask us to give up the internet flirtation or the nights out with the guys. We’re having ethical challenges at work but tell God not to ask us to give up the well-paid position. Like the orange, some things are a whole lot easier to grab than to let go!

Like the monkey, we’re often held hostage by whatever our “orange” is: whether it’s alcohol, drugs, food, gambling or another addiction; an unhealthy relationship, money, possessions, or prestige; or emotions like resentment, worry, anger, arrogance, remorse, pain from past hurts, guilt, or self-doubt. Whatever we’re holding tightly in our heart keeps us from being truly free to enjoy the abundance and peace Jesus offers. Until we let go of that “orange,” there’s no room for God’s blessings.

The gospels tell of the rich young ruler who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ answer that he must give away all his wealth makes us all uncomfortable. Does God really expect us to give away everything? Giving away all we possess, however, isn’t a universal requirement and Jesus didn’t ask that of anybody else. What Jesus asked the man to do was to give up the thing that possessed him: his orange. That’s what He asks of us, as well. Every person has his own “orange;” we must recognize it for the trap it is, open our hands, and let it go. The rich young ruler’s “orange” was his wealth; what’s yours?

If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead. [William Law]

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. [Matthew 6:33 (NLT)]

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ESTATE PLANNING

Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. [1 Peter 1: 3b-4 (NLT)]

giraffe family -Serengeti - TanzaniaBack in March, when this pandemic began, people began thinking seriously about worst-case scenarios. Looking at the death tolls in other countries and seeing them rise in ours, many began scrambling to write their wills and end of life directives. By late April, one on-line estate planning platform reported a 223% increase in customers. When schools announced plans to resume in-person classes, that trend continued as many teachers added will writing to their back-to-school tasks.

Since we’re well into our seventies, my husband and I didn’t need a pandemic to remind us of our pending departure dates. Wanting to be good stewards of our financial blessings in both life and death, we’ve made arrangements and written our wills. Our lawyer wisely suggested that our end goal should be to have everyone in the family still speaking to one another when all is said and done. Unfortunately, even with a pandemic, many people fail to plan ahead for what we know will happen eventually to all of us. Sadly, their families end up squabbling over money, Uncle Joe’s war memorabilia, Grandma’s ring, or Sue’s Beanie Baby collection! By the time everything is resolved, the lawyers are the only ones who come out ahead and no one is speaking to anyone. Money rarely brings out the best in any of us.

Other than our financial assets (or debts, as the case may be) and a few possessions, what do we really leave to our children? Money and property are not the only legacy about which we should be concerned. Some things are far more important than cars, houses, insurance policies, or jewelry.

Perhaps we should be as concerned about our spiritual estate planning as we may be about our financial one. Unlike money, the quality of a spiritual bequest is far more important than its quantity. Good memories, an example of Christian living, wisdom, morals, love and good will are all more valuable than money or property. If we leave our children with humility, confidence, courage, hope, self-respect, the ability to laugh at themselves, and the desire to give and serve, we’ll have given them far more than money can buy.

The one thing we can’t leave them, however, is faith; that’s something they’ll have to find for themselves. We may have laid the groundwork by raising them as Christians but the choices they make are theirs alone. We can give them our prayers, good example, guidance, and love but they’ll have to do the rest on their own.

Heavenly Father, we give you our children—our heirs—and pray that they will become your heirs, as well. May they become heirs to the richness of your kingdom and glory.

I have now disposed of all my property to my family. There is one thing more I wish I could give them, and that is the Christian Religion. If they had that and I had not given them one shilling they would have been rich; and if they had not that and I had given them all the world, they would be poor. [Patrick Henry]

For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. [Romans 8:16-17 (NLT)]

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HIS CLOAK (Part 2 – Mark 10:46-52)

So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. [10:50-52 (NSRV)]

eastern bluebird

There is so much packed into the seven verse story of Bartimaeus that it justifies a closer look. Let’s back up just a few verses in Mark 10 to when, after reminding Jesus that they’d given up everything to follow Him, James and John asked for a favor. When Jesus inquired what they wanted, the disciplines said they desired privileged places in His coming Kingdom. In stark contrast, Bartimaeus didn’t ask a favor; instead he pled for mercy and asked only for his sight. The blind man got his request but the selfish disciples didn’t. If we have unfulfilled prayers, perhaps we should consider what we’re asking—are they favors for our advantage or pleas for God’s mercy?

If we back up a few more verses in Mark’s gospel, we come to when Jesus was just starting his journey toward Jerusalem and a young rich man approached Him. While he was sure he’d kept all the commandments, the man sensed something was missing so he asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus told him to sell his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and come follow Him, the man’s face fell in disappointment. Treasuring his possessions more than eternal life, he departed.

In another contrast, we have Bartimaeus, the blind beggar who followed Jesus immediately and without question. It’s easy to think the sightless beggar left nothing behind when he followed Jesus but we’d be wrong. Mark adds an interesting detail—when Jesus called to Bartimaeus, the man threw aside his cloak before jumping up and going to Him. That cloak, a wide vest reaching to the ankles, was far more than an outer garment worn during the day. A man’s cloak was so valuable that it could be used as collateral for a loan. Mosaic Law, however, prohibited a lender from keeping it overnight because a cloak often was the only shelter, bed, pillow, or blanket a man had at night. Bartimaeus’ cloak was more than a coat; it was his home. While begging, he would have been sitting on his cloak with its lower part spread out in front of him to collect any coins dropped his way.

Throwing aside his cloak was an act of faith. That piece of clothing (and whatever money may have been on it) was all Bartimaeus had and as valuable to the beggar as all the rich man’s possessions were to him. The moment Bartimaeus threw it aside, the cloak and money were as good as gone—either stolen or kicked aside along the road. Whether blind or sighted, any man would be in dire straits without a cloak, but Bartimaeus did what the rich man couldn’t and left all he had to follow Jesus!

Bartimaeus left his cloak, John and James left their father, Simon Peter and Andrew left their fishing nets, Matthew left a lucrative job as a publican, and Paul left a promising career as a Pharisee but the rich young man wanted to take his old life with him. Thinking that we can keep our old lives while following Jesus is a little like expecting to stay dry when we jump into the pool! It just can’t be done!

When God becomes your only source, you don’t need plan B or C. He is more than enough! [Buky Ojelabi] 

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. [Matthew 16:24-25 (NSRV)]

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LEADING THE HERD

sheepDo not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Come to your right mind, and sin no more. [1 Corinthians 15:33-34 (RSV)]

You’ve probably heard of herd mentality or herd behavior: when people’s natural desire to be part of the crowd affects their decisions. When herd behavior occurs, rather than relying on their own judgment, values, or natural instinct, people allow themselves to be influenced by the behavior of those around them. While copying what others are doing can be useful at times (it gets our garbage out the right nights), challenges arise when our personal beliefs contradict what the crowd is doing.

A few years ago, when we were in Chicago, my husband wanted to purchase his favorite cheddar/caramel popcorn mix at Garrett’s. While he waited in line inside the crowded store, I remained outside. The queue of customers eventually extended out the door and partway down the street. When a couple visiting from France asked me why people were waiting, my reply of popcorn surprised them. Telling me they could understand lining up for chocolate or ice cream but certainly not popcorn, I expected they’d continue walking. Instead, they decided to follow the herd and joined the long line.

Even though that couple weren’t fans of popcorn, they joined the herd, but do we only follow the herd when there are more of them than us? According to an experiment done in 2008 at Leeds University, the answer is no. 200 subjects were told to walk in a totally random path around a large hall without communicating with one another in any way. Unknown to them, however, a group of walkers had been given detailed instructions on where to walk. In a short time, the “random” walkers started following the ones who seemed to know where they were going and a long snake-like line formed. When the experiment was over, those “random” walkers admitted not realizing that they’d become followers. The researchers found that it took only 5% of the people to walk purposefully to get the other 95% to follow. Apparently humans, like sheep and birds, will subconsciously gather in flocks and follow a minority if that minority appears to know what they’re doing!

Scripture warns that bad company can corrupt good character but, if we consider herd behavior, could good company improve bad character? Believing their findings could be used when planning traffic flow in emergencies and crisis situations, the Leeds’ researchers called the people who were followed “informed individuals.” The world appears to be in crisis and, as Christ’s followers, we are the “informed individuals.” Could this be our call to lead the herd?

Jesus left His church in the hands of just a few followers and yet there were over 3,000 believers by the first Pentecost and the church continued to grow rapidly. In those early years, Christianity was illegal, believers were persecuted, and there were no church buildings, public ceremonies, famed evangelists, or mass media. Nevertheless, the church steadily expanded in the first 300 years. It spread because people saw the lives of Christ’s followers: that Christians walked with a sense of purpose in a different and better way. Knowing the route to take, the informed minority led the herd to Jesus. Do we walk as “informed individuals” or like someone with a bumper sticker reading, “Don’t follow me—I’m lost, too!”  Let our lights shine brightly that we might lead the way to the Lord!

We formerly rejoiced in uncleanness of life, but now love only chastity; before we used the magic arts, but now dedicate ourselves to the true and unbegotten God; before we loved money and possessions more than anything, but now we share what we have and to everyone who is in need; before we hated one another and killed one another and would not eat with those of another race, but now since the manifestation of Christ, we have come to a common life and pray for our enemies and try to win over those who hate us without just cause. [Justin Martyr describing Christians to Emperor Antoninus Pius in 153 AD]

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. [Matthew 5:14-16 (RSV)]

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. [Philippians 2:14-15 (RSV)]

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IT’S NOT FOUND UNDER THE SUN

I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind. … So I came to hate life because everything done here under the sun is so troubling. Everything is meaningless—like chasing the wind. [Ecclesiastes 1:14, 2:17 (NLT)]

queen butterfly

The story is told of a great king who ruled a large prosperous kingdom. Rich, powerful and considered wise, he lived in a splendid castle, was attended to by many servants, and surrounded by nobles and beautiful women. Lacking nothing, he drank only the most exquisite wine and ate only the most delectable food. The king, however, never felt content. Even though he kept his servants busy searching for more gorgeous flowers for his garden, better chefs for his kitchen, finer tailors for his robes, faster horses for his stable, and larger rubies for his crown, true happiness and peace escaped him.

Despairing of ever feeling content, the king finally sent his servants in search of the happiest man in the kingdom whose coat they were to bring back to the castle. The discontented monarch was sure that, by possessing the coat of that happy man, he finally would find peace and contentment. Although the royal servants searched high and low, they returned empty-handed to the king. When he asked why they couldn’t find the happiest man, one servant hesitantly admitted to finding him. When the angry king demanded, “Then why didn’t you bring me his coat?” the servant meekly replied, “Because he has no coat!”

Although God gave Solomon the gift of wisdom early in his kingship, that wisdom didn’t prevent him from ignoring the advice of his father (David), making poor choices, filling his life with worldly goods, and disobeying God. Like burn ointment or hand sanitizer, even Solomon’s wisdom was useless when not applied! Filled with regret at the end of his life, Solomon used the word “meaningless” at least forty times in Ecclesiastes. With its message, Solomon wanted to spare future generations the bitter lesson that life only lived “under the sun” is meaningless and empty; the meaning of life cannot be found apart from God.

If the king in my story had read Ecclesiastes, he would have known that security, contentment, and happiness will never be found by wearing the coat of a happy man. They can’t be found in wealth like Solomon’s, possessions, achievements, learning, power or pleasure. The last chapter of Ecclesiastes, however, tells us how they can be found: by seeking our fulfillment “above the sun” in God. We don’t need the wisdom of Solomon to know that true contentment, peace and even joy can be found only in a relationship with God.

We must learn to live on the heavenly side and look at things from above. To contemplate all things as God sees them, as Christ beholds them, overcomes sin, defies Satan, dissolves perplexities, lifts us above trials, separates us from the world and conquers fear of death. [A.B. Simpson]

Remember your Creator now while you are young, before the cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. … Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. [Ecclesiastes 12:6a,13 (NLT)]

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FEELING GUILTY

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! [Deuteronomy 32:4 (NLT)]

For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose. [Exodus 33:19b (NLT)]

sunflowerShe washes her hands with soap and water but, doubting the brown liquid coming from the faucet (water that’s unsafe to drink) could rid her hands of germs, my friend also uses hand sanitizer. She’s not in a third world country but at a Native American pueblo less than a half hour from a major American city. One third of its residents live in “poverty” and the rest aren’t much better. Several generations live together in overcrowded homes, no one has appliances like washers, dryers or dishwashers, and cell service is iffy at best. In spite of all they lack, the people she meets are kind and generous. Never apologetic for their homes, they welcome her and always offer food and bottled water; proud of their heritage, they invite her to their feasts. Serving this indigenous nation in a medical capacity, she tries to shake off the feeling of guilt as she pulls into her driveway. She knows that her ethnicity is much of the reason she enjoys a life easier than theirs.

The next day, she visits a juvenile detention center. In spite of its name, it’s a prison. The youth incarcerated there have committed serious crimes and many will move into the adult prison when old enough. She tries not to look at their criminal records but she can’t help seeing their troubled histories. In most cases, they are from broken homes or victims of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse. Some were given drugs and alcohol or turning tricks as young children. The dysfunction in their families makes the Gallaghers on Shameless look functional. My friend recognizes how different her life would have been had she not been born into the family God gave her. She knows she didn’t deserve her good childhood any more than those youngsters deserved their bad ones and she again feels a pang of guilt!

I understand my friend’s feelings; she is not alone. We’ve all thought, “There, but for the grace of God go I!” It’s often easier to feel forgiven and free of guilt for our sins than not to feel guilty for God’s blessings. While both forgiveness and blessed circumstances are undeserved—all believers get the one but not all believers get the other. God’s blessings seem inequitable at best; some people face seemingly endless obstacles and crises while others seem to breeze through life with only minor setbacks. It’s not just that bad things happen to good people and good things to bad but that we don’t all start out from a level playing field. Life, however, is not fair; if it were, Jesus never would have died for our sins!

The parable of the gracious landowner tells us that God is sovereign, righteous, and free to dispense His blessings any way he wants. Some inequities can be part of God’s design; for example, even before they were born, God chose Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau. Most inequities, however, are because we live in a world with sin: one cursed with things like disease, prejudice, deception, pain, poverty, defect, injury, hate, suffering, and poor decisions.

We’re told to be like children and (whether or not they deserve it) I’ve never heard any child say, “You shouldn’t have!” when receiving a gift. Blessings should only generate thanks and praise. We always should be humble about God’s gifts but never ashamed of them. Yet, many of us feel guilty for our undeserved blessings and then even guiltier for feeling that way! Guilt of any kind is a gift from Satan, the accuser, and one we’re not meant to keep! Let us replace any guilt with gratitude.

The book of Job makes it abundantly clear that we will never understand the “why” of God’s ways. Instead of feeling guilty about our blessings and wondering why we’ve been given the life we have, let us accept it with joy. Our task is to be good and faithful stewards both by using our blessings wisely and by redistributing them to others. My friend does that every time she visits the pueblo or prison and brings both her medical training and the light of Jesus with her. We should only feel guilty about our blessings if we’re hoarding them rather than giving them away!

Nobody has a right to take credit for what he or she was born with—only for what they have done with it. [Sydney J. Harris]

Who and what you now are is a gift from God in King Jesus, who has become for us God’s wisdom – and righteousness, sanctification and redemption as well; so that, as the Bible puts it, “Anyone who boasts should boast in the Lord.” [1 Corinthians 1:30-31 (NTE)]

What about people who are rich in this present world? Tell them not to think of themselves too highly, and to set their hopes, not on something so uncertain as riches, but on the God who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous and eager to share. That way, they will treasure up for themselves a good foundation for the future, and thereby come to possess the life which really is life. [1 Timothy 6:17-19 (NTE)]

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