Name Your Price

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”

-Henry David Thoreau

Unless you are independently wealthy, costs matter. In an age where numbers such as millions, billions, and even trillions are thrown around in political speech and casual conversations, many still have to account for every cent.

I believe Henry David Thoreau outlines the missing piece in the typical cost-benefit analysis: the amount of life and time we are going to exchange for our new home, the new job, or even an athletic goal. While it is a blessing and a noble effort to work hard and provide the best life you can, have you considered the long-term wear and tear on your body? If you are an athlete, will that small window of glory be worth it when the aches and pains remain after the cheering crowds have left? I believe in going after what you want in life, but we must factor in everything that comes along with it.

As Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher put it:

“If you wish to win at the Olympic Games, to prepare yourself properly you would have to follow a strict regimen that stretches you to the limits of your endurance. You would have to submit to demanding rules, follow a suitable diet, vigorously exercise at a regular time in both heat and cold, and give up drinking. You would have to follow the directions of your trainer as if he or she were your doctor.” 1

Epictetus also goes on to discuss the possibility of injury and losing the competition. Epictetus is encourage the reader to take a look at “the big picture” in order to test ourselves and our motives.

“By considering the big picture, you distinguish yourself from the mere dabbler, the person who plays at things as long as they feel comfortable or interesting. This is not noble. Think things through and fully commit!…Unless we fully give ourselves over to our endeavors, we are hollow, superficial people and we never develop our natural gifts…but consider first the real nature of your aspirations, and measure that against your capacities.”2

Jesus also encouraged us to consider the cost of discipleship in Luke 14:25-35. One example Jesus uses is someone who considers building a tower:

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.'” (Luke 14:28-30, NIV).

Before we embark on anything in life, let us ask ourselves if we are truly willing to pay the real price to undertake it. God bless you all.

1Epictetus, The Art of Living, as interpreted by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (2006): 38.

2 Ibid, 39.

Embrace Today’s Second Chance

By Michael W. Raley

O how the body aches,

O how the heart breaks,

When you realize

That the dream has died.

All of the work, love, faith, and hope you planted as seeds

Has become a harvest of drought and weeds.

We shrug it off as not meant to be or not part of a plan,

Neither of which bring us comfort nor understanding.

Time will go on and somehow so will we,

Keeping our distance and remaining skeptical and leery.

The sacrifice and pain came at such a high cost

That it will take time to get over this loss.

However, some wounds will never heal

As we may become bitter about our raw deal.

Some things we will never get over, with the burden on our shoulders.

We perceive ourselves to be destined like Sisyphus, pushing a boulder,

Only to have it roll down the hill again.

Or consider Job, who sought an audience with God and an explanation,

Only to be pelted with unanswerable question after unanswerable question.

Yes, Job’s family and fortunes were restored,

But why did he have to go through all of that before?

We must hold on to the loved ones and days which remain,

In spite of the sorrow and pain.

We must embrace today’s second chance,

For as Aurelius said, we are meant to wrestle with this life and not dance.

The Testament of Jesus’ Resurrection

The Lord Jesus Christ is the most influential person to ever walk on this earth. Over the course of 2,000 years, the influence of Christ has rippled through history as a stone thrown into a pond. Until recent politically correct times, the calendar was defined as times before Christ and after Christ. As we conclude this Holy Week with Resurrection Sunday (or Easter, if you prefer), we will no doubt focus on the Gospels, but what about the testament of Jesus’ resurrection outside of the Gospels?

First Corinthians was written in approximately 55 A.D., roughly two decades after the events of the Gospels and even precludes the writing of at least one Gospel, the Gospel of John, which could have been written in the late First Century. In 1st Corinthians chapter 15, the Apostle Paul systematically lays out the Gospel, Jesus’ resurrection appearances, the consequences if Jesus did not rise from the dead, our assurances as believers, and the transformation of our mortal bodies into our glorified spiritual bodies. However, I want to focus on Paul’s Gospel, his accounts of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, and the consequences if Jesus did not rise from the dead.

Paul’s Gospel

*Paul states that Jesus died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3).

*Jesus died as fulfillment of Scripture (1 Cor. 15:3).

*Jesus was buried (1 Cor. 15:4).

*Jesus rose again on the third day (1 Cor. 15:4).

Jesus’ Resurrection Appearances

*Jesus appeared to Peter and the other disciples (1 Cor. 15:5).

*Jesus appeared to 500 people,many of whom were still alive when Paul wrote this letter (1 Cor. 15:6).

*Jesus was seen by His brother, James, and the other apostles (1 Cor. 15:7).

*Jesus appeared to Paul (1 Cor.15:8).

It is important to note that the biblical standard for testimony was based on two, even three witnesses. In the case of Jesus’ resurrection and Paul’s writing, potentially hundreds of people could have stepped forward and refuted his claims, which could have stopped the Gospel dead in its tracks.

If Jesus was not Risen…

For many religions, including Christianity, there is a belief in an afterlife. For other religions, there’s belief in reincarnation. There are others who simply do not believe that we live on after we die; death is simply the end of existence. However, what separates Christianity from other faiths is that our Savior rose from the dead. No other faith has a resurrected Savior, which is a bold claim to make. Paul goes on to explain the reality if Christ did not rise from the dead.

*If there is no resurrection of the dead, Christ is not risen (1 Cor. 15:13; 15:16).

*Our preaching and faith are in vain (1 Cor. 15:14; 15:17).

*We are false witnesses of God because we have testified that God raised Christ from the dead (1 Cor. 15:15).

*We are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17).

*Those who have died believing in Christ are lost (1 Cor. 15:18).

*If Christ is our only hope in this life, then we are miserable and pitiful (1 Cor. 15:19).

As we come to the conclusion of another Holy Week, let us take the time to examine what we believe in why we believe it. Outside of Christ, what do we have? With Christ, what do we have? An empty tomb and hope. God bless you all.

Seek Happiness from Within

Happiness is an inside job. In order to find our happiness, we must shut the door on the clamor that is modern life and seek the peace within ourselves.

Your happiness is squarely on your shoulders. Our happiness is the result of our internal response to external circumstances. Yes, there will be horrible, soul-crushing, darkness which will at times, mask our landscape, but you do not have to stay there. The ancient Greeks had a word, Euthymia, to describe a pleasant, peaceful state of mind. The Stoics, Seneca in particular, preferred the word Tranquility.  The Bible speaks of the peace that transcends all understanding.

In order to bring change to our world, we must do the work ourselves. Don’t look to people, governments, or stuff to make you happy or change your circumstances. Start with you. Seek God’s forgiveness, then make peace with yourself. You can’t change yesterday’s decisions and you can’t worry about tomorrow’s choices. It’s only you and this moment.

Epictetus said, “Regardless of what is going on around you, make the best of what is in your power, and take the rest as it occurs.”

God has equipped all of us, albeit with different talents and skills, but we are all equipped nonetheless. Take the tools you have and build the life you want.

Process, Perception, and Victory

“Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” -John F. Kennedy

The sweet taste of victory can be quickly replaced with the bitter taste of failure. The elation of going to the championship game in any sport can be countered with the agony of a crushing defeat.  The whole season can be and is often judged as a failure because the team did not take home the trophy. I have heard championship winning athletes discuss how the losses stuck with them longer than the victories. So it is with our lives as defeat and failure loom larger than any successful endeavor.

Think of the most successful person you know. Have they always been on top of their game? Were they always the company’s best salesperson? Were they always the best musician? Were they the best money manager?  Were they always this wise, Yoda-like person? Probably not.

Success and failure are a matter of perception. We may see someone’s external success, but we never see the internal struggle. We compare their success to our current situation, but we never take into account they could have at one point faced our obstacles. Statistically speaking, we will have more perceived failure than perceived victories.

If you were to ask the most casual or non-observant sports fan to name a historical or current Major League Baseball player, I sure the name George Herman “Babe” Ruth would come up. Until 1974, Babe Ruth was the all-time home run hitter in MLB, with 714 home runs. Ruth also won 94 games as a pitcher and had a lifetime batting average of .342. Ruth also won a total of seven championships with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. That’s a rock-solid resume of baseball immortal, right?

What if I you that Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times? Does that change your perception of him? Or take Ruth’s lifetime average of .342. That means that if  Ruth went to bat 1,000 times, he would get a hit to get on base 342 times. So, almost two-thirds of the time Babe Ruth did not get on base. I am not disparaging Babe Ruth, I am simply illustrating how we look at the successes, but not look at the struggle. People remember the home runs, not the strikeouts.

(Statistics courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/r/ruthba01-bat.shtml accessed 5 February 2017).

Life is a process. All of us must go through our process. Failure is not fatal. A setback is an opportunity to step back and reassess the situation. If our process is flawed, we can correct it. If it is something beyond our control, we must have the wisdom to know that as well. We, like Babe Ruth, will not always hit a home run in life, but we must keep getting up to bat. If we were to view our struggles as preparation for a larger moment, we will have a solid foundation to fall back on when our next challenge comes.

David was one person from the Bible who recognized the value of the process. David being the youngest brother, had the job of tending his father’s sheep. David had older brothers in King Saul’s army who were being taunted by Goliath. Neither David’s brothers nor the other soldiers accepted Goliath’s challenge. However, David recognized that the process he went through prepared him to take down the giant.

“But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard,and struck and killed it.” (1 Samuel 17:34-35, NKJV).

David learned the process of taking down creatures larger than himself, thus he knew he could defeat Goliath.

“Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them , seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.” (1 Samuel 17:36, NKJV).

Notice how David referred to Goliath: “this uncircumcised Philistine.” David did not acknowledge Goliath’s height or his might as a warrior. David instead grouped his challenge in with everything else. What kind of victorious mindset would we have if we were to think about past victories when we encounter obstacles? “I overcame this diagnosis.” “I came back from bankruptcy.”” I survived that bad relationship.” “I will overcome this too.”

We should not be prideful in our abilities, but recognize that our abilities, processes, and strategies come from God, who is preparing us for the next step. David is not being boastful, because he recognizes who gave him the victory.

“Moreover David said, ‘The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.'” (1 Samuel 17:37a, NKJV).

The rest as they say, is history.

Our sanctification is a process. Gaining wisdom is a process. You cannot get the proper results without the process. Step back in the moment. Don’t think about the last pitch, focus on this one. One pitch,one swing. Don’t worry about the conclusion of your life story, write the current chapter one word at a time. God bless you.

 

 

 

Discovering and Using our Talents

Imagine for a moment you are given an extravagant gift- it could be anything. The person who gave you the gift waits for you to open it, but you just set it aside and say “Thank you.” The Gift Giver leaves and the gift sits on the table where you left it. The next day, the gift is still on the table, unopened. A week goes by and dust is beginning to settle on the gift. The next thing you know is that a month goes by, then a year, maybe longer, and you have yet to open the gift. As you are sitting down watching TV, there’s a knock on the door. It’s the Gift Giver and he wants to know how you enjoyed the gift. You show him the gift sitting on the same table and talk about how you were not sure how he would respond to your opening it. The Gift Giver becomes angry and takes the gift away from you, giving it to someone else.

The above story is an oversimplified, fictionalized, and partial version of the Parable of the Talents, as described in Matthew 25:14-30 (the Parable of the Ten Pounds is found in Luke 19:12-27).

Jesus tells the Parable of the Talents within the context of His Mount Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25), where He describes the prophetic signs of His return and what believers must do in order to be prepared. The parable describes the rewards received when one does his or her work for the Kingdom of God.

However, what if we were to examine the Parable of the Talents without the eschatological layers? What would we see? How can we relate this parable to discovering and using our gifts in everyday lives?

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.” (Matthew 25:14-15, NKJV).

Of course, the man traveling to the far country is Christ ascending to heaven until His second coming. The servants represent all of us. The word “talent” is a term for a substantial amount of money. However, let us use the word talent to indicate our skills, gift and abilities.

From the onset, Jesus is telling us that life is not fair. Unfortunately, not all of us are born into wealth and privilege, nor do we choose the family we are born into, just as we cannot choose our skin color or country of origin. Not all of us have the same talents, skills, gifts and abilities.

The Bible states that the servants were given gifts according to their abilities. Hence, one servant received five talents, another received two talents, and the other received just one talent. The first two servants doubled their money and were commended and rewarded for their faithfulness, while the third servant buried his talent. The third servant let his gift sit on the table.

Listen and read carefully to the words of the third servant:

 “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’” (Matthew 25:24-25, NKJV).

The servant’s response of hiding his talent indicates two key factors in his decision: an improper understanding of his relationship to his boss (Christ) and fear. When we are not related correctly to Christ, we do not understand our freedom in approaching Him. If we have accepted Christ, we can come boldly to the throne of grace, yet we can hold ourselves back because of guilt and condemnation, believing God is going to “throw the book at us” like some harsh judge. The Bible disproves this unworthy mindset because:

*We can come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).

*There is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1).

*God took the book of your sins and nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14).

This unworthy mindset leads to fear. Fear of failure. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of what other people are going to think. Fear that we are diluting ourselves. Fear then drives us to inaction. Fear then causes us to lose out on the opportunity to use our talents. At the end of the parable, the man takes away the talent from the servant and gives it to the man who had ten talents, casting the servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:26-30).

Not only was the one talent servant paralyzed by fear, but he also failed to seek wisdom. The first two servants had wisdom on how to trade and invest. We must seek out wisdom and resources when it comes to using our gifts and talents. Wisdom is not reserved for a few people: wisdom is available to all. Godly wisdom is crying out in the streets, but so many reject it (Proverbs 1:20-24). Wisdom is simply applying knowledge and experience to a particular situation.

If you do not know what your talent is, take a personal inventory of what you enjoy. You may discover that you have more than one talent. Do not be afraid to try something. You cannot control what other people will think. You cannot control market conditions, the weather, or anything else outside of your thoughts, emotions, judgments, perceptions, and responses. Do not compare yourself and your opportunities to those of others, because that will only bring discouragement, doubt, and jealousy. God has equipped you for your mission or missions in life. You got this. God bless you all.

Arise and Praise During Your Midnight

At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments.

– Psalm 119:62, KJV

Life is not about how many times you fall, but how many times you rise. I know that when you are tired, you are angry, depressed, oppressed, rejected, dejected, feeling abused and used, living with the pain with no sign of the gain that it is hard to find the good in anything. Every time you seem to get your footing, life clotheslines you like a professional wrestler or delivers a punishing, bone-jarring tackle like a feared middle linebacker. I get it. I have been there. I am going through it, too.

Just as the Psalmist wrote, we must rise at our midnight and praise God. Acts 16:25-40 details the miraculous story of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail. Paul and Silas were beaten, arrested, and thrown in jail for sharing the gospel. Just imagine the scene of Paul and Silas in jail, there feet bound with stocks of iron, their wounds were still fresh, still stinging, and still bloody. How did Paul and Silas respond to such treatment and an obviously unfair treatment?

“And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.” (Acts 16:25-26, KJV).

I just want to encourage you that whatever horrible prison or pit you find yourself in, have the courage to rise and praise God. You are an overcomer in Christ. You are a survivor. Be thankful. Be joyous in spite of the circumstances.  Be mindful of God’s presence. Do not worry about what is not in your control, only work on what you can control- your thoughts, perceptions, actions, words, and responses.  You never know the affect your praise will have on those around you, as the whole prison was shaken and the chains fell off the other prisoners. God bless you all.