Saturday, July 12, 2014

Body, Soul, and Spirit (Generosity)

When I started working on this list, I intended to title this section giving. The more I thought about the problem, the more I thought this was OK as far as it went, but giving does not go to the heart of the matter. Giving is just an act. An act that can find its source in all sorts motivations, some good some bad. Giving can come from a fear in a bitter resentful heart, a malicious attempt to manipulate another in blatant quid pro quo, or even an attempt to heal our own guilty conscience. I believe that Jesus is always more interested in the state of our heart than he is in our actions.

I have a friend who once needed to take a second, part time job waiting tables at a local restaurant. He told me he hated to see people pray before they ate. It inevitably meant that he would receive a lousy tip. In fact on one occasion a Christian customer left him a soul winning Bible tract instead of any tip at all. Then as now, I find this act so inexcusably despicable that as a Christian, it is hard to put my feelings into words. Given what I know about religion in the Bible Belt where he lived, it would not surprise me a bit to discover the customer who left my friend a Bible tract was a faithful church member and I bet he tithed. I expect he took great pride in tithing and frequently reminded God of his faithfulness. A bit ashamed of himself, my friend confessed his favorite customers were drunks. They left good tips. Fortunately, he was a lot better at forgiveness than most people in the food service industry.

There is a better way. We are told the queen of Sheba gave King Solomon an hundred and twenty talents of gold, of spices very great store, and precious stones. The narrator goes on to observe that there came no more such abundance of spices as these which the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon. The king, by the way, returned the favor. This is what kings and queens do, even in this day. They give out of a sense of abundance, knowing that there will be plenty more where that came from. After all, basically they own an entire country.

Once again though, the condition of your heart does not depend on the material world. The famous Jewish psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl, observed, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.” They had a sense of abundance that could not be overcome by even the most horrifying depravation imaginable.

I believe I have it all wrong. So often I act out of a sense of scarcity not a sense of abundance. After all, we are sons and daughters of the King. Jesus told his disciples, “freely you have received, freely give.” Try to be a blessing. Once again, it isn’t necessary to perform some great feat to become a blessing. Start small. Once I was walking down a street on my way to a meeting with some unpleasant sponsors. I noticed one of the parking meters was within a minute or two of expiring. Only a few cars behind me a meter maid was working her way up the street. On an impulse I fished into my pocket, pulled out a quarter, and dropped it into the meter. I gave a small blessing to someone I never met and probably never will meet. It felt good.

In Lawrence of Arabia, Anthony Quinn portrays Auda Abu Tayi, a corrupt, self important old tribal chieftain and war lord. A one point he informs everyone within earshot, “I am a river of blessing to my people.” In fact he was greedy but lovable thieving scoundrel, but what an idea! Could I be a river of blessings to the people I meet? What a way to live, to continually look for an opportunity to be a blessing to others.

Of course just as there are many bad motivations for bad giving, there are many good motivations for giving. I contend that while it is possible to give without a heart full of gratitude. That it is impossible not to give if your heart is overflowing with love and gratitude to the Lord of the universe. Consider a grandfather. He is very likely to spoil his grandchild, just because he is so happy and grateful to see the child of his daughter alive in this world. Keep practicing generosity. The time will come when you will be in a position to make a difference in some wonderful life and as you reach out your hand, friendship and blessings will keep flowing forward forever, even into eternity. You will be ready for the truly important moments that can change the history of a life if you practice giving as you receive.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Body, Soul, and Spirit (Faith)

As I am learning how to write these entries, I am learning how to exercise my faith, because learning how to write is an important goal in my life.

Once we have made an effort to purify our hearts, once we are focused and working towards a goal in a manner that is systematically in line with our thoughts, values, feelings, and natural talents, we must exercise faith if we are ever to see that goal actualized in the material world. The world often presents difficulties that we must overcome. To reach our goals, we must continue to believe that we will achieve them. We must continue to visualize them in our mind’s eye. We must continue to believe that we are acting in accordance with the will of God for our life. Without faith that we can complete the task, we could not graduate from college, build a house, run a race, or find a mate. If we have made the effort to set a goal in line with our Divine purpose, we can believe that the God who has given us our desires will help us fulfill them.

I have spent some time wondering why I have a measure of faith in some areas of life and not in others. I have analyzed my own behavior and I have found that in the areas where I have been able to walk in faith, I often practice an exercise that can be found in the life of King David. I think back on my training as a child or as a new Christian. I recall the times God moved in my life and delivered me from some trial. I say to myself, “God delivered me from this and God gave me the strength to do that, surely I will overcome this new obstacle in my life. When King David faced a problem, he was fond of reminding himself of what God had done in life. Consider this example can found in Psalm 18:

[29] For by thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall.
[30] As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him.
[31] For who is God save the LORD? or who is a rock save our God?
[32] It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect.
[33] He maketh my feet like hinds' feet, and setteth me upon my high places.
[34] He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms.
[35] Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great.
[36] Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip.
[37] I have pursued mine enemies, and overtaken them: neither did I turn again till they were consumed.

I believe David benefited from good training as a child. No doubt his father, like my father, made David a sling and taught him how to use it. The sling is still a dangerous weapon (particularly in the unsupervised hands of a small boy), but in the ancient world it was a weapon of war. I expect Jesse taught him how to handle a long staff, another standard martial arts weapon and the basic tool of a shepherd. Furthermore, we know had a number of older brothers. Based on my observations of sibling behavior, it is easy to conclude that even without training, David would have to learn how to defend himself.

Out in the wilderness with the sheep, David probably found plenty of opportunities to practice with the sling and the long staff both as he protected his father’s sheep and out of sheer boredom. The point here is he did not start with Goliath of Gath. He started with smaller goals, most likely learning to hit anything at all with a sling. As a child, I could hurl a rock a great distance with my sling but I was unlikely to hit anything I was aiming at. For this reason, my sling practice was limited to areas not inhabited by windows or other children. The wilderness seems like a perfect place for a boy to learn how to use a sling. Start with small goals, build your confidence. Then look for bigger and bigger goals, understand that the God who helped you reach your first goal will help you reach your second and third goals. Then when the time comes that you must face a truly frightening challenge, like Goliath of Gath you will be ready.

I believe that David could have hit Goliath 100 out of 100 times. The giant was too big a target for an expert to miss. I believe David could have hit Goliath in his helmeted head 80 out of 100 times. But a kill shot with a single stone? I think even for an expert that is a 1 in a 100 throw, bad odds when facing a heavily armed giant. David, however, had the training, he had the experience of God’s power moving in his young life, and David confessed his faith in the present moment, in the moment of crisis. It wasn’t faked. He wasn’t pretending. It was real.

Of course we all know the outcome of this most popular of Old Testament stories. A junior high school aged boy, too young to march with the army, took out the biggest, badest martial artist of his age with a single stone.

Go thou and do likewise.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Success is Better With a Successor

In the movie Blade Runner, the dying replicant Roy Batty introspectively makes the speech during a rain downpour, moments before his own death.

“I've... seen things you people wouldn't believe... Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those... moments... will be lost in time, like [small cough] tears... in... rain. Time... to die...”

It is a certainty that you will die. All your experience; all your knowledge; all your memories; all the skills you possess will be lost; or can there be a different outcome?

2nd Kings 20:1

In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.

Don’t wait until you are sick unto death to set your house in order.

Success is better with a successor.

It starts when you are in school. When I was taking engineering courses, I learned if I helped my classmates, I was ultimately helping myself. If I understood how to explain the solution to a problem to another student, I really understood how to solve that problem. Helping the competition helped my Grade Point Ratio. Isn’t that interesting?

When I worked as the night superintendent at a saw chain factory, I made it a point to learn from anyone who would teach me their skills. I learned to run (not very well in some cases) almost every machine in the factory. To the best of my abilities, I shared my knowledge with my department supervisors. It has been written that if you are in a position of authority, you should prepare at least two employees who will be ready to take your place if you are promoted, retire, or leave for a better job. I wouldn’t limit that principle to a position of authority. Share what you know with your coworkers. It may seem counterintuitive, but in due course you will be rewarded.

Proverbs 13:22

A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children's children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.

I think I understand why this proverb speaks of a good man preparing for the needs of his grandchildren. In biblical times family was everything. We are told that even a sinner knows how to give good things to his children. A good man is looking to see the future take root in the present. He will leave blessings in this world that will outlive his children.

There is a happy ending to this particular story. The LORD heard the prayers of this good man, giving him another 15 years to prepare his legacy. In the movie, Roy Batty asked his maker, the owner of the Tyrell Corporation, for more time. He wasn’t so lucky.

2nd Kings 20: 2-6

Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, “Remember, LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the LORD. I will add fifteen years to your life.