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.

Looking at Life Through Clean Windows

dirty window

James 3:13-4:3

Clara was a woman who was never afraid to speak her mind.

She would rock back-and-forth in her rickety, old chair carefully observing things that were happening all around her. Clara’s grandchildren sometimes arrived at her home with spots of ketchup and mustard on their shirts. Clara always noticed when her grand-kids’ shoes weren’t tied, when Johnny had a hole in the knee of his pants, when the mug of hot coffee that her daughter brought to her didn’t have enough cream in it, and when there was dust on the piano. And that’s why Johnny wasn’t surprised when she got going.

“Hey, Johnny,” Clara said, “look at those sheets hanging on Esther’s clothes line! Aren’t those the dirtiest sheets you’ve ever seen?” “Just look at those filthy things! They just look like a bunch of dirty rags!”
And Johnny sat there as his grandma went on and on and on and on….

There wasn’t anything wrong with the sheets. And, after a few minutes of listening to his grandma’s newest complaint, Johnny got a little, quirky smile on his face and said, “Hey, Grandma, when was the last time you cleaned your windows?” “You’re seeing all of those dirty spots because you’re looking at Esther’s sheets through your own dirty windows.”
We’ve probably all had times when we looked at the world and at other people through our own set of dirty windows.

We’ve all been told to stay away from certain “kinds” of people and we do it. We’ve all had time when we’ve heard rumors about other people; and, suddenly, we discovered that we could never look at them in the same way. We’ve all been hurt or disappointed by others; and, when that happens, we decide that other people are “bad” and that they will never change. We usually believe that when people do things that are wrong they will always be people who do things that are wrong. And, that’s it. Period.

In this week’s message, “Looking at Life Through Clean Windows”, we take some time to explore the ways that we look at each other. St. James leaves us dangling between a “fractured” world filled with conflicts, disputes, greed and anger – and a world that is filled with Godly gentleness that’s born of wisdom. St. James tells us to “be doers of the word and not just hearers” (James 1:22) and to live lives that point others toward the Christ that we love and serve. But, sometimes, the ways that we “see” other people can stop us from doing that. Sometimes, the spots on our own dirty windows keeps us from seeing the goodness in others and causes us to interpret things in unhelpful ways.

Martin Luther, the 16th-century Church reformer once explained the 8th Commandment using these words: “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead, we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything that they do in the best possible way.
How would our lives and our relationships change if we started to do that?

This week, try to find the good in other people. Try your hardest to interpret the things that other people do in the best possible way. Ask God to help you to clean your windows, so that you’re more able to see others in the ways that God does – knowing that when you are “Looking at Life Through Clean Windows”, you’re going to be happier – you’re going to have more friends and deeper relationships. You may even find that when you live your life seeing the goodness in others and accepting other people just as they are, other people will begin to see you and to treat you in the very same way.

God, Me, You and Them

Martin Luther

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood to be received by faith.” ~ (Romans 3:22-25)

We commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation this week.

A monk named Martin Luther had been struggling with a question that many of us have asked ourselves at some point: “How can I know that things are right between God and me; so that I can know that, when I die, I’m going to Heaven?”

Luther tried his best to make sense of how God responds to the sin. Luther struggled to understand how we can live with hope and peace in our lives knowing that, even when we’re trying to do our best to please God, we still fall short. And Luther also struggled to make sense of how Jesus fits into the picture. If Heaven is something that I earn by being a good, kind and loving person, why do I need Jesus? And on the other hand, if Heaven’s something that I earn by being a good person, how can I know that I’ve been good, kind and loving enough?

But something else was happening….

Faith was intensely personal. People were obsessed with Heaven and Hell, and their fate in the afterlife. And the Church was willing to help. In fact, the Church was telling people that they could take a big step in the right direction by purchasing indulgences – pieces of paper that indicated that a withdrawal had been made from the “Treasury of Merits” (an overflowing bank account that contained all the good deeds that had been done by the Saints in every Age). And that was the solution! But, Luther didn’t buy it (literally).

“God, Me, You and Them” is a message to encourage you to think about God’s relationship with you and with everyone else in the world. The Bible tells us that God sent Jesus into the world because sin is incredibly destructive. The Bible tells us that God sent Jesus into the world because He wants us to know that He loves us, and that His love is a love that’s always ready to welcome and embrace us. And that’s true for other people, too.

The Lutheran Reformation was about more than indulgences. And the Reformation of the Church is still about more than indulgences. It’s about the fundamental relationship between God and the world. Jesus came into the world because God loves you, and Jesus came into the world because God loves me, too. Jesus came into the world because God cares about people that you love and cherish, but He also came because God loves people that you find hard to love. Luther reminded us that God’s love is all about “God, Me, You and Them”. Luther reminded us that God’s love in Christ is extended to everyone. God’s come into the world through the life, death and resurrection of Christ because He has a better plan for us than what we’re seeing right now. God’s come into the world, in Jesus, because God loves us even when we’ve fallen short; and He’s willing to lift us up and dust us off and send us in a new direction with another chance.

“God, Me, You and Them” is about recapturing the heart of God’s message to the world in Jesus Christ. It’s about moving beyond the “God and Me” type of thinking that causes me to focus all of my attention upon my own personal salvation – while forgetting about the fact that Christ came into the world because God loves everyone.

 

 

Read Through the Bible – Weeks 15/16

prayer-page

Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible”

But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the ways I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ears, but they walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.” ~ Jeremiah 7:23-24

I suspect that we’ve all had times when we’ve lived in the way that God commanded us to live, and I suspect that we’ve all had times when we drifted off course. We read and digest God’s Word, and we pray for God’s guidance and direction. We have times when we drift away from God because we don’t listen, because we walk in our counsels, and because we can even be drawn off course by our own stubbornness and rebellion. But how do we get back on course and find “peace with God” after we’ve gone astray?

Many people believe that “peace with God” is achieved by returning to obedience. We’ve been told that we’re supposed to confess our sins, repent and change course. Even God’s Word tells us: when we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins. (1 John 1:9) But if we seek “peace with God” by trying to live in the right way, how can we know when we’ve done enough? If “Judgment Day” is a day when we’re going to stand in front of a great, big scale in the sky with all of our “good deeds” placed on one side of the scale and all of our “bad deeds” placed on the other of the scale, how can we know – with 100% certainty – that the scale’s going to tip in the right direction?

St. Paul struggled with that idea as he was making sense of what it means to be baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  St. Paul made some big mistakes along the way, and he was present at the stoning of Steven. (Acts 7:54-60)  Paul was severely and continuously criticized throughout his ministry because he persecuted the early Church. (Galatians 1:13) Centuries later, the German reformer, Martin Luther, struggled with the same issue – “How can I ever be ‘good’ enough to find peace with God?” And that question is what, ultimately, led Luther to post his 95 Theses on the doors of the Castle Church.

When we’re not perfect and when we make mistakes (even when we’re trying our best to do differently), how do we find “peace with God”?

St. Paul’s answer is simple: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are made right by God’s grace as a gift through redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23)

“Peace with God” comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ. “Peace with God” isn’t found by somehow returning to obedience and by find a way to “get it right” this time. We find “peace with God” when we discover that we’re the recipients of a gift from the hands of God that comes to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

And now, here are your readings for the next two weeks:

Week 15

Sunday: 1 Corinthians 13-14 – Monday: Exodus 5-8 – Tuesday: 1 Samuel 21-25 – Wednesday: Psalms 42-44 – Thursday: Job 29-30 – Friday: Jeremiah: 12-16 – Saturday: Mark 9-10

Week 16

Sunday: 1 Corinthians 15-16 – Monday: Exodus 9-12 – Tuesday: 1 Samuel 26-31 – Wednesday: Psalms 45-47 – Thursday: Job 31-32 – Friday: Jeremiah 17-21 – Saturday: Mark 11-12

Blessings!

 

What was the Lutheran Reformation all about?

martin-luther

Have you ever wondered what the Lutheran Reformation was all about?

This year, Lutherans and Roman Catholics will continue to work together to heal their relationship with each other – as we mark the 500th Anniversary of the day, in 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s “95 Theses” criticized the Church’s continued efforts to sell indulgences, and insisted that the Pope has no authority over Purgatory and that the doctrine of the “Merits of the Saints” has no foundation in the gospel. While the actual posting of this document wasn’t radical (the doors of churches were used as public bulletin boards in Luther’s time), the contents of the document created a deep rift within the Church and Martin Luther was, eventually, declared a heretic.

The relationship between Lutherans and Roman Catholics has not been easy. Martin Luther penned many vicious attacks against both the Roman Catholic church and the Jews of his time – which have been denounced by modern-day Lutherans. The Roman Catholic church tried to respond to quickly-changing dynamics in the Church by launching its own “Counter Reformation” and a fierce conflict arose – culminating in the Thirty Years’ War (the deadliest of the European religious wars – where nearly 8,000,000 people lost their lives). Lutherans and Roman Catholics became deeply divided. But, as time continued to pass, the conflict began to slowly cool. The Second Vatican Council, which began to meet under the leadership of Pope John XXIII in 1962, explored ways to build bridges between the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations. In 1999, the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church released a “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” – that lifted-up areas of theological agreement between Lutherans and Roman Catholics – and, recently, the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity released its document entitled, “From Conflict to Communion.” Just this morning, Pope Francis arrived in Sweden to join in a solemn commemoration of the Lutheran Reformation – believing that encounters of this nature bear testimony to the fact that, even though Lutherans and Roman Catholics still remain divided on dogma, Christians can – and must – work together and pray together in our quickly-changing world.

In this week’s message, “What was the Lutheran Reformation all about?”, we focus upon the key Biblical issue that stood at the heart of Martin Luther’s arguments against the prevailing practices of the Church. This is NOT a divisive message that’s been designed to deepen the rift between Lutherans and Roman Catholics! Instead, it’s a message that’s meant to lift-up St. Paul’s teaching of “justification by grace through faith” – and that can help people to better-understand the key Biblical truth that drove Martin Luther forward in the face of strong opposition. This is a message that drives us to the foot of the Cross – where “peace with God” can still be found – and where we can continue to re-discover the God who offers us forgiveness, strength and healing through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Blessings!