Archive for March, 2019

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

March 29, 2019

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.

Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

This section of 2 Corinthians is like the broccoli or spinach of what Paul has to say about the place of financial generosity in the life of a follower of Jesus. It is chockful (a word I seldom say or use) of wisdom, encourage, and challenge – the spiritual nutrients of a balanced and fruitful Christian life.

But that’s not to say that we all love to eat our vegetables.

Like Paul said of himself in Romans 7, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” We know the difference between greed and generosity. We know the difference between selfishness, selflessness, and self-care. We might even trust that God will take care of us. That God will “provide you with every blessing in abundance.” But that still might not be enough to guide us into a healthy life marked by balanced stewardship of our time, talents, and treasures.

But the biblical principles remain. They aren’t going anywhere. And they are true.

“The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” I have a friend who left a high paying sales job to follow his heart. He enrolled in an auto body program at a vocational technical school. Today he runs a garage restoring and rebuilding classic cars. He took a risk. He paid the joyful and sacrificial costs of his choice. He sowed bountifully and now reaps bountifully.

Where do we sow sparingly? What do we sow bountifully? Where to we invest our time, our skills, our passions, our hearts? Where and Who do we look to for security, for status, for power?

Notice the double blessing in Paul’s words. The generosity of the Corinthians will result in thanksgiving to God, and gratitude from those blessed by their generosity. Knowing we are a part of that is the “what’s in it for me?” side of Christian stewardship.

And finally, notice that Paul ends with his reminders that generosity is also an act of obedience. It is doing what we are supposed to do. Always with the realization that God always gives first.

Let us pray: Unleash generosity in our lives, that we might be obedient to you and a blessing to others. Keep us mindful of where and how we invest in the common good of the world and the personal good of our lives. Thank you for all the gifts you continue to give to us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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2 Corinthians 9:1-5

March 28, 2019

Now it is not necessary for me to write you about the ministry to the saints, for I know your eagerness, which is the subject of my boasting about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year; and your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you may not prove to have been empty in this case, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be; otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—in this undertaking.

So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you, and arrange in advance for this bountiful gift that you have promised, so that it may be ready as a voluntary gift and not as an extortion. 2 Corinthians 9:1-5

Now we continue to follow Paul into the next chapter of his letter. Again he refers to the “brothers” who are working with him, it looks like they are his advance men.

That is particularly interesting to me because our congregation is in the midst of a capital finance campaign (which is why I’m writing so much about money), and capital campaigns usually begin with a quiet stage in which some people are invited into conversations about the goals of the campaign before the big kick off date. That stage makes sense because those people with the means to make large gifts might have some work to do ahead of time – sell real property, meet with their financial advisors, etc. But I think something deeper is going on.

As I do my work I find myself saying “Christianity is a team sport” so often that I sometimes think that I should create a macro on my computer so I can type the phrase with one key. The reason I say that so often is simple. Because Christianity really is a team sport. It is odd that we can forget that, but we do.

I remember back in the day when I used to be an athlete. Thinking back to any season of playing basketball reminds me of the life lessons of team sports. I never waited until the preseason to work on getting better. I did that almost every day. Once the team came together, from the first day, the coaches would remind us of our goals for the year. Knowing the goals helped make sense of all the little steps and drills and challenges it would take to get there.

The voices of the coaches mattered. But what really made a difference were the voices of my teammates. Communication was central to keeping everyone on the same page. We constantly encouraged each other, prodded each other to do our best. We consoled each other if we made a mistake or lost a game.

And when the season or the career ended – you hear ex-pro athletes say this all the time – what people really miss is the locker room, the comradery, the sense of “we’re all in this together” as we all tried to do our best every day.

When the first thing that Jesus did was to reach out to a few people to join him in his work I immediately remember “making the team” and that excitement and nervousness that came along with it. When I read about Paul sending the “brothers” out ahead, I can see them talking over a fire at night, deciding together what the best strategy will be for encouraging the Corinthians – and then following through and doing their best.

No one should be surprised to hear that teammates expect one another to produce! As wonderful as it might be to be ON a team, that isn’t the point. That is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The point of being ON a team is playing hard and smart FOR the team.

But being ON the team does participate in its own “end” because it takes a team to produce. No one can win by themselves. One season in Los Angeles has taught that to LeBron James. The win for the Christian faith is growing and healing and experiencing the spiritual power of community, of relationships with God and others, toward making the world a better, safer, more honest, more just, more humane world for all.

We need one another. And we need to encourage one another to do our best so that, together, we do our best. That’s why Christianity is a team sport.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you have called us by name. You have marked us with the cross forever. We are yours and we belong to one another, for the sake of the world. Keep us eager to do our best. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

2 Corinthians 8:16-24

March 27, 2019

But thanks be to God who put in the heart of Titus the same eagerness for you that I myself have. For he not only accepted our appeal, but since he is more eager than ever, he is going to you of his own accord. With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his proclaiming the good news; and not only that, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us while we are administering this generous undertaking for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our goodwill.

We intend that no one should blame us about this generous gift that we are administering, for we intend to do what is right not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of others. And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found eager in many matters, but who is now more eager than ever because of his great confidence in you.

As for Titus, he is my partner and co-worker in your service; as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. Therefore openly before the churches, show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you. 2 Corinthians 8:16-24

Every once in awhile I stumble into a great line that I didn’t see coming. I hear something that I will never forget. It happened to me yesterday.

I was talking to a person that I deeply respect when he told me a story about something an old veteran in politics told him. In effect, he shared one of those life defining moments in his own life with me, and thus continued the cycle through me. Offering encouragement to a young man who was seeking to serve in a public position, the older man said, “Be good stewards with the peoples’ money.”

It was a line that he would never forget and now has become a line I won’t forget either.

People often speak of the miraculous growth of the Christian movement. They take the hyperbole of the book of Acts literally. They just accept that Peter could convince thousands of people at a time to walk away from the life they had known to a new life in Jesus. But that isn’t how Paul tells the story.

For Paul, the Christian movement grows one person at a time. Paul never portrays himself as Spiritual Superman, slaying the powers of evil with his own individual gifts as an evangelist. Read his letters. Christianity, from day one, was a team sport. It was one person exemplifying a quality of life that delivered belonging, healing, and meaningfulness. And in each letter, like in these closing verses of 2 Corinthians 8, he thanks and lifts up his teammates.

And as he does, Paul reassures the Corinthians – even as he is inviting them to be generous with their financial resources – that they will be good stewards of the peoples’ money. That is how the Christian faith grows and gains influence in transforming the world into a common good.

Let us pray: Thank you, Lord, for the people, the places, the little coincidences of life, that have gifted us with faith and encouraged us to keep the faith. Help us be good stewards with your gifts even as we pray that those in authority likewise be good stewards of the peoples’ money. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

March 26, 2019

Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have.

I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” 2 Corinthians 8:7-15

How do you hear the word “test”? Whether we’re talking about earning a passing grade on a test at school, or testing the internal structural integrity of steel (a very complicated business), isn’t there something about the word “test” that makes our stomachs churn? Why is that?

Maybe it is about accountability. I like how Rick Warren plays with that word. He says that accountability means that others “have the ability to count on me.” Accountability means keeping promises. Delivering the goods. Aligning our words and our actions. Paul challenges the Corinthians to do what they have said they were going to do. To follow through in following Jesus.

Paul tells the Corinthians that his invitation for them to give cheerfully, sacrificially, and proportionately to the cause of the church in Jerusalem is a test. He isn’t testing their generosity, he is “testing the genuineness of your love.”

On the one hand, being generous with our money isn’t necessarily an outgrowth of our love. We could be courting the favor of others. We could be buying ourselves a seat at the head table. We could be covering up our guilt over how we acquired our money.

On the other hand, our generosity is a visible action that results in gratitude on behalf of both the receiver and the giver. One is grateful for the support, the other is grateful to be in the position of offering their support. Giving and receiving lies at the heart of love.

We love, because God first loved us. We give, because God first gave to us. This is the way it is supposed to work.

When our love compels us to give, Paul reminds us that the measure of our gift isn’t how much we give, it is how much we have left. This is why Christians cannot be legalist about tithing, about giving a flat 10% of our income. It might be equal but it isn’t equitable. It might be simple but it isn’t fair. Tithing takes food out of the mouth of someone living in poverty. Those few on the other hand could give 90% of their income and still have plenty left for very upscale necessities of life.

Paul’s invitation to the Corinthians – and to us – isn’t about the balance of our bank accounts, it is about balance within the life of a Christian community.

Let us pray: Loving God, we want to be accountable to the promises of our identity as your children. To show up with what we have, doing our part as we are able, to further your work in the world. In all things, keep us mindful that we follow Jesus. That his way of being in the world is the model for how we are to be in the world. Let all things in our lives flow from love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

2 Corinthians 8:1-6

March 25, 2019

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.

For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. 2 Corinthians 8:1-6

I decided to be a church visitor yesterday. We have an experiment in congregational life going on in Houston called Kindred. The core of their community life revolves around Dinner Church on Sundays at 5:30 PM. They do several creative things during worship, including a note to download the Tithe.ly app to my phone so that I could give to the ministry. That was a new one for me.

I can’t remember the last time I took a quick break from worship to download, install, and sign up for an app on my phone – in the midst of a worship experience. But it worked. Since I’m in that uncomfortable week before pay day I’m not rolling in the dough. So I decided that I would feel good about giving $50. Actually a little more because I clicked “Cover the service charge” so, in the end, it cost me $51.46 so that Kindred would get $50. (Quick break to do the math. That is a 2.92% markup. Normal, I guess, for credit cards and certainly a sweet deal for Tithe.ly.)

At the end of the day, and from the very beginning of the Christian movement, it costs money to be a Christian community. Because it costs money to do everything we do. As I have said previously, the money that flows through our hands is a means of exchange, not an end in itself. Giving money last night during worship wasn’t about buying anything, not even about paying for the privilege of gathering in a comfortable room. It was an act of worship.

Who knows what the Apostle Paul would say about spur of the moment high tech electronic giving to support ministry? My guess is that he would think it a sweet deal. He could raise money without worrying about shipwrecks. Personally, I was grateful. Because I don’t carry cash anymore and it allowed me to give anyway. (It also, immediately, gave me the opportunity to give automatically in the future. Good for Kindred. GREAT for Tithe.ly)

Here are the high points of these first verses from 2 Corinthians. The Macedonian Jesus followers were extremely poor. Their lives were brutally hard. They were dedicated to following Jesus. They were more than willing to share what little they had with the struggling church in Jerusalem. Their faith, and their generosity, were far more impactful on Paul than the amount of their gift. The Macedonians recognized that it was a privilege to support another ministry. Yes, it is.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, help us be good stewards of all your gifts to us. Give us generous hearts to share what we have to keep your ministry of love active and alive in our world today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Deuteronomy 26:16-19

March 22, 2019

This very day the Lord your God is commanding you to observe these statutes and ordinances; so observe them diligently with all your heart and with all your soul.

Today you have obtained the Lord’s agreement: to be your God; and for you to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, his commandments, and his ordinances, and to obey him.

Today the Lord has obtained your agreement: to be his treasured people, as he promised you, and to keep his commandments; for him to set you high above all nations that he has made, in praise and in fame and in honor; and for you to be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised. Deuteronomy 26:16-19

How did we get to here from there?

As we finish up the 26th chapter of Deuteronomy, we reach the end of this description of the covenantal relationship between God and the people whom God has chosen to carry God’s name and message into the world. Such covenantal relationships were a common feature in the ancient world. What made this one distinctive is how it is rooted in love, not in power. God took the initiative in the relationship. Unlike the other gods out there in the world who expected to be fed first, God gave first.

This peculiar covenantal relationship reached back to the promise given to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 12, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

I will bless you, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. That’s the heart of the relationship. That is the purpose of God’s gifts to us – that we bless the world. That promise is NOT about “we’re so special because we’re God’s people” (although the tension is always there, hence “for him to set you high above all nations that he has made, in praise and in fame and in honor…) It IS about modeling, sharing, and living in a way that will always be countercultural to a sinful “it’s all about me”, “I’m going to get, and keep, mine so you can’t get it from me” way of doing life.

So how did we get from there to here?

How is it that the public face, the loudest voices, of the Christian movement are about demonizing people who are different, stereotyping and scapegoating other religions, seeking safety in guns, scaring the hell out of people to get them to heaven? How did we get to a place where churches get in the news because pastors abuse children or buy their own planes so they can “pray in peace” while they travel?

How did we get to a place where Christianity is less known for righteousness and more known for self-righteousness?

How did we get to a place where the average Christian gives less than 2% of their income to the work of the church? Where the highest percentage of income is given by the poorest people? Where less than 20% of a congregation’s members are in worship each weekend and some just never bother?

I don’t know. But that’s where we are. But that is not the whole church.

For there are millions of quiet Christians who continue to see the faith as one of living in life-giving relationships with God and others, for the good of all. Millions of Christians who remain willing to pay the price of time, money, and passion to obey God and love the world. Our hope remains in God and it is in such people that we continue to see God at work.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, this morning we recommit ourselves to the promises of our baptisms and the shape of a life rooted in following you. Take our hearts, our minds, our souls, our strength, and use them as you will, always for your glory, and the welfare of the world you love. Let us never surrender to discouragement. In all things, our trust rests in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Deuteronomy 26:12-15

March 21, 2019

When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, then you shall say before the Lord your God: ‘I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor forgotten any of your commandments:

I have not eaten of it while in mourning; I have not removed any of it while I was unclean; and I have not offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the Lord my God, doing just as you commanded me. Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our ancestors—a land flowing with milk and honey.’ Deuteronomy 26:12-15

The Bible opens with two different creation stories. They are different stories but together, they tell a whole story. The first story (Genesis 1:1-2:3) says there is an order and purpose to life, that life makes sense. The second (Genesis 2:4-3:24) says that life is broken, things are messed up. Both stories feel like our lives. And both stories assume that the purpose of people is to tend to the creation around them. This is where stewardship (managing the gifts of God well) starts.

Stewardship is about far more than what we give, it is about how we live.

At this point in Deuteronomy 26, the writer moves from how the gifts given to God were used to meet the needs of the most needy ones in the community – the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows – to reassurance that God’s gifts have not been abused. They were used as intended. They were used always in accord with God’s commandments.

Then comes the request from the people to God that God keep his side of the bargain. That God bless both the land and the people. I don’t know why I find this fishy but I do.

For any number of reasons, I find myself getting very uncomfortable when I hear people talk about how God will abundantly return to us what we have given to God. It reminds me of the TV preachers exhorting people to “plant a seed” by sending them money – and then to watch how God would repay their gift with blessing upon blessing. To me, this always feels crass and manipulative.

But that IS what the Bible says. “Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us.”

I read 2 Corinthians, chapters 8 and 9, by far the clearest words in the New Testament about the role of financial giving in Christian discipleship and I am all about its call to joyful, sacrificial, and proportionate giving. I just get uncomfortable with the part that says “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity…”

I don’t think we need to expect some kind of quid pro quo from God for our generosity. Maybe it is more like eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly – the blessing is inherently attached to the behavior. Generosity plays life forward.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, keep us mindful of the blessings attached to using your gifts to us as intended. May we find ourselves, not in what we possess, but in being possessed by your love for us. Never let us grow comfortable with a world that leaves children hungry, parents desperate, or widows bereft and alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Deuteronomy 26:8-11

March 20, 2019

The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.”

You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house. Deuteronomy 26:8-11

So what ultimately happens with the gifts that are offered to God? The people have a party! I’ll bet you didn’t expect that!!!

Now, I suppose a skeptic could point out how selfish those people are for taking what has been offered to God and using it for their own pleasure. In the same way, skeptics freely criticize Christians today for asking people to give their money. Who can forget – click here if you haven’t seen it before, just know the language will be harsh – George Carlin making fun of the idea that God needs our money? That ALL God wants from us in our money.

How about let’s put that one to rest forever? God doesn’t want or need our money, God wants US, our whole lives, to flourish in healthy relationships with God and the world around us. And, in this world, EVERYTHING except love costs money. Why? Because money is a means of exchange. It is a symbolic representation of the good that people do in the world for one another. Certainly we twist money into evil just like we twist everything else but that isn’t money’s fault. EVERYTHING costs SOMEONE SOMETHING. That is just the way it is and the way it will always be….unless we return to the days of our hunter/gatherer ancestors and live off the land. (Not for me. I like running water that isn’t in a river.)

So yes, the church needs money just like the grocery store, the gas station, the cable service, the government, and your local barber. So how about we quit with the guilt about the church asking for money?

Back now to the party….

Look carefully at who gets invited: “Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you…” You, I imagine, refers to those bringing their first fruit gifts to the place where they worship God. They get to stay for the party. The “Levites” are the priestly order whose job it is to oversee all things “worship.” No surprise there. That’s what we would expect. But then look at the next names on the guest list – the aliens who reside among you. The ALIENS who reside among you? Yes, the ALIENS who RESIDE among YOU!

There is no secretive Bible vocabulary going on here. We all know what “aliens” means. No, aliens doesn’t mean “little green men.” Aliens means “outsiders”, “strangers”, “foreigners.” God’s people are supposed to set a place at the table for aliens. This is basic Christianity 101.

The truth is, God has ALWAYS wanted a place at God’s table for EVERYONE. WE are the ones who are picky about our guest lists. WE are the ones who are threatened by differences, terrified that some stranger is going to show up and steal our stuff. God has ALWAYS called God’s people to share their stuff, to make a place at the table, for aliens, for strangers, for foreigners, for outsiders, for “them”, and not just for us.

(Because, and I throw this in lest we forget, all stuff is God’s stuff, all tables are God’s tables, all people are created, and loved, by God. Period. Unless you choose to quit believing this. At that point, you can no longer rightly call yourself a Christian. You actually become an insult to the faith. This isn’t my opinion. Jesus, not me, said “you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” 1 John 4:20 says, “Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

How do we then rightly use the gifts that are presented to God by God’s people? Simple, we pay whatever it costs to throw a party to which everyone is invited.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you continue to give us everything we need, always inviting us to share what we have with others. You invite us, each and every week, to practice what you teach. To gather around a table. To eat bread. To drink wine. That in those gatherings we might see all of our lives, and the people with whom we share our lives, with a renewed sense of solidarity and love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Deuteronomy 26:4-7

March 19, 2019

When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. Deuteronomy 26:4-7

If you were blessed to be a parent, do you remember how your life used to change with every year of school? I remember those days well. But I also remember how God prepared us for those days from the moment we realized that we had a baby on the way.

The various ways that women suffer during pregnancy – the tiredness, the body changes, the morning sickness – are all preparations for life with a newborn. Then, as the baby grows, each chapter brings new joys and new challenges – from laying to crawling to walking, from nursing to formula to baby food to table food. Then there all of the extra trips in the car! All the equipment babies need! Play dates and all the sickness children bring home from school.

While we’re in it, there are times when we feel we are in it over our heads. But we make it through each stage. We’re grateful to God that we make it through each stage. And later, we look back at the hardest times, and we realize that those were the times that God carried us.

In the Bible’s telling of God’s story, there are plenty of references to hard times, to suffering, to disappointment. As a matter of fact, most of the stories include challenges and struggles and resistance and rejection. But through it all, God is relentless in God’s love. God never quits. God never gives us. God never casts the people aside. We know that is true. Not only because we read about it in the Bible but also because that is our life experience.

So it is that the writer of Deuteronomy, in instructing the people to return to God the first fruits of their labor, he also says that those are the occasions to remember where they came from, to remember all that God brought them through.

Unlike those long ago characters in the Bible, our lives today are actually pretty easy. We have electricity and indoor plumbing. Our temptation is to get too big for our britches. To take personal credit for everything good in our lives while blaming someone else for the stuff that isn’t. We’re tempted to leave God out of the equation of our lives and think it is all about us.

I know two guys who make music together as “Trout Fishing in America.” Their music is always fun and clever. One of my favorite songs they do is called “No Matter What Goes Right“. In it they sing, “I’ll still keep loving you, no matter what goes right.” There is our question – will we keep loving, honoring, and following God no matter what goes right?

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, thank you again today for reminding us that you are always there, even through the hardest times and experiences of our lives. Thank you for using those times to shape us and help us grow. Thank you for walking through all the stages of our lives. May we never forget the lessons you teach us along the way and may we always respond with gratitude and generosity. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Deuteronomy 26:1-3

March 18, 2019

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” Deuteronomy 26:1-3

Our little congregation on the corner of Bellaire Blvd. and Avenue B is in the middle of raising money. We want to pay off our mortgage. This is debt that the congregation accumulated from doing things that congregations sometimes need to do. We rebuilt our school after Hurricane Ike destroyed it. We made some changes in our sanctuary to do things like offer alternative music, live stream our worship services to anyone who wants to watch from wherever they are. We replaced air conditioning. Resurfaced our parking lot. The normal stuff that congregations do that cost a lot of money.

We also want to participate in the capital campaign with our partners in ministry, the Christian Community Service Center (CCSC). CCSC is a coalition of 40+ congregations that have banded together to build an organization that helps feed and clothe people who have more month than money. They offer assistance with rent and utilities. They help people find jobs. They train people to run their own small businesses. They provide school supplies and Christmas presents. And they too are digging out of losing their central building to yet another hurricane.

And finally, we know that there will be other costs to come in taking care of our physical buildings so we want to get ahead of the game by establishing a fund that we can draw from rather than borrowing money in the future.

We’re just doing what congregations do. And all of these things require money beyond the costs of our day to day work. Where will that money come from? The writer of Deuteronomy would have us be crystal clear on that point – all that we have, all that we are, and all that we need, comes from God. Everything we have is a gift from God. As the people of God, we recognize that by giving back a portion of what we have received. Out of gratitude, not obligation. Out of recognizing what God has already done for us, not paying God off for future services.

Such recognition then becomes how we look at life. When a pipe breaks and floods a classroom, we can pray to God for help. And God shows up in the person of a plumber. That the plumber does her work with excellence is a reflection of her character. That she charges us for her services is a necessity for her to continue providing such services to others. She may or may not see the holiness in her work. But we do. Because we are the people of God and this is how we look at things.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we give to you and your work in the world what you have first given us. Thank you for all that we have and all that we are. And thank you for the good news that you will never quit helping us become all that we can be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.