RICH BEYOND BELIEF

wild geraniumYou know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich. [2 Corinthians 8:9 (NLT)]

Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. [John 10:9-11 (NLT)]

Psst! I’m rich but, please, don’t report me to the IRS. If you tell them, they’ll want their ever-increasing percentage and it’s simply nor theirs to take. The riches I have won’t pay politicians’ salaries, build highways, or purchase helicopters. My true wealth has nothing to do with bank balances, investment strategies, crypto-currency, or real estate holdings. It can’t be held in a bank or brokerage account nor can it be spent at Saks or on Amazon. Better yet, my riches are never-ending; I simply can’t run out of them!

I have a sense of peace that far surpasses anything one gets from having enormous assets at Fidelity or Charles Schwab. I have a joy far greater than one could ever get from being listed as one of Forbes magazine’s richest people. I have a better future than someone possessing a hefty IRA or annuity fund. I am loved better and forgiven more than the richest person could be by his ever-hopeful heirs. Indeed, I am blessed beyond belief.

You see, I’m enjoying the riches that come from a relationship with God. Moreover, I don’t have to concern myself with the Dow Jones average, fret about P/E ratios, read Barron’s or The Economist, or worry about capital gains or volatile markets. All I have to do is realize my need for God, admit my sinfulness, and receive Jesus Christ as my Savior.

My faith isn’t in the dollar, Bitcoin, or yen; my faith is in the Lord. Rather than regularly calling my broker, I keep in touch with God through daily prayer. Instead of poring over The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg Businessweek, I regularly read God’s word. Rather than listening to and following my financial advisor’s advice, I listen to (and obey) the voice of the Holy Spirit. Instead of having servants, however, I am expected to serve, but it is a small price to pay. If I do all of that, not only will I maintain the riches I already have, but my riches will continue to increase (and all with no tax consequences)!

Want to be rich? Count your blessings! [sign in front of a local church]

It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich or poor according to what he is, not according to what he has. [Henry Ward Beecher]

The blessing of the Lord makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow with it. [Proverbs 10:22 (NLT)]

Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything. [2 Corinthians 6:10 (NLT)]

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TRULY FREE – INDEPENDENCE DAY 2021

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered, “We are Abraham’s children, and we have never been anyone’s slaves. So why do you say we will be free?” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, everyone who lives in sin is a slave to sin. A slave does not stay with a family forever, but a son belongs to the family forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be truly free” [John 8:32-36 (NCV)]

paradeWhile the Jews to whom Jesus was speaking were thinking of political freedom and enslavement to people, Jesus was speaking of spiritual freedom and the enslavement of people to sin. Yet, even then, the Jews were wrong. They’d forgotten about being Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt; being captives of the Moabites, Canaanites, Philistines, Midianites, Mesopotamians, and Ammonites during the time of the Judges; their Babylonian exile; Persian rule; Alexander the Great; the Ptolemies and Seleucids; and Rome’s occupation of their homeland. They hadn’t had freedom from foreign domination for centuries. Jesus’ answer, however, made it clear that He was speaking of spiritual freedom. His listeners’ hope for spiritual freedom wouldn’t be found in their ancestry; it would be found in Him—He was the Son who could set them free.

This weekend we will observe our nation’s Independence Day and celebrate the many freedoms we enjoy in this nation. Families and friends will gather for various parades, picnics, band concerts, carnivals, chicken roasts, and fireworks. Let us not make the same mistake the people of Judah did by thinking of ourselves as free when we’re not! While we may live in a nation of freedom, without Christ, we will never truly be free men or women. We won’t be free because, no matter where we live, we still will be slaves to sin.

As thankful as I am for the patriots who made this great nation a reality, I am even more thankful for Jesus and his small crew of apostles who made it possible for us to live in true freedom! The Liberty Bell rang out for our nation’s freedom but the cross gave us our spiritual freedom—freedom from bondage to sin and the freedom to serve God.

As we enjoy the fireworks and patriotic music tonight, let’s remember to thank God both for the freedom we enjoy in our nation and, more important, for the freedom we enjoy in our hearts and souls.

We lift up our hearts, O God, on this day of celebration in gratitude for the gift of being Americans. We rejoice with all those who share in the great dream of freedom and dignity for all. With flags and feasting, with family and friends we salute those who have sacrificed that we might have the opportunity to bring to fulfillment our many God-given gifts. … Come, O gracious God, who led your children Israel from slavery, keep us free from all that might hold us in bondage. Bless our country and join our simple celebration that we may praise you, our Source of freedom, the One in whom we place our trust. [Father Edward Hays, “A Pilgrim’s Almanac”]

The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. [2 Corinthians 3:17 (NCV)]

Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his very own. [Psalm 33:12 (NCV)]

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THE ONE HE LOVES – Part 1

In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft. [Deuteronomy 32:10-11 (NIV)]

eagleA friend once asked her mother which of her children was the favorite. I can’t imagine making such a query, wanting to hear the answer, or how I’d respond to the same question. Since I can’t even pick my favorite color, I certainly couldn’t pick my favorite child. Is it the one with the over-the-top personality who not only could sell ice cubes to Eskimos but convince them to double their order because of a possible shortage? Is my favorite the adventurous one with the wonderfully quirky sense of humor and a mind that puts Wikipedia to shame? Is my favorite the thoughtful child—the one whose faith, strength, and patience rival that of Job? If they were beverages, one child would be a doppio espresso; another spiced chai with ginger, cardamom, allspice, cinnamon and cloves; while the third would be calming chamomile tea with a touch of honey. Like those beverages, each of my children is interesting, pleasant, and delightfully unique. One challenged me, one grieved me, and one worried me. Do I love them less because of that? Absolutely not! While I love them equally, because they have been blessed with different personalities and abilities, I don’t always treat them the same. Nevertheless, I love all three of them, just each in their own special way!

When my father called me the “apple of his eye,” I felt precious, treasured, and loved. I realize now that he never used that phrase within earshot of my siblings and suspect he used the same term of endearment in private with them. While there probably were times he liked one of us more than the others, I think we each were the apple of his eye in our own special way.

The Apostle John seemed to think he was the apple of Jesus’ eye. In his gospel, John refers to himself as “the disciple Jesus loved.” In the only other gospel written by one of the disciples, Matthew always refers to himself by name. I suspect the difference in how these men referred to themselves has far more to do with their writing style than with whether or not they felt loved. Granted, Jesus had his inner circle—John, Peter and James—but I don’t think that means He loved one disciple more than the next.

Indeed, John was the apple of Jesus’ eye—but so were Matthew, doubtful Thomas, Simon the Zealot, impulsive Peter, prayerful Mary, busy Martha, the woman at the well, and even the repentant thief on the cross. Because each was unique, they weren’t always treated the same but, without a doubt, each was loved and all were the “apple of his eye.” When we accepted Christ, God adopted us into His family and each of us, in our own special way, became His favored and much-loved child and the apple of His eye. Like John, every one of us is the disciple Jesus loves!

For God does not show favoritism. [Romans 2:11 (NIV)]

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. [Galatians 3:26-29 (NIV)]

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IT’S OKAY

Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything. [2 Corinthians 6:10 (NLT)]

lilac breasted rollerToday’s email contained a meme of that lovable loser Charlie Brown with the caption: “The smile on my face doesn’t mean my life is perfect. It means I appreciate what I have and what I have been blessed with. I choose to be happy.” The meme reminded me of words spoken by Jane Marczweski when she appeared on America’s Got Talent last week: “You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.” Known as Nightbirde, the 30-year-old vocalist sang an original song called “It’s Okay” and received the “golden buzzer” from judge Simon Cowell. She said she wrote the song as a reminder that, “You can be happy and also be going through something really hard at the same time—you don’t have to pick one or the other.”

The young woman knows what she’s talking about. After being treated for breast cancer in 2017, numerous tumors in her lungs, liver, nymph nodes, ribs, and spine were discovered in December of 2019. The overwhelming diagnosis of terminal cancer came with the prognosis of six months to live and only a 2% chance of survival. But, as she optimistically says, “2% is not zero. 2% is something and I wish people knew how amazing it is.” Although declared “cancer-free” after her second battle with cancer, she recently was diagnosed with this terrible disease a third time. At the time of her audition, she had “some cancer” in her lungs, spine and liver. Although Jane received more treatment after the audition, it is too early to know the results. But, as she so aptly puts it, “2% is not zero!”

As Christians, we shouldn’t need a cartoon character meme or even an amazing young woman’s example to remind us that circumstances need not determine our state of mind. Regardless of what we happen to be going through, as Christians, we know we are blessed every day in every way. Faith is trusting God’s plan, as inexplicable (and unpleasant) it may be. Faith is being able to smile in the midst of pain because we know that, in spite of our anguish, God loves us. Faith is being able to rejoice in the Lord regardless of what He throws at us because we know that we are not alone. As Christians, we know that faith is not about everything turning out okay; faith is about being okay regardless of how things turn out! Faith is being able to echo the words of Job: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” [1:21]

But here’s one thing I do know: when it comes to pain, God isn’t often in the business of taking it away. Instead, he adds to it. He is more of a giver than a taker. He doesn’t take away my darkness, he adds light. He doesn’t spare me of thirst, he brings water. He doesn’t cure my loneliness, he comes near. … And I guess that means I have all the more reason to say thank you, because God is drawing near to me. [Jane Marczweski (Nightbirde)]

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. … You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. [1 Peter 1:6,8 (NLT)]

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)]

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IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5: 18 (NLT)]

With his words, the Apostle Paul doesn’t give us any exceptions—we are to give thanks in all circumstance (rather than some or most and certainly not just in the ones we like)! Right now, however, I’m not feeling particularly thankful. In the span of a week’s time, two dear friends died—men that were like brothers to us. Distance and COVID meant that we couldn’t even grieve in person with their families. As I sit here tearfully, I realize that in the past eighteen months a dozen people who were important parts of our lives are no longer with us. Grief weighs heavy on my heart. When I consider my prayer list and the people on it who are struggling with the devastating aftereffects of a stroke or suffering from cancer, Parkinson’s, chronic pain, dementia, and heart failure, I realize that number will soon grow. I want to stomp my feet and shout at God that it’s not fair and ask Him how He expects me to give thanks!

As a Christian, I know I should be in a permanent state of thanksgiving for God’s grace in my salvation and I am thankful for that. It’s things like the suffering and loss in life that pose the problem for me. I should be reassured by the words of Romans 8:28 that, “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” In theory, I know that even in the worst of circumstances, God can take a bad thing and make it work for a good purpose. I know He is in full control of all of life’s happenings and that He can put all of those horrible events together to achieve a beautiful God-designed purpose. Nevertheless, that knowledge is of little comfort to those who mourn. Finding comfort in Paul’s words is a great deal harder than repeating them.

That David could say he was “worn out from sobbing” and his vision was “blurred from grief,” [Psalm 6:7-6] tells me that neither grief nor calling out to God in sorrow means a loss of faith; sorrow is an unavoidable part of life. One thing that frequently keeps us from giving thanks in our grief is that pesky question of “why?” I’ve written enough about Job to know that I have no business asking why and that I’ll never know the answer. Yet, even knowing God’s reasons wouldn’t take away the sense of loss or make the grief disappear.

Where do we find the ability to give thanks? Perhaps by looking more closely at the Apostle’s words. Paul tells us to be thankful in everything not for everything. While there’s a fine line between the two, we don’t have to be thankful for things like heart attacks, strokes, car accidents, COVID, or cancer but we do need to have a grateful heart in the midst of those afflictions.

Giving thanks in all circumstances requires a change of heart. Without that change, we might stop crying, start smiling, and even laugh at times but something sour will begin growing in our hearts—bitterness, anger, resentment, or self-pity. Giving thanks is the only way out of the pit of grief; yet it seems impossible until I remember the simple truth that God is good. Regardless of the circumstances, He remains the same loving, wise, and good God that He always has been.

Pauls’ admonition to give thanks in all circumstances follows two other directives—to rejoice always and to pray continually. In prayer, I asked the Spirit for guidance, strength and peace and then listed the names of those for whom I mourn. Thinking of each one by name, I rejoiced in the privilege of having those beautiful people in my life—to have talked, worked, agreed, and disagreed with them—to have touched and been touched by them—to have both taught and learned from them—to have shared good times and bad, gain and loss, secrets, sorrow, and laughter with them—to have loved and been loved by them. As I thanked God for the blessing of bringing each and every one them into my life, I found that I am, indeed, thankful in even this circumstance!

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.… You are my God, and I will praise you! You are my God, and I will exalt you! Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.  [Psalm 118:1, 28-29 (NLT)]

And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. [Colossians 3:15 (NLT)]

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THE LORD’S VICTORY

And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” [Judges 6:15-16 (NLT)]

Because the Midianites were raiding and plundering Israel, we meet Gideon hiding in a large vat. Rather than threshing wheat in the open air so the wind could blow away the chaff, he was cautiously working in the bottom of a secluded wine press when an angel of the Lord delivered a message to the timid man. Addressing Gideon as a mighty warrior, the unlikely hero demurred and claimed to be the least worthy of the weakest clan in the tribe of Manasseh.

After a fair amount of hesitation and questions, the reluctant warrior eventually gathered an army of 32,000 to battle the Midianites, a force of 153,000 men. With the odds against Gideon being four to one, I imagine he was wondering where to find more men when God told him that he had too many! He was instructed to send home all those who were afraid. After 22,000 men departed, God told Gideon there still were too many men. He was to separate them by the way they drank water from a stream—whether they cupped the water with their hands and lapped it up or knelt down to drink from the stream. Only the 300 warriors who drank from their hands were allowed to remain. With an overwhelming ratio of 450 Midianites to one Israelite, Gideon’s defeat seemed inevitable. Nevertheless, while Gideon may have been fearful, he never lost faith. Gideon’s few good men crushed the Midianites. The nomadic tribe never recovered and there was peace in the land for the next forty years.

We might wonder why God chose Gideon—the least of the least—and why He didn’t provide him with as large an army as possible to ensure an Israelite victory. The odds were bad enough when Gideon started with 32,000 men but, with only 300, victory seemed impossible. But that was God’s point! When the angel of the Lord entered Gideon’s life, the Israelites had been oppressed by the Midianites for seven years because they “did evil in the Lord’s sight.” [Judges 6:1] They’d worshipped pagan gods, built an altar to Baal, and erected an Asherah pole. Gideon’s first task, prior to leading the men into battle, had been to destroy those pagan symbols. When Baal did not retaliate, it became clear how worthless the false god was. But, did the people understand how powerful the Lord was?

God chose Gideon, the youngest son of the weakest clan, and only a handful of men because their victory against absolutely impossible odds made it abundantly clear to all that the victory didn’t belong to Gideon or his soldiers; it belonged only to God! Rather than looking at this story as an example of what just a few men (or women) can do, we should look at it as an example of what God can do just with a few! He is, after all, the hero in every story!

Selfish and proud creatures that we are, we tend to blame God when things go wrong but remove Him of any responsibility for our successes. In Gideon’s story, God eliminated any possibility that the Israelites’ strength, skill, or valor had anything to do with their triumph. Victory was the Lord’s! God was the hero of Gideon’s story; let Him continue to be acknowledged as the hero of ours, as well!

The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord. [Proverbs 21:31 (ESV)]

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