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.

The Mission Interpreter

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How are choices and decisions you make each day connected to your journey of faith?

You live in a complex Age where change surrounds you. You probably feel overwhelmed by a constant stream of news and information that summons your attention by sending the invasive pop, ding, or silent vibration that invades every part of your daily life. You most likely believe in God, but you may have decided that you don’t want to be affiliated with a local church, synagogue, mosque or temple. And yet, you still want to make some sort of difference in the world. You still want to believe that God is somehow working in your life and in the lives of the people that you love. Perhaps, what you need are stories that remind you that God’s at work in our lives and in the world, and mental morsels to challenge you to think about the relationship between your daily living and faith?

I believe that there’s always a next step for us to take in our journey of faith, and I am dedicated to working with people who want to take the next step forward in their journey of faith with confidence and courage. And, that’s why I’ve added a link to the menu on this site that takes you to my newest blog entitled: “The Mission Interpreter”.

This is a place where you’ll discover ways that God’s people are making a difference in the world, right now. This is a place where the leaders of churches and synagogues and mosques and temples will be challenged to reflect and to grow. This is a place where you will be challenged to think about the relationship between daily living and the kinds of choices and commitments you make each day. This is a place where you’ll be challenged to explore the ways that choices and decisions you make are connected to your journey of faith and to your relationship with God.

You can receive updates every time new material is added to “The Mission Interpreter” by following the blog itself as a regular user of WordPress – or you can provide an email address where links to new material can be send. I hope you’ll also share information about this new blog with your friends, so that they can, also, be encouraged by the fact that people of faith continue to do life-changing things in our quickly-changing world.

To get started, why not take a moment to investigate “The Mission Interpreter” and to read one of the newest, thought-provoking posts: “Stewardship, Stoles, and Suicide” – a piece that tells the tragic story of a pastor who recently committed suicide and that offers some ideas that can help congregations to support and encourage pastors who struggle with issues of sadness, discouragement, depression and anxiety – just like so many other folks do in the Church. You can, also, find several inspiring stories that point to the power of prayer and that lift-up the good that God’s people do when they join hands and work as a team. You’ll even find a thought-provoking piece that challenges Church leaders to remember the importance of storytelling as they prepare to make financial appeals.

I hope that “The Mission Interpreter” will provide something helpful for everyone who visits the site. You’ll notice that there’s, also, a CONTACT ME link on the site. Please let me know if you; the congregation, synagogue, mosque or temple that you attend; or a group of people that you know are joining hands to do something that points others to the God who continues to call us to express our faith in a way that touches and changes lives.

Where’s God Working in Your Life?

God with me

Where do you see God at work in your life these days?

We’ve all been taught to think about God in certain ways; and, when we do that, it shapes not only what we believe about God, but it also shapes what we believe God does.

Do you picture God as an old man with a long, white beard who’s watching everything? Do you picture God as a “puppet-master” who’s pulling strings in your life (and in the world) to accomplish His will? Are you confusing God and Santa Claus – picturing God as a white-bearded “Watchman” who keeps track of whether you’ve been naughty or nice – and who always has a sack filled with goodies (or coal) to give away? Are you able to see God’s presence in people who are suffering – always working in unexpected places?

In this week’s message, “Where’s God Working in Your Life?”, we are challenged to keep things “down to earth” and to explore where God is working in our lives in down-to-earth ways. Instead of pointing to an invisible God up in the sky who’s keeping an eye on us and watching everything that we do, pulling strings like a “puppet-master,” and leaving gifts (or coal) under our tree – what if we could begin to see God at work in places where we are feeling welcomed and embraced – just as we are – with all of our strengths and weaknesses, our quirks and flaws, our goodness and love? What would life be like if we began to see God in places where we are feeling listened-to and cared-about? Jesus once said that He would always be found in the midst of His people as they come together to share gifts of broken Bread and tasty Wine. What if we began to more clearly see that God’s at work in places where we’re feeling loved and supported — listened-to and cared-about — equipped and empowered to face whatever life brings us tomorrow morning?

And so, let me ask you again…. Where do you see God at work in your life these days?

Jesus once told us that He will always be found when His people come together and form a “community.” And what that means is that – sometimes Jesus works through us as we help other people’s – and sometimes Jesus works through other people who help us.

It’s all about connection – love – and mutual guidance and support. And, before we go off and try to find the invisible God, we always need to remember that we’ve been told that, if we can’t love (and be loved by) people that we can see, we’ll never be able to love (and be loved by) the invisible God that we can’t see (1 John 4:20).

Does God Speak to You?

God Speaks

The Bible is filled with stories about God speaking to people.

God spoke to Moses from a burning bush; and God told Joseph that the people of Egypt needed to save food, so that they would survive a seven-year famine. God spoke to the prophets, and revealed Himself to Abraham. And, in 1 Samuel 3:1-20, God speaks to a little boy who was sleeping beside the Ark of the Covenant.

The Bible tells us that Eli (the Temple priest) was quite blind by the time God decided to speak to Samuel, and that he was neatly tucked beneath the smelly blanket that he had used for many years. When Samuel first ran to the Temple priest, Eli was as confused by the whole thing as Samuel was – because the word of the Lord was rare in those days and even the prophets weren’t having the types of visions that they used to have.

But the “pregnant question” remains.

Does God speak to people during times when the word of the Lord seems to be rare, and when the prophets aren’t having the visions that they used to have? Can you imagine a God who knows you by name, who can choose to call-out to you and whisper words into your ears, who continues to lead and guide you through life, and who can even send you into the world with words to share with other people?

In this week’s message, “Does God Speak to You?”, we’re asked to reflect and to consider how God speaks us today.

What do you think happens when you gather with other people to hear God’s Word and to share in the “Feast of Heaven”? What do you think happens when the Holy Spirit lives and moves and breathes and stirs people as they listen to the Good News of Jesus Christ? Do we still believe that it’s God’s voice that continues to call us to take-up the Cross and follow Jesus wherever He leads us? Do we believe that God still has the power to speak to us, and send us out into the world to strive for justice and peace – telling us that if we invest all of our time and energy in trying to save our own lives and our churches, we’re going to lose it all – and telling us that if we take up the Cross, invest ourselves in other people, and bring the Good News of God’s love to the world, we’re going to find a new type of life that will continue to flourish and endure even in an Age when churches are closing their doors for the last time every week?

Does God speak to you? Do you really believe that God continues to know you by name and calls-out to you in the midst of darkness? Do you really believe that we have a God who continues to speak to us as we read God’s Word, as we gather in worship, and as we spend time in daily devotion and prayer?

The Holy Spirit continues to live and move and stir God’s people. The Spirit of God is still calling-out to people and inviting them into the ongoing mission of Christ’s Church.

When God calls-out to us, will we have the courage (as Samuel did) to respond by saying, “Here I am, Lord”? Will we have the faith and courage to respond to God’s calling in our own lives and to boldly say, “Speak to me, for Your servant is listening!”?

 

Keep Stirring!

stirring pot

Have you ever noticed that holidays bring back memories?

I remember the days when my one job on Thanksgiving was to stir the gravy, so that it didn’t get lumpy while it was coming to a boil. My mother would drain the turkey juices into a pan, put the pan on the stove, add some water and flour that she had shaken in her special little gizmo, and then she’d tell me to stir. And I’d stir, and I’d stir, and I’d stir. I’d adjust the flame underneath the pan to speed things up. And then I’d stir, and I’d stir, and I’d stir. And at some point I’d always remember what my grandma used to say: “A watched pot never boils.” And, as funny as it sounds, Isaiah drew upon that image a long time ago – writing: “Oh, that you [God] would rend the heavens and come down – that the mountains might quake at your presence, just like when the fire causes a pot of water to come to a boil.” (Isaiah 64:1-2)

A pan of water doesn’t start to boil as soon as we put it on the stove, does it? When I was serving on Thanksgiving “gravy patrol,” I’d stand beside the pot of gravy – stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring – waiting for something to happen. And that’s, often, how life works, isn’t it…?

God doesn’t always change the circumstances in our lives (or in the lives of the people that we love) as quickly as we’d like – but we just continue to stir and stir and stir. God doesn’t always heal the illnesses that we face, or take away the sting of our grief, or heal our strained relationships as quickly as we’d like – but we just continue to stir and stir and stir. I’m sure that, at some point, we’ve all heard that “a watched pot never boils” because things don’t always happen as quickly as we’d like – but we just continue to stir and stir and stir. And that’s what this week’s message “Keep Stirring!” is all about.

St. Paul once wrote that all of Creation is groaning inwardly as we wait, together, for the Great Day when God’s going to fix it. (Romans 8:22) The prophet Isaiah tells us that from Days of Old, no one has heard – and no one has seen any other god than the Lord who comes into our world [and into our lives] (Isaiah 64:4) as we continue to stir and stir and stir. And that’s what Advent’s about. Stirring. Staying awake. Loving each other. Caring for each other. Supporting each other. Encouraging each other as we wait, together, for the Great Day when God’s going to renew His entire Creation and make it whole.

Have faith, my friend, and trust in the Lord. Always remember that the things that you’re doing – as you continue to stir and stir and stir – really matter (even though you don’t always see the fruits of you labor as quickly as you’d like). Love each other. Care for each other. Support each other. Encourage each other. And always remember that, as we wait together for the Great Day when God’s going to renew His creation, we need each other in order to be strong and courageous and active and faithful.

 

Is God Fair?

God's Love

We’ve all been told that God loves us.

When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He told them to ask God to “give us this day our daily bread” – and we’ve learned to trust that God will do that. One of my friends on Facebook recently posted the words: “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) My Hindu friends believe in “karma,” and many Christians have adopted the teachings of “karma” as a way of pointing toward divine justice. After all, “good people” go to Heaven and “bad people” go to Hell. Right?

But, what if I told you that God is NOT fair, and that we should be happy about that?

In this week’s message, “Is God Fair?”, we’re going to focus upon a story that Jesus told a long time ago and that we can still read in Matthew 20:1-16. It’s the story of a landowner who hires some people to pick his grapes. Some of the workers worked 12 hours in the scorching heat, and others only worked for 9 hours. Still others worked for 6 hours, and yet others only worked in the vineyard for 3 hours. And then, there were people who stood at the “One Day’s Work” office all day and only worked for 1 hour. And at the end of the day – when the whistle blows – the landowner calls all of the workers to come to the pay station and he pays them ALL the exact same amount of money!

And that’s not fair!

And, not surprisingly, the workers didn’t think that it was fair either! And they stuck out their lower lips and complained. They moaned and groaned until the landowner zapped them between the eyes with the most important words of the story: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” (Matthew 20:16) And, as we listen to these words, we’re invited to see God face-to-face.

Here, we see a God who “unfairly” allows the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust. Here, we see a God who “unfairly” allows people to prosper and have nice things whether they’re sitting in a church pew on Sunday morning – or cheering for their kids at a soccer game. Here, we see a God who “unfairly” forgives people who have done things in life that I can’t imagine doing. Here, we see a God who “unfairly” chooses to step outside of the realm of karma and divine justice, and give people things that they clearly don’t deserve in any way.

And that’s not fair!

But, in all honesty, I have to admit that I like what this story tells me about God!

The landowner in this famous story challenges me to see the God who richly blesses me and who fills my life with good things even when I’m not always as good and deserving as other people. I see the God who sent His own Son into the world to die on the Cross because He wants me to go to Heaven – even though I don’t really deserve it. I’m clearly challenged to think about what I truly believe is “fair” – and, when it’s all said and done, I walk away celebrating the fact that God DOESN’T always give me exactly what I deserve. I don’t always sow good seeds. The “Law of Karma” sounds good – until you sit down and begin to count your mistakes and misdeeds. And then….

“Is God Fair?”

Jesus bluntly tells us that the answer to that question is clearly, “No!” And for that, we can rejoice and sing and praise the Lord!

Where Do You See God?

yoke pic

Where are you seeing God these days?

Some of us are spending 40 – 50 – 60 – even 70 hours at work each week. Some of us are parents who spend the week changing diapers, negotiating with rebellious toddlers and talking with little children who aren’t always easy to understand. Some of us spend the week enjoying the goodness of retirement, while others rise to begin yet another day of caring for a loved-one or facing the fact that our “Golden Years” aren’t always golden.

Jesus once said, “Come to me all who are weary and who are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me – for I am gentle and lowly in heart – and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

Yokes are big, clumsy and heavy. Yokes are placed upon the shoulders of animals that are going to be used for heavy labor like plowing fields and pulling wagons. Yokes are placed upon the shoulders of animals that will carry burdens and that will undoubtedly become weary, tired, exhausted, and totally spent. But yokes bind animals together, so that they can work more efficiently. Yokes bind animals together because there are jobs on a farm that are simply too big for animals to do by themselves.

When God places you in a particular place, what you do in that place is your ministry.

This week’s message, “Where Are You Seeing God?”, is one that’s designed to challenge you to realize that God journeys with us as we travel through life. Christ helps us to carry the yoke when we’re at work and when we’re struggling to be a good parent. Christ helps us to carry the burden when the yoke of caring for someone that we love becomes heavy and when we’re not sure if there’s enough of us to go around. Christ promises to journey with us through life and to help us to do far more than we ever thought we’d be able to do. When Christ teaches us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” He challenges us to prayerfully remember that God’s grace is always sufficient; and that, day by day, God will provide what we need – just when we need it most.

Where are you seeing God these days?

Can you see God’s face in the eyes of people who work beside you, or in the smiles of the customers who appreciate your help? Can you see God’s face as you gaze into the eyes of your spouse as he/she listens to you talk and talk and talk and talk? Can you see God’s face as you look into the eyes of a doctor, or a nurse, who is caring for you or for a loved one who’s sick? Can see God’s face in the eyes of your friends – of your family members – of your pastors or of people who attend your church – of people who celebrate what’s good in your life and help you to carry the weight of your burdens?

When we can see God’s presence in those around us, we can know that we’re not alone. When we learn to see God’s presence in the faces of people around us, we can know that no matter where we find ourselves in life, God’s already there to be with us.

Blessings!

 

Read Through the Bible – Week 18

prayer-page

Summer is a wonderful time to shift gears and to set-aside time for something new!

Many people have never read through the entire Bible. Some people don’t know where to begin, and other people begin in the first chapter of Genesis – but get bogged-down when they reach Leviticus. We all like to know that we’re doing things with other people. That’s what the ExploraStory Cafe is all about! It’s about reading God’s Word with other people. It’s about exploring foundations of our faith by listening, together, to recorded messages. It’s about spending quiet-time at the end of the day – reviewing the events of the past day and even asking ourselves, “What will I need from God – as I face the joys and challenges of tomorrow?”

This week, we’re going to ride a roller coaster during our journey through the Bible!

We’re going to read the 10 Commandments on Monday, and we’re going to read David’s psalm of confession (which was written after his disastrous affair with Bathsheba and after his role in causing the death of her husband, Uriah, became public) on Wednesday. We are going to encounter a threat that God uttered against a false-prophet, Hananiah, (“I am going to remove you from the face of the earth!” ~ Jeremiah 28:16) on Friday; and, on Saturday, we’re going to see Mark’s Gospel abruptly end as the three women who went to Jesus’ empty tomb flee in astonishment and say nothing to anyone. And, as we’re reading through these parts of the Bible together, we’re going to be challenged to think.

Which of the 10 Commandments am I breaking – right now – at this point in my life?

Do I regularly think about the things that I’m doing and ask God to forgive my sins, or do I wait until my sins are lifted before my eyes by another person?

How are my thoughts and actions being shaped by God’s Word, and how do my thoughts and actions bear testimony to what God’s doing in my life and in the world?

How do I respond to my encounters with the Risen Christ? Am I telling others about what Christ is doing in my life? Am I trying my best to figure-out what it means? Am I afraid to speak about the things that God’s doing? How could I be a more effective witness to God’s work in my life and in the world?

Here are next week’s readings:

Sunday: 2 Corinthians 4-5 – Monday: Exodus 17-20 – Tuesday: 2 Samuel 5-9 – Wednesday: Psalms 51-53 – Thursday: Job 35-36 – Friday: Jeremiah 27-31 – Saturday: Mark 15-16

Blessings!

The Lord is Your Shepherd

shepherd

Life changes quickly, doesn’t it?

I still remember the day when a doctor looked me straight in the eyes (at the ripe old age of 37) and said, “Wayne, I believe that your hands are shaking and your walking’s a bit shuffled because you have Parkinson’s Disease.”

I’m sure that a lot of people in America are trying to figure-out what happened in the House of Representatives last week because they’re not sure if their struggle with an addiction – or with a birth defect – or even with a mental illness is going to prevent them from being able to purchase health insurance in the United States.

Even though we’ve been raised to believe that we are “safe” in the United States of America, we can no longer ignore things like terrorism – and we live in an age where we need to spend time teaching our children about safe body boundaries.

And yet, even in the midst of a quickly-changing world, we’re reminded that God is a Great Constant in our lives. God continues to point us in the right direction. God is a Good Shepherd who continues to nourish and sustain us. God is always present when His sheep are grazing in green pastures – and even when His sheep are walking through the scary valleys of the shadow of death.

In this week’s message, “The Lord is Your Shepherd”, we’re reminded of the faithfulness of the God who continues to recognize the deepest need in our lives and who opens His hands to fill our lives with goodness. We’re reminded that the Lord is a Good Shepherd who watches over us and the people that we love, and how God has promised to be the one constant in life that never fails.

We all know that things can change quickly in our lives and in the world. We all know that the specific circumstances in our lives aren’t always easy to control. And yet, the Good Shepherd continues to journey with us – taking us by the hand and leading us through all of the crazy ups and downs that we’ll face as we journey through life.

Blessings!

 

Planted Beside a Stream

Ohiopyle Falls - Edited for Enlarge

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:7-8

Life makes people thirsty.

Have you ever had a time in your life when you believed that there just wasn’t enough of you to go around? Maybe you feel like a gerbil on a wheel that just keeps going faster and faster and faster and faster? Perhaps, you’re worried about someone that you love – or are struggling to navigate through a time of illness? Or, perhaps, you’re moving through a dry time in your walk with Christ and it feels like you’re moving through the “uninhabited salt land” that the prophet Jeremiah once described?

In this week’s message, “Planted Beside a Stream”, we are drawn into a fascinating story about a Samaritan woman who met Jesus beside Jacob’s Well and who was promised that Jesus could give her the “Living Water” that bubbles-up to Eternal Life.

What does that “Living Water” taste like? How does the Good News of the Gospel that proclaims that you have a Lord who gives you courage when you’re afraid, peace when you’re anxious, strength when you are feeling weak, and hope even at the moment of death affect the way that you face the challenges and obstacles in your life, right now?

The community of Taize often sings a hymn that contains these words: “By night, we search for the source of living water because it is only our thirst that guides our way.”

What would “Living Water” taste like, right now? How can the life-giving news – that God has planted you beside a stream – sustain and renew you as you journey through life?

Let’s travel to Jacob’s Well and listen to the words that Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman nearly 2,000 years ago; and, as we listen to Jesus speak, let’s stop for a moment and think about what His words and promises can mean to us today.

Blessings!