Month: July 2014

Running the Spiritual Race of Life

Have you ever received any trophies or ribbons for a sports competition and/or extracurricular activity? If so, which one was the most impactful for you? I received my most meaningful reward when I was a sophomore in High School. Our swim team participated in a weekend meet called The House of Champions. It took place at the Indianapolis Natatorium, home to the former Olympic trials. At one time, it was the fastest pool in the world. Our relay team was the underdog, and yet we won the 200 freestyle relay races against six good high school teams. I was proud of my team because we spent that whole winter training ourselves for this big event.

God tells us in his word that many people spend their whole lives in strict physical training to compete in the games to get a crown, a trophy, and a medal that only lasts for the moment. How much more should we go into spiritual training since our crown is imperishable and everlasting? He states here in 1 Cor. 9:24-25: “Do you 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. 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.

Paul’s point is to encourage believers to have more single-mindedness, determination, and perseverance in our spiritual strength than in our physical condition. 2 Timothy 4:7 says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” and “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).” What practical steps can you take to become stronger in your spiritual race? That’s the most important question we should be asking ourselves.

Are you a Giver or a Taker?

Charity_to_Street_ArabDon’t you like experiencing the surprise of a family member or good friend open a present you bought them for their birthday? I remember when I was a freshman in high school; I got a special present for my Mom. I went to the Markland mall and found a good deal on golden loop earrings at Andrew’s Jewelers. I kept telling my Mom, “You’re really going to love this gift. You’re really going to be happy about it.” It took all my energy to bottle it inside so I wouldn’t tell her what the gift was. Finally, she opened the present and loved it.  Fourteen years later, those golden earrings are sitting in her jewelry box. What an encouragement.  Do you like to gift gifts?

If you’re a Christian and the Holy Spirit is in you, you should desire to give. You know that God’s a giver, and to be a giver is a good thing. God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son (Jn. 3:16), The Lord Jesus himself said: “It is better to give than to receive (Acts. 20:35). Paul tells the church in Corinth that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7), and here Paul is telling the church of Ephesus that God freely gives spiritual gifts to each one of us according to His marvelous grace.

Our God loves to give, and the more you get to know the God who gives, the more you become like the God who gives. One of the greatest tests of Christian maturity is whether you’re defined as a giver or a taker. What would people say about you? Think about this for a moment. Do you give people your time and energy (help with homework, drive someone to work, go out for breakfast and buy coffee) or do you make excuses that you don’t have time?

Here’s the truth. All of us are busy. Typically, the person who gives the most is busier than most. How does the busiest person give the most? They have prioritized their time. If a project needs to be done in seven weeks, this person will get it done in two weeks. Why? Because she knows that when the seventh week comes, she will be extra busy. By prioritizing her time, she is now more available and resourceful than others.

Here is another litmus test to determine whether you are a giver or taker. Do you contribute to the church? Do you give money that you make from your work or do you keep it all for yourself? I distinctly remember at seminary, when Olya and I started dating, she would always give money during the offering time. I thought to myself, how does she give? She works at seminary dining (minimum wage), is an international student, and the majority of her money goes to school. Her answer was simple: I give because God calls us to do so. See, I held all my money back and gave every once in a blue moon because my excuse was I had a dead end job. This was my excuse, but what about the widow in the Bible? She gave a tenth of what she had, which wasn’t much, but it was more than everyone else. It’s all about the motive of the heart.

J.L. Kraft, head of the Kraft Cheese Corporation, who gave 25% of all his enormous income to Christian causes for many years said, “The only investment I ever made which has paid consistently increasing dividends is the money I have given to the Lord. J.D. Rockefeller said, “I never would have been able to tithe the first million dollars I ever made if I had not tithed my first salary, which was $1.50 per week.” Don’t feel ashamed about giving little. Ask yourself again: Are you a giver or a taker? Once you determine the answer to that question, never forget the purpose of giving: To honor and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ.

Teamwork is the Key to Greater Success

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Michael Jordan once said: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence    wins championships.” This is coming from the most gifted Basketball player in  the history of the game. Even he recognizes that talent alone is not enough to win championships.

I have a picture hanging in my office from the year 1998. My Little League  Baseball team won the city championship. It was taken shortly after our clean-up hitter, Derek, hit a solo homerun in right field to put us in the lead of our rivals. As he approached home plate, the whole team ran out of the dugout with joy. I was the first one out and immediately jumped on top of Derek with my head in the air. The photographer took a snapshot of that moment. I am so glad he did because that image reminds me everyday of what my own Father engraved below the frame: “The reward of hard work.”

Derek helped us score a couple of runs, I pitched from the mound to maintain our lead, but it was a concerted team effort and not our individual talents that won the game. Our center fielder dove to make a great catch, the shortstop didn’t miss any ground balls hit to him, and even our teammates on the bench continually cheered and encouraged us throughout the game. We couldn’t have won the city championship without the team.

The same is true in life. In order to have a successful family, you need to work together. The mother, father, and even children are responsible for doing their part in making the family a thriving success. In work, you need to respect upper management, the boss, work with people on your level, and train others below you how to be more diligent, persistent, and sharp.

As Vince Lombardi famously stated: “Individual commitment to a group effort–that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” I have to remind my prideful self daily that no matter how hard I try, I will always perform better with help. With that said, what are some ways you have developed teamwork? Do you have any quotes that also inspire you?

The Beauty of Forgiveness

250px-Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_ProjectOn a scale from 1-10, one being the easiest and ten being the hardest, how would you rate your ability to forgive someone in the following situations. Afterwards, ask yourself,  “Does my desire to forgive depend on the severity of the offense?”

1. Your sibling borrows your coat jacket for a backpacking trip in the Colorado Rockies and loses it. He later asks for forgiveness face-to-face and buys a new jacket and a 12 pack of Coca-Cola. 2.  A close family member forgets to call you on your birthday and doesn’t even send you a message on Facebook. 3. Your best friend gets shot and murdered by a robber. 4. Someone cuts you off at an intersection, cusses you out, and says it’s your entire fault even though he was speeding through the traffic light. 5. You find out that your spouse or fiancée is cheating on you.

What does it mean to forgive? Forgiveness is an intentional, voluntary change in feelings regarding an offense, with an increased ability to wish the offender well. Is forgiveness the same thing as excusing or forgetting the offense? What if the person never apologizes for the offense? Do you still have to forgive him or her?

Jesus helps clarify how believers are to forgive others. He told his disciples, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:44).” When Peter asked Jesus, “How often are we to forgive, up to seven times?” Jesus responded, “Not 7, but 7 times 77.” Jesus’ comment isn’t to be taken literally, but is a figurative statement meaning forgive no matter what.

In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus is invited over to a Pharisees house for dinner. While Jesus is interacting with others inside, a sinful woman comes in, uninvited, and starts to weep at Jesus’ feet. With her tears, she wipes his feet and anoints them with ointment. When the Pharisees see this, they become angry and shout, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”

Jesus then tells a story about a moneylender who had two debtors. One owed 20 months worth of wages and the other owed about two months’ wages. When both of them could not pay, the moneylender cancelled the debt of both. Jesus asked one of the Pharisees, “Which of them will love more?” Simon answered, “The one for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” Jesus agrees and demonstrates how the sinful woman reflected the beauty of forgiveness. Though she had many sins, her forgiveness was much greater than the Pharisees. This was evident by the way she approached Jesus, showing humility with her tears and hospitality by anointing his feet.

All of us have a debt to be paid and need forgiveness. No matter how small or great our sins are, God is willing to forgive. In Acts 13:38, the apostles state: “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” This is the greatest news ever told. If you are in need of forgiveness, call out to God. He is our High Priest, prepared to forgive you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. Don’t miss the opportunity. Do it today.