Thursday, November 19, 2015

Emotion meets Stewardship: Money

My son, Gavin, is obsessed with money right now. We have run into a few bumps in the road due to his desire for money. A few days ago he lost a dollar that he said he had put away. He came in throwing a fit because he had lost it. These are the times he likes to do my favorite thing – throw a temper tantrum that ends with a promise that he thinks will hurt me, but really doesn’t impact me at all (except for the fact I have to deal with his behavior). Gavin said, “Fine, Dad, I will never have any dollar ever.” I, of course, know this is not true. Besides, he’s the one who lost it, not me. I know that one day he will have more money, unless they do away with the paper money altogether in the future. (You can make your own 2050 predictions.) Anyway, I led him back to the place he left it on Sunday after he had showed me that Mindy had given it to him. We talked about putting money in a place where we will know where we left it. There is no way around it, my kids are going to be exposed to money, and how I handle my money is an example for them.

Money has always been a key part of survival for people. We need things to survive, and money is the means by which we get those things. As kids, culture has a way of feeding us all the things they think we “need,” and if that isn’t bad enough, someone else’s kid who sees a commercial is more than happy to share about the gadget’s coolness to everyone in class. This is how Gavin came to like Pokemon cards, even though he really has no clue what they’re about.

I got trapped in this cycle too when I was a kid. As a young boy, I began mowing lawns and collected a good amount of money. I had a list of all the things I was going to purchase. I had CDs and MLB hats that I “needed.” Come to think of it, not much has changed. I still love music and baseball. At that time I needed hats from all the different teams. I had a great plan that I would spend my money on the things I wanted, and then at the end of summer, I would save just enough to total 10% of my summer earnings to give to church. Unlike Gavin, I never thought that once my dollar was lost (or spent) that I would never have another dollar again, which just meant that when I got it, I spent it. At that point, my dad laid down a very important lesson about giving to God first. My dad was giving me perhaps the most important lesson he ever taught me. Never let the list of things I wanted take control of me.

Yet it happens, doesn’t it. It may not be baseball hats, but the list of things we “need” keeps growing, and our struggle to give to God is a challenge. Do we forget that we give to God knowing He always gives to us? Every time we expand or increase our giving, it happens again – the questions and struggles. Once I set my giving for the year and it is drawn directly out of my account, I am cool with it, but ask me what I am going to give next year and I can give you all the reasons why I’ll never have another dollar again.

The emotion in Psalm 49 about money is powerful. Really? A Psalm about money? Well of course, a Psalm about money. Every person who has ever called or stepped into my office to ask for money knows there is real emotion involved and heart strings pulled when talking about money. Guilt, passion, joy, and many more emotions are connected to giving, and yet, it is all God’s. If I gave all my money away I couldn’t take care of my family. The dependency we have on money leaves us with that constant emotional pull. As a church we are meeting a budget, but we also come back to the foundation – talking about God’s gifts to us and how we give back, trusting in God’s work through His people. The church budget is our faithful way of taking the gifts God has given and using them for His glory. Every gift that comes to Mt. Calvary allows us to open our doors and ask how can we live as transformed people who transform a community. How can we help move from ordinary people to extraordinary servants transformed by the saving love of Christ? As a church, we make tough choices every year on how we spend the dollars, knowing that our fears of never having another dollar again sometimes surface.  Then we turn back to Christ, who continues to fill us with wealth, and pray that we can have God’s understanding how to share that wealth with the world.  

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Emotion Meets Stewardship: Time

Last week Friday started with it’s normal routine. I got up and helped Mindy and Jacob get out the door. Gavin, Abby and I proceeded to get ready as well. Before we left for the gym, I decided to decorate one more pumpkin. We came home for lunch, I laid Abby down for a nap, and then began working on my chili for the chili cook-off that night at Word of Life’s Trunk or Treat. As I was trying to pack the car with our trunk or treat decorations, and remember to put all the costumes in for the kids, I was also putting the finishing touches on my chili to make sure it was perfect. When we got to Word of Life, I finally got to sit down as I handed out candy to the kids. I got to chill. It was hard to believe how fast the day went. After not even coming close to winning the chili cook-off, I debated whether or not it was worth my time to enter with all the rushing around I had to do to get it done.

Life is like that. We fill our time with all kinds of things, and then ask where did the time go. We find ourselves processing how to best use our time and how to prioritize the things that God would want us to have in our life. Somehow, we find hours wasted on television, smart phones, reading a pointless book, a project that doesn’t work out, or even a relationship that doesn’t seem appreciated. A long time ago I got lessons from people in my life on how to prioritize my time, but so often I was too focused on my own selfish desires to listen.

Psalm 90 may seem a lot more like Ecclesiastes than Psalms. It has more of a wisdom perspective about what we do with the time God gives us. We see moments in Scripture where people questioned the time Jesus spent on different things, but in the large scheme of His overall purpose, we can see how Jesus was following a specific redemptive plan. This weekend we will talk about how to spend our time, and how can we be the best stewards of time, appreciating it for the gift that is.

This past Sunday I finished morning services and took a short lunch break before I led the Easy Access Service. I left right afterwards and headed to Meremac Bluffs to attend an All Saints Day Service with Mindy’s family. We all went out to dinner after the service and talked for a couple hours. As I headed home with the kids, preparing myself for their bedtime routine, I was thinking about how I was ready to change clothes and relax. That’s when I got the call from the hospital that Al Roehm was about to go to heaven. The chaplain actually had to tell me to drive safely because he could hear the hurriedness in my voice. I dropped the kids off with Mindy (we had taken different cars and she made it home first), quickly made sure they were good, and then rushed out. I rushed to the hospital praying, “Dear Jesus, let me get there before you take Al home with you.” I debated whether or not I would have time to stop and get the communion kit. When I arrived at the hospital room, I found Mazi and Jim talking with Al as his heart and breathing began to slow. We had moments to reflect and pray, then Al went home to Jesus. I certainly wanted more time with Al, but God did answer my prayer so that I could see him.

Whether it’s the trivial times like chili cook-offs or the more serious end of life moments, time is important. Time is a gift. Why is that so easy to forget? When we say goodbye to friends or loved ones we remember it even more. In Scripture, we see how God teaches us through the stories of His people, their love of Jesus and their passion to share it. In our lives, we see how loved ones teach us as well as they grow in the love of Jesus. It is an amazing gift to us to see Jesus living in them.

Al had a unique way of appreciating time. He was diligent, but he wasn’t rushed, and he evaluated how to best use his time. He knew the small moments, like giving compliments, were worth the time that Jesus had given him. Over the last several years as Al wore hats that proclaimed his age. He may have been sharing a lesson that God had taught him, one that we can take with us. Time is precious. Time is a blessing. Time is a gift. For Al, 92 years was a lot of moments to treasure and share the greatest message of all – Jesus is our Savior. How will you use your time?

Emotion Meets Stewardship: Creation

A couple of mornings ago as they were getting ready, I heard Gavin ask Jacob, “Jacob, do penguins walk on their tippy toes?”  He wanted to know if penguins walk on the front or the back of their feet. My kids watch a ton of shows on animals. We read books on animals, use animal references, and even our Halloween jokes are full of animals. My kids are fascinated with God’s creation, specifically animals. (Don’t even get Jacob started on dinosaurs.) When the story of Noah arises in our Read 1 moments, our daily reading of scripture, we talk about all the facts of how the animals survived and existed. Last week we went to Grant’s farm.  During one of the shows we learned that the bald eagle is no longer endangered. This was news to me. That change was a result of many people putting great effort into making sure this part of creation was taken care of.

God’s creation is important. Watching my kids’ fascination with it just reiterates that to me. I truly believe God instills that in them. They grow up with a passion to investigate and learn of God’s creation. Too often as we get older, our enthusiasm for God’s creation grows bleak as we encounter more and more sin in this world. Yet, trusting in Jesus, we believe in God’s restoration of His creation. There is no better way to start the topic of stewardship than by talking about God’s creation, which He allows us to manage.

Through this stewardship series we will be reading the Psalms. The Psalms seem to focus on emotions, which may be confusing at first of how that connects to management and stewardship.  Yet, stirring our emotions is what we want them to do.  We want the Psalms to invoke a child-like emotion that brings back the excitement and enthusiasm to care about, learn about, and love God’s creation.

I pray that this series will be uplifting for you, as we listen to different Psalms and hear that poetic way of managing the blessings we have in life.  May it lead you to ask more questions like how do penguins walk.

Stratacipleship Grace: Pray 1

Over the summer the boys got into Legos. Legos fall into that same category as my house fixing skills. I am not very good at either of them. I’ll admit I don’t like this part of adulthood, because I would rather just not do it than to learn. Legos, in some small manner, are the same for me. When the boys would ask me to play Legos, I would just tell them that I was not good at building Legos and then I wouldn’t have to do it. (I proved how untalented I was at this the few times I did try to create something with them.) As they got more and more cool sets that I wanted them to enjoy, I finally took the time to slowly learn from the book. Soon I realized that the step-by-step process the instruction books provide allowed me to build the cool little items. As more of the figures got put together, I realized I was actually having fun helping the boys build them.

Legos remind me a lot of prayer. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, but most of the time we would rather claim that prayer is not our strength. It gets us off the hook from praying out loud, just like it got me out of making several Lego sets. Yet, once I realized that I can build a Lego set, with the directions of course, it was different. Sure, there are some great prayer warriors who can pray for a long time, but then there are those who can build a short little prayer. I think too many times we live in the realm of just saying this is not for me because I can’t pray like this or that person. We don’t take time to step back and try it. Doing it step-by-step we may find that it is not so hard after all. I also believe that the church didn’t help us with this in the past. Pastors took the role of “official pray-er” all the time and didn’t encourage others to step up. We are now seeing the results of that kind of passive teaching.

This week of our Stratacipleship Grace series is unique because it is the hardest part of our discipleship model. We know it is challenging to believe and trust that we can pray out loud, but now we need to take the next step by making it a strategy and helping others pray to Jesus too.   A great blessing of Jesus’ death and resurrection is, of course, eternal life, but it is also open communication with Him.  As a church, we want to help people know that they can talk to the God of the universe at any time and in any place. What a great message to share with everyone!

Stratacipleship Grace: Read 1

In our world there are a million different diets. There are places that will help you diet. There are businesses set up to train you how to diet. There are supplement stores to help you start your diet with pills. There are gyms that help you stay active so you can make the most of your diet. There diets that cut out standard foods people eat to help the weight come off quicker. Diets are intended to help people lose weight. The term “diet” can also just refer to what you eat on a regular basis. When people talk about staying healthy, they talk about exercise and diet. Using diet in that sense is not some 6-week program with the intention of losing 10 pounds. Diet, in that sense, is your regular pattern of eating.

Read 1 can be similar to diets. As we come into faith we know we should pick up God’s Word and read it. There are so many different ways we can do that. We read it with short devotional books. We can just pick up the Bible and start reading. There are Christian books that use God’s Word in them. There are ways to listen to it on the radio, cd, or electronically. Some even say that Christian music is a form of reading God’s Word. Even though we have all these ways to read God’s Word, like diet plans, we never seem to arrive at where we want to be. There is always more dieting, and more reading, we could do.

Read 1 is about God’s grace in many ways. I have done a ton of reading plans in my life, like different diets, trying to get into God’s Word daily. I have had devotional books. I have read the Bible straight through following a daily schedule. I have read it chronologically. I have listened to sermons.  Yet humanly, I find myself in a constant struggle to stay on routine with reading God’s Word every day. One person said it is because there is an enemy, someone trying to push against us. That person is the devil. Read 1 is all about God’s grace because we need it.  We need His grace! We humanly fail at putting ourselves in God’s Word enough, and often break the patterns and habits we are trying to establish. We need God’s grace to remember that it is a life long challenge to Read 1 every day. That is why we start with one verse. Sure, we want everyone to read chapters, or books, or to take a good amount of time meditating on God’s Word, but it starts with reading one verse. When we do that, we see God’s grace in these words. God’s grace embraces and loves us, and we remember again why we want to Read 1, because through it we hear the hope of Jesus.

With my kids, I’m trying to help them build future habits of Read 1 by reading together with them from an age appropriate Bible every night. My prayer is that one day this will help them to Read 1 on their own. Yet, just like in my personal reading life, there are days when we get home too late or I’m too tired and we skip it. Human nature strikes again. I have to be reminded that I need God’s grace, and we begin the pattern of Read 1 again. This weekend we talk about this part of our discipleship model -- Read 1.