The Lottery Wont Help

It’s fun to dream about winning the lottery.  Many of us already have our answers ready.  Some have even practiced the interview and mastered that impending question… “What will you do with the money?”.

I remember one such interview where the bewildered winner couldn’t decide between fixing his house or his truck.  He simply couldn’t comprehend what millions meant.  That isn’t a number we tread often in.  And that is exactly why it won’t help us.

In order to GIVE, we have to give of something.  We take something of ours and it becomes someone else’s.  At that point, we no longer have it anymore.  Consider how the library works.  If I go and check out a book, they no longer have it… I do!  So if you go searching for that same book, their answer is, “Sorry, someone else has it”.

With the lottery, We can give and still have.  While we may choose to do good things with the money, a key part of giving is absent… sacrifice.  We could discuss earning versus winning as well, but I’ll leave that for now.

Let’s compare this to something more important than money.  What if I see someone on the street and I wave at them and give a nice big smile?  What have I done?  I could argue I put on my Jesus face.  I was friendly, inviting, polite, and I even felt a little awkward waving at a stranger.

But what have I actually given?  Did it take any time?  ah, time!  something extremely valuable, and in limited resource.  And just like the library, if I’m giving my time to someone, I can’t be giving it to something else.  But the answer is, no, it took as much time to wave as it did effort.

I also didn’t speak.  I didn’t share my story.  I didn’t share God’s story.  I didn’t offer the truth of Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected.  I didn’t show love or compassion.  I didn’t offer any fruits of the Spirit.  I waved.  Nothing more, no matter how we dress it up.  I gave pennies and kept millions for myself.

We know from the widow that gave two mites (Luke 21) that it isn’t about how much we give, but instead what percentage.  The woman who gave so little, gave more than the richest of men, because she gave all she had, where they gave small portions.  And thus the problem with so much money.  Much is expected of those that have much.

Consider your time.  We can’t win the ‘time’ lottery.  24 hours fill up a day no matter how lucky you are.  Time puts us all in the same category.  How much are you giving?  Truly giving?  Sacrificing?  Investing in God’s will for you and others?  God calls us to help each other out.  We tithe because He asks us to.  But money does not solve everything.  And that is why He also calls us to go into the world and disciple others.  How much time are we giving?

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Bad news… You Won

We can forget what victory means to Christians.  For us, our victory came from the cross.  Jesus has asked that we pick up our cross and follow Him.  It’s a bit confusing because He took our place, but only from the guilt of our sins.  We still have to travel in His footsteps and that journey has its ups and downs to say the least.

So in seasons like this one, we celebrate moms around those who have lost their moms, or had bad relationships, or were abused, or any number of other painful memories.  It’s important to find the cross in these circumstances.  That doesn’t mean to try and pretend there is happiness where sadness overwhelms.  God promised that all things work together for the good of those who believe in Him.  Does that mean your pain is good?  no!  But what is important is that we find that healthy ground where we build our lives on the foundation of God and not on life’s tragedies.

Jesus died for us and we thank Him.  We praise Him.  We worship Him!  But oh what pain He endured.  That pain allowed us everything we hold dear today.  The reason God can straight face to us that all things will work for good is because He endured the worst of it… and it was for OUR good.  We will have our moments.  God never said, ‘I will make life easy for you’.  In fact, there is quite a bit of scripture that alludes to how difficult being a Christian truly is.  Why?  Because we will be attacked by the enemy on top of everything else life throws at us.

But we can find the cross in those moments.  Instead of loathing the past, we can count each scar as a lesson learned.  Instead of bottoming out in loneliness we can tribute loved ones and incorporate their great characteristics in our lives.  Here is what happens if we don’t get a handle on our lives during the bad times.  We end up living around the holidays.  And there are a lot of holidays.  Someone died on my birthday, I was injured at Christmas, I was robbed at Thanksgiving, etc. etc. etc.  We can shut down, isolate, and run from each and every important date for the rest of our lives….

OR… or we could accept that what is important is God.  We made those dates important for our own means.  God doesn’t make us more sad on Mother’s Day.  It’s just another Sunday.  We immortalize the date and subject our souls to personal torment that we create.  Find the cross in that day.  Yes you have endured much.  But next year, there is reason to enjoy the day.  We are over-comers.  We can’t be victorious if we let dates defeat us each year.  Another tool of the enemy is the over dramatization of certain days or times that we give more meaning than others.  They have only the meaning we allow them to have.

We can find ways to honor the fallen, learn from the wicked, grow from neglect, persevere through pain, and triumph over all that does not come from God.  But to do that, we need to see the cross.  That moment when pain and defeat turns to hope and eternity.  When “it is finished” turns into “it has just begun”.  When the sign over the tomb turns from “do not disturb” to “vacancy”… this is when we find our moments of the cross.  This is what the cross does for us.  It says that Christians win even when they seemingly lose.  It means that even death is not defeat.  God’s love has saved us no matter how lost we become.

I felt the need to remind us of two things that keep circling back to each other.  As Christians, we will face hard, hurtful, seemingly impossible moments.  We should not be shocked or disappointed when these times come.  We often mention tests or trials from God.  I do not believe that God does mean or hurtful things to those that He loves (to those that He gave His son for).  Rather, God will help us and while He does so, we can learn from those moments.  And the second thing is that we always have a way back into the light.  Look to that empty cross.  Recall that empty tomb.  And ponder the throne that is occupied.

With God in our corner, today does not have to be a day of sadness.  Sadness is not wrong, but its meant to be temporary.  If you are in pain every year, every holiday, at every solemn memory… find the cross.  There is victory to be had.  There are healthy, proud, confident ways to move forward in honor of the past.  Don’t concede your future based on today’s pain.  If we do not come to terms with our past, it will consume our future.  Whatever pain on whatever day, I pray you plead to God for help and seek His out on this side of heaven for the same.  We want to celebrate with you the victories that you can turn your near defeats into.

My heart hates driving

In traffic, I’ve grown tired of getting cut off, swerved at, beeped at, and being run off the road.  In short, I decided to stand up for myself.  At first it was rare and half-hearted.  ‘No blinker, no access’ I would say to myself.  I’d beep with all the might my imported hatchback could muster (… “meep”)  But the best defense is a great offense.  Riding bumpers, reading lane changes, knowing the road.  I became aggressive.  Anyone nearing my front bumper was the enemy and I wasn’t going to let them have the satisfaction of getting in front of me!

What happened?  My heart changed.  I’m a nice, quiet, laid back guy (My mom said so anyway).  People take advantage of that.  At the end of the day, I want them too.  Its the whole point of being nice.  But something got inside my head and reasoned that it was MY time.  And so I listened.  Full on road rage has settled in at times.  And I realized something needed to change.  So I would, every so often, let people over, slow down at on-ramps, and generally try to share the road.  But this was problematic.  I still hated those people who could have moved over earlier like everyone else.  I still questioned motives.  I still saw the angles.  My heart hadn’t changed back, only my mind had.

I caught myself today letting someone over and complaining the whole time.  They couldn’t hear me but I spoke out-loud to myself… “nice blinker!  oh, and no lights on while raining… kudos for the bad driving trifecta!!!!”.  I was angry.  Doing something nice for someone brings out joy in both parties.  Begrudgingly doing something because we feel forced by religion, parents, authorities, school, or any other reason… that breeds contempt.  In a moment of God-sent wisdom I realized that I wanted to make people happy.  My true desire was to finish last.  When I ‘WANTED’ to let people over, it became fun.  When I was having fun doing what I loved (being nice, and graceful to those around me), I knew my heart was back in the right place.

The heart controls our default actions… the ones we do without thinking.  If I hate driving, drivers, and travel of any kind, then I’m going to be a jerk on the road.  I can fool some people temporarily, but the heart will always stay true over the long haul.  If I want to be nice to other drivers, I can’t just want it mentally.  Its a forced fit that will blow up in my face soon enough.  I have to change the default behavior.  I have to have the heart of a nice person first, then I can successfully and meaningfully treat people nice.

I hope that makes sense.  I hope that analogy works for you… because this is the foundation of understanding the relationship God desires to have with us.  We are not forced.  But, some of us try to force it.  God doesn’t desire us to do things out of feeling forced.  God wants our hearts.  We can begrudgingly go to church.  We can fake a few prayers.  We can choke down scripture readings because we know we are supposed to.  All of those get a big red X with a buzzer sound.

God wants us to want to.  To desire to.  To love to.  In other words, our default should be to wake up excited for church.  Our standard should crave scripture.  Our first response… prayer!  And if we don’t, that isn’t a huge, colossal failure… it just means its time to stop changing our mind in a case by case basis and start changing our hearts permanently.

Doing something because we have to is called work, slavery or imprisonment.  Doing something because we love to is called happiness, contentment, satisfaction, and many other wonderful things.  Hearts don’t change overnight.  If you start clinching the wheel the next time a truck approaches, start conversing with God.  He is behind all successful transplants.  Be patient with yourself through the process.  God does not want the tired, weary, burnt out leftovers from your life.  He gave the best of Himself so He can join with the best of yourself.  Anything less than your most enthusiastic and heartfelt best is a mismatched relationship that needs some work.

 

All I needed was…

Just one more second.

Just one more inch.

Just one more word.

Just one more dollar.

Just one more signature.

Just one more degree.

Just one more step.

Just one more note.

Just one more answer.

Just one more try.

Success isn’t measured by our performance in the moment that matters most.  Success is measured in the preparation for those moments.  If you needed one more second to succeed, then you didn’t prepare properly.  You chose failure when you opted for rest.  You picked second place for yourself, when you needed Friday off.  You decided to have fewer friends when you were too busy to call someone back.  Choices.  Not circumstances.  Not luck.  Not what-ifs.  Options.  Decisions.  Calculated specifics.

You could have done one more yesterday… but you didn’t.  Much of life is like a transaction to me.  If you pay in reps yesterday, you succeed in an amount based on those reps today.  You can’t go back in time and make a payment just because you decided today that you want it more than you did yesterday.  Pay today for what you want tomorrow.  If you want a million dollars in your savings account, can you get there by putting in 1 dollar a day?  NO!  Why do we think we can perform miracles and ace tests we didn’t study for, win races we didn’t run, or gain acceptance we didn’t earn?

Tomorrow, you will take a test.  Wouldn’t it be neat if we could pick our grade?  I’m not going to promise that everyone can choose to get a 100 and then will get it.  What I can promise is that if you put in enough effort to get the 100 then you will.  Two things tend to happen during the training process.  We either procrastinate or we accept mediocrity.  Regardless of the path, some of us are still surprised at how we fell short.  Can I retest?  Will you curve the grade?  Did you cover that, this question didn’t make sense (i.e. its someone else’s fault)?

When I read posts like this one I tend to get sad.  I regret yesterday.  I start the inner dialogue of frustration with myself.  But I’d like to encourage us (you too) to try it from the other perspective.  While its not yesterday anymore… it’s not quite tomorrow yet either.  Why not do something you will thank yourself later for?  Train.  Study.  Live.  Love.  Do good deeds.  Embrace life so that when you can’t anymore, you savor the moments you chose.  This is the anti-regret opportunity.  This isn’t my only post like this.  It won’t be my last.  I’ve read countless others.  Why?  The struggle is real.  The Bitter reality hurts.  But the remedy is just out of your reach.  Will you figure out how to get it?

Do you feel like removing the ed from needed?  You can if you opt to get out of the past and live for the future.  Can you do one more today?  Can you go further?  Will you work harder?  Can’t you go faster?  Don’t you want to be sharper?  Those decisions are born in moments all around you.  Grab that moment and make it your success story.  Make it your time.  Make it yours.  Make it.  Choices come and go so quickly.  Stop pondering and start choosing.  Stop blaming and start excelling.  Stop excusing and start winning.  In all matters of life, YOU are the one that can conquer defeat and make tomorrow a great day.

All I NEED is to choose right now that tomorrow I’m not going to regret anything.

Please Remember the Animal Crackers!

I have feint memories of what my mom did to bring me to church prepared.  This took much thought and work before leaving the house.  I was young, fidgety, and had issues with attention.  I never really saw the work that went into her preparations, but I enjoyed the fruits of her labor (which sometimes was real fruit).   At various points of the church service different things would make their way out of the bag.  Raisins, grapes, the universal staple… animal crackers.  Sometimes it was crayons, sometimes markers, but the activity book always had places to draw.  She always knew what to bring and had just enough to get me through the service… so that everyone else could get through the service.

Now that I’m 40, I guess its time to make my own preparations for church.  I’ve noticed that we all prepare for church differently.  I’m going to point out 3 styles I’ve witnessed (I’m sure you have seen others).

The first group shows up to church empty handed.  No Bible, no bag, no books.  They pull out their phones, but they don’t have Bible apps or study guides on their phones!  You might wonder if they would have come at all if some reason hadn’t dragged them or forced them in some way.  Worship starts and they seem somewhat attentive.  They may even join in at some point, but with a massive asterisk if they do…  It’s not their job to worship.  They showed up, and they expect the church to do its job and either worship for them, or create worship in such a way that it involuntarily jump starts their soul into worship without their consent.  These are the parents that expect school to raise their children.  Trainers must teach their pets and almost everything in life is someone elses fault.  They will come to church, but whether they worship or not is the church’s responsibility.

The second group fully intends to experience God, but they don’t always manage to catch Him while He is there.  They will sing, pray, listen.  But they have to get warmed up.  The right songs at the right beat, with the best prayer might just work.  Its usually a slow build, but they will get there most of the time.  The big difference between the first group and this one is that this group really wants that experience, it just doesn’t always happen.  This group will say things like, “I just didn’t feel it that time”.  Or, “ohhhh, I got that warm fuzzy worship feeling this time!”.  If they don’t experience this good feeling enough, they may start to look for another church home or complain about the song choice, praise team, preacher, etc.  Similar to the first group, they may blame others when church feels ‘boring’.

The third group will approach worship like my mom did with me (only perhaps, the more grown up version).  They will wake up in the morning with worship in mind.  They will pray.  They will pack.  “What should I bring to worship?”, this group will ask.  Bible (or hip phone app), pen and paper for the sermon outline, breath mints for hugs and close prayers with their brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Seriously?  Why not?  Its this type of thinking that allows for the final ingredient.  God?  Check.  Here He is.  And then they leave home en route to the church building.  This group knows that the house of God is not the church building.   They start the day off in preparation of worshiping God and they bring Him with them.  How much sense would it make to have a party honoring someone and you don’t invite the person being honored?

This group shows up and has a servant’s heart from the first handshake with the door greeter.  They aren’t just ready to start worship, they already have been.  And so they interact with family rather than church going acquaintances.  They see visitors as potential in-laws (the good kind) rather than strangers fighting for the back pew.  And when all are seated and the first word spoken… you are already there:  engaged with God, your Father, ready to praise Him for what He has done… and maybe even work out some issues between the two of you.

Worship isn’t something that happens to us, its something we do.  It’s an act.  Its a verb.  It’s a sacrifice of time, emotion, honesty, confession, repentance, acceptance, and so much more.  It starts the moment you wake up in the morning and greet your God and, quite honestly, it should finish when you say ‘good night’.  If you show up to church and the last time you spoke to God was the last time you were at church… you don’t have the relationship that God wants to have with you.

I had some animal crackers very recently.  You never grow out of them.  They taste plain at first (no chocolate, no toppings, no fillings, just… animal shapes and carbs).  But they are a necessity.  They filled a void in my stomach and kept my mind where it belonged.  Today, Jesus fills a void in my soul and keeps me close to God.  I couldn’t imagine trying to go to church without taking Him with me.  Without first talking with Him in the morning.  Reading His words, and possibly even singing along the way.  He is the reason I go to church, how could I leave Him behind or expect someone else to bring Him?

Worship is intentional, purposeful, specific, and directed straight to God.  It’s personal between the two of you.  It’s not passive, and it’s rarely done with dry eyes.  Even more so, it also involves a community of believers… and if they aren’t seeing genuine Christians delivering worship to a beloved Savior, then I start to understand why they don’t want to be a part of the church.