Thanksgiving

Sometimes our lives can be so difficult that we feel lucky to just have survived and made it through another day. The circumstances that have gained control of our lives are not hard to see because they consume what we feel like is our every minute of time, once of energy and place in our thoughts. We have to admit that sometimes we are so distracted by life that we forget to remember the creator of life itself.  Thanksgiving provides an opportunity for us to count our blessings and rejoice in them by giving God thanks for all He has given us. Most days God is faithful to provide our needs and gracious enough to bless us into our wants. If we look more at each day as a day of thanksgiving and rejoice in prayer for our blessings the challenge of our circumstances will seem smaller and smaller. The more days that we are able keep a focus on our blessings the more connected and confident we become of Gods providence in our lives. It’s not that we become too righteous to be impacted by circumstances but our faith strengthens with each day that God sees us through the challenges that are in front of us.

May God bless you and your family this Thanksgiving and my we all rejoice always in our lives and give thanks to God who has given us everything.   

Stewardship – Blessings and Harvest

Post 5 – Energy

Often once we align our connection to God as our creator and we understand we are accountable for our blessings it helps us more clearly understand our stewardship. We can then more logically review our lives so that we tithe from our monetary blessings and connect with God regularly in prayer as a means of empowerment in our lives. We can look at the associated worship and Bible study that guides our lives through our work and worship areas and the see the time that this requires. We often don’t think much more about stewardship as this seems to cover a great deal of our time. Like many areas of our lives, once we think we have a good logical grasp God is on the verge of teaching us a valuable spiritual lesson. Our jobs take up a significant amount of our time and energy yet both of these are the essence of our existence and thus lead to the very heart of our stewardship. Today we look at the energy God has blessed us with that we put into our day. If we make a simple division of our day we could say it is 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours of work and 8 hours of preparations, travel, education, family and hobby interests. On the surface we often quickly write off our work time but since it takes up at least one third of our day the energy that we put into it is a critical part of our stewardship. Our rest time is the same in that we tend to not think about it but if don’t honor our needs and rest our physical and mental resources we will not have the engine required to make our expended energy meaningful.

We put our energy into preparation and travel time to try and make it as efficient as possible by reducing any wasted actions. This will help us fulfill our accountability so that we have minimized any time wastes and can focus our energy in higher value activities. Those are most likely our families and hobbies where our energy seems to flow easier just based on our human interest level.

If we are working in something that we feel that God has guided us to then our work energy is also a ministry that is lived out through our actions. This would apply to work, education, family or hobbies. When we use our talents and gifts to help others then the energy of our lives becomes a part of our stewardship to God. He has blessed us all with at least one gift and using it to help others fulfills the purpose Paul stated for us receiving the gift in the first place.

We can use our energy in many ways over the course of a day. If we can start each day with a thankful heart that the day in front of us is a blessing and gift from God we might use our energy in better way that will be pleasing to God. The giving of ourselves in thought and deed to a need bigger than we are is an act of both stewardship and grace. May we see the needs of others as an area of stewardship that God has entrusted us with so that others may see Jesus in the energy of our actions.   

Stewardship – Blessings and Harvest

Post 4 – Prayer

This series is titled Blessings and Harvest because stewardship is about so much more than money. I hope that by covering money first, we can now move on to some vital areas of stewardship in our lives. Establishing a mindset in our spirit that God is our creator and owner of everything he created is the only real starting point for a discussion on stewardship. That being said then we are nothing and can have nothing that is not provided by God. This helps us see stewardship as not just a formula or process to follow, where we give based purely on what we perceive we get in the way of blessings. It moves us to see stewardship as our responsibility to oversee what God has blessed us with and return to Him a part of that in all areas of our lives. As stated in our last post, money is the simplest to describe and cover because it has a formula which after searching our hearts can be applied to help keep us on track. There are a few areas that do not have a nice neat formula but require our thankfulness to God just the same. Talking about those will enhance and enrich our daily stewardship and experience with God.

James 5:13-16 The Prayer of Faith

 13Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

Today let’s look at Prayer – Prayer is our avenue through the Holy Spirit to connect with God. It is our private time of acknowledging God as our creator, seeking our forgiveness, our time of uplifting our needs and all other needs that are on our prayer list for the day. James covers all avenues and opportunity for prayer in his letter to the early Church. We are to pray when things aren’t going well, when they are going well, when one is sick we are not only to pray but to ask and utilize the power of numbers in prayer. Prayer has a unique power in that through it alone God may heal, raise us from our sickness, forgive our sins and transgressions. James says we are to pray for each other because the prayer of a believer is both powerful and effective.   In the old testament God’s people typically observed prayer three times a day. In Jesus day and in the new Church after his death and resurrection prayer is seen more as a conversation with God that we are blessed to have through the Holy Spirit. It can start and end our days as well as be used anytime along the way during the day when we feel the need to talk with God. We may have a need of our own or we may be uplifting someone else as well. It seems that the open avenue allows for a greater opportunity of stewardship for us. If we have been entrusted as overseers of this communication with God, then it stands to reason that our best time to uplift a need would be when it was made known to us. For example, you are traveling during the day and get word from a friend that one of your mutual friends was in a car accident and taken to the hospital. You could for sure jot it down or try to remember it until your next appointed time of daily prayer came to uplift it. That is fine, but it gives away the power Jesus said we would have in the Holy Spirit once he went away and God sent it into our lives. We are not aware of the true nature of the accident or the injuries so it might be more effectual if we offer that prayer for our friend and all that are involved in the incident including the other drivers and the first responders that are getting them to the hospital and taking care of them. This timing could be a critical need of prayer for one or more of those involved. Some of the most connected and powerful prayers I have ever felt were offered while I was driving down the road ( eyes open of course ! )

Prayer is a method of stewardship for us where we come to God as our creator and all powerful owner of our lives as well as the places and people around us. Prayer in its proper perspective brings things in our lives that are bigger than we are to the one who is bigger than everything and asks Him for mercy and help. While it has no formula it is a confident and comfortable place to be when we know we can talk to God about anything because we do it all the time.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 – Pray without stopping.

Stewardship – Blessings & Harvest

Post 3 – Tithing

Let’s take the Stewardship of Money first. Now, this may not be what you were thinking? We are not looking at money because it is most important or because it has a lot of complicated moving parts. We are going to look at it first, because it is the easiest and most predictable area of stewardship. Sound Surprising – let’s see.  One might ask me well “how do you know that money is so easy” well I did not say anything about making money was easy,  I just said that determining our stewardship of it was easy. Jesus said it straight out when he said ”For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  Luke 12:34 We don’t really even think about it but what we decide in our hearts and mind as a priority is where our money is in support already. Jesus didn’t say we think and weigh things out over a long period of time and ultimately give our money when everything feels safe and secure. His thought, was that our hearts and desires hold the keys to our money and our money can often be moved without any spiritual discernment. So then the first step in being a good steward of our money would be to answer honestly the question – “If God is living in our hearts is He the owner of our money?”

Let’s get one ground rule down in the beginning – The amount of money you have or make is irrelevant to true stewardship. Paul said that “ The Love of Money was the root of all evil….” The rich man in Luke 12 did not lose his life because he had wealth but for putting the treasures God had blessed him with in the place of God.  

Giving back from what God has blessed us with is not a new age or even a new testament thought. It was so from the beginning – In Genesis we read where Cain and Able brought their offerins back to God and we find God is only interested in our best. Later the same balance is found within God’s people in 1 Chronicles 16:29  Give to the Lord the glory he deserves!  Bring your offering and come into his presence.

There is a very important math formula that goes with the stewardship of our monetary blessings. Haggai explained it very clearly in the opening of his account – Haggai 1:3-6   3 Then the Lord sent this message through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins? 5 This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! 6 You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!

Now I bet you were thinking about the 10% tithe formula or possibly if the calculation is based of our gross or net income. Unfortunately we have a long ways to go before the tithe math can be a considered. You see for many it is difficult, if not impossible, to see how we can come with 10% more to give back to God when we cannot make ends meet today? From that perspective it is not hard to see why statistics tell us that the average Church goer supports their local congregation with 1-2 % of their income in offerings. This is not hard to see, we just don’t like what we see at first but it provides the only vision that allows our future to be different than our past. We often feel like we are on a hamster wheel in life where the faster we run the more we stay in the same place and the more tired we get. The people in Haggai’s day were exactly where we are in that they had built the best life ( materially ) for themselves that they could afford and were only giving a small part to God. The challenge with that life as Haggai points out was that the larger they lived the less they had to the point they were not even satisfied with anything that they had. They were on the hamster wheel and they allowed themselves to be consumed by life so that they only survived not lived. Their money which was seemingly always gone was falling thru their hands so fast it was like going to their pockets and falling onto the ground only to be lost to them forever. They were doomed to reap little because they had in fact sown little.  

 2 Corinthians 9:6-8

6 Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. 7 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”[c] 8 And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.

A story is told that Chinese farmers decided they would eat the good big potatoes and just use the small ones for seed. A new understanding of the laws of life came to them when, through the years during which they kept up the practice, nature reduced all their potatoes to the size of marbles! Those farmers learned through bitter experience that they could not keep the best things of life for themselves and use the leftovers for seed. The laws of life decreed that the harvest would reflect the planting.

“Planting small potatoes” is still common practice. Too many folks take all the big things of life for themselves and only plant the leftovers. They expect that by some crazy twist of the laws of nature their selfishness will reward them with blessings. A few closing thoughts on tithing of our money and blessings – It is not a simple math formula to just adhere to and be done. It is first and foremost an act of worship and thanksgiving to our creator. In the record of Genesis the scripture says that Abraham gave a tenth of all he had and we find Jacob making a vow to give a tenth of his increase to the Lord. These acts of thanksgiving were over 500 years before the “law” was ever written. I have often heard people express that they “sure wish they could find a Church that wasn’t always asking for money.” If you do happen to find one I would suggest you run the other way as quickly as possible. Only dead, non-functioning Churches can exists from no money. A Church with any life and growth will require needs to be able to meet needs. Martin Luther put it well – “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.” Stewardship of our finances is a natural committment of thanksgiving and worship that comes from our within our spirits.

Stewardship – Blessings & Harvest

Post 2 – Accountability

Once we can recognize God as our creator and owner it helps to prepare us spiritually for a life of true stewardship. If we embrace our role and purpose in life as a steward then we understand we are “accountable” to the Owner for a return on what He has blessed us with.    

Let’s reflect a moment on our perspective of accountability. In our day to day lives we have become comfortable with our self-imposed levels of accountability. The most common areas for us are around local municipal laws and regulations – speed limits, stop signs, stop lights, no parking areas……..

To make sure we are prepared to live within these boundaries we have to pass a test and obtain a drivers license just to have the privilege to participate in driving and thus we become accountable to the laws and rules that are set for us. We know these boundaries are for our safety and well being but we also would have to admit that we transgress them from time to time? We also know that if we are caught in that transgression we stand accountable to the law we broke and the municipality that established it. We also readily understand that we are responsible for our conduct while driving and we cannot compare our view of the laws or our transgressions to others. We may know all to well how this goes when our response to the officer that pulled us over for speeding is “ but officer everybody else was passing me….”

If simply apply this logic to stewardship we are accountable to the owner for what he has entrusted to us and He has provided guidelines and boundaries for us in all ares of our lives on how we are to conduct ourselves and how we reflect our accountability by our actions. By looking at God as our creator and owner and knowing we are accountable for giving back to Him a return on the blessings he has provided us it positions us to live our lives more from our heart and spirit than our head. Our brains are powerful computers but we may often solve lots of challenges that God never intended us to bear but we ignored His speed limit or stop sign. We will now begin to look at several areas of our lives where God provides guidance for us as a steward. We will take a look at the area, the Biblical guide for each, and compare God’s guidance to our perspective and actions.

Stewardship – Blessings & Harvest

Post 1 – Ownership

STEWARDSHIP – A Series on Blessings and Harvest

Stewardship Defined

  • the office, duties, and obligations of a steward.
  • the conducting, supervising, or managing of something especiallythe careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.

Steward is a noun as a Title or description for a person. Then the activity that the Title represents would be stewardship. While this seems obvious most titles are assigned to us by our education, occupation or calling in life. The definition of stewardship helps us understand a little better how this is different. If Stewardship is the “careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.”  then to be considered a Steward one would have to be given something of value to care for and maintain. Each of us then given life by God are stewards of the life and purpose He has blessed us with. As a Steward we are “Accountable” for our lives and how faithful we are with the resources He has blessed us with.

We don’t have an intuitive nature for accountability. As children we seek to avoid it and often put forward more effort to avoid it then it would have taken to just do what we needed to do in the first place. As we grow older we get smarter and learn how transfer our accountability onto someone else and make our sins their fault. In Genesis 3:12-13 we see the original sin also came with the human nature to blame someone else for our transgressions and we simply rationalize that it’s not our fault. Adam told God it was the woman that God gave him who was at fault and Eve said it was the serpent’s fault because he was able to deceive her.  

Let’s go back to our definition of Stewardship –  “careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” If we are given something to care for then we ultimately must realize that we are not the owners. God is the owner and has entrusted to us this earth, our time, our money, our energy and our talent to be used in a way that would be pleasing to Him as the owner of it all. Our first step in stewardship is to acknowledge that we own nothing, and everything is God’s that he has entrusted us to care for in our lives. May this thought be our focus as we start this series on Stewardship. The following scriptures will also be helpful in centering our focus on our creator and owner. Please read – Psalm 24:1, Job 41:11, Exodus 19:5, Psalm 50:10, Haggai 2:8         

The Final C – Church ( Christ )

Scripture: Acts 2:37-47 New Living Translation (NLT)

37 Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles[a]—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” 40 Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation! ” 41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.

Confession, Contrition, Covenant, Community, Connection = CHURCH

In the text above from the day of Pentecost we see all the elements of Church represented – Confession, Contrition & Covenant ( Verse 38 ) Community and Connection ( Verse 39-46)

As I stated at the outset of these posts on the topic of Church. Church is last in our list because God sees His Church in the hearts of each believer. There have been no discussion or reference to a building except for the temple and homes that served as meeting places for the believers as seen in today’s text from Acts.

That gathering of confessed believers that have repented of their sins and have entered God’s family under the waters of baptism are now connecting with other likeminded believers to fellowship and worship – This is CHURCH! When we confine God to the box ( a Church building )we often only see him in that box. It allows us to associate worship to the building where we, The Church gather. We have to take God with us outside of the box and allow him to shine a light on the path of our day to day life.

Church is not a building but merely the gathering place for all the “Churches” that will enter it to fellowship and worship together. The power of the Church gathering and worshiping from God’s word ( the Bible ) is so that the Church can take Jesus out of the box of the Bible and carry him out to the world in our daily lives.

The Church then is actually established at the confession of faith and thereafter resides in the heart of those that accept Jesus Christ as their savior. Often the Church gets “boxed” in and is considered a building or structure and then is forced to defend the mission and ministry of love, service and compassion that are fruits of the spirit present in the heart of every believer. The Church can and should no more be defined or confined to the box of a building any more than when we try to put God into the box of the Bible. The Bible is a wonderful book and the only of its kind – A history book, a science book, a book on managing our activities, our money, our physical and spiritual lives, but most of all the Bible is a novel Love story of God’s love for his crowning creation and his never ending desire to have a closer relationship with us. The entire Bible points to Jesus Christ – The OT from Genesis to Malachi point to his coming and purpose. The Gospels chronicle his life and ministry as well as his death and resurrection. The rest of the NT provides guidance and direction for our lives until Christ returns and points forward to that day. Even though we utilize the direction provided for us in the Bible on our best day we can only unlock parts of the divine revelation that God provided to the writers of our scriptures. God existed before these writers and he allowed them to document their relationship and we comprised from those writings the Bible. Yet to limit God to his existence in the box of the Bible is somewhat arrogant on our part but it brings out our human nature of wanting to fit everything in our lives into a box so we can feel more in control.

May we always recognize God’s presence in our lives and in the actions, we undertake as His Church in this world. May we use the support of the C’s in our lives to live a better life as His Church. And may we be mindful that our greatest gift of the Holy Spirit allows us to be God’s Church and live out His power by taking him out of the boxes of Church and the Bible and allowing Him to live through our lives.

The Fifth C – Connection

Galatians 5:22-26     NLT Fruits are produced from Gifts

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

We may have joined a community for one or more reasons. We may have found the right school for our kids, maybe we found a place to use our gifts to help others or maybe it is the place our family calls home. Whatever the reason, once we are part of a community we will begin to connect with others in the community in our daily lives. That connection typically revolves around our day to day activities. For example we connect with the grocery store, service station for gas, tires, and oil, a school, childcare, doctors, dentist, eye care, pharmacy, bank, insurance, fire, rescue, police,  …………………… any number of services and products that support our lives.

For Christians the connections offer the opportunity to use our spiritual gifts and community presence to produce fruit. Jesus said “ you will know them by their fruit”. Paul says the fruits of the spirit in our lives will manifest itself in “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  Paul gives us two different thoughts on these fruits 1) If we belong to Jesus ( confession, contrition, covenant and community ) then we have put our sinful nature ( selfish personal desires ) under the blood of the cross and under the water of the covenant of baptism then we are interested in the well being of others and 2) we are not to use our spiritual leading to manipulate others by using the Holy Spirit for our own gain.

In remembering 1 Corinthians 12:7 – “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.”  We can better relate how our gifts and supporting the gifts of others works in a community. If we have given over our lives to the leading of God, then our works will bless both ourselves and our community. What this might be represented by in a community would be if we moved in and opened a small-town diner. We would quickly connect to the local grocery store, the local plumbers, electricians, HVAC and possibly painters and carpenters. We can clearly also better understand value of diversified gifts. For instance, you would not call the grocery store manager to repair a leaking pipe. You would be a little concerned if you went to your dentist and your mechanic came in to work on your teeth! Our connection to the community is vital for us to both survive and thrive in a community. The same applies in our spiritual community. God’s blessings in our gifts is for us to help others. They are not for our selfish purpose or in competition with others and their gifts. The best way for us to confirm that we are living by the leading of the Holy Spirit is  to simply look at the connection points in our lives with other people and see if our lives are having a positive impact on them.      

The Fourth C – Community

1 Corinthians 12: 1-11 Spiritual Gifts

12 Now, dear brothers and sisters, regarding your question about the special abilities the Spirit gives us. I don’t want you to misunderstand this. You know that when you were still pagans, you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols. So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge.[c] The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. 10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages,[d] while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. 11 It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

Our confession of faith and covenant of baptism bring us into the family and community of believers. We somehow feel like this new community will tell us or assign us a role and task within our new family. This is a familiar, yet unproductive path that will not benefit ourselves or others. Think about it this way – when we come into a community what do we typically look for ? We look for products and services that our lives need and also compliment one another. For example; we would look for some basic community connections – Grocery Store, Gas Station ( maybe with a mechanic on duty ), Cleaners, Doctor, Dentist ……. We may even move into a community to add a product or service that we have the skill to provide thus becoming a valuable contributing part of the community.

The great thing for us as a member of the new Christian community is that we all have at least one gift. In his letter to the Church in Corinth Paul helps to guide our thoughts of our gifts and the purpose of those gifts. Paul is clear that a spiritual gift is given to each one of us and the purpose of those gifts is to help and support one another. Paul is also clear that these gifts are a blessing from God given to each of us to compliment the different gifts given to other believers. This gift from God has been given to us as He has decided, and our role is to use that gift in a way that would be pleasing to Him. We don’t have to worry about what the community needs as much as putting our time and energy into our gift and serving others. May we dedicate and spend our time using our gift for God and not in questioning why we don’t have a different gift or set of gifts. If we are not using our gift then this new community we are part of has an empty place that God intended for us to fill. If we have one or more gifts may we be willing and able to use them for the good and uplifting of the gospel of Jesus Christ in helping one another.   

The Third C – Covenant

COVENANT – Part 2

In Genesis 15 we find God making another covenant this time with Abraham. God’s promise to him was for a legacy of descendants that would be greater in number than the stars in the sky ( Genesis 15:5 ). This on-going covenant would continue in Abraham’s line forever. Vs 6 says that “Abraham believed and was counted righteous based on his faith.” Noah and Abraham’s faith brought them to a covenant with God that continues with us today.

These covenants are recorded in the old testament and are a strong message of Hope to us today. In our lives today our Confession of faith in Jesus Christ and our Contrition in repentance bring us to God in faith. Jesus ordained two covenants of faith with us in His life here on earth. They are baptism and communion and they continue with us today and stand as a physical marker of our faith. Baptism is the symbolic act of going under the water and the dying of our “old man” and coming out of the water as the “new man”. Paul sums it up in Romans 6:4

For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

Our salvation was accepted by our faith, and like Abraham we became righteous before God thru the death of Jesus Christ. Baptism is a physical marker of that faith and connects us to others that share the same marker of faith as part of the family of God.

Jesus also ordained communion as a covenant between Him and His followers. He participated in this covenant, like baptism, to show His apostles the direct connection that the physical act has in remembering Him. Understanding what communion is can most easily be seen by what it is NOT – It is not a table of forgiveness ( that is a personal commitment to God ), it is not a table of inclusion or exclusion based on people, cultures and backgrounds – It is a table of remembrance that connects all believers to Jesus Christ by honoring His memory and the sacrifice that He gave for our forgiveness of sin.

Like seeing the covenant reminder of the rainbow, may baptism and communion strengthen our covenant with God and our relationship with others.  May our “Confession” of Faith in Jesus and our plea for forgiveness of our sins in “Contrition” bring us new meaning in the covenants of baptism and communion as we share them with others along our way.