Thursday, November 21, 2013

What Owns You?

My dad was a Master Sergeant in the army in Vietnam in the late ‘60s.  He was stationed on a base, and one of his jobs was to process soldiers coming in from America and going home from Vietnam.  He also processed guys who were going on R&R.  This was tricky; the guys going on R&R would usually bring all the money they had, so my dad and the other personnel at the base had to be very careful about theft.  They told every one of these soldiers to put their belongings in the safe.  One guy didn’t trust them.  He put all his money in a suitcase and chained it to his bed.  The next day, my dad was called to investigate a theft.  They found this guy in his underwear.  Someone had snuck in while he slept and cut the suitcase at the handle.  Everything he owned was gone.  All he had left was his underwear and the handle of that suitcase.

It’s been said that money makes the world go ‘round…but money ends up making a fool out of most of us eventually.  Some of us, like that guy on my dad’s army base, don’t listen to good advice; others are too na├»ve and trusting.  Some of us are too conservative; others are too carefree.  Even if we haven’t lost it all, been audited by the IRS, had to file bankruptcy or in some other way failed financially—even if you’ve never been made a fool of by money, I guarantee you know someone who has.  We all have our stories.  We’re in a series now called “Being Good at Life,” focused on the wisdom we find in the biblical book of Proverbs.  If you’ve never read Proverbs, you might be surprised to find out it has an awful lot to say about money.  Some of the stuff it says is basic common sense; when you read it, you nod your head and say, “Ain’t that the truth?”  Other stuff it says just sounds exactly opposite what we would expect.  It’s counter-intuitive.  This Sunday, I won’t be able to cover everything Proverbs has to say about money, but I want to mention seven key teachings very briefly.  As we study this together, my prayer is that many of us who find ourselves slaves to the ruthless taskmaster that is money and possessions will take the first step toward freedom. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Weapon safety

My ten-year-old son has a BB gun.  I bought it for him because I knew how much fun I had with mine when I was a kid.  There's another reason why I bought it for him.  When I was around ten, my dad bought me a 20 gage shotgun.  I was a little kid; the first time I fired the gun, the recoil knocked me down.  My dad ended up sawing a couple inches off the stock so that I could brace it against my shoulder.  You may wonder what kind of father would buy such a dangerous weapon for such a small child.  First of all, we lived in the country.  Being able to handle a gun was not only a rite of passage, it was a necessity.  Second of all, my dad used that gun to teach me responsibility.  There were very strict rules.  You don’t load your gun and cock it until you are ready to fire.  You never leave your gun loaded.  You never aim at anything unless you know what it is.  And you never, ever point the gun at anyone.  Dad showed me the proper way to hold the gun when I walked, so that if I tripped, I wouldn’t accidentally discharge it.  Once, my brother and I went hunting. When we got back, I left my gun laying out in the utility room.  When my dad found my gun laying out, still loaded, I was in serious trouble.  A gun is nothing to mess around with. 
Proverbs 18:21 tells us that our words are like a gun.  They have the power of life and death.  We can use words to bring hope, joy, encouragement, comfort, and any number of wonderful things.  There are people in this very room who have said encouraging things to me that I will cherish forever.  We can also use words to praise the name of our God.  And of course, the greatest use of words is when we share the gospel with someone.  But words can be a weapon, too.  Like a gun in the hands of an irresponsible person, words used carelessly can destroy so much.  Everyone here has been hurt by words in the past.  No matter who you are or what you are capable of in any other part of your life, you have the power to kill or heal, to build up or destroy, right behind your teeth.  It is an awesome responsibility that we all share to use our words carefully.  So how do we make sure that our words are a force for good instead of evil?  Not surprisingly, the book of Proverbs has much to say on this subject.  This Sunday, I'll continue my series from Proverbs, called "Being Good at Life," with a look at how God wants us to use our words. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Being Good at Life

             The famous preacher and author Chuck Swindoll was in the Marines as a young man.  On one occasion, he was on board a ship that was cruising into the harbor of Taipei, Taiwan.  When they got within less than a mile of the port, the ship suddenly stopped.  They waited as a man in a small boat came out to meet them.  This man was the harbor pilot.  He climbed on board, took the wheel, and guided the boat the rest of the way.  Some of the Marines thought this was a silly formality; after all, why couldn’t their own captain take the boat into port, since he had brought them this far?  But then they noticed that the harbor pilot was steering the boat in an odd course, weaving back and forth through the harbor on the way to the shore.  They looked over the side of the boat, and down deep under the water, they saw the reason why.  There were mines in that harbor, below the surface of the water.  Anyone who tried to sail into Taipei harbor would surely be blown to bits—unless the harbor pilot was at the wheel.  Only he knew where the mines were.
            You and I live in Taipei harbor.  In every step we take, every decision we make, there are potential mines waiting to blow us out of the water.  That attractive, vibrant person you work with, who you find yourself daydreaming about at random moments of the day--six months from now, you may find yourself in a relationship with that person that has destroyed your family and made your life a living hell.  This week, a friend may convince you to sink money you don’t really have into an investment that’s "a can't-miss opportunity"; two years later, you’ll be declaring bankruptcy.  This very afternoon, you might lose your temper because of some jerk on the freeway and end up doing something you’ll regret the rest of your life.  Face it, sooner or later, nearly all of us manage to make a mess out of our lives.  No matter how smart we may think we are, or who we may consult, we can’t see the mines in the harbor.  Unless we give the wheel to the harbor pilot.  There is only one right way, and only He knows it.
            All this year, I have been preaching on the topic of "representing Christ in a non-Christian culture."  We've looked at various attributes we need in order to live out our faith in these challenging times: Boldness, faith, prayer, holiness, etc.  For this last series of the year, I want to talk about one more important attribute: Wisdom.  We often confuse wisdom with knowledge, but the two are very different.  Knowledge is assimilating information; Wisdom is (my definition) being good at life.  Imagine if Christians were universally known for being dependable, smart, capable, rock-solid individuals who others sought to learn from.  That is what we were meant to be.  No, we won't all be successful in the estimation of this world, but we should all be men and women of wisdom.  What does that look like in real life?  Over the next several weeks, leading up to Christmastime, we'll take a look at the book of Proverbs, and see what it really means to be good at life.