BETA

Facts of the Matter

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

Archive for September, 2006

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

SEVEN LESSONS FROM THE LIFE OF ABRAHAM ON GODS TESTING

Many of us who grew up in California live with the mythical idea that we are owed a Disneyesque existence of sun, surf and well you name itAnything but the pain and character-building suffering most mortals experience. Gods testing of Abraham in calling him to sacrifice Isaac reveals a number of lessons for us as we face lifes trials, and yes, Gods testing.  As I was mulling over Genesis 22, I was reminded of several close friends who today are suffering severely. Is it possible that God is testing some of them as he did Abraham?  I wonder. Among them are two spouses whose partners recently died of cancer, two others who are approaching death unless God intervenes, a couple whose two adopted children (now adults) are giving them unimaginable grief, and a delightful and accomplished couple whose son, through his peccadilloes, is now on the brink of divorce.

Seven lessons from Abrahams testing:

#1 Gods testing in our life may follow His great blessing: The joy of the birth and early life with Isaac was followed by  God instructing Abraham to sacrifice this precious lad.  (Gen. 21)

#2 Everything we have in life is expendable, as God may test us in that which is dearest to us:  For Abraham, it was Isaac. For us it may be our family, our privileged life style, our reputation, health, sense of significance, hope, or career. Just yesterday Julie Andrews was interviewed on television, having now lost her voice and capability of singing.

#3 The ability to trust God during severe testing may follow Gods program of character building: In old age, Abraham finally seemed able to trust God totally, having learned a valuable lesson of faith through his experience with Abimelech (Gen. 20), and through the miraculous birth of Isaac. (Gen. 21) His trust in God is again exhibited in how he approached obtaining a wife for his son Isaac in Genesis 24.

#4 God may call you, as He did Abraham, to do something that makes no rational sense to you: For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strengthFor my thoughts are not your thoughts,  neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  (I Cor. 1:25; Isa. 55:8, 9)

#5 God, in his testing may take you to the brink, as he did Abraham: When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.  Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.  But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, Abraham! Abraham! Here I am, he replied. Do not lay a hand on the boy, he said. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."  (Gen. 22:9-12)

#6 Gods character building through testing may be a necessary precursor to His blessing and his choice of entrusting you with greater responsibility: The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, "I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."  (Gen. 22:15-18)

#7 If believing God, as evidenced by uncompromising obedience is the ultimate test, then Abraham passed: Jesus answered, The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  (Jn. 6:29; Heb. 11:1,6)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

OUR MISERY FACTOR

If we are honest, an awful lot of us are stressed out and discontented with our lives.  Yet our standard of living is the envy of the world.  In a hundred years our life span has gone from 41 to 77.  Few in our society do back breaking manual labor so common a generation ago. Many of us fear that we as a nation are on a downhill slide and that the future is uncertain for our children.  What exactly is at the root of our national malaise?  And what does Gods word have to say to us? + Five observations:

#1 Dissatisfied expectations.  We possess a certain gloom, not of what we have but of what unforeseen thing might happen in the future to shake our well-being. We harbor a fear that the West cannot sustain its current high standard materially and liberty-wise. The more we see that might be available, the more anxious we become to obtain it.

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  (Heb. 13:5; Phil. 4:11b, 12) (See Matt. 6:25, 34; 1 Tim. 6:6-8)

#2 Abundance denial.  We think only the super rich are the really well off ones. We believe that no matter how much we make, we need much more to live well. No matter how much we have, we fail to appreciate it.

Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily breadOtherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my GodAll things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearingWhoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. (Prov. 30:8b, 9; Ecc 1:8; 5:10).

#3 The unsettled character of progress. We live with a sense that with progress new unsolvable problems arise to replace the old. Global warming, gridlock, escalating housing costs, the spiraling HIV epidemic, global terrorism, etc.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea (Psa. 46:1,2) (See Lk. 21:34,35)

#4 From material want to meaning want. Now that our material wants are relatively satisfied we live with the conundrum of meaninglessness. An increasing sense of no purpose.

For to me, living is for Christ, and dying is even betterI once thought all these things were so very important, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have ChristAnd when Christ, who is your real life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his gloryIf any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me.  If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life.  (Phil. 1:21;3:7,8; Col. 3:4; Lk. 9:23,24 NLT)

#5 The high cost of ingratitude.  What we have we expect. It is our right. Never mind the fact that most of the world struggles from one meal to the next.

But Israel was soon overfed; yes, fat and bloated; then, in plenty, they forsook their God. They shrugged away the Rock of their salvation They did not worship you despite the wonderful things you did for them and the great goodness you showered upon them. You gave them a large, fat land, but they refused to turn from their wickednessBut when you had eaten and were satisfied, then you became proud and forgot me. (Deut 32:15; Neh. 9:35; Psa. 106:7, 21; Hos. 13:6)  (See Deut 6:11-14; 32:18; Rom. 1:21; Lk. 17:15-18)

+Adapted from, The Progress Paradox Greg Easterbrook, Random House

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

LAUNCHING A MINISTRY FOUR IMPERATIVES

#1  Define your ministry.  Answer the question, What am I going to do?  Write it down.

Launching a ministry, like launching a business cannot be a hit and miss proposition if it is to succeed. A quarter of a century ago a young man, fresh out of formal training asked the question, Where is the fastest growing place in American where I can plant a church? Well, he found it and on very limited resources studied the people in that area, defined his target, and figured out how he was going to reach them.  And reach them he did! Many feel that Saddle Back Church in Southern California is one of the most dynamic and significant churches in America today.  If you have read, The Purpose Driven Church, or The Purpose Driven Life you realize that Rick Warren had carefully thought through in defining his ministry.

Live life with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning and purpose of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days.  Dont be vague but firmly grasp what you know to be the will of the Lord.  (Eph. 5:14-17 Philips)

QUESTION: Are you crystal clear as to what God would have you do ministry-wise? If not, it might not be a bad idea to take your Bible and notebook and get a day alone with God, asking Him to clarify it for you.

#2  Define your mission field.  Answer the question, Where am I going to do it? Write it down.

Is your primary ministry to children at risk? Or to fellow financial professionals in the marketplace?  Or to folks in your neighborhood? Both Jesus and Paul had a clear sense of the people to whom they were to minister:

Jesus: One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.  (Lk. 6:12,13)

Paul:  During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, Come over to Macedonia and help us. After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.  (Act. 16:9, 10)

QUESTION: Are you clear as to your target group? Or does easy opportunity define the will of God ministry-wise?

#3  Work out a simple plan.  Answer the question, Do I have a strategy to accomplish this ministry? Write it down.

Ask: Who needs Christ in my target group? Write their names down and begin praying for them. Who needs discipling? Write their names down and begin cultivating their trust. Ask God to help you with a simple, workable plan. 

QUESITON: Do you have a carefully thought through strategy on how you intend to influence these people for Christ?

#4  Keep it going.  Answer the question, How do I  plan to sustain this ministry? Write it down.

But this precious treasurethis light and power that now shine within usis held in perishable containers, that is, in our weak bodies. So everyone can see that our glorious power is from God and is not our own. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. Through suffering, these bodies of ours constantly share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be obvious in our dying bodies. So we live in the face of death, but it has resulted in eternal life for you. (2 Cor. 4:7-12 NLT)

QUESITON: Have you already resolved in your heart that you will stay in the battle no matter how daunting the circumstances?

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

COURAGE

In the State in which I live, political minions created spending policies that ran us into the ground to the tune of 10s of billions of dollars; a deficit greater than the other 49 States combined!  Apparently no one had the courage (guts?) to stand up in the Legislature and say, No!  This kind of spending is irresponsible and were not standing for it! And then to go to the wall in fighting for the principle of fiscal responsibility.

Cowardice, timidity, and fear seem to pervade our society. Many believers, for example, dont seem to have the spiritual fiber to openly identify with Jesus Christ, or to speak out against the genocidal murder of the unborn, or take a stand against the filth in the media/internet, or expose common marketplace practices that bilk the gullible public out of their money. The holy grail in polite society today is tolerance. To get along is to go along. Thus cowardice has won the day over courage.

How timely is Robert McCrakens observation that the world is not perishing for the want of clever or talented or well-meaning men.  It is perishing for the want of men of courage and resolution who, in devotion to the cause of right and truth, can rise above personal feeling and private ambition.

Cowardice was on display when the 10 spies refused to believe the word of God, The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky." (Deut. 1:28b)  Judas snuck around Jesus back at night to have him spiked to a tree.  (Jn. 13:27-30)

Well, what is courage? It is that quality of mind and heart that enables you to stand on principle in an unprincipled world, or to meet danger and opposition with calmness and firmness. Earnest Hemingway put it this way, Courage is grace under pressure. And C. S. Lewis reminds us that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.  Rambunctious Teddy Rough Rider Roosevelt stated, Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, then to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.

Youthful David courageously believed God when he told the Philistine behemoth, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.   (1 Sam. 17:45) And with that he felled the giant! Years later David wrote, The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?  (Psa. 118:6) Obviously his courage molded his motley crew of discontents who became great warriors. Included among them was Abishai who raised his spear against three hundred men, whom he killed and Benaiah who struck down a huge Egyptian. Although the Egyptian had a spear in his hand, Benaiah went against him with a club. He snatched the spear from the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear. (2 Sam. 22:12, 23:18b, 21)

Certainly for the believer we know that courage is derived from uncompromising obedience to Gods word: Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."  (Josh. 1:8,9) When you drive a stake in the ground, so to speak, that obedience to God based on His word is the only option, and when you wash your mind and heart in His truth, you gain the courage to act on truth.

If you are tormented with fear, and struggle with the lack of courage, ponder George F. Tiltons observation that, Success is never final. Failure is seldom fatal. Its courage that counts.  Then grab ahold of Proverbs 1:33 where God reassures you that If you listen to me, you will be safe and secure without fear of disaster."  (CEV Translation)