Your Life and Your Money

Money Pic

Mark 10:35-45

Many people cringe when their pastor begins to talk about money.

The story of our faith tells us that, in the Beginning, God created everything that we see and that God created it all to be “good.” In his explanation of the 4th Petition in the Lord’s Prayer, Martin Luther reminds us that, when we ask God to “give us this day our daily bread,” God responds to our prayer by providing food, drink, shelter, shoes, clothing, our homes, faithful rulers, good weather, peace, good health, good neighbors, and even the gift of money. Signs of God’s faithfulness are all around us; in fact, God’s continuing love and faithfulness is what keeps us alive.
And so, a natural question emerges: “How do we respond to God’s faithfulness?”

In today’s reading (Mark 10:35-45), James and John ask an interesting question. They have been following Jesus for some time. They have seen Jesus perform miracles and heal the sick. They’ve heard Jesus talk about Heaven and they decide that they want special seats in Heaven; and so, they ask Jesus to give them those coveted places.
But Jesus surprises them.

Jesus describes being a Christ-ian as being a person who serves. Following Jesus is not about honor and prestige, and being great and visible. Following Jesus is not about power and authority and getting your own way. Christ-ians follow Jesus by living lives that are dedicated to loosing bonds and setting people free. Christ-ians untie bonds and help people move toward “wellness.” But, in a busy world, we don’t have enough hours in the day to support every good cause, do we? In a busy world filled is many obligations, we can’t set everyone free, untie all of the bonds that we want to untie, and help all of the people that we want to help move toward “wellness.” But, what we do have is a “vehicle” that we can use to do just that.
What would happen if you began to look at money as something that someone else gives to you in exchange for a part of your life that you can never get back?

That’s the truth that this week’s message, “Your Life and Your Money”, lifts-up. Our lives and our money are intimately connected. And our money is a “vehicle” that we can use to do things that we, otherwise, wouldn’t have the time or the physical ability to do.

We may not have time or the physical ability to visit the ill and the home-bound people in our community – but, through the “vehicle” of money, we can offer a part of our lives to restore people who are suffering and lonely to wellness by supporting the ministry of a person who makes those life-changing visits. We may not have the time or the physical ability to feed hungry people in our community – but, through the “vehicle” of money, we can give-up a part of our lives as Christ-ians to untie the bonds of hunger and place food on people’s tables by supporting the work of a local food bank. We may not have time or the physical ability to fight the raging battle against addictions in our communities – but, through the “vehicle” of money, we can give-up a part of our lives as Christ-ians, so that people who are battling addictions have a safe place where they can gather in supportive communities to fight their battle with the help of other people. We may not have time or the physical ability to rebuild homes after a hurricane has destroyed them – but through the “vehicle” of money we can restore hope and rebuild homes, and we can provide help to those who are traveling through one of the most difficult times in their lives.
When we give money to the Church, we offer a gift-of-life that will be used as a “vehicle” to restore people, to untie bonds, and to bring God’s people to a better place in life that’s marked with both health and wellness.

Money that’s given to the Church isn’t just used to support an institution or social club. Money that’s given to the Church isn’t just used to pay ongoing expenses, so that the doors of an aging building can remain open for another week.

The money that you give is a “vehicle” that we use to share our lives with others. Money that we give to the Church in thanksgiving is a “vehicle” we use to share time and energy and life with folks who need to be restored and who need to be brought to a better place in life in the name of Jesus.

Hurricane Florence – You Can Help!

Hurricane Florence

Many people want to offer their help and support when disasters strike.

Hurricane Florence is bearing-down on the east coast of the United States. Millions of people have left everything that they own behind in an attempt to escape devastating winds and rain. Others have decided to hunker-down because they either can’t run away or because they’ve decided that they can somehow face the unknown and prevail. The Weather Channel  is predicting that some areas of North Carolina will receive as much as forty inches of rain in the next few days, and elected leaders have promised us that they are prepared to respond to a disaster. But, the help of many other people will be needed, too.

How do you decide which charity or organization will use money that you contribute most wisely?

One of the first things that I suggest is that people visit CharityWatch before they send any money to an organization that’s asking for support during emergencies (and at other times, too). CharityWatch is America’s most independent and assertive charity watchdog and was founded 25 years ago as the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP). CharityWatch does not just give you what charities report to their donors using simplistic or automated formulas. CharityWatch dives deeply into an organization’s structures and expenses to let you know how efficiently that charity will use your donation to fund the cause you want to support. CharityWatch exposes nonprofit abuses and advocates for your interests as a donor. Before you donate your hard-earned money to any organization or charity, please take a few minutes to visit CharityWatch. That simple, first step will protect you, as a donor, and the people that you want to help and support with your generous gift.

Another thing that you need to remember is that almost every organization or charity has some sort of overhead costs and expenses that need to be paid by somebody. Will that be you?

Most organizations and charities skim a certain percentage of every contribution that’s made to pay these costs and expenses. Some organizations pay their CEO hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Others use a percentage of the money that they receive to advertise, so that they can collect even more money from donors. It’s important to remember that organizations and charities that are most visible are, often, the ones that devote the largest amount of money to advertising. If they didn’t do that, you would probably never hear about what they are doing. Remember that.

But, some organizations and charities underwrite their expenses in other ways – and are, thus, able to send a larger percentage of your donation – or even 100% of it – to people that you want to help.

One example of a fine organization that does just that is Lutheran Disaster Response. Lutheran Disaster Response works as a catalyst, convener and bridge builder when disasters strike. Lutheran Disaster Response works with other organizations in the United States and all around the world. This approach enables Lutheran Disaster Response to use every dollar that it receives to help people who are affected by disasters and to maximize the impact of every dollar that’s received. Overhead costs and expenses are paid by faithful members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), so that every penny that is contributed to special appeals can be used to help people who need support and care. If you would like to read about Lutheran Disaster Response’s work in 2017 – click here.

Lutheran Disaster Response  recognizes that every disaster is local. Because of this, every response is rooted in the local community Your generous contribution provides everything that’s needed from immediate relief to the long-term recovery needs of affected people and communities. Your generous gift changes lives!

Your generous gift provides:

  • Emotional and spiritual support for both the people who have been affected by the disaster and for the leaders in the community who are responding to it;
  • Coordination of the efforts of thousands of volunteers;
  • Immediate support for those who need food, water, baby formula and diapers, mattresses, and other emergency supplies that are needed for rebuilding lives;
  • Long-term support that continues to meet the long-term needs of people who are affected by disasters – months – and even years after disasters strike and other organizations have left the area.

If you would like to help people whose lives are affected by Hurricane Florence

 CLICK HERE!

Hurricanes and other natural disasters strike people’s lives with devastating consequences, and we are both called and challenged by God to offer our support and care. But, we also need to ensure that the hard-earned money that we contribute to organizations and charities will be used wisely and efficiently to extend the care that we want to offer.

Thank you for your interest in extending your love and support to those whose lives will, undoubtedly, be devastated by Hurricane Florence. And thank you for thinking about using Lutheran Disaster Response as a vehicle that will deliver the financial support you want to offer to those who are facing the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

 

God Works with Our Hands

Early in the morning, on April 7th, heavy rains created a landslide that swept many people in our local area into chaos. People lost their homes and most of their belongings in just a matter of minutes. Residents were evacuated with only the clothes on their backs—many of them still in their pajamas. The doors of Christ Greek Orthodox Church’s Olympia Hall were immediately opened, and a command center was created. Warm meals were prepared, and shelter was offered to many people who could only watch in silence as their homes were demolished and everything that they owned was encased in piles of rubble within a few short hours.

Landslide 1

Residents of apartment buildings that did not need to be demolished were permitted to, briefly, return to their homes to collect the few belongings that they could gather—but, since that time, several of the buildings have been labeled “uninhabitable” and residents of those buildings are now permanently displaced. These apartment buildings housed many people who are senior citizens and disabled, and many low-income households. Officials are estimating that repairs will take a minimum of eight months to complete.

Mission-Partnerships are very important in times like these because most of us, as individuals, don’t have the financial resources and the specific skills and talents to make long-term and lasting impact in situations like this. And that’s why we work together as the body of Christ. We join hands with each other—looking past the walls of our buildings, looking past our denominational differences, and even looking past lines we’ve drawn to identify different communities—and we do God’s work in the world.

Landslide 2

We’ve been asked to join hands with congregations, who are working as a Team, to accomplished God’s vision and mission for the Church by pulling together and by offering our support and care to people in our area who’ve lost their homes and belongings. We, at Christ’s Lutheran Church, proclaim that part of God’s vision and mission for our congregation is to “Listen and Care,” and this is a great opportunity to join hands with Christians in our community (and even around the world) to do what God’s calling us to do—both as a congregation and vital part of the Church of Jesus Christ as a whole.

Landslide 3

We are going to be collecting money that will be used to purchase gift cards that will be distributed to those whose lives have been affected by recent landslides in our local area—during the month of May.

Money that we collect during the month of May will be sent to Christ Greek Orthodox Church and it will be added to funds that have been collected by other Mission-Partners throughout our area. The funds will, then, be distributed to displaced residents in the form of gift cards that they can use to purchase items that they need from local businesses. We are partnering with other local churches and with businesses in our local area to do things that none of us could do by ourselves. That’s the power of Mission-Partnerships. When we work together in ways that aren’t limited by the walls of our buildings and the lines that we’ve drawn between communities, we can accomplish great things and fulfill God’s vision and mission for the Church together.

Landslide 4

We’re going to make it easy for you to join hands with us as we work together to help displaced residents in our local area, too.

You can simply add your contribution to this important ministry by including it in your regular offering envelope as a part of your weekly offering. All that we are asking you to do is to designate your gift on the “other” line that’s already found on your offering envelope.

You can, also, support this ministry through an electronic gift. You can visit our church’s  newly updated website and support this ministry by using the “give now” link that you’ll find at the bottom of the home page. Just remember to enter the amount that you want to contribute in the “other” fund option and let us know that you’re contributing to the “Rt 30 Landslide” fund.

You can, mail us a check that’s written to “Christ’s Lutheran Church.” Please send your check to: Christ’s Lutheran Church, 5330 Logans Ferry Road, Murrysville, PA 15668. If you send a check, please be sure to tells us that you want us to include your contribution in the “Rt 30 Landslide” fund on the memo line of your check. We will make sure that your money is sent to the proper place.

You can, also, text CLC4ALL to 77977 on your cellphone and send your support in that way.

God’s vision and mission for our world is one that calls us into action in many ways, and this chance to join hands with other Mission-Partners who are working together to support many people whose lives were disrupted by an early-morning landslide is a great chance for us to demonstrate how We Listen and Care.

Every gift makes a difference! Every dollar you contribute will be used to purchase gift cards that senior citizens, disabled residents, and low-income households can use at local businesses as they begin to re-build their lives after this devastating event. We can do more when we join hands with our Mission-Partners than we can ever hope to do by ourselves. Let’s prove it!

Read Through the Bible – Weeks 38 and 39

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Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good and His mercy endures forever!

We celebrate a national Day of Thanksgiving in the United States this week.

People drive many miles to spend time with their family. Houses are filled with familiar smells as pies are baked and as turkeys spend hours in the oven. Some people watch the big parades and the football games that have become a part of Thanksgiving Day. Other people spend time reviewing their Christmas list, so that they can hit the ground running on Black Friday. And, at some point, we all encounter the “pregnant moment” when we gather around a great feast and prepare to eat.

Why is it important to celebrate Thanksgiving?

Many of us live our lives believing that we work hard for all the things that we have and for the food that we eat. Many of us celebrate “Turkey Day” with little awareness of God’s blessings in our lives and in the lives of those that we love. It’s easy to forget about all of the prayers that God has answered and the blessings that God has given. It’s easy for us to forget about the blessings of good health, warm homes and peace. Martin Luther once wrote that, as Christ teaches us to pray “give us this day our daily bread,” Jesus tells us to remember that it is God who gives us our food and drink, clothing, shoes, house, money, goods, husbands and wives, children, our government, good weather, peace, good health, good friends and neighbors, self-control and a good reputation. When we pray – “Give us this day our daily bread” – we recall that God’s the source of everything.

Why is it important to celebrate Thanksgiving?

Perhaps, we need to pause and think about what life would be like if we didn’t have any food, any clothes to wear, warm homes to enjoy, and good health? Perhaps, we need to pause for a moment and think about what life would be like if we didn’t have any fresh water to drink, enough money to pay our bills, good weather, family and friends?

Why is it important to celebrate Thanksgiving?

Perhaps because it’s easy to forget that we’re richly blessed? Perhaps because we need to stop – at least for a short moment once each year – to just think about the Wonderful God who fills our lives with so many good things? Perhaps in that “pregnant moment” we can think about the people in our world who are less fortunate than we are? Perhaps in that once-a-year “pregnant moment” we can simply stop and think about ways that we can be a blessing in the lives of other people who don’t enjoy simple blessings that we often take for granted as we prepare to enter another Holiday Season?

Why is it important to celebrate Thanksgiving?

It’s important to celebrate Thanksgiving because it prepares us for what’s coming next. We remember that being “blessed” doesn’t always mean “having more.” We remember that life’s about far more than getting the biggest box that’s under the tree, or the most expensive electronic device. Life is about learning to appreciate what God gives us. Life is about finding ways to share goodness with others. Thanksgiving reminds us that God fills our lives with blessings we can share with other people. We become more generous, more giving and more aware of the needs of others when we stop and realize how richly we’ve been blessed in the past year.

I hope and pray that you’ll enjoy this Thanksgiving with those you love. I also hope and pray that, when you come to the “pregnant moment” we’ll all face as we gather around the table where a great feast is set before us that you’ll take a moment to just pause – and to reflect for a moment – and to give thanks for the many blessings that God has poured into your life.

And then, as you rise from the feast and prepare to journey into the “Season of Giving,” I hope and pray that you’ll carry with you a generous spirit – filled to overflowing with the type of thanksgiving that gives birth to love, to kindness, and to generosity.

Here are the readings for the next two weeks:

Week #38

Sunday: Philemon – Monday: Numbers 21-24 – Tuesday: 2 Chronicles 1-5 – Wednesday: Psalms 111-113 – Thursday: Proverbs 25 – Friday: Amos 5-9 – Saturday: John 19-21

Week #39

Sunday: Hebrews 1-4 – Monday: Numbers 25-28 – Tuesday: 2 Chronicles 6-10 – Wednesday: Psalms 114-116 – Thursday: Proverbs 26-27 – Friday: Obadiah – Saturday: Acts 1-2

 

Dreams, Talents, Passions and Risk

Money Bag

Take a moment to simply dream….

Imagine that you’ve bought a Powerball ticket and that you’re sitting at home watching the balls bounce around in the machine; and, when the numbers come out, you realize that you’ve won! Imagine yourself as the recipient of millions and millions of dollars – perhaps more money than you can even imagine.

What would you do with it?

You could risk your millions in the stock market, or you could buy an ordinary CD. You could do something that may or may not work, or you could stuff the money into your mattress. That’s what this week’s message, “Dreams, Talents, Passions and Risk”, is all about.

Jesus once told a story about a rich man who entrusted money into the hands of servants and who, then, went away on a journey. Two of the servants doubled the money that they were given through wise investments. But the other servant was paralyzed by fear when he received the money, and he simply buried the money in the ground to keep it safe.

So, let me ask you a question….

If I asked you to stand-up and to tell all of your friends about your greatest gift or talent, what would you tell them about?

If I asked you to stand-up and to tell all of your friends about the greatest gift or talent that you’ve been given, what would you say?

You see, that’s your million dollars. Some people are musicians and others can teach. Still others are skilled craftsmen who can properly maintain property, and yet others have the self-discipline to own their own business. Some people are great bakers. Some people are known for their generous financial support of worthy causes. Some people can step up to the plate and offer leadership skills to churches and organizations. Still others are able to handle “little details” that easily slip between the cracks when people get busy.

The story that Jesus tells in Matthew 25:14-30 is a story about trustworthiness. The point of the story is NOT that some people have more talents and abilities and gifts than other people – even though that might be true. The point of the story is NOT that some people have more resources to bring to the table than others – even though that might be true.

What Jesus wants us to see is that the greatest risk is NOT found in boldly investing and risking everything. The greatest risk is NOT encountered when we “put it all on the line” and “step-out in faith.” The greatest risk is encountered when we never get to the point in life (or in ministry) where we care enough about something to invest ourselves in deep and passionate ways. In this story, Jesus tells us that trustworthiness is often lived-into by those who become driven and who are passionate enough to invest everything they have – lock, stock, and barrel.

What are you passionate about? What kinds of things excite you, and would drive you to invest your God-given gifts and talents with excitement and passion and energy? What hopes and dreams do you have? If you had millions and millions of dollars to distribute, what would you do with your money?

I end this week’s message, “Dreams, Talents, Passions and Risk”, with a metaphor that’s meant to challenge and push you. How would you live your life differently if you knew that the greatest risk of all is dying with your toys still left in your bag? How would you live your life differently if you knew that, one day, you would be left thinking about what you could have done differently in life – if you had been willing to “take a chance” and to trust God enough to use you to change the world?

That’s the challenge of trustworthiness. That’s why we all need to struggle, and to learn how to navigate through lives that are filled with “Dreams, Talents, Passions and Risk”.

 

Why is Stewardship a Dirty Word?

stewardship pic

Many pastors and church leaders approach the Fall with fear and trepidation because we find ourselves, once again, struggling to find a way to talk about stewardship.

These are tough days in the life of many congregations throughout the Church. We don’t always have enough people to row the boat and major shifts in patterns of giving have left many churches with shrinking financial resources. The bills keep arriving in the mail and many church treasurers face the weekly challenge of deciding which bills need to be paid this week and which bills can wait until next week. And so, many churches gather a few brave souls each Fall and try to find new ways to ask faithful people for their money and their time. Unfortunately, the issue of stewardship is often approached through the lens of the church’s needs and with a poverty mentality, and pastors and church leaders can feel like they’re being asked, once again, to crawl down the center aisle of the church on their knees and beg for the money and help that’s needed. Someone once told me that the church is the only institution in the world that asks for money by telling people that it doesn’t have enough money.

There has to be a better way!

What would happen if pastors and church leaders built stewardship campaigns around storytelling and helping people to understand how a congregation is doing God’s work in the world? What would happen if pastors and church leaders would built a stewardship campaign with a spirit of thanksgiving in their hearts, and use the stewardship campaign to lift-up hopes and dreams for the future? What would happen if pastors and church leaders challenged people to look at themselves as “Mission Partners” instead of seeing themselves as “Members with Benefits”? What would happen if pastors and other church leaders built the stewardship campaign around the idea that people who attend worship are precious in God’s sight – they’re God’s kids – and stopped looking at people who attend worship as a pool of potential volunteers and financial supporters who are going to be asked to help in yet another way?

This year, we built our stewardship campaign upon those principles. I’m not suggesting that we’ve discovered a “magic pill” or that we’ve created something new. Maybe you’ve been doing what I’m suggesting for many years and have been wondering when people like me were going to catch-up. I’d just like to share a few things that we tried and hope that you’ll feel free to share what’s been working for you, too.

We decided to call our worship service “A Celebration of our Ministry and Life Together” and to build our service around four themes that stand at the heart of our congregation’s ministry: We Welcome and Embrace, We Listen and Care, We Worship and Pray, and We Equip and Empower. I’m glad to report that the service was very well received by those who attended and that the responses that we received were very positive. I’ve included this link if you’d like to see what we did.

And then, as we worshiped together, we took some time to tell the story of what we’ve been doing and to ask people for their help in some very specific ways. We shared four story-based messages that told the story of what God’s been doing with us. We named the groups of messages “Christ’s Church for All People” because that’s our vision for the future. We want to grow and to be even more transformed into “Christ’s Church for All People.” You can find an outline of the message that was shared with the congregation here and learn more about our ministry at the same time. We helped the congregation to move around our mission graphic which can be found on the front of the bulletin.

Many pastors and church leaders approach the Fall with fear and trepidation because we find ourselves, once again, struggling to find a way to talk about stewardship. But, with a little bit of storytelling, a strong recognition of the goodness of God’s people, and with a short list of a few specific ways that people can help, pastors and church leaders can find new and exciting ways to address stewardship in changing times.

 

 

Read Through the Bible – Week 28

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Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible”

This is a place where we’re gathering together around God’s Word, and where we have decided to read through the Bible with each other and support each other as Christians. We’ve moved through more than half the Bible this year, and we’re pressing on toward the goal! But, if you’re new to this site, don’t be dismayed. Please feel free to jump on board! You don’t have to try to catch up with us, and we understand when people miss a reading or two along the way. This site is about encouraging you to spend some time with God’s Word and to allow the words of the Bible to speak to you.

We’ve been hearing a lot about disasters in the last few weeks, haven’t we?

Hurricane Harvey dumped several feet of water onto Texas and Louisiana, and then buried many other people under smaller amounts of water as it moved north. We’re hearing about raging fires in the western part of the United States and, just this morning, we heard stories about an earthquake off the coast of Mexico. Hurricane Irma is going to be moving across Florida this weekend – wreaking havoc as it slowly moves north. And many of us are feeling overwhelmed. We want to help, but we don’t know how. We want to offer our generous support, but many of us continue to struggle to simply make ends meet in our own homes. Just last week, I used my weekly installment of “Read Through the Bible” to lift-up a young woman and family that lost everything that they own – and I asked you to consider giving them some help. What’s a person to do?

This week, we’re going to be reading a parable from the Gospel of Luke. We’re going to hear about a nobleman who entrusted some people with a part of his wealth; and, when he did that, he asked them to take care of it. Some of the people invested the money that they had been given and doubled the nobleman’s wealth – one turning ten minas (each of them worth the amount of money that 13 farmers would be paid for a year’s labor) into twenty minas – and another turning five minas into ten minas. But one person, who was entrusted with only one mina buried it in the ground; and, at the end of the story, he just returned the mina that he had been given to the nobleman (who became enraged).

And, I guess this story has always been one that makes me think about the things that God has entrusted into my care, and about how I use those things (or don’t us them).

And, with that in mind and without pointing fingers, I’d like to ask you to think about how you’re using the gifts that God has place into your hands.

Some of us have already sent some of our money to support people who have lost their homes and all of their belongings in raging storms. Some of you many have even sent some money that will be given to Debbie and her family. Some of us support our local food bank or women’s shelter. Some of us volunteer time, so that programs like Meals-on-Wheels can continue to bring cooked food to people who are confined to their homes. Some of us cook meals and deliver them to our aging parents. Some of us watch our own children’s kids, so that they can go to work. Some of us donate money to places that are doing cancer research, while others support homeless shelters. And to all the people who are so faithfully using and investing the gifts that God has given, I say: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23) You are a real blessing!

This week, in the midst of raging storms and fires, I want to challenge you to think about the fact that God’s happy when He sees you investing your time, energy, and financial resources in the lives of others. And how you do it isn’t as important as the fact the you ARE doing it. I guess that as we read one of Jesus’ parables this Saturday, we’re going to be reminded that the only person who angered the nobleman was the man who buried his mina in the ground to protect it and keep it safe, so that he could return what he’d been given to the nobleman without having risked it or increased it in any way.

Here are this week’s readings:

Sunday: Colossians 1-2 – Monday: Leviticus 13-15 – Tuesday: 2 Kings 6-10 – Wednesday: Psalms 81-83 – Thursday: Proverbs 10 – Friday: Ezekiel 25-30 – Saturday: Luke 19-20