Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What if...?

Good article on about John Lennon's infamous comment, "We're more popular than Jesus."

The author brings up a profound point. What if what John Lennon said were true? What does it change? How should we react?

What should we do?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Speedlinking & "Where're My Posts!?!"

OK, I've been very mobile lately and working on my Mac laptop. I've been posting and writing blogs, but for some reason they aren't getting all! I know that Blogger had some issues with Mac Safari capability, so maybe they are still having some new problems.

Anyhow, take my word for it, you missed the best posts ever. They were so good that I can't reproduce them.

Here are some great posts from the last two weeks:

  1. Stuff Christians Like is the first "Christian" blog that I've laughed at...I warn you not to drink milk while reading this one!
  2. A great post on Medium and Message. It lifts up Bill Watterson's "Calvin and Hobbes" cartoon as an excellent example of guarding the medium of the message and how this relates to the Christian mission. This was the topic of one of my posts that were magically deleted.
  3. Just Mizundastood? Seth Godin warns us all that we WILL be misunderstood from time to time. My question is: So what do we do knowing that we'll be misunderstood? I think in the blogging world, it means being Patient, Loving, and taking time to explain what one means without resorting to "they don't like me, they're attacking me."
  4. CommonCraft had the best statement I've ever seen from a company. We goofed, and we started over because hard work and time are worth the value and quality of our product. A company I already love, endeared me even more.

Enjoy! I know that I have!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Art of Giving

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 9:6-12
Scripture Lesson: 2 Samuel 24:18-25
Sermon: "The Art of Giving"

This sermon was VERY different! It was an open, honest discussion of how our finances are allocated.

There was a Wall Street businessman working late one evening and he was riding the subway at 9 p.m. As he was riding, a man in a very dingy sweatshirt, holey sock cap, with a pungant odor came up to him. He figured he was to about to be hit up for money, and sure enough the man asked, "Do you have any money sir?" Wanting to avoid a scene, the man said, "No, I don't." To which the homeless man replied, "Well you ought to try and get some...It's very useful."

Money can be useful. It can be a trap. It can be a great tool, or it can be our god. What we do with it and where our hearts are determine it's devilry.

The text today speaks of David offering a gift to God. He is commanded by God to buy a parcel of land and establish an altar in Jerusalem. So David and his men approach Araunah to buy his threshing floor. Araunah offers the threshing floor to him, free of charge. As a king in the ANE, David would have had the power to take whatever he wanted. Araunah, knowing this and seeing the king coming with all of his men, offers his land to preempt any demands or threats. But, David knows that his gift must come from his own possessions. He insists on buying the land at full value, and he buys it...then offers it to the LORD.

What is really cool is that David's gift would go on and become the very place on which the Temple was built. Unknowingly, David's gift in that moment, a creative buying of land to give to God and God's purposes, would be a blessing to later generations. In fact still to this day, 3 major religions hold this parcel of land to be sacred and special.

Our texts today demonstrate four characteristics of Biblical giving:

Obedient Giving - David heard God commanding him to give, and he responded.

Joyful Giving - Once we give from obedience, we learn that giving can be joyous. Giving is something that gives us joy. Why? God is a giving God. Think of the many blessings that we've shared today. Think of the innumberable blessings that we haven't mentioned! God is a giving God. God loves to bless, and we are made in God's image. Giving feels good because it is a part of God's character in us. We like to give because we were made to give.

Sacrificial Giving - David refused to accept Araunah's sacrifice of giving the land and call it his own. David knew that his gift had to come from his stuff, his possessions. When Bill Cosby was young he would ask his dad for $.50. His dad would reply that when he was a kid he had to walk 23 miles to work on a dairy farm 6 days a week. He would work 10 hrs. a day milking cows, but he had no bucket so he had to milk the cow into his hands and carry the milk another 8 miles to a milk barrel. He did this all for $.05 a day.! At the end of the story, Cosby didn't receive the $.50. Now that Cosby's a father and grandfather, when his grandkids reach for the money, he pulls his hands back and says, "No, it's my money!" When we earn our money it means much more to us. When the possessions are earned and worked for, the possessions mean more, and therefore, are a real sacrifice when given. David bought the land as a sacrifice to God.

Creative Giving - David's giving was creative. A threshing floor. Who would have thought it would be the foundation of the Temple? Who would have thought that seems to be a little gift from a small king, would grow to be one of the most contested parcels of land in the world? David was creative in buying the land, to make something new and to offer a different place and way to offer to God.

[At this point I took some time to explain our General Fund, Endowment, and other giving pools].

Our financial and giving habits are a part of our spiritual lives because they are a part of our lives.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Heart that Gives

Scripture Reading: Luke 19:1-10
Scripture Lesson: Micah 3:6-12
Sermon: "A Heart that Gives"

Mark Twain once said, "It's not the parts of the Bible that I don't understand that bother me...It's the parts I do understand." Sometimes there are issues in life and in faith that force us to dig deep, to get serious quick. Often they are hard to look at and even harder to speak of...and today we tackle one of those issues...the "T" Word

Tithing. Tithing is an Hebrew Scriptures teaching. The people were to give 10% of their income to God, care of the Temple. It was a mitzvot, a teaching, a command. It was an expectation of the people of God to give their money as a sign of love and obedience to the LORD.

Not only was it to be 10%, but it was to be the "first fruits." This statement comes from an ancient time when all economics were agrarian in nature. Nearly everyone's income came in some way from food production; thus, income was in fact farm produce and livestock. First fruits would be the first 10% out of your field, be it wheat or cattle or sheep. In Jesus' day, some even spoke of tithing from their spice gardens! God didn't just want any 10%, he wanted the first fruits. Why? From a spiritual perspective, it was a sign that the first thing we do is to worship and honor God. Secondly, it was practicle. You have 10% to give if it's the first thing you do. If you pay bills, expand your fields, and buy a brand new mule, you might only have 5% left. Offering God's tithe first was a sacrifice of putting God first.

And God makes a pretty big deal of this, too. In Micah, God says that not tithing is like cheating him, literally stealing from him. God not only wants to be firstly honored, the LORD demands it. Trust me, if God weren't so concerned about it, I would talk about. I don't like to be preaching about money...It's like walking through a minefield. But God makes a big deal out of it, and I think I'd be in the wrong if I didn't. In fact, Jesus spoke on money often. Of his 38 parables, 16 dealt with money. Of the 500 verses in the Bible on prayer and the 500 verses on faith, there are 2350 verses on money. The Bible talks about money alot. Why?

God knows who we are, and God knows how easy it is for possessions, things, and money to seep into our hearts and consume us. Too quickly they can become our "foundation" our "safety net" our gods. The LORD is jealous. Like a lover and a spouse, God will not share our love with another. The LORD is absolute about this that our love and devotion are God's...And I believe that the commandment to give money to God is a spiritual act of handing over potential idols to our Heavenly Father. We honor and worship God by saying that the most valuable things we have possess are God's, and that they mean nothing next to God's worth. In the end, the issue isn't about the money. It's about the heart.

[i sang Zacchaeus was a wee little man and invited the congregation to follow along]

The story of Zacchaeus is so much more fun when we sing that song, don't you think?

[I reiterated the Zacchaeus story]

Zacchaeus was hated. He was hated because he was a Tax Collector. Now this is beyond just being an IRS agent, you see. Tax Collectors in ancient Palestine under Rome were allowed to charge any tax amount they wished. Their only requirement was to bring in the state's allotment. So, often the tax collectors would add on to the already huge taxes, charging way too much, and pocketing the extra. There was little to no oversight, and if someone did not pay the amount the tax collector asked for, he had the power to send soldiers into a household and take whatever he wanted...including the family as slaves. And we think our tax system is bad!!!

Now add in that the tax collectors were working for an hated occupying force, the Romans. In bed with the enemy, these cheats, thieves, and traitors were hated and despised by the people. And that's exactly who Jesus calls down from the tree and in whose house eats dinner.

But, Zacchaeus doesn't remain the thief-traitor. In the presence of Jesus, his heart is transformed. He regrets his sin and offers his life to God. He does this by giving half of his wealth to the poor, and he wants to seek restitution by paying back four-fold everyone from whom he took too much. Unfortunately, the song ends too early in the story, for the best part comes at the end: Zacchaeus is a changed man with a changed heart. Once taking from the poor, now he gives to the poor. Zacchaeus has traded in its idol. His heart is now God's; and therefore, his wallet is now God's too. Jesus honors him with a blessing and naming: He is now a true Son of Abraham. A person of faith. A child of God. Beloved.

Two stories about people's giving. One in Micah and Zacchaeus. One story about God's people failing to give and honor God. Another about a heart transformed and given over to God, giving and loving.

Jesus said, "Wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Possessions show our values. Whatever we truly value, that is where our heart is. Whatever we save for, we value. Whatever we spend on, we value. And conversely, whatever we don't save or spend for, we don't value. A person's checkbook register can share a lot about what a person values, and so it also shares a lot about our faith, too. I can see by your faces that alot of you are thinking the same thing I thought when I first heard that: Ouch! At the end of the day, there are many excuses for giving or not giving, but it is really about our heart. If we truly value God, we will give to God.

Yesterday, I watched some football. How many watched footbally yesterday? Yeah, it's hard being a Purdue fan this year, and I've about given up...You want to hear why?
  1. Every time I go to a game, they want my money.

  2. The people at the stadium aren't always friendly. In fact, some are rude.

  3. The seats are crowded and uncomfortable...and way too hard!

  4. I don't agree with the coach, and he never does what I think he should do.

  5. A few of the games have gone into overtime...they just take too long. I'm late eating at the restaurant.

  6. The band plays music that I don't know.

  7. The games are always scheduled when I have something else going on...It's Saturday afternoon...couldn't they find a better time!?!

  8. When I was growing up, my mom and dad made me go to ballgames.

  9. And lastly, I've read a lot on sports and football, and I'm pretty sure I know more than the coaches do. I don't need to go to the games.

Yeah, you see where I'm going! How is it that we can sit through freezing weather to watch someone throw pigskin around with people puking all over our backs, but we can't make it to church!?! Or can't give!?! There are millions of excuses, but at the end of the day it boils down to whether or not our hearts are in it. If you love Purdue football, you'll watch it. If you love God, you'll give. It's all about the heart.

It's funny how our attitudes and dispositions change when we speak of money...take for example what happened this last week at our office...There was a man from Texas who called at the church and asked if he could speak to the Head Hog at the Trough. Brenda said, "Who?" "The Head Hog," he replied. Brenda paused composing herself, and said, "Sir if you mean Pastor Mark, you will have to treat him with a bit more respect. Please call him Pastor, but please don't call him the Head Hog at the Trough." The man looked down, and said, "Sorry, but I was stopping by to drop off $10,000 to donate to the church. Just then I walked in the door, and I heard Brenda say, "Hold on a second, I think the big pig just walked in the door."

I'm kidding, that didn't happen, but we laugh because there rings some truth for all of us in that story. People have strong, deep rooted emotions and feelings when it comes to money and possessions...Funny how that is...Perhaps there is something to that...Like money is more important to us than we'd like to admit...even to ourselves.

God wants to be first in our hearts. Period. God wants to have our hearts completely. That's why we give. God wants us to give because it is symbolic, yet very real statement of our allegiance and devotion to God. It also is a way to say thank you for the many material blessings that God has given us.

One of the reasons we give to the church is that together as the Community of Faith we can pool our resources and do more, together. We pool our money to do Mountain TOP, give out milk vouchers locally, we support the YMCA, we support Steve Newnum a Brazilian missionary. We also give to support those who can't pay their heating and energy bills. Together, our money that we give to God, out of our love for God, goes to help our neighbor, too. By giving we love God and neighbor.

So, if God is calling us to tithe, what's our plan of action? Most people can't jump from not giving or giving 1-2% of income right to the entire 10%. So what do we do?

  1. Our aim is the Tithe (as individuals and as the church). The tithe is the Biblical starting point for giving. As individuals we aim to give 10% of our income, and as a church we give 10% of our income to help support the greater United Methodist Church.

  2. The 1% Increase Plan - If you can't jump right into tithing, start making a 1% of income increase in giving each year. Most people can make this jump fairly easily, and over time you will get to your goal of giving.

  3. Often people ask me if they should give off of Gross or Net Income. I say, "Either, just give!" In ancient days, Temple Tax (the tithe) included support for widows and orphans. Today's government taxes include this. So believe that it is OK to give from Net because much of what is taken is given to help others...a way of giving through our government!

  4. Commit to giving. This week we are sending out a letter with a pledge card to all members and friends of Winchester First UMC. And, we are asking you to prayerfully consider what God is asking you to give. It's not about me telling you what you should give. Each of us must really go to God and honestly hear what God is asking us to give. I would suggest that as a matter of practice that you would put the percentage of giving down on the pledge card. This is a great way to practice and/or help us grow in our practice of tithing. At the bottom is a place to put the grand total for the year, but I encourage each of us to write the percentage down as we aim toward tithing.

Giving is about the heart. What do our giving habits say about our hearts? This week and month I challenge each of us to consider what our giving habits really say about us. Amen.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Historic Election

Today at Teen breakfast, I told the youth that they were living through history. Wow, the first African-American president! What a big step for our racially divided nation.

What I'm glad to say is that it didn't even strike me until he won. The entire time I was debating who to vote for (which ended when I pushed the button!) I never once thought "Obama is black" in relation to my decision to vote for him. It never crossed my mind. It was always between two different directions for the nation. Many I spoke to experienced the same. I believe that is an even bigger step for our nation when we don't even "notice" race.

No matter who we voted for or supported, it is now time for all of us to pray for, support, and help in any way our new president. The people have we need to back it up with our actions.

Barack Obama is now going to be OUR president. Congratulations, Barack, and may God bless you as you endeavor to lead and change our nation for the better.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Presidential Election Process

While I feel it is every person's civic duty, I also believe that people of faith have a divine mandate to speak to issues from their faith perspective. While I admit that I am totally not excited by either candidate, I am forcing myself to vote. Don't forget to vote for you Senators and Representatives, too!

Voting is duty, and voting is privilege. Go out and vote America, and may God grant us the wisdom as a nation to move forward!

If you are unsure of how this all voting stuff works, CommonCraft has a great video that explains it all. Just click below.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Leaving a Legacy

Scripture Reading: Revelation 7:9-17
Scripture Lesson: Deuteronomy 34:1-12
Sermon: Leaving a Legacy

There is a couple in rural Arkansas who let their 6 yr. old go out and play with his friends every afternoon. The rule is, though, that he must be home no later than 5 p.m. Breaking this rule brings out the paddle, so you know the parents are pretty serious about it! One April Monday, the boy was playing, but it was 5 p.m. His mother worried and worried because the boy was always so punctual. Arriving a full hour late, his mother jumped him, "Why are you so late!" He replied, "But, Mom, I'm not late!" She shot right back, "Young man it is 6 o'clock! You're a full hour late!" The boy looked puzzled, and said, "But the sun. I always know by the sun, and it's just now in the right spot!?!" His mom began nodding, "Oh..." And she began to explain about daylight savings time and how daylight now "lasted longer," and how the clocks were set forward, etc. The boy looked at her incredulously, and finally asked, "Does God know about this?"

I hate daylight savings time. I hated it in Illinois. I hated it in North Carolina...and I hate it here! Bah, humbug. I'm glad you all made it here on time because I'm not sure exactly what time it is. We apparently "Fell back," but what does that even mean? Ok, I'll stop, but I'm not sure God does know and if He does...I'm sure God's upset about the whole thing [tic].

Today we celebrate All Saints' Day. A day that we celebrate the lives of the faithful Saints, and we celebrate their graduation to the Church Triumphant. Their legacy lives on with us. Their faithfulness brought us here today! Be it a nurturing of a child's faith or the invitation to Bible study or church, some Saint has been vital to bringing you here. Today's text speak of a Saint, Moses, that left an incredible legacy. The story of Exodus, Passover, Mt. Sinai, all speak to us after thousands of years. What an incredible legacy!

Moses' legacy was threefold. He was a person of faith, a man of God. It's important, though, that we don't measure his faith by the burning bush or the parted sea...No, faith is measured by the answer, "yes." Moses could've said no to God...But, he didn't. When God said, "Go to Pharaoh," Moses went. When God said, "Lead my people," Moses did. We see and measure Moses' faith not by the big events (those are the measure of God); rather, we measure him by his willingness to follow God wherever...whenever...whatever.

Moses was also a leader. Imagine being a simple shepherd (today a farmer) being asked to confront the most powerful man in the world. Imagine going to the President of the USA and saying, "Your foreign policy is all wrong! This is what you need to do!" Would you expect to be listened to? I would expect a mocking laugh or a condescending, "We'll take that into consideration." Moses did the hard thing as a leader and stood up for what was right. He stood up for others despite the danger to himself. Perhaps the more difficult leadership was leading God's people. They whinned, they moaned, they complained, they threatened him. A few times God even offered to wipe them out and start over with Moses, but Moses said, "God don't. These are your people." Thus showing Moses' other legacy as a Servant, not only of God, but of others. He constantly was trying his best to do what was right for the Israelites. He interceded on their behalf to God. Moses wasn't in it for himself. He was in it for everyone. He loved God, and he loved his fellow Israelites. Moses was a servant.

I think we can learn from Moses as a Saint. His legacy teaches us about what it means to be a Saint. Perhaps first, we should as what a Saint is? I think a little boy captured it well. You see he was visiting his grandparents one Sunday. At their church there were beautiful stain glass windows, much like we have here, except that they had many different Bible pictures on them. There were pictures of St. Mark, St. Luke, St. John, St. Matthew, St. Mary, St. Peter, St. Paul, and a lot of other saints. When he got home, he told his mom and dad how pretty the church and specifically the windows were. Trying to be ornery, the father asked, "Well, what is a saint?" The boy thought for a moment and said, "A saint is somebody the light shines through."

Amen to that! The Christian Scriptures speak of believers, followers of Jesus, as hagios, holy ones...Saints. All of you who follow Jesus are saints for hte light of Jesus shines through you. Today, we remember all the Saints who have gone before us, but we, who without them, would be lesser. Indeed, who of us here have someone in our lives who has been that saint...the one who the light shined through?

There are the famous saints. Saints like Augustine, one of my favorites, who being quite wild in his youth, came to Christ and become the most influential theologian of the Western church. Or St. Catherine, patron saint of old maids adn philosophers (not making that up)! She was tied to a wheel and was to be spun to death. However, according to tradition, the wheel caught on fire, burned her ropes off, and she jumped to safety...only to be burned at the stake...all for her faith. "Cat be nimble. Cat be quick. Cat jumped over the candlestick." You've heard it, but supposedly it came from that story. St. George fought dragons, but he is remembered a saint because he refused the imperial order for all Roman soldiers to worship pagan gods. Tradition says that he tore the edict up right in front of the emperor. He died loyal to Christ, standing up to the emperor. St. Patrick famous for Shamrocks and ridding Ireland of snakes, actually is remembered a saint for something much more powerful. You see he was kidnapped as a child and taken to Ireland. He was held as a servant-slave for years. Finally he managed to get free and went back home...where he studied, became a student, became a priest, and went back to the very people in Ireland who captured him and held him hostage. St. Patrick, missionary to his enemies. That's what being a saint is...all of these people demonstrated in their lives the radical grace of God and the light of the witness of Jesus shined through.

I have a saint that is important to my life [I held up a picture]. This is my grandpa and I. This is from our wedding because he was the bestman at my wedding. He was a great grandpa. We worked a lot of hours together during the summers, and we were buddies. But, he's not a saint because he was my grandpa. You see this is the person who shared God's truth to me at a moment when I needed to hear it. He brought me back from some dumb choices I was making, and his words to me shaped my call to ministry. The light shined through.

What about you? Who are your saints? [the congregation shared stories of saints in their lives].

What made these people saints? What was Moses' and their lasting legacy?

They pointed to God. Moses pointed to God. The saints love God. Their aim is to love God and please God. A saint's legacy is to live life such that it mirrors God's own character and reflect God's glory. Their legacy is not like the Taj Mahal, a legacy of beauty, yet a legacy of death for it is a tomb. The saints' legacy is not in buidings or tombs, it's in their lives devoted to God. There's a story of a wealthy man who was very free spirited and liked to throw his money around. And after his death, he had very specific instructions for the mortician. Upon burial, they put on his sports jack, a hat, put a cigar in his mouth, a scarf around his neck, and placed him in his cherry red convertible Corvette. They placed the speedometer at 80 mph and lowered him down. A friend, holding back tears stated, "Man, that's livin'!"...[puzzled look] Uh, no that's dyin' and it isn't leaving a legacy.

They offer themselves. The saints give of themselves. They live for others. Like Moses they intercede for others. They help others. They give to others. Like the saints in our lives, the legacy of saints is giving that others might grow.

Saints give through time. One of the characteristics of saints is that they often don't see their impact. Abraham never saw his descendents become a nation. Eve never saw her offspring, Jesus, crush the serpents head. Peter never saw the Church as we know it, all over the world. Yet, their trust in God that living faithfully would be rewarded came true...but not in their lifetimes. My grandfather never got to see all the ways he impacted and impacts me today. Your saints may not have seen all they ways they made a difference in your lives, but they did make a difference. The mark of Godly living, of the legacy of the saints, is that our lives live on with repurcussions for the world.

So what's your legacy? Over the next 3 weeks, we'll be talking about leaving a legacy. A legacy of faith. A legacy of devotion to God's mission. A legacy of being the church that God is calling us to be. What is our legacy going to be? Are we going to light the light shine through us?

Are you pointing to God?
Are you giving of yourself to others?
Is your life making a long-term impact?

Are you ready to stand up, saints, and claim a legacy that declares to the world that Jesus is your King?

[I think it would be cool if you blog readers would like to post your saints, too!]

Sunday, November 2, 2008

New Poll

There's a new poll down below, and it will help me out if you take it. Thanks!