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.

Our Partners in Mission

Partners Pic

Mark 9:38-40

Have you noticed that the world’s changing?

We live in a world of instant access where people can watch hurricanes move across the Atlantic, and where we’re invited to sit in the courtroom while people like Bill Cosby are being sentenced to time in prison. We can watch President Trump address the General Assembly of the United Nations, and listen to people question Brett Kavanaugh after his nomination to serve on the Supreme Court. Every “pop” and “ding” and “vibration” on our cellphones means something. And, as the world’s quickly changing all around us, the Church is changing, too.

Most Americans continue to believe in God, but fewer and fewer people are sitting in church pews on an average weekend. Churches that were once filled to capacity with bustling crowds are facing tough times as once-filled pools of volunteers have emptied and as rising costs fuel growing deficits. But people are still doing “good things,” aren’t they? Organizations all across America were mobilizing volunteers and were asking for financial support long before Hurricane Florence made its landfall. People can send money to feed hungry children – support their local women’s shelter – provide medical care for children with cancer – or even save an abandoned puppy or kitten with a touch on their cellphone’s screen. And many people in the Church are feeling threatened by that – because it’s almost as if we’re competing with other groups that are always pulling people and resources that we need to do ministry out of our hands.

The apostle John once said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.” (Mark 9:38)

“Our Partners in Mission” is a message that’s been created to encourage you to think about building mission-partnerships between the church that you attend and groups that are also serving God’s people in your local community. Jesus once said, “Those who are not against us are for us.” (Mark 9:40) When we move past the idea that life-altering ministry is a “possession” of the Church, we can begin to see that God uses all sorts of people to do things that God wants to do in the world. And that can be life-changing to a congregation that’s struggling to figure-out what ministry even looks like in the 21st Century.
Let’s look more carefully at the idea of mission-partnerships where I live.

The Plum Food Pantry is serving people who are food-insecure in the community where the congregation I serve is located and we can feed hungry families, too – not by creating our own wheel and by feeding people in our own way – but, rather, by joining hands with other people who also want to do God’s work in our community. The Blackburn Center is standing beside women who are being battered in their homes, and is standing beside women and men who have been sexually abused or assaulted and we can do that, too – not by going out and creating our own wheel and by trying to do it all by ourselves – but, rather, by joining hands with other people who want to do God’s work, too. We can help seniors remain in their homes and remain independent by “joining the cause” and being a mission-partner with those who are trying to expand Open Your Heart to a Senior in our local area. We can battle the opioid addiction that’s claiming so many young lives in our community and we don’t need to create our own wheel and try to do it by ourselves! We can, instead, join hands in a mission-partnership with Narcotics Anonymous and do God’s work by supporting the ministry of folks who are already on the front-lines of the battle against addictions!
When the Church begins to look at ministry as its own possession, it loses sight of the fact that God can use all sorts of people to do the things that God wants to do.

The Church enjoyed being the center of the community for a long, long time. The Church created activities and programs that gave people something to do, and the fellowship of the Church was blessed by cover-dish dinners – church picnics – women’s circle meetings – and all sorts of youth group activities. And, as a “new day” dawns, those who continue to participate in the ministry of the Church carry that with them. As a “new day” dawns in America and all around the world, those who continue to regularly participate in the ministry of the Church carry all of those important things with them as things that can be remembered and cherished and honored and celebrated!

But, as Jesus continues to challenge us to explore new ways to “be the Church” and to think about ways that we can join hands in ministry in new and creative ways, it’s time for us to realize that “Those who are not against us are for us!” (Mark 9:40) – because, when we move past the idea that ministry is the Church’s possession, we become more open to working with many different people who are as serious about doing God’s work as we are.

Does God Still Give Us “Signs”?

looking for a sign

John 6:24-35

Several months ago, I saw a “sign.”

Now, before you get all excited, the sky didn’t open-up and I didn’t hear a big, booming voice from Heaven. The “sign” that I saw had nothing to do with watching someone feed more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two little fish. The “sign,” in fact, was just a large, tattered billboard that read: “If you’re looking for a sign, this is it!

In this week’s message, “Does God Still Give Us ‘Signs’?”, I want to challenge you to think about the things that first pointed you toward Jesus. We sometimes see Jesus’ power to strengthen and heal when we find ourselves praying for people that we love. Jesus can melt the harsh bitterness that fills our hearts after we’ve been hurt or disappointed. God can show us the next step forward when we don’t know what to do. Sometimes, WE can even be a “sign” of Jesus’ presence in the lives of other people.

The writer of John’s Gospel begins an interesting story in John 6:24-35.

Jesus has just finished feeding more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two little fish. Jesus has gone off to Capernaum, a fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee and the home of about 1,500 people. And when the people hear that Jesus is in Capernaum, they gather because they want to see Him. And Jesus tells them: “You haven’t come here to see me because you saw ‘signs.’ You came here because you had your bellies filled with bread and fish.” And, even after Jesus tells the people that what He has just done is the “work of God,” the people who have gathered around Him start to demand another sign.
So, let me ask you a question: “How have YOU come to know Jesus?”

I first learned about Jesus in a Sunday School class where Mrs. Pfeifer showed-up every Sunday morning to teach me about Jesus. I also learned about Jesus as an ordinary man, named Kenneth Ruckert, pointed me to “signs” that proclaimed the fact that Jesus even loves confused teenagers. I’ve learned about Jesus while serving as a camp counselor at Camp Lutherlyn, and as I’ve journeyed through life with people who were suffering and even dying – people who pointed me toward the “signs” of God’s presence in the world when life isn’t perfect. I’ve come to know Jesus because people, throughout all of my life, have invested their time and energy in me. And, because of that, I’ve seen a lot of “signs.” Didn’t St. Paul once write that faith always comes from outside of us (Romans 10:17)?
And that’s why your investment in the ministry of the Church is so important.

I may have never heard about Jesus if Mrs. Pfeifer hadn’t volunteered to teach Sunday School every Sunday morning, and if other people hadn’t donated the money that she needed to buy the books that she used. I may have never become a pastor if the faithful members of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Beaver Falls, PA hadn’t financially supported the ministry of Pastor Joel Nafuma – the man who helped me to pull the pieces together when God first began to call me into ordained ministry. When we faithfully invest our time and energy and money in Christian ministry, we can be people who create “signs” that point people to Jesus. In fact, when we invest in the ministry of a local congregation (or in the ministry of the Church in a broader way), we can open windows to Heaven and point people toward Jesus – the “Bread of Life” – who comes into the world to nourish us, to sustain us, to forgive us, and to lift us up both strengthened and renewed.
“If you’re looking for a sign, this is it!”

Perhaps, God is using these words to challenge you to think about the ways that God can use YOU to do the types of ministry that open the windows of Heaven for other people? Perhaps, God is using these words to remind you that the time, energy and money that YOU invest in the ministry of a local congregation (and in the Church as a whole) has the power to help other people to discover the “Bread of Life.” Perhaps, God is using these words to remind you that, as YOU join hands with other Christians in ministry, God can use whatever you offer to change people’s lives and alter their destinies?

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!

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.