Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Story For Those Who "Can't Afford to Tithe"

“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.” (Malachi 3:10)

Today in worship we talked about the importance of the “tithe” – God’s plan for helping us set our priorities straight regarding money. We also discussed some of the many reasons why people say they “can’t afford to tithe.” The following story addresses many of those concerns:

“Once there was a man who, early in his career, made a vow in church to give to the Lord a tithe of all he earned. In his first job he earned $50 per week, so he tithed $5.00 each Sunday. As he grew older and advanced in his work, his income grew to $100 per week, then to $200 per week. And all through the years he continued tithing on his weekly income until he was finally making $1000 per week.

It was then that he telephoned his pastor and said ‘I have to talk to you.’ The pastor came to the man’s beautiful new home, and they had a good time talking about old times. Finally, the man came to the point: ‘Do you remember the promise I made years ago to tithe? I have kept it all this time. But now, I need to be released from it. You see, when I made that promise, I was making $50 a week. Now, I’m making $1000 a week and it’s costing me $100 a week to fulfill that promise. I’m sorry, preacher, but I can’t afford to tithe any more! So, how can I get out of it?”

The wise old pastor thought for a moment and then he said to his friend, ‘I’m afraid that you cannot be released from your promise, but there is something that we can do. Let’s pray…’ and at that the old preacher began to pray with the man, ‘Dear Lord, shrink this man’s income so that he can once again afford to tithe $5 a week. In Jesus name, Amen.’”

[--From the bulletin of St. Luke UMC in Columbus, Georgia]

As you begin to consider what you’re going to commit to God’s work through the ministry of your church, I encourage you to think about God’s call for us all to be people of the “tithe” – or at least to do what we can to grow towards it. If what you gave to the work of God’s church was multiplied by five or ten, would you continue to maintain your current standard of living? Think about it! 

Over twenty years ago, my wife and I made a commitment to God to tithe off of our gross income (not off the net amount, but the gross amount), and we have never yet regretted it.  So, our church's celebration/commitment Sunday is November 13th.  Will you join us in making that commitment, as well?  Remember always that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

S I G N S . . .

“I have made you a sign…” (Ezekiel 12:6)

Our lives are full of signs… advertisements, billboard, icons, logos, for sale signs, mathematical signs, neon signs, quotation signs, pedestrian, street, traffic signs, vacancy, warning, zodiac signs and so on.  And our English language even contains many other synonyms for “signs”… gestures, symbols, predictions, endorsements, omens, signals, clues, marks, symptoms, etc.  We sometimes talk about “signs” of the times, “signs” that we’re catching cold, or getting older, or growing up. 

But the Bible also contains many references to signs, such as the following:

Genesis 9:12-13 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come:  I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”

Exodus 3:12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Luke 2:11-12  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

John 4:48 Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders," Jesus told him, ‘”you will never believe.’”

For these many reasons (plus the fact that our church’s new front yard sign is being constructed now), SIGNS will be the theme for our 2011 Financial Stewardship focus, culminating in Celebration/Commitment at both morning worship services on Sunday, November 13th.

As you think about what God is doing in your own life, what signs is He sending to you?  Are you prepared to receive all that He has for you by responding to those signs?  Over the next few weeks, look for more signs from God, but also prayerfully consider your role and responsibility as part of God’s family at East Cobb UMC during our 2011 Financial Stewardship focus…SIGNS.  Remember, God  loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Annual Laity Sunday

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose.... For we are God’s servants, working together.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-9)

Too often today people tend to have the misconception that churches pay their pastor to “do” ministry while those in the congregation (the “laity”) are the “recipients” of that ministry. But biblically, ALL Christians are ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and consequently ALL Christians are to be “doing” ministry in the world. The role of the pastor/clergy is merely to equip and resource the laity for that ministry. In a sense, baptism itself is the “ordination” of EVERY Christian to “be” in ministry.

Perhaps that’s why, from the earliest days of the church, Christian ministry has always been seen as a close and intimate partnership between the ordained clergy and the laity. After all, the Bible teaches that a local congregation should be built around the people of God, NOT around the pastor -- I may be your “pastor,” but each of you are the “ministers” of East Cobb United Methodist Church.

To help us remember this truth, each year our church celebrates Laity Sunday, in which the worship services are led by lay people under the direction of our church Lay Leader Michael Lassiter and Associate Lay Leader Lisa Haman. If you’re reading this on Laity Sunday, please join me in welcoming all the participants in our services on this special day. If you’re reading this after that day, I’m confident that God has already blessed those who heard and experienced Him through these, His servants as we “work together” (Paul’s words in the scripture above) for the work of His church. Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Way of Love

“And now faith, hope and love abide…. And the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

When doing a Bible study, my preference is to use an actual Bible translation to understand the exact meaning and nuance of the words as originally written. However, at times it is not only appropriate, but also quite helpful to read and use a Bible paraphrase. Paraphrases sometimes help us see a scripture passage in a new way, or help to bring fresh meaning to a text that’s lost it’s impact and “edge” because we’ve grown too familiar hearing it using only one translation.

This is exactly how I felt when I first read Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13. It made me stop and think about the degree to which I am a person who’s actions and behavior is generally marked by agape love. As you read it below, my prayer is that it will have the same impact on you, as well:

“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, ‘Jump,’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like an infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.”
--Eugene H. Peterson, THE MESSAGE (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

Always remember that God loves you and I do, too (with agape love)!