Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Stop, Look, and Listen

Matthew 6:29 (NIV)  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.

Shimmering ocean blue
Cloudless sky
Haze on the horizon
Gulls gliding
Leaves rustling in the breeze
Mountains in the distance
Sound of wind
Pine branches shining in the sun
Leaves turning gold
Barren, dead pine branches
Spruce needles turning yellow
White birch bark
Brown pine needles on the ground
Lichen-covered rocks
Dead ferns
Lots of dryness
Ground plants turning red
Thick balsam fir branches
Dry leaves on the ground
Acorns plopping to the ground
Fallen spruce and pine cones
Tough, gray, rough bark
Bright red, orange, and mixed maple leaves
Brown, shiny oak leaves
Pond water glittering in the sun
Very low pond water
Dead trees filling a swamp
Red and blue damselflies
Bird song in the trees
Beaver house
Insects illuminated in the sunlight
Lily pads floating
Mud and muck
Shriveled goldenrod
Red squirrel scurrying
Red bushes reflecting on the water
Thin white clouds
Stridulating crickets
Sunlight and shadows filtering through the woods
Gray squirrel foraging
Smell of vegetation dying
Wind moving over the surface of the water

No poetry here - just a list. I took twenty minutes or so one day just observing the obvious. Many of these things are missed by too quick a ride – or even a walk in the Park. But set aside a few meager minutes to pay a little closer attention… and the glory of God comes into sharper focus. Yet even still so many details go unnoticed. For those you must look closer… and closer… and closer still. And in the end what you behold is just the mere reflection of God’s glory. But it’s good. Real good… at least until we get to see Jesus Himself someday. To experience this goodness of what God has made I must choose to simply stop… look… listen... to make the effort to do nothing (there’s a paradox). Then God can show me. Then I can see. Then I can hear. Then I can experience His wonders… all around me. Then worship is inevitable.

Isaiah 35:1-2 (NIV) 1  The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; 2  it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God.

Ecclesiastes 11:5 (NIV)  As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.

Job 38:4 (NIV)  "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand.

Genesis 1:2 (NIV)  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Genesis 1:11-12 (NIV) 11  Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. 12  The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:20-21 (NIV) 20  And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." 21  So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:24-25 (NIV) 24  And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. 25  God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

PRAYER:  Wow, Lord. Give me grace to see, hear, smell, and touch your wonders… all around me… and then to worship you aright. Let me take nothing for granted, for it all points to your majesty and glory. In the name of Jesus, AMEN.”

Jesus Christ is Lord!    

Scott

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Grow

Luke 2:52 (NIV)  And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

Spiritual growth (being formed into the likeness of Jesus) is not automatic. Nor is it “simple”. Jeffrey Zacks, professor of psychology and radiology at Washington University in St Louis, laments what he calls a "global trend" of looking for short cuts to solve our problems.
“Is it just me, or is everybody out there looking for a quick fix? There is something highly compelling about the idea that there is a secret switch we can flip to become suddenly smarter, to reveal cognitive abilities hidden inside each of us. It is a notion that certainly has commercial appeal. Over just seven years, the games-maker Lumosity rocketed from zero to 50 million users, promising rapid improvements in general intelligence by playing brain-training video games for just a few weeks. (Lumosity recently settled with the United States Federal Trade Commission for making unsupported claims that its product was scientifically validated.) "Memory health" nutritional supplements have sales of more than $1.5 billion, and "smart drugs"—pills to enhance cognitive performance—have become prevalent on college campuses. Purveyors of products based on subliminal messages promise to teach us foreign languages and cure our addictions while we sleep. And makers of headgear that attaches electrodes to our scalps promise to rev up our brains to improve gaming performance and other cognitive activities.”

            Sanctification, the goal of the Christian, is a process. There are no shortcuts. The Holy Spirit is given to us at conversion and one of the things He does for us is continually point us to Jesus, that we might glorify Him in thought, word, attitude, and action… that all of life would come under His lordship and oversight. Disciples of Jesus are simply apprentices in what it means to be completely and continually surrendered to Jesus in all things. There are no shortcuts in this process of becoming holy. Our enemy, the devil, seeks to get and keep us off track. He is behind the temptation we experience, and together with our own desires and proneness to self-oriented living, we experience an ongoing struggle/battle with sin and self. Our flesh (our sinful human nature) wars against the development of spiritual maturity. But we have received the resources we need for this struggle. We have the Word of God. We have the Spirit of God. We have the Body of Christ (the Church). We have close brothers and sisters in Christ. We have received much. And we need much in this battle. We also have the example of Christians who have gone on before us in the practice of spiritual disciplines, or “soul-training exercises” as author James Bryan Smith describes them. These practices impact and provide a framework for growth in Christ. His list includes things like sleep, silence in the presence of God, (intentionally and carefully) counting your blessings, praying Scripture, reading Scripture in listening mode, creating margin, solitude (intentional time alone with God), slowing down, writing to God, practicing hospitality, keeping the Sabbath, fasting from media, learning to pray for things we don’t want, serving in secret, practicing de-accumulation, stretching our time without gossip (and other specific sins), sharing our faith, focusing on treasuring the right things, loving those we disagree with, experiencing reconciliation, practicing accountability, learning to be stewards, and worship.

            We can practice any and all of these, and out of that practice comes a deepening experience of the likeness of Jesus and of His abiding presence. Sanctification is a process. There are no shortcuts. Anything that grows (into anything good) takes time, and the bringing together of right circumstances and the resources necessary for health and wholeness. Whether it is fruit, vegetable, animal, or human, growth requires nurturing and care. Believers in Jesus are born (again), not made. Spiritually mature believers are not born that way. We grow… over time… through good times and bad… with the steady application of practices and relationships that train our souls.

            Please pray for our deacons as they undergo a long-term study of these things, in anticipation of sharing them with others in our church. Pray for their growth in Christlikeness and holiness.

Psalm 92:12-14 (NIV) 12  The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; 13  planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. 14  They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green,

1 Corinthians 3:5-9 (NIV) 5  What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe--as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8  The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. 9  For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.

Ephesians 4:14-16 (NIV) 14  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

2 Peter 3:18 (NIV)  But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

PRAYER:  Lord, please provide everything I need to grow in holiness, including my desire and my willingness to engage in practices that create in me a place for growth. Fill me with Your Spirit, and may my likeness to Jesus be ever increasing… by your grace and for your glory. Thank you. In the name of Jesus, AMEN.”

Jesus Christ is Lord!    

Scott

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Broken In

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV) 16  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17  so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

I started wearing a new pair of shoes this week. Actually, I bought them a couple of years ago because of a great sale price. But I haven’t needed them until now. They are identical to a pair of shoes I bought seven years ago in preparation for the travels Joanne and I were going to do as part of my sabbatical. I came to love those shoes. For seven years they have been the most comfortable footwear I own, and they have lasted all this time. A good pair of shoes is like a good friend. The fit is great and they’re always there for you. But with shoes, sooner or later they wear out. I’ve known people who would get certain sneakers/athletic shoes in their life re-soled so that they could keep and use them longer. That’s how much they loved them. Instead of buying new ones, they could or would not part with the old ones. Do you have any shabby looking sneakers or shoes somewhere in a closet that you have been unwilling to part with – because you’re so used to them and they’re just too comfortable to give or throw away?

My new shoes, as I said, are identical (size, model, etc.) to the old ones. But guess what? They’re not very comfortable. At least, not yet. They feel stiff, tight, and inflexible on my feet. I want them to “feel one” with my feet. But they are not there yet. They need to be broken in. They need to be worn regularly and steadily – through the stiffness until the leather stretches and loosens up and becomes more conforming with my foot. In the past I have foolishly hiked with boots that were not broken in. My feet paid the price. When I played baseball in college I couldn’t just buy a new glove and start using it immediately and have it work well and feel comfortable. It had to be broken in.

This all makes for a great illustration of how Christian discipleship works in our lives. Christ is formed in us through a number of disciplines that can be learned and practiced by a Christian. Guess what? Many of those practices (the “disciplines”) feel like a pair of new shoes. We are not “used to them” at first. They feel stiff and even uncomfortable. But, like shoes, if we hang in there - if we break them in – we become comfortable with practices that Jesus’ close followers do. They become a very natural part of our lives. They become things that we incorporate into our experience. What are some examples of things in life that we did not do, then learned to do, then just became “normal”?... brushing teeth, taking showers, getting dressed, driving a car safely, using a computer, playing an instrument, reading… the list is huge. The point is that without the determination to work through unfamiliarity, unwillingness, and even discomfort, we would never have experienced the benefits and joys of those things. The spiritual disciplines – the things we can do to strengthen our walk with God – are no different. For an apprentice everything is new at one point. For the practices of our walk with God to become “common” or “comfortable”, we need the same determination, openness, and willingness to do what a learner (an apprentice, a newcomer, a disciple) must do to become like Jesus.

Your deacons have begun a small group study designed to engage in a process of spiritual formation that includes specific activities aimed at emulating Jesus Himself. A discipleship study like this involves learning and trying new things… in some cases things they have not done before or paid as much attention to before. The goal is to grow in the knowledge of God and in the experience of His goodness and in their closeness to Him. After they have done these studies, their goal is to “pass it on” to others in the church and invite others into the same apprenticeship process. So pray for them… that anything that feels like “new shoes” won’t discourage them… that they will persevere through the “breaking in” period and find the joys of this deeper walk. And pray that when opportunities come your way for something new in the Lord or for the Lord,… or some aspect of discipleship you have never tried, comes your way,… that your heart, mind and spirit will be open and ready, and seeking for what God wants to do in you. And, like a person with a comfortable pair of shoes, you will be happy you did.

1 Timothy 4:8 (NIV)  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

1 Corinthians 9:24-25 (NIV) 24  Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

Hebrews 12:11 (NIV)  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

PRAYER:  Lord, may your blessing be on our deacons as they pursue a deeper walk with you. Grow their faith and love. Fan into flame their passion for your will and purposes in their lives. And may that extend onward into the lives of all who fellowship in our church. Thank you. In the name of Jesus, AMEN.”

Jesus Christ is Lord!    

Scott

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tug of War?

Matthew 6:9-10 (KJV) 9  After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Before the memory of Irma fades I’d like to share a few more thoughts. As the hurricane approached the U.S. many people began to pray – for the Caribbean Islands as well as for Florida. I was among them, and it is the Florida-related prayers that I’ve been thinking about. No one knew for sure which path Irma was going to take. Most prayers took the form of asking God if it could go out to sea and affect no one. But, if that couldn’t happen… would the prayers of the west coast believers prevail, or would the prayers of the east coast believers? It makes me wonder… is prayer – at times – like a tug of war? A tug of war is “a contest in which two teams pull at opposite ends of a rope until one drags the other over a central line”. Many of us have participated in such a contest when we were younger.

My prayers (from Maine) were “west-coast” oriented, because my son lives about a quarter mile from the Gulf Coast, and I know others up and down the west coast of Florida. I wanted them to be safe. I wanted their property to be secure. I wanted everything to be okay for them. BUT… at the same time… I also know people on the east coast of Florida. I did not want harm to come to them or their property either. At first people on the west coast were “relieved” because the storm was supposed to travel up the east coast. Perhaps the brunt of it would miss them. Then people on the east coast were relieved because the worst of the storm was forecast to travel up the west coast. So… whose prayers “prevailed”? The east coasters or the west coasters… or someone else’s? Does prayer even affect the weather? Did the Christians on one coast have more faith… or were they “better” people? What about the south coast (the Keys) and the mid-state region? The more you think about these things the “trickier” prayer is to nail down to some automatic formula or response on God’s part. In fact, these kinds of thinking reveal some flaws in our understanding and practice of prayer.

Too often we approach prayer like we do the restaurant experience. And, though we do not use these words, the true approach of many a prayer is, “Dear God, are you ready to take my order?” We come before God and we see/imagine the “menu” available to us. Then we say, “I’d like this… and this… and that… please be as quick as you can to bring me just what I want.”
When the Holy Spirit (the “waiter”) takes our order to the cook (God the Father) we expect something great. When it is placed before us we do not always receive it with satisfaction. If I get a meal at a restaurant that I do not like, what do I do? In my case, I say nothing. But to myself and to Joanne I will grumble, grumble, grumble. In contrast, when my older brother gets a meal that he does not like, he sends it back demanding that it be “fixed” or replaced. How dare the cook send out such a disgusting or inferior thing and expect him to eat it!
Is the unwillingness to accept what God sends our way an appropriate attitude in our prayer lives? Is grumbling or complaining? Is getting up and walking out on Him? These things (as well as a “perfect meal”) are all related to “me getting what I wanted” out of God. But God is not my servant. I am His. Sometimes what God puts before me is bitter. It’s really hard to swallow. I don’t want it. Yet it is what God puts before me. Sometimes what God puts before me is sour. It feels like it has gone bad. It’s not fresh. It may even give me the “shivers” to get it down. Sometimes what God puts before me is salty. It leaves me wanting/needing more… something else to wash it down or quench my thirst (for Him). And sometimes what God puts before me is sweet. It tastes great. I can’t get enough of it. I think it should always be this way. If God “really” loves me everything He gives will be this way, and it will always be in line with just what I want.

In cases like these, we end up in a “tug of war” not with other Christians, but with God Himself. And guess what? That is one you will never win. If you think in these terms you will inevitably have to conclude at some point that God is against you. And honestly… is that the case? Do you really believe that? Dallas Willard (in Renovation of the Heart) asks a question that all of us truly need to come to terms with:…
“Do you want God to help you, or do you want God to be God?” God has a perfect will, and my only need is to seek, receive, and follow that will, not to seek for my will to prevail. At the end of it all, our best prayer is no more and no less than what Jesus taught us to pray…
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name” – More than anything else, O Lord, I want your name to be honored by me, through me, and in me.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” – Jesus modeled this at the end of His life when He came to the cross. And He taught it as the model of our prayers.

Am I willing for God’s will to be done… even when it is bitter to me? Can I trust God to do what is best and right in His sight, and can I trust that He is strong enough, wise enough, and loving enough to carry me and to glorify Himself in me? The tug of war of prayer is what is going on in my heart – between self and surrender, between discontentment and contentment, between rejection and acceptance. Do I really want God’s will, or don’t I? Will I be satisfied in Him? Will I follow in faith, or leave in disappointment? Am I ready to hold everything else with a loose grip, so that I may hold tightly only to God?

If your pattern of prayer is, “God, are you ready to take my order?”… I believe you will inevitably be disappointed with God. But if your pattern of prayer is, “Not my will, but Thy will be done”… then you will be living your life at a whole new level spiritually: deeper and richer and ultimately satisfying to you, as well as pleasing to God.

John 14:1 (NIV)  "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.

Matthew 26:42 (NIV)  He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."

1 John 5:14-15 (KJV) 14  And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: 15  And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.

Job 2:10 (NIV)  He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

PRAYER:  Lord, may I want your will… may I love your will, and may I accept your will with faith… each and every day. In the name of Jesus, AMEN.”

Jesus Christ is Lord!    

Scott

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A Personal Money Manifesto - Part Five

Psalm 150:6 (NIV)  Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.

Amidst the ways that money impacts our lives (in the last four weeks we have looked at work, worry, wants, waste) we now come to consider a usage of money that brings us great joy and fulfillment. Any “personal money manifesto” with no room for the relationship between money and worship would be a very limited and ultimately sad list of beliefs/goals. Our attitudes toward, and usage of money reflects our hearts, and it is from the heart that true worship comes.

WORSHIP – Though worship is accompanied and assisted by many outward forms and practices, the Bible clearly communicates to us that our God looks at and cares most about the heart. He knows the status of my heart. He knows when there is a disconnect between my heart and anything I might be doing or saying in any given moment. When I attend worship services and do the things we do there (sing, pray, give, listen to preaching, etc.), God knows if/when I am worshipping and when I am not. The actions in and of themselves are not true worship – unless they are accompanied and motivated by love, praise, gratitude, and trust that fill the heart of the worshipper. A heart that is empty of these produces a life that is empty of worship, regardless of what outward visible or audible activities one might engage in at a church building, worship service, or other such setting. Only God knows how much or how little actual worship is taking place in the individual believer and in the gathering of any people for the purpose of worshipping God.

All of life is a vehicle for worship and an opportunity for thanksgiving and praise. You do not need a liturgy. You do not need a pew. You do not need a song leader or preacher. Now, I like some of those things (especially since I am a preacher), but you don’t go through life with them constantly with you. They do not accompany you to the office (or wherever your job takes you). They are not in your house or your car. They are not at family meals or with you when you go for a hike or a run. None of them are with you all the time. But God is, and only God is. Therefore, if God is ever-present to you, you can worship Him in a variety of circumstances, and actually, in all circumstances. If one or more of these are present in your heart – love, praise, gratitude, trust – in a real way – wherever you may be and whatever you may be doing – then you are worshipping. And hopefully, worship is actually happening in the church building on Sunday mornings too.

There is a potential – for every single time you handle money (or some type of financial transaction) – for you and I to worship God – for love for, praise to, gratitude to, or trust in Him to be filling our heart and/or motivating that action or attitude. For example, how much does grumbling, complaining, or worrying about money result in worshipping God? None at all. Since all of my money and possessions come from God, I am constantly afforded an opportunity for a heart full of gratitude. When I “give up” money for an end that glorifies God (such as meeting the needs of others), I am being moved by love. When I release “my” money for some work of the Kingdom of God, I am declaring my trust in the Lord to take care of me without that money being mine anymore. When I am filled with thankfulness and “just feel like” sharing or giving in some way, I am pointing my heart and life to God. Money is a great vehicle for worshipping God. It’s such a prominent part of life. So why not “capture it” for the glory of God? I think if we don’t do this, then we must be wary, for money will capture our hearts if our hearts are not first and foremost captured by love for God, praise and gratitude to God, and trust in God.

Therefore…

-          I will seek to be generous, so that I might become more like the Lord I love. (Philippians 4:19)

-          I will seek to be intentional with my attitudes about giving, so that my giving will always be true worship.

-          I will seek to connect all my financial thoughts and dealings with love, praise, gratitude, or trust in my heart for God.

-          I will seek stop doing anything with money that I cannot connect in some way to worship of the Lord.

-          I will seek to be thankful in all circumstances – especially financial ones – so that God may be glorified (1 Thessalonians 5:18)… and to live with joy.

-          I will seek to be an example and encouragement to my brothers and sisters in Christ of what comes forth from a heart filled with love, praise, gratitude, and faith for God.

-          I will seek to keep my giving from ever becoming an action that is for my self-promotion, for people to love me or think more highly of me, or for any self-centered motive. I cannot worship God when I am the object of my giving.

-          I will seek to treasure the Lord as so much more valuable… above all other things and all other persons.

Would you add anything to my list?

May the Lord be gracious to us. He knows when love, praise, gratitude, and faith are not present in our hearts. Without Him, and without the help of the Holy Spirit, all our attempts at worship – including those related to money – will fail. By His grace and mercy, we shall actually worship. God is good.

John 4:23-24 (NIV) 23  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV) 36  "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37  Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38  This is the first and greatest commandment. 39  And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

1 Corinthians 10:31 (NIV)  So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Matthew 6:21 (NIV)  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

PRAYER:  Father, fill my heart with love… praise… gratitude… and faith… all directed to you. Let these cover all my thoughts and dealings with money… for your glory. In the name of Jesus, AMEN.”

Jesus Christ is Lord!    

Scott

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Personal Money Manifesto - Part Four

Proverbs 23:5 (NIV)  Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

My attitudes and choices are impacted by money and what I believe about it. I live in a materialistic world – therefore I am subject to its pulls and pushes. These stand in contrast to the purposes and place of money in the will and kingdom of God. The more I seek God’s will and ways, the more I will be drawn away from thinking the world’s thoughts and doing things the world’s way. This relates to work, worry, wants, waste, and worship. In this fourth installment of my “personal money manifesto” I am addressing the connection between money and waste in life.

WASTE – It has often been said that “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. I understand that to mean that in the mind of one person a thing can be of little or no value, while at the same time in the mind of another person that same thing may be highly valued. It reminds me of the statement that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. The idea is that beauty is a relative concept, dependent upon the individual doing the observing. What constitutes “waste”? Is this, too, a relative concept? Landfills and recycling stations are filled with “stuff” that someone once “treasured” (to some degree) enough to spend his money for it. If you spend some time at or near a landfill you will vividly learn that “this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). In the year ahead Joanne and I will be “taking inventory” of our “stuff” as we prepare to relocate. Do you think we will come across anything that we wish we had not spent money on? Do you think we will find anything that, in the end, was just a waste? I know we will. All of us – were we to “take inventory” in some way – can find things we regret spending “good” or “hard-earned” money on. At the time we thought we needed “it”, but it turns out we didn’t. At the time we thought it was so important to have, but it wasn’t.

Being wasteful is “using or expending something of value carelessly, extravagantly, or to no purpose”. One of the biblical words for it is “prodigal”. In Luke 15 Jesus relates what we call the story of the Prodigal Son. The younger son in the story takes his inheritance prematurely and, in Jesus’ words, “squandered his wealth in wild living” (Luke 15:13). It is one of the lowest feelings in the world to look back (“hindsight is 20/20”) and see nothing but loss… having nothing to show for one’s efforts. You feel foolish, empty, and useless. This is what waste does to the human soul. Yet we all leave a trail of waste behind us. How can we learn? How can we slow it down? How can we overcome our propensity for it?

One step is to actually take time for doing inventories. Though it is painful to see our mistakes, we can learn from them and make better decisions in the future. Waste is “unwanted or unusable materials… any substance which is discarded after primary use, or… is worthless, defective and of no use”. An inventory may allow us to forward the use of something rather than just trashing it (wasting it all the more). Hopefully it will increase our wisdom moving into the future.

Another strategy might be to pay only with cash. We tend to spend way to freely when we use plastic. Another strategy might be to avoid the purchase of anything that is not in “the plan” (a budget of some kind). Another strategy might be forcing yourself to wait a period of time before any purchase (over a certain amount, for example). Another strategy could be taking time to deliberately pray when entering a store, going on Amazon.com, pulling out your card/wallet, etc., so that you remember where your money came from. Then ask the Lord if His blessing is on “this purchase”. It may sound silly to pray before buying a candy bar or a cup of coffee or a pair of sunglasses. But it could be very helpful in slowing our propensity to waste… while increasing the time we spend consciously in the Lord’s presence.

Therefore…

-          I will seek to be careful in my spending choices and in my manner of spending (not being impetuous).

-          I will seek to avoid spending any money on any form of gambling.

-          I will seek to simplify my possessions, giving me less to worry about, less to clean, less to store, and less to be distracted by, and less to throw away.

-          I will seek input from others before many kinds of purchases, asking them to ask me honest questions about my plans. This could even included establishing an accountability partner.

-          I will seek to use some sort of system (budgeting) to give me limits (guidelines) for my spending.

-          I will seek to make saving money a priority in my financial life.

-          I will seek to make prayer a vital component of my financial choices and decisions.

Would you add anything to my list?

I recognize my need to continue to grow in this area. It is one of the places in my walk with God that comes under the greatest attack. The amount of waste in my life is a reflection on my self-centeredness and selfishness. Thoughts creep into my mind… like… “I wonder what I could have done with that (money) to help people and meet needs and ‘make a difference’.” Or… “How did I ever manage to get into this debt”? Or… “I’ve made so much work for myself – ‘caring’ for this stuff!” Perhaps you have thoughts like these. They remind us of our need for grace. Looking backward might possibly move us to change, but it is moving forward that I think is so important. And for that I desperately need God’s grace… I need His mind and will… and I need His strength and power. May the Lord rescue us from ourselves!

I read the attached article from Christianity Today Women recently. I thought it related to this topic in an interesting way. May the Lord bless you as you consider these things in relation to your own life.
NEXT WEEK – Money and Worship

John 6:12 (NIV)  When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, "Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted."

Mark 14:3-5 (NIV) 3  While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. 4  Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, "Why this waste of perfume? 5  It could have been sold for more than a year's wages and the money given to the poor." And they rebuked her harshly.

Luke 16:25 (NIV)  "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.

Luke 12:15 (NIV)  Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."
 Luke 12:20-21 (NIV) 20  "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' 21  "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."

Proverbs 21:20 (NIV)  In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.

James 5:1-3 (NIV) 1  Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2  Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3  Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.

Matthew 6:19-20 (NIV) 19  "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Exodus 20:17 (NIV)  "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."

PRAYER:  Father, show me grace that I may be able to discern what is wasteful… before I spend my money on it. Thank you for all that I have. It has all come to me by your hand and ultimately I am accountable to you for it all. Teach me good stewardship of all things, for – in the end – they are yours.  In the name of Jesus, AMEN.”

Jesus Christ is Lord!    

Scott