Tuesday, February 28, 2006

WINNING THE LOTTERY

Millions of people buy lottery tickets. Each one of them dreams of being the next big jackpot winner. After all, when you do win several million dollars, all your dreams will come true. You can quit your job and live the rest of your life without a care in the world. You can buy a new car, completely furnish a new home and install a fancy security system to protect all your possessions while you sail around the world. Isn’t that right?

Well, not really. In fact, you might be downright worse off if you become an instant millionaire than if you plug away at working for a living and paying your bills from the sweat-of-your-brow income. Wealth is rather like fame. When it comes upon people suddenly, it can swell the head and shrink the brain.

Many an heir has wiped out a family fortune through frivolous living and excessive spending. The same is true of lottery winners. The federal government takes its share and then – wow! The rest is yours to do whatever you please with it. You have no background in high finance or investments and common sense flies right out the window. Compared to your weekly paycheck which barely covers the necessities, you now have money to burn. And burn it, winners do.

It’s a great life. Except that your windfall can cause rifts in the family and alienate you from your friends. But that shouldn’t be a problem. You will have lots of new “friends” who want you to invest in their projects, and charities no one has ever heard of will expect you to be their benefactor. Your new friends will cling to you “forever,” or at least until you exhaust your resources, whichever comes first.

Winning the lottery will not guarantee a fairy tale existence. One family member tried to have his brother killed for the inheritance. At least one winner committed suicide. Some winners have gambled or “invested” in alcohol and drugs. Some ran through all their money in a relatively short period.

No, winning the lottery — no matter how great the jackpot — does not guarantee happiness or even continued wealth.

Jesus said we should entrust our future to God and lay up spiritual treasure in heaven, where our relatives won’t try to hasten our demise in order to inherit it, it won’t be lost in a stock market crash, thieves won’t be able to steal it, it can’t be spent before we reach “retirement” age, and it will enrich our lives forever. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6: 20-21)

www.mercyandpercy.com


Friday, February 24, 2006

MOVING ON FROM MISTAKES

The only Olympic competition I enjoy watching on television is ice skating. It has always amazed me that anyone could glide so gracefully, turn sharply, spin so rapidly, stop on a dime and even dance while balanced on such a thin blade.

These competitors train for years in order to represent their countries and they deserve a lot of credit for giving their best performances under the minute scrutiny of the judges, audience, press and television cameras. They are not perfect, though. Mistakes are made and the one in the lead can suddenly lose the chance for the gold.

This happened last night. Sasha Cohen, who skated into the lead with such confidence and poise in the short program the other night, began the free skate competition with her confidence shaken from missing her jumps during her practice earlier. Competitors must be confident, never doubting. Sasha’s doubt showed in her eyes. She missed her first and her second jump, landing hard on the ice before continuing.

Astonishingly, she was able to refocus, and finished her routine with skill and zeal, and although she lost her first place lead to Japan’s Shizuka Arakawa, she came in second, winning the silver. That is quite an accomplishment, and when she was interviewed afterward, she said she was proud of herself for bouncing back and finishing the course.

One would think her country would be proud of Sasha Cohen too. After all, she won an Olympic silver medal for the United States. So how is she portrayed in this morning’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution (and possibly on the front page of other newspapers)? Instead of a photograph of a smiling winner on the podium, there is a very large picture of Sasha sprawled on the ice.

We all make mistakes, but do we want to be immortalized in our faults? No, we want to be forgiven and to move on. Life, especially spiritual life, is about change.

Too often we try to hinder change in others. We compartmentalize people into the way we knew them “when.” We might not like who they were, how they acted, or what they did, but as people change we need to change our perception of them. .Johnny used to be angry, rebellious, a liar, a spendthrift, a thief, a bully, easy to manipulate, easily challenged, cried at the drop of a hat, never took a shower except on alternate Thursdays, was lazy and refused to do his share of the chores, took drugs, or — But now he has matured, is happily married, devoted to his wife and children, a hard worker, saving for his family’s future, or —

Unfortunately, no matter what positive changes occur in Johnny’s life, there will be some who will always remember who he was and never acknowledge who he has become. I thank God that He does not remember me as I was, but allows me to change without blaring headlines: Jan fell down again. Watch her latest triple flip blunderfest video, in Technicolor and with Audioblast.

We are in training, representing God’s way of life. We will make mistakes in our walk, just as Sasha Cohen did in her skating routine. We have to do as she did. Rise to our feet, refocus, and resume our walk with confidence. But, unlike Sasha, who had to get back on her feet without assistance, we are not alone. As part of the Body of Christ, we should be helping each other when we fall, forgiving one another as God forgives us, and walking in the confidence that, although God expects our best efforts, He is not posting our scores for the world to read.

Some of our falls will be publicly embarrassing, but many will be private. We do not have television cameras zooming in for close-ups when we take a spill or announcers blaring out our secrets. Sasha endured to the end of the competition and received a silver medal. Those who follow Christ and endure to the end will receive their “gold medal” – eternity with God.

www.mercyandpercy.com

Monday, February 20, 2006

BE BLESSED AS YOU PRAY

Jesus did not say, “if you pray,” but he specifically said, “when you pray.” Prayer is communication with our heavenly Father, and the closer we draw to Him, the more reverent our prayers should become toward God and the more compassionate, concerned, empathetic, and kindhearted our prayers should become toward others.

Yes, we are to pray for our own needs, but first we should pray for God’s will. His will is that we be as the Samaritan who was actively concerned for the stranger on the road. We should pray for the needs of others too.

This is not something new. We know this. Yet prayer can easily become a routine “gimme” session, a gripe fest or a “conference demand call.” (Some of the prayers I have seen posted on the Internet or making the rounds in e-mail messages to pass on to all our friends, acquaintances, relatives and enemies appear more demanding than respectful. I do not believe we have any right to tell God what to do or how to answer our prayer. Therefore, I think of them as “conference demand calls.”)

We should also grow from a selfish, local view of praying for the Body of Christ and acquire the habit of praying for the worldwide body of Christ. People in other countries do not have the freedom to worship as we do in America. And yes, despite some arising hindrances we do still have freedom to worship here.

What brings this subject to mind is an e-mail message I received this morning from a Christian minister serving in a Moslem country, where the freedom to worship as we do in this country does not exist. He writes:

Dear Friends,

“The country is in the grip of violent street protests for a week. It does not seem to calm down at all. Four persons have lost their lives so far. A church and a Christian school have been attacked and burnt to ashes in the southern city Sukkur, yesterday on Feb. 19, 2006. The whole city came out and attacked the church and later a school. They were headed to burn the next church when police intervened. Christians have been the easy target, in the past during similar unrest in Pakistan, which is 97% Moslem. Violence is the way of life for fundamental factions. Please pray that sanity returns to the streets, of this land, where violence against the west and the Christian has publicly become a "heroic" act. Your prayers do lot of good to us. Be blessed as you pray. (Signed) Al”

The prayer requests this minister sends are for the protection of Christians in a land where they are despised and for opportunity for those that hate them to come to know Jesus. The simple sincerity of his requests inspires me to pray. I hope it will inspire others to pray for these brothers and sisters in Pakistan, as well as all of the other countries where Christians are persecuted. Men and women in other countries are being martyred for Christ.

If you pray with reverence and faith for the entire Body of Christ, you will, indeed, be blessed as you pray.


www.mercyandpercy.com

Friday, February 17, 2006

WANDA'S ROCKERS ARE STILL ROCKING

Wanda’s Rockers are not a rock band. They are a group of neighbors who once a year stage a rock-a-thon.

Wanda and a group of Buckhannon Manor residents are actively involved in their county’s annual telethon for the American Heart Association. They set up several rocking chairs in the community room of the Manor and make sure those chairs don’t stop moving until the rock-a-thon has ended. When one person grows tired, another takes a turn.

Local businesses supply food and beverages. Non-residents stop by to make a donation and a couple of residents go door to door taking up a collection. At the end of the day, Wanda is driven to the Moose Lodge, which is the local telethon sponsor, and on live television she presents what the Manor has collected.

What makes this group special is that it is composed of elderly and disabled people who come downstairs from their apartments at the Manor to rock for the benefit of others. Some need a cane or a walker to get around. Some are in wheelchairs. Those people participate by pushing their wheelchairs back and forth. Aches and pains are ignored as they rock for charity.

Wanda is 87 now and in a wheelchair. She has participated in a rock-a-thon for twenty-four years, despite bypass surgery and a couple of heart attacks during this period. .

“Time does fly. I know I've been rocking since 1999,” my friend Carol writes in an e-mail. “But it doesn't seem like a lot of work for us compared to what really goes into the heart telethon.”

The group changes from year to year. Some move; some pass away. This time they were down to six rocking chairs, but they kept them rocking all afternoon. Carol rocked off and on for a total of three hours and she was feeling it in her back and legs. Each person who took part probably had a good reason to not participate, but each one did.

This February their effort raised $544.25 for the American Heart Association

Wanda’s Rockers and similar groups set a good example for all of us. Despite age or infirmity, they are willing and able to give to their community.

The next time you wonder how God can possibly use what little ability or energy you have to offer, remember Wanda’s Rockers. You don’t have to be healthy, wealthy, young or energetic, as long as you are willing to serve.

www.mercyandpercy.com