Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Don't Bury that Treasure!

So, I finished Randy Alcorn's classic book entitled The Treasure Principle. I couldn't recommend the book more - it is absolutely spot on. I have recapped the Six Treasure Principle Keys that Alcorn shares in the book in previous blog entries. I hope you will read through them and allow them to sink in.

But, before I move on to another subject to blog about, I feel like I need to talk to those folks who are not currently giving to the Lord, or have never given selflessly and sacrificially to the church or to others in need.

As Alcorn points out in his book, giving isn't celebrated nearly enough. Perhaps because it comes across as showy or disingenuous - who knows. But, we need to talk about it more than we do. I think churches are so worried that they are going to offend people by talking about money that they rarely, if ever, challenge people to do what God asks us to do - give to Him, give and share with others, and help the poor.

Maybe you aren't quite sure where or how to start. To borrow Nike's slogan, you need to "just do it." Thinking about it, talking about it, and praying about it are fine. But, at some point, you've got to DO it. Even if we're scared, even if we're not "joyful" initially, we have got to get over the hump and pass on financial blessings to others.

I've always felt that if someone has never given to God (to the church), they need to start somewhere. If they have never given a red cent, they should start by giving two or three percent of their income, and watch God bless it. For someone who has never given, two or three percent seems substantial.

But, Alcorn paints a different picture entirely. The tithe (ten percent of our gross income) is not the ceiling of giving, claims Alcorn. It's the floor. In the Old Testament, the tithe was the standard. Some people argue that when Jesus came on the scene, the tithe became irrelevant. It was no longer the standard. Well, that is partially true. Jesus did make mention of the tithe when referring to the religious leaders of the day, primarily pointing out that they were all about the "rules," but were not truly after God's heart.

Also, when we read about the first Church, there's no evidence of a "tithe." But, there is evidence of giving and sharing everything with everyone. So, once again, the tithe seems to have been exceeded in order to provide for everyone in need. As Alcorn comments, the bar was always raised after Jesus came on the scene; it was never lowered. So, the bar for giving would have been raised as well.

I'm going to include an excerpt from the book to illustrate how Alcorn views giving less than the Biblical standard (tithe):

"Some say, 'We'll take this gradually. We're starting with 5 percent.' But that's like saying, 'I used to rob six convenience stores per year. This year, by His grace, I'm going to rob only three.' The point is not to rob God less - it's not to rob God at all."

I can definitely see Alcorn's point of view. The bottom line is that God is going to bless you back to the degree you are willing to be a blessing to someone else. If you give 1 or 2 percent, God will still bless that. But, if you give 10 or 15 percent, He'll bless you monumentally more. And, what you need to know is that God LOVES to pour out His blessing!

So, don't wait until it "feels right" to give. Give, and watch God work in and through you. And, like anything else in life, the more you do it, the better you'll get at it!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hypocrite, or Human?

A while back, I read an intriguing book entitled unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity...and Why it Matters, by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. Essentially, the book uncovers the results of three years of exhaustive research done by Kinnaman and the Barna Group, the leading faith-based research firm in the world. The research centers around the opinions and beliefs of 16-29 year-olds who candidly share their negative feelings towards Christianity.

One of the most interesting chapters of the book deals with hypocrites. First, it's critical that we understand what the word hypocrite truly means. defines hypocrite this way: a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess. It doesn't say that a hypocrite is someone who has a tough time with self-control, or who struggles with various forms of sin: pride, lust, self-righteousness, greed, substance abuse, etc.

Many of us confuse hypocrisy with disobedience. Hypothetically speaking, if I tell people that I am a Christian, but I have a problem with anger, I am not being a hypocrite. I am failing to live up to the perceived "Christian Standard" for one, but mostly I am just not living as Jesus wants me to live. I believe that treating people harshly is wrong, and it isn't what God wants...but, I struggle to live it out. It's only hypocrisy if I pretend to believe in Christ and what he's for, but don't really believe it in my heart.

Followers of Christ really do have a tough time living up to the “standards” that non-believers have set for them. Generally speaking, people who are not Christians expect that those who profess their faith in Jesus Christ will always be (or at least act) perfect. Sadly, a lot of these people are looking for Christians to make a mistake in order to harshly and unfairly criticize Christianity.

As Christians, we believe that lying is wrong. We believe being unfaithful to our spouse is wrong. We believe hurting people physically and emotionally is wrong. Yet, each and every day Christians do these things – and worse. We fail, we fall, we flounder. We make poor decisions and critical errors in judgment. But, are we hypocrites? Or, are we simply human?

This whole idea of acting like you believe something you really don't - true hypocrisy - is something Jesus strongly opposed. It angered him, because he saw the damage that the Pharisees were doing by setting unrighteous, self-righteous examples for the people they "led." But, Jesus saw right through the charade.

In Matthew 12, Jesus confronts the religious leaders of the day, and makes it clear to them that their actions and words do not line up with their beliefs. What they profess isn't matching up with the attitude of their hearts.

Then Jesus went over to their synagogue, where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.)
And he answered, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.”

Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored, just like the other one! Then the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus. Matthew 12:9-14 (NLT)

If our heart is in the right place - following after the Lord - then He will change us from the inside out. Our actions will begin to line up with what we believe. And, the perceptions of others who don't know Christ yet will begin to change.

Until then, we'll be classified by millions of people as hypocrites - but only if we choose not to love as Jesus did - selflessly, and with eternity in mind.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011



If you were born in the United States, this exclamation describes your arrival. You hit the jackpot. Of all the places you could have been born - Sudan, Mexico, Cuba, Iraq - you were fortunate enough to be a U.S. Citizen. The freedoms and opportunities available to you (compared to the rest of the world) are staggering. There's also that thing called capitalism. It allows you and me to make money doing virtually anything we want to do.

And, guess what. You're rich. I'm rich. Even if we don't FEEL rich, we have more than 95% of people in the world.

But, while you and I are blessed to live here in the U.S.A., God didn't put us right here just for our comfort and personal well-being. That shouldn't come as a surprise, especially when you take into account the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, "Give, and it will be given to you." He didn't say, "Hoard, and it will be given to you." He told us to give. Why? Well, Jesus (being God), knows what's best for us. So, this is no exception.

As Alcorn writes, "The more you give, the more comes back to you, because God is the greatest giver in the universe, and He won't let you outgive Him."

Has there ever been someone who gave sacrificially to God who has regretted it? I doubt it. In fact, one of the primary regrets people have in their old age is that they wished they had given more generously.

A guy in my Bible study shared with me recently that just a couple years ago, his thriving business took a huge hit with the recession. At one point, he had 25-30 employees working for him. He said it got down to just him. And, even that wasn't looking too good.

He said in the midst of this struggle, he told his wife that they were really hurting for money. They needed God to come through. So, he wrote a check to the church for that week, and handed it to his wife. His wife's eyes opened as wide as saucers. "I thought you said we needed money," she said. "So, why did you write the check for more than we normally do?"

He replied, "God knows we need it. The more we give to Him, the more He's going to give it back to us. If we need more money, we've got to give Him more."

That blew me away. Who, in their "right mind" is going to give away more when their world is caving in on them? But, who ever said God wants us to be "right-minded"?

So, all of this leads us to Randy Alcorn's Treasure Principle Key #6: God prospers me, not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving.

In those moments when you realize you have more than you need, ask yourself the question: "Why?"

It's not necessarily to buy that new car, gadget, toy, or vacation. Many times, He fills your cup to overflowing so you can pass along a blessing to someone else.

You see, it's rare that God sends a divine gift of cash to your mailbox by snapping His fingers. He won't wrinkle His nose or blink a new car or even a bag of groceries to your home. No, God uses people to do His work. I'm not sure why He chose to do things that way, but He did.

And, chances are, He wants to use you. You have something to offer that no one else does. You have unique relationships, and you have opportunities to help others. Others who are counting on God to come through. And, God will come through. But He wants to use you to make it happen!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Stuff's Got a Hold of Us

OK. We're two-thirds of the way through Alcorn's keys to the Treasure Principle. Last time, we talked about living for the line (eternity) rather than the dot (the here and now). Easier said than done, I know.

The reason it's easier said than done is quite simple: we have a condition Alcorn calls "possession obsession." We are overly concerned with acquiring nice things - things that make us feel good.

As Alcorn points out, there's a PBS television program entitled Affluenza that delves into the problem of the "modern-day plague of materialism." Here are a few shocking stats this program unveils:
  • The average American shops six hours per week, while only spending 40 minutes playing with his children.
  • By age 20, we have seen one million commercials (perhaps fewer now with DVR)
  • Recently, more Americans declared bankruptcy than graduated from college.
  • In more than 90 percent of divorce cases, money plays a prominent role.
The TV program didn't argue against materialism on a moral basis. Instead, the program showed that having greater wealth didn't make people happier. In fact, it made them more miserable. Some of the wealthiest people in the 19th and 20th centuries all agreed that more money and prominence actually had a negative effect on them - John D. Rockefeller, W.H. Vanderbilt, Henry Ford, John Jacob Astor, Andrew Carnegie.

Most people (myself included) go overboard to protect their possessions. It takes a lot of mental and physical energy to maintain a possession's beauty. But, Randy Pausch didn't think that way. The late professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, in his famous "Last Lecture," talked about the time he purchased a brand new convertible, and drove it to his sister's house. Randy didn't have children at the time, but he had a nine year old niece and a seven year old nephew.

Before he took them for a ride in his brand new sports car, the mom warned the kids, "Be careful in Uncle Randy's new car. Wipe your feet before you get in. Don't mess anything up. Don't get it dirty."

But, Randy Pausch had something else in mind. "While my sister was outlining the rules, I slowly and deliberately opened a can of soda, turned it over, and poured it over the cloth seats in the back of the convertible. My message: people are more important than things. A car, even a pristine new car like my convertible, was just a thing."

Wow. I'm not there yet, but I hope to be someday.

So, how do I remove the cloak of materialism? How can I be less concerned with accumulating more stuff?

This brings us to Treasure Principle Key #5: Giving is the only antidote to materialism.

Says Alcorn, "As long as I still have something, I believe I own it. But, when I give it away, I relinquish control, power, and prestige...Giving breaks me free from the gravitational hold of money and possessions."

Perhaps C.S. Lewis summed it up best: "We are far too easily pleased."

Don't settle. Give - and give some more. And, see what true joy is really all about.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Dots and Lines

How long will you live on this earth? 70 years? Maybe 80? The people who live the longest on this planet may make it to 100. Sounds like a long time, doesn't it?

Consider that up until Noah, men routinely lived into their 900's. Adam - THE Adam - the first man God created, lived until he was 930. He was fathering children in his 100's. If that sounds astounding, you may keel over when you hear that Noah was becoming a proud papa in his 500's. Whoa. As far as we know, Methuselah holds the honor of being the oldest man at 969.

But, even if you live a Methuselah-esque life of almost a thousand years, what is that in the span of eternity? God has been forever. I know, impossible to fathom. But, that's a long time. And, He will be forever. And, so will we.

Randy Alcorn proposed this exercise to help illustrate Treasure Principle Key #4: Get a pencil and a piece of paper. On the paper, make a dot. From the dot, draw a line extending out to the right. Draw an arrow on the end of the line. The dot - no matter how large or small - represents your life on earth. The line represents eternity.

Alcorn says, "Right now, we're living in the dot. But, what are we living for? The shortsighted person lives for the dot. The person with perspective lives for the line."

Treasure Principle Key #4 - I shall live, not for the dot, but for the line.

In my last post, I mentioned that virtually all stuff ultimately winds up in a yard sale or junk heap. The person who lives for the dot spends his or her time accumulating things that wind up in the trash. The person living for the line is accumulating eternal wealth in heaven.

As Alcorn states, "Giving is living for the line."

We know we cannot take it with us. So, we are faced with a tough decision: spend it now for temporary satisfaction, or invest it in the Kingdom by giving, and reaping eternal rewards.

The choice is yours: live for the dot, or live for the line.