Stewardship is FAITH FORMING

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 16:1 Concerning the collection of money for God’s people: You should do what I have directed the churches in Galatia to do. 2 On the first day of the week, each of you should set aside whatever you can afford from what you earn so that the collection won’t be delayed until I come. 3 Then when I get there, I’ll send whomever you approve to Jerusalem with letters of recommendation to bring your gift. 4 If it seems right for me to go too, they’ll travel with me.

O (Observation): As Paul continues to make his missionary travels, he is sure to help the churches care for one another. This looked practically like collecting the offering in Corinth to financially support the church in Jerusalem. So he told the church in Corinth to do what he told the church in Galatia to do: gather a weekly collection of financial gifts so that Paul might share those gifts with the other churches he serves.

But why? Shouldn’t they fund their own ministries? Well, ideally, yes. But sometimes the act of letting go of money to help another cause is a great reward…for it lays the ground work to increase one’s faith.

A (Application): What do we do with our offering? Good question! In a congregation, most of the money covers the staff salaries. After that, it depends.

Utilities and maintenance usually get the next biggest chunk.

But don’t let that be discouraging.

For what are the staff doing? Preaching, teaching, leading youth, leading music in worship, leading faith formation events, reaching out to neighbors and building relationships, visiting the sick, coordinating staff duties, overseeing stewardship practices, making more disciples, and much, much more, all in the name of Jesus Christ!

Where does this happen? Much of it happens in the facility owned by the congregation. Worship, youth group, bible study, communications, Sunday School.

Outside groups may also make use of the church’s building.

The rest of the budget supports the ministries we provide. Materials for faith formation, mostly.

But then another chunk is designated for what some churches call “missions.” Since the congregation I serve is part of the ELCA (ELCA.org), we give to “Mission Support.” That money (8% of our regular offering, in our case), is sent to the ELCA. The ELCA uses these funds to organize worship and learning resources, leadership development, missionaries around the globe and in the U.S., and much more.

Letting go is the hardest part. As individuals, we consume SO MUCH! And we typically give at the end of the month, instead of at the beginning! If we always wait, we will NEVER have enough to give. Yet if we give on the front end, we will be amazed at the fact that we will have enough at the end.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us peace in regards to our finances. Amen.

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Of the People

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 9:19 Although I’m free from all people, I make myself a slave to all people, to recruit more of them. 20 I act like a Jew to the Jews, so I can recruit Jews. I act like I’m under the Law to those under the Law, so I can recruit those who are under the Law (though I myself am not under the Law). 21 I act like I’m outside the Law to those who are outside the Law, so I can recruit those outside the Law (though I’m not outside the law of God but rather under the law of Christ). 22 I act weak to the weak, so I can recruit the weak. I have become all things to all people, so I could save some by all possible means. 23 All the things I do are for the sake of the gospel, so I can be a partner with it.

24 Don’t you know that all the runners in the stadium run, but only one gets the prize?

O (Observation): Paul talks about his approach to ministry. He adapts to the culture and the people’s practices. He doesn’t forget his identity in Christ, but he lives as a servant of Christ, always.

A (Application): St. Patrick was lauded for his approach to mission. He entered Ireland a second time (first as a slave, second, as a bishop). As bishop to Ireland, St. Patrick chose to appreciate each different clan and their dialect as a unique gift. He never made them learn Latin, nor follow all of the practices he picked up in Europe, in his seminary studies.

Patrick loved the people and appreciated them. He never forced his ways, yet still proclaimed the Gospel.

In what ways do we obscure the Gospel? When do we cover it up? When do we let it shine?

P (Prayer): Lord, helps us to shine your light on the world this day. Amen.

The One Thing ☝🏼

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S (Scripture): Acts 20:21 You know I have testified to both Jews and Greeks that they must change their hearts and lives as they turn to God and have faith in our Lord Jesus. 22 Now, compelled by the Spirit, I’m going to Jerusalem. I don’t know what will happen to me there. 23 What I do know is that the Holy Spirit testifies to me from city to city that prisons and troubles await me. 24 But nothing, not even my life, is more important than my completing my mission. This is nothing other than the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus: to testify about the good news of God’s grace.

O (Observation): Paul knows the one thing that is most important, above all else:

To testify about the good news of God’s grace.

He knows that dangers lie ahead, and he testifies anyway. He testifies to both Jews and Greeks. And he does all of this based on his call to serve God.

Regardless of the danger that might befall him, Paul carries on.

A (Application): Ever seen City Slickers? You know, the movie with Billy Crystal and Jack Palance. Palance plays a rough and tough cowboy named Curly.

Curly keeps telling the city slickers that the most important thing was this: then he would hold up his hand in a fist and point his index finger skyward. He would say: “the one thing.” The one thing was the most important thing. The problem is, he doesn’t tell anyone what that ONE thing is.

The idea was that we all have “one thing” that is the most important thing in the world for each of us. And no one can tell you what your one thing is. Curly didn’t tell the city slickers what that one thing is for them, because they each had to discern that for themselves.

How about you? What is your one thing? We know what Paul’s was.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to clarify our “one thing” that you have called us to. Amen.

Bonus: YouTube clip of the “one thing” conversation. (Disclaimer: foul language).

A Time Apart

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S (Scripture): Mark 1:35 Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. 36 Simon and those with him tracked him down. 37 When they found him, they told him, “Everyone’s looking for you!”

38 He replied, “Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.” 39 He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and throwing out demons.

O (Observation): Jesus knew the value of connecting with God. Without his time away, how was Jesus to know the will of the Father?

After spending time with God, Jesus was expected to go back to the healing ministry he left the night before. But instead – assuming he got clarity from God – Jesus says it’s time to move on to the nearby villages.

Jesus received clarity of God’s mission after spending time apart.

A (Application): When was the last time you spent time apart? Did you experience this during worship? On a hike? In solitude?

Being intentional about time away – writing these devotions – is a way for me to get clarity from God about what God’s Word is saying to me today.

I invite you to follow this blog / subscribe to it, if you find it a helpful (or even a challenging) respite. How can you sense God’s presence? Through reading? Music? Quiet?

Find that time apart. Embrace it. Seek clarity for your role in God’s mission in the world.

P (Prayer): Lord, we pray that you might illumine our pathways. Amen.

Quit Arguing, Y’all!

Photo credit here (along with some other good quotes about arguing)

S (Scripture): Matthew 12:14 The Pharisees went out and met in order to find a way to destroy Jesus.

15 Jesus knew what they intended to do, so he went away from there. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them all. 16 But he ordered them not to spread the word about him, 17 so that what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled:

18 Look, my Servant whom I chose,
the one I love, in whom I find great pleasure.
I’ll put my Spirit upon him,
and he’ll announce judgment to the Gentiles.
19 He won’t argue or shout,
and nobody will hear his voice in the streets.
20 He won’t break a bent stalk,
and he won’t snuff out a smoldering wick,
until he makes justice win.
21 And the Gentiles will put their hope in his name.

O (Observation): Matthew is known as the Gospel that was most likely written to a Jewish audience. Matthew makes lots of references to the Hebrew Scriptures, helping to interpret the Scriptures to their rightful understanding.

Jesus was the hope for God’s people spoken of throughout the Scriptures of old, such as in the Isaiah text that Jesus quotes here. Jesus is trying to help the people make sense of why Jesus is going to the streets and not just the synagogues (though he goes there, too…it’s a both / and kinda thing). He is also trying to help them see that he is fulfilling the notion that he is not to be drawing by attention to himself by arguing and shouting in the streets.

In the end, Jesus is hope to the Gentiles. The Jews know their God and have salvation…but the Gentiles have nothing in which to hope. Jesus wants to change that. He believes God wants him to change that. So, Jesus brings healing…a foretaste of the feast to come.

A (Application): What strikes me today is the last couple of sentences I wrote in the section above. Obviously, the Scriptures are the beginning of that inspiration, but I believe those last few sentences I wrote help me to open up the purpose of Jesus’ life and ministry, and help me to know my part.

What is our mission? What was Jesus’ mission?

Jesus was not sent to argue or shout…he healed, he preached, he held dominion over demons…and he brought people to wholeness.

He is making justice win.

Jesus brings hope and inspires us to believe in God. For those who have nothing to believe in, consider Jesus as the way to know God. Consider that the Spirit (that love that exists between Jesus and God) is dwelling within us through faith, too! And with that indwelling Spirit, we, too, can heal and bring about peace and hope.

The insight for me today is that God doesn’t need us to argue about who is right (spiritually, theologically, etc.). We simply need to go and do the right things, bringing healing, hope, and forgiveness into the world.

P (Prayer): God, forgive me when I argue too much with you. Help me to be vulnerable to your gift of transforming love. Amen.

Provision

  

S (Scripture): Matthew 17:24
After they arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Your teacher pays the double drachma tax, doesn’t he?” 25 He said, “Yes.” When Peter came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do earthly kings collect tolls or taxes – from their sons or from foreigners?” 26 After he said, “From foreigners,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 But so that we don’t offend them, go to the lake and throw out a hook. Take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth, you will find a four drachma coin. Take that and give it to them for me and you.”

O (Observation):  At this point in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has been shown as God’s beloved on the mountaintop transfiguration.  He acknowledges that his destiny is to go, suffer, be killed, and be raised.  

Knowing that God will provide for him in life and death, Jesus passes on this sentiment to Peter, the one to whom Jesus is giving the keys of the Kingdom.   

The Temple Tax is to be paid by foreigners, but that would not apply to them as citizens.  Jesus says that a tax would please the collectors, even if it is not required.  

Jesus shows Peter that God will provide for such a thing as this.  Peter is to go fishing, and the first fish he brings in, he will find money for the temple tax for him and Jesus.   

God will provide. 

A (Application):  My wife and I have had many times in which the Lord has provided.   We have made it through the birth of three children. Owned 2 homes.  Graduated from 2 outstanding universities and 1 Lutheran seminary.  We have traveled a little bit.   We have not been hungry.  We have been treated well.  We have extremely supportive family. 

I hesitate to list these things, when so many have so little.   But then, if I don’t list them, I almost feel like I’m dishonoring God by not giving thanks.   So…this is my thanks.  

But the deeper issue is: what will I do about this?   What will I give?  What will I learn about my privileges that I enjoy?   What will I accomplish in a journey of solidarity with the poor?  Will my heart be ready to take the next step?

Have you asked these questions of yourself?  

Where is God calling you this day?

Do you have faith that God will provide?

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us not to let a lack of provision hold us back from mission and ministry.   Urge us onward!  Amen.  

Family on Mission

 
Click here for the Family on Mission book. This is a great resource for seeing how your household and/or group of fellow disciples are called to be on mission, by a loving and caring God.  

 S (Scripture): Matthew 10:7 As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near!’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.

17 Beware of people, because they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18 And you will be brought before governors and kings because of me, as a witness to them and the Gentiles. 19 Whenever they hand you over for trial, do not worry about how to speak or what to say, for what you should say will be given to you at that time. 20 For it is not you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

O (Observation):  Jesus sends the disciples out. He warns them of the dangers to come. The councils and synagogues refers to the Jewish religious authorities. The governors and kings refers to the civil and political authorities. Their judgment will come from inside the church and outside of it as well.

What will the disciples say in their defense? They have no prescribed words. Instead they’re given a promise: “the Spirit of your Father will speak through you.”

A (Application):   At some point our parents let us each go out into the world. We took different paths, my brothers and I. Thankfully our paths are still connected.

I wonder what that will be like for me and Kelly. Our oldest is only 12, but I’m already thinking about it.  

I hope our children will have the sense that they are being sent on their own missions. They and I will have to rely on faith, which means that the Spirit will be with them. We can encourage our children to know that God will see them through the trials and the celebrations that lay before them, and that the Spirit will be with them. 

Family on Mission.   

I hope that is our story.   

I hope that we always see ourselves as missionaries, not to proselytize, but to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in all of our words and actions. Sometimes it will be spoken word, and sometimes it will be done in silence. Sometimes it would be done in action, and sometimes it will be in the form of standing up for justice and truth.
Even if persecuted.  Even for those of other races and creeds. 

P (Prayer):  Lord, when we take dangerous steps for your sake, protect us as you always do.  Amen