Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Big Rocks

Our lesson on Sunday included an illustration. A professor put rocks into a jar until they reached the top. He asked the class, “is it full?” Then he poured sand into the jar, shaking it so it would fall between the rocks. “Is it full?” He then poured water over the sand.

I’ve heard this illustration used by several preachers. Usually, they are saying to put God first, then add the other things in life. On Sunday, it was used to say that putting worldly things in your life can limit the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. But today I saw a similar illustration on Facebook. A professor filled a jar with golf balls, then pebbles, then sand, and finally beer. He used it in much the same way pastors do, but when a student asked about the beer, he told the student that it was because there is always room to drink a couple of beers with friends.

That’s the problem with object lessons. They give the appearance of proving our point, but two people can use the same object lesson to say two very different things. Where one person is promoting reliance on the Holy Spirit, another person is promoting spirits of a different kind.

We must be careful how we use object lessons. We can use them to illustrate what we are saying, but we should never use them as proof. The fact that it is easier to put the big rocks in first proves nothing about life because the way we label those rocks is arbitrary.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Don't Let Us Mess It Up

Keep us from messing up.” Those weren’t his exact words, but that was certainly the intent of our interim pastor’s prayer last night at the Pastor Search Committee meeting last night. Of all the committees I’ve served on, of all the positions I filled, serving on this committee is the one that makes me the most nervous. We have an amazing church. It is filled with great people who serve the Lord with gladness. I have great respect for the leaders within our church, both those who are serving on the committee and those who are not. Our church had a very deep pool of qualified individuals to pull from when they selected the committee. But if we were to select the wrong man as pastor, it could mess up all the good things that our church has going for it.

It was good to hear that reminder last night. I’m not wrong in feeling nervous about my ability to select the right man for the job. Though I have great respect for the others on the committee, I’m not wrong in feeling nervous about their ability in that selection. Though I believe they are among the most faithful and scripturally sound leaders our church has to offer, we are just human. But God knows who the right person is to be our pastor for the coming years. More and more, I find myself praying, “Lord, don’t let us mess it up.”

Monday, November 19, 2012

This is Thanksgiving week, here in the United States. This is the week that we follow the Pilgrim’s example and pause to thank Almighty God for what he has so richly blessed us with over the past year. I been thinking about writing about the cycle of praise on this blog and now seems like an appropriate time.

It works like this: God blesses us, so we praise him, because we praise him, he blesses us. It all starts with God, because without God choosing to bless us in the first place, we would have no reason to praise him and so he would have no reason to bless us.

Take a look at Psalm 67. It begins by talking about the blessing of God. The stated reason for that blessing is “that thy way may be known.” It then talks about God’s people praising him. But in verses 5 and 6 we see this statement, “Let the people praise Thee, O God; let all the people praise Thee. Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us.” It seems to be saying that our praise will result in God blessing us.

We must not break that cycle. If we want God’s blessings, we must continue to praise him for the blessings he has already given us. God desires to bless us, but if we stopping praising him, he may be forced to withhold his blessings.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Lord, Give Us More Spiritual Fruit

I love reading this list:
  • love
  • joy
  • peace
  • longsuffering
  • gentleness
  • goodness
  • faith
  • meekness
  • temperance

You probably recognize it as the list that Paul gave of the “fruit of the spirit.” I look around us today and it occurs to me that what we need is more spiritual fruit.

When you think of spiritual fruit, don’t think of it as different kinds of fruit. Love isn’t one kind of fruit and peace another. The nine things in the list are attribute that describe one kind of fruit. Just like we as an apple is sweet, firm, red, round, etc. The fruit of the spirit is these nine things.

And like an apple tree produces apples, the fruit of the spirit is what Christians produce. It is our actions. But not all of our actions can be called the fruit of the spirit, only those actions that demonstrate love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.

I often seen people I didn’t know and thought, “that person has to be a Christian.” What caused me to think that was the way they treated other people. They treated people with love. They were joyful. They had an attitude of peace. They weren’t quick to take offense. They were gentle. They did was right. They had faith. They didn’t lord over other people. They abstained from things they shouldn’t be involved in. We need more people like that in all areas of life. We need them in business. We need them in politics. We need them in schools and colleges. We need more spiritual fruit.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

This Can't Be For Real

I have some blogs in my feed reader that I don’t remember why I started following them. The other day, one of them caught my eye, 3 Way to Learn How to Win the Lottery. Even though I could read the entire blog in the reader, I chose to click through because I was sure it was some kind of joke. Yet, the best I can tell, the author believes what she has written.

The simple fact is, you aren’t going to significantly improve your odds of winning the lottery by doing anything that she says in this post. Theoretically, you might gain a little by studying the numbers. No random number generator is truly random and if balls are used to draw numbers, the slight differences in the weight of the balls can cause one to be slightly more likely than another. But if they change the balls, your advantage disappears.

Since the lottery is random, sticking to one game will gain you nothing. Some people have the idea that if they keep throwing their money at the lottery that eventually they’ll win. Gambling doesn’t work that way. The vast majority of the people who play will end up spending far more money than they win. The more you play, the more you lose. You can’t assume that your lucky numbers will come up eventually. Some numbers may come up more than once while some numbers will never be picked.

And lastly, playing often will increase your chances of winning, but it also guarantees that you’ll lose a lot more money. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the typical player spends $1,384 per year. So over 10 years, that is $13,840. Only two-thirds of the money taken in is paid out in prizes, so the typical player can expect to lose $4,567 over a 10 year period. If they were to take that $4,567 that they would lose by playing the lottery and invest it wisely, they could likely have the $13,840 dollars. If they were to invest the whole $13,840 wisely, over ten years, they could expect to have around $30,000. Put simply, people who don’t play the lottery have the potential to earn $35,000 more than the typical player over ten years.

Not only that, but most people who gain their wealth by winning the lottery will lose everything they gained within a few years. People who don’t play and invest wisely may never be considered wealthy, but they are much more likely to keep their financial well-being throughout their lives.

Monday, November 12, 2012

On Dissolving the Union

Did you hear? Texas and fourteen other states are pulling out of the Union. That’s what they’re saying on Facebook anyway. Upon closer examination, what has actually happened is that individuals from fifteen states have filed petitions with the Obama administration to withdraw from the United States of America. In Texas, it is one Micah H. from Arlington who has filed the petition. I don’t know him. Other states are Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Indiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Colorado, Oregon and New York. Notice that there are some solidly Democrat states in that list.

That should tell you how silly this is. Even if these petitions have the 25,000 signatures needed “for consideration” (I have little doubt they will), these states are a long way from being able to pull out of the Union. 15th largest economy in the world or not, even Texas would have a lot of issues to resolve before it could safely pull out. First, there is the issue of voter approval. There are nearly 26 million people living in Texas, so 25,000 signatures is just a small percentage of the majority needed to pull out. Most of the voters are still proud Americans, even if they don’t like the way the last election went. And many of those voters get their income from Federal Government contracts or from businesses that have built up around companies getting money from those contracts. Every large population area in Texas would take a major blow economically and would likely lose many of its residents, if Texas were to pull out of the Union.

Second, what would Texas do to defend itself? In time, yes, it would be able to put together a military, but it could take several years. It is a very large border that Texas would have to defend.

I could go on, but the point is that Obama will be out of office before Texas could be ready to pull out of the Union. And pulling out doesn’t really solve the problem. The problem isn’t the people who are being elected (not completely anyway), the problem is the people who are electing them. We seem to have forgotten that is is “We the people” who are the government of the United States. Splitting up the Union doesn’t do anything to convince the voters to make the right decisions.

Friday, November 9, 2012

My Heart Was Set On a Goat

Upon arriving home from work, I opened my mailbox to find an assortment of mail. A bill due next month. A check for the association. A few sale flyers. A gift catalog. This caught my eye. On the front of the catalog was the picture of a beautiful black girl in African garb, with a goat in her lap. I would guess her to be about eleven year old. I turned the page and there was another child with another goat. “Give a Goat” were the heading of the page and there was the price, $75 for a goat or $150 for two goats.

They’ve certainly got the right idea. People don’t like giving money to a fund. It isn’t that they aren’t willing to give, but they want to know that their money is accomplishing something. Our church recently expanded our building. I think our building fund had about $200,000 or $300,000 that had accumulated over a decade. But once we started making plans to build, people gave. We would’ve built a $1,000,000 building debt free, if the contractor hadn’t misappropriated the money. As it was, we ended up borrowing money to pay the sub-contractors and to finish the building, but people kept giving and we’re debt free once more.

So, it sounds good. I can send this organization money and it will go toward buying a goat, or chickens, or a cow, all for a needy family. But then I a saw this statement, “86% of every gift goes to programs helping children and families overcome poverty in nearly 100 countries.” Nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t sound quite the same as the rest of the catalog implies. In other words, only $64.50 is going toward buying that girl a goat.

But wait, it gets worse. In the fine print I found these words:
We promise to honor your generosity and use your donation in the most effective way possible. The needs shown in this catalog reflect World Vision projects at the time of writing, and the suggested donation amounts are based on surveys of the countries we serve. Each item is representative of the gift category in which it appears, and donations will be used to provide assistance where it is needed most within that category or to address a similar need.

Needless to say, I felt deflated when I saw that. Any money that I might send them goes into a fund that may or may not buy a goat for a family in need. I even felt like they had lied to me. I’ve given to funds before, and that’s okay, but I liked thinking that after giving my $75 that someone would walk up to a house somewhere in Africa, hand them a goat and say, “Someone in Fort Worth, Texas bought you a goat.” But it’ not like that at all.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

E Pluribus Unum

Rob Sanders recently asked in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “When will the many become one?” He was referring to the Latin words on U.S. money, “E pluribus unum” – “out of many, one.” And also the election. Though a few states may fall one way or the other, the political map of the United States has blue Democrat states on the east and west coasts with a swash of red Republican states down the middle. We are a country divided. How do we unite it once more and work together?

I’m reminded of the original thirteen states. They had their share of disagreement. We see part of this in the Constitution. The reason we have two houses of Congress is because of a disagreement. The small states didn’t want the large states to have too much power and the large states wanted power that was representative of the size of their population. The result is the Senate in which the small states have just as much power as the large states and the House of Representatives which is representative of population size.

And I’m reminded of the Civil War. That was a nasty business with brother fighting against brother. But we came through it. The union held and is stronger for it today.

If our past is any indication, even with those thing that divide us, there is still hope for our future. The question is, how do we move forward united? That is a question that I intend to give some thought.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

It's Over...But It Ain't

Well, the election is over and I can’t say that I’m completely happy with the results, but they are what they are. I keep thinking about President Obama saying, “wait until after the election” and I wonder just what we have in store for us. I suppose that is one of the problems with term limits. There is freedom in knowing that you don’t have another election to lose.

But I’m also reminded of President Clinton. When he was reelected, there were a bunch of us who were convinced that he was going to use those last four years to do some very scary things. As it turned out, he went and got himself impeached. With everything that happened leading up to his impeachment and then the trial, he didn’t have time to do many of the things we thought he was going to do.

I’m not saying that President Obama is going to be impeached like Clinton was. I’m not saying that President Obama has been spending too much time with White House interns. (I sure hope not, anyway.) But God is still on the throne, just as he was when Clinton was in his second term. Though we may wonder why God would allow some of the people who were elected to be elected, God is still the one who directs the agenda. That’s not to say that God won’t allow the things that we fear will happen, but we can certainly request his help.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Today is election day here in the United States. This year, we're electing the most powerful man in the free world. But while all the attention is on the President, there are a lot of other people running for office. What I find interesting is that here in Texas as there are a lot of Republicans running uncontested for many of the races. I suppose in Illinois and California there may be several Democrats running uncontested. I'm not sure I understand that. Couldn't the lesser party (whichever one it is) come up with someone to run, even if it is just to put someone on the ballot?

Granted, some people aren't willing to risk the possibility of winning the election because it would require them to take on the job they were elected for. If you are making good money at another job, you aren't going to risk it. But considering the number of people without a job right now, you would think that there would be plenty of people willing to put their name in the race, even if they don't really expect to win.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Why Your Friends Are Calling You Fat, Among Other Things.

A came up to me and asked, “Are you saying I’m fat? I wanted to ask you about that e-mail you sent out about green tea.” I stared back at her with a dumbfounded look on my face. “I didn’t send you an e-mail like that.”

Though I hadn’t sent the e-mail, it is very likely that she received an e-mail with my name on it. Here’s why:

E-mail messages are simply a block of data with a header specifying who should receive the message, an optional subject line, and information about who sent the message. Unlike what most people seem to think, there is nothing that prevents someone from sending an e-mail with someone else’s e-mail address in the from field. A lot of people think they’ve been hacked when their friends tell them about e-mails from them that they didn’t send. This is typically not the case.

A much more likely scenario is that a spammer has received an e-mail that someone has forwarded to their whole e-mail list. You’ve seen e-mails like that. “Forward this if you love Jesus.” Or whatever. And out it goes with a big list of e-mail addresses attached to it. The spammer knows that people are more likely to trust am e-mail if they think it comes from a friend. First, he removes his own e-mail address. Then he selects one of the other e-mail addresses as the from address. He sends his own message to the other addresses on the list as if it came from that address. Over time, he may use everyone listed in the e-mail as the from address. That way, he is guaranteed to find people who recognize each other’s e-mail addresses.

Until a scheme is implemented that forces us to identify ourselves before we can send e-mail this sort of thing will continue to go on. So far, most people haven’t been too enthused about removing the anonymity of the Internet. But with it, you may think that lots of friends are calling you fat, when they know nothing about it.