Giving and Receiving

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 8:12 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. 13 It isn’t that we want others to have financial ease and you financial difficulties, but it’s a matter of equality. 14 At the present moment, your surplus can fill their deficit so that in the future their surplus can fill your deficit. In this way there is equality. 15 As it is written, The one who gathered more didn’t have too much, and the one who gathered less didn’t have too little. (Ex 16:18)

O (Observation): Paul was great about getting the churches to support one another in his time. He reminded them that giving was to be done joyfully, and not out of obligation alone.

The outward focus is key here. Giving finances away to a place where you actually couldn’t really oversee the expenses was a challenge for sure.

Also note that Paul is not wanting folks to live in poverty so that others can live a plush lifestyle. He does all of this for the sake of equality. That when they are in need the others might give to them and support them.

A (Application): Over the last two decades the trend has been for congregations to retain more money within our individual churches, but less to larger missions work or to the larger denominational bodies. Paul focuses on the outward giving as important!

The ELCA has experienced this trend to be true. More money staying at the local level of the congregation and the congregation doing more local mission work, too. The trend is a struggle, since money given to our synod (our four-state region of GA, AL, MS, and TN) supports our staff who then support our congregations (think redevelopments, congregational vitality training, mission starts, etc). And in our region, half of all monies that go to our synod passes through to the ELCA, which then supports our candidates for ministry and seminaries, our teaching and worship resources, our global missions, etc.

All of this occurs not so that some might be more poor and others might be more rich. We do this so that we can share and come close to attaining equality.

A good example is this: The 2019 entering class at my alma later (Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary) will have all tuition paid for!!!! (They still need to cover housing and food and such, but what a great blessing!). I didn’t have that luxury, but perhaps you can start to see what Paul saw. You give now, so that you can receive later.

The church that receives a candidate for pastor with little debt load might have an easier time calling that pastor. If that pastor had a huge debt load, that pastor might need to seek a larger church that has more margin for pay, or a church that could work out short-term loan assistance. You can see how the challenge perpetuates.

In all, Paul encourages us to give, with no restraint. Except this: be joyful in giving, and know that this is for equality…you will receive.

P (Prayer): Lord, you make us joyful givers. Help us to celebrate this. Amen.

Advertisements

Redemption and Renewal

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Psalm 69

34 

Let heaven and earth praise God,

    the oceans too, and all that moves within them!

35 

God will most certainly save Zion

    and will rebuild Judah’s cities

    so that God’s servants can live there and possess it.

36 

The offspring of God’s servants will inherit Zion,

    and those who love God’s name will dwell there.


2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. 8 We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. 9 We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.

10 We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies. 11 We who are alive are always being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies that are dying. 12 So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

16 So we aren’t depressed. But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day. 17 Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. 18 We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.

O (Observation): In the Old Testament and in the New…God is at the center of redemption and renewal. Life for the Israelites during the Babylonian captivity was full of despair and despondency. No one had hope of ever getting back to a state in which God was present and active. But the psalmist was that voice of hope for God’s people. A prophetic voice amidst the challenge. God’s people – the descendants of God’s people of the day – would know God’s power. This is the eternal promise of hope for every generation.

Paul also speaks specifically of a personal and yet collective hope. We are each experiencing the indwelling of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Even though our bodies and brains can only withstand so much in this world, our hope lies in what the body and brain cannot destroy: Christ’s dwelling within us.

A (Application): Though our bodies and brains may fail, our faith lives on. This gives us hope to carry on, no matter the challenges ahead.

As a pastor, I know I need this word today. I almost skipped the devotion today, because I had more of “God’s Work” to do this morning. But stopping and intentionally sitting today, digging into God’s word…this is precisely where I needed to be. (Yes, this is God’s Work, too ?And I hope this word inspires you today to figure out: What in me is dying? What is being reborn?

My confidence and effort were lacking of late. That is dying so that Christ might give me strength this day to do what is necessary to do the hard work of discipleship this day for me.

Happy digging!

P (Prayer): Lord, guide our efforts and sustain as we die a little each day, that Jesus might be born in us more this day and every day. Amen.

Missional Communities

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 16:19 The churches in the province of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you warmly in the Lord, together with the church that meets in their house. 20 All the brothers and sisters greet you. You in turn should greet each other with a holy kiss. 21 Here is my greeting in my own handwriting—Paul.

O (Observation): Paul’s letters – making up a large portion of the New Testament – are a treasure for us. These letters help us to catch a glimpse of the goodness of God. God’s Spirit flows through Paul, who goes on mission. God’s Spirit flows through Prisca and Aquila (and their whole household).

The household was the setting for the early church. Followers of Jesus were not worshipping in cathedrals or pews or temples. Instead, God was with them on their journeys and in their homes. The home would host 30-50 people. They would read what Scriptures they had. They would all share food and eat together…including bread and a cup of wine.

A (Application): More congregations are extending the Sunday conversations by having people meet in one another’s homes. There, they share personal stories, read Scripture, and rally around a mission (volunteer at a local school, work with a homeless shelter, connect with Muslim folks in our community).

The mission is the core identity marker, as God’s people serve in the community. Having the mission as the identity marker allows us to ensure that the group does NOT become just a club. Instead, the mission drives the community and the worship this community does.

And it can all be done from someone’s home.

Where relationships can be built, and hopefully, thrive.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us into mission work we can be proud of. Amen.

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.

Suffering With One Another

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 12:22 …the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary. 23 The parts of the body that we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most. The private parts of our body that aren’t presentable are the ones that are given the most dignity. 24 The parts of our body that are presentable don’t need this. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor 25 so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it.

O (Observation): As I have been sharing recently, Paul is talking to a church community he established, in which different members of the body of Christ are lifting themselves up over one another. Some are being given raised or lower status…which is NOT what Paul (or Jesus) stood for. Paul reminds his folks that if we compare the people who follow Jesus to a body, the lesser known parts are given raised status, not because they are better, but because they are unknown and hidden. Thus, we do elevate certain parts that need to be elevated. Not because they are better, but because we cannot tell their story without aiding them in their status.

The goal is that all would be recognized as important and of worth to God.

I see a parallel here to the Prodigal Son story. The elder son thought it unfair to have a feast for the prodigal son upon his return. But the feast wasn’t about the prodigal son deserving anything. Rather, that story is a story of God’s abundant grace. Paul also focuses on the grace for those who need it most. For the parts of the body that are visible and recognized, much like the elder son, are given recognition and a bountiful gift.

A (Application): Our society – in some parts – seems it more responsible to give aid to those who already have it and to ignore the plight of those who “don’t.” When it come to providing care for the downtrodden in our society, we would rather stand by the belief that our hard work and efforts are what should get us by. We don’t like “entitlements.”

Of course that word is a loaded word. It ends a conversation before it can get started.

I believe hard work is good for the soul : )

I also believe that every story matters. The stories of the downtrodden are hardly the same between any two people.

One person is a young adult, in college, who is gay. That person’s parents kick them out, but that person doesn’t have health coverage.

One person became gravely ill and had to use their retirement savings to pay medical bills. He is only 65 years old, but is now healthy and is expected to live another 20 years now.

One person is born with a physical disability, and needs continual care for the whole life long. Her parents do everything for her, but it drains them financially.

Who do you know that needs lifting up? Who do you know that could use the care that our society – as a whole – can help provide?

These folks don’t “deserve” the lack they have.

If we extend the care we give to one another as the body of Christ – lifting up the soft-spoken and hidden folks – should we not also help those who love all around us? That is our witness.

Let us lift up one another. Out of love and care of our neighbor.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, you lift me up, so I can help others to be lifted up. Let me be your hands and feet. Amen.

Gifted by the Spirit

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 12:4 There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5 and there are different ministries and the same Lord; 6 and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 7 A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good. 8 A word of wisdom is given by the Spirit to one person, a word of knowledge to another according to the same Spirit, 9 faith to still another by the same Spirit, gifts of healing to another in the one Spirit, 10 performance of miracles to another, prophecy to another, the ability to tell spirits apart to another, different kinds of tongues to another, and the interpretation of the tongues to another. 11 All these things are produced by the one and same Spirit who gives what he wants to each person.

O (Observation): Paul’s famous words here echo through the ages. We – who are in Christ – are gifted. (Yet we cannot forget that others can be gifted, too!)

Paul is hearing that the followers of Christ in the churches he’s established are competing with each other or are showing disdain for those with gifts that different from their own.

A (Application): These verses are typically used when we install officers, council members, or other volunteers at church. We all share our gifts together for the good of all. The same Spirit leads us. The same Spirit equips us.

Are you finding yourself grateful for the gifts you’ve been given, yet also showing disdain for those with other gifts? Are you jealous?

Or are you in a place to appreciate the breadth and depth of how God has equipped you and those around you to build one another up to love God and neighbor.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me to know you are equipping is all. Amen.

Sometimes it’s Optics

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 11:12b everything comes from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: Is it appropriate for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Doesn’t nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him; 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? This is because her long hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if someone wants to argue about this, we don’t have such a custom, nor do God’s churches.

O (Observation): God has created everything. Sometimes, we take those things and they can mean something good or something bad.

Wearing hats, or not. Long hair, or not. These are the debates of Paul’s day. Kind of like: do I eat food sacrifices to an idol or not? Maybe you can. If it’s just you, it’s likely no big deal…but if one of those who are new to the faith see you eating food to an idol, and they don’t know you, you might cause them to be put into a bad spot.

Same with the hair and coverings. Many believe that other religions and their followers did certain things with head coverings and hair. Paul, I believe, is continuing the conversation about optics. What do you appear to be doing. If you are looking like a prophet or preacher for a false god, you may just wanna avoid that altogether.

A (Application): So what do we do with verses like this? We make ladies wear hats in church. Or, at least we used to…

Reading the Bible can be dangerous business. I appreciate the devotional approach to reading scripture, but questions like this come (regarding the hair and head coverings). We think: we’ll, that’s weird, and move on. But I want you to question what the words are that you are reading. Ask why this is here. Apparently Paul thought it was important.

Perhaps the takeaway is this: We raise up leaders amongst ourselves to know us and guide us. This text seems to be Paul addressing a contemporary issue. Perhaps we can take note and realize the difference between a theological treatise and suggestion about behavior.

We don’t prescribe behavior…instead we must ask ourselves: is this action praising God?

If so, great. If not, re-think it. And ask a friend.

P (Prayer): Lord, we thank you for surrounding us with people who love us and challenge us for good reason. Amen.