Posts Tagged ‘simplicity’

Guard your heart

Sacred Heart of Jesus

“When a man’s heart is right with God the mysterious utterances of the Bible are spirit and life to him. Spiritual truth is discernible only to a pure heart, not to a keen intellect. It is not a question of profundity of intellect, but of purity of heart.”  Oswald Chambers

The word “heart”, as used in the Old Testament, is frequently translated from the Hebrew “לב (sounds like “leb”). It describes a person’s inner being—specifically their will, mind, consciousness, emotions and understanding. It can also refer to moral character and determination. The Hebrew people of Biblical times believed the heart was a body’s place of knowledge, memory and thought. From a holistic viewpoint, the Hebrews saw the heart as the predominant force behind a person’s character, decisions, words and deeds.

The word “heart” as used in the Greek New Testament is καρδία” (sounds like “cardia”). It is the root of the modern English “cardiac.” Like the Hebrew word for “heart,” καρδία has multiple interpretations. It represents the origin of one’s spiritual life and includes emotions. thoughts and one’s personal will. It also describes the center of one’s longings, desires and feelings.

In Roman Catholicism, the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus devotion recalls Jesus’ infinite love for all mankind. Saint Matthew reminds us that we are to return Jesus’ love for us.  In Matthew 22:37-38(a), Jesus tells us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” Christian writer Witness Lee was born to a Christian family in North China in 1905. In his book The Economy of God, which was published in 1968, Lee examines the role of the heart in a Christian’s life. He says:

“Our relationship with the Lord is always begun and maintained by the heart. Of course, to contact the Lord is a matter of the spirit, but this must be initiated and maintained by the heart, for our heart is the gateway of our whole being.” He continues, “In other words, the heart becomes both the entrance and the exit of our being. Whatever enters into us must enter through the heart. Whatever comes out from us must proceed through the heart.”

There are many worldly forces competing for our hearts. The Bible is full of examples and warnings about idols, false prophets and false teachers.  We find these deceivers all around us today. Idols manifest themselves in the forms of power, wealth, fame, celebrity, self-indulgence and the like—things we choose to worship in place of God. False prophets sometimes appear in the form of politicians, governments, religious leaders and, more recently, some social media outlets. They plant seeds of fears and confusion with words running contrary to the teaching of Christ. 18th century Welsh theologian Matthew Henry’s comprehensive Bible commentary has much to say on false prophets and teachers. For example:

“Our Saviour cautions his disciples to stand on their guard against false teachers. And he foretells wars and great commotions among nations. From the time that the Jews rejected Christ, and he left their house desolate, the sword never departed from them. See what comes of refusing the gospel. Those who will not hear the messengers of peace, shall be made to hear the messengers of war. But where the heart is fixed, trusting in God, it is kept in peace, and is not afraid. It is against the mind of Christ, that his people should have troubled hearts, even in troublous times.”  Commentary on Matthew 24

Psalm 1 tells us to meditate on the Law (instruction) of the Lord. If your heart is fixed on the Word of God, you are not likely to go astray. The Word of God is “at work” in believers who hear and meditate on it (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The Word of God helps us to work out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12). The working of the Word of God is evident in true believers.  My mom spent the last few months of her life in a dementia facility.  One of the residents was a believer who was probably close to 90 years old. This blessed man, overcome by Alzheimer’s Disease, daily recited the Roman Catholic Missal for hours on end. Even in his diminished state, the Word of God was at work in this old Saint’s heart.

The Word of God helps us avoid the temptations of idolatry and false prophets.  As Corinthians 10:13 tells us. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (ESV)

So how can Christians respond to temptations that tear at their hearts? Naturally, Jesus provides the answer.  In Matthew 4:1-11, we find the story of Jesus’s temptation by Satan. In this passage, Jesus is tempted (tested) in the wilderness and responds with the Word of God, reciting scripture to Satan:

            Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

            You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

            You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.

Ephesians 6:17 calls the Word of God “the sword of the Spirit.” Like a sword, the Word can be used for both defensive and offensive purposes—defensive as when Jesus responds to the temptations of Satan in the wilderness, and offensive as when we see the triumphant Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, in Revelation 1:17-18, where he proclaims, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”  Study the Holy Scriptures and receive the Word of God!

Today, Jesus calls to each of us, “Come, leave behind your life of sin and sorrow. Come to the cross, find forgiveness for your sins, and join me in resurrection victory. Come, be My disciple. Come and know the joy of a loving Father. Come, before it is too late.” –Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker emeritus of the Lutheran Hour.

…I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. –1 Timothy 1:12(b)-14

The Simplicity that is in Christ

 

Simplify: (transitive verb) to make something easier to do or understand

It has been nearly a decade since I started this blog.  It owes its existence to Smicksburg, a small, quaint village in the Amish country of rural Indiana County, Pennsylvania. My wife and I visited there one day in the summer of 2011. While rummaging through a tiny gift shop on the village’s main street, I discovered a small, heart-shaped wooden Christmas ornament decorated in tole painting bearing the word, “Simplify.”  

The ornament got me thinking about the simplicity of the Amish lifestyle compared to my own. Despite their lack of cars, electricity, television, the internet and many other modern conveniences, I find the Amish lifestyle attractive in many ways. I long for a simpler life myself, one devoid of planning committees, investment portfolios, tax returns, oil changes, tire rotations, weed killing, student loans, long term care insurance, social media, Netflix and the like. Researcher, author and Cato Institute Fellow, Brink Lindsey has written extensively on human capital. He has noted about Western societies, “…as we get richer, the personal choices we face keep multiplying from the most trivial to the most profound and life-altering.” The mental capacity to deal with an ever-increasing onslaught of important information and decisions differs from person to person, but everyone has a tipping point where mental overload leads to some degree of cognitive incapacitation.

I purchased the ornament and placed it in a prominent position in my home office, to serve as a constant reminder of life’s simpler possibilities.  I started this blog a few months afterwards. At first my topics focused on simplifying one’s lifestyle. However, the discussion gradually drifted towards Christian topics associated with simplicity, where it remains today. As a wannabe theologian, I know I miss the mark on many things when composing my blog entries.  But there is one thing I’ve learned about Christianity over the years and I’m certain of it—the Gospel message of Jesus Christ is really quite simple!

 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16

Everything in Jesus life, death, and resurrection points towards one thing—the cross.  This is spelled out clearly in the first chapter of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul said, “…the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

From the outside looking in, the cross is nonsense. The Romans of the time could not have imagined that Jesus’ crucifixion would be the defining moment in human history and lead to a social and religious revolution in the Empire. The Jewish leaders, on the other hand, were seeking a powerful Messiah who would lead a military overthrow of Roman rule in the area that was once the Kingdom of Israel. Jesus didn’t fit their job description. Of His agonizing death on the cross, Jesus says in John 12:27, “…it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”

We are nearing the end of the Church season of Lent, where we commemorate Christ’s final journey to Jerusalem to suffer torture and death on the cross. Tomorrow we will celebrate Palm Sunday, the commemoration of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem—not as a powerful military warrior, but as humble, unlikely Savior-servant riding on a donkey.  Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. On Good Friday we will commemorate Christ’s crucifixion. And on the following Sunday we will celebrate Easter, when all Christendom rejoices over Jesus’ glorious resurrection from the dead. 

Jesus’ crucifixion and death on Good Friday was the defining moment when He defeated death and opened the doorway leading to eternal life for all who confess their sins to God and accept Jesus as Savior. As he breathed his last breath, Jesus said “It is finished.” His reason for being—to bear the burden of our sins—was accomplished on the Cross of Calvary. Acts 10:43 tells us, “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, which we celebrate on Easter, reminds His followers of the promise of their own resurrection, when they will see their Lord face-to-face. That’s the Gospel story in a nutshell. It’s really simple! 

“Simple Gifts, a traditional Shaker tune by Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr., 1848) as performed by Yo Yo Ma on cello, with vocals by Alison Kraus.

Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

’tis the gift to come down where you ought to be

And when we find ourselves in the place just right

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained

To bow and to bend we will not be ashamed

To turn, turn will be our delight

‘Till by turning, turning we come round right.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

’tis the gift to come down where you ought to be

And when we find ourselves in the place just right

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

The tough work of prayer

Prayer is like a battle. The enemy is constantly placing barriers in your way to keep you from reaching your final objective.

Life is a series of continual distractions that make it difficult to find time to commune with God. Even if one manages to slip away to a quiet place for a few minutes, odds are they will find themselves distracted by thoughts about what lies ahead in their day or week. I’ve heard so many people complain, “My days are so busy I just can’t find time to pray.”  In reality, if you have a busy day ahead you can’t afford not to pray. Paul’s epistle to the Church at Philippi says:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:6-7

This is tough advice!  Who, after all, is not anxious about something, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?  And how difficult is it to present your prayers to God with thanksgiving in every situation? “Dear God, I thank you for allowing me to crash my car into that tree yesterday.”  Prayer is tough work indeed.

The nation has just gone through a painful, extraordinarily divisive presidential election process. The political rhetoric is still turned up to near the boiling point. Political disagreements have resulted in many friendships ending and have even caused divorces. Sometime it feels like the entire world has gone mad amidst the name calling, threats, riots, burning and looting. Many politicians will tell you that they have the answers to all our problems, but they don’t. Only God can fix this mess!

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  —Psalm 121:1-2

More than any time in recent history, America’s Christians need to join together in praying for our nation and those whom have been elected to serve. So, what about that politician from the “other” party?  Should you pray for him or her?  “God, please help this idiot to see how wrong he is.”  Well, not exactly.  You can certainly pray that the Holy Spirit would convict the individual politician to make decisions that honor God, especially politicians who profess to be Christ followers.   

If you have a beef with a particular politician—get over it.  I don’t mean this in the traditional fashion that contemporary culture says “get over it.”  I mean that, as Christians, we are obliged to forgive those who have trespassed against us, just as we pray to God to forgive us our own sins.      

“In Jesus, we experience freedom not only from sin and its hold on us but also from guilt, shame, worry, Satan’s lies, superstitions, false teaching, and eternal death. No longer hostages, we have freedom to show love to enemies, walk in kindness, live with hope, and love our neighbors. As we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, we can forgive as we’ve been forgiven” —Patricia Raybon, Our Daily Bread

Now here’s where it really gets difficult.  Not only are we told to “forgive as we’ve been forgiven,” but in Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to love our enemies:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. —Matthew 5:43-45

Is there a politician or other leader whose behavior absolutely disgusts you?  If so, think of that person, then pray for him or her. Really!  Pray that God will soften their heart.  It they profess to be a Christian, ask God to fill them with the Holy Spirit.

Since 2001, The Presidential Prayer Team has been the source thousands of Americans have turned to for encouragement and inspiration to pray for America’s leaders. It is a non-partisan organization.  I encourage you click the “About Us” link below to visit their website and sign up for the daily prayer alerts.

A Prayer for Good Leaders

Father God, good leaders, come from you. Lord, this nation needs leaders with discerning hearts and wise minds. I beseech you today asking you today to give us wise leaders that will lead this nation in the right direction. Remove wrong people that are corrupt and living against your word from influential positions. Let our leaders be people who honor your holy name for it is only from you that they will get true wisdom. It is in the mighty name of Jesus that we believe and pray, Amen. —Anonymous

What do you believe?

“What are we to make of Christ?” There is no question of what we can make of Him; it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us. You must accept or reject the story.

—C.S. Lewis

I’m a member of a parish of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).  Each week during Sunday worship we recite the words of the Nicene Creed, a widely accepted collective statement of faith in the triune God. I’ve been reciting the creed for so many years that now it is memorized and literally flows effortlessly out of my mouth each Sunday.

I enjoy communal prayers, but with this form of prayer comes a risk—the words become so familiar they can lose personal meaning. The renowned Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, “When we become advocates of a creed, something dies; we do not believe God, we only believe our belief about Him.”

This begs the question, “What does it mean to believe something?” I’ve provided two definitions above.  I prefer the second one. This leads to another question, “What is the difference in believing something and believing in something.”  Surely Satan believes in God, as he has seen God face to face.

  “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” James 2:19 (NIV)

With all this in mind, I’d like to challenge each reader who calls him- or herself a Christian to examine your beliefs in the coming year. Do you believe God? If so, what exactly do you believe and what is the source of your beliefs? Let me preface the remaining discussion by confessing that I have many more questions on this subject than answers.   

A Gallup poll conducted in May 2017 indicated that a record few Americans (24%) believe the Bible is the literal word of God (Gallup poll). A 2020 Barna Group survey published by the American Bible Society indicated that “Mainline Protestant denominations had the largest proportion of unchurched adherents (50%) with one in every two members being unchurched, followed by 46% of Catholics, 37% of Evangelicals, and 36% of Historically Black Protestants.” (Barna Group Survey).  

Where do you stand on this?  If you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, do you read it frequently? If you answered “no,” why not? How well versed are you in the scriptures?  If the Bible isn’t the source of your Christian beliefs, what is?  If you profess to be a Christian and don’t regularly attend church, why don’t you?

The bottom line of my thought process can be summed up like this: “If you can’t articulate what you believe, how can you live what you believe?”  In the coming year, I challenge each reader to answer the following questions for themselves. Take time to research the scriptures and other authoritative sources as you formulate your answers.  Try to discuss “why” or “why not” in each of your answers.

  1. Do you “believe” God or do you “believe in” God?
  2. Do you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God or just a book of wisdom?
  3. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” What does it mean to fear the Lord?
  4. Do you believe the creation story in Genesis 1 is literal or figurative?
  5. Is Jesus the son of God or simply a great moral teacher?
  6. Do you believe in the virgin birth?
  7. What is sin and what is salvation?
  8. Do you believe Jesus died for your sins?
  9. Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
  10. Is Jesus the only pathway to God, as He said, or are there other paths?

Many people claim we’re presently living in a “post-Christian” era today, where Western cultures are increasingly embracing secularism and turning their backs on their original Judeo-Christian roots. More and more, we see Christians accused of being racists, bigots, homophobes, transphobes and a host of other slurs because of their beliefs. This is occurring both before the law, in the media, and in the court of public opinion. When your faith is eventually questioned by a non-Christian, as it inevitably will be, will you be prepared to articulate what you believe or will you silently submit to their accusations?

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

—Psalm 34:4-8 (NIV)

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. —1 Timothy 4:13-16 (NIV)

Feed My Sheep

The Good Shepherd (C.1650-60) by Philippe de Champaigne

My recent work with a struggling young man in my community has provided me a stark reminder of the reality of hunger in America. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food security as “having access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.”  According to USDA figures, 10.5 percent of American households in 2019 lacked proper food security. While the government’s 2020 food security figures are not yet available, indications are that this year’s numbers will be much higher.  The primary reason for this is the sharp increase in national unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the map below shows, the food insecurity problem is widespread.

As a state workforce developer in Pennsylvania, I worked with hundreds of clients who had recently lost their jobs.  Food security was often a major concern of these displaced workers. Many had small children at home, making their situations even more dire.  More recently, as a volunteer job coach working with the elderly, I discovered that food security is a major concern for many of my clients. My typical client is age 70 or older, dependent upon a Social Security check of less than a thousand dollars a month as their primary income, and frequently has to decide between purchasing expensive prescription drugs or food, as they lack sufficient income to pay for both with what remains after paying the rent or mortgage.  

While the mission of Christ’s church is to spread the Gospel, it’s difficult to convey the Good News to someone with a growling, empty stomach. Jesus clearly recognized this. By feeding the five thousand in the miracle of the loaves described in John 6, Jesus provided for the physical needs of the crowd.  The very next day, he called Himself the “Bread of Life.” (John 6:35). Clearly, one needs food in the belly in order to be more open to partaking of the Bread of Life.  The level of involvement in feeding the needy varies significantly from church to church.  Many get involved in collecting and distributing holiday food baskets for the needy.  While this is a wonderful thing, such baskets only cover a few days of the annual 365 that people need to eat. Much more is needed.   

Food banks and pantries exist across the country to help support food security. Typically, a food bank supports a region (such as a county), while local food pantries serve small towns or communities within larger towns/cities. According to the non-profit organization Feeding America, a food bank is a non-profit that safely stores thousands to millions of pounds of food for bulk distribution to local food programs, like food pantries. Food banks come in all different sizes. In contrast, food pantries receive food shipments from food banks and run food distribution programs where hungry families can receive food directly. Pantries feed hundreds of people per week! Because every community is different, there are many different types of pantries. It is common for a food pantry to operate from inside a community school or church. Some areas even have mobile food pantries to serve seniors with limited mobility or rural communities with little transportation.  Some pantries require the clients to demonstrate financial need, while others serve anyone who shows up. Some communities also have food kitchens, where the needy can eat a hot, nutritious meal.

Churches and individuals can help their local food banks, pantries and kitchens in a number of ways by donating money and by volunteering their time. Check directly with your local organizations to ascertain the best way to help each. A general rule of thumb is that monetary donations are preferable to food, as it enables the organization to spend where the need is greatest. Another general rule is that volunteers are always needed; this is particularly so during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many food banks, pantries and kitchens have adopted special precautions for COVID-19.  Those who might wish to volunteer should check with their local organization(s) to determine if they are comfortable volunteering in light of the precautions that have been adopted. In any case, I encourage you to reach out as you can to support food security in America. As James 2:15-16 tells us, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

Jesus feeds the five thousand, John 6:1-13 (NIV).  Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick.  Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.  When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So, they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

God In a Box

Hubbel The Carina Nebula as photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope (Photo: NASA)

 I recently watched a video of the late NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell discussing alien life.  Mitchell, who passed away in 2016, was the sixth man to walk on the moon during America’s Apollo space program. In the video, Mitchell explained his belief in intelligent alien life and encouraged the United States Government to declassify all of its UFO data. Mitchell contended that aliens are already among us and have been in contact with humans for centuries.

There has been much speculation about the possible consequences for humanity if we should suddenly find out Earth is not the only place in the universe inhabited by intelligent beings. Some of the discussions focus on mass panic, loss in faith of political systems and global conflict.  One discussions suggests that the discovery would either enrich our religious beliefs or completely destroy them.  I tend to believe Christianity might ultimately be enriched once the initial shock subsided.

English clergyman and Bible scholar J.B. Phillips is probably best known for his epic book, “Your God is Too Small.” Published in 1952, it might have just as easily been titled, “Your Mind is Too Small.”  Phillips encourages us to set aside the limits human reason places on God and instead embrace Him as the omnipotent, omnipresent creator of the universe. Rather than having God conform to our understanding of the universe, we should conform to His reality—the Creator who is unconstrained by our linear concepts of time, speed, distance and space.  The publisher’s book review says:

“Phillips explains that the trouble facing many of us today is that we have not found a God big enough for our modern needs. In a world where our experience of life has grown in myriad directions and our mental horizons have been expanded to the point of bewilderment by world events and scientific discoveries, our ideas of God have remained largely static.”   

One of the book’s chapters is titled “God-In-a-Box.” It discusses the absurdity of the narrow-minded belief that God favors certain churches and denominations. Scottish Theologian Oswald Chambers also cautioned against focusing on creeds instead of on Christ and the atonement.  St. Paul discusses this in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, saying:

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

The respected American clergyman and theologian Ray Stedman said, “When religion becomes complex, it is a sign that it is departing from Christ.”  I would like to think that the discovery of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe might end the squabbling between Christian churches and denominations, making us focus instead on the power and majesty of our Creator.

Who is to stay that Christ’s story of atonement has not already been played out on billions of planets in the universe?  To think otherwise truly puts God in a box.

“Can you find out the deep things of God?   Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It is higher  than heaven—what can you do? Deeper than Sheol—what can you  know? Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.”     Job 11:7-9 (NIV)

 

Simplifying Life: the Pareto Principle

Pareto Principle

When I was working as a management consultant, one of my favorite lessons to convey to clients was the Pareto Principle, which is also known as the 80-20 Rule.  The principle was named for the 19th century Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that an 80-20 percent relationship applied to many practical aspects of life. For instance, about 80 percent of nonprofit donations come from 20 percent of the donor base.  About 80 percent of sales come from 20 percent of your client base. 

The application of the 80-20 Rule I most like is that about 80 percent of the work on a project is accomplished through 20 percent of the effort.  For example, if it takes five hours to detail a car, you can finish 80 percent of the job in about an hour.  The remaining 20 percent of the tasks will take four hours to complete.  The lesson learned is that if you can accept something less than perfection in a practical task like vacuuming your house or maintaining your lawn, you can save yourself a lot of time and significantly simplify your life.

The Rev. Dr. Alexander Whyte (1836-1921), was a popular Scottish theologian in his day.  His biographer, G.F. Barbour tells an interesting story about Whyte’s encounter with a particular female parishioner who told him, “Dr. Whyte, I just love being in your presence. You are so saintly.”  Whyte replied, “Madam, if you could look into my soul, what you would see would make you spit in my face.”

While the Pareto Principle has many practical applications in everyday life, Rev. White knew that when it comes to God, giving 20 percent of yourself is not enough.  Whyte understood what Jesus means in Matthew 10:37-39 when he says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (ESV) 

Jesus wants all of you—not 20, or 80, or even 99 percent of you.  He makes this clear when He tells his disciples “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26, ESV)

It’s easy to give part of yourself to God.  You can attend church every Sunday, pray to Him every morning, and tithe 10 percent of your income. Outwardly you might appear saintly, as the Rev. Whyte appeared to his parishioner, but God sees inside us all.  Scottish Theologian Oswald Chambers said, “We are only what we are in the dark; all the rest is reputation. What God looks at is what we are in the dark—the imaginations of our minds, the thoughts of our heart, the habits of our bodies; these are the things that mark us in God’s sight.”  This is why, St. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:12 (ESV), “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

God wants all of you. Therefore endeavor constantly to place Him first in every aspect of your life. And when you fail, as you inevitably will, seek His forgiveness.  As St. Paul encourages us in 2 Timothy 4:7, continue to fight the good fight.   

 

 

 

Let Not Your Hearts be Troubled

ISIS

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?   And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  —John 14:1-3 (ESV)

The daily news is filled with hate and violence. The Islamic State (ISIS) is conducting a systematic genocide of Christians and other minority religious groups in Syria and Iraq. Iran routinely threatens to destroy the state of Israel. North Korea recently threatened a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States for what its leader perceived as threats.

Here at home the anger in many Americans is palpable. Violence is increasingly occurring at political events as the presidential election approaches. Respect among diverse people and groups in our society is waning. Many American Christians feel persecuted. Sometimes it seems as if God is no longer welcome in our society.

With all of the bad news it’s easy to become disheartened if you lose sight of the big picture. However, Christians may take comfort in the assurance that GOD IS STILL IN CHARGE. He reigns supreme in this World. “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” (Psalm 103:19)

The world may turn its back on Christ today, but a time of reckoning will come.  Hebrews 12 reminds us that God is “slow to anger,” but his wrath is a “consuming fire.” God commands a kingdom that “cannot be shaken.” Neither should we be shaken when we hear of all the troublesome things happening in the world today.

God’s perfect plan is being played out in our lives, even though it might not be clear to us today. Speaking of the future, St. Paul reminds us, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The heart trouble Jesus speaks of in John 14 is a spiritual problem for which He is the only cure. Let not your hearts be troubled!  When we take our eyes off of Christ, the heart troubles begin. Christians must stay focused and avoid getting caught up in the daily distractions. As St. Paul encourages us, fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith! (2 Timothy 4:7)  

Perseverance means more than endurance— more than simply holding on until the end.  A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer.  God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, but our Lord continues to stretch and strain, and every once in a while the saint says, “I can’t take any more.” Yet God pays no attention; He goes on stretching until His purpose is in sight, and then He lets the arrow fly. Entrust yourself to God’s hands.   –Oswald Chambers

 

Unemployed? Seek the Lord in Your Day of Trouble.

Prayer

In the Day of Trouble I Seek the Lord

Today millions of Americans are facing the challenges of unemployment or under employment. These can lead to fear, frustration, depression and even physical illness. However, they also present opportunities for growth.

When you’ve lost your job or find yourself in a job that is not self-sustaining, a whole-person approach is needed as you strive to improve your situation. I like to use the “Wheel of Life” to help illustrate this. The circles on the outside of the wheel represent six areas of one’s life that contribute to the whole we refer to as “self.” Neglecting any of these puts the entire wheel out of balance, leaving one struggling and feeling out of sorts.

Wheel of Life

 Wheel of Life

Family and Social Life.  A period of unemployment or underemployment opens the door to opportunities in each the six areas on the wheel of life. It is a good time to spend extra time with family, renew old connections with friends and build your social network (which will improve your chances of finding self-sustaining employment).  Don’t forget to have some fun!

Physical Conditioning. It also provides an opportunity to improve your physical condition through proper exercise, sleep and nutrition. It is a wonderful chance to shed a few pounds and look your best for your next interview..

Career and Financial.  Dedicate some of your extra time towards education. You don’t necessarily need to pick up another degree or certification. Focus on learning something that will help make you more employable. Perhaps you can focus on improving your Microsoft Office software skills. There are free training courses galore on the Internet. If you need to improve your speaking skills, you could join the local Toastmasters chapter. The possibilities are endless.

Finances.  Being unemployed or underemployed is also the perfect time to work on improving your finances. Perhaps you’ve been talking about downsizing your household.  Start by selling off things you don’t really need.  Put together a new budget, trying to reduce frivolous spending. Try keeping close track of where your money actually goes. You might be surprised at how most of it gets spent.

Mental.  Take time to relax and stretch your mind.  Put down your phone, turn off the computer and TV, and pick up a challenging book that you’ve always wanted to read.  Spend some time with people who challenge your way of thinking. Visit an art gallery or museum that would not normally be of interest to you.

(Read Psalm 77: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%2077&version=ESV)

Spiritual.  Lastly, Psalm 77 provides a simple, yet perfect framework for approaching the spiritual realm when you’re unemployed or under employed. When things aren’t going your way, it’s comforting to be reminded God has not and will not abandon you. The Psalmist finds comfort in reflecting on how God helped his people in the past. We should follow his example.

Pray fervently—then pray again. The Psalmist prayed throughout the entire night. He felt abandoned by God. He spoke what was on his mind. We can be totally honest and open with God, telling him about our feelings, our fears, our doubts and our desires. We can ask him any question. Because Jesus suffered every temptation we have faced and felt every emotion that we have felt, we are free to discuss our deepest thoughts and feelings with God. Through Jesus’ experiences, God the Father has firsthand experience with everything we might face in our lives (v.9-10)

“We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all. Most of us would prefer, however, to spend our time doing something that will get immediate results. We don’t want to wait for God to resolve matters in His good time because His idea of ‘good time’ is seldom in sync with ours.” ― Oswald Chambers                                              

Recall how God has blessed you in the past. The Psalmist did not simply spill his heart out to God. He thought about everything the scriptures say regarding what God has done for his people in the past. God blesses those who have faith in him (v. 11).  Too often we dwell on what God hasn’t done for us rather than being thankful for the multitude of blessings he has provided.

Focus on the future. Think positively about your situation, hopes and desires. What is God teaching you? What is His will for your life? Make a list of Biblical promises you can identify about your future? (v. 13)

Reconsider your present circumstances. Ask God to strengthen your faith as you strive to cope with unemployment. Remind yourself that you can always trust  His promises (v. 14). Share your experience with others.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace,  that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.   ―Hebrews 4:16

 

Easing the Pain of Unemployment

Jobless-not-hopelessYou take my life when you do take the means whereby I live. –William Shakespeare

In Romans chapter 12, St. Paul tells us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (ESV) Many churches attempt to follow his advice by hosting various support groups. There are groups for addiction recovery, divorcees, singles and those grieving the death of a loved one to name a few.

Unfortunately, there is another group in great need of support, but often overlooked by church ministries—the unemployed. Most people who become unemployed go through a series of emotional stages resembling this.

Initially, there is the shock of losing a job. This might initially give way to denial or disbelief like, “I can’t believe this is happening to me.” This sometimes gives way to feelings of anger or outrage towards those deemed responsible for the job loss. As the anger slowly subsides, sadness can follow. If the period of unemployment is prolonged, sadness can lead to the onset of depression. Isolation from others during this period worsens the situation.

To varying degrees, all of us derive some sense of worth from the jobs we do and the relationships we have. Losing a job can be every bit as devastating as a divorce or the loss of a loved one.

Those who have lost their jobs are in tremendous need of contact with and the support of others. This is where churches can weigh in for the unemployed. Options for helping are limited only by the imagination. The ShareFaith website published a very useful article in 2011 titled “Seven Ways to Help the Unemployed in Your Church.” You can find it at this link: http://www.sharefaith.com/blog/2011/12/ways-unemployed-church/.

I particularly like suggestion #4, “Provide free workshops.” Workshops are a fantastic way to help your church’s unemployed. But why stop there? Unemployment in your local area opens the door to a church ministry reaching beyond the pale of your own churchyard. Consider forming a job networking group reaching out to the entire community.

The north Pittsburgh area where I live has two fantastic, faith-centered job networking groups that have helped hundreds cope with unemployment over the years. Both began as ministries inside the church, but grew into nonprofit, community outreach ministries. Check them out and then start thinking about how your church can form its own job networking group. There can never be too many!

 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. —Galatians 6:2 (ESV)