One in Christ

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S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 1:21 God is the one who establishes us with you in Christ and who anointed us. 22 God also sealed us and gave the Spirit as a down payment in our hearts.

O (Observation): Paul is writing to the church in Corinth. He is reminding them – once again – of their being “in Christ” together.

Paul really taps into the sense of oneness. He picks up on Jesus’ notion that as the Christ freely dwells in each believer, they act as if they are one! Living in different cities? Still one! Former Greek or former Jew? Still one, in Christ!

This means that they can be free to share with one another and welcome one another should they travel. Or share financial obligations.

A (Application): How many of us sense the Oneness? I fear many of us are so individually minded that we have a hard time sensing the oneness.

I have to look out for me and mine. That is a survival instinct that all of us have. But we are also imbued with a sense of oneness through being in Christ together.

Jesus is the foremost example of what it means to be in Christ. He shows forth the full expression of Christ: chosen, gifted, servant, loving, beloved.

We are all given these same gifts. Or we can stifle these gifts.

When we share, when we love, when we allow ourselves to be cared for…we are showing how we are in Christ with one another.

P (Prayer): Lord, remind us of our oneness in you…amen.

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Stewardship is FAITH FORMING

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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.

Plenty

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S (Scripture): Proverbs 11

24 

Those who give generously receive more,

    but those who are stingy with what is appropriate will grow needy.

25 

Generous persons will prosper;

    those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.

O (Observation): Proverbs are snippets of wisdom. Sometimes a few verses run together to develop a theme. Wisdom here looks like good stewardship practices.

What happens to your state of mind when you are generous? You are in a position to receive! You see that there is plenty to go around!!! Money or gifts may go out, blessing comes in.

What happens when you are stingy? You are perpetually in a state of scarcity. You only see how little there is in the world, and if others have stuff, that’s less for you! It’s a win-lose scenario.

A (Application): Umm…See observation. : )

Nothing has changed in this regard.

Try giving. Receive joy.

Giving already? Give more!!!

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us mindful of the plenty you provide for me, for my family, for all of humanity, for the earth. Amen.

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.

Money Talk

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S (Scripture): Luke 16:1 Jesus also said to the disciples, “A certain rich man heard that his household manager was wasting his estate. 2 He called the manager in and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give me a report of your administration because you can no longer serve as my manager.’

3 “The household manager said to himself, What will I do now that my master is firing me as his manager? I’m not strong enough to dig and too proud to beg. 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I am removed from my management position, people will welcome me into their houses.

5 “One by one, the manager sent for each person who owed his master money. He said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil.’ The manager said to him, ‘Take your contract, sit down quickly, and write four hundred fifty gallons.’ 7 Then the manager said to another, ‘How much do you owe?’ He said, ‘One thousand bushels of wheat.’ He said, ‘Take your contract and write eight hundred.’

8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he acted cleverly. People who belong to this world are more clever in dealing with their peers than are people who belong to the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to make friends for yourselves so that when it’s gone, you will be welcomed into the eternal homes.

10 “Whoever is faithful with little is also faithful with much, and the one who is dishonest with little is also dishonest with much. 11  If you haven’t been faithful with worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12  If you haven’t been faithful with someone else’s property, who will give you your own? 13  No household servant can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

14 The Pharisees, who were money-lovers, heard all this and sneered at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves before other people, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued by people is deeply offensive to God…”

O (Observation): Jesus at it again…turning the world of the Pharisees (and us) upside-down. Those folks who owed money should have not been given a break. The steward should have walked away and let everyone pay back what was owed.

The fact that Jesus points out that the Pharisees were money-lovers drives home the personal nature of the story. Jesus is trying to make things very simple: you love God OR money; you can’t love both!

Jesus must sense that the Pharisees (and us at times) are too caught up in the worldly impact that wealth has on leaders. Wealth informs our decisions and especially has an impact on our relationships.

What is important here is that Jesus is lifting up relation over wealth / status.

A (Application): How often do we allow the things of this world to make our decisions for us. Our money drives our status / power. Our status of our relationships can even cause us to work towards maintaining power over another, rather than allowing equality in the relationship.

We so love money that we allow its influence to drive our choices: cars, homes, clothes, school system, etc. We let money come before God, when we choose to give to God what is leftover at the end of the month, rather than determining a goal or percentage. (Listen: if you don’t hit the goal, God ain’t gonna zap ya…it’s the intentionality that counts, here.)

Determine what is faithful What honors your neighbor? What honors God? Answer those questions, and you will have done well.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us in our discernment. Amen.

Changing Perspective

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S (Scripture): Mark 12:41 Jesus sat across from the collection box for the temple treasury and observed how the crowd gave their money. Many rich people were throwing in lots of money. 42 One poor widow came forward and put in two small copper coins worth a penny.43 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury. 44  All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.”

O (Observation): Jesus was all about reexamining the understanding of the Kingdom of God. Did God care more about the amount someone put in the offering plate? Or that someone was sensing that this money is first and foremost God’s money?

(Remember a few verses ago when Jesus was asked about paying taxes? How did he respond? Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Give to God what is God’s. Reevaluating. Perspective. One must struggle with what belongs to God.)

How was Jesus changing the perspective of the Kingdom for his disciples in this observation regarding the widow?

What is valuable in the Kingdom? What is valuable in the world?

A (Application): So money is an obvious connection here. My wife and I struggled to reach a point where we acknowledged that the money we have is indeed a gift from God. As such, we give 10% of our income. The weird thing is that as we reached this point, I feel like our capacity to give has increased even more! The perspective changed from “How do we get to 10%?” to “how does God seem to magnify the margin in my life?”

I think this is all about perspective. What is God’s? And in a way that is joyful, we have responded to God’s call to see that our finances are God’s.

Now, I am in a situation where I have money to give. (Odd perspective since I still have student loans…but God has moved us…).

So, what about those who have very little? Well…let’s remember perspective. If someone has less money…what can they do? They can also choose to discern – for themselves – what they can give. If it’s 1%, or 5%, or 50%…if that is what they sense is God’s…then so be it. (That’s not snarky…it’s acknowledging what God is up to in our lives.)

Please don’t take my application as a judgment based on amounts or percentages. Rather, I encourage you to know that God’s Kingdom is different than that of this world. Don’t let anyone tell you that your gift of time or money or resources is yours to exploit.

The world places expectations on our money and time. I encourage you to discern how to use the gifts you have for God’s Kingdom. You have to decide what that looks like for you and yours.

P (Prayer): God, take my life that I may be consecrated Lord for thee. Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise. Amen.

Two Worlds – God’s and Caesar’s

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S (Scripture): LK 20:22 Is it right for us to pay the tribute tax to Caesar or not?” 20:23 But Jesus perceived their deceit and said to them, 20:24 “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?” They said, “Caesar’s.” 20:25 So he said to them, “Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

O (Observation): The scribes and crew are still out to get Jesus. They want to know to whom Jesus is loyal: to God or Caesar? They want to trap him again. Jesus avoids the trap.

Jesus doesn’t choose one to the exception of the other. Instead, he embraces an approach that allows for people (and himself) to give and receive earthly things in an earthly manner. This also means that we give and receive heavenly things in a heavenly manner.

A (Application): As we steward our gifts on this earth, we cooperate with those on this earth. Yet the more important issue is that our gifts are to be used in a way that follows suit with the mantra: Love God and Love Neighbor.

Can we pay taxes and dues in this world and still honor God? Yes. Obviously we are not in an oppressive situation, as all of Judea was (under Roman authority), but we can still sense the struggle between the powers of this world and the true Power of God.

The things of this world are temporary and we may even give the impression that we are supporting these powers…but as Jesus tells us, we will give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.

What are you giving in this world that seems to be honoring “Caesar” and what are you giving that honors God?

For me, I sense that living in a first-world country can be my way of honoring a system that allows hunger and oppression to exist in this world. And I don’t do a whole lot about this. At the same time, in sense that my work as a pastor allows me to equip others to discern God’s will for their lives. A bit of both. And I live in this tension.

P (Prayer): Lord, I love in two worlds: yours and mine. Help me to see that You exist in both and call us to know the difference. Amen.