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Archive for November, 2014

When Did We Do That?

I was hungry and you gave me food to eat.  I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.  I was a stranger and you welcomed me.  I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear.  I was sick and you took care of me.  I was in prison and you visited me.”  Matthew 25:55-56 (CEB)

Have you ever had someone tell you that something you said or did made a big difference to them – had an impact on them?  An then you couldn’t even remember it?  I have.  It takes you by surprise.  You had no idea.  Wow!  It’s hard to decide whether to be embarrassed because you couldn’t remember it, didn’t realize it, or are getting the compliment!

Yet, those who strive to live their faith in the world often don’t even know that they have made a difference because they are following their hearts, their belief in the teachings and example of Jesus, and just being who God intends for them to be.  Of course, none of us can do this consistently – except for Jesus, of course.

Most of the time, making a difference is about paying attention to the needs of others.  Everyone’s gifts can be used in different ways.  Not everyone can be like Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, or Martin Luther King, Jr.  In fact, most of us aren’t able to do what they did, but we can be grateful that they were able to answer their call to ministry in the ways they did because it had an impact on our lives.

Our calling may be much simpler such as regularly calling a friend whose loved one died.  (Don’t forget that their grieving doesn’t stop after a month or even a year!  They need support for the long haul!)  We might feel a nudge to go visit someone who is homebound, in the hospital, going through a tough time, or who is lonely.  Prison ministry isn’t something we all can do, at least not in the prisons with bars and guards, but how many people feel imprisoned by other things:  abuse, neglect, isolation, bullying, or anything else that keeps them afraid or hidden from others?

Giving to reputable charitable organizations year round is helpful, as well as volunteering to work at soup kitchens, clothing give-away’s, or any other event that helps others.  There is so much out there that offers an opportunity for us to give of ourselves and our talents.

“Doing” or “action” are products of our faith; they are a natural outgrowth of living our faith in the world.  We can’t earn our way into heaven, but acting in the ways Jesus has taught us to act witnesses our faith to others.  We offer our time, talent, and treasure to build the kingdom of God right here on earth.

Recently, one of my husband’s co-workers went through a really hard time because of medical issues with his only child.  He was struggling to make ends meet, and my husband (who has a huge and generous heart) helped him with a few things.  When was telling me about the situation, I was able to use some of the resources from one of the churches I serve to help him with gas and food.  He keeps thinking he has to pay us back, but we just tell him to pay it forward.  We don’t expect repayment because this is part of what we do as people of faith.

The next time someone tells you that you did something that made an impact on them and wonder when it was or what you had done, give a prayer of thanks for the ways God can work through us as we try to live faithfully in this world.  Even the smallest gesture can have a great impact on others and help to make this world a better place.

Investing for God

The kingdom of heaven is like a man who was leaving on a trip.  He called his servants and handed his possessions over to them.  To one he gave five valuable coins, and to another he gave two, and to another he gave one.  He gave to each servant according to that servant’s ability.  Then he left on his journey.”  Matthew 25:14-15 (NRSV)

This parable inspired me to think about a great stock market in heaven where we are all trying to invest in a piece of God’s kingdom.  The twist is that it is God who has given us the money or gifts or talents to invest.  We invest for God.  I wonder if that would help us think a little differently about the ways we use our time, talent, and treasure.

Thinking about the ways we are good stewards of what God has given us helps us to remember that it really is God who gives them to us.  All that we have is from God, and, in turn, God asks us to give back the best of them to glorify God’s name.  Putting God first and taking the responsibility for having return on our investments means that we are using our gifts and talents to the best of our ability.

I’m not sure I would compare the owner in this parable to God since he was also described by the servant with only one coin as hard and even dishonest.  Maybe the point really isn’t about the owner as much as it is about the servants and how they took care of what they had been entrusted with.  The first two doubled their investments so the owner gave them more responsibility.  The servant who had one coin (or talent as some translations read) buried his treasure and didn’t use it.  At least the owner received back the original investment, but he wasn’t happy with the way the servant had handled his money.

If this parable is about how we are asked to care for God’s world, then we should take notice about how we build that kingdom here on earth.  We can’t build it by hiding or burying our gifts and talents – not using them.  It is only by sharing of our time, talents, and treasures that we are able to work for Christ in this world.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, is credited with having said, “Make all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.”  It makes sense.  We work honestly to make a living so we can care for ourselves and our families.  Whatever we can save that will help us get through emergencies or financial challenges is good – it’s good to have a “nest egg” if we can do it.  Giving all we can means that we don’t forget those who are needy, and we continue to work to help them in whatever ways we are able.

Sharing our time, talent, and treasure to glorify God means that we are using the gifts God has given us, and that we are investing our lives for God to make this world a better place.  It doesn’t get any better than that!

Be Prepared

Therefore, keep alert, because you don’t know the day or the hour.”  Matthew 25:13 (NRSV)

Jesus told the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids who waited for the bridegroom to arrive at the wedding.  Five of them came with extra oil and the other five had only the oil in their lamps.  When they heard the announcement that the bridegroom had arrived, the five with the oil were prepared, but the five without extra oil had to go buy more.

This reminded me of my childhood years in Girl Scouts when we had the motto “Be Prepared.”  There are times, as a pastor, that I totally understand how important it is to think ahead and be prepared for anything that comes along.  Like the Girl Scouts (and the Boy Scout, too), being prepared means that we won’t get caught without supplies, resources, or other things that we really need when something comes along to change our course.

Life would be so much easier if we could just have plans in place to prepare ourselves for the twists and turns we are handed!  But life isn’t like that.  We may have carefully laid out our plans and everything is in place when we receive a phone call that throws us into a whole new set of unplanned events.  Or we may receive a diagnosis of an illness that leaves us uncertain of our future or having to make new plans.

I think of my mom as we approach the one year anniversary of her death this coming February.  She never would have anticipated having Alzheimer’s Disease or going into a nursing facility.  Her vision and hope for her future would have been to live longer and enjoy many more years with my dad.  Dad always figure that he would die before Mom, but it didn’t work out that way.

Yet, even in her lack of ability to comprehend or even put full sentences together toward the end of her life, my Mom WAS prepared because she had spent her life worshiping God and believing in her Savior whom she knew would take her to her heavenly home some day.  There was never doubt about that for Mom – another of the many gifts she gave me in her witness to her faith.

Living every day as if it is your last is hard to do, but that is what I think Jesus is trying to get across to us in this parable (at least one of the ideas about which he is talking).  We just don’t know when a loved one will suddenly die or be struck down with a devastating illness; we don’t know when WE will meet our Maker face to face.  Being prepared and living our lives without regrets means valuing others and ourselves by letting them know every day how much we care about them and love them.  It means taking care of ourselves, witnessing to our faith, seeing the face of Christ on others, and bringing the love of God to the world wherever our world may be.

Be prepared – we don’t know the day or the hour.  Be prepared!

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