Fear of tough times can paralyze the best of us, but it need not be that way for transformed people. The fact is, we can rise above the storm during tough times by keeping our focus on God.
From the introduction
John Ed Mathison’s stewardship program, Transformed Giving, has transformed thousands of lives and churches. But economic conditions have changed since the program was published. People are out of work. Churches have experienced reduced giving. Transformed giving, and transformed living, may seem out of reach to some.
In his new book Transformed Living in Tough Times, Mathison offers hope by going back to the Bible, looking to God, and lifting up the teachings of Jesus.
Ideal for individual or group use, this book’s contents include:
1. Return to Priorities
2. Focus on Fundamentals
3. Exercise God’s Creativity
4. Develop a Christ-like Attitude
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
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About the Author
John Ed Mathison was senior pastor for 36 years at Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Named National Clergyman of the Year by the Religious Heritage of America, he holds a master’s degree from Princeton University and a doctor of ministry degree from Candler School of Theology. He has written five books, including Transformed Giving and Treasures of the Transformed Life. In 2008 he established the John Ed Mathison Leadership Ministries, which is a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). More information is available at www.johnedmathison.org.
Conference: Alabama-West Florida
Board Election: 2000
Read an Excerpt
Transformed Living in Tough Times
By John Ed Mathison
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2010 The United Methodist Publishing House
All right reserved.
Chapter OneReturn to Priorities
Birds are sometimes picked up by strong wind currents and carried long distances. Many new sightings of unusual birds occur after particularly difficult storms. As the birds adapt to their new location, volunteer birders go out to search for and count the number of new birds found in the area.
We all experience tough times—financial problems, health-related challenges, family issues, and the effects of natural disasters. We can allow these issues to engulf us and leave us feeling helpless, angered, and depressed. Or, as transformed people, we can turn our focus to God and rise above the tough times.
Transformed people know the importance of returning to priorities.
Losing Our Way
It is easy to allow our priorities to become inverted. It is not intentional, but a lack of focus causes us to drift.
The Bible teaches us that we are like sheep—we stray from our points of security. Sheep don't wake up in the morning and say to themselves, "Let's see if we can get lost today." They just wander away from the flock.
I understand a sheep can see only about eight feet away. It looks for a clump of grass and sees one ahead. It wanders over to that clump of grass, and then sees another clump several feet away. It then sees another clump several more feet away. It just keeps its head down looking for grass. Suddenly, it looks up and doesn't see anything familiar and discovers it is lost. It didn't intend to get lost; it just wandered away.
This is the way most of us get lost. We don't wake up and intentionally try to get lost—we just wander.
Psalm 23 was written in a region of desert territory with little green grass. On my first trip to Israel, I thought our experience with sheep would be staged. I figured our hosts would put us on a bus and carry us out to a place where they hired some people to dress up and look like shepherds. But this wasn't the case.
We saw shepherds all around Jerusalem, and we had to be careful as they led their sheep across the roads. Most of the area in southern Israel is very arid, and good green grass is scarce. It is the responsibility of the shepherd to find green pastures where the sheep can graze each day. The sheep can't find green pastures on their own.
Look at Psalm 23:4—"Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me" (NLT). Today, just as in biblical times, shepherds always carry a staff. Staffs give sheep a sense of security and stability. Because sheep can't see very far, when they look up and see a staff they know their shepherd is nearby, watching over them.
Also the Bible says that the sheep know the shepherd's voice (John 10:4), and when a sheep hears a shepherd talking and sees him with a staff, there is a sense that everything will be OK.
Like the sheep, transformed people who look up and see the Good Shepherd watching over us will feel secure in tough times. We know with the Shepherd's help everything will be OK.
How Much Are We Worth?
The transformed person begins with a clear understanding of his or her worth in God's sight. This worth is not predicated on achievements, career advancement, good deeds, leadership positions, or church involvement. It is based solely on God's grace to accept us as we are, redeem us, and give us a purpose for living.
A person's worth seems to be a continuing debate in major league sports as professionals negotiate contracts and free agents look for the best deals.
Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth went into the free agent market, and the Washington Redskins thought he was worth a lot. He signed a $100 million contract that included a record $41 million signing bonus.
Outfielder Manny Ramirez signed a two-year, $45 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Many other players are "testing the market" to see what they are worth. It doesn't appear that the economy is in a downturn when we see what so many of these players are getting.
At the other end of the spectrum is the story of John Odom. He was a former prospect in the San Francisco Giants' minor league system.
Odom grew up in Roswell, Georgia. He played baseball in high school, and then spent a season at Tallahassee Community College before signing with the Giants. After four inconsistent years with the Giants, he was released in 2008. The Canadian Calgary Vipers picked him up; however, because of a 1999 conviction for aggravated assault, Odom was not allowed to enter Canada, so the Vipers traded him to the Texas Laredo Broncos.
The initial trade called for a cash settlement of $1,000 to the Vipers; however, the Canadian team decided they didn't want to do a cash deal because it would make them look financially unstable.
In the end, Odom was traded for ten baseball bats made by a company called Prairie Sticks—a total of $665 for double-dipped black, 34-inch, model C243 baseball bats.
At first the unusual trade was a media-hyped novelty, and Odom actually enjoyed the publicity. But the fun turned to embarrassment as Odom was saddled with nicknames like "Bat Man" or "Bat Guy" or "Bat Boy." His performance for the Broncos suffered, and after only a short time he quit the team in humiliation. Six months later he was found dead from an overdose of drugs and alcohol.
How much was Odom worth—ten bats? Is a football player or baseball player worth $110 million? How much are you worth?
The transformed person focuses on how much he or she is worth to God, not to the world. We are worth everything to him. We are worth so much that he sent his only Son into the world so that whosoever believes in him should never perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
Peter reminds us that the faith we have through Jesus Christ is "more precious than gold that perishes" (1 Peter 1:7 NKJV). He also reminds us that when our lives are truly lived according to God's Spirit, we become a "hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible and unfading charm of a gentle and peaceful spirit, which ... is very precious in the sight of God" (1 Peter 3:4 AMP).
Some scientists have estimated the worth of the chemical components of the human body. The dollar amount is not very much—not even the price of ten bats!
It's far more important to know that God calculates the worth of every person by the fact that he created us, loves us, and sent his Son to save us. Each of us is of inestimable worth in God's sight.
Your worth to God is more than any contract that any athlete will ever sign. God will never trade you for anything—not even a few bats or multimillions of dollars.
Ask God to help you today know your worth and live it out accordingly!
Second Things First
Tough times are not always marked by decreased financial resources. Some tough times come when we have more money than we need. The issue that creates tough times is not the amount of money we have but rather getting our priorities straight.
Sometimes we get our priorities out of order. The consequence of getting second things first in a family or in our finances creates tough times. Take for example the teenager who came to me some time ago. She said, "John Ed, I'm terribly upset. You've known our family for years. When we were young we were in Sunday school and church every Sunday. Our family read the Bible and prayed together. Now we don't.
"My dad started getting promotions and making more money, and the more money he made the more he had to work. Gradually, we didn't have time for family devotions. Then we got a house at the lake, and we didn't have time to go to church like we should.
"Now my dad's having trouble with alcohol." Then the young girl broke down and cried. Wiping the tears, she said, "John Ed, he came home this past week and announced that he's leaving. Is there any way we can go back to the way it used to be before we had all of that money? We were happy, and we loved each other. We were devoted, but money has ruined us."
I wish I could say the story had a happy ending, but it didn't. The father ended up losing his job and his family. You see, when we hold so tightly to money that it becomes the most important thing in our lives, everything else gets out of whack. Matthew 6:3 instructs us to make the kingdom of God our primary concern, and when anything else takes first place it becomes an idol. And you know what the Ten Commandments say about idols.
The first lesson of a transformed life is to know what comes first. My dad often said it is difficult to hold a full cup with a steady hand, especially if that cup was filled quickly.
The problems of life occur when we put second things first and first things second. Misaligned priorities create havoc within all areas of our life.
A recent news report told of a retired Air Force colonel who almost lost his life when he forgot what to do first. He had decades of experience as a flight instructor, but when giving a flying lesson one afternoon, he forgot about the first lesson. He didn't check the gas gauge!
Now, there are a lot of important aspects to teaching a student to fly—but the first lesson ought to be to check the gas gauge.
Checking the gas gauge first is very important in many areas today. Before cutting the grass, it is good to know how much gas is in the lawn mower. If you run out of gas, it's not detrimental but it is annoying. When you get in a car, check the gas gauge. If you run out of gas in a car, it probably won't be a life-or-death experience, but it does cause a lot of inconvenience. But when you get in an airplane, running out of gas truly is a matter of life and death, not inconvenience or annoyance.
In the same way, missing some life lessons might be just an inconvenience or annoyance. But missing the number-one life lesson is a matter of life and death—now and forever.
The flight instructor was probably busy and rushing to stay on schedule. Likewise, most of us stay very busy and rush through our days. We have a lot to do. With all of our busyness and rushing around, it's easy to overlook the most important thing—our relationship with God.
The flight instructor and his student ran out of fuel near the end of the 45-minute lesson. Miraculously, the instructor was able to bring the single engine plane to a bumpy but safe landing in a field. In our busy days, we may be able to pull off a safe landing in many areas, but all too often we end up sacrificing the most important thing for merely helpful and beneficial things.
Transformed people regularly check priorities so that we don't give primary attention to secondary priorities. We must constantly look at our life to be sure that our first priority is loving God with everything we have. That is the most important thing; everything else comes second.
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing, whether you are talking about flying or living!
We don't intentionally create tough times—they are often a result of our priorities slowly getting out of kilter.
I've enjoyed officiating at a lot of weddings during my ministry. I have never had a couple stand at the altar of the church on their wedding day and say that their goal was to get divorced. The reason couples get divorced is that one unhealthy decision leads to another and to another, and eventually people grow apart. They didn't intend it to happen, but they strayed.
I have had an opportunity to work with many people who suffered alcohol and drug addiction. But I have never had an alcoholic say to me, "John Ed, when I took my first drink, my goal was to see if I could become an alcoholic." We don't intend for that to happen. We just drift in that direction as one drink becomes two and two becomes three. That is why all of us, like sheep, go astray.
Likewise, tough economic and family times often occur because we have allowed one thing to lead us to another and lead us to another. Whenever we stop exercising the practice of proper priorities, it is easy to get lost.
I saw a cute cartoon the other day that showed two sheep that were obviously lost. One sheep said to the other, "We are like humans; we all go astray."
Making Conscious Decisions
In Luke 15:1-7 we read a beautiful story about a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep to go out and look for the one sheep that is lost. When he finds the sheep, he puts it up on his shoulder and brings that sheep back to the fold. He is so happy that he calls his friends to come and rejoice with him.
We need to return to the priority that God is the Good Shepherd who loves his sheep. He finds joy in watching over us and bringing us back to our place of security when we stray.
Transformed people, just like everyone, get bogged down in tough times. However, we can be secure in knowing that the Good Shepherd is passionately searching for those of us who are willing to be found and returned to the fold.
Luke 15:11-32 tells about a man who had two sons. One son thought he had a better financial plan than his dad did. He took his inheritance and went out to execute his plan. It was a disaster. He unintentionally lost everything he was given. He didn't set out to wind up in a pigpen, but he did. Misaligned priorities always lead to a pigpen.
The good news is that the prodigal son "came to his senses" (Luke 15:17). He woke up and began to think rationally. He consciously decided to get up and go home. He gave the pigs a permanent wave! Transformed people consciously decide to leave life's pigpens and go home.
To me, the best part of this story is that the father was already looking for his lost son. Transformed people discover in tough times that when we start looking for God, our Heavenly Father has already decided to search for us. Likewise, in the story we have the beautiful picture of the father receiving the prodigal not as a slave but as a son. He placed a ring on the son's finger and sandals on his feet. He brought out the best food, and a party ensued.
Transformed people enjoy parties in tough times. We experience the love of Abba Father, Daddy God, and his welcome home. We experience the security of the Father's grace.
Transformed people know where security is and allow the Good Shepherd, our Heavenly Father, to carry us there.
Transformed people understand security. One definition of security is "without anxiety." Too often we think that financial resources provide security. In fact, we refer to stocks and bonds as securities. If you want to see how funny this is, go down to any stock brokerage and watch people gathered around the ticker and see how much "freedom from anxiety" exists there. You don't see much security.
Transformed living is about investing wisely our time, money, talents, and resources. Investments are important. Transformed people understand that God's view of investments is different from the world's view.
In 2008, the world experienced one of the greatest economic revolutions in its history. Who could believe that the stock market would fluctuate 800 points in one day! Who could believe that great companies like AIG, Lehman Brothers, Merrill-Lynch, and Wachovia would ever be in trouble? Who could believe that what happened in the United States could have such a tremendous impact globally, and vice versa?
It is obvious that human theories of economics have been faulty. Maybe it is time that we look at God's economics.
Most folks used to believe that the American economic system was a place where you could put your faith. That belief has been shaken by developments in the stock market and the economy. Many analysts agree that one of the biggest drops in the Dow Jones Industrial Average during the 1990s was related to the collapse of a big hedge fund called Long-Term Capital Management LP.
This fund was set up by a group of high-powered economists who devised sophisticated models that basically predicted what markets would do and used borrowed money to "hedge." The group included some of the best minds in the economic world. Myron Scholes of MIT and Robert Merton of Harvard both had won Nobel Prizes for economics. David Mullins was the former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve. Their leader was John Meriwether, who pioneered fixed-income arbitrage at Salomon Brothers and built its trading desk into a huge moneymaker.
Excerpted from Transformed Living in Tough Times by John Ed Mathison Copyright © 2010 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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