Permissible or Beneficial

There are many ways people in our society manage their time and their money.  Those who have gone through hard times and experienced shortage may tend to be more cautious with their resources while those for whom life has been easy with plenty in the account at all times may be at more ease to spend in areas of short-term enjoyment .  They may feel an $18 hamburger in a fancy restaurant is worth it while this would be a waste to others. 

Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:23 writes, “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.  Everything is permissible, but not everything is constructive.”    In this context, he is speaking of Christian freedom in the area of eating meat offered to idols.  In that day, a host may have sees nothing wrong with offering such meat to guests even knowing their convictions were different.  Paul is saying that even though it is permissible for you, it may not be beneficial for other people in the area of their faith.  So just don’t go there.

There are many things that are permissible but not beneficial or constructive.  Of themselves, they are not sinful but they may not work towards the more important goals.  Being an avid sports fan is permissible.  It may not have benefit though and could actually do harm in relationships if out of balance.  Eating a second donut is permissible but may not be beneficial.  Smoking cigarettes is permissible, but never beneficial. 

Given this freedom, the determining factor for each of us is what we identify as the more important objectives in life.  If it is saving for retirement or if it is enjoying life with friends, we make decisions accordingly.  For both of these, everything is permissible but not necessarily beneficial.  For the cautious saver, life is not guaranteed into retirement years.  For the fun loving soul, days of plenty may end.

In areas not identified as sinful, what basis are you using to make your decisions?  These decisions are personal, yet God knows what is beneficial both for you and for those around you.  Eternal benefit is the greatest benefit.  We find the wisdom towards this end in the Bible.  Consulting God who knows all seems wise.  He has given us the Bible as a guide for this life.  If you approach it with an open heart, you will be amazed how practical it is and what benefits await you.

Supply And Demand

My wife and I recently planned a trip to Colorado as part of our vacation.  Our plan was to fly to Denver and rent a car to drive across the mountains to our son’s home.  We purchased plane tickets plenty early and subsequently went about the car rental.  To our surprise, car rentals in Denver are very expensive in July.  We learned that the demand is high driving the prices up.

We call this the law of supply and demand.  Supply and demand typically have an inverse relationship.  Supply high and demand low normally drop prices.  Demand high and supply low raise the price.  The personal benefit is determined entirely on which side of this equation you find yourself.  As consumers, we experience this every day at the gas pump and grocery store.

I was wondering if this economic principle has any validity in our relationship with God.  Since God owns everything and can do anything he so chooses, we can say that His supply is very big.  Unlike gasoline or oranges from Florida, God’s supply does not vary.  It is constant and always enough.

In this equation, we are the consumers.  But being a consumer does not mean that we have high demand.  Actually, for most of us, our demand from or our perceived need of God is quite low.  As such we don’t look to God for much and we don’t receive much from God.  And all through this, God’s price tag does not change. 

I am a believer in the adage that you get what you pay for.  I shy away from the cheapest and look for quality.  You may do the same.  Now if quality means something that lasts, we should value eternal life. 

Since only God can offer eternal life and eternal life is well . . . eternal, and there is no legitimate competitor, one would think the price would be high.  We all want it and we all need it and only God can supply it.  But is the cost high or is it low?

The answer is in scripture.  Look up the following Bible verses and conclude for yourself.

Romans 5:8, John 3:16, 1 Peter 1:17-19

Keeping It Simple

This summer my wife and I spent a couple of days celebrating our anniversary in the Lanesboro, MN area in the SE corner of the state.  We enjoyed a comfortable bed and breakfast making new friends and riding our bikes through the beautiful landscape on nicely paved shaded trails.  Before arriving we knew there were Amish people in the rural areas but we did not know that we could actually visit their farms.  For a fee, we rented a CD that guided us from place to place telling us about eachAmish family as well as an expectation of what they have for sale in their small retail stores right on the farm. 

We stopped at eight different homesteads and shopped in their varied stores buying something at each store.  The shops were typically the size of a two stall garage and full of homemade items varying from baskets to jelly.  We saw young ladies riding carriages pulled by horses, talked to family members who came to greet us with a hope we would find something we like, and studied their quiet simple culture.

Their lives are simple reminding me of what I know of the days of Laura Ingles Wilder.  There was no electricity on these farms meaning there were no hot water heaters, no electric ranges, and no television or radio. 

The folks who waited on us were varied in ages, men, women and children.  They were warm and friendly.  Their education went through eighth grade.  They studied the four R’s, reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion.  The teachers were 8th grade graduate girls who could teach until they got married.  Then their responsibility shifted to the home.  Their world seemed so small.  I wonder if they get or are even interested in national or world news.  Do they know who is running for president?  Do they even care who gets elected?  I never asked.  I was told that they don’t believe technology is evil but that it distracts them from what God believes is important.  So they choose to live without much of what we consider necessary.

I experienced mixed emotions.  One side of me felt sorry for them because opportunities seemed so limited for them.  Another side envied the slower pace and absence of noise. 

In Mt. 6:33, Jesus said, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.  It seems simple, doesn’t it? 

Regrets - Part 5

Today I am focusing on a story Jesus told about a man with regrets.  The story is titled 'The Rich Man and Lazarus' and is recorded in Luke 16. 

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There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.  In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

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The point of this story has nothing to do with connecting the rich or the poor with acceptance by God.  Entrance into heaven is not based on what we possess or don’t possess here.  However it is determined by what we do with the truth concerning Jesus. 

It does not take a Bible scholar to conclude a few simple things based on this story.

First, there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun.  The beggar was carried to Abraham’s side and the rich man found himself in torment.

Second, there was no crossing over for either the rich man or the beggar.  Eternal destination is settled upon loss of this life.

Third, Abraham said those still on earth must listen to Moses and the Prophets.  We have been given the Bible.  It is recorded for our benefit and it is our choice to read and understand it or to ignore it.  In the Bible, we learn about God and the only way to reach heaven.  That way is through faith and trust in Jesus, God’s son.

The greatest regret anyone could ever experience is to realize too late that he or she had not chosen that path.

Regrets - Part 4

There is no one I know who has lived more than a few years who does not look back at something in life and regret a decision or action he or she made.  And yet in most cases, life goes on, lessons are learned, and adjustments are made.  Many times, grace is given and consequences are not as bad as they could have been.

Grace is a big word in Christian circles.  Many churches have the word embedded in their formal name.  I don’t know of a Christian church that does not have the concept of grace as a foundational core belief. 

In the context of salvation or spending eternity with God in heaven vs. spending eternity in hell, grace is defined as the unmerited or undeserved favor of God to those who are under condemnation.  This grace is received as one responds to the call to believe in Jesus Christ.  No works or standards are required.  Rather, faith that Jesus died as payment for sin evidenced by a repentant heart for one’s sin is all that is necessary.  In a cost/benefit analysis, God’s grace means that we benefit at the cost Jesus paid for us. 

Grace also plays a large role in our daily lives.  I spent 26 years as a CPA.  I was less than perfect and unfortunately some mistakes I made involved other people’s tax returns.  I lived with the conviction that I admit my mistakes to my clients and not cover them or attempt to shift blame.  In those years, I never lost a client because of a technical mistake that I or my staff made.  That is grace, grace given me by customers who could have taken their work elsewhere.

Romans 8:28 says that for those who love God, all things work together for good.  This means that even my mistakes and my shortcomings as well as my poor judgments and poor choices have potential of working out for my good, that is, if my heart has a love for God.  This is grace that demonstrates itself in daily life, right here and now. 

So when all is said and done, there are many things in life that work out in a manner that is better than we deserve.  And for that, I am thankful.

We cannot avoid everything that could bring regret into our lives.  We are less than perfect and we are learning, sometimes through our mistakes.  Many times, the consequences for these mistakes could be so much worse and could bring results with that could haunt us for years.  Yet they don’t. 

Today let’s count our blessings.  Consider the forgiveness received and the times others have let us off the hook.  Also, let’s consider how we can extend grace to others in their short comings.  As we do this together, we will live with far fewer regrets.

Regrets - Part 3

There is probably no area of regret that brings more pain than that related to children.  For most of us, a healthy relationship with our children as they become adults is a desire at the least.  It is also a desire that our children grow to be responsible adults and are able to do well in their jobs and families.  For Christians, a high priority is passing the Christian faith to our children with them living their lives in a manner pleasing to God.

The Bible is not silent on child rearing.  Well known passages include Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  In our context, we could paraphrase this to say that training a child in the way he should go will prevent much pain and many regrets. 

It is my conclusion from life’s experiences that we cannot teach that which we do not believe ourselves.  The do as I say and not as I do instruction does not go very far with our children.  So this tells me that the most important part of parenting that brings no regret is that not of being perfect in our own ways but being intentional in dealing with our own shortcomings.  Children are extremely perceptive.  They can detect double standards and hypocrisy miles away. 

There are generally two paths or mindsets in raising children to become what we desire them to become as individuals.  One is to train for behavior.  This sounds noble as good behavior is normally rewarded.  Poor behavior draws attention in another manner.  Good behavior and good choices afford a level of protection.  We want to protect our children from addictive behaviors so we teach them of the dangers.  We implement curfews and establish boundaries for protection.  We discipline and punish poor behavior and poor choices.  All of this and much more is done with the hope of establishing an acceptable behavior that is rewarded rather than punished.  Despite the most noble of efforts, most parents look back at what they could have done differently with regret.

Another mindset is to train or focus on the heart in contrast to focusing on behaviors.  Behavioral focus is law based.  Kids see it as a list of thou shalts and thou shalt nots.  With high enough fences and strict enough curfews, behavior can be controlled for a season.  However, when the the gate opens and our children are free to make their own choices, the true results will be made known.

Training the heart focuses on what is going on inside in contrast to what happens on the outside.  This training requires a close relationship where trust abounds and where love is unquestioned.  It is a huge investment with a demand upon the parent to sacrifice time more than anything else.    

At the end of life, I don’t think there are many who wish they would have worked harder so they could have purchased their children more things.  I believe a much more common regret will be that of not spending more time with those closest to us and passing good values directly to their hearts.