Archive for the ‘Stewardship’ Category

The Journey to Freedom

We would drive by the home of our dentist on our way to church every week. It was a large brick home with a slate roof. I can still picture it in my mind today as a symbol of wealth, status, and position. This beautiful home backed up to the most prestigious country club in town. Very fitting for such a stately home. And so began my quest for the comforts in life that only money can provide. Turning away from God’s calling into pastoral ministry, I pursued a degree in medicine. But what I was really pursuing was wealth, status, and position that I had seen on my way to church week after week throughout my childhood.

At first it may seem unusual that God’s calling in my life would be derailed on the way to church. But in actuality, my journey is quite typical. You see, it’s the distractions along the way that often derail us from the path God knows is best for us. When we focus on the distractions in life, we lose our focus on God’s path. We may be on our way to church, we may even get to church, but if we are focused on the distractions along the way we will not be free to focus on Him. We celebrate our freedom to focus on the distractions not realizing we are becoming enslaved by them. This is why Paul writes in Galatians 4:9, “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?”

It doesn’t matter how good and even noble the distractions happen to be, like a career in medicine or a lovely home on a golf course. If they displace your focus from God’s path, then they will enslave you. The reality is that God knows your heart better than you do. He knows that I struggle with wealth, status, and position – all the things a career in medicine could give me. That is exactly why He called me into pastoral ministry. Wealth, status, and position are “worthless elementary principles of the world.” I have found freedom in Jesus Christ to be the enduring principle of life and the path I truly desire to follow. It’s a journey of faith. It’s an adventure in trust. Ultimately, it is the pursuit of freedom.

This is why I find the $1.8 million capital campaign for the expansion of our church to be, for me, an exercise of my freedom in Jesus. Today I drive by beautiful homes occupied by physicians on my way to church every day. But rather than distractions, they are now reminders of my calling and the freedom I have in Jesus to stay on His path for me. This is why I can give to this capital campaign from my retirement plan funded by my career in medicine. It has a certain poetic justice. It is an expression of the freedom I have found in God’s way for my life. 

This week in the Richland Seventh-day Adventist Church, Pastor Ron Sydney will be sharing his journey to freedom in Jesus. If you are in the area, come each night at 6:30 pm, March 15-23. You might just discover what distractions are derailing you from God’s path for your life. May you find freedom from the distractions of the “worthless elementary principles of the world.”

Money Matters: It’s a Matter of Work

When I turned 13, my dad asked if I would like to take care of Mr. VanMeter’s yard. I had helped my dad take care of this yard since I could remember. It was 2 acres with landscaping around the house & a large hill with ground cover that needed to be weeded on a regular basis. I was excited about the prospect of actually doing all the work myself. That would mean I would be driving the large “International Harvester” lawn tractor. What could be more fun? So my father talked with Mr VanMeter who agreed to pay me an hourly wage to work full time that summer in his yard. I mowed his lawn twice a week, trimmed the hedges, weeded the flower beds, edged around every tree, and distributed mulch. I worked 3 years for Mr. VanMeter and loved every minute of it.

This is not a universal experience – to love work. I have talked with plenty of people who see work as a drudgery, something they would rather not do. It is common to desire an early retirement in order to play golf everyday & enjoy life. In fact, we have been told to have a long life you need to worry less, work less, play more, and retire early. As it turns out, these are myths that have been debunked in a 90-year study that followed 1,528 Americans. This study was started by Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman in 1921 & carried on by researchers at the University of California, Riverside. They actually found that people who worked into their 70’s, who are conscientious & worry appropriately, who are physically active throughout life, and who have healthy relationships whether or not they are married, actually live longer.

So why do we so often wish we didn’t have to work? Perhaps we have lost our calling to work in the jobs we do. We can’t see the proverbial forest (work) for the trees (jobs). When we refuse to see the work in our jobs, we miss out on God’s gift of work.  After all, the biblical creation story teaches that we were created to work! The Sabbath rest of the 4th commandment only makes sense in the context of work. The challenge we face today is to put the work back in our jobs.

I’d love to hear your ideas on work. I would especially like to hear stories of those who have found a way to transform their job into a higher calling, what God calls work. 

Money Matters: A Matter of Honest

My high school geometry teacher walked up & down the aisles formed by the student’s desks in the classroom. He was returning the test we had taken two days previously with editorial comments to some as he handed them their graded test. Comments like, “Good job!” “Excellent!” “See me after class.” “What have you been doing for the past 3 weeks?”

I loved geometry. It seemed so straightforward & obvious to me. After receiving my test back with the editorial comment of “Super job, Eric. Perfect score!” my life became slightly more complicated. Mike was sitting directly behind me. He was a big guy weighing over 200# & measuring more than 6′ tall. In my junior year of high school I was barely 5’7″, weighing in at 120# after a big meal. Mike received his paper with the comment, “What have you been doing for the past 3 weeks?” If he flunked this class, Mike would be suspended from the football team. And Mike was a starter for the team playing on both offense & defense. After class, Mike (who did not know I existed prior to this day) had a proposal for me: I let him see my answers during test & he would let me live! I didn’t want to do it, but I did want to live.  

So, for the next few tests I would let Mike see my answers. In return, Mike would acknowledge me in the hallways & even wave to me if our paths crossed outside of school. I wanted to be accepted, to be liked. I justified my actions by telling myself that I was not cheating, Mike was the one cheating. But somewhere deep inside I knew better. I knew this was not helping Mike nor me. And I knew if I kept doing this that it would be easier to cheat again & again in other circumstances. And then one Sabbath, the sermon was about the parable of the talents. In this parable, the master had given one man 5 talents, another 2 talents, & the last man 1 talent. The first two guys used the talents to double what they had been given. But the last guy did not use the talent given him. I thought of Mike’s talents & my own. I was not allowing Mike to invest in his own talents. And I was compromising my own character. The end of the story convicted me as… “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” (Matthew 25:21)

I realized I had not been faithful to God, myself, or to Mike. I don’t remember exactly when that year, but I stopped letting Mike see my answers on the test. Because I decided to be honest with myself & true to God’s principles in my life, I believe Mike learned a valuable lesson about himself. You see, Mike was actually a very kind & gentle guy. In fact, even though we were not cheating, Mike still acknowledged me in the halls & waved at me in town. And I learned that when I care more about pleasing God than pleasing others, then I can be honest with myself.

Honesty is a key ingredient of character & righteousness. The small things really do matter. Take a look at your tax returns, the tip you give your waitress who relies on it  for her income, your debt repayments, & your charitable giving. Money really does matter, & money is a matter of honesty! How would you judge your character & your righteousness by these measures? 

Money Matters: A Matter of Freedom

For three solid years from 1986-1989, I was reminded of the price of freedom every day. This is when I was stationed at Subic Bay Naval Base as a physician. The US government leased the base from the Philippine government. That meant that even though this was a US Naval Base, the US flag was not allowed to be flown. The only time I saw the US flag was on the US battle ships that came to port for a week every few months. There was one other time I would see our flag. There were two movie theaters on base that showed old movies 3 nights a week. Before the movie began, a movie track of a US flag flying proudly was shown as the national anthem was played. Every person in the theater would stand at attention saluting our flag & singing our anthem. We were proud to be Americans, defenders of freedom.

I am just as proud today to be an American as I was then. Freedom is worth fighting for! We all want to be free. God wants us to be free. And yet we so often make choices that compromise our personal freedom. I find it ironic that in the name of freedom we often make choices that result in bondage. We are free to smoke tobacco, but we’re not so free to stop! We’re free to use street drugs, but that same freedom is lost in the cycle of addiction. We are free to use the internet at will, but freedom turns into bondage with seemingly little hope to turn from the alluring images that rob so many of freedom.

Of all the choices that steal our freedom, perhaps the most insidious is the choices leading to debt. This is because debt is considered normal in the land of the free. In fact, we proudly display trophies of our indebtedness. They stand as symbols of a societal redefinition of freedom. One that says he who has the most toys wins! But God clearly warns us in Proverbs 22:7, The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” We go into debt for cars, clothes, furniture & even food while scoffing at the idea that debt enslaves.

We purchased my “dream house” in 1992. Yes, it was MY dream house, not Pam’s. Within 3 months of moving into the house, Pam told me she thought this was the biggest mistake we had ever made. She was spending 2 hours on the rode each day to shuttle the kids between school & home. One Sunday morning I took a look at our 30-year mortgage schedule. For the first time I realized that I had not bought a home, but rather the bank’s money in order to own the home 30 years from now. God blessed our decision to sell this home in order to get a 7-year mortgage on a less expensive one. It was 2-3 year process, but we sold that house & God blessed us with a beautiful new home much closer to the hospital & the kid’s school, which gave Pam & me the freedom to spend more time with together as a family & less money on the house. This new home freed us to give more to God’s kingdom work on this earth. And this home freed me to respond to God’s call into ministry 8 years later.

We make choices every day. But few choices can enslave us for years to come like the choices we make about money. The difference between our use of money & the many other addictions that are all too common is that money is a necessary part of life. We are forced to make choices about money. We’re free to choose as we wish. But only when we choose to apply God’s principles in our use of money will we experience true freedom. Fly God’s flag proudly in your life! Make the choice to be debt-free & you will make the choice to be FREE!

Money Matters: A Matter of Faithfulness

Pam & I were 19 & 20 when we committed our lives to one another in a marriage ceremony conducted in a flower-laden park in the heart of Kenosha, Wisconsin. We didn’t know much about marriage & relationships. We had a simple view of the whole thing. We loved each other & we wanted to be with each other all the time! We would be faithful to one another “until death do us part.”

It wasn’t long before I realized that with Pam came some “unspoken rules.” The practical jokes that were so funny in the boy’s dorm the year before were not appreciated in our apartment. Pam would not tolerate ice cold water poured on her while taking a shower. And she found it utterly unacceptable to replace the sugar bowl with salt. It became apparent that I had some “unspoken rules” of my own which she violated from time to time. Simple things like unrolling the toilet paper from the top rather than the bottom of the roll. But it’s amazing how such simple things can be so irritating! And the meaning of faithfulness can begin taking on new hues in the light of our discovery of these “new” rules.

It wasn’t long before it became apparent that we also brought “unconscious roles” to this relationship. I had assumed she would do the cooking & cleaning while I would take care of the family finances & the car. Over the years, we discovered that she is much better at taking care of the finances while I can be a big help in cleaning the house. Once we acknowledged our “rules” & “roles” with one another, we found it more delightful to be faithful to one another. We discovered that faithfulness includes much more than not committing adultery, as important & vital as that is. 

I have learned to ask myself the following question each day as the essence of remaining faithful to Pam: “What can I do today to make her happy?” When I seek the answer to this question, I want to know more of her unspoken rules & unconscious roles so I can fulfill them. I want to know them so I can do the things that will please her. There’s no greater joy than doing something for the one you love that makes a smile crease her/his face!

I find the same question that has made my life of faithfulness to Pam richer & joy-filled is the same question I must ask of myself to remain faithful to God. There is one big difference, God does not have “unspoken rules” & He doesn’t have any “unconscious roles.” He has given us His Word to not only communicate His role, but ours as well. And to make sure we can clearly understand Him, He has sent His Spirit to be with us every moment of every day! If you’re up for it, I invite you to read Luke 12 to discover God’s definition of faithfulness. And ask yourself, “What can I do today to make God happy today?”

Money Matters: A Matter of Contentment

During my recovery from surgery, I have focused on one thing: balance. In the early days after surgery, I would stand up & get dizzy. This actually was a problem for the first 3-4 weeks. I learned to stand up slowly, wait for the room to stop spinning, & then take a step. Even then, there were times a dark gray curtain covered my line of sight & I knew had to sit down. With time as I drank more & more water, forced myself to walk further & further, my balance improved.

Because my balance was so poor, I had a lot of time to think about my overall balance in life. I began to ponder what balance in my life would look like once I was fully recovered. I realized my need to reevaluate my use of time & money. the crazy thing is that I found myself being more content in the hospital bed recovering from major open heart surgery than at most other times in my life! What was that all about? Perhaps I could judge my balance in life by my level of contentment. Could I possibly have more balance in life while experiencing very little balance on my feet? How could I be so content?

For much of my life I have strived to find contentment in the things money can buy. When I accepted God’s call into pastoral ministry, Pam & I consciously placed money & the things it can purchase in their proper place. But it’s an ongoing battle for me. My desire for the things money can buy seeps into my life seemingly without my permission. I somehow to often equate net-worth (& the things it can buy) with self-worth. Before I know it, I’m needing more money to get that next item that will make life just that much more meaningful. Contentment is just one purchase away!

But as I was forced to stop & take it easy for a while, I was blown away by the love, nurture, & care I received from Pam (my wife), my children, my church family, & my community. I can’t describe the selfless love & devotion Pam gave to me with joy & enthusiasm. To my amazement, she actually appeared to relish her time in my hospital room! And to have my children by my side reaffirmed to me the true meaning of life. God created me to love & to be loved. There is nothing else that can bring true contentment in my life.

Money matters, it really does. It matters because it reveals who is Lord of my life. When I am ruled by God, love becomes the currency by which I find contentment as I spend it on others. Money simply loses its luster in the light of God’s love as expressed through those around us. So I have been reminded again that I am content only as I open my heart to the priceless, limitless, abundant currency of God’s love.

Stewarding Every Commitment

My father retired as a firefighter & house painter to take a full time job as a custodian for the public school district in Anderson, Indiana. He worked 10 more years before his health made it necessary for him to retire from this job as well. My parents then moved to Florida for the usual “Midwestern” style retirement. Seven years later I was sitting by my father as he laid in his hospital bed moments before he took has last breath. He told me how proud he was of me becoming a physician. He saw this as a more noble profession than anything he had ever done in his work life. I challenged him on that thought, but he was steadfast in his belief that his life as a firefighter, house painter, & custodian was not that significant.

As I have processed that belief over the years since my father’s death, I have realized that most of us believe that work defines the person as much as anything else in life. Among the first questions we ask a person we have just met is, “What do you do for a living?” But does what we do matter as much at our attitude about what we do? Perhaps the task is not as important as my Master. How would it change our attitude about the significance of our work if we saw ourselves working for God rather than man?

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