Stewardship, via Paul

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S (Scripture): Romans 15:24 I’ll visit you when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while I’m passing through. And I hope you will send me on my way there, after I have first been reenergized by some time in your company.

25 But now I’m going to Jerusalem, to serve God’s people. 26 Macedonia and Achaia have been happy to make a contribution for the poor among God’s people in Jerusalem. 27 They were happy to do this, and they are actually in debt to God’s people in Jerusalem. If the Gentiles got a share of the Jewish people’s spiritual resources, they ought to minister to them with material resources. 28 So then after I have finished this job and have safely delivered the final amount of the Gentiles’ offering to them, I will leave for Spain, visiting you on the way.

O (Observation): Paul is continuing his way to Spain, but first, a stop along the way…to Jerusalem. He wishes to drop off an offering made to the Jewish Christians by Gentile Christians living in Macedonia and Achaia. Paul recognizes that all Gentile Christians are indebted to Jewish Christians (from a spiritual perspective). Without the Jewish people, Christians (especially those who were Gentiles) would still not have a home. They are the branch grafted into the tree.

So, a material offering after receiving a spiritual one.

A (Application): Offering is an essential element to one’s faith development. We receive spiritual blessing when we give and when we receive. The hurdles we have to jump over, however, can be quite daunting.

Debt – I have debt. How can I give? Carefully, that’s how. I know debt. We are still working our way out of debt, personally. It means we choose not to have too much luxury, yet still give 10% of our funds away. The blessings come back. Not in the form of a nice car, but in the peace of knowing that God provides for me and my family.

I have no money at the end of the month – God certainly doesn’t wish for us to be broke. That’s why each is called to give a portion, not a set amount. As you begin to give a portion week after week, month after month, you will notice a strange thing. You made it through the month. But this means you prioritize giving at the beginning of your budget, not “if we have any left over” at the end of the month. Try it. Just for a month. Set aside some percentage. Declare to yourself or spouse or kids: we will give X% this month, and see how it goes by the end of the month. This practice might even help you to start looking at saving some money each month, too!

I want what I give to apply to me – The folks in Macedonia and Achaia gave because the church in Jerusalem needed help. They knew they wouldn’t see direct effects from those gifts. Yet they gave anyway. When we give to God through church offerings, we apply that to the entire ministry of the congregation. The dollar you give may affect youth, publications, maintenance on the building, and more. You will definitely see some impact, but think in terms of ministries being worked on through the congregation, not just return for ministries centered around you. In the end, you will see blessing and God’s abundance.

Consider your gifts. Time and talents are noteworthy stewardship gifts. So is the treasure God has entrusted into your care. The amounts given are not what is vital; rather, your struggle with how much to give is the crucible in which faith can be formed.

P (Prayer): Lord, teach us to give and to receive. Amen.

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God – not Guns – Will Save Us

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S (Scripture): Psalm 46

1

God is our refuge and strength,

    a help always near in times of great trouble.

That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart,

    when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea,

    when its waters roar and rage,

    when the mountains shake because of its surging waves. Selah

There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city,

    the holiest dwelling of the Most High.

God is in that city. It will never crumble.

    God will help it when morning dawns.

Nations roar; kingdoms crumble.

    God utters his voice; the earth melts.

The Lord of heavenly forces is with us!

    The God of Jacob is our place of safety. Selah

Come, see the Lord’s deeds,

    what devastation he has imposed on the earth—

    bringing wars to an end in every corner of the world,

    breaking the bow and shattering the spear,

        burning chariots with fire.

10 

“That’s enough! Now know that I am God!

    I am exalted among all nations; I am exalted throughout the world!”

11 

The Lord of heavenly forces is with us!

    The God of Jacob is our place of safety. Selah

O (Observation): Images of chaos and insecurity are all around the psalmist. Yet something brings safety and comfort:

God is our refuge and strength,

    a help always near in times of great trouble.

Whether the seas are rising, the mountains around us are crumbling, or we are under threat of attack, God has spoken, is speaking, and will speak.

Which God, you ask? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The one who claims us, the one who makes war to cease.

Our God is our Mighty Fortress.

A (Application): If you are familiar with Lutheran hymnody, you will no doubt recognize the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” which I jokingly refer to as “The Lutheran National Anthem.” I don’t denigrate the song. It is beautiful and a good reflection of Psalm 46, which Martin Luther May have used as inspiration for the nature of this hymn.

Many images from scripture are present in this hymn, but as I focus on this psalm this morning, I am reminded of the power of God over evil, ultimately.

We see historically black churches burned just recently this year (2019), all in one Louisiana parish. We have seen attacks on mosques and synagogues, active shooter situations at concerts and schools. These are the waters rising around us. Chaos pursuing us.

What do we do?

Many believe the solution is more violence, more guns. Yet this seems counter to the message of Christ.

Our God will equip us and give us what we need, ultimately. I don’t know that path, nor the means by which this will take place. But violence begets violence. This is hard to reconcile. I don’t want innocent people to be hurt, so I want to see security. Maybe that is part of the solution, but the biggest role my faith has in my life is that I will not fear. We can prepare for the worst, but I will not…I refuse to live in fear.

My God is the one who speaks and the nations melt. I will trust in God, not just guns.

I will trust that God will work in and through leaders and those trapped by evil to help the good come out of our humanity. It will be God, not guns that save us.

P (Prayer): Lord, clear our hearts and minds to make us new, to make us whole. Amen.

Conversation, Not Judgment

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S (Scripture): Romans 14:13 So stop judging each other. Instead, this is what you should decide: never put a stumbling block or obstacle in the way of your brother or sister. 14 I know and I’m convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is wrong to eat in itself. But if someone thinks something is wrong to eat, it becomes wrong for that person. 15 If your brother or sister is upset by your food, you are no longer walking in love. Don’t let your food destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 And don’t let something you consider to be good be criticized as wrong. 17 God’s kingdom isn’t about eating food and drinking but about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever serves Christ this way pleases God and gets human approval.

O (Observation): Paul encourages Christ-followers who have different opinions about customs to NOT let the customs get in the way of growing the community of faith. He’s not saying one should become a doormat and let other’s opinions reign…you can defend your position. And in that conversation go the way that brings peace, joy, and righteousness.

A (Application): So…don’t judge someone. Get to know why they are doing what they are doing. Hopefully, the conversation will be one in which both parties can understand the other party’s view-point. Ultimately, peace, joy, and righteousness need to be the markers against which our actions and thoughts are measured, not just our feelings or passion.

In Christ, we have one who guides us by example. In the Spirit, we have a companion to go with us to help us make these conversations happen.

P (Prayer): Spirit, guide us into the way of peace, joy, righteousness. Amen.

Leading with Love

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S (Scripture): Romans 13:8 Don’t be in debt to anyone, except for the obligation to love each other. Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law. 9 The commandments, Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t desire what others have, and any other commandments, are all summed up in one word: You must love your neighbor as yourself.10 Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is what fulfills the Law.

O (Observation): Paul encourages all followers of Christ to do the best they can to cooperate with governmental authorities and with one another. Here, Paul shows them the way forward, which was taught by Jesus: Love your neighbor as yourself.

In this simple (yet somehow extremely complicated and difficult) command, we find a way forward. Love is what fulfills the Law. Leading with love can guide one’s relationship with authorities and with one’s neighbor.

A (Application): Leading with Love is the key to relationships with authorities, with family, with strangers.

Yet leading with love can be quite challenging. For our emotions and feelings and desire for retribution can get in the way. If we think someone has wronged us, do we forget that? No…but we can work though that. Love allows us the space to work through the wrongs done to us.

So sometimes leading with love is simply about extending the grace first shown to you in Christ Jesus, so that others can receive the same grace you’ve received. You are not digging up grace on your own…you are simply giving to others what you have already received.

Lead with love. At the coffee shop, the gas station, your office, your classroom, the lunchroom, the park. Lead with love, and see if it becomes contagious. And don’t be surprised when someone asks you where you became a person that leads with love. Be ready to share your response : )

(Seriously. Literally rehearse what you are going to say. Sometimes we have to verbalize or write down our faith story to put it in perspective. It’s a good practice.)

P (Prayer): Lord, we receive your grace, unworthy as we are. You find a way to love each of us, for we are your creation. Thank you. Amen.

Living Sacrifices

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S (Scripture): Romans 12:1 So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. 2 Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.

O (Observation): Whether one subscribed to giving sacrifices to God – or not – one is now called upon to give one’s own life as a sacrifice…a LIVING sacrifice. Every action taken is to give thanks to God. Just like a sacrifice would be used.

This changes what we do. Our minds – transformed through renewal (God’s doing?) – affect our actions. It’s a repeat of “repent and believe.” That phrase starts with God’s people having their minds renewed, which leads to living into a new belief: that God’s people are one in Christ Jesus.

A (Application): How many of us love as if we are living sacrifices? Are we a pleasing gift to the Lord? I have my days and moments when I can say boldly and confidently, “Yes!” Equally, I can find days and moments when I hide in shame.

We all do. We have these moments where God’s Spirit shines brightly through us, and then we don’t.

So, we live lives seeking to be healed and to seek forgiveness from one another. This reminds us of our humility. Out of our humility, we come to God, broken and weak. And we are renewed as we remember the waters of baptism flowing over us…as we remember that we are part of something bigger (the body of Christ).

May we see that our lives are not our own, but God’s gift to the world. May we live into these roles of living sacrifices, for the sake of the world.

P (Prayer): Lord, protect us and heals and make us whole. Amen.

Where is God in the Good & Bad?

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S (Scripture): Job 4:4 

Your words have raised up the falling;

    you’ve steadied failing knees.

But now it comes to you, and you are dismayed;

    it has struck you, and you are frightened.

Isn’t your religion the source of your confidence;

    the integrity of your conduct, the source of your hope?

Think! What innocent person has ever perished?

    When have those who do the right thing been destroyed?

As I’ve observed, those who plow sin

    and sow trouble will harvest it.

When God breathes deeply, they perish;

    by a breath of his nostril they are annihilated.

O (Observation): Eliphaz is one of Job’s friends. He is trying to speak from a perspective of logic to help explain to Job the reason for what is going on. At this point, Job’s livestock and family have been killed. Job himself has had boils / lesions all over his body. Job is in mourning.

Eliphaz reminds Job that Job’s faith has been a witness to many who have suffered loss. And yet, Eliphaz is confused to see that Job has not taken on his own council for himself.

To explain things, Eliphaz conflates some ideas in a less than helpful manner. He thinks bad things only happen to sinners. He can’t see bad things happening to good people. Job is good. But bad things around him have happened. Therefore (according to Eliphaz) something bad must have been going on.

A (Application): Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. We see it all the time. And we get upset or jealous.

We think God should reward us for the good we do, and correct us when we do bad. This is kind of how most of us raise our kids. Reward the good. Punish the bad.

Perhaps we can think in this way: God doesn’t tempt or taunt or expose us. God meets us where we are and doesn’t control us or our actions. Instead, God gives us grace and the space to do what we will with that grace.

Sometimes that grace is exactly what we will need when our world comes crashing down around us. And when we have something go right in our lives, we can rejoice in that moment.

P (Prayer): God, help us to sense your presence in our lives in the good and the bad. Amen.

Who Am I?

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S (Scripture): Romans 11:16 But if part of a batch of dough is offered to God as holy, the whole batch of dough is holy too. If a root is holy, the branches will be holy too. 17 If some of the branches were broken off, and you were a wild olive branch, and you were grafted in among the other branches and shared the root that produces the rich oil of the olive tree, 18 then don’t brag like you’re better than the other branches. If you do brag, be careful: it’s not you that sustains the root, but it’s the root that sustains you.

O (Observation): Paul speaks to Gentile Christians in a way that assured them that they, too (in addition to the Jewish Christians), received salvation in full. Any who believe in Christ are saved.

At the same time, they should not boast of their salvation as if they earned it for themselves. They are a branch grafted into salvation. The root sustains the branch.

A (Application): How many of us think we sustain ourselves? Don’t we just need to dig down deep inside ourselves to feel happy? To feel like we are enough?

I struggle with self-worth. To what is my identity tied?

Here are some suggestions of the “root” that Paul mentions…which point to my (and your) self-worth:

  • Child of God
  • Seal of the Holy Spirit on my forehead in my baptism.
  • Candle to remind me to shine God’s light before others
  • Luke 15 – the older brother (“everything I have is yours”)

In what ways do you sense your identity for the good?

P (Prayer): God, remind me that I am yours…and that is enough…for you are Good! Amen.