Christian Stewardship

Illusion picture

As you look at this drawing, can you see two women, one old and one young? Which do you see first? Psychologists use this image to help illustrate the idea that our “readiness to see objects in a particular way is based on our expectations, experiences, emotions, and assumptions.”  Do we want/expect to see the young woman? Then it’s probably hard to see the old woman – and vice versa.

In some ways, Christian stewardship operates the same.  As we go through life, what do our expectations, experiences, emotions, and assumptions lead us to see as we view the world and the life we live in it? Do we see God in all parts of our lives?  If so, how do we respond?  This is the core of stewardship.

Psalm 24: 1 says: “The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.”  The Psalmist is reminding us of a simple truth- everything we are; everything we enjoy and have is from the heart of God.  Paul reminds us of this same truth in 1 Corinthians 10.  In both places, followers of Christ are being encouraged to shape the life they live by this truth.

Placing stewardship in this truth, one writer defined stewardship in this way: “Christian stewards are those who awaken to God’s abundant, freely given grace permeating all creation. As expressions of their awareness, stewards choose to enter into active partnership with God. As stewards grow in this partnership, every dimension of their lives becomes a witness of the living Christ and a channel for God’s grace poured out to all.”

A recent study found that people who did this every day were not only happier and more satisfied with life, they got more sleep and felt more refreshed when they woke up. Take a guess as to what they were doing: a. showering   b. jumping rope        c. were served breakfast in bed     d. keeping a journal of 5 things they were grateful for.

The answer is “d.”  It seems that modern science has discovered what God has been proclaiming all along: those who see life as “gift” experience peace and joy in their lives.  And Christian stewards also discover that a life filled with so many gifts requires giving.

My prayer for you as you continue this journey of faith is that God will enable you to begin to see the gift of life He is providing for you.  And in response, I pray you will find ways to give your life and resources to His work.

Keep Walking!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Journey of Faith

On Journey…

On journey is a phrase I chose many years ago to communicate what, to me, is a central truth to our life of faith:  we are always going somewhere.  That destination, as I read Scripture, is basically defined as two places–I am either moving towards God, or away from God.

Robert Mulholland said it this way, “Everyone is in a process of spiritual formation. We are being shaped into either the wholeness of the image of Christ or a horribly destructive caricature of that image–destructive not only to ourselves but also to others, for we inflict our brokenness upon them . . . The direction of our spiritual growth infuses all we do with intimations of either Life or Death.”

This journey towards or away from God does not happen on its own.  God gives to all of us freedom to choose to be more like Him or to choose our own way.  Christian Formation is the discipline of doing our part to be shaped into the image of God.  There are many aspects to Christian Formation but today, I want to focus on one:  Bible Study.

It was Richard Foster who said, “The Bible is the means through which we are introduced to Jesus and invited to follow Him in the life of humility and service. Secured by the knowledge that in Christ, our origin… and destination is God, we will yield the fruit of service to God. This is the “so what” of our Bible reading. Does it shape our spirits in love and humility? Does it lead us more fully into life with God?”

Simply put, those who have made a decision to follow Christ must also make a daily decision to fill your life with the Word of God. As each one of us allows that Word into our lives, God’s promise is that Word will shape us into His image.  Still it requires a decision of commitment on your part.

Currently, your staff is praying that God’s Spirit will lead us to identify those He has chosen to serve as teachers of His Word in our congregation.  We are also praying for a renewed commitment on your part to Bible Study. We will work to train, and equip our teachers to teach–not entertain, amuse or provide a diversion to your life.  We are praying for spirit-filled, committed teachers who will help you discover the God revealed in the Word.

We already have great teachers.  We are searching for more.  So I ask two things of you: 1- Pray with us that God will lead us to those He has chosen to teach, and that they will accept. 2- Make a new commitment to be involved in Bible study.  It will make a difference in your Journey of Faith.  As Brother Andrew said, “If we do not actively seek God early in the morning, it will be very unlikely that we meet him later in the day. “  I would paraphrase that to say, “If we do not actively seek God, it is very unlikely we will meet Him ever.”

Keep Walking

 

 

 

 

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On Journey…

On Journey…

 It continues to challenge my mind that we have been “on journey” now for 10 years!  It WAS only yesterday that Lydia, Amy, Daniel, and I pulled into Clinton to begin our life here.  Those 10 years have been quite eventful for us as a family:  several graduations from high school, college, and graduate school for our children, many moving trucks and vans, a wedding, some significant family deaths, our children beginning their careers, and many other life events have been shared with you as our companions and support. 

Likewise, we have walked with you through many of the same kinds of milestones in your life’s journey, some joyful, some painful.  Through all of these, we have trusted in the presence of God’s Spirit to lead us on to tomorrow, to give us courage and strength to continue the journey of life.

We thank God continually for the gift HE gave to us in you. And your recent outpouring of love and gifts are still hard to comprehend.  We are processing carefully and slowly the many words of affirmation you shared.  The gifts were humbling. As we say in our family, it will take us a long time to unpack all that has been given to us in this celebration. Thank you.

As I said when I first came, my goal in life has been to listen carefully to the voice of God and do my best to be obedient to that voice.  We do believe that God directed us here. As your pastor, I will continue to listen to that voice and share what I hear and will encourage you to do the same with whatever time God keeps us together.  It would be alright with us if there is another 10 years!

From the deepest places in our hearts, Lydia and I thank you for accepting us into your family and for joining with us these last 10 years on an incredible journey. The great thing is, tomorrow is coming so let’s keep walking together!!!

 

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A Story

A story.

One day, the parents of three children decided to surprise their children and grandchildren with a wonderful gift. The gift was a trip of a lifetime to a special destination for the family.  The parents first contacted each child and discovered a date open to all.  The only request and information shared at this time was to keep that date open.

The parents had so much fun planning the trip.  Travel plans were made.  Activities were scheduled. Special touches were added.  The parents’ excitement grew as the trip developed. Every child and grandchild had some part of the trip planned just for them.

The parents could hardly contain their joy as the day arrived to tell each child and family what was going to happen.  Imagine their shock and disappointment as the following happened.

The first child upon hearing the news was sad to report that although they had been given the dates, they went ahead and made other plans, thinking that the parents were probably just wanting to visit with them. The second child regretted to inform his parents that although very grateful, they would have to decline because their oldest child might be invited to try out for a special team that week.  The third child was indeed excited but had to inform the parents that only three of the family would be able to go as the others were not interested in going.

I know, this story sounds a little farfetched, but I wonder if this is not a picture of how we sometimes relate to God.  The Word tells us constantly that God has designed such wonderful life events for us as His children: worship, fellowship, service, growth opportunities.  And yet it seems that we regularly inform God that we have other plans.

Jesus said seek first the things of God and all the other items of life will be provided (Matthew 6:33).  Your staff prays regularly and often that God’s children in this place will receive the wonderful gifts God has planned for you. Maybe, for the rest of this year, you could commit to seeking first what God has for you? We are committed to doing our best to help you in this journey.

Keep Walking!

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Spiritual Gifts

Paul writes in several places in the New Testament this idea: God has given to every one of his children a gift to use in Kingdom work (see Ephesians 4: 11-16; Romans 12: 1-6; 1 Corinthians 12: 4-7, 18). As you read these passages, you get the idea that God really did design his work in the world to be a shared work.  And that every believer does indeed have a role to play, a gift to share.  What are the outcomes when each believer shares her/his gift with the body of Christ? Paul suggests the following: equipping other believers, to build up the body of Christ; unity; spread of the Gospel.

It is fairly plain and simple to understand what scripture is teaching here.  The question then becomes, why is there a national trend in the Body of Christ of downward involvement by believers?  Several ideas have been suggested.  One is that though this concept is fairly simple to grasp, many have not taken the time to study the scriptures and discover God’s plan.  For others, there has not been the opportunity to discover the gift God has given the believer to share with the Body.  And, for others who know God’s plan and have a good idea of their gift, the issue becomes obedience; will she/he commit to sharing the gift they have been given with others.

Your deacons have developed a class to help address all of these issues. Beth Green, Betty Kay Pierce, and myself have prepared a four week  study to help you discover God’s plan, discover your gifts, and to suggest possible places in this body where your gift could be used.  We will be offering this class several times throughout this year and beyond.  It will be a part of a new member’s class being developed.  There are several ways for you to avail yourself of this learning opportunity:

  • Give your regular Sunday School teacher a break and schedule a time for your class to engage this material
  • As an individual, you can sign up anytime
  • Invite a small group you are a part of to take this study together
  • Invite friends to come and be a part of this study

These are only a few suggestions.  Our goal is to have every member of First Baptist Church Clinton to attend this class with the hope that you will discover God’s plan, God’s gift, and God’s place of service for you.  I look forward to seeing you sometime this year!

 

Keep Walking!

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Keep Walking!

On Journey…

The last few days have been intense.  The attacks in Paris, and now Mali, have opened up all kinds of dialogue and responses. Below I share with you words from Dr. Randall O’Brien, President of Carson Newman University.  I share them because I believe them to be true, to be Gospel, to be what I believe us to be and hope to continue to be.  Keep Walking!

I prefer a Church that is courageous, not fearful, open, not closed,  tired, dirty, wounded, not rested, clean, protected,  self-giving, not self-serving, loving, not indifferent,  vocal, not silent, gracist, not racist, Incarnated, crucified, resurrected, not worldly, well, wealthy,  walking with the poor, not running with the powerful, living like the Lamb, not listening to the serpent,  embracing the cross, not letting the world be boss,  smelling like the homeless, not perfumed with the rich, feeding the hungry, not starving its soul, true, not false, loving like Christ, not living like the devil, ministering, not sinistering, healing, not hitting, hugging, not thugging, where Christ is present, not absent, with us and for us, never against us,  crying, not cursing, Inviting, not barring, saving, not shunning, Let us find that church and  find Christ, find love,  find hope. Let us Be that church and be Christ, be love, be Hope.

-Dr. Randall O’Brien

Rev. Stan Elliott

 

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175th Anniversary Celebration

On Journey…

On journey.  These words are taking on a special meaning for me.  In two weeks, we will celebrate a journey as a congregation for 175 years!  Thanks be to God.  Of course, every year we are given the opportunity to serve God in this community is a blessing.  We just choose to celebrate certain milestones in the life of our church and this is one of them.

Let me begin by saying a huge thank you to Betty Kay Pierce.  She has been the staff person who has given guidance and thought to all that will happen.  She, along with the Celebration Team, have given many hours of work and thought to help us celebrate.

The schedule of activities is as follows:

In-home prayer meetings

Sunday, November 1, 6:30 p.m.

Candlelight Prayer Vigil at original church site

Saturday, November 7, 5:00 p.m.

Service of worship and celebration in sanctuary

Sunday, November 8, 10:40 a.m.

Fellowship lunch in Family Life Center

Sunday, November 8, 12 noon

That is the schedule for the next couple of weeks, but again, I have been reflecting on the journey of this congregation for 175 years.  When those nine individuals from Bethel Baptist Church made their way to Clinton to establish a new church, I wonder if they thought about this moment.  Did they gather on the site of the original church and pray for us?  Did they ask the same Spirit that was guiding them to guide us?  Could they imagine then all the souls who would come to know Christ as Lord and Savior and go on to join the Trinity in the work of the Kingdom?

I do not know all they were thinking, but I have to believe that they were aware that what they were doing would, indeed, live on beyond them.  I believe they anticipated a future they could not know for certain, but were willing to make a commitment and sacrifices to establish this congregation for the work of Christ.

So, I ask myself and I ask you, will we, the current members of First Baptist Church Clinton, also be willing to commit our lives and resources to the work that God has planned for this congregation for the future?  Are we willing to give energy now for something that will live on beyond us?  Are we praying for those individuals and families for whom we will be ancestors in the faith?  What legacy will we leave those who will come after us?

These are deep questions that we will wrestle with together.  For now, plan to join us in all the planned events as we celebrate God’s faithfulness to us and to this work!

Keep Walking!  Stan

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Greeters

“A greeting by an official greeter doesn’t register as a genuine greeting to most guests. Greeting is what greeters are supposed to do; it’s their job. Research tells us that unless a newcomer has several meaningful interactions with people in the church in the first few weeks that they attend, they won’t continue to come.”

This is a quote from some material I am reading in preparation for greeter/usher training. As I read this information I said a prayer of thanks for you, the congregation of FBC Clinton. Every day, I see you greeting, welcoming, helping, encouraging, and respecting the guests who come into our facilities. It really does make a difference.

So I want to be a voice of encouragement to you to continue greeting our guests. Even though we have “official” greeters, let’s consider all of us as greeters to First Baptist. I realize that with the two services there are people you do not know who are members. That’s ok, introduce yourself and take the time to get to know your family member.

With so many families now removed from their families of origin due to work and life circumstances, the need for genuine care and belonging is so important. People really are drawn to caring people. Thank you for being this kind of congregation and may we increase our diligence to welcome those who God brings through our doors.

Keep walking!

Stan

 

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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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