Stewardship

By now most of you have received a letter from our Finance/Stewardship committees detailing your wonderful giving and the numerous ministry events we do every week. We are attempting to live into the vision you helped us form. The letter also outlines some fiscal needs that require attention from us. I encourage you to carefully read this letter and prayerfully respond.

Since I was old enough to put my dime in my church envelope and hand it in during Sunday School, stewardship has been a part of my life as a follower of Christ. My first lesson was taught by my parents: your tithe goes into the envelope first, then what you have left is used for expenses and entertainment. I realize times have changed, yet I wonder… if we proclaim that God is first in our lives, do we show that with our resources? This “offering first” behavior also teaches us a lesson in faith: by giving to God first, I am living into the truth that I will trust God for the needs in my life and family.

A second lesson my parents taught me was this: everything I have is from God. EVERYTHING. Now, our culture does not support this idea very much. We are trained and taught that we are responsible for our lives, our careers, and our accomplishments. Again, there is some truth in this, and yet, as believers in God, we proclaim that God is the source of all we are and have. So, I ask once more…if we claim God is the source of our life, do we show that with our resources?

Several years ago I was doing some reading on stewardship and wrote down this statement in my journal as a summary of what I had read: “God-inspired stewardship is when we accept a God-given understanding that we are living a God-given life.” This is my own personal stewardship life guide. For me it reminds me that every day is a gift. My family, my relationships, my work, my health, my house, everything; all of it is a gift from God. This helps me to keep things in perspective. Second, this statement emphasizes that even the ability to think of all these things as gift is a gift from God. It takes a mind that has been renewed by the Spirit of God to see life this way (2 Corinthians 5:17). And third, as I am able by the grace of God to see all of life as a gift from God, my only response is gratitude. Hence my giving is an act of gratitude, not law.

I want to encourage you as an individual/family to try this exercise this fall. Come up with your own personal stewardship life guide. Ask and answer these questions: what do I really believe about God? …about God and my life? …about God and my future? How will my response to these questions direct what I do with my resources? Stewardship is a part of our journey with God. I look forward to hearing from you as you develop a stewardship life guide. I hope you will share it with others in your Sunday School class and other small groups. I hope you will have the opportunity to share it with neighbors and friends who are not yet on the journey of faith!

Keep walking!

Stan

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Turn it Over to God

The scene has been played out numerous times in life. A parent is attempting to teach a young son or daughter about sharing. The object in question does not matter, it could be anything. The key is that the child wants to keep the object for him or herself and the parent is trying to teach about sharing with others.  The dialogue goes something like this:

Parent:  “You believe that sharing is a good thing, right?

Child: nodding head up and down – “yes”

Parent:  “You would want others to share with you if you did not have a ______?”

Child: nodding head up and down – “yes”

Parent: “So, don’t you think it would be a good thing for you to share with _____?”

Child: nodding head up and down but this time the lip quivers just a little – “yes”

Parent: “okay then let’s share”

Child: shaking head left and right- “no!”

Aarrgh! Sound familiar? It is a scene played out everyday all around the world, but not just with children.

In the journey of faith, God is constantly asking us to give up our lives, to turn loose of our plans and directions and resources and give them over to Him.  Mentally, we nod our heads up and down and respond with a hearty yes!  But when we actually have to give up our desires, our needs, our plans, our resources, just like the child, we find it very difficult if not impossible to turn loose.

“Yes God, but…” tends to be our response when the Spirit confronts us with some part of life that needs turning over to God.  What makes you angry? What makes you anxious?  What wakes you up in the middle of the night or early morning and stays on your mind throughout the day?  The Spirit of God may be attempting to let you know that there is a need to turn loose of these items.

Is there a possibility that you might have to change? Most likely.  It is what we say to God when we make the choice to be His disciple:  God, make me more like you.  And God believes us when we say that and works through his Spirit to help us know what we must turn loose of so that He can fill us.

Paul reminds us in Philippians – “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.”  God in us to do His will!  That will mean that there will need to be a constant giving up of our will to Him.  May God grant you peace and courage to turn loose of your life for Him.

Keep Walking! Stan

 

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Enjoy the Summer!

On Journey…

Looking out the window of my office and listening to children make one thing very clear…summer break is here!  I am grateful for a God who designs rhythm into life, who gives us change of pace.  As we head into the change of pace of summer, I would like to mention a few items to ask you to be much in prayer about for our church and community.

While many of us slow our pace down, youth ministry kicks into high gear.  Aside from the regular, important weekly gatherings, the summer provides more opportunities for our youth to gather and learn, minister, and grow spiritually. Camps, day trips, and mission opportunities are all a part of a summer youth ministry agenda.  Be in prayer for Jason and Amanda, the youth committee, and the young people as they grow together and in the Lord this summer.

For our children, summer will bring some special opportunities.  Again, there are wonderful weekly times for them to gather to learn about and grow in their faith.  There will also be a couple of excellent events throughout the summer for children and families. A special treat will be our Vacation Bible School event this year.  Hometown Nazareth-Where Jesus Grew Up will allow our children to spend some time learning about the life of Jesus as a child!  Rachel and the children’s committee have been hard at work planning this wonderful summer tradition. Listen and respond as God leads you to be a part of this ministry with our children.

As the summer descends upon us, keep in mind each week: as we see new faces in our worship, let’s make them feel welcomed; as teachers are preparing wonderful learning opportunities for your whole family, let’s continue to learn.   God desires to be more at home in your life.  Let’s make room for him.  Enjoy the summer!

Keep Walking!

Stan

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Listening?

Isaiah said, “Listen that you may live,” and Jesus said, “If you have ears, listen.” As we continue our study of the parables of Jesus, this call to listen becomes very evident in Jesus’s speaking.   Listening to Jesus might not sound very difficult… unless of course we actually listen to Jesus!

In my reading this week I came across an article by Charles Poole entitled “Steep Jesus, Not Sweet Jesus” that he wrote for the Baptist Studies Bulletin published by Mercer University. Referring to the transfiguration on the mountain when the voice of God says, “This is my son, listen to him,” Poole says the following:

“Listening to Jesus is a very dangerous and risky proposition. For instance

Jesus says, ‘Do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other also. Love your enemies and pray for those that hurt you.

                 Still listening?

You cannot serve God and wealth. A person’s life does not consist of the abundance of their possessions. None of you can become my disciples unless you give up all of your possessions.’”

Well, you see what I mean.  When the voice from the cloud says, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him,” all of a sudden the Mount of Transfiguration gets steep.  The one to whom we are to listen is more “steep Jesus” than “sweet Jesus.”  His words don’t fit our ways.  Our ways don’t fit his words.  In an odd sense, Jesus, who is our Savior, is also our problem.  He is our problem in the sense that we have to duck, dodge, and dilute his words in order to keep on doing life in ways that work in the real world.”

Maybe listening to Jesus is not as simple as we make it out to be. It seems that listening is to lead to doing. But as Isaiah says, this kind of listening and doing leads to real life. May God grant us the courage to listen and to act!

Keep Listening!

Stan

 

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Christ Is Risen!

“Christ is Risen!  He is risen indeed!”  It is the age-old proclamation of the church.  This Sunday, we join with millions, living and living again, who have claimed the truth of that statement and lived their lives accordingly.  And this, I think, is one of the difficult tasks of the believer, to live a life that reflects the resurrection. To put it into a question, does the reality of the resurrection find expression in your life?

In his book The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey tells a story of a time when he had to speak at three funerals in close succession of friends of his. He writes: “On the day Bob made his last dive, I was sitting, oblivious, in a cafe at the University of Chicago, reading My Quest for Beauty by Rollo May. In that book, Rollo recalls a visit to Mt. Athos, a peninsula of monasteries attached to Greece.  There, he happened to stumble upon an all-night celebration of Greek Orthodox Easter. Incense hung in the air. The only light came from candles. At the climax of that service, the priest gave everyone three Easter eggs, splendidly decorated and wrapped in a veil. “Christos Anesti!” he said — “Christ is Risen!” Each person present, including Rollo May, replied according to the custom, “He Is Risen Indeed!”   Rollo May writes, “I was seized then by a moment of spiritual reality: What would it mean for our world if he had truly risen?” Rollo May’s question kept floating around in my mind, hauntingly, after I heard the terrible news of Bob’s death. What did it mean for our world that Christ had risen?”

What does it mean for our world that Christ has risen?  What does it mean for your world that Christ has risen?  This is a question that every individual who claims to be a follower must wrestle with, and then eventually work into his or her daily living.  It is also the work we do together in the church through Bible study, worship, and ministry.  I am praying for you that the Risen Christ will indeed make a significant difference in your life this year!

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Stan

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The Sabbath

It is the season of Lent, a time in which we intentionally pay attention to our journey of faith as we move towards Easter. Let me offer a suggestion.

“The Sabbath was created for you, you were not created for the Sabbath.”  Mark 2:27.  Jesus reminds us that the one who made us also created for us a means by which we can become all that God intended for us. It is called Sabbath.  Unfortunately, the church seems to have abandoned this gift many years ago.

When I speak of Sabbath, I am not necessarily speaking of a particular day, but of a practice of living every day.  Learning to take Sabbath moments, times, and yes, maybe even a day, is important to the health of a Christian’s spiritual life. Another term that is used is learning to practice the presence of God.

Recently I heard a story about a man who had decided to dramatically simplify his life. In the process, he made a commitment to walk everywhere he went, and did so, eventually walking across the country. Along the way, he also made a commitment to stop talking for a while.

In sharing his experience, he made the following comment: “Not talking was very difficult at first, but as I stayed with the commitment, eventually all of the voices in my head quieted down, and for the first time, I could really listen.”

I am not suggesting that you start walking everywhere or that you stop talking, but I am pointing to the fact that until followers of Jesus make a conscious effort to practice Sabbath, we may not really be able to hear the voice of God through all of the noise that is in our heads.

How then do we begin to regain Sabbath, a practice that helps us turn loose of overwork and over consuming? Let me offer a few suggestions.

There must first be a commitment that Sabbath is a discipline we need.  Ask God to begin to give you a hunger for Sabbath, for time in which you do nothing else but listen and watch creation, read scripture, pray, worship, relax, and renew.

Second, let me suggest some resources for you to pick up. The following books have been helpful to me as I am attempting to regain this important Christian discipline in my life: Sabbath- Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives– Wayne Muller; The Sabbath– Abraham Joshua Heschel; The Spiritual Art of Creative Silence– Jeanie Miley.  There are others, and I will be glad to share them with you if you desire.

There are also some daily, practical things we can begin to do.  Light a candle or place some other object in your home or work space that is solely for the purpose to remind you of the presence of God with you.  Take a five minute break a few times a day and simply observe your environment and ask the question, “What is God doing in this place right now?  What is God trying to tell me?”  Also during one of these times, simply repeat the Jesus prayer – “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” This is a long standing practice of Sabbath among the followers of Jesus.  Attempt to plan a half day in your home in which you intentionally do no work, but maybe read scripture, talk with your spouse, listen to the wind.

I hope to be able to come back to this discipline with other suggestions from time to time.  Maybe, if there is interest, we could begin a short-term study for small groups and learn other resources to help us regain the Sabbath. Let me know.  Remember, the Sabbath was made for you.  Do not overlook this gift!

Breathe.

 

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Life, Abundant Life

It seems that in the last several weeks, my work has placed me alongside folks who are working through difficult health or relational issues, or dealing with death. Of course, that is a significant part of the work of a minister, walking with people through the events of their lives.

What has given me pause is that I have become aware of how much energy and resources we spend in trying to avoid death. Duh, you say? Of course, we want to avoid death and poor health! Think about how many of the following you are bombarded with everyday: exercise programs to make you feel younger, medical newsletters packed with information, the latest and greatest machine to keep you in shape, the most recent discovery of a miracle food or substance to cure us, new talk shows popping up to help you learn how to avoid old age, pain, and death! It is staggering.

Now, there is nothing wrong with avoiding bad health and death, but I wonder…are we spending so much time and resources on avoidance practices that we miss life?

Jesus said in John 10:10-“I have come that you might have life, abundant life.” So I ponder…might we spend our time and resources better focusing on the things that bring us life, rather than spending so much time on what we should be avoiding?

Do we miss a gift of life sent our way by our loving God because we are too focused on avoiding pain? Are we afraid of so many things in our living that we miss the life and blessing that God offers in the very things we decided to avoid? Do we really trust that God is for us, and will keep us in His hands?

My prayer for all of us this year is that God will help each of us learn to live a little more into the life, abundant life, He offers. As we make the journey of life together, let’s share what we are learning that makes for life together. In that way, we can live …not just avoid death.

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Share the Good News

On Journey…

Research tells us that currently for every three ministers who retire only one is being trained to fill those positions.  And given the fact that most ministers are over 45… well, you do the math.

Whether it is a call to serve a local church, or to go to the other side of the world to share the Good News with another people group, the data indicates that fewer and fewer individuals are choosing vocational ministry.

While my son Daniel was in Bali last semester, I found myself wondering, is God calling my son to serve in a place like Bali?  I had to listen to my own fears and joys as I thought about that possibility.  My son’s future is still being shaped, but I would like for us to make this matter a focus of prayer and conversation this year.  Who might God be calling out of our congregation to be a church staff minister, a missionary, a vocational minister of some sort?

Certainly we believe the truth that ALL followers of Christ are called to share the Good News in every place they find themselves.  Yet it is also true that God calls some individuals to vocational ministry positions.

How can we, as a congregation, encourage and enable our members to hear that word and obey?  That is a question I want us to engage this year.  The first and foundational activity we can do is pray.  Pray for your own hearing.  The Biblical Story we are reading reminds us that God has no limits as to who God will use to proclaim Truth!  Second, pray for our congregation that all ears and hearts will be attentive to the voice of the Spirit. Together, we can encourage, support and send out of this family ministers of the Gospel, from the local church to the other side of the world!

Keep Listening!

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May the Truth of God’s Coming Empower You

“The two stood facing each other.  God robed in light, Satan canopied in evil.  Satan rose slowly off his haunches.  Like a wary wolf, he walked a wide circle toward the desk until he stood before the volume and read the word: Immanuel.

“Immanuel?” He muttered to himself. “God with us?” He turned squarely toward the face of the Father.  “No. Not even you would do that.  Not even you would go so far.  The plan is bizarre! You don’t know how dark I’ve made the Earth.  It’s putrid.  It’s evil.  It’s…”

“It is mine,” proclaimed the King. “And I will reclaim what is mine.”  “Why?” asked Satan. “Why would you do this?”  The Father’s voice was deep and soft.  “Because I love them.”  (Cosmic Christmas by Max Lucado)

I have found Lucado to be a writer who stimulates my imagination in a wonderful way.  His adaptation of the Christmas story is one I enjoy every year.  And every year, I always pause at this point and let my mind imagine this scene taking place.

It is the truth of the season.  I believe sometimes each one of us have difficulty trying to comprehend what we proclaim: Immanuel, God is with us!   We ask why God would even consider coming into our world. And the answer sounds forth in loud exclamation and quiet whispers: for God so loved the world that he gave.

As we travel the Christmas season together, may the truth of God’s coming empower you for living and call you to praise and worship of God Almighty! Immanuel! God with us!

Keep walking!

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What Does Walking with God Look Like?

As I was meditating on my article for this month, I kept being drawn to the way I sign off–“Keep walking!” That got me to thinking, what do I mean by that? What does walking with God look like?

One way to begin to get a handle on this is to immerse ourselves in the Biblical record, the story of people walking with God. Sometimes, we find some clear information about what walking with God might look like. One of my favorite sections of scripture is the Sermon on the Mount. As far as I can tell, it gives some clear pictures of what God is doing and wants us to do. But other stories tell us something else. When Jesus called his disciples to follow him, the dialogue was simple, “Follow me.” No big instructions, no detailed directions about what or how or where, just follow.

As a person who loves to crawl around in caves, I have spent much time in that dark world underground where you really appreciate light. I discovered that the light will only go so far in the darkness. It is enough to let you see a little of where you are going…but not the whole way. I learned that as I took a step the light went a little further and illuminated just a little more of the path. This continued until I found my way out.

I believe walking with God is something like that. As long as we are walking with Him, the promise is there will be enough light to see the next few steps. But to see the whole path, we must keep walking or the darkness swallows up the path.

My prayer for you, for all of us, is that we will walk with God in the light He gives us each moment. Do what is clearly God’s desire as often as you can. And when the path before you gets a little dark, trust that the path will be illuminated as we are faithful to keep taking steps!

Keep Walking!

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