Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

copyright ©2010 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)
What if a million dollars had been set aside for your use, but you weren't allowed to draw on it until you reached a point where you could responsibly handle it? And what if the "responsibly handle it" part meant that you had learned to use it in a way that didn't seek your own pleasure? What good could you do with a million dollars? If the money was spent foolishly, what damage could happen to you and your family?

Is is possible that God has unlimited resources that He is just waiting to hand over to you, but He's waiting for you to reach a point where your own pleasure is no longer your pursuit? What if God cares so much for you that He withholds those good things that you are not ready to manage responsibly?

What if we all sought the good of others over our selfish wants? What if we truly believed God was able to meet all our needs and even exceed our expectations? How would today's actions be shaped differently by a faith that God is working out all things for our good, including the temporary hardships that we encounter?
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1)
What if today, we test and see if God's goodness can be realized in others' lives through us, trusting in God's resources for the time or money that isn't visible? What would that kind of faith do to change both us and the world around us?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Where is the Hope?

copyright ©2010 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Well, now that we have become an Obama nation (not quite the same as “abomination”) and as elections start to loom in the distance, I hear people saying: “how’s that hope thing working out for you?”. The last presidential election was, after all, centered on “hope” and “change”. But I’m not writing about campaign strategies or critiquing the performance of our statesmen. I’m focused on our need for hope as individuals.

Where is the hope? I see and sometimes feel a great absence of hope as marriages struggle, finances crumble, and life-long vocations teeter. One co-worker of mine despairingly acknowledged current events and trends with a corollary statement of “might as well have a drink and not think about it”. In other words, find your drug of choice and pretend there’s no problem to fix. While I acknowledge that avoidance can be a valid short-term tactic, it’s a dangerous long-term strategy. Healthy organizations openly discuss issues that need to be addressed, otherwise these difficulties build upon each other. As families and individuals, we need to discuss and take action.

So while the times are perilous and uncertain, this is not a unique circustance to our lifetime; it has always been part of the human condition. The author J.R.R. Tolkien experienced immense personal loss. Orphaned as a child and a participant in World War I, he lived through a devastation that many of us could never comprehend. Still, he concluded that hope is a decision. It is a decision to never despair – to not give up hoping! There is always hope, because you can always choose hope over despair. Hope because you can and because it is preferable to hope’s antithesis: despair.

Shakespeare’s fictional character, Hamlet, found himself void of hope and despairing of the circumstances as he considered the famous question: “To be or not to be?” He accepted that while it is surely more noble to fight the good fight, it is so much easier to lay down all efforts to a life and a world that is so difficult… unless this world is not all there is!
To die, to sleep— To sleep—perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub! For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause — there's the respect That makes calamity of so long life.
~ Hamlet (Act III, Scene 1)

My take, is that fear of the after-life drives Hamlet to his only other option: persevere. And while I personally disagree with the motivation, fear can still lead to the right outcome. Religion promotes this motivation with doctrines on suicide because some people have incorrectly concluded that we should just propel ourselves into a “better world”. The doctrine goes something like this: “if you kill yourself, you go to hell. Period. End of story.”

I confess that this traditional teaching really messed with me when my cousin committed suicide. I loved my cousin, and when his despair overtook his life, I cried. In fact, as I write this even now my eyes fill with tears. But a friend of mine rightly pointed out that suicide is never mentioned in the Bible as an unpardonable sin. So does that mean it’s okay to take one’s life? Of course not! Why would any of us want to live in eternity with knowledge of all the relinquished victories we could have claimed for the kingdom? How much does this world depend upon YOU right now, in this place and time? God our Father has chosen YOU as His instrument of peace and weapon for victory, both for yourself and others’ sake. As Paul wrote: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21 NIV)

Fear is a poor motivator, and I believe in a better way. We have purpose. We have been chosen with purpose. And in light of our purpose, we can expect resistance along the way. In fact, sometimes the fact that we experience resistance is evidence that we are on the right path. (Think about that for a moment.) Is it hard to spend time with God? Is it hard to love others? Is it hard to hope, thinking about failed expectations? In all honesty, I’d have to answer all these questions with a “yes”.

But then again, I wonder if maybe these are the wrong questions to ask. Rather than questioning “is it hard…” shouldn’t we be asking “is it worth it?”. Even more emphatically, I answer: “Yes!”. It is worth it to fight for a GOOD marriage even if it’s hard. It’s worth every effort that strives for a better life… both for oneself and one’s family. It’s worth the exertion as we seek to make this world a better place and to resist evil in all its myriad forms. It’s what good men do. With Tolkien I assert “there is always hope”!
And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, Whom he has given us.
 ~ Romans 5:5 (NIV)

Our hope is not in this world. Hope transcends circumstances, and it does not lead to disappointment when we allow God’s ever-flowing love to enter our hearts. The great men of faith hoped for what their eyes would never even see in this life. And the hope they had, that hope which is ours to embrace today, comes from faith, which is itself a gift from God. (Eph 2:8)

So where is your hope? Is it in the failing strength of the hands of man, or is it in a truly Sovereign God, Who loves you and continues to demonstrate that love regardless of your behavior. He continues to offer you peace and reconciliation, even when you declare war against Him and His ways. He alone has the power and the knowledge to redeem every situation, and His love continues to pour out for you, in you and through you.

So there is hope in the midst of despair… there is always hope!

 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

By Whose Authority Do YOU Teach?

copyright ©2010 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)
 
Now, I don’t know about you but I can be guilty of extreme reactions when it comes to “authority”. So the extremes are this: 1) resist authority or 2) yield to authority. But what about questioning authority… where does that fit in?
Authority… the word evokes various reactions. For some people, the mere thought of “authority” is like a sound to arms… a call to resist… to rise up and fight… like John Cougar’s “I fight authority” lyrics. For others, it’s a proclamation to comply… to obey… to submit without considering the validity of the order. The academic discipline of Logic recognizes a logical fallacy: Appeal to Authority. The fallacy (or error in reasoning) manifests when a person concludes something similar to this: “[Authority Person] says this is true, therefore it is automatically true”.
Religious systems can often appeal to an authority in providing answers: “the pastor said this, so it MUST be true!” It’s easy for religious authorities to allow this behavior; it strokes the ego. But when the standard religious answers don’t line up with the truth, people become disillusioned and they start to doubt everything.
That’s partly why Jesus upset the religious authorities during His first coming. He spoke with real authority. He over-turned the temple profiteers, and concerned that they were being stripped of power, the “authorities” came to talk with Him:

"By what authority are you doing these things?" they asked. "And who gave you authority to do this?"
 Jesus replied, "I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John's baptism—was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!"
 They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask,. 'Then why didn't you believe him?' But if we say, 'From men'...." (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)
 So they answered Jesus, "We don't know."
      Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."
~ Mark 11:28:33

The politically adept “authorities” were perplexed by Jesus’ answer, and rightly so! They had been out-maneuvered by Jesus’ answer, and it cemented their commitment to take Jesus out of the picture (i.e. – kill Him). After all, He was successfully challenging all the pat answers and methods with this radical “Kingdom of God” concept, and it didn’t match completely with what they thought it should be.
But here’s a thought: What if Jesus welcomes our questions? What if Jesus’ answer was more than just a shrewd question? What if it was also an invitation to find an answer to their question: “By what authority”? Jesus was, is, and always will be inviting us to know Him better, and I believe the answer to His accusers was an invitation into relationship.
I think it’s interesting that Jesus answered with a question about John the Baptist. My bet is that the religious authorities at the time knew very little about John. Did they know that he was Jesus’ cousin? Did they realize that John was descended from the line of priests that ministered to God in the temple? Had they been aware, would they admit that by their own religious standards, John had authority? Did they know that John recognized Jesus as an even greater Authority? Jesus answered with a question, and had they followed His lead, it would have given them the answer. But they ran away defeated.
So in the midst of this confrontation, there were three possible responses: 1) answer honestly, 2) answer dishonestly or 3) avoid the question. Jesus’ accusers chose to avoid the question, and in the process, walked away in defeat.
How many times do we run away from the answer? God invites us to know Him and His ways, but because we feel trapped, we run away accepting defeat. God places us in a challenging circumstance, and rather than trusting Him to bring us through to a better understanding of His love and power, we seek a way out.
“How can God work out good through [fill in the blank]?!?!?”
As I write this, I am uncertain about many things in life. I desire more certainty, but I recognize His Presence more when my circumstances are less sure. In my weakness, my confidence in His strength becomes more certain.

“That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
~ 2 Corinthians 12:10

Well, maybe, today is the day to taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps 34:8), that He will work out all things for good (Rom 8:28), and that He has appointed you for this moment and place in history (Acts 17:26).
When God answers us with questions, He invites us to know Him better. What is He asking you today?