Friday, December 26, 2014

Your Worth

My son (now in 9th grade!) recently joined a city basketball league team, with his friends. While they have been playing together at our homeschool co-op for several years, none of them is especially good, and this is the first occasion they've had to play as a team. They lost their first two games by wide margins, and my son's experience reminded me of my own.

Ever since I was Kylen's age, I've loved playing basketball. Trouble is that I've never gotten very good at it, and that has always bothered me. Even as an adult who still plays pick-up games almost every week, I often come home disappointed in my lackluster performance on the court. I like to think I have many other talents, but despite the fact that this is my favorite sport, I cannot seem to improve. And that really bothers me, to the point that I risk seeing myself as worthless.

But as a born-again follower of Jesus Christ, I know better. The Bible teaches us that we are all of great intrinsic value to God. This means that my worth does not hinge upon my accomplishments, or the number of accolades I've received over my short existence. While our society bestows greater honor upon its sports, entertainment, or political heroes, God "is no respecter of persons." That means winning a championship or finding a cure for cancer earns you no more "brownie points" with Him, than if you came in last place or got dropped out of college.

He knows that you can do nothing of real importance without Him, and just to prove it, He usually picks the lowliest of the low to show Himself strong through. Who was Abraham, before God told him that He would make a great nation of him? Who was Moses, when God called him to lead His people out of the hands of Pharaoh? Was David not the youngest of many brothers, when God had Samuel annoint him the second king of Israel? How could He choose a lowly manger as His first throne, on that first Christmas day?

Yes, Christmas is the reminder that He valued each one of us enough to die on the cross for us, even before we even drew our first breaths! He has a plan for you, and He will do great things through you, despite your shortcomings. In fact, it is through those very weaknesses that His strength will shine!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Breaking News: Jesus Did Not Exist (Part II)

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, by Heinrich Hofmann, 1889. Courtesy Wikipedia.

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Even if Mark did indeed omit the account of Christ’s resurrection, virtually every book of the New Testament claims this fact. Omission is not disagreement, nor is it relevant to Mr. Sosa’s thesis.

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Again, the article’s author is merely grasping at straws now. Among the people that discovered Jesus’ empty tomb, Mary Magdalene is mentioned in all four Gospels, and Mary the mother of James was mentioned in three of the four. Since these four accounts were written by four different authors, it’s reasonable to expect different attentions to details. But again, omission is not contradiction.

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Poor debaters like to throw the dogs off their trail by claiming that their arguments are already “established,” irrefutable facts, regardless the number of holes. This paragraph could have easily been omitted, not that it would have saved the rest of the article’s downward spiral.

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How many days after His resurrection did Jesus ascend into Heaven? Mr. Sosa is right that, on the surface at least, Luke and Mark claim that Jesus ascended the same day that He rose from the dead (their accounts are nearly identical; Matthew makes no mention of the ascension). But what the article fails to mention is that while the Book of Acts claims that Jesus ascended into Heaven after 40 days, it is widely believed that its author is Luke himself. If that is the case, then I would be more likely to believe that the seemingly rushed endings of the two Gospels were not meant to be taken as a literal timeline of events. This might warrant some more research.

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In this paragraph, the author again states his opinion that the issues he has brought up are “problematic” to the existence of Jesus. I hope I have shown that that is not necessarily the case. The rest is a side-swipe at Jesus’ moral character and teaching, for which he only refers to a list of Jesus’ supposed self-contradictions, written by “a new convert to Islam.” Most of the items in this list are taken out of context and are easily explained, without any hand-waving or fudging of the text. If you have studied the Bible enough to reconcile God’s commandment to not kill, with His commands to destroy various nations in and around the land of Canaan, you would see right through this list. Perhaps that’s a topic for another post.

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Unnecessary paragraph, strictly expressing the author’s opinion, without any further . Moving on....

Paragraphs 11 and 12

Dr. Erhman is an avowed agnostic, who is against organized religion, particularly the Big Three monotheistic ones, so he is naturally biased (as are Mr. Sosa and myself). Consider this: Ancient Babylon’s Hanging Gardens are considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, despite the lack of documentation on when and where they existed. Jesus has far more supporting evidence, from multiple authors, most of whom happen to be found in a collection of work that we call The Bible.

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As I quoted at the beginning of my rebuttal, most scholars agree that there is more than enough evidence to prove that Jesus did indeed live and was crucified, in the timeframe described in the Bible. I have not researched the reliability of documents by Justin Martyr, but my reading into Tacitus' and Josephus’ accounts of the one called Jesus confirms that most experts agree that at least some measure of their writing concerning Jesus is genuine.

I will not attempt to read Dan Barker’s books, going under the assumption that if he indeed managed to prove that God and Jesus never existed, I would have read about it on Yahoo News.

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I was taught in school to always end my persuasive essays with an excellent clinching paragraph. This is not it. Instead, we are presented with more opinion and a reference to an article about Jesus-like copy-cats, none of whom (1) fulfilled dozens of verifiable Old Testament prophecies and (2) influenced an entire globe for nearly two millennia... and still counting.

Like Mr. Sosa, there is so much more that I could write, but my rebuttal is already longer than the original article. If you need more of a convincer, please also see Wikipedia’s “Jesus of Nazareth” article. In the meantime, I will humbly allow the Apostle Paul to conclude my rebuttal and will continue to pray that the Lord will move the hearts of Chris Sosa and atheists/agnostics like him, as He did my own heart.

“Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice” (Philippians 1:15-18).

Friday, September 5, 2014

Breaking News: Jesus Did Not Exist (Part I)

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, by Heinrich Hofmann, 1889. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Apparently, Jesus never existed... ... or at least that’s what Huffington Post blogger Chris Sosa claims. This is interesting to me, because even as an atheist, I took the historical existence of the man called Jesus of Nazareth as a foregone conclusion. In fact, here is an excerpt from the introduction to Wikipedia’s “Historicity of Jesus” article (copied on 9/4/2014):

“The majority viewpoint among scholars is that Jesus existed, but scholars differ about the beliefs and teachings of Jesus as well as the accuracy of the parts of his life that have been recorded in the Gospels. Scholars who believe that Jesus existed differ on the historicity of specific episodes described in the Biblical accounts, but most scholars agree that Jesus was a Galilean Jew who was born between 7-4BC and died 30–36 AD, that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, that he was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate and that he lived in Galilee and Judea and did not preach or study elsewhere. The theory that Jesus never existed at all has very little scholarly support.

What I find even more interesting is that Mr. Sosa chose not to attack Jesus’ divinity, which may be easier fodder for an atheist than Jesus’ mere existence. At any rate, for the sake of some who may actually believe his arguments, and as an exercise in apologetics, I would like to spend a little time analyzing the article.

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Sosa first tries to dismiss the teaching of Jesus by implying that (1) they originate only from Him (yes, my use of capitalization betrays my bias), and (2) their application in moral discussions is a recent development. However, Jesus and His followers made it very clear that the Gospel is really just an extension of the Mosaic Law, found in the Old Testament. Jesus said:

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment...” (Matthew 5:21-22).

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40).

And His moral teachings are the basis for our own laws, as evidenced by the writings of our nation’s founding fathers. See William Federer’s “America’s God and Country” for details. In fact, until the last 50 years, there wasn’t really much of a need to invoke Christian morality, because the vast majority of Americans already subscribed to it, even if they weren’t Christian.

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I assume this is Sosa’s disclaimer that he could be wrong, and that Jesus actually existed? I’m not really sure what he’s trying to say here. Is the difference between a Jesus and the Jesus rooted in the number of followers He garnered?

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This is a thesis paragraph of sorts. While subsequent paragraphs will be discussed in greater detail below, I wish to address the generalizations that Sosa makes here. He claims that the four Gospels and Paul’s letter’s (others wrote letters, too, so are they included in this generic statement?) depict contradicting portraits of Jesus. But the only contradictions provided regard relatively minor details surrounding His birth, death, and resurrection. None of the New Testament books disagree about the most basic facts: that Jesus was born of a virgin, was crucified and died, that He physically rose from the dead, and that He ascended back into Heaven. His recorded teachings also contain no contradictions worthy of Mr. Sosa’s explicit mention.

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The Gospels of Luke and Matthew clearly disagree about key events surrounding Jesus’ birth. Timing issues aside, the two don’t directly contradict one another. Luke records the taxing and the manger scene, but omits any references to the famous Wise Men, Herod’s infamous slaying of children, or the young family’s flight to Egypt. Matthew, on the other hand, recounts the latter three, but does not mention the taxing, the manger scene, or even the Star of Bethlehem. Interesting how popular culture mashed all these elements together, into one seemingly cohesive account.

Reading the Wikipedia article on Quirinius (Cyrenius), I concede that the timing of Herod’s reign and Cyrenius’ taxing appear incompatible, but I think this is the only valid point Mr. Sosa manages to make; hardly a smoking gun for the non-existence of history’s arguably most influential person.
While the Gospels of Mark and John begin at the start of Jesus’ ministry, Luke and Matthew both agree on the essentials of Jesus’ birth, many of which were prophesied in the Old Testament: born in Bethlehem, to a virgin named Mary, who was married to Joseph, both of whom were of the tribe of Judah and descendants of King David.

By the way, there are plenty of historical figures whose exact birthdates (or birth-years, even) are unknown. The ancient world wasn’t nearly as into record-keeping as we are today. Unless you were born into a ruling family, your existence typically went undocumented and unnoticed. Jesus was born the son of a Jewish carpenter, shunned political office and fame, and had followers who were zealously persecuted both by the Jews and the occupying Romans. It’s no wonder that there are few records of Him, outside of the Bible, during the first couple centuries AD (in case you were wondering, AD is short for Anno Domini, which is Latin for Year of Our Lord).

To be concluded...

Monday, May 5, 2014

God's Not Dead

We just watched God's Not Dead last week, a well-made independent movie about a college student's efforts to convince his atheistic philosophy professor and the rest of the class that God is indeed real.

I knew almost nothing about the movie, coming in, and was pleasantly surprised, as I was watching the opening credits, that it featured not one, but two former superheroes that I used to watch regularly in the 1990's: Kevin Sorbo (Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) and Dean Cain (Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman). It was fun seeing them again, despite the fact that they portrayed the movie's two biggest jerks.

My purpose with this post is not to review the movie ((I highly recommend you go see it!) or to summarize the logical arguments for the existence of God (I covered that already in my previous posts), but rather to touch on something far more real: how do we, as Christians, react when disasters strike in our lives?

I hope I'm not revealing any major spoilers for you, if you haven't seen the movie yet, but in a tense moment, a major character reveals that it was a loved one's premature death that drove them to abandon their faith in God.

For some reason, despite scriptures to the contrary, mainstream churchgoers have the impression that if they serve Christ, their lives should be peaches and cream. No troubles should ever touch them, and they should be happy all the time. If God truly loves His children, should He not protect them from hardship, sorrow, and pain?

Despite my mother's and wife's health issues, I feel tremendously blessed to not have had people in my life dying prematurely, or touched by cancer, or worries about losing our home. And yet I know that there are brothers and sisters in Christ who have had to face these things. Think about this: if I do not abandon my faith when I hear about brothers and sisters who are going through tragedies right now, why should I doubt God when tragedy comes knocking at my own door?

Case in point: Many of you know about the tornado that struck Arkansas last week, killing 15 people. A news article described a mother who not only suffered two broken legs and a broken pelvis, but also lost her two young sons. Her husband is suffering from head trauma, and all that is left of their beautiful home is the concrete foundation. She has suffered all this loss, that to many of us is unphathomable, and yet her faith in Christ is unshaken. Her friend, who is a photographer and a blogger, came to visit her and took her picture, as she lay there in her hospital bed, bruised, bloodied, and broken. She asked her, if she could use the picture in a future post, after her friend recovered from her injuries. Instead, the woman in the hospital bed urged her friend to post the picture now, in order to "show them what my God can overcome." That's faith in action; a faith that not only does not abandon God when He allows tragedy to strike in our lives, but a faith that shouts from the housetops that victory over all adversity can be found only in Him. It's the faith that no matter what happens, God's wonderful plan for His children will not be derailed, and we can overcome it all, through Christ who has already overcome the world, through His death and resurrection.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Creation vs. Evolution (Part 3)

This post was written on the occasion of the recent debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, which my wife has just blogged about and which you may view here, for a limited time (forward past the 13-minute countdown at the beginning). The image above was captured during Ken Ham's presentation.

Even though I said that Ken Ham set the bar too high for the debate, I think he was far more prepared than Bill Nye and built the stronger case. Nevertheless, both debaters raised some very good points, which their opponent failed to counter. And likewise, both made statements that they failed to back up with proper reasoning.

No Death Prior to the Fall?
The lynchpin behind the Young Earth model that Answers In Genesis promotes is their Biblically-derived belief that there was no physical death whatsoever before Adam and Eve sinned by eating of the Forbidden Fruit. Ken Ham made the point that since there was no death before mankind’s fall, then the fossil record cannot predate the existence of man, hence it cannot be used to show that the earth is much older than mankind. However, as a man who has studied the Bible for many years, I don’t see Scripture making a strong case for this belief, and Ken Ham did not spend any time explaining the theological reasoning behind it. He also missed a golden opportunity to point out Bill Nye’s lack of preparation, when Mr. Nye incorrectly stated that Ken Ham believes that there was no death prior to Noah’s Flood, which actually occurred long after the Fall.

Belief in Creation Hampers Innovation?
At the core of Bill Nye’s arguments is his often-stated declaration that only an acceptance of evolution leads to innovation, and that belief in Creation greatly hampers it. But he made no effort at explaining how he arrived at these conclusions. Quite to the contrary, Ken Ham gave specific examples of Creation scientists throughout history, who made significant scientific discoveries and technological inventions. He also challenged Bill Nye to give a single example of an innovation founded upon evolution; Mr. Nye ignored the challenge altogether, choosing instead to restate his belief, without any further explanation.

Problems With the Fossil Record
Ken Ham failed to mention any of the problems related to the mainstream analysis of the fossil record. A series of books and videos, called Evolution: The Grand Experiment, expose the remarkable similarities between supposedly ancient fossils and modern animals. In case after case, scientists gave totally different designations to fossilized samples that had no significant difference from modern-day counterparts.

Magnetic Field Changes, Ice Cores, and Tree Rings
Bill Nye mentioned three compelling arguments for an Old Earth model, apart from the typical radiometric techniques. By observing rocks at the ocean floor, it has been noted that the polarity of the earth’s iron core has reversed multiple times. Although the process has never been observed in recorded history, there is compelling evidence that it has happened many times in the past, requiring much longer time than 6000 years. In addition, layers in ice cores extracted from the polar regions and annual rings in trees, also raise serious questions about the Young Earth model. Yet, Ken Ham failed to provide any counter-argument or flaw, in response to these points.

One of Intelligent Design’s strongest arguments is that the incredible complexity of DNA and the molecular processes inherent in multi-cellular life forms could not possibly have come about by random, gradual mutations and natural selection, as proposed by the Theory of Evolution. I personally find this field of science to hold the most compelling evidence that we were indeed created by God, and yet Ken Ham barely even mentioned this.

I doubt anyone expected this event to settle the Creation vs. Evolution question, but the debate at least gave people some food for thought and, I'm sure, spurred many discussions and internet searches on science and the Bible.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Creation vs. Evolution (Part 2)

This post was written on the occasion of the recent debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, which my wife has just blogged about and which you may view here, for a limited time (forward past the 13-minute countdown at the beginning). The image above was captured during Ken Ham's presentation.

Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) created some waves a few months ago, when he made a video bashing Creationists and stating that a belief in evolution is required for scientific advancement, invention, and discovery. To this day, I have yet to see him explain his reasoning. Needless to say, this drew a lot of attention from the Christian community and ultimately led to an invitation from Ken Ham, to debate evolution with him at the Creation Museum, in Kentucky.

This was the thesis statement for the debate, as composed by Answers In Genesis: “Creation is the only viable model of historical science confirmed by observational science in today’s modern scientific era.”

I did not really expect either man to make an open-and-shut case (after all, this has been a hot-button issue within the science community long before the infamous “Scopes Monkey Trial”), but was looking forward to hearing what they both had to say.  Now that it’s over, I wish to present some analysis of the debate here.

First, let’s put the terminology used in the thesis statement within the context of the debate.

While there are several plausible interpretations of the Genesis account of Creation, Ken Ham subscribes to the most literal of these, in which, about 6000 years ago, God took 6 literal, 24-hour days to speak into existence the entire universe, all earthly life, and humankind. Because of this, the debate pretty much devolved (pardon the pun) into an argument over the age of the earth and the universe, instead of its origins.

Only Viable Model
This was perhaps the most ambitious portion of the thesis. While the scientific community-at-large dismisses Creation and Intelligent Design as unscientific religious propaganda, Ken Ham went out to completely reverse that opinion. In order to do this, he would have had to not only prove that this model stands up to every rigorous test that has ever been proposed, but also that Evolution, the Big Bang, and all other theories have undeniable holes. This was an impossible task, given the time constraints of the debate and the limited knowledge of both men.

Historical and Observational Science
A pillar of Ken Ham’s argument, vehemently but inadequately disputed by Mr. Nye, was the difference between “historical” and “observational” science. Mr. Ham pointed out that Creationists and Evolutionists usually agree on the causes of events currently observable (hence “observational science”). But analysis of past events, particularly ones that occurred long before there was anyone around to record them, is subject to a great many assumptions, which depend upon the scientist’s point of reference or worldview.

Modern Scientific Era
This seems to me to establish a timebase for Observational and Historical Science, as well as, possibly, refer to the vast knowledge and observational capability that present-day technology affords us. This terminology wasn’t referenced much during the debate, but I find it interesting that Ken Ham thought it important enough to make it part of the thesis statement.

To be continued…

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Creation vs. Evolution (Part 1)

This post was written on the occasion of the recent debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, which my wife has just blogged about and which you may view here, for a limited time (forward past the 13-minute countdown at the beginning). The image above was captured during Ken Ham's presentation.

As a born-again Christian with a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering, I firmly believe that science and God’s Creation go hand-in-hand. And although Christians disagree about how literally to interpret the first two chapters of Genesis, at the core of our faith is the undeniable fact that we are all the result of God’s design, not the product of random natural processes.

We know and respect two organizations that promote this worldview: The Discovery Institute in Seattle and Answers In Genesis in Kentucky. The former is a leader in the field of Intelligent Design (ID), which holds that the Laws of Nature are too perfect and the intricacies of life too complex to be the result of random chance. I think that, for the most part, the group agrees with the generally accepted age of the Earth and the universe.

Answers In Genesis, headed by Ken Ham, a former science teacher and devout Christian, goes a step further to claim that God created everything about 6000 years ago, in six literal, 24-hour days. Many find this ludicrous, but until my wife and I read some of their literature, we did not know that there is actually quite a bit of evidence that agrees with that premise, and there are many respected scientists in a diverse range of fields, who also hold to this belief.

 “What’s the big deal?” you ask. “Aren’t science and religion incompatible anyway? You can’t prove or disprove the existence of God using scientific methods, so why even argue about it?” The fact is that there are many staunch atheists in the scientific community, who believe that God is merely a man-made notion, created to explain the unexplainable. They believe that if they can prove that we all came to be here through purely natural processes, then there would no longer be a need for anyone to believe in God.

Rainbows, for example, seem so magical that it’s easy to believe they’re put there by our Creator, to reassure us that the Great Flood will never again be repeated. Oh, but what they really are is light passing through tiny water droplets, resulting in a prism-like effect. Ah, since we now know how rainbows work, then "clearly" the Genesis account of Noah’s Flood must be baloney. Yeah, sure.

Likewise, the Theory of Evolution is man’s attempt at providing a Godless alternative to how we got here. And since the process would require great spans of time to take life from an amoeba to an intelligent human being, a young earth would blow the whole thing out of the water.

Why are atheists so against anyone believing in God? I’m not sure. I was once one myself (not a god, but an atheist), and although I thought religious people were wrong to believe in anything supernatural, I still respected their beliefs and did not try to dissuade them. Yet, I did not realize at the time that if God did indeed exist and if He did create me, then I also had the responsibility to obey and follow Him. His moral law would also apply to me, and I would indeed suffer the consequences if I did not accept His gift of Salvation. But if atheists can prove that God did not create us, then we have no obligation to Him (were He even to exist), and there is no moral standard by which we need to live. I think that at their core, atheists do not want to be held accountable for what they do.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Biblical Financial Principles

Close relatives are currently in a serious financial crisis, and that has prompted a lot of thought and prayer regarding how to respond. It’s made me think long and hard about the financial principles that my wife and I strive to live by. I thought some of you may find it interesting (maybe even beneficial), if I actually wrote them down.

The man’s primary fiscal responsibility is to provide for his immediate family. This often requires working conscientiously, utilizing the talents and opportunities the Lord has provided him. Refusing to work or misappropriating his income is not only a disservice to his own family, but will likely make his entire household dependent on others. As Christians and members of society at-large, it is our duty to strive to be self-sufficient, not just for our own benefit, but also so that we may have the means to help those in genuine need.

Avoid getting into debt as much as possible, and if you do end up in debt, pay it off as quickly as possible. Credit cards are great in an emergency or if you pay off your balance each month, but relying on borrowing to make ends meet is a recipe for disaster (just take a look at our government!). Nevertheless, it’s virtually impossible in our present culture for you to own your own home, or even a car, without getting a loan. Do you really need these things, or can you rent and get around on a bike or the bus? Well, that depends on your situation; let genuine need be your guide, not "keeping up with the Joneses." This also applies to borrowing money or things from individuals. Even if they insist on not having it back, strive to return the item or repay them at the earliest opportunity. It not only expresses your thankfulness, but is also a testimony of your genuine Christian faith. To intentionally take advantage of others’ generosity is the same as stealing.

Make good spending decisions. Did you know that your money is not your own? As with everything else in this life, your income was provided to you by the Lord. Yes, you may be the one working the 40-hour-a-week job, but it was He who provided you with the skills and opportunity to even have that job in the first place. As such, you should be responsible with what you’ve been given, and use it wisely.

Do not lend to those in need, but instead give, without expecting anything in return. Lending money or possessions that you are not really ready to part with can engender bitterness and may put you in the position of having to borrow yourself. There is a saying about lending to the Lord, but that’s not entirely right, since it’s all His anyway! But when you give, don’t do it blindly. As with your spending, set priorities and use your judgment when deciding who to give to and how much. Hold those you give money to accountable for what they choose to do with that money. This is very hard to do, but if done in love and with mutual consent, it will bless both giver and recipient, as well as help ensure that the Lord’s money is put to proper use. Yes, this even applies to "tithes" at church. Hold the pastoral staff accountable for how they appropriate donated money and goods, and don’t forget that there may be weeks when there are others in your life who may need the money more than your church.

Are there any that I missed or that you disagree with? I would love to hear from you..., and I covet your prayers for the Lord's guidance through the current situation.

* Disney's Scrooge McDuck (best known from the Duck Tales TV show) loves to take swims in his giant safe, which is filled with treasure and coins. Hopefully he reads this blog....