BETA

Facts of the Matter

A weekly letter of encouragement and challenge to business and professional men and women

Archive for September, 2004

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

THE POOR IN SPIRIT

Recently, I spent a couple of days with 200 men residing in a Mid-Western State penitentiary, who had been hand-selected to participate in an intense 18 month Christian discipleship/educational program. I cannot remember when if ever, I have run into people who are so hungry to know God, grow and learn. Perhaps the difference between them and many of us is the dissimilarity between pride and humility. In life, these men had hit the wall and splattered. Now in their brokenness they have encountered the living Christ.

Jesus informed us that such people are in line to inherit his kingdom: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:3) By "poor in spirit" Christ meant the spiritually destitute. Those who acknowledge their utter helplessness, spiritual poverty, and lack of superiority before others. People who are painfully aware of their deadness before God. The "poor in spirit" recognize that they are no better, no richer, no more superior to the next person regardless of what they have achieved in this world in terms of fame, fortune, or power. +

Dallas Willard describes the "poor in spirit" in street level terms. They are "[the] unblessed and unblessable-the physically repulsivethe bald, the fat, and the oldthe flunk-outs and dropouts and burned outs. The broke and the broken. The drug heads and the divorced. The HIV-positive and herpes-ridden. The brain-damaged, the incurably ill. The barren and the pregnant too-many-times or the wrong time. The over employed, and underemployed, the unemployed. The unemployable. The swindled, the shoved aside, the replaced" ++

Brennan Manning refers to the "poor in spirit" as "ragmuffin" believers: "[They are] the unsung assembly of saved sinners who are little in their own sight, conscious of their brokenness and powerlessness before God, and who cast themselves on his mercy. Startled by the extravagant love of God, they do not require success, fame, wealth, or power to validate their worth. Their spirit transcends all distinctions between the powerful and powerless, educated and illiterate, billionaires and bag ladies, high-tech geeks and low-tech nerds, males and females, the circus and the sanctuary." +++

If you identify with these "poor in spirit", perhaps Thomas a Kempis prayer will resonate with your soul: "How can I bear the miseries of this life unless your grace and mercy comfort me? Turn not your face from me, defer not to visit me. Do not withdraw your comforts from me, lest perhaps, my soul become as dry earth, without the water of grace and, as it were, a thing unprofitable to you. Teach me, Lord, to fulfill your will, and to live humbly and worthily before you, for you are all my wisdom and learning. You are He who knows me as I am" ++++

Now if you happen to be a "together", well-oiled business or professional person who is enjoying "success" and the esteem of your peers, the above descriptions of the "poor in spirit", "ragmuffin" types could easily offend your sensibility and sophistication. After all, the untidy idea of poverty of spirit doesnt sell very well on Main Street.

QUESTION:

Would the "least" among your friends and associates view you as a person who is "poor in spirit"?

+The main idea here is adapted from William Barclays commentary on Matthew 5; ++ "The Divine Conspiracy", Dallas Willard, page 123-124; +++ "Ruthless Trust", Brennan Manning, Harper Press, page XIII, NavPress; ++++ "Imitation of Christ," Thomas a Kempis, Image Book, page 107

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

FIVE WAYS WE CAN MISS GODS CALLING FOR OUR LIVES

After killing an Egyptian, Moses flees to the desert, marries, and takes up shepherding. (Ex. 2:11 22) One day he encounters God at a burning bush and is commissioned to lead Israel out of the bondage of Egypt. Most of us can easily identify with Moses struggles and fears in his response to Gods calling:

#1 Initial availability: Upon seeing the burning bush, Moses goes over to take a look. God calls, "Moses! Moses!" to which he replies, "Here I am." Moses is curious and probably startled, yet responsive. (Ex. 3:1-4) I am reminded of the shallow seed in the Parable of the Sower that springs up out of the ground, and then withers from the heat of the sun, for lack of an adequate root system. (Mk. 4:5,6,16,17) Curiosity and responding to something new may carry us at the front end, but it is not enough to help us persevere through to the end. Are you committed to Gods call after the novelty wears off when you must settle into the long-term hard work of laboring?

#2 Debilitating fear: God informs Moses that he has seen the misery of his people and intends to use him to rescue Israel by approaching the powerful Pharaoh to secure their release. "But Moses said to God, Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" God then informs him that he will be with him and give him a sign. (Ex. 3:7-12) Later in the exchange Moses again murmurs, "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue." (Ex. 4:10) With that God retorts, "Who gave man his mouth?Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say." (Ex. 4:11a, 12) Moses intrepid spirit is reminiscent of the man with two talents who was punished for fearfully burying them. (Matt. 25:14-30) Hebrews 10:38 is instructive here, "My righteous one will live by faith, and if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him." A close friend of mine lived all her adult life regretting the fact that in fear she disobeyed Gods call to missionary work. How tragic. Are you paralyzed by fear or choosing to be liberated by faith?

#3 Spiritually unprepared: Moses then asks God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, The God of your fathers has sent me to you, and they ask me, What is his name? Then what shall I tell them?" Gods answer: "I am who I amI am has sent me to you…Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has sent me to you.’" (Exodus 3:14,15b) Up to this point in the Exodus narrative there is no evidence of Moses possessing any spiritual awareness. Having been raised and tutored in Egypts godless court, I suspect his question to God reveals his severe lack of knowledge of the Holy God of Israel. We must ask ourselves, do we really know God? Can we speak of him from a deep well of personal, intimate experience?

#4 Fear of rejection: Moses then answers, "What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you"? Many of us are paralyzed into ineffectiveness by the fear of ridicule or rejection. Could it be that we would rather be accepted by others than used by God? Paul summed up the fear of man issue in stating, "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Gal. 1:10) Tell me, are you in bondage to what others think when it comes to identifying with and being used by Christ?

#5 Resisting the call of God: Finally in desperation Moses cries out, "O Lord, please send someone else to do it." (Ex. 4:13) "Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses", informing him that God would send Aaron to speak on his behalf. (Ex. 4:14-17) After an unrelenting illness that weakened Paul, God informed him that, "[His] grace is sufficient for [Paul] for [His] power is made perfect in weakness." Pauls conclusion? "I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me." (2 Cor. 12:9) Weak as you may feel, are you willing to allow God to use you for his glory and purposes? The weaker you feel, the more qualified you probably are!

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

THE PENCIL

In the Marketplace, where power, position, influence, and visibility are highly esteemed, the person behind the mop, or checking in the luggage, or driving the taxi seem of little import. Yet, a mis-placed zero on an accountants ledger, a metal-fatigued bolt in an airplane, or a mis-calculated second in a "sudden death" basketball game, can spell the difference between wealth or poverty, life or death, victory or defeat. Thus, it is often the unnoticed people or the little things in life that are the most important.

Like a Pencil:

+

The Pencil will be able to do many great things, but only if it allows itself to be held in Someones hand:

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20) (See Psa. 37:23,24; 41:12)

QUESTION:

Are you becoming great for God by allowing Him to determine your focus, priorities and ministry?

The Pencil will experience painful sharpening from time to time, but it will need it in order to become a better instrument:

"God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 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." (Heb. 12:10b,11) (See Pro. 15:10; 19:18; Heb. 12:5,6)

QUESTION

: Amidst lifes pain and suffering, are you choosing to acknowledge the hand of God as an instrument of spiritual refinement, or do you view Him as an annoying impedance from allowing you to achieve your self-determined goals?

The Pencil will be able to correct the mistakes it makes:

"When [the prodigal son] came to his senses, he saidI will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you" (Lk. 15:17a,18)

QUESTON

: Do you possess the humility and teachability to admit your errors. Or are you morphing into a spiritual dwarf by blaming others, as you rationalize your blunders?

The most important part of the Pencil is whats inside:

"Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place." (Psa. 51:6)

QUESTION: Is the real you standing up? That is, are you the same person in public as you are in private?

On every surface that the Pencil is used, it must leave its mark:

"For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life" (2 Cor. 2:15,16a)

QUESTION:

Do you share the passion of Jim Elliotts prayer, "Lord, make my life a crossroad in the life of every man I meet." Or is your life of little import in terms of affecting others for the Gospel?

+Author unknown. The adaptation of the key ideas is mine.

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

FACING LIFES UNANSWERED QUESTION

Its early in the morning while still dark outside

. Im sipping my coffee in the den of a new found brother in Christ. The dcor is tastefully masculine yet artfully injected with a womans touch: The blending of old brick, the fire place, wood paneling, oriental rugs, the ticking of the clock, blue and white couches with matching porcelain artifacts. It is apparent that a great deal of love and thought went into this home – by a woman who died of cancer 2 years ago.

A widower in his 60s now lives here alone. Neither he nor his wife, in creating this home together ever imagined only one would survive to enjoy it.

During my morning time with God, with this gracious widower and his departed wife on my mind, I pondered my way through Ecclesiastes 3. Here are a couple of conclusions that emerged:

#1 God has a perfect timetable and season for everything that enters our lives:

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace." (Ecc. 3:1-8)

Therefore, enjoy life while you have it. Relish the moment, because only God knows the duration of each season of your life.

(See Ecc. 5:18-20; 8:15,16; 9:9)

#2 Behind the unanswered questions of life, God is mysteriously working His good:

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to endI know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him."

(Ecc. 3:11,14)

Therefore, relax. Choose to believe that God has everything carefully choreographed. And that He is right on schedule!

(See Deut. 32:4; Psa. 33:11; Pro. 19:21; Ecc. 8:17; Isa. 46:10; Rom. 11:33)

As I write, the light is beginning to dawn into a new day

. The brightening sun signals new hope and opportunities. And yes, new challenges. But knowing God is there, accomplishing His perfect plan with my best interests at heart gives me hope and rest. He is in the process of setting eternity in my heart, thus enabling me to ease my grip on the temporal. To be sure, His plan is unfathomable, but "beautiful in His time." (See Ecc. 7:14; 11:8)

Prayer:

"Lord, today, grant me the faith and grace to place my hand in yours, assured of the fact that nothing will transpire without your consent. Help me to learn the grace of living joyfully in the present moment, rather than in the future or the past. Help me to grasp the fact that you are in the process of preparing me for eternity. Amen."

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

IF WE CANT JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVERWHY ARE WE FOREVER TRYING?

Years ago I held a Bible study for business and professional men in the most exclusive private club in town

. These men were at the top of their game professionally, urbane and polished. Into this group came a rather scruffy-looking individual, who just didnt "fit." I remember my discomfort at the time, as it was my desire to attract the leading businessmen of the city. In looking back, most of those "sharp" men have long since disappeared, and the disheveled gentleman turned out to be brilliant in his field, with an enduring heart for God.

So tell me, can you identify with my wrong-headed inclination toward making snap judgments about people

? If so, here is a little drill that may just surprise you:

It is time to elect a world leader, and your vote counts. Here are the facts about the three leading candidates:

Candidate A: He associates with crooked politicians, and consults with astrologists. He’s had two mistresses. He also chain smokes and drinks 8 to 10 martinis a day.

Candidate B: He was kicked out of office twice, sleeps until noon, used opium in college and drinks a significant amount of whisky every evening.

Candidate C: He was a decorated war hero. A vegetarian. Doesn’t smoke. Drinks an occasional beer, and hasn’t had any extramarital affairs

Which of these candidates would be your choice for the office? Before reading the answer below, consider the following Scriptures:

"The Lord saidDo not consider his appearanceThe Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heartStop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgmentWe don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look"

(I Sam. 16:7b; Jn. 7:24; 2 Cor. 5:16 b Msg)

The answer:

Candidate A

is Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Candidate B is Winston Churchill.

Candidate C is Adolph Hitler.

"You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same thing." (Rom. 2:1)