Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Go to the Ant

In my last post I shared a dream I recently had that I feel applies to our current national and worldwide economic situation. If you have not read that post, it would be helpful to read it before you read this one, although this does stand on its own. In the dream I believe the Lord was speaking to me about a generation of people that will rise above the current economic patterns and habits that have been so prevalent in our history. Much of the financial pressure we are currently experiencing results from greed and irresponsible financial management. I believe the Lord is currently preparing a generation of people who will choose to conduct themselves differently than what is commonly accepted in our society. In this post I want to share a practical principle from the Bible that can help us as we begin to become this generation. This principle can be found in numerous passages, but one of the more common is Proverbs 6:6-8:

Go the the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise. Which having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest.

The Lord has given us some very clear examples in nature that we would all be wise to consider. Ants are known to be hard workers, but their approach to their resources is also noteworthy. As they work, they continually set aside their surplus to be used later. Many other animals have the same practice. Squirrels, mice, alligators and even mountain lions store up food for a time when resources are more scarce. Humans are generally thought to be more intelligent than all the other animals in creation, but we could stand to learn quite a bit from wildlife. There have been times when storing up resources during times of surplus was the regular practice, but for many, this has become a thing of the past. We badly need to recover this.

There is an old saying that you "should make hay while the sun shines." That phrase was probably coined by a farmer who understood all too well that it does rain from time to time. When it's raining, you obviously can't make hay, but your livestock still needs to eat. Farmers may best understand the need to set aside surplus resources. I observed this first hand growing up with two Paw Paws who were farmers. Both of these men had multiple gardens and raised some livestock (all of this in addition to working full-time jobs, by the way). They both had freezers and shelves filled with frozen food and canned goods. At any given time, they probably had enough food on hand to last for several months. For these men, and many more like them, to not have reserves on hand would never cross their mind. This was their way of life, and largely because the grocery stores were not as accessible for them as they are for us today. Most of us just run to the grocery store whenever we need something, and there is probably not enough food in our home to last much more than a week.

This kind of lifestyle has worked for many of us because the grocery store is just right around the corner and whatever we need is probably on the store shelves. However, what would happen if the stores suddenly weren't as accessible to us as they are right now. What if we couldn't get to them, or what if we got there to find the shelves empty?

The majority of our stores operate on a "just in time" inventory system. This means that they don't have a significant stock room, instead, they only have enough inventory on hand to fill the shelves and every few days a truck arrives with just enough to replenish those shelves. This has worked up to this point, but if anything were to ever delay the trucks, our store shelves would be empty in a very short period of time. If there were ever a natural disaster, a major labor strike or a fuel shortage (or maybe I should say "the next time there is a fuel shortage"), these trucks could be delayed indefinitely, which means our food supplies would be stuck in a warehouse many miles from the store shelves. Here in the Carolinas where I live, we merely have to hear a rumor that we may see some snow flurries and there is no bread or milk to be found anywhere in town. This often gets laughs from my friends in the north, but it exposes the reality of the lack of stock in our grocery stores!

So, with all this being the case, what do we do? Do we dig root cellars and line our garages with shelves so we can store up hundreds of gallons of water and 500 cans of pork and beans? Do we buy a farm out in the country so we can plant food, raise chickens and shoot anyone that comes on our property? Do we do nothing and trust that the FEMA trucks will bring us bottled water and bagged lunches in the event that anything ever does happen? I think the answer may be different for everybody, and we have to seek the Lord for our own personal direction. There will be some that He will lead to have a farm, grow food and raise livestock. There will be others for whom the appropriate preparation will be to have an emergency supply on hand to hold them over if they were ever unable to buy what they need for a time. Whatever our course of action needs to be, and however it may vary from someone else's, the worst thing we can do is to sit back and do nothing. There is much wisdom in the old adage that those who fail to plan, plan to fail. We need to go the the ant!

Again, the important thing is to seek the Lord on a personal level and then do our best to be obedient to His leading in our lives. As we do this, He may choose to speak in a wide variety of ways, and one of the most common will undoubtedly be His written word. We should all bear in mind that His written word exhorts us to go to the ant and learn from her ways. Whether we are the ones who will have the farm, a freezer full of deer meat or just some canned goods and jugs of water in the basement, we need to follow the example of the ant and wisely prepare for times of lack while we are experiencing times of surplus. This may seem like an overwhelming task, but it is really much easier than many of us think. In my next post, I am going to share a few practical steps for creating a supply of food and water to sustain us for a season should it ever become necessary. My way is certainly not the only way, and it is probably not the best way, but it is the way that has worked for my family. You may find a way that works much better for you, but I am at least going to share a practical way to start.

The Next Greatest Generation

As we are all well aware, we are currently experiencing very tough economic times. All around the world people are dealing with financial pressure, and here in America, we are going through what is possibly the most extreme recession in several decades. If all of that isn't bad enough, we are not getting straight answers from our political leaders, and expert economists cannot agree on where we go from here. That's the bad news, but is there any good news?

I believe there is, and I feel like I have some today. Let me be clear that I am not an economist, and I do not know what all the future holds. I do believe the financial pressure is going to continue and is likely to increase for a time, but I also believe that this can lead us to a much better place. The other night I had a dream that I feel is talking about our economy here in America, and I think it is good news, but I also feel that it is a call for some major changes in our approach to money and the way we do business. There is an old saying that "when America coughs, the rest of the world catches a cold." That is certainly true in many cases, so I believe the opposite is also true: when America experiences breakthrough, the rest of the world can, as well. That being said, this dream certainly applies to those of us here in America, but it can also apply to other nations.

In this dream, I was taking a tour of the Bank of America headquarters in Charlotte, NC. This particular building is the tallest in the Charlotte skyline. I was exploring one of the middle floors when I was invited to come up to the roof. I walked out on the roof expecting to see just a roof, but I noticed that it was actually another whole section of the building that was unknown to most people. There was a parking lot with brand new asphalt and an excellent view of both Interstate 77 and Interstate 85. There was also plenty of office space with people busy working. As I looked around I wondered what this space was, and then somebody told me that this was Tom Brokaw's area.

Tom then came out of an office and we began to talk. I was thinking to myself that Mr. Brokaw was an author and retired journalist, so I didn't understand why he would need such a big space and so many people on his staff. I asked him what all he did there and why did he need all that space. He explained to me that he had his accountants over on one side, there was an office for his attorney, he had a section for his research team for his writing and there was a room in which he home-schooled his kids. I hung around what was going on in Tom's area for a little while longer, he fed me lunch and then I woke up.

As soon as I was awake, I knew this dream was from the Lord. I began to pray to find out what the Lord was saying, and over the course of a couple of days, the meaning, or at least part of it, started to unfold. I believe the Bank of America building represents the financial and economic system in America. The first thought I had about Tom Brokaw was the fact that he wrote a best selling book several years ago called The Greatest Generation, which describes the generation of people who lived through The Great Depression and World War II and went on to help rebuild this nation. I also feel that it is very significant that Tom's area was above the rest of the Bank of America building. There are many other important parts of the dream, but let me summarize what I feel those aspects of the dream represent. I believe there is a generation of people who will rise above the current financial and economic systems in America, and also the rest of the world. This will be a generation of people who will choose to do things differently than what has been the norm for many decades in this country.

Let me say again that I am not an economist nor a financial expert. However, as we consider the current financial and economic system, it is easy to see that greed fuels so much of what takes place in those sectors. It is very rare to find someone who is truly content with what they have and are patiently working to attain more. Instead, it is very typical for a family to live well above their means, run up lines of credit and finance their futures for the sake of a better position in the present. There was a time when the widely held view was that if you couldn't afford it then you didn't need to buy it. Today the widely held view is if you want it but can't afford to pay cash for it, just charge it and pay for it later. There is much wisdom in the old saying: you can pay now and play later, or else play now and pay later. Many of us have chosen to play now at the expense of our future, and now it is really starting to catch up with us. Much of the economic pressure being experienced in the world today is because of overwhelming debt stemming from irresponsible spending. This has become the system in our nation today - from the government to the eighteen year old applying for his first credit card. This is the kind of system that I believe we need to rise above and choose to conduct ourselves differently.

The price we are having to pay right now for the irresponsibility of the past is very great, and, unfortunately, we have not made the final payment yet. There is still more pressure to come, and I don't think anyone really knows how the landscape of our nation will look once all the pieces have fallen. However, the good news is that through all of this, the Lord is preparing a generation that will not continue to make the same mistakes, but will help to establish a different system. In my dream, the parking lot in Tom Brokaw's area was brand new, which speaks further of "new" ideas being embraced as this generation chooses to act responsibly as they move forward. He also had accountants and an attorney which, at least in part, speaks of business being conducted, money changing hands and even involvement in the legal arena. In the floors below it was business as usual, but he and those with him were doing things differently. He was also choosing to homeschool his children, which I believe speaks of the proactive approach we need to take to ensure our kids are not educated to the standards of the current world system. We can no longer rely on the government to provide those things that we are responsible to provide, like education, for example. It may not mean that every family needs to homeschool, but we need to entrust our children's education to those that believe the way we do.

The last thing that really stood out to me in the dream was the fact that I had a great view of Interstate 77 and Interstate 85. In the natural, these two interstates do run through Charlotte, and they intersect a few miles north of the downtown area where the Bank of America headquarters is located. As I prayed about what these two highways represent, I had a strong impression to read Psalm 77 and Psalm 85. If you read through these two chapters, they are different, but they also have a similar theme. In both Psalms David is writing from a perspective of being in a season that was very difficult for him and the nation of Israel. In Psalm 77 we see David crying out to the Lord asking for help and wondering if God has forsaken him. He looked back and remembered a time when things were better and asks if the Lord will ever show him kindness again. He finally closes chapter 77 praising the Lord, and it seems that his faith has been restored. He talks about the Lord leading his people like a Shepherd. In Psalm 85, David asks the Lord many of the same questions. He looks back again at a time when things were better and wonders what the future will hold. As the chapter continues, his faith is again renewed and he talks about the goodness of the Lord, how the Lord will speak to peace to His faithful ones and fill their land with glory and salvation.

I believe that many of us are in a place similar to where David was when he wrote both of these Psalms. Just as it was in that season of David's life, this season for many of us is very difficult. We find ourselves looking back to a different time when things were better for us, and we look forward with uncertainty and doubt. However, just as David's faith in the Lord's goodness and faithfulness was restored, ours can be, too. The Lord never forsook David or Israel. The Lord will also never forsake us, and I believe He still has many great things in store for America. If we return to the Lord and the principles of His kingdom, especially as they relate to finances and the economy, our best days and the best days of this nation and the world will be ahead. Let us be encouraged and challenged to seek the Lord for His answers and leading as we press forward into this victory! I don't know what all is coming down the pipeline, but through whatever the future holds, there is a generation that can arise as the next greatest generation this country has ever seen. Let's be that generation!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Be Afraid . . . Be Very Afraid

The Bible is full of exhortations to not be afraid. A couple of the more common examples are: "... Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9, NASB) and "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (II Timothy 1:7, NKJV). We need to keep these verses fresh in our spirits, and in times like these, they can be much needed encouragement. However, there is a verse in the Bible when we are told that we should be afraid, and as the Lord's people, we need to remind ourselves of this one, as well.

Hebrews 4:1 tells us that God has made rest available to us, and we should "... tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it" (NLT).Experiencing the Lord's rest is so important that the Bible actually tells us that we should tremble with fear at the possibility that we might miss it! Let's consider this for a minute.

What does it really mean to experience the Lord's rest? What does the Bible mean when it says we should "fear" that we might miss it? As most of you know, the New Testament was originally written in Greek, and the Greek language is much more expressive than our English language. Where our language simply says "rest," the original Greek reads "to settle down, abide and colonize." If we take our English understanding of rest and combine it with this additional insight from the Greek, we can better understand what the Lord's rest really is. In our society, rest is an occasional experience. For many, rest comes at bedtime and the hours between getting up in the morning and going to bed at night are filled with stress and worry about family issues, anxiety about our finances and striving to somehow live a life that will please the Lord. Even the "restful" hours can be filled with waking up thinking about deadlines, bills and the problems we are likely to face the next day. All of that is the opposite of rest. This is not what the Lord intends for us. He intends for us to experience His rest, which can be defined as not relying on our own strength and resources to provide for us, but,settling down and taking up residence in the Lord's finished work.

That's what it means to rest. It means that we our trust and confidence is in Him and what he has already accomplished. Jesus made this clear when He said:

"Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will
give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you. Let Me teach you, because I am humble and gentle
at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light (Matthew 11:28-30, NLT).

That flies in the face of so much that many of us have come to believe, but we need to reclaim this understanding. Most of us walk around with the weight of the world on our shoulders, and we were never meant to carry that weight. We spend our time trying to figure out life's problems, when the Lord already has every solution. Many of us live with a fear of what will happen if we fail, but the Lord has already succeeded, and as we walk with Him, we will also succeed.

It is important to understand that this doesn't mean that we become lazy people who just wait for the Lord to drop every provision in our lap. We still have to work - we just don't have to strive and toil. If you think back to the Lord's commission to Adam and Eve, they had the responsibility of tending the garden. Work is fundamentally a part of our purpose, but it's not supposed to be the frustrating, heavy yoke that many of us regularly experience. Jesus invited us to share His easy yoke. Working with Him should be productive and gratifying, and not the drudgery that has become the norm in our society.

Now that we have briefly discussed the rest, let's go back to the fear again. As we read in Hebrews 4:1, we should be afraid of not entering this rest. This is another example of the insufficiency of the English language. All our language says is "fear," but the original Greek word used in this verse is "phobeo," which is the word from which we derive our English word "phobia." Have you even been around someone who is afraid of spiders when one comes crawling down the wall? Have you ever watched someone run in terror when a bee buzzed by? Those are examples of how powerful fear can be. We need to have the same reaction to the idea of trying to rely on ourselves instead of placing our trust in the Lord. As long as it is up to us, we will be under pressure and have to deal with stress and constant anxiety that what we have not done enough. However, if we leave it up to the Lord, we can dwell in a continual place of rest knowing that He has it all figured out. Billy Graham once said "I don't know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future." As we look to the future, it is difficult to see anything but uncertainty, but in spite of it, we can rest knowing that the Lord will always guide us and provide for us. The only thing we have to fear is what might happen if we try to do it on our own without Him. Let us keep our eyes on Him and enjoy the continual rest He has made available to us.