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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ACCURATE SCALES

The Lord detests the use of dishonest scales, but he delights in accurate weights. [Proverbs 11:1 (NLT)]

The Lord demands accurate scales and balances; he sets the standards for fairness. [Proverbs 16:11 (NLT)]

Scales of Justice

Unless we’re butchers, greengrocers, goldsmiths, or grain merchants, we probably don’t have occasion to cheat anyone by short weighting them, so what do these words about dishonest scales mean to us? But, then I consider the scales of justice: one of the oldest and most familiar symbols associated with law. Those scales represent the impartial weighing of two sides of a question. Perhaps, these proverbs are about far more than cheating someone out of a few ounces of lamb or corn.

Just because we don’t put our thumb on the scale or cheat on our income taxes doesn’t necessarily mean we’re using honest weights. How fair are we when we have to weigh our options? Are we impartial when we consider a course of action? Do we find plenty of time for ourselves but not enough for others? How objective are we when we deal with people? Do those who are more attractive, wealthier, more fun or better educated have more importance to us? Does it tip the scales when someone can return a favor or do something for us? Do we give the benefit of the doubt to certain people and not to others? Do we prejudge people based on their race, accent, clothing, age, or position? Are we as polite and understanding to those who serve us as we are to those we serve? Do we hold ourselves to a different standard than that we hold for others? Do we readily overlook our poor behavior when we wouldn’t tolerate that same behavior in someone else? Do we love some neighbors more than others or more freely extend mercy and kindness to certain people? When we buy something do we expect full disclosure but say, “buyer beware,” when we sell it? Do we correct the check when it’s in the restaurant’s favor but leave well enough alone when it’s in ours? Do our ethics and morals change with the situation or the people present? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, we’ve been using dishonest scales!

The prophets Amos and Micah pronounced judgment on Israel for their lack of social justice, theft, exploitation, corruption, violence, bribery, and unethical business practices. They used dishonest weights; would the prophets say the same of us?

Lord, forgive us when we are false to you, others and ourselves. Free us from bias, dishonesty, and double standards. Make us worthy of your love and the trust that is given to us.

You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him. [James D. Miles Allison]

The Lord detests double standards; he is not pleased by dishonest scales. [Proverbs 20:23 (NLT)]

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SACRIFICES

I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings. [Hosea 6:6 (NLT)]

And the King will say, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” [Matthew 25:40 (NLT)]

little blue heronA 2013 United Healthcare Group study found that volunteering is linked to better physical, mental and emotional health. Apparently it reduces stress, brings people together, promotes personal growth and self-esteem, strengthens our sense of community, and helps us learn new skills. Something their study did not mention is that volunteering is an act of worship and sacrifice. A sacrifice is an offering to God and every time we sacrifice time, talents, or resources by doing for His Kingdom, we are worshipping Him.

Because Jesus was the perfect and final sacrifice when He died for our sins, we no longer bring pigeons or sheep to God’s altar. Rather than dead animal sacrifices, we offer ourselves as living sacrifices, not to atone for sins but to worship our Lord. When we drop that envelope in the offering plate, give a dollar to a street person, write a check to a charity, or bring groceries to the food pantry, we’re really not giving to the church, homeless, Red Cross, or the hungry; we’re giving to God. When we lift a hammer at a Habitat home, sort clothes at the charity resale shop, pack lunches for the migrant workers, give someone a ride to church, visit the ill or assist at Sunday school, we are worshipping God with our service. Our sacrifice of resources, time, and talent is as much an act of worship as singing hymns or offering prayers of praise and thanksgiving.

The Old Testament often spoke of God being pleased with the aroma of a sacrifice. While our New Testament sacrifices are not burned on an altar and have no aroma, I think God finds them just as pleasing to His senses. When those ancient sacrifices were not the first and best or were accompanied by a bad attitude, God found a stench to them. It would seem to follow that when our Christian sacrifices are offered begrudgingly or we fail to give the best we can, our hypocrisy will cause them to stink, as well.

Let us worship the Lord with our hearts and hands as well as our voices! Let us joyfully worship Him with service as well as with song!

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. [Romans 12:1 (NLT)]

Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God. [Hebrews 13:15-16 (NLT)]

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SERVE ONLY ONE MASTER (Naaman – Part 3)

Those who long to be rich, however, stumble into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains. [1 Timothy 6:9-10 (NET)]

magpieIn the story of Naaman, along with the faithful but nameless servant girl, we have a scoundrel servant in Gehazi. He worked for Elisha and it must have irked him to see the prophet refuse Naaman’s offerings of gold, silver and clothing (worth something in the neighborhood of $2 million today). I imagine he was thinking how foolish it was to send that wealth back to Aram. After eyeing those riches, Gehazi wanted some for himself. Elisha would never know, so what would be the harm?

Gehazi followed after Naaman and concocted a story that Elisha would like two talents of silver (about 75 pounds) and two sets of clothing for two young prophets who had just arrived. More than happy to find a way to repay Elisha, Naaman offered twice that amount; Gehazi returned home with his ill-gotten gains and hid them. When Elisha asked where he’d been, he foolishly lied to his master. The prophet, however, was not deceived and told his servant that it was a time for worship, not a time for financial gain, and that Gehazi would be afflicted with Naaman’s leprosy forever. Gehazi had believed those riches promised power, comfort and luxury; what they actually delivered was life as an outcast and untouchable.

Gehazi’s story reminds us that God’s miracles cannot be brought and that God’s power in our lives is not for personal enrichment or financial gain. Gehazi tried to serve both Elisha and avarice; his story illustrates that we are unable to serve both God and mammon.

 Money is in some respects life’s fire: it is a very excellent servant, but a terrible master. [P. T. Barnum]

 There is nothing wrong with men possessing riches. The wrong comes when riches possess men. [Billy Graham]

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. [Matthew 6:24 (NET)]

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