Thursday, May 28, 2009

Obeying God in the “small matters”

In the parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:11-27), a man of noble birth gave a mina (i.e., money) to ten servants with instructions to “Put this money to work until I come back.” Upon his return the first servant said, “Sir, your mina has earned ten more,” to which the master replied, “Well done, my good servant! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.”

Are you trustworthy in the small matters? We all like to think we are good people. After all, most of us have not murdered, raped or robbed someone. So we hold ourselves to that standard and believe that we are living up to God’s expectations. Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort (in their ministry “The Way of the Master”) do a pretty good job of illustrating the fallacy of this belief. They ask people, “Have you ever told a lie?” “Have you ever stolen something, no matter how small (even a paper clip from the office)?” “Have you ever used God’s name as a curse word?” “Have you ever looked at another person with lust?” Most people will admit to having done all four of these at some point during their life. These are all part of the Ten Commandments just like “Thou shalt not murder,” but we tend to overlook them as “small matters.”

Allow me to give another example. Romans 13:1-2 says, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established … Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.” Do you submit to the governing authorities? Even in the “small matters”? Again, most of us have not committed a murder. We haven’t embezzled funds from our employer. We haven’t spent time in jail so we think that we are submitting to the authorities. But are you really? Have you ever been pulled over for speeding? How did you react? Did you try to talk your way out of it even though you knew you were in the wrong? If the officer decided not to give you a ticket, did you brag to your friends about how you put on the “pouty” face and it worked so that you got off with only a warning, as if this “accomplishment” was something to be proud of?

As Christians, we have all come to terms with the simple truth that we have violated God’s law and we deserve punishment. But for some reason many of us have trouble carrying this over to the civil law, even though Paul explicitly told us to submit to the governing authorities. If you have done something wrong, the appropriate response is to own up to it and accept your punishment, not to try to get out of it, however tempting that may be.

How fast do you drive? Do you obey the speed limit or convince yourself, “They won’t pull me over if I’m only doing 5 mph over, so I guess that’s okay”? I recently came to terms with my own hypocrisy (if we are honest with ourselves we are all hypocrites in one way or another) in that I was preaching submission to the governing authorities but routinely traveling 5, 10 or even 15 mph over the speed limit. I now try to travel the speed limit wherever I go, and let me tell you it has been an eye-opening experience.

First, it was a disappointing surprise to see how many cars with the “Christian fish” logo on the back went flying by me like they were in a NASCAR race. But it also has served as a powerful lesson in temptation. Even though I drive in the right lane with plenty of room to pass me on the left, I still find myself feeling guilty when a car pulls up behind me and has to slow down. I find myself worrying about what other people are thinking of me, or the curse words that are flying out of their mouths because I am “holding them up” (for the incredible inconvenience of having to wait perhaps 10 or 15 seconds for an opening so they can change lanes). A semi-truck may pull up behind me. Due to its sheer size it has a harder time changing lanes and often tailgates me right behind my bumper. Sometimes I wonder if I should speed up to make these peoples’ lives easier. But then I remember that I am the one obeying the law, they are the ones defying it, and I leave my cruise control right where it is.

Obeying God’s Word is not always easy, even in the little things. It is amazing how even in the small day to day activities of our lives, modern culture can be steering us away from God. I have made a commitment to try to follow Christ’s examples even in the “small matters.” Will you join me? Your driving is an easy place to start. Make a pledge to start obeying the speed limit then see where the Holy Spirit guides you from there. God bless you all.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Thank You God for Another Day

In the movie “Star Trek: Generations” there is a character named “Data,” an android whose life long wish is to become more human. Data has never felt emotions, a limitation in his programming. But at the beginning of this movie he has an “emotion chip” installed. The first thing Data does with his new emotions is to go to the bar and have a drink. With his first sip his entire face contorts into something resembling a prune as he announces he is “feeling” something. His friend Geordi points out that it looks like Data hates the drink, to which Data responds enthusiastically, “Yes! That’s it! I hate this! It is revolting!” Yet when he is offered another cup, Data eagerly responds, “Please!”

Data was excited to be having any emotions, even the sensation of loathing the taste of a beverage. To him it was a new experience, an experience he had been searching for all his life. He was ecstatic and grateful to be feeling anything and he was willing to take the good with the bad.

Sometimes I wonder what has happened to our sense of gratitude. After all, our very existence is a gift from God. How often do you sit back and thank God for even being here in the first place? Oh, we all may send up a prayer from time to time thanking God for the food on our table or the roof over our head, and I don’t mean to diminish that. After all, in America today even many people living below the poverty level still live like kings compared to some of the slums in India or South America. Those of us living comfortably by the standards of our prosperous nation certainly have nothing to complain about. So thanking God for these blessings is definitely a good thing.

But we owe God more than that. According to the Bible God did not just create the universe but through Jesus He is “sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). In other words, God did not just make you, but the entire creation continues to exist from moment to moment only because God is actively involved in holding it all together. God made you, but He also keeps you in existence every second of every day.

Not only should we be thanking God for creating us, but every morning we should thank Him for giving us and everybody else in the universe the chance to exist one more day. Looking at life this way gives us a bit of perspective. Bad things will come our way. Maybe we’ll lose our job or have some other financial setback. In those circumstances we certainly aren’t thanking God for our financial blessings. But there is still something far more fundamental to thank Him for.

Data touched on this. He understood that some things are so fundamental that they deserve our gratitude, whether we are currently facing good or bad. I don’t know yet what today has in store for me. It is just getting started. But I will take the opportunity right now to thank God for sustaining me one more day. Will you join me in doing the same? God bless you.