Going Out

Posted 7/8/2018

For many years we Presbyterians (and a lot of other mainline Christians) have more or less assumed that people would just come to church. If we had an attractive program, people would come. If we had a “contemporary” worship service, people would come. If we had _____, people would come.

But the fact is, we don’t live in a world where people just  come to church. We live in a world that, frankly, doesn’t think much about church, much less about attending church. 

That means we need to go where people are. We need to build friendships with neighbors, especially our neighbors who don’t go to any church. We need to move beyond what some have called “our Christian circle.” We need to intentionally include folk who aren’t Christian (or at least aren’t involved in a Christian community) in our circle of friends.

Why do we need to do this? Because it is the only way we are going to be able to share the good news of Jesus with them. Because Jesus told us to “go into the world.” But even more than that simply because we have been called to love — not just our church family but our neighbor, whoever that neighbor may be.

Going out like this isn’t easy. It’s uncomfortable, because it means moving beyond what we’ve always done. But Jesus sends us out into the world. So let’s start thinking and praying about how we can befriend our neighbors — which might eventually enable us to share the good news of Jesus with them.

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Turn to Jesus

Posted 7/1/2018

Let’s face it, sometimes life stinks. Things happen that leave us feeling hopeless and helpless. We feel all alone, with nowhere to turn and no way out of the situation we are facing. The truth is, life is sometimes hard — really, really hard.

What are we to do in such times? When everything and everyone in the world seems against us, when we can’t seem to catch a break no matter what we do, when life is so difficult we are tempted to give up? 

It may be tempting at such times to think that we are all alone — that even God has deserted us. Yet when we look at Jesus we discover the one who has himself experienced all the hardness of life. Jesus knew what it was like to be hated. Jesus knew what it was like to be rejected. Jesus knew what it was like to be betrayed by his friends. Jesus knew what it was like to die — even to die alone. Jesus knew what it was like to feel abandoned by God.

In such times we can turn to Jesus, who knows how we feel. But we turn to Jesus not simply because Jesus knows how we feel, but because the same Jesus lives. The same Jesus reigns in power and prays for us. The same Jesus who cared about the lost, the sick, the lonely, the hurting of his world when he walked on earth continues to care about all the lost, sick, lonely, hurting people of our world. Continues to care about us. 

When life stinks, Jesus cares. At such times we can rely upon Jesus.

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Change

Posted 6/24/2018

I don’t think I know anyone who really likes change. Change disturbs our normal routines, upsets the way we are used to doing things and is, because of those very things, uncomfortable. 

Personally, while I may like the temporary change in routine a vacation brings; I really don’t like having to permanently change my everyday routines and ways of thinking. I’m comfortable the way I am. Besides that, change is scary. There’s no guarantee that any changes I make will be beneficial or “successful.” 

Yet change demands change. The world about us has changed, and that means our old ways no longer work as they once did. New ways of thinking and new behaviors in the world call upon the church to also change our way of thinking and doing.

Now I’m not suggesting we give up the faith that has sustained the church throughout the ages. What I am suggesting is we need to find new ways to speak about our faith — ways that make sense to people today. We need to find new ways to embody our faith, as individuals and churches, that proclaim the good news of God’s redeeming love in a way that matches the needs and challenges people of today face. 

Change invites us to look at what we have — our faith, our Christian qualities, our possessions — and ask how they can show God’s love to our world of today. Change invites us to faith in Jesus Christ, who is able to more than meet the challenges of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

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Walk by Faith

Posted 6/17/2018

In the midst of what can often be a uncertain and confusing world, we tend to want certainty. We want to be sure. We want  assurance we are right in what we think and do. This is a normal, human response to the uncertainty that is so much a part of life. Often today, people find this longed for certainty in “doing what seems right for me.” Others find the certainty they long for by simply following along with the crowd.

Yet the Bible invites us to a different kind of response to the uncertainty of our world. It invites us to make a response of faith. The Bible invites us to “walk by faith, not by sight.”

It can be hard to live in a world that seems so uncertain; where we never seem to know what is going to happen next. Yet there is a type of certainty we have by faith. By faith, we have the certainty of God’s presence. By faith, we have the certainty of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ. By faith, we have the certainty of God’s grace and mercy offered to us through Christ. 

It isn’t the kind of certainty the world seeks. But it is the certainty we can have as Christians. And it is a certainty in which we can live — truly live. It is a certainty that allows us to live in a new and different way — the way God’s Spirit leads us to live.

Walking by faith isn’t an easy way to live in our world. Yet it is the only way in which we really can live with the uncertainty that fills our lives. Only as we trust in Christ can we know the certainty — the assurance — faith gives in the midst of uncertainty. 

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Evil is real

Posted 6/10/2018

Mass shootings, terrorist attacks, violent crimes — the realities of our modern world spark all kinds of responses in us. One response can be that of fear, especially when any of these happen where it begins to feel “close to home.” We feel helpless to stop what is going on around us. Such a response is, in many ways, a natural response; and I certainly don’t want to suggest that there aren’t frightening things happening in our world — and even close to our own homes. 

Another response can be confusion. We find ourselves wondering how in the world can such things be happening? We ask, “How could anyone do such a thing?” We feel like what is happening is so “foreign” — so unlike the world we believe we know.

The truth is, there is real evil in the world; and evil can happen right close up and personal. There is no guarantee that any of us — or anyplace in the world — is exempt for the reality of evil. 

Yet as Christians the other truth we know is Jesus has overcome evil. In Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension God has created a new thing. In Christ and through the Holy Spirit, God is at work redeeming the world. No matter how bleak the world may seem at this moment, we can always cling to the promise that God’s kingdom WILL come and God’s will WILL be done. For that promise we thank God!

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Gospel Riches

Posted 6/3/2018

I’m sure most of us don’t consider ourselves rich. That’s why one of the things that strikes me about the Christians in the New Testament is the fact they considered themselves rich. Certainly, most of them had much less than we do. In fact, many of them probably had very few possessions.

Yet they considered themselves rich! They were rich for one simple reason — they had the gospel. In their eyes, nothing was of more value than knowing Jesus Christ. Nothing was more important than what God had done in Christ.

Living in a world where where we have so much and so many opportunities clamor for our time and attention, I wonder if we aren’t really poorer than those early Christians. Have we forgotten the absolute wonder that God would act to save through the death and resurrection of Jesus? Have we lost the amazement that God’s kingdom is among us right now? Have we lost the sense of the importance — the immeasurable value — of the gospel? 

Those early Christians considered it a privilege to share the gospel. They considered it a privilege to suffer for the gospel. They considered the gospel the most valuable thing in their lives. They were eager to share the gospel riches.

 What about us? How much value do we put on knowing and sharing the gospel?

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Different?

Posted 5/27/2018

Are Christians different than other people around us? Should we be different? If so, how?

Scripture indicates some really surprising ways in which we should be different than the world around us. One of those differences is we shouldn’t be afraid. “Don’t be afraid” is one of the most common commands in Scripture. The command to not fear is usually given when we are confronted with God’s presence. That may be a hard thing for us to understand these days with our tendency toward a casual familiarity with God. Yet the truth is God is holy and majestic; a God of glory. That should inspire what Scripture calls a holy fear (awe) in us.

Yet I think there are a number of other ways in which we as Christians should differ from the world about us in not fearing. Trusting in God to care for us, we shouldn’t fear the future. Trusting in God’s love and grace, we shouldn’t fear judgment. Trusting in God claiming us a God’s own children, we shouldn’t fear what others think of us. Trusting in God’s love and grace, we shouldn’t fear being a grace-filled, loving people ourselves. Trusting in the resurrection, we shouldn’t fear death.

How wonderful it is to hear God’s words, “Don’t be afraid.” How freeing it is — opening us up to living and life. Opening us up to God!

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Thoughts about Tithing

Posted 5/20/2018

We are stewards -- managers — of all God has given us. Not least among those gifts is money. In fact, in the Gospels, Jesus speaks more about how we use our wealth than he does about any other topic. Clearly, how we use what we have is very important in Jesus’ eyes!

As I’ve been considering (again) what it means for us to be good Christian stewards, I found myself thinking about what it means for someone to be a “good steward” (fiscally responsible) of whatever money I am setting aside for retirement. In today’s world, we’ve all had to more or less get used to having fees attached to the management of our investment accounts. As we consider who to have as our investment counselor or what fund to invest in, we are urged to consider the percentage of such fees.

That got me to wondering. What if instead of looking at how much we give back to God we looked at what we kept — what we might think of as our investment fees. Suddenly, the Biblical suggestion of a tithe (1/10) doesn’t seem so much. After all, we’re getting to keep 90% of the funds invested for ourselves! That’s quite a fee!

Whether you give a tithe or some other amount, I encourage you to think seriously about how you use the money you have and how you can be a good steward of God’s gift.

 

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Generosity and Tithing

Posted 5/13/2018

My “history” with tithing goes back quite a ways and is what one might call “ambiguous.” From my earliest days in ministry I heard about the importance of tithing. It was a staple in any stewardship training. But tithing was presented in such a way that I felt it was something I had to do. As a pastor I needed to tithe to set a good example of stewardship. And, those sitting in the pews needed to tithe because this was what God demanded as the minimum we give back to him. 

It took me a while to actually get to the point I tithed. And, I confess, as my finances changed, there were times I got below the tithe after I first achieved it. But the biggest thing that has changed for me over the years is not how MUCH I give but WHY I give. 

I still think a tithe is an appropriate amount to give, but I don’t give that amount “to set an example” or “because God expects it.” I give that amount because I WANT to. I give it because I realize that giving a tithe is a great way for me to express my thankfulness to God. Furthermore, it seems to me, when I consider all I’ve been given, like the appropriate amount to give to God in thanksgiving. 

What I’ve learned over these years is that our generous giving to the church — our stewardship in relation to the church — isn’t about giving a set amount because God expects it, or about setting a good example for others, or about meeting the church budget. Generous giving — stewardship — is about showing God how grateful I am for all I’ve received. Stewardship is a carefully considered decision about how I express my thankfulness.

I invite you to take the time to carefully consider how you express your thankfulness to God in your stewardship giving. 

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Generosity

Posted 5/6/2018

In the church I served before I came here my position was only one-half time. The limited income that provided required me to live on a pretty strict budget, but I learned to be content with what I could afford. However, is also meant any unexpected expense — whether medical or something like a car repair — put a serious strain on my finances. When I had to replace my entire computer system (computer and printer) as well as do a major car repair in a space of about 6 months, I was finding my budget was stretched more than beyond the limit. There just weren’t any more places to cut expenses….

The wonder of this experience was that God provided what I needed. At the times I found myself truly becoming concerned about how I could afford to pay this or that bill, I almost inevitably found myself surprised by a gift from a friend. The gifts weren’t huge amounts; just enough to get me through that month. Every time it happened I was thankful to God for the gift and to my friend for their generosity.

Right before that 6 months will all those extraordinary bills I had a friend whose medical expenses were astronomical. With my half-time salary I surely couldn’t make a dent in her medical bills; but I knew I could do something. I knew her bills were reducing her to a life that had no “extras” in it. It wasn’t much, but for several months I sent her a few dollars with the instructions she was to use it to do something for herself. I discovered even with my limited funds, I could afford to be generous.

Generosity is a part of stewardship; and being generous is something all of us are called to be. The wonder of stewardship is, we really can afford to be generous people!

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