Prosperity: Threading the Needle

[Title change courtesy of reader Ernie Zimmerman]

Jesus addressed every American living in 2014 when he said:

“To whom much is given, much is required.”

When even my nation’s poorest citizens still rank among the wealthiest people in the world, we have much required of us as a nation.

Writer Matt Ridley put it this way:

“Today, of Americans officially designated as ‘poor,’ 99 percent have electricity, running water, flush toilets, and a refrigerator; 95 percent have a television, 88 percent a telephone, 71 percent a car and 70 percent air conditioning. Cornelius Vanderbilt had none of these.”

I want to be a man who’s found faithful with my station at life. I want to use every gift over every second through every opportunity to exploit every possibility of blessing others. I want to be a proven steward of being an American, not because of America, but because of what’s required of me as a Christian living amongst so much “given.”

I want to do all things as if I were doing them for Christ himself. And do all things knowing the expectations placed on me—by virtue of the fact that I live in America—require me to rise to the greatness of my own blessing.

Any lesser living shames providence, provokes God and insults humanity. Death to the entitled self; resurrection to the selfless whole.

May frustrations ebb, complaints cease and comparisons die. I was born to be a child who leads like a king, not a king who acts like a child.

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On Romans 12:12

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
(Romans 12:12 ESV)

There are some hard truths in the Bible in that they are difficult to get away from. Impossible, in fact. They’re non-negotiables, ones in which we cannot expect to find favor with God over, or even favor in life, without engageing—without wholly adopting them on as our own.

Many of these divine realities happen to but heads with the American Dream quite severly, therefore making a First World man’s task at incorporating them more challenging then others. Namely, that they require us to resist the urge to emerge from the warmth of the womb and come kicking and screaming into the cold, dry air of reality.

To “rejoice in hope” means we must first have a hope superior to the vehicles we see as our “immediate hopes.” If there is a need, financially, let’s say, then our hope of meeting it must see beyond the next pay check, the next side job, the next bonus. If it’s an emotional need for the desire of a spouse, or the verbal encouragement of esteem, it must be fulfilled beyond that of the earthly persons we expect it to come from. Ultimately, all such hopes must rest in the person of Jesus.

The “rejoicing” we engage in then directly betrays the true measure of our hope, not in a system, but in him. Of course, if a people can’t rejoice, it’s systemic of having little to no hope in him. But can you blame them? Our hope has been conditioned to radiate from our comforts. The very freedom and high-living that we’ve been raised to expect has become our greatest adversary on a Sunday morning.

Some might argue that we should then trade such lofty offerings in for a lesser state of living in order to attain a higher spiritual awareness, as more spartan cultures have. To do so, however, means we also abdicate the power of our present position to bring freedom to others while somehow gaining better traction for our souls to rejoice by placing ourselves in a deprived context. This, then, is self-serving as it only has one party’s best interests in mind, chiefly our own. Abandoning a powerful position to a selfless one in the name of self-betterment is still self-focus. While I wholly respect the hard work and production of the Amish family down the street from me, I am equally put off that in their radical embrace of the anti-modern in the hopes of preserving their own families, they have openly abandon the door that would serve me and my family into a similar state of salvation. Invitation is always stronger than intrusion. And they have sent me none.

The only true escape is to be faithful to the position you’ve been placed in by rejoicing in the hope of Jesus within your context. 

And so I must find hope outside of my immediate First World provisions. I battle against them to see clearly into a realm that is far superior. And in that gaze, I rejoice. Loudly. Boldly. Lavishly.

“Patient in tribulations.” And what tribulations do I have that I am not able to mitigate quickly? I have more resources at my disposal than I’m able to count. Even if the resources don’t bring immediate remedy, at least the knowledge that I’m pursuing something constructive does. I search online, call a doctor, consult an app, strategize with a satalite map, move funds, apply for a class, submit a resume, go to a mechanic, order a part online. 

Tribulations? Even a prison sentence in the United States comes with a gym and cable television. I’m even wondering if I identify with Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he wrote to his family from within the Gestapo prison in Berlin, telling them not to worry about him. “Suffering? I don’t think any of us truly endure suffering.” 

If I’m so quick to bypass even the onset of discomfort or inconvieniance with the resources at my immediate disposal, how can I truly be expected to be patient when real tribulation sets in? 

The answer has everything to do with my first reaction, with training my eyes on where to look when the status quo is first ruffled. This type of conditioning builds in an automatic response system of sorts. Since I may never have decades of earth-shattering tribulations, I must treat even my smallest inconveniences as initiators—not to inflate the trivial to a level of the grandiose (and in so doing, insult the plights of those in the world who are actually suffering), but to train my first instinct how to behave. Or better, to whom it needs to look.

If my hope worth rejoicing about is Jesus, then he also becomes my patience supplier, whether the task is a tremor or turmoil. The answer to my “tribulating patiently” is once again not a how, or a what, but a who.

“Be constant in prayer.” Such a state, taken literally (as some of the monastic life have) would say as much passively to the heathen world as my Amish neighbors have to me: “I’m too busy saving my own neck to be concerned with giving a thought to the state of yours.”

This speaks so much more to a state of prayer, or the condition of the praying heart, than it does to the litany of words contained between the prefix “Dear Father” and the suffix “Amen.” By no intention do I mean to discredit the need and extreme importance of verbally praying before the Father on a regular basis; if Jesus himself needed to do so, I need to do so much more. And there are fewer deeper acknowledgements to the human soul that prove the existence of God than that of a man verbally addressing a being who isn’t there, at least according to his natural eyes. 

However, this open-source, constant connection between our deepest spiritual nature and the presence of the Holy Spirit constitutes an intrinsic lifeline that’s reliant on more than just speech. Such integrity is derived from a pursuit of awareness, a God-consciousness, as John G. Lake put it, that invites the Maker of the Universe into the intimacy of every moment of the believer’s day. Whether by verbal invocation, mental assertion, or physical activity, our conduct as a whole is offered before the Father as a holy act of communion, of communicating in seen and unseen realms. So whereas a pious man might ascribe integrity to his spiritual life based on the eloquence or longevity of his prayers, a man who truly understands connection with the Father does so with the backing of his lifestyle of prayer holistically.  

The substance of this single passage of Romans is therefore a clarion call to an immersive indulgence into the person of Jesus Christ. No orthodoxy can summon its energy, no modernism can clarify its importance so much as faith in the person will produce the blind leap needed to land safely in the embrace of Jesus. 

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The Mechanics of Gratitude

Gratitude is a construct of perspective within context. 

The more barren the context, the less biased the perspective, and the more grateful the viewer to any superior offering. 

The more affluent the context, the more the viewer must diligently work to keep his perspective from drowning amidst the waters of apathy. 

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When Traveling at Warp Speed at Night

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Have you ever been fooled into thinking something was what it wasn’t? Misjudged motives, fake antiques, fooled taste buds?

Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved driving in the snow, especially at night. I was at the helm of my very own starship, hurtling through a star system at warp speed. I have very early memories of riding in the passenger seat of my parents’ vehicles in snow storms mesmerized by the snow flakes careening toward the wind shield. Like thinking that a parachute actually pulls a skydiver upward (instead of merely slowing his descent), I was convinced the snow flakes were shooting at us at Mach 3.

And why not? The eye has no other reference point at night. Without the Light, it’s hard to have any true perspective. That’s why understanding is just as critical as sight.

Knowing God is with us over seeing God is with us helps preserve our perspective in the dark times. When we’re convinced everything is flying at us, knowledge of Him lets us realize we’re the ones in motion flying toward life.

Knowledge of what we can’t see is what transforms us into those that confidently take ground. Loosing sight of the Light that illuminates our surroundings makes us feel as if we’re being assaulted by snowflakes that are relatively just standing still.

When life seems fast and everything’s coming at us, having our eyes on Jesus gives us the perspective we need to say, “Look out, world. Here I come.”

Here’s to everyone flying a starship at warp speed. Tallyho!

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First World Problems

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This expression is Levi’s, “Oh my gosh, is that an iPhone in front of me? I want it right now. No – I need it right now. Give it to me or I’m going to have a baby-sized breakdown,” face.

He’s 1-year old.

One.

He doesn’t even know what Apple is yet, let alone the amazing technological developments that have been employed to enable what is a modern marvel of personal communication glory.

He knows his high chair, his bottle, pooping, and blankies. And apparently iPhones.

I can’t help feel a little guilty here, as he sees his Daddy and Mommy with one everyday.

(Okay, mostly his Mommy).

(Okay, okay. Sheesh. Mostly his Daddy).

And I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that the iPhone is a pretty amazing device (Levi’s 3-year old big-brother Judah can navigate an iPad better than many adults I know…a testament to iOS genius).

But as much as Levi is utterly convinced he needs to touch an iPhone, the reality is that it’s one of the last things he needs. (Heck, it’s probably the last thing I need! It’s 4:30am and I can’t sleep, so what am I doing? Thumb-typing this on my iPhone in bed).

No matter how bad our personal turmoil, no matter how badly we desire something, remember that you and I suffer from what I call “firstworlditis” – to play off the Greek suffix -itis, which means to suffer from a disease associated with, in my case, the First World. It’s a condition that affects, well, everyone I’ve met personally who lives in a First World nation.

The main symptom is an overt and seemingly nearsighted compulsion to voice disdain for what we don’t have in light of all that we already do have.

Essentially, we’re spoiled brats.

Forget that our toilet water is more drinkable that most human water supplies on the planet.

Forget that the average square footage of the First World home is palatial by comparison.

And forget that earning a mere $1,200 USD a year puts you in the top half of wage earners in the world.

Lost loved ones? My heart goes out to you. Yet welcome to the infinitesimal emotion shared by those who’ve endured genocide in Africa or Asia.

What really bends us out of shape is the hot water heater breaking, the clothing store not honoring the gift card, Starbucks messing up our drink, the fast food fries being cooked in old oil, having to pay for that unexpected vehicle repair, our spouse needing the car, a stain on our new cotton shirt, the lawn mower not starting, the kids scratching the flat screen TV, our sports team loosing by three, the store ran out of wings, and don’t I deserve to just come home for once and no one ask me any questions?

If you or I have any problems at all, I don’t doubt the very real emotions or frustrations we experience…

…just so long as we keep in mind that they are First World problems, because that’s exactly how God sees them too.

“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.”

Genesis 12:2

Take your momentary affliction in stride today, and deliberately, intentionally look how you can bless someone around you with what you’ve been blessed with. You’ll honor The Lord as well as your position of privilege more than you can imagine…and take a giant step away from being a spoiled brat like me.

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Diving For Lost Treasures

I lost my anchor yesterday.

One minute I had cleated off the line as I have a hundred times before.

The next minute I’m noticing we’re drifting far from where we’ve anchored.

I step lively to the bow and…

…nothing.

The anchor, chain and 200-feet of line are completely missing.

Such is sailing with four kids on board: they get all your attention and your ship doesn’t.

Being the adventurous pair that we are, my father and I decided to take his boat, Contessa, in search of the missing anchor this morning. We set anchor in the approximate locale of my missing Danforth, and then went to work, zig-zagging over the know area and diving on anything that remotely resembled a white line. We even used his underwater camera. (That’s me in the view-finder above).

While I found an old vase, there was no sign of my missing anchor.

After over an hour and a half of diving in the shallow 15-feet of water, I was about to give up, seriously thinking we were never going to find it. I went a little wider on my last pass, and crossed back toward Contessa, just north of a route I’d run twice earlier.

There was a clear white line, stretching north-to-south about 10-feet below me. My dad and I hooted and hollered, celebrating in Dutch-Seafaring, pirate fashion.

Had I known how much fun I was going to have with my dad, I would’ve had a better attitude about losing my anchor the day before. (Granted, the very fact that I have a boat places my in the top 1% wealthiest people on the planet. Perspective is everything). But sometimes we encounter frustrating circumstances simply so that providence has the room to move.

Jesus’ disciples asked him in John 9 why a certain man was ill, wondering if the sickness was due to the sin of the man’s parents.

Jesus replied:

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.”

The Lord never wishes anything to get lost. But he sure has a lot of fun finding us.

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Why Doesn’t God Heal People Anymore?

If you’re a Christian you’ve heard the question asked more than once. And probably asked it a few times yourself.

“Why doesn’t God heal people anymore?”

God needs me least of all to defend him; he’s big enough to do that himself. But might I point out a few obvious truths?

The life expectancy of Americans in the 1800′s floated around 40-45 years. Which would mean I have about 10 years left before I’m gone. Scarier still is that that number drops into the 30′s once you hit the 1700′s and the 1600′s.

Advances in science, personal hygiene and food practices have all contributed to the longevity of the populace. But where did those advances come from?

The big bang. I know.

But really?

I’d contend that the Lord has been healing us all along by depositing his “superior ways of doing life” into the hearts and minds of those with a genuine heart to see mankind rise above the adverse affects of sin we donned upon ourselves. He’s been healing us with wisdom for a very long time.

Maybe not the answer you were expecting, but one we must process nonetheless.

Another obvious truth is that not only do we fail to ascribe credit where credit is due, but we’re forgetful.

One of the more depressing segments of human history can be found in the documentation of the Children of Israel and their utter forgetfulness about the miracles that they lived through. I’m not talking headache relief with an Aspirin kind of miracles, I’m talking food falling from the sky everyday kind of miracles.

And yet God chastised them. Because they so easily forgot. In fact, they failed so miserably at remembering all the miracles they had seen that their kids never knew about it all:

“There arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.” (Judges 2:10)

You’ve probably already forgotten about legit healings you’ve heard about in the past. Because you and I are not that far removed from the Children of Israel.

We hear (Hebrews 3:16) and yet forget. And that forgetting provokes unbelief which keeps us from entering in (3:19).

Two years ago New Life started a Twitter account dedicated solely to documenting, in list form, miracles that were breaking out just among our church family. Re-reading it today is staggering, as I forgot about all those wonderful events. Until now.

I think I’ll go update that account.

So we can remember.

So we can give credit where credit is due.

A better question than “Why doesn’t God heal anymore?” is “How do we forget so easily?” And if the Children of Israel had the holy writings of their leaders – arguably more substantial than a Twitter account – how can I possibly do any better?

Simple.

Remembering the works of the Lord in our day is a choice. It’s deliberate. It’s intentionally looking for and acknowledging his work around is every day.

Where is the Lord?

Where is he not.

Where are all the miracles?

Everywhere. All day. Every day. We must chose to see them.

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Just Play


[Picture courtesy of @jacobmilea]

Anthony Hoisington asked me to sit in with Brothers McClurg on two songs for worship this morning at New Life.

What a treat.

I appreciated his kindness and desire to honor our house. But I also loved his desire to just play.

Sometimes we need to just play. Because while life’s certainly about responsibilities, stewardship, faithfulness and progression, God ultimately made our lives to be enjoyed by Him, with Him and for Him.

Notice the word enjoy there. It echoes what Jesus said in John 10:10 when he was talking about the reason he came to the earth:

The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows). (Amplified)

Sometimes in life, we just need to play. For the sake of playing.

I cherish my children for encouraging – and sometimes begrudgingly provoking – this behavior in me. Admittedly, I don’t always feel like playing. But there is tremendous value in doing so: responsibilities devoid of the inevitable pursuit of play are unsatisfying.

It’s also training for heaven. One day, your only responsibility will be to play with your Father. (Better start getting used to it).

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Ode To The Common Heroes

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The earth is impregnated with heroes.

They love the land others think is cursed.

Their eyes aren’t on fortunes or fame, unless having to do with increasing their King’s, as His fortune is measured in souls and His fame established in grace. Grace that’s invited the sickest, murdering pervert among them to dine at the Father’s table – realizing they had all been branded the same for executing the Father’s son with their sin. Sick, murdering perverts who found grace.

They have the audacity to think they can impact their region; having themselves been touched by the life altering presence of God, they do not think it a stretch to believe that that same presence can change those around them.

They get frustrated with other Children of the Light who unwittingly mimic the lies of the Enemy over territory marked for the King, but remember they would be in the same depraved condition if it weren’t for divine perspective.

So they move in grace for the saved and the unsaved alike.

They are dispensers of mercy, not holding people to the fates they deserve; dispensers of grace, looking to give to people that which they do not merit.

Their culture is upside down. Unusual. Deliriously different and yet definitively divine.

They see their cities and towns and villages through heaven’s eyes, ever aware that there’s a better way to live for those struggling to feel better about the way they’re living.

They’re dreamers. Warrior poets. They make music with their inventions, create positions with their endeavors, generate monies with their pursuits, and forge converts with their humility.

All the while reminding the Enemy he only has control over regions of the earth where no Christ-followers live: if they aren’t there yet, Devil, they’ll be there soon.

You can attack them, frustrate them, discourage them, shove them, marginalize them and tempt them, but you can not defeat them. Because the epicenter of their earthquake causing, ear drum rupturing, heart stopping power is the Mercy Seat of Jesus Christ.

Kill one and you’ve invited heaven to your house, indeed doing God a favor in designating a place that’s in need of mercy. Kill them all and they’ll only be replaced by more; for the Creator has an endless supply of resources with which to fashion an army capable of representing Himself, embodying his love, and serving those in deepest darkness into light.

Their sleeves are rolled up. Eyes are on the horizon. Faces set like flint.

Yet they look common on the outside.

And this, the beauty of it all.

For when the Enemy least expects it, he’ll have lost another soul, another town, another nation to some unsuspecting vagabond that reeks of the divine, sounds like the crucified, walks with a limp, and has eternity in their eyes.

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Tenacious Terminology

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Tenacity.

Tenacity is being certain of your pursuits, especially when others aren’t certain of their own and fall away.

It’s holding on when things are difficult, and then staying that way for a long time.

When emotions say you shouldn’t, but your gut says you should.

When the crowd says you can’t, but a select few elders say you can.

Tenacity is saying, “Hands off my woman.” And willing to bloody your knuckles over it.

It’s minimizing distractions, growing lean, and becoming resourceful.

Tenacity is quantifying whether every new option will hinder or help your progress, and making decisions based solely on the latter.

And for Pete’s sake, tenacity is saying, “What? I can’t pump yet so my Dad pushes me. Back off.”

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Wonder Wonderfully

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When we’re little, we see everything with wonder.

When we grow up, we see things and wonder.

When we’re old, we wonder how much we missed.

When we’ve arrived, it’s wonderful.

Seeing my parents hide their grandchildren’s Easter eggs and Easter baskets around our property yesterday was a real treat; it seemed they were having more fun than my children.

Which they were.

They knew both the delight of discovery and the joy of staging the game. Superior perspective always affords the best experiences. That’s why it’s worth holding out for.

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With Sailing Comes Perspective

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Prepping my small ship, AireFire I, for the upcoming sailing season is always a happy time for me.

I get land-side view of any hull problems, rigging issues, or mechanical failures. I get to purchase new trinkets and dust off gadgets. I clean, wax, polish, scrub, paint, epoxy, and spit shine.

And while I’m busy at work, I’m thinking of the season ahead.

Of the memories I’ll make with my family on this ship.

Of the swimming, the cook outs, the sleepovers, the motoring through the 1000 Islands at dusk on a warm summer evening.

All at once my troubles fade away. Because I live like a king when compared to 7 billion other human beings.

While this winter season has been extremely difficult for me with regard to managing the various endeavors I have responsibilities in, it has produced a gratefulness I’ve needed.

I’m thanking God for little things more.

The clean tile in my bathtub.

The hot water on my skin. And that it’s drinkable.

My health. My wife and children’s health.

And my 1978 sailboat.

What was I complaining about again?

Perspective. Get some.

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