Monday, January 26, 2015

God of abundance

Do you think God is stingy? 
Before you point and shout "sacrilegious" hear me out. I am prone to a belief that God doesn't want me to have "much more." Sure, the Bible says that God will give me much more and that He is a God of abundance but I don't always live like I truly believe those words. I claim to believe the Bible with my whole heart yet I skim past the abundance and focus on the "sell everything," "don't take an extra cloak" scriptures. Those passages convince me that God wants me to live with the bare minimum - nothing extra, frivolous or unnecessary. Dare I say, stingy.
This line of thinking has suited me just fine until I opened my Bible to the story of Joseph. Although I've read the account of Joseph more times than I can count and have seen it on the stage and TV, I had never really grasped the entire message of Joseph's life.
My previous understanding was that Joseph was a man who was treated unfairly and unjustly but was spared by God and ultimately used by God. This is all true. But there is something more to Joseph that I had always missed.
Let's start from the beginning.
Joseph wore a multicolored robe given to him by his father. That is until his brothers stripped him of it, threw him in a well, sold him into slavery and thought they had gotten rid of that little twerp for good. They didn't like their little brother's attitude or the favoritism his father showed him so they devised a plan to do away with the thorn in their side, the unwanted member of their clan.
You know the rest of the story, don't you? Joseph gets sold to Potiphar and falsely accused of adultery with Potiphar's wife. He is thrown in jail where he interprets the dreams of two men - both of which come to pass just as Joseph had predicted through the mind of God. In time Pharaoh has a dream that needs interpreted and Joseph is brought forth to see if he can do the job. Of course, with God, he can. Pharaoh is so pleased that he puts Joseph in charge of protecting the land from an impending famine.
But guess what else Pharaoh did. He gave Joseph a fancy robe made of the finest of linens and a gold chain to wear around his neck.
Time to take a pause and reflect on that little, profound detail. Fine linen robe. Gold chain.
The Devil had tried to strip Joseph of everything he had, starting with his clothes and working up to  his very life blood, but God restored it all. He spared his life and even restored his fine robe. God didn't just spare Joseph's life against the threatening ordeal of slavery and jail, He blessed Him with abundance. Stingy? Not in the least. God proved that He is the very opposite of stingy by restoring to Joseph his robe and exceeding his past adornment by adding a gold chain to the attire.
In the New Testament, years after Joseph departed from this earth, Jesus told His followers not to worry about what they would eat, drink or even wear. God, He assured us, is well aware of our need and He'll see to it that we are taken care of. Just like He took care of Joseph.
Despite being jailed, beaten and sold as a slave Joseph was protected, sustained and even clothed with luxurious linen and jewels. God was truly with Joseph in so many ways. He didn't just give Joseph the bare minimum, He lavished upon Joseph blessings and favor because Joseph was faithful.

God isn't stingy. He doesn't just dish out the bare minimum. He is interested in more than just surviving. He is in the business of thriving, blessing and giving abundantly and lavishly! Even when we are in the pits of life, like Joseph was for so many years, we still have the promise that God will take care of us beyond our wildest imaginations. Do you think Joseph imagined a fancy robe and gold chain while he sat in jail? Could he see the future as second in command over all of Egypt? Likewise, you and I don't know the plan God has in store for us. But we do know this: God has a beautiful, bountiful plan for us and rich blessings to shower up on. He isn't stingy and He is the furthest thing from a cheapskate. You and I serve the God of abundance and glory.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

True Satisfaction

I don't often look to the secular world for my spiritual advice but every now and again a man or woman of the world stumbles upon a profound truth. Steve Jobs once said, "Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle."
I think it is safe to say that we don't have to wonder if Steve Jobs achieved this objective. From all accounts he believed he was doing a great, noteworthy work and seemed to find fulfillment in the creative and inventive process. He found great success and monetary rewards in this life as a result of his endeavors. He became a household name and will certainly be remembered and written about for years to come.
So the question is, is that the measure of great work? Notoriety? Fame? Fortune? Applause and a massive memorial of flowers and apples upon one's passing?
Sarah Adams would say no. In fact she would probably have argued that there is an even greater work to be done.
Sarah was born in 1981 to a normal, middle class family in middle America. She went to a normal high school, normal college and went back to a normal job as a field hockey coach for girls in her hometown.
But she wasn't doing her great work yet.
A lifelong Christian, Sarah had an itch to do more for the Kingdom of God and that more was in Africa working with children affected by the AIDS epidemic. In 2008 she made the move to Malawi and began working as a full time missionary.
Sarah's name never became famous outside of her family who missed her terribly. Other than her local community, Sarah was just another face. To look at her you would never guess that she gave up a life of comfort in the United States to live everyday in service to the Kingdom of God, sharing the love of Christ with children in Africa. Sarah did her great work without fanfare, without a camera crew and without a book deal. But she loved every minute of it. She had found her calling, her place in the world and the pocket of the world where she was born to do God's work.
And then she was tragically killed. Sarah died in a car accident in Africa in 2013. There was no media coverage or gigantic memorial service or TV coverage of the funeral service. Just like Sarah quietly served, she quietly passed from this life to the next where she is dwelling eternally with Christ.

Steve Jobs was right, you will only be satisfied with your life if you do a great work. For him that meant technology and computers and innovation. To Sarah that meant spreading the Gospel and the love of Christ.
I thank Steve Jobs for his contributions to this world and my life (as I write on an iMac computer) but I don't believe he did the greatest of works. I think Sarah did. She understood something in her short 32 years that some people three times her age never understand. The greatest work we can do in this life is work for God. That might mean going to Africa or it might mean scooping out mashed potatoes at the local soup kitchen. The great work isn't one size fits all but it is in service to the one true, perfect, Holy and living God. When we devote our lives to the work of God we are continually putting our labor and pursuits towards an eternal purpose that will never go out of style or become outdated. When we devote our lives to work for Him and His Kingdom we will be forever satisfied - in this life and, more importantly, in the life to come.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Spiritual toilet paper

The shelf was full of hygiene products. Body wash, tooth brushes, lotions, shampoos, razors, shaving gel and the most basic of hygiene necessitates, toilet paper. It was my first day at the City Mission Food Pantry and the volunteer coordinator instructed me to hand out particular quantities of each food item, fruit and vegetable. "Then they can pick out just one hygiene product off of this display" he told me, pointing to the rack full of miscellaneous products with a bottom row stacked with generic, scratchy toilet paper.
The time came for me to assist my first individual through the line. He took every food item I offered, even the jar of pickled pigs feet. Then we arrived at the hygiene products. "You can pick any one item off of this shelf," I told him. He didn't even need to survey his options, he immediately reached down and grabbed the toilet paper. Then he thanked me and left.
The next three individuals followed suit, taking home an array of food times, including a jar of pigs feet and a roll of the cheapest toilet paper known to man. Over a few days of assisting individuals at the food pantry the trend continued. Very few people reached for the Aveeno Moisturizing lotion, Suave Body Wash and not one single man grabbed a can of shaving cream. Almost every single person through the line reached quickly and without hesitation for the toilet paper. Some even asked, with a wink and a nod, if they could sneak out an extra roll.
How could it be that in this land of abundance, where six year olds have cell phones and  coffee shops and drug stores are on every corner, that there are so many among us who are in such desperate need for the most basic of necessities? We are overwhelmed with a bounty of excess stuff everywhere we look and yet there are individuals who are still needy for the utter basics, the things that I can't ever imagine waking up without, things like toilet paper.
The saddest fact of the plight of the needy is that, for many, they will remain in their destitution for the entirety of their lives. Each week they will continue to stand in line for their turn through the food pantry and each day they will go back to the soup kitchen, grab a tray and get their fill of whatever is being offered. Few will break out of this life and overcome the depths of poverty they have come to know as their normal.

It is so easy to see the destitution in these individuals at the food pantry. They are so impoverished and needy that they don't even contemplate taking home an indulgence such as a body lotion or shaving gel. They are still desperate for the necessities - for the toilet paper.
You and I may be well stocked with soft toilet paper and more body lotions than our skin could ever absorb but many of us are still impoverished, needy and destitute when it comes to our spirit. We reach for spiritual toilet paper. We clean ourselves up but never experience the healing, cleansing and rejuvenating that God offers. We are stuck in a never-ending cycle of just cleaning up our messes, dealing with our sin and never experiencing the freedom and power found in Christ.
Just like the individuals at the food pantry, none of us will ever break out of our spiritual poverty until we are reborn. We cannot continue in our old ways and expect to see a new life. We have to put to death our old self and the sin that entangles. The dear souls at the City Mission Food Pantry won't ever be able to afford their own toilet paper and overcome their need for basic necessities until they change their way of living. That might mean breaking free of an addiction that sucks up all of their money or finding a job after years of unemployment. Whatever their circumstance may be it must change for their neediness to be relieved.
There are ways out of financial and physical poverty and thankfully, there are people willing to aid and assist those in that destitution break free from that life. There is also a way out of spiritual poverty and it is found in Jesus Christ. The ticket out is free and readily available. At any moment the lost sinner can surrender their life to Christ, repent of their sins and receive salvation through the blood of Jesus. Then that person must turn from their old life. No more grabbing the spiritual toilet paper to cover up a continual cycle of sin and separation from God. When a person comes to Christ they must come fully surrendered and obedient, willing to turn completely from the old life so that they can experience the goodness God has promised.
Once we are born anew God does a work of regeneration in our souls. He breaks out lotions, creams and shampoos to restore our souls and make us into shining examples of His restorative power. Scratchy toilet paper just won't do in the Kingdom of God. He has much bigger blessings and promises for His beloved children.
Dear Friend, don't reach for the spiritual toilet paper any longer. God offers so much more and it is available to you just up on the next self.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Don't miss Him

"You missed it!"
We've all said it and we've all had it said to us and about us. We missed the big moment, the funny part of the movie, the big lift that the dancers had worked so hard to perfect, the catchy sign on the side of the road... We missed something and we can't get it back. That split second has passed and now we will forever be the one who missed it.
The worst part of missing it is that we usually miss something spectacular because we are too engrossed in something completely unspectacular! I'm looking at my phone, I'm glued to the TV or the computer or I'm so locked in on my own world that I neglect to see the world around me. Exciting, interesting, remarkable occurrences are happening all around me yet all I see is my little personal universe. I don't take my eyes off of it long enough to catch all the great things that are right there in front of me.
This is a terrible problem that I must learn to remedy. The problem causes more than just missed dance moves and missed road signs. It results in missed opportunities and missed blessings. When I am glued to my own ideas, will and circumstances I miss what God has to show me.
Matthew 25:13 says, "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the hour or the day." Jesus is coming back and in that scripture He tells His followers that they can count on Him coming but not when. You and I still have that same promise. Jesus is coming back and we don't know when. Jesus is also working in our daily lives and we don't know exactly when or how. Just like His return is going to be a surprise, His orchestrating of our daily lives come as surprises. Therefore we must keep watch and be ready to experience God in ways we never thought possible and never anticipated. If we aren't keeping watch then we very well might miss Him.
The devil loves to distract us and keep our eyes on our little puny lives and menial daily circumstances. He doesn't want us looking up and seeing Jesus. The devil knows his enemy and he knows that Jesus is active and all around us. He has blessings to shower on us and more of Himself to reveal to us but if we aren't looking we will miss Him entirely. And then the devil has accomplished his mission. When we don't see Jesus we start to doubt Him and our faith waivers. The truth is we don't see Jesus because we aren't looking up. We're looking down - we're distracted. As a result we blame God for His lack of presence while all the while it is we who aren't paying any attention to the flurry of God's activity swirling all around us.
If only we would keep watch, if only we would look up, I know we would see Jesus. He's all around. Don't miss Him.