Monthly Archives: October 2011

10 30 11 Living Our Faith Together

My sermon from October 30th, 2011 based on John 4:5-26, 39-42.  5th of 5 in “Better Together” series.

A couple of weeks ago now I ended up out for a daddy daughter dinner date with Hannah.  We went to her favorite place, Old McDonald’s, and we were sitting there doing that dance of negotiation regarding how many more bites of chicken or apple she needed to have before she could go play in the play area.  In the midst of our conversation a visitor stopped by our table.  It was a young boy, probably 8 or 9 years old and he just kind of swooped in and out really quickly, only staying long enough to say, “would you like to have this?” and handing me this little flyer.

“Road to Heaven.”  It opens by asking a couple of questions, all centered around what happens when we die and then there are four different streets, each with a bible verse.  On the back there is a bit more information about hell, a prayer that one could pray (with less than satisfying grammar), and some information about what I presume to be this young man’s church.  I think this young boy shared his faith with me, but I’m not really sure…  And I know how I received this as a pastor, but I can’t know for sure how this would strike me if I had no church background, but I don’t think it would be quite enough to inspire me to give my life to Jesus or even to visit their church for worship.  I appreciate the boldness of the young man, but have some concerns about this whole thing too.

Today we conclude our series, “Better Together.”  Over the last four weeks we have explored various spiritual disciplines and the ways in which we are all better, as individuals and as a community of faith, when we live our faith in community.

We began by talking about the reality that we’re better as we pray together as the discipline of prayer helps us to better connect to God’s love for us and helps us better connect to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Three weeks ago then we talked about the reality that we are better as we are present together as a part of the community of faith.  Being physically as well as mentally, emotionally, spiritually present for worship and life as a part of the community allows us to more consistently and deeply grow into who God is calling us to be.

On the third week of the series we addressed the reality that we’re better as we give together of our financial resources.  As individuals our giving is an act of faithful response to God’s love for us that defines who we are and shapes us.  As a community of faith, of course, we are better able to dedicate financial resources to fulfilling God’s ministry in our community and world when we have a larger pool of people giving more regularly to Christ’s work through the church.

And last week we talked about the reality that we’re better as we serve Christ together.  Again, this church, like any church, is at the most basic level nothing more than a community of people who have decided to come together and to make commitments to God and one another.  Giving of our time and talents in service, like giving of our financial resources is a way in which we are called to respond to God’s love for us.  Serving through the church in the world helps us broaden our perspective and grow.

And today we conclude our series by talking a bit about what it means for us to live our faith together in the world, to share our faith with others in the world.  Have no fear, though, I’m not going to distribute leaflets to have you pass out at restaurants, but rather I want to reflect a bit on why we share our faith and what it can look like when we do that.  I want to center the conversation around the great story from the gospel of John that we read earlier this morning.

I love this story.  It is a fascinating story, but to really understand this story it is necessary to understand a little bit of the back-story.  In the first century Jews hated Samaritans.  I know, I know, hate is a strong word.  But Jews hated Samaritans.  They despised them and thought them to be mixed race dogs.  Their hatred led them to avoid traveling through Samaria or encountering Samaritans if at all possible.  When traveling through the region they would cross extra rivers and travel extra miles on foot just to avoid traveling through Samaritan soil.

In John’s gospel we are told a story about Jesus and his disciples traveling immediately through Samaria.  At mid-day they stopped at a well and Jesus remained there while the others traveled an additional two miles into town to get food.  As Jesus was resting at the well a Samaritan woman came to draw water.  The well was a communal well; in the mornings the men would be there to water the livestock and in the evenings the women would come to get water for the next day and to do washing.  It would not have been common for a person to be at the well at mid-day.  This woman likely came hoping not to see anyone, hoping to be alone.  And there was Jesus.

Another layer of the back-story that might be helpful to understand here is that a social custom for the day would have stated that it was inappropriate for a man to talk to a woman in public, but Jesus engages her in conversation nonetheless.  They have this interesting exchange about the living water that he offers and he reveals to her the depths with which he knows her (you have had many husbands, but the man with whom you now live is not your husband).  They have a lengthy discussion in which the woman states a belief that the messiah will come and then Jesus (saying something he rarely says) makes the statement, “I am the Messiah.”

When the woman hears Jesus make this statement she drops her water pots (which would have been very expensive) and heads to town to tell others the good news of this man she has encountered.  After encountering Jesus this woman’s life was changed and she became an immediate witness.  She probably wasn’t passing out flyers, but she went to share the good news.

In this text there is a powerful illustration of what it means to witness to our faith, but there is also a serious warning against becoming too complacent in our routines and our lives of faith.  The hero of this story is a woman who was looked down upon and despised.  She was a Samaritan.   She was a woman.  She had been married many times.  She now lived with a man who was not her husband.  Yet, even though she was rejected culturally, she had a powerful encounter with Christ and wanted desperately to tell others about the good news.  She rushed to be a witness.

The fact that this woman, that this type of woman, is the hero of this story is totally unexpected.  There were a group of people who had been following Jesus, living closely in relationship with him, listening to his teachings, and witnessing his miracles.  This group went into town to get their groceries and then headed back to the well where they had left Jesus.  In the telling of this story they showed no enthusiasm for the life and teachings of Jesus, they were simply bogged down in routines and errands.

We are invited to witness to our faith as did the woman at the well, to share the story of Christ’s transforming love with our communities.  We are invited to do so with enthusiasm and passion.  At the same time we are cautioned to not become too complacent in our routines so as to miss opportunities to celebrate and share God’s love with others.

So what do we mean that we’re better together as we live out our faith, as we witness together?  There is a traditional understanding of the word witness that primarily has to do with the words that we speak.  This is not an inaccurate understanding, but it is incomplete.  Yes, on one level we are to speak words that tell other people about God’s love for them.  However, if we’re not careful, our efforts might feel as odd to some as it felt to have that young boy hand me this flyer at dinner a couple of weeks ago.

Of equal and maybe even greater importance than sharing our faith with our words, is the way that we are supposed to bear witness to our faith through our actions and the way we live.  If we tell people that God loves them, but don’t treat them lovingly, they aren’t going to hear what we have to say.  However, if we tell people that God loves them and then we share that love with them and treat them in loving ways, they are much more likely to understand and experience the love of God.

And so, of course, I would encourage you to talk about your faith, to talk about the difference that God’s love makes in your life.  But even more so, I would encourage you to really be intentional about living out that love, to letting your life be a witness to God’s love working within you.  One of my favorite quotations, that beautifully captures the essence of this idea, is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel always.  When necessary, use words.”

I believe that, if we do this church thing right, our involvement makes a difference in our lives.  I believe that taking intentional time to pray, and the act of being present, and the spiritual disciplines of giving and serving can help us become the people that God intends for us to be.  I believe that when we do these things our perspective on life and the world can be changed.  I believe that we can be happier and more at peace with the realities of our lives.  I believe that the people who know us, our co-workers, our friends, our families, might begin to see a difference in our outlook and attitude.

You see, being a part of a community of faith isn’t just about achieving or accomplishing a goal at the end of this life.  It isn’t just about being saved.  It isn’t just about getting into heaven or avoiding hell when we die.  Being involved in a community of faith is a way to connect to Christ’s love for us, to grow in that love, and to experience a new way of living here and now.  And as you experience that life, others will want to know more about it and they’re going to ask you about it.  And when they do, the door will be open for you to share your faith and to invite them to this place and for all of us to continue experiencing the reality that we’re better together.

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October 28th, 2011 eNote

Below is my weekly email to the Tonganoxie UMC congregation.  I share it here so that others can keep in touch with what the church is up to.  Let me know if you’d like to be added to the list to receive the note weekly.

Dear Tonganoxie UMC Family,

Yesterday afternoon Keith and I were privileged to spend some time visiting the elementary school and the high school and talking with Principals George and Carlisle and Vice Principal Smith.  It was a great opportunity to learn about the schools and to visit with these leaders about the greatest needs of the students as well as for our community as a whole.  As I listened to the stories these three administrators told and watched them interact with students through their buildings I was struck by how much they clearly care about their work and desire to make a difference in the lives of students.  Our community is blessed to have these leaders (as well as the countless teachers, staff, and administrators) working on behalf of our children and youth!

Today I want to share a few quick reminders with you.

Tonganoxie Spooktacular Tonight

Tonight from 6-8 is the community Spooktacular, an opportunity for kids and families to trick-or-treat their way through downtown Tongie.  This is a wonderful event and a great chance for us to be present in the life of our community as a congregation.  We will be set up in front of the church passing out candy and hosting some activities and games designed to support Breast Cancer Awareness.  Set-up help could be used as early as 5pm and there will be a need for some clean-up assistance following the event.  Come decked out in your costume or in pink to support Breast Cancer Awareness.

Don’t Forget to Sign-Up For the All Church Planning Retreat

This coming weekend, Friday November 4th (6-8:30pm) and Saturday November 5th (9:00am-12pm), is an important time in our life as a congregation as we gather for a special time of retreat.  We will be meeting at the Tonganoxie Historical Society (201 W. Washington St.) for a time of fellowship, worship, dreaming, and planning.  The retreat will serve as the culmination of the small group gatherings that we have held through this fall and our hope is to clearly define a purpose/vision for our ministry in 2012 as well as to discuss the needed structure to accomplish what we believe God is calling us to do as a church.  All ministry team leads are required to attend and the retreat is open to everyone in the church.  We will be providing childcare at the church during the event.  Please sign-up for the retreat and indicate a need for childcare no later than noon on Wednesday, November 2nd by calling the church office at 845-2814, by emailing tumcoffice(at)sunflower(dot)com, or on your connection card in worship Sunday.

“Better Together” Commitments to be Received on Sunday

Earlier this week you should have received a letter of invitation and a pledge card for our “Better Together” campaign.  On that card you are encouraged to indicate your commitments to Christ through the church for 2012; specifically how you will seek to practice the spiritual disciplines of prayer, presence, gifts, service, and witness.  These cards will be collected in worship this weekend and can also be turned in to the church office.  Thank you in advance for your support of Christ’s work through Tonganoxie UMC in the coming year!

I look forward to seeing many of you tonight and to being present with you in worship on Sunday.  Have a great weekend!

Grace and Peace,

Jeff

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A Tale of Two Afternoons

I am an extrovert.  I am energized by being around other people.  I am more and more aware of this all the time.

I spent yesterday afternoon working in the office.  The entire time that I was there I was the only person in the building.  It was exhausting.

This afternoon I have been working at the The Coffee Depot, the local coffee shop.  I spent 30 minutes or so out front talking on the phone and had the opportunity to wave at 5 different members of the congregation as they passed.  I started out visiting with the owner of Vintage Soap and Bath that shares space with the coffee shop.  Then I had the chance to visit with the owner of H Ave., the business next door.  After a bit the director of the chamber and the chief of police came in and we chatted for awhile.  After a bit the owner of the locker plant down the street came in and joined the conversation.  It has been an energizing day!

Today hasn’t been as “productive” as yesterday in terms of crossing things off the to-do list, but it’s been great to make connections with folks in the community and have my extroverted soul energized.

Are you more of an extrovert or an introvert?

How do you find your soul energized and renewed?

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10 23 11 Serving Together

For the last several weeks now we have been talking about the commitments that people make when they commit to growing in their faith and living in the world as a part of a United Methodist Faith Community. When people make these commitments they pledge to support Christ’s work in the world through their community of faith with their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness.

As we have spent some time each week reflecting on each of these themes, we have explored two key realities. On the one hand we have looked at these themes as key spiritual disciplines, the practice of which helps us as individuals better grow into who God desires for us to be. At the same time we have looked at these themes as keys to be practiced within a community of faith for the sake of Christ’s work in the world through the church. This morning we continue this series of messages reflecting on the reality that we are better together.

Three weeks ago as we began this series we talked about prayer as a foundational spiritual discipline that allows us to connect with God and others. If you remember anything from that sermon I hope it is this – there aren’t right and wrong ways to pray. Prayer can be speaking or listening. Prayer can be out loud or silent. Prayer can be public or private. As we pray we grow in our awareness of who God is and who God is calling us to be. As we pray with and for others our relationships with them deepen and strengthen as well. All of these things are important realities, but at the core is the truth that there aren’t wrong and right ways to pray.

Two weeks ago now we talked about the importance of being present with others in a community of faith. In that conversation we talked about the importance of being physically present, of being in worship each week and of being engaged in the life of the church. We also talked about the importance of being more than just physically present – of being mentally, emotionally, and spiritually present as you come to better know others in this community.

And last week we talked about the important spiritual discipline of giving a portion of our income back to God’s work in the world through the church. Giving with intentionality and regularity is an important discipline because it helps us structure our relationships with God and with material things in a healthy way. It does this by reminding us of the reality that everything we have comes as a gift from God. When we return a fixed portion back to God it makes the statement that we want to be defined by that relationship with God over and above any other thing in our world.

In this conversation last week we named the tithe, giving 10%, as the ultimate goal, but acknowledged that the key discipline that helps form us as individuals is to give with intentionality. You were encouraged last week to take a step toward the tithe for 2012. If you don’t currently give with intentionality, be intentional about giving a set amount each week in 2012. If you do give a fixed amount you are encouraged to find ways to take intentional steps toward the tithe in the coming years, maybe a one percent increase each year until you are tithing.

If you have been with us through the last three weeks I also hope that you are keeping in mind an important theme that I want to keep emphasizing through this series. These messages are not designed to induce feelings of guilt or shame. Though guilt and shame are often used as motivators in religious institutions, I don’t believe that they are ultimately helpful or healthy.

Your call to support Christ’s work in the world with your prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness, is an invitation. It is an invitation to a way of living that can be freeing and exciting. As we talk about these things I don’t want you to feel driven or pressured by a sense of guilt or shame. Over and above everything else, I invite you to practice these disciplines for your own sake, so that you might become increasingly aware of God’s amazing and endless love for you and so that you might continue to grow to be who God desires you to be.

Today we turn our attention to the fourth of five promises that people make when they commit to being a part of a United Methodist community of faith – to support Christ’s work in the world by serving. To guide our conversation this morning we are going to look at two texts that I imagine are familiar to many of you, texts that address the idea of serving or doing works of mercy or justice in the world. The first of these texts is James 2:14-18, I want you to hear it again…

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith.

This text, especially verse 17 and the sentiment that faith without works is dead, has been often misused. I have heard pastors and speakers misconstrue it to imply that we have to earn God’s love or God’s favor by serving and I hope that you’re becoming increasingly uncomfortable with that notion. I hope that you are increasingly settling into a sense of peace with the reality that God loves you exactly the way you are. You are accepted and loved, unconditionally.

So with that reality in mind, let’s take a look at this James text and see if we can’t unpack it just a bit. In verse 14 the question is asked, “Can faith save you?” It is helpful to understand that the question here isn’t really about eternal salvation. Earlier in the book, James makes the statement clear that it is the implanted word of God that is able to save souls. The question of works, or of serving, is a question about how to effectively live out our faith in the world, not a question of how to earn or achieve or prove our faith.

Similar to last week’s conversation regarding giving and the previous week’s about presence, we don’t serve to earn God’s love, we don’t serve to earn a reward, we serve as a response to all that God has done for us, as we experience God’s love an outpouring of that should be a natural desire to share it with others, those in our own communities and around the world. As we experience the blessings of God’s love, as we experience the life that comes from God, we are called to share that love with others by being in service to God and Christ through the church and in the world. A faith that shares the blessings of God with others through service in the world, this is a faith that is alive!

The second text that I want to spend a bit of time looking at this morning comes from the gospel of Matthew. This scene is the final piece of the final teaching in Jesus’ public ministry as recorded in Matthew. Immediately following the conclusion of this scene, in the beginning of Matthew 26, Jesus begins to instruct his disciples to make preparations for the celebration of the Passover. The location of this scene, at the end of Jesus’ public ministry, leads some commentators to claim that what Jesus is sharing here is of the utmost significance in his ministry, that it is to serve as the culmination of all that he has taught and done. Hear these words again…

31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

This is commonly referred to as a judgment parable and it clearly tells a story about a time of judgment, a time when people will be held accountable for their actions in this life. Jesus says that there will be a time when the Son of Man comes and divides people as a shepherd divides sheep and goats. To those at his right hand the king will say, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Those who serve, those who feed the hungry, those who clothe the naked, those who visit the sick and the imprisoned, are referred to here as “you that are blessed by my Father” and I want to invite you to think about this in what might be a new way for you this morning.

Often this text is read and interpreted to imply that if we serve then God will bless us. But I find myself wondering, might this understanding have it backwards? Might it be that at the time of judgment God will not choose who to bless based on behavior, but rather that at the time of judgment God will know who has been open to and receptive of the blessings that God has already given by the extent to which people have served as a response to those blessings? Might it be that it is not God doing the separating at the time of judgment, but that it’s us who does the separating each and every time we fail to respond to God’s love and share it with others?

One of the commentators that I read this week, Eugene M. Boring, framed it in a way that I thought was helpful when he said, “the thrust of this scene is that when people respond to human need, or fail to respond, they are in fact responding to, or failing to respond, to Christ.” As we experience God’s love we are to respond to that love by sharing with the world.

We as individuals are better when we practice the spiritual discipline of serving just as we are better when we pray, when we are present in the community of faith, and when we give. Serving Christ in the world helps define who we are and how we understand God to be at work in our lives and in all of creation. At the same time we as a community of faith, as a church seeking to do Christ’s work in our community, are better when individuals come together and serve together.

Katie Ussery grew up in this church and with the exception of a few years at college has called Tonganoxie home and this church her faith home for all of her life. Katie is a small business owner here in town. She is also very involved in giving of her time to the church. A few months ago now Katie told me a bit about some of what drives her to give to the church in the various ways that she does. She said it simply, “As a small business owner, there are some months where finances are incredibly tight and I’m not able to contribute much to the financial life of the church. However, I can always make pancakes for my church family.”

Katie understands the importance of serving Christ through the church as one of the ways that we’re called to work together as a community of faith. We sat down with her a couple of weeks ago and asked her to share a little bit about her motivation for serving through the church and I want you to hear what she had to say…

(Katie’s Video)

One of the things that excites me about viewing our commitments to the church in such a holistic ways is the understanding that it then allows for different people with different gifts and different resources available to them to support Christ’s work through the church in different ways. I shared a couple of weeks ago that there are some who because of health concerns aren’t able to be present with us in worship, but that they often are some of the greatest supporters of the church through prayers or giving. Katie’s story also illustrates this idea well. I love the idea that as a small business owner she doesn’t always have a lot to contribute in terms of financial resources, but that she can always serve, that she can always make pancakes for the church.

And so in closing this morning I want to reiterate the good news of God’s love for us. God loves us, period. Exactly the way we are. God has richly blessed us and we are invited to share those blessings through the church. As individuals we are better as we practice the discipline of serving. As a community of faith we are better when everyone pools their resources and talents. We are better as we serve together.

 

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Insurance Observations – Broken Systems

I had a couple of experiences this week, that I simply want to share by way of processing.  Your thoughts or feedback would be greatly appreciated.  Maybe you can help me make sense of or find hope in this…

On January 1st, 2012 my insurance will be changing (again) through the Kansas East Conference of the United Methodist Church.  From what I can tell this is becoming fairly common practice, for larger corporations/systems to take bids and then change health insurance carriers periodically.  On Wednesday I went to a meeting in KC where many clergy from the conference were gathered to learn about the changes in our insurance.

Over the course of maybe an hour we heard from a handful of different people who tried to walk us through the big manilla folder full of information that we had.  For 2012 the following is happening with our insurance:

  • We are transitioning from Human to Cigna for health insurance.
  • The bank that manages our Health Savings Accounts is changing from UMB to Chase.
  • Our dental insurance is changing from Humana to Delta Dental.
  • Our vision insurance is remaining with Humana.

To help us navigate the new insurance offerings we had the following persons on hand:

  • Kansas East’s Benefits Coordinator
  • Kansas East’s Benefits Assistant
  • A representative from Lockton (with no explanation of what that even is…)
  • A representative from Cigna
  • A representative from Delta Dental

As they presented and members of the conference began to ask questions several things were quickly discovered:

  • Different parties weren’t clear on how their deadlines/timelines interacted or overlapped with those of other parties.
  • Language about different plans was inconsistent throughout the packet leading to confusion.
  • The enrollment form that regularly said “humana” on it really meant “cigna.”

Overall the meeting was confusing and frustrating.  “Just give me a simple checklist of what I need to do and dates by when it all needs to be done” I said as I left.  This seemed like a novel idea to the recipient of my feedback.

And then I got home and found a bill waiting in the mail for some blood work that Heather recently had done.  The draw fee was $116, but since we had insurance it was discounted by $100 and some change.  We will end up paying less than $16 for a service that I’m told costs $116.  And while I’m grateful, it is infuriating to think about the uninsured who will be paying $116 for that same service.  And I can’t help but think that somewhere in the system someone (maybe someone I met on Wednesday) is profiting from bizarre structures and inconsistencies of this system.

From behind me on Wednesday someone muttered under their breath, “How could anyone see what is happening here and not think we have a healthcare crisis in our country?”

I don’t know.  I just don’t know…

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October 21st, 2011 eNote

Below is my weekly email to the Tonganoxie UMC congregation.  I share it here so that others can keep in touch with what the church is up to.  Let me know if you’d like to be added to the list to receive the note weekly.

Greetings Tonganoxie UMC Family,

I am in front of my computer this morning finishing up things for worship this Sunday a bit later than usual as I took yesterday afternoon out of the office to go play with our youth group at Power Play in Shawnee.  It was a great time!  We played video games, ate together, rode go-carts and bumper cars, played laser tag and generally enjoyed an afternoon away from our normal routines of work and school.  It is exciting for me to see our youth group gaining in energy and I encourage you to talk with Keith, our Director of Youth Ministries, about the different ways that you might support their activities and ministry.  You are also invited to come by my office Sunday to see my first place ribbon from yesterday’s go-cart race on display!

In Today’s email I want to share a couple of reminders about things happening in our community of faith as well as an invitation from the greater Tonganoxie community.

Remembering the Saints

As a part of our All Saints Day celebration on November 6th we will be remembering members of our faith community and loved ones near and dear to members of our community who have passed in the last year.  We will remember each person with a photograph, the lighting of a candle, and the ringing of a bell.  For each person that you would like to have remembered, please submit the following to the church office no later than noon on October 28th: a photograph (higher resolution digital preferred), full name as you’d like for it to appear, date of birth, date of death.  This information can be brought by the church office or you can submit it via email.

All Church Planning Retreat – November 4th and 5th

Please mark your calendars and make plans to be present for an all church planning retreat on Friday evening November 4th (6-8:30pm) and Saturday morning November 5th (9:00am-12pm).  We will be meeting at the Tonganoxie Historical Society (201 W. Washington St.) for a time of fellowship, worship, dreaming, and planning.  The retreat will serve as the culmination of the small group gatherings that we have held through this fall and our hope is to clearly define a purpose/vision for our ministry in 2012 as well as to discuss the needed structure to accomplish what we believe God is calling us to do as a church.  All ministry team leads are required to attend and the retreat is open to everyone in the church.  We will be providing childcare at the church during the event.  Please sign-up for the retreat and indicate a need for childcare no later than noon on Wednesday, November 2nd by calling the church office at 845-2814 or emailing.

Invitation to Participate in Tonganoxie Library’s Time Capsule

I received the following email this week from Jim Morey at the library and wanted to pass it along to each of you.

The Tonganoxie Public Library is going to construct a Time Capsule to be opened in the library’s bicentennial year, 2100. We are inviting you, and a number of your contemporaries, to write a letter to be opened in 2100.  It might contain such information as your budget, your roster, your schedule, photographs of your church, plans for the future, etc.  Anything that you might find interesting or useful from your predecessors from a century ago.  Feel free to include your parishioners (young and old) input. Please send any material you would like us to include in the time capsule to my attention

Jim is asking for submissions over the course of the next month.  If there are things that you would like to make sure are included please pass them along to me and I will send everything to Jim on behalf of the church.

I hope that you have had a good week and I look forward to seeing you in worship on Sunday as we continue our messages on the reality that we’re “Better Together.”

It is, as always, a joy and a blessing to be your pastor.  Thanks for allowing me to be a part of your adventures as a congregation!

Grace and Peace,

Jeff

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10 16 11 Giving Together

My sermon from October 16th, 2011 based on Matthew 6:19-21 and Luke 18:18-22.  3rd of 5 in “Better Together” series.

This morning we continue our “Better Together” series. This is a series designed to get us thinking about some different spiritual disciplines and the dual realities that both as individuals and as a community of faith we are better when we live our lives of faith together.

In the United Methodist tradition, when a person commits to living out their faith in relationship with others through life in a local church, they promise to support God’s work in the world through that church in five different ways: their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness. And it is my belief that, as we grow in our lives as disciples, we are better together.

We began this series by talking about the reality that we are better as we pray together. I hope you’ll remember the two different avenues that I suggested might be helpful with this. One was to set aside an amount of time each day, even if a small amount, to be in prayer – 5-10 minutes each day can be a great way to start this. Another idea was that you might engage in prayer on an ongoing basis by holding an ongoing conversation with God throughout the day, giving thanks for the blessings that occur and seeking guidance during the difficult times. We are better when we are praying together!

Last week then we talked about the reality that we’re better when we’re able to be present together for worship and for life as a part of the community of faith. The ideal would be that all Christians are in worship each week unless we’re sick. But I don’t want to hang that our there as a source of guilt or pressure, life happens, I know! So the challenge I issued last week is that you be intentional about making a commitment to regularly being in worship. This is, of course, not an out if you are already in worship each week!

Make a plan, to be here at least three times a month or at least every other week… Make a plan and work to grow into being regularly present. And when you are physically present, remember the call to be emotionally and mentally and spiritually present too, to engage in the lives of others as we seek to grow together in faith. We are better when we are present together.

Today then we turn to talk about the reality that we’re better, both as individual Christians and as a community of faith, when we are supporting Christ’s work through the church with our gifts – when we are giving together. And so today I want to frame the conversation around this reality with two questions: Why do we give? And How do we give?

Before answering the first question, “Why do we give?” I want to talk a bit about some common misconceptions that people have related to this question. Often I fear that people, religious leaders and laypersons alike, understand giving in some ways that aren’t ultimately helpful.

First of all, we don’t give to change God’s mind about something or to earn God’s love. That might sound like a no brain-er to many of you, but I didn’t want to leave it unsaid. God’s love for us is unconditional. God loves us because of who God is, not because of who we are or anything that we might do to earn God’s affection. Again, we do not give to earn God’s love or to change God’s mind about us.

Additionally, we don’t give in the hope or with the expectation of financial blessings returned to us. Unfortunately, many television preachers have built pretty successful institutions around this idea, “if you send in your five dollars to our ministry God will bless you richly.” God is not some kind of a cosmic vending machine into which we insert our dollar hoping that if we hit the right combination of buttons we will receive what we want.

Thirdly, we do not give because the sermon or the music were good during worship on that particular Sunday. Our giving is not a tip for God.

Finally, we don’t give because we have a little bit left over after we have done and bought everything that we want to do and buy.

So, why do we give? We give as a response to all of the gifts that God has first given to us. We give as an act of worship in the Christian tradition because it is a defining act that helps remind us of who God is, of the reality that all that we have first comes as a gift from God.

Let me unpack the background for this just a little bit. In the book of Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, the beginning of our story as a people of faith, God creates and sees that it is good. God’s creation is good. God creates humans and gives humans dominion over the rest of creation. This idea of dominion means that we are to be stewards, caretakers, and managers of all that God has created and given to us.

Our stuff and our money, they don’t belong to us, it all belongs to God. This is a paradigm shift from the way that our culture understands material possessions, but it is one that I have experienced to be powerful in my life and that I believe can revolutionize your relationship with God as well as your relationship with stuff…

When we understand that the world and everything in it – all of our stuff – is God’s first, it can shift our attachment to and desire for said stuff. This is what Jesus is talking about in today’s Matthew text,

19 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

If our treasures, our priorities, are the material stuff of the world, we have lost sight of the fact that everything we have comes as a gift from God.

As Christians we give as a way to align our heart with God’s heart and God’s work for the world. We believe that the church, as imperfect as it is, has been called by God to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. We give to support the ministry of Christ in specific ways. Which leads us to our second question for consideration this morning, How do we give?

The historical/biblical model for giving is the tithe, a tithe is 10 percent of something like harvest or income. All throughout the Hebrew scriptures, especially in the first five books of the Bible there are references to tithing. It was the standard way of living and operating in relationship to God and the world for the Israelites. Understandably, some don’t like the idea of tithing. When we operate with the world’s prevailing notion that we have the things we have because we have worked hard and earned them – it is hard to fathom giving away 10 percent. I have even sometimes heard people explain away the model of tithing by saying that it is an old testament law and that Jesus comes to institute a new law.

And to this way of thinking, that Jesus institutes a new law, I can’t and won’t argue. I often just refer back to the Luke text that we read this morning. A certain young ruler is asking Jesus about what has to happen to inherit eternal life. The young man has kept all of the commandments since his birth, but Luke tells us that

22When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’”

If a person doesn’t like the model of the tithe there is another option that comes from Jesus in the New Testament – we can sell everything we have, give it away, and then follow Jesus. Personally, I’m happy to aim for the tithe.

I know that some of you are tithing and understand the importance of it as a spiritual discipline. And while the ultimate goal would be for us to be giving ten percent of our income to Christ’s work through the church, I understand that that likely feels overwhelming and unrealistic to many of you.

While the tithe is the ultimate goal, what is most important is giving with intentionality. Again, we give, not because God needs our money and not because we’re trying to earn God’s love, but we give in response to God’s love for us, we give because to do so is a defining act of discipleship that says we understand everything we have to be a gift from God and that out of gratitude we want to return a portion of that back to God. If you are already tithing I imagine that you are blessed by doing so and that that act of discipleship helps keep your relationships with God and with money and with stuff in balance. If you’re not tithing, I don’t want to heap on guilt this morning, but I do want to offer up words of encouragement.

If you don’t currently give with any regularity, I would encourage you to begin doing so for 2012. Even if it’s a small amount, make a commitment to a particular dollar amount that you will give back to God through the church each month or each week. Then be intentional about tracking this and making it a priority. Let this be a first step, to give regularly and intentionally.

And if you are giving regularly, I would encourage you to crunch some numbers and see what percentage of your income it is that you are giving. You might find that this year you have been regularly giving 2% of your income, if this is the case I would encourage you to think about increasing that to 3% for 2012 and then being intentional in the coming years about working toward the tithe.

Corbin Hodges is the chair of our Finance Team and he and Rebecca, his wife, practice tithing as an important spiritual discipline in their lives. Corbin told me this summer that he and Rebecca were married before their last year of vet school when neither of them had jobs so it was really easy to give ten percent of their income… you can do the math on that one. Corbin sat down with us recently and talked some about the discipline of giving and I want you to hear what he had to say regarding an invitation to take steps toward tithing.

(Corbin’s Video)

Again, let this be an invitation and encouragement, to be intentional about responding to God’s love and the gifts that God has given.

As individual Christians we are better when we keep our perspective on God and on money and on stuff in line with the call that God has placed on our lives, we are better when we are giving together.

You have heard me say it before, the church, at it’s best, is nothing more than a group of people who have decided to come together to pool together their resources for God’s work in the world. And so there is a practical reality that the church is better when we faithfully pool our financial resources together. I want to make that clear today, but don’t want it to be our focus. The focus of our giving, is to be on growing in our faithfulness and our relationship with God.

When we come together to do this as individual Christians making up a community of faith our combined resources allow us to do the mission and ministry that God calls us to do as a community of faith. This last summer we were able to host VBS for more than 100 kids in the community, we are able to pay the utilities for our building where we meet and worship and help others come to know God, we pay for music, we pay for program materials for education and youth group, we support ministries here in our local community and around the world.

Our church leadership is committed to faithfully managing the financial resources that you give back to God through this church. Pledges or estimates of giving will be collected in worship 2 weeks from today and the finance team will compile these and seek to forecast estimated giving for 2012 so that they can most faithfully put together a spending plan for 2012. I understand that this model hasn’t always been fully utilized, especially in the most recent years of our church’s history, but as your pastor I believe it is important to have a realistic picture of what giving will look like so that we can most faithfully budget and plan. Your pledge or estimate of giving will help our finance team do this.

And of course the number that you share can change at any point during 2012 if life circumstances change! If you lose a job, face unexpected bills, fall on hard times, you can always adjust your pledge or your estimate by simply calling the church office.

Again, in closing, I would want to make sure that through all of this you hear the good news that God loves us exactly the way we are and God gives us incredible gifts not because we have earned them, but because that is the very nature of God. We have been given incredible gifts and skills and talents that allow us to work and to make an income. All that we have comes as a gift from God and we are called to give back to God with intentionality and with regularity as we work toward the goal of a tithe.

We are better together as individuals when we align our priorities in our giving.

We are better together as a community of faith because our shared resources allow us to live out God’s call on our church to share the good news of God’s love with the world.

We are better in giving together.

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