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Stocks, Seeds, and Investing

IMG_2307 Robin’s Roses Photograph by Robin House

At the opening bell this Wednesday, January 25, 2017, as the U. S. stock market opened it topped 20,000. Reporters all over the world carried the story as the floor of the stock market erupted with cheers. Video graphics of fireworks displays were shown and a sense of excitement prevailed. The stock market had been flirting with 20,000 for almost a month, and now the record had been reached. Discussions about whether the number was a fluke or would hold were made. Experts discussed whether 20,000 was just a new beginning benchmark for a new optimism in America since the presidential election. Many asked themselves if they should get in the market now or sell before the possible fall? People looked to experts in stock predicting to learn if they had waited too long to seize opportunities. They questioned if they should keep investing or pull back?

In II Corinthians chapters eight and nine, Paul writes to the Corinthians about their plans for giving and thereby investing financially in the gospel and others. Paul reminds the Corinthians of their commitment to giving a year previously. At the time of his writing, the Corinthians had not yet fulfilled their promise. Paul reveals in II Corinthians 9:1-5 that he had been boasting to the Macedonians of their commitment to give. He said that the news of what the Corinthians planned to do had inspired the Macedonians to give also. He reveals in chapter eight of II Corinthians that in spite of “severe trial, their overflowing joy and extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” As a result, Paul wanted to make sure that the Corinthians were prepared to fulfill their promise. He didn’t want the shame that would accompany an unfulfilled commitment when it came time to gather the funds. As a result, Titus and others were sent ahead of Paul and the Macedonians to assist the Corinthians to complete their commitment before Paul arrived. Paul wanted to make sure that the gift they promised was “ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.” How many times have we forgotten a gift for a party or shower and had to inconveniently rush out to get something? Or how many times did we just skip the party, because we were unprepared or unwilling to bring the expected gift or party food?

Sometimes today we are enthusiastic about an opportunity or project we’d like to invest in and make ambitious commitments to help or participate only to, with the passage of time, forget our promises and lose our ardor for the project. It is easy to do. Time flies and sometimes we lose track of what we promise. Sometimes after making a commitment, we don’t plan or think at all about that date in the future when the “bill” will come due. Procrastination is an easy habit to keep. In II Corinthians 8-9, Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to not delay and to be prepared. In II Corinthians 9:6, Paul reminds the Corinthians that “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” In the next verse Paul reminds them that, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Both of these statements have to do with planning, preparing, and being proactive to do what we say we will do.

What about us today? What do we commit to each day? Do we prepare for the promises we have made? Are we cheerful in our commitments? What kind of “farmers” are we? Do we sit on the porch swing of life moving back and forth but never really going anywhere expecting to reap a crop we have not planted? When we do sow the seed, is it sparingly? Paul makes clear that sowing sparingly can only reap a sparing crop. What kind of harvest do we want and expect in this life— and what harvest do we want in the next one?

In II Corinthians 8:10-12 Paul says, “And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it will be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.” In II Corinthians 9:8, Paul continues telling the Corinthians that “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” Here’s the question. How can one fail when God is able and willing to help us? The answer is, we can’t. Like the Corinthians in Paul’s day, when we serve to supply the needs of God’s people, our generosity will reap great rewards and overflow to thanksgiving to God in our world by those of the world.

To sum it all up, is a bull market on the run? Time will tell. The stock market will always go up and down. Gains and losses will continue. Should we get in the stock market or sit it out? Each person must answer that for himself. The bigger question in life is this—Do we have the courage and commitment to plan, prepare and generously plant into others today? With God’s help to make us able, there is no need to be afraid to invest in the good things that are of eternal consequence. There is no better season to plant and invest in God’s will than right now. When we watch carefully each day, we will recognize the opportunities we have to sow (invest) generously in our church, community and culture. Remember that God even supplies the “seed to the sower and bread for food.” Just like he promised the Corinthians in chapter nine verse ten, God will help us – “increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.” When we invest ourselves in others and in the ways God wants us to, our mission and enthusiasm will be clear. When we fulfill our commitments, God will be praised even by the ungodly in our world. We will bloom in beauty like a rose for all to see. When we work in God’s field to generously plant, we will reap a generous harvest. It is a law of nature, like gravity. When we keep our commitments, God’s grace will abound to us, so that in all things at all times having all that we need, we will abound in every good work.

Robin House

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Open Doors and Opportunity

In a new year I often feel like I have a new beginning point and opportunities. New resolutions, renewed plans to try again or start over, and the desire to set new goals for the coming year come to mind after Christmas and in the first weeks of the new year. Sometimes I make resolutions for the new year, and sometimes I don’t. This year I am having a “take 2” shot at one of the major resolutions from last year. I “sort of” like making resolutions but often bite off more than I can chew. Like a child in front of a restaurant buffet or at a church pot luck dinner, my ideas – like my eyes are often bigger than I can possibly handle. Committing to a better diet, exercising regularly, beginning new projects, exploring interests and learning new skills all call to me. I like challenging goals. I like the satisfaction I get when I have completed a difficult task well. It gives me feelings of confidence, accomplishment, optimism, and fulfillment when a goal is achieved. It just makes me feel good!

Today opportunities abound for many worthy causes and goals. Just Google it, and you’ll see. As a child of the 70s, I grew up with the “Superwoman myth.” It said that as a woman, I could do it all, be it all, and have it all. Both experience (I tried it.) and wisdom have taught me that I can’t do it all, be it all, and have it all. So how do I choose what priorities to address, goals to set and plans to make? I credit my husband for pointing out and sharing a passage in II Corinthians 2:12-13 for helping me address this question. I read this passage again this week and want to share it now.

Paul had travelled to Troas to preach the gospel to the people there. The Scripture says that he had an open door from the Lord, but Paul had no “peace of mind” or confidence in his ability to carry on the work in Troas. Paul said that because his brother Titus was not there with him, he said goodbye to the people of Troas and went on to Macedonia. It seems that Paul gave a pass to Troas in his missionary journey to share and spread the gospel. What did that mean for Paul then? What does it mean today?

Here’s what I think. Sometimes we have great opportunities open to us for doing God’s will and good in our world, but something is just not quite right. A specific ingredient is missing, or the timing is not quite right in the moment. In Paul’s case, the Lord gave him an open door of opportunity in Troas, but Paul didn’t walk through it. In Paul’s example, I see that I don’t have to go through every door of opportunity either — even if the Lord opens the door. I believe that if God really wants me to go in a particular direction or through a particular “door,” He has just as much power today as He did when He dealt with Jonah to send me through any “door” He wants me to enter. I can say that I have had some “Jonah-like” experiences during my life, minus the fish, of course. Second, I think it is important to listen to that still, small voice that says, “Not now.” Sometimes, like Paul, I don’t have a “peace of mind” about a project or goal. Third, I need to remember that some plans and goals are better achieved with the help of a trusted colleague or friend. Some goals are just not meant to be completed alone and may need to be deferred until help arrives. The church Jesus established is an excellent example of this principle. The body of Christ works best when it works together to support, nourish, and spur its members to love and good works. God made us to need each other. If not, why did God make Eve for Adam? If not, why did God tell Adam and Eve to be one as husband and wife and have children? If not, why did Christ establish his church for his followers?

I hope that as we encounter various opportunities in this new year, that we will remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:33 where He says to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness first and all the things we need will be provided to us. In addition let’s look at the very next words of Paul in II Corinthians two after he reveals that he left Troas to go on to Macedonia to preach the gospel. In II Corinthians 2:14 (NIV) Paul says, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.” Paul knew — and I think we can see, that wherever he went and whatever “door” he entered, as he put and served God first, God made him effective in His service. In the same way, we, too, can be effective and successful with our goals and plans as we go through whatever “doors of opportunity” we may enter.

May God guide and bless you in all ways!

Robin House

Additional study verses Colossians 3:2, Psalm 119:112, Hebrews 12:2, Matthew 6:25-34, Proverbs 16:3, II Timothy 1:7