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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The McDonalds Bag Yard Sale Phenomenon

2013-06-28 McDonalds Bag Yard Sale

When was the last time you were convicted to do something, and knew that you couldn’t advance until you acted on the conviction?

If you’re a Christian, or even a person of conscience, it probably happens frequently. I know it does for me. Just this week I had one of my recurring encounters with a McDonald’s bag on the way to work.

This story all starts in the spring of 2000 when the youth group I was pastoring was preparing to put on an evangelistic, high school outreach at my alma mater in Dryden, NY. We’d been praying for a move of God’s spirit in our town that would effect the teen culture, and subsequently decided that praying wasn’t enough.

I wasn’t advocating that we cease praying, but rather that we add proactive steps to our prayers by organizing.

This meant a band, speaker, audio, lights, prayer teams, response cards, Bibles and anything else we could think of. Similarly, and without my leading, the teens of our fledgling church decided to start meeting nightly to pray for the event. We wanted to see Dryden cleaned up spiritually, for hearts to be plucked out of darkness and brought into glorious light.

During one of the many drives to the school, leading up to the event, I swerved to avoid a McDonald’s bag yard sale.

You know the kind.

Cheeseburger wrapper, french fries sleeve, cup-lid-straw and used napkins strewn all over the road.

My initial reaction to every McDonald’s yard sale I see is:

Seriously? How base of a human being do you have to be to litter so grossly? Did you not have a mother? Did your father never spank you as a kid? What’s wrong with you low-life, drive-by pavement assaulter, and where was the cop when this atrocity happened? Take the extra thirty seconds when you get home to empty your car out like a normal, sentient life form, and stop being so lazy!

(See why I need Jesus?).

Right about the time that I steered clear of this particular display of paper-product carnage, I felt the Holy Spirit tug at me.

Go back and pick it up.

I kept driving.

Pick it up.

Still driving. Waiting for more of his voice. But I just get…

[Silence].

Now that’s the worst, when God stops speaking to you because you and He both know what you need to do, and asking for his direction any further will only end in more silence until you do the first thing He instructed.

I slowed down, disgruntled, and did a U-turn. A moment later I’m bending over in the road, piling the litter back into the bag, and climbing in my car. No sooner do I shut the door than I sense these words rising in my soul:

So too will you clean up the spiritual aspects of your town. First the natural, then the spiritual.

It all made sense. How could the Lord entrust me with the superior if I couldn’t first demonstrate proficiency with the inferior? Over and over again in my life, I’ve seen this. It haunts me! He, the Holy Ghost, haunts me with it, and won’t leave me alone.

But I’m grateful for it, because without His conviction, I don’t become like Jesus, I just become more like myself. And I was also grateful for it the night, in my old high school gymnasium, that 350 teens came forward to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior for the first time.

The next time you see a McDonalds bag yard sale, think twice: God just might be releasing you into greater permission to effect your city.

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The Great Mess Makers

When was the last time you picked up after somebody? (Moms: you don’t need to answer that). For everyone else, was it a co-worker? A visitor? A church volunteer who didn’t finish the job?

I’ve found there is a huge difference between making messes and leaving messes.

The creative process demands that beauty emerge from chaos. Painters make messes, as do sculptors, graphic artists, novelists, builders, and scientists. Even God’s best work comes in the most chaotic moments, from creating the earth to fixing a life-problem.

But if those very same messes are not picked up by their creators, they are left for someone else to clean up.

The same messes that were evidence of genius can become the epitome of disgrace. When we are so consistently negligent that we fail to pick up after ourselves, whether in life or in projects, we not only insult those who follow us but we devalue the creations we set out to make.

It’s even more fascinating to realize the converse is true. And God is the prime example.

Not only did he create mankind, and pick up his mess, but when his creation made a mess of everything, he went so far as to pick up our mess, too.

When we stretch ourselves to pick up messes that aren’t even our own, we actually partake in an unseen glory, often noted only by heaven. It credits you for the good deed done, but also of being worthy of the created entity. Whatever credit a creator loses in their failure to pick up after themselves, the cleaner obtains in participation.

Jesus said in Luke 16:12 that if we’re faithful with that which is another man’s, we’ll be entrusted with that which is our own. Long before I co-owned restaurants, the Lord asked me to start picking up public bathrooms when I saw they were a mess. It was nasty. And I didn’t know why I was doing it. But the first time I picked up toilet paper off the floor in my first restaurant, it all made sense. I had been in training for this moment. It’d been a test.

For the Kingdom-minded person, their is no job too small. My senior pastor will vacuum the hallway just as easily as he’ll preach on a Sunday. There is no difference because it’s all service, and it’s all noble. It all affects people; souls are the common denominator.

The high road in the Kingdom is two-fold: do your best not to leave messes for someone else to pick up, and be eager to clean up someone else’s messes when you find them. The Lord knows I’m at fault here too, and so grateful for all those who’ve picked up after me throughout the years.

Who knows, you may just be preparing yourself for owning a business you’d never thought possible. ch:

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116,229

I worked out for the second time last night. I almost threw up. I’m no longer at a place where my squirrel-like metabolism affords me the choice of whether I work out or not: I have to work out.

Some people there where working out because their doctor told them to or else they’d die. That’s a pretty powerful motivator. Others because they’re clearly cross training for some Olympic sport.

But I wager that no one there last night saw “going to the gym” as their ultimate goal.

Professional athletes train for one purpose:

To win.

Good business people are constantly assessing their role in a simple formula:

Create a good or service that benefits people and generates positive cash flow.

Diligent students want to graduate with honors; successful musicians want to have people pay to hear them play; writers want their words in as many hands as possible.

Goals are not only a noble pursuit, they help us stay focused. They anchor us with stability in the midst of personal shaking; they give us a clear path forward when we’re presented ulterior options – options which would undermine success.

As a Christian, what are your goals?

I find much of what’s presented to us, much of what’s expected, to be well meaning but tepid, good natured but nauseating, and having some level of virtue but ultimately emasculating.

Is my sole pursuit as a Believer in Christ simply to read my Bible until I know more than someone else, or pray until others notice God hovering over me, or be such a good husband that other wives point me out to their husbands, or such a good father that other families’ kids would prefer living in my house, or tithe so faithfully and fully that most church salaries and projects are covered by my giving?

Such goals sound silly. Yet those are all very real conversations I’ve counseled people through – our been counseled through myself.

A noble vision without heaven’s backing becomes a fruitless pursuit.

So how do we attract the eyes of heaven?

116,229 people live in my Jefferson County, NY. Last night, our church board sat around and discussed a simple yet profound truth: what we’re stewarding now is incredible, but it’s nothing compared with where we need to go. This is a great corporate vision, yet I was struck on a personal level.

What am I doing to personally notify, navigate, and nurture those 116,229 people into a relationship with Jesus? What are my wife and I doing? My children?

How many of the 116,229 are the Hopper’s goal? Our part may be to reach 23, yours is 54, but the Bride is commissioned with reaching all of them, nothing less. And I’m a part of the Bride.

If heaven considers me a successful Christian, a Christian that has a goal, how does it measure me?

My findings suggest it’s by how much my value of people provokes active compassion, especially toward those living the furthest from his grace.

Do not confuse disciplines and goals. No good athlete looks at the weight machine and says, “I want to do more reps than anyone in the world.” They say, “I need to condition myself to go out there and win.”

Don’t confuse your Christian disciplines with your heaven-backed goals. All the “gym time” in the world won’t touch a single life if you don’t get out there on the field and start playing to win.

Ah, there goes another one. 116,228 and counting. ch:

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Saving for Saving

What are you saving for?

A new car? A trip? A ring? A video game? How about new furniture? Hardware? School? Or a home improvement project?

And how much self-discipline does it require to actually save and not touch the pot?

If you’re like most people, a lot.

Saving doesn’t come naturally. As a result, it’s typically taught, not naturally inherited (though I wish it was). Primarily because saving denies immediate gratification for longterm satisfaction. The very fact that you can’t afford something “now” further increases the sought item’s value, whether perceived or actual. Saving changes lifestyles, checks motives, and even shapes thought.

I recently unearthed my childhood piggy bank, hand crafted 30 years ago for me by potter Brad Cather in Connecticut. It’s an outstanding piece, full of character. I’ve always loved it, and quite amazed it’s still intact after all this time.

My kids found it especially amusing, and I decided it was a good gift to pass on.

For whatever reason – and I can’t imagine why – they’ve decided that they’re saving for an iPad.

That is, until recently.

On Monday I was sitting with the infamous Hopper Kids at the breakfast table where they were playing over cereal bowls with some wooden animal carvings I’d brought home from Africa over a decade ago. When they asked where they came from, Jenny and I not only began describing the people who made them – as well as some of my various adventures in “the bush” – but their living conditions.

Quite intrigued, I asked Eva particularly why she thought I visited Africa. She thought for a moment, then her eyes lit up. “Did you go to tell them about Jesus?”

“Yes, Eva, I did!” I replied. “I went to tell them about Jesus and play my music for them in worship.”

Then the words a parent dreams of.

She said, “Someday I want to go to Africa and tell people about Jesus and tell my friends about Him when I come home.”

Jenny went on to tell her about the needs of those living in many parts of Africa.

Eva got quiet for just a second (all she’s capable of, really), then looked up with a profound question that I’m still unraveling in my own mind:

“Which is a better idea, Dad: saving up our money to give to the people, or buying an iPad?”

Like any good Daddy, I asked her what she thought.

“I think giving it to the people.”

Feeling both proud and personally convicted, I went on to explain that if we take care of the things important to God’s heart, He’ll take care of the things important to ours (Matt. 6:33).

“What do you mean?” she asked.

Trying to think of a good example, I told her how many times the Holy Spirit tells us to give away the money we make while traveling. Knowing we could use those monies to pay bills and buy food for our family sometimes makes the giving “more challenging” than others. But I explained that – to His credit – Jesus has always made a way for us and provided when we were faithful to be obedient and give things away.

When we start reformatting the priorities of our lives to use our time, talent, and treasure to save people, we start attracting a new attribute of God’s resources: favor. Simply put, it is the measure of how we’re utilizing our present position of proximity and influence to serve others into a place of life. If done correctly, the result of good stewardship is more resources, to do more of the same (Luke 19:12-28).

Needless to say The Hopper Kids are no longer saving for an iPad. They’re saving to save people. And inspiring their parents to do the same. ch:

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