Change the World: A true story  (find your own moral)

He was an older gentleman with nicely trimmed white hair and a beard, and he sat comfortably on a milk crate backed against the outer wall of a building along 8th Avenue near Columbus Circle in Manhattan.

He had a cigarette in his mouth, a paperback book in his left hand, and a plastic cup partially filled with change in his left hand. As he read his book, he shook the cup in hopes that someone passing by might take notice and contribute to his cause.

I stood about 30 feet away as I waited for a friend to emerge from the subway station. People passed by in typical New York fashion, each en route somewhere and ignoring the world along the way.

Then a young man emerged from the subway station, tapped my shoulder and asked if I had a quarter. “I only need one quarter,” he added. I told him the truth: “I don’t have a quarter.” And he was moving on before the final word left my lips.

He walked to the next person he saw, a young woman who was lighting a cigarette, and he asked her for a smoke. She handed him the carton in her hand, which had one cigarette remaining. He took it, she lit it for him, and he moved quickly on his way without a word. As he left, he tossed the empty carton against the wall just a few feet from the man on the crate.

The man looked up from his book, glanced at the carton, and then walked over and picked it up.

“There’s a trash can right there,” he said as he walked by me, “and that guy just throws it on the sidewalk.”

I can’t explain exactly why his actions moved me the way they did, but I handed him a dollar bill as he walked back.

“God bless you,” I said, and I meant it.

“Thank you,” he said, and he seemed to mean it, too.

Then he walked to the crate, sat back down, and began reading his book.

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Why we can’t be too heavenly minded

I’m fascinated by the power of words to influence people. And I’m particularly interested in those catchy phrases that immediately make you say, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” but that, upon closer inspection, cause you to scream, “No! No! No!”

In fact, I have a special category in my quote collection for what I call “deceptively appealing” quotes or phrases. Things like, “There are no stupid questions.” Or, “We learn more from our failures than our successes.”

The other day I was reading Unseen by Jack Graham, and I was reminded of this dandy: “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.” As Graham points out, that might sound great but it’s totally unbiblical.

pixabay.com
pixabay.com

I blame Johnny Cash. Now, I grew up on 1970’s rock-n-roll, but I’ve always been a fan of the late, great Cash. I share his rural/Delta/East Arkansas (but I repeat myself) roots. I relate to his man-in-black persona. And I admire his amazing gift for storytelling. But I think Cash might be responsible for popularizing the “heavenly minded” phrase. I doubt he came up with the it, but he wrote, recorded and sang the song, No Earthly Good, and it includes the refrain, “So heavenly minded, you’re no earthly good.”

Who wants to argue with Johnny Cash? Indeed, the overall message of the short song is great. It’s about spreading the Gospel by helping people in need rather than bragging about your faith or living a life sheltered around only those who already know Christ.

The irony, of course, is that the type of people Cash described as too “heavenly minded” aren’t really focused on heaven, they’re focused on themselves. The truly heavenly minded can’t help but do earthly good. In fact, it’s impossible to be “too” heavenly minded.

That’s not my opinion, it’s from the Word of God. Hebrew 12:2 reminds us to “fix our eyes on Jesus.” And Colossians 3:1-2 puts it this way: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

And, of course, Jesus modeled this, noting often that He was here to do the will of the Father. (See Hebrews 10:7, John 12:49, Philippians 2:8, Matthew 6:9-10, and Matthew 12:50.) Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52) because He was completely heavenly focused so he could do the ultimate in earthly good.

Graham points out that if we want to improve our outlook – and, I would add, the outlook of those around us – we have to improve our “uplook.” I see this modeled in the commissioning of the prophet Isaiah. Read Isaiah 6:1-8 and look for this pattern that we can all follow:

  • Look up – see God for who He is and worship Him.
  • Look in – see yourself as who you really are; a sinner in need of God’s grace.
  • Look out – see what God is calling you to do and faithfully do it.

Then live completely heavenly minded, and I promise you that you’ll do some amazing earthly good things.

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7 Trust Biscuits to Feed the Soul

My work tends to go through cycles. That’s the life of an entrepreneur, especially an independent contractor. So, for the most part, I don’t worry and I don’t get stressed out by the ebb and flow. For the most part.

In reality, my worry/stress levels are just like my business: They run in cycles.

Earlier this summer, I wrapped up some projects and my client work slowed a bit. I counted it as a blessing. It allowed me to catch up in some other areas where I had fallen behind. As the summer moved on, however, I began to foresee a time in the not too distant future when our trickling cash flow would leave our revenue pond nearly empty.

I didn’t panic, but my prayers for “new work” took on a greater intensity. And at times I allowed worry and stress to creep into my life.

When I’m in that situation, every opportunity looks good, and it’s crazy hard for me to say “no” to any work that comes my way. And new opportunities came my way. God, as always, provides. In an ironic twist – because we all know God loves ironic twists – one of the new projects involves helping people deal with stress. For the record, I’m the student not the teacher.

Anyway, you might think that new opportunities lowered my stress and worry level. Instead, here’s what happened next: I was thankful for the new work, of course, but I now had multiple projects with multiple deadlines and multiple people to please. I went from worried we wouldn’t survive to worried I couldn’t deliver. How sad is that?

What I needed, I realized, was some nourishment in my soul. I needed what I call trust biscuits. God’s word is full of them – wonderful nuggets that remind us that He’s real, that He cares about us, that there’s more to life than, well, life.

Here are seven you can chew on over the next week:

  1. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:19
  2. “Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” – Psalm 9:10
  3. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” – Psalm 20:7
  4. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5-6
  5. “Those who trust in their riches will fail, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.” – Proverbs 11:28
  6. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13
  7. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” — Philippians 4:12

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A Biblical view of the politics of fear

We’re all afraid of something.

For Clifford Franklin, Orlando Jones’ character in The Replacements, it was spiders. Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves) took it deeper: quicksand.replacements

“You’re playing and you think everything is going fine,” he said. “Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can’t move… you can’t breathe… because you’re in over your head. Like quicksand.”

That’s the type of fear I’m talking about. And that’s the type of fear both political parties seem intent on using as their No. 1 campaign strategy in the presidential campaigns. “You should be afraid (of pretty much everything), but our party offers the only real hope. Don’t focus on what we’ve done for you (or to you); focus on what we say we’ll do for you.”

So what do we do in the midst of all these fears?

If you do a word search of your Bible, you’ll find that God uses the word fear more than 300 times (NIV). Over and over, God tells us about a healthy fear and a harmful fear.

Healthy Fear: Fear God.

Jesus said, “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” (Luke 12:5)

Healthy fear saved Isaac from the knife of his father. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:12)

Healthy fear saved Moses. “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.” (Exodus 1:17)

Healthy fear was a qualification for leadership: “But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.” (Exodus 18:21)

When people have feared God, they have thrived and grown in their faithfulness and obedience. When they have not feared God, they have struggled, stumbled and disobeyed.

“Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.” (Ecclesiastes 8:13)

Harmful Fear: Fear of the world.

In Isaiah, God tells us not to have “fearful hearts” (Isaiah 35:4) and not to fear “conspiracy” (Isaiah 8:12), the “reproach of mere mortals” (Isaiah 51:7), or disgrace and humiliation (Isaiah 54:4).

Peter tells us that even if we suffer for what is right, we are blessed. Then he quotes Isaiah 8:12 – “Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it.”

The reason we don’t need to fear the things of the world is because we belong to God. If we fear Him and put our trust in Him, then whom shall we fear?

“But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.’” (Isaiah 43:1)

John lays it out clearly in 1 John 4. God is love (1 John 4:8 and 4:16) and embracing the love of God is the only way to fully abolish our harmful fears. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

So what does this tell us about the elections?

Fear God. Trust God. Do not fear this world.

(Click here  to watch the “fears” scene from The Replacements.)

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