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I have spoken about this before, but I think we could all use a reminder of why Jesus has claimed us as part of His bride, the Church.  So here goes…

In Matthew 16, we read the account of Peter finally getting it right.  When asked who he thought Jesus was, Peter responds with, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Like I said, Peter finally gets it right.

But what happens next is an interesting (and often misunderstood) statement by Jesus.  He says, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  This is interesting for two reasons. 

  • The first is this: What is the “rock” upon which Christ will build His Church? Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters believe the “rock” to be Peter and thus claim him as the first pope.  We believe this is a misread of Jesus’ words.  Jesus is engaged in a little word play with Peter because Peter has answered correctly.  Peter has given a solid declaration of who Jesus is.  He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  This declaration, this confession, is the “rock” upon which Christ will build His Church.  The declaration that Jesus is the Christ who as come to take away the sins of the world.
  • The second is Jesus’ comment about the gates of hell. He says they will not prevail against the Church and its confession of Him as the Christ.  But have you ever really stopped to think about this statement.  Gates are for defense.  They do not attack, they defend against attack.  So if the gates of hell are defending against attack it begs the question…who is attacking?  The answer?    The Church.  We are not supposed to be hunkered down, playing defense.  We are supposed to be on the attack against the gates of hell.  We are supposed to be out there, in the real world, with people.  We are supposed to be carrying our confession of Jesus as the Christ to the world so that the gates of Hell lose their stronghold.  That is why Jesus took your life.  And my life. 

As I (again) reflect on this section of Scripture, I am reminded and encouraged to never stop striving to faithfully live out the calling He has given me as a pastor…and the calling He has given each of you as His people.  The calling to charge the gates of hell.  Daily.  In our own lives (the old Adam that still fights for control), or in the lives of others He desires me to carry hope to. I will never stop.  We will never stop.  We can’t.  This is why He has claimed us as His people.

It was the time of the worship service when the offering plates were passed from row to row.  Back and forth they went.  And then they came to our row. I watched as my mom threw a wad of bills in and passed the plates on to the next person.  I sat in utter disbelief.  Here was our family, all five kids, who needed new shoes.  We did not have much…and there was Mom tossing around a wad of bills like we were millionaires!

Now, to be fair, I was young.  For all I knew, the wad of bills could have been a just few singles all bunched together.  But the sight of that wad of cash going into offering plate infuriated me when we had needs as a family!  So I decided to question my mom about it.  “Why did you put money into the plate when we need new shoes?!?!” I asked, somewhat incredulously.  Here response has shaped much of my thinking about what it means to give to the Lord.

“John, God has never stopped caring for us…and we will not stop being faithful with what He has given us.”

Faithful.  Full of faith.  Interesting idea.  My mom, in that instant, taught me that giving money was not giving it to support a program we liked or about supporting a new pastor or his ideas (or…not supporting him).  No, an offering in worship is about being faithful.  It is about recognizing that you can’t out give God.

Since that time, as I have studied the Bible and its teachings, I have come to realize the incredible truth of my mom’s words.  I have also come to realize that God’s plan for our lives…and our finances is simply better.  Setting aside the first 10% of what God has given us to manage on His behalf is not about restrictions.  No, it is about aligning our life’s priorities in such a way that we trust Him and rest in His provision alone.  We do not give (or withhold) as a political statement about the congregation.  We do not give as a sign of support for something we like…or withhold our giving to show frustration with something we don’t like.  Giving the first 10% of our income is about trust.  We give to the Lord.  It is about recognizing that God is good…and His ways are better!

In Proverbs 30, the writer says this:

Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die:

8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me,

9 lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.

The writer of this proverb wants falsehood removed from him.  He want to be honest and true.  And…he wants God to balance his income.  Did you catch that?  He does not want poverty (lest he steal and profane the name of God) nor does he want riches (which might cause him to think he does not need God).  The balance.  Just enough. 

I think that is what my mom was trying to help me understand so many years ago…

As I write this, someone very near and dear to me is laying in a hospital bed. She was admitted over a week ago because…to phenomenally oversimplify things…her body was rejecting food. Totally. She had eaten nothing in the couple of weeks preceding her hospital admission.

So…what she needed, she also rejected. What she needed to sustain life, her body refused to accept. She literally was biologically refusing to receive what she needed to live.

As I drove home from the hospital this afternoon, I thought about her rejection. The story is very familiar. We, too, are prone to reject that which is offered to us as life. We reject God’s commands, His plans, His gift of life. We flat out reject it and substitute our own whims, ideas, or preferences.

But the problem actually goes much, much deeper.

A few weeks ago, as I spoke with the lady who is now laying in the hospital bed, I tried to talk her into going to the ER…or at least go see her doctor. She replied, however, that if God wanted to heal her…He would. Otherwise, He would take her home to be with Him.

While I appreciate the trust in God’s care for her in the midst of her medical hardships, she also failed to recognize an important theological truth: God works through means. God works through people to accomplish His purposes.

Sure, God could instantly heal her body if He wanted. But that is not how God normally works. Instead, God normally works through doctors, nurses, lab techs, etc. to bring about healing.

Let’s look at this idea from another angle. God could feed you by providing a perfectly cooked meal that would simply appear on your table each evening. But He doesn’t. He feeds you through the work of farmers, truck drivers, grocery store employees, chefs, moms, etc.

In other words, God accomplishes His work through the various vocations of people. Through their work, He does His work.

The implications for this idea are incredibly profound for how we, as members of the body of Christ, see our daily activities. And…that is what we will be talking about during our fall sermon series at St. Andrew’s 804 campus. So plan to join us this fall as we look at how God is at work in today’s world…

‘Tis the season…of giving. 

Just this morning I watched a news clip on my social media feed about the Kansas City police department giving away $100 bills to unsuspecting people.  And Jill and I have had numerous conversations about the topic of giving recently (like…what to get our kids for Christmas, etc.). 

“Tis the season of giving.

But this makes me wonder if we thinking about Biblical stewardship in the same way we think about giving Christmas presents.  Because, they are not the same at all.  We do not give (financially) to the Church the same way we give gifts to our kids.  If we think of giving in that way we will then try to decide if the church, pastor, or ministries are worth funding (and at what level).  But that is not what the Bible teaches about giving.

The Bible teaches that the people of God give because:

  1. They recognize that everything is His.  We simply serve as stewards of His money.  Psalm 50 states, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.”  It is helpful to always remember that “our” money is not even ours to start with..
  2. That faithful stewardship is part of God’s plan…and an extension of His promises of blessing.  In Matthew 25, Jesus says this (as part of a teaching parable):  “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
  3. We have a responsibility to care for those called to serve as pastors and staff.  In Numbers 18, God declares that the Levites (the original pastors/Church workers) were to be supported by the tithe.  That was how God would care for them…through His people.  And in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul (in 1 Corinthians 9) echoes those words by saying, “The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.”

So…

Why should giving be part of the conversation for us as Christ followers?  And how is it different than “Christmas-esque” gift giving?  Because one is kind.  Generous.  And tied to the people we love.  It is socially acceptable and makes us feel good.  The other…is tied to Christ, His commands, and His promises.  It is life changing and part of God’s plan to bring hope to the world. 

This Christmas season, I would encourage you to evaluate your giving.  To examine your hearts, to study God’s Word, and to trust His promises.  The work of the Gospel is too important not to…

Jubilee was part of the rhythm of God’s people.  It dealt largely with land, property, and property rights…but it was also a time when slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and the mercies of God would be celebrated (Leviticus 25:8-13).  In other words, it was an entire year set aside to pause.  To reflect. To forgive.  To receive forgiveness.  To rest.  To give thanks.

This month, we are setting aside four weeks of “Jubilee”.  I know, it is not an entire year.  It is not going to involve us returning property to people.  But it is going to be a month to pause, reflect, and give thanks for what God has done here at St. Andrew over the past two years.

So, to get started, here is a partial list of the things from the past two years of life together that I am thankful for:

  • ·       My children growing and more deeply becoming connected to God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
  • ·       A wife who is…flat out…awesome.  She shows me daily what it means to love Jesus and to delight in His love.
  • ·       Sundays when we get to baptize multiple people (or even one person).
  • ·       Conversations with “strangers” in the community when I get to point to the hope I have in Jesus.
  • ·       The opening of our second campus (STĀ) and seeing what God is already doing there.
  • ·       Times, sitting in my office (or anywhere), with people when there is confession and an opportunity to declare God’s absolution.
  • ·       A staff that is incredible!  Gifted, passionate, loving, capable.  They are an awesome group of people to walk beside every day!
  • ·       Spiritual mentors who lovingly nudge, encourage, and love.
  • ·       Relationships around the world that remind me that God’s grace is international.  May the global Church continue to expand!
  • ·       Sunday hugs, smiles, handshakes.
  • ·       Having the opportunity to proclaim God’s Word to an incredible congregation that (I believe) truly desires to grow in what it means to live out baptismal identities by LGLOMDing.
  • ·       Courageous leaders who are willing to take risks for the sake of the Gospel.
  • ·       A congregation who is willing to forgive its pastor when he says and does stupid things.
  • ·       Bible studies, prayer groups, conversations that have started at work places and in homes all around town.
  • ·       The body and blood of Jesus…received in Holy Communion…which strengthens my faith.
  • ·       A gracious, merciful, and passionate God who loves deeply…and has chosen to use His people to impact this community.

 



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