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Archive for June, 2015

To Tithe or Not to Tithe

A gift is appreciated because of what a person can afford, not because of what that person can’t afford, if it’s apparent that it’s done willingly.”  2 Corinthians 8:7-15 (CEB)

When I began tithing to  my church, it was quite by accident.  I changed jobs in the middle of the year and took a large pay cut, so I had to consider whether or not I could give what I had pledged (which obviously wasn’t a tithe on my previous salary!).

After much consideration and prayer, I decided to leave my pledge as it was and give that amount to the church every week.  Much to my surprise, I was tithing and didn’t have any “ill affects” from giving that amount.  It taught me a lot about my attitude toward giving.

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians addresses giving happily or grudgingly.  He reminds the congregation in Corinth that their giving isn’t about straining to give but about giving what they can afford to give.  In addition, he reminds them that they need to give willingly, not with resentment.

A gift given resentfully is not really a gift, is it?  God doesn’t want our begrudging offerings.  Those come from a place of resentment.  However, when someone is being practical and giving what they can give, the gifts take on more meaning for the person giving them.

After I realized that I was actually tithing, I was so happy.  In many ways, I had been afraid to tithe because I thought for sure I wouldn’t have enough money for living expenses, and there have been times in my life when I have had to scale back on my giving because of an unexpected expense or hardship.  However, I always have tried to tithe to the best of my ability.

I do it because I know I have it to share with others who have little, and I know that it helps the church to continue in mission and ministry.  Not everyone can tithe 10%, so it’s good to stop and really ask ourselves and God what we can give.  Maybe we’ll discover that we are giving what we can afford because we gave up something we really didn’t need.  Who knows!

What do you give to support mission and ministry?

How is your heart when you give?

Have you found joy in giving?

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Who is this, anyway?

“Overcome with awe, they said to each other, ‘Who then is this?  Even the wind and the sea obey him!'” Mark 4:41 (CEB)

Jesus and the disciples are in the process of sailing across the Sea of Galilee when a storm whips up.  Jesus, seemingly uncaring, is asleep at the back of the boat and proceeds to sleep right through the storm.  The disciples, on the other hand, start to panic and begin to become irritated with him.  How could he ignore this situation!  What does he think he is doing!  We are going to drown, and Jesus doesn’t even care!

Hey – I’ve been in that kind of boat before, not literally, but certainly in the boat of life.  There are times when I have let my trust in God’s ability to get me through the storms of life go right down the drain.  I think have to handle all this stress and pressure by myself or wallow in grief without asking for support or struggle with the challenges of life without keeping my foundation in tact.  It’s so easy to let go of that anchor and think that we are in this all by ourselves.

When Jesus is awakened by the terrified disciples, he stands and commands the wind and rain to stop, and it does.  Then THEY are amazed!  How interesting that they have already witnessed his healings and miracles, and yet they ask, “Who is this, anyway?”  The writer of Mark continually points out the disciples’ lack of understanding and comprehension.  Repeatedly, they need to be reminded that Jesus is no ordinary person, but one who brings the very presence of God into the world.

We really go through those times, too.  Come on, admit it, you know you have!  It’s unavoidable!  We are, after all human!  We do, after all, have our doubts and fears.  We will, after all, struggle at times to trust the presence of God, especially in the lowest or most fearful of times.

What might be helpful would be to write down the “hindsight” we can take with us when we look back at a situation and recognize God’s presence in it even though we weren’t aware.  How did we get through it?  Who did God send to be our companions on the journey?  In what ways do we recognize God’s hand helping hold us up in the middle of the storm.  Did our boat sink?  Probably not if we are reading this!

Many of us can think of times when our parents were there for us, helping us through a crisis or difficult time.  With this Sunday being Father’s Day, it’s helpful to think of our father’s or those who were father-figures in our lives who were there for us in those times of need and uncertainty.

When I was growing up, my dad worked very hard to support our family of six.  My mom was a stay at home mom who worked hard, managed the budget (such as it was), and could make a meal out of almost nothing.  Dad appreciated her abilities, and he was there for us whenever he could be.  He rarely missed a concert or school celebration, and his big insistence was that we all sit down together to have our evening meal at the same time.  School activities, homework, or play all waited until we sat around our family table, said the blessing, ate and shared conversation, and helped clear the table.

I have carried that desire with me even to this day, many years later.  It was a wonderful example of holding us together as a family and helping us connect.  Truthfully, as adults my three siblings and I have sometimes felt far apart, even though three of them live within half an hour’s drive from each other (I’m the only stray living 1500 miles from home).  Yet, when Mom went into the nursing home with Alzheimer’s Disease, we came together, communicated better, and all pitched in to help Dad as he tried to cope with Mom’s gradual fading away and eventually living without her.

Dad, in spite of working a lot when we were kids, was still there for us, and we in turn have been able to be there for him.  He went through the storm of Mom’s illness and death, and we were able to be his companions on the journey.  None of us doubted the presence of Christ in the storm.  We were there for each other.  Even in the howling winds and rain of tears in our grief, we could be together because from the very beginning, God was the glue that held us together and brought us back together.  We need not be afraid even though it might seem like Jesus is asleep in the boat.  He is there.

Being Acceptable to God

We live by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, and we would prefer to leave the body and to be at home with the Lord.  So our goal is to be acceptable to him, whether we are at home or away from home.”  2 Corinthians 5:7-9 (CEB)

Every summer I challenge myself to preach on a scripture passage that I normally wouldn’t choose.  Most of the time, I preach on the gospels, and many summers I have chosen the Old Testament lectionary passages.  Many summers have passed since I started as a pastor, and this particular summer of 2015, I have challenged myself – finally – to preach from the epistles.  Oh, I’ve preached from them other times, but I’ve never spent the majority of the summer focusing on them.  Let me say, it definitely is a challenge for me!  And yet, it is also proving to be a blessing as I read, meditate, read commentaries, pray, and seek the message God wants me to share.

Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church are pastoral as well as a call to them to be accountable for the ways in which they live out their faith.  This was a struggling church that had been divided by a number of factions, some having loyalty to one pastor and some to others.  Many had questioned Paul’s authority in spite of the fact that he was their “founding father.”

In this passage from 2 Corinthians, I was struck particularly by the phrase in the Common English Bible “. . . our goal is to be acceptable to God . . .”  What makes us acceptable?  Is it “being good?”  Is it following Jesus’ teachings in exemplary ways?  Does it mean we have to be model Christians? Are we supposed to be perfect?  I don’t think Paul is saying that; rather, he reminds them later in verse 13 that what we do, we do for God’s sake.  In other words, we do our best, and we point to God – we glorify God in what we do.

When we choose to follow Christ, we shed the old sinful nature and take on new life in him.  As humans, we continue to sin, but we can have confidence in the grace of God, and the forgiveness we have because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus who carried our sins for us and opened the doors to reconciliation and new life with God.  Our human bodies are only temporary housing for us, so we are called to live life productively, sharing the love of God with others through offering forgiveness, grace, mercy, compassion, and care in our relationships – all of them.

And we can rejoice in the knowledge that when our old nature – our human nature – fades away and dies, we continue to wholeness and a new body, a new home in heaven with God.  We live in the now here on earth with the promise of life beyond this world with God.  We are acceptable to God because God loves us enough to die for us and give us eternal life.  There is always hope.  There is always a new beginning.  There is always forgiveness.  There is always God’s grace.  There is always God’s love.

We don’t earn it – it is a gift!  We are called to share it.  That is our gift to all God’s children, and that is our gift to God.  Being who we are called to be to the best of our ability is acceptable – and then some – to God!  Thanks be to God!

Living in Tents

“We know that if the tent that we live in on earth is torn down, we have a building from God.  It’s a house that isn’t handmade, which is eternal and located in heaven.” (2 Corinthians 5:1 CEB)

I have mixed feelings about Paul’s words to the church in Corinth.  Part of me wants to think of this much more temporally than necessary.  As someone who has struggled with being overweight throughout my adult life, there is a certain amount of reassurance in thinking that this body is temporary, and if it is “torn down” I’ll have a new body in heaven.  Of course, that doesn’t make me anxious to get to heaven any faster since I feel like I still have a lot left to live here on this earth!

Yet, the other part of me knows that this body is God’s gift to me, and I need to be a good steward of it by eating healthy, getting exercise, and living so that I honor it.  I have probably lost a thousand pounds over the course of my life so far, and each time I would put the weight back on and then some.  Fortunately, at this point in my life, I’m keeping the last batch of weight off fairly well, and even though I still have some to lose, I’m feeling pretty good about the maintenance.

I realize that my thoughts usually go to my weight when it comes to taking care of “my tent” but I think Paul’s letter is far more than just being healthy; in fact, it’s way beyond that.  When we read the passages around this particular one, we find reassurance of God’s presence and grace.  We find a reminder that we are raised with Christ into life, both in the present as well as in the future.  We find a reminder that we aren’t alone on this earthly journey, that God is with us in many different aspects of our lives and has sent companions to be with us on the journey.

We don’t have to be depressed or oppressed in spirit because “God has our back”!  I remember telling the children on the Sunday after the terrorist attacks in the U.S. that we as adults would do all that we can to protect them.  We can’t be everywhere, but we would work to try to keep them safe.  But no matter what happens to us physically, God has our souls, and no one can take that away from us.  God is with them in EVERYTHING, and we will be with God through eternity.

It’s hard for us even as adults to understand that, but I believe the message that Paul gives us through this letter is a reminder that we really are covered by God’s loving arms.  No matter what happens to us, whether illness, accidents, violence, physical challenges, or whatever it is, God really does “have our back.”  The more we practice believing that, the more we will be able to live it.

When have you recognized God’s presence during times of challenge?

How can you keep claiming and remembering that God’s presence is ALWAYS there?

In what ways will you practice your faith so that others can see that assurance and comfort in you?

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