The church’s “M” word

2 Corinthians 8:8-15

I once opened a sermon by telling the congregation I was going to talk about the “M” word.

Yes, the “M” word makes a lot of church people uncomfortable, I know. But in that moment, it was an important word the people needed to hear. The “M” word, of course, was Mary.

Imagine the chuckles and sighs when people heard that was the word. They were expecting instead to hear money

Money is another “m” word we need to stress less about. I encourage congregations to reflect on why we get so uptight when we talk about the subject. That will offer some helpful insights and, hopefully, change of heart.

People have told me before it isn’t appropriate to tell others what to give to the church. I agree. I don’t.

If you’ve ever heard me talk about giving, I give witness to the joy of tithing. When our family had very little, we tithed. Today, now that our finances are more stable, we still tithe ten percent of everything we make. Our kids are young adults now, learning to use their skills to make money. We strongly encourage them to tithe as well. For our family, it’s a way we honor God.

I’ll tell my children to also recall the church helped take care of our family as they grew up. It’s time for them to now ensure they help take care of the church. You may not be a pastoral family, but you are a part of a local community of faith. You have worshiped with the people there. You love them. You sense God’s presence and grace there with them. Now, imagine what new ministry might be possible among your church if more people recommitted to tithing!

But again, I can’t tell you what to give. You can’t tell or force others either. Maybe, though, we can rethink the “m” word.

I’ve tried to steer away from donating language. We do not donate to God’s mission. We offer to God what we have to give. So, money is a part of giving. Giving is better language, but we could still take one more step.

Let’s learn to talk about money and giving as generosity. Don’t ask how much money do I give? Ask, How generous have I become? Considering all that God has done for us and the “generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ,” have we been generous to God’s people? To God’s mission? That’s an important distinction because I could tithe and still not be generous.

And that may be a more helpful question to determine how much money has a pull on our lives.

Stay blessed…john

Risen servants of Jesus

Ephesians 2:1-10

What you are becoming can be more important than what you are doing. Faith in the risen Savior is not about tasks. Our call to discipleship isn’t about getting credit for the religious things we do. Filling our calendars with more activities does not equate faithfulness. It may even be getting in the way. 

What matters more is what fruit the Holy Spirit is producing within our hearts. Are we becoming more loving? More patient? Is our trust in Jesus growing? More to the point, is our life reflecting Jesus more today than it was before?

At the same time, what you are doing is fruit of what you’re becoming. I could tell you I’m becoming more patient. If I’m yelling at everyone at the most minor inconveniences, you’d suspect otherwise. Or if I preach on the importance of caring for the poor, but ignore anyone that comes to me for help, what would you think?

So, what we do as we are becoming what we are is important. Ephesians 2 would call what we do “good works.” And not just any good works. The good works “God prepared beforehand so that we may walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). 

Our lives become echoes of the incarnation of Jesus as we set to do what God has prepared. I would say you don’t have to, necessarily, do more. Following God’s grace, you do more that’s meaningful. 

It’s quality vs. quantity. Grace vs. quota.

The good works become our way of living. And, to be sure, what we do is a response to what we learned God has done.

With no help from us, God saved us and raised us with Christ. We were dead, doing dead-people things, but God raised us with Christ. The dead-people things stay in the grave as we learn to be alive together with Christ. Now, we are risen servants of Jesus. 

Stay blessed…john

Show offs

Luke 20:45-21:4

Beware of religious show offs. That’s not exactly how Jesus put it. That’s just how I interpret it.

We’ve all probably known a few before. They’ve been with us forever. We read of God’s anger against them in many Old Testament passages. They were there with Jesus and some may sit close to you in worship every week.

But why do we need to beware of them?

Jesus spoke to his disciples loud enough for everyone to hear. So, this is something he wanted everyone to understand. Chances are, he affirmed what people already knew. I mean, you can tell when someone has that kind of holier-than-thou attitude, right? They’re not usually quiet or reserved about it. They not only want the respect and acknowledgement for who they are and what they’ve done, they let you know it.

Again, what’s the danger?

Can’t we let people be who they are? I think so. But Jesus is talking about religious leaders. These were people who had direct influence over the religious life of other people. And they used that position to benefit themselves. To upkeep a particular way of life and power structure. The argument should be made they also kept others in their place. So, even if it’s far less than ideal, I’m okay with giving people space to be who and what they are. We all need to experience God’s grace as we are today. But we cannot let leaders abuse or take advantage of others. What I’m less comfortable with is allowing leadership to carry on with such a posture.

This is where we need to beware most.

Religious show offs do not make faithful shepherds. They’re too preoccupied by what they’re getting out of the service. Whether we like to admit it or not, we follow leaders. Where these leaders take us is not where God wants us to be.

What is admirable is how you treat the poor. The attitude you have about them. The way you interact with those with far less than you. Faithful leaders do not put up with or endure relationships with the poor among them. They cherish them. In their leading, they step over the societal lines that demean their humanity. That’s where Jesus went.

That’s where I want to go, too.

Stay blessed…john