Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

Christ the King Sunday is always the concluding Sunday of Pentecost season and the last Lord’s Day before we begin Advent. It is even more appropriate that Thanksgiving Sunday and Christ the King Sunday coincide! We have so much to be grateful for in response to God’s providence, none of which would be possible without recognition that Christ is King. Caesar isn’t King, nor any other world leader or system. Jesus is Lord of Lords and King of Kings and when we hang onto that reality all of our difficulties pale in comparison. Because Christ is King we can have hope for today and expectancy for tomorrow.

So many stores have been promoting Christmas earlier and earlier because it affects their yearly bottom line. This coming Sunday is finally when it’s appropriate for us as Christians to begin a hurry-up of our preparations for the holidays. Therefore, it is entirely sensible for us to crank everything up a notch. We have waited long enough! This conjunction of celebrating that Christ is King and Thanksgiving is the only time when I’m glad to start thinking about making detailed plans for Advent season and Christmas. We will have moved from what the church calendar calls ordinary time to an extraordinary season where we can make things right before the year ends. There are people that we need to forgive, goodbyes and hello’s to say, visits to make, and debts to pay. We better make the best of these closing weeks of the year. They will never come again.

Therefore, this is when I better gauge my personal bottom line spiritually, financially, emotionally, and physically. If Christ is King in my life what does that do to my scheduling and priorities. If I am a thankful person, how does that prepare me to celebrate the Lord’s birth and get ready for His Second Coming? Like many, this is an important time for me to assess how I have been faithful all year. This is the time of the year when churches send out year-to-date contribution statements, receive pledge cards, and count the cost of doing ministry and make budgets. We need to respond by counting our blessings and giving back to God what is God’s. I dare not forget the Guest of Honor at His own birthday party. I should ask right now what end-of-year gifts I need to make. I need to put my money where my mouth is!

This world is filled with more takers than givers. A pastor was visiting one of his parishioners. He took his young daughter with him. As they visited an elderly couple, the man gave her a handful of peanuts. Expecting her to show a spirit of gratitude, the girl’s pastor-father asked his daughter, “Honey, what are you supposed to say?” Sincerely, and with her eyes fixed upon the older gentleman, she asked, “You got any more?”

How easy it is to expect more and more without expressing our gratitude in return. This coming Sunday and Thanksgiving week is a marvelous opportunity for us to say, “Thank You,” to God. What we decide this week in honoring Christ as King will go a long way in making or breaking our entire 2014 and our Christmas. Too often we are like the child who received a dictionary on her birthday from her grandmother. After considerable time had lapsed without a word of thanks, the grandmother wrote her to make sure that she received it, “I hope you liked the dictionary I bought for you?” Her granddaughter wrote back, “Yes, and I just can’t find the words to say thank you.”

Just as she had the words literally given to her by which she could have given thanks, so has God given us talents and treasures to use in saying “Thanks!” to Him. If we will just do it! There are really no excuses to our negligence or procrastination. December 31 is just around the corner and each of us as individuals will close the books on another year. What will our ledgers say about our faith and faithfulness in 2014? When you’re passing out thanks this coming week, don’t dare forget the One who gives you eternal life. One young man said to his father, “Guess what? I can say please and thank you in Spanish.” His father asked, “How come you never say it in English?” Let’s use every language of the heart, soul, and body to offer our praise and gratitude to God. Christ is King! Give thanks!

Money Where Mouth Is

Want to Go to Heaven?

Last night I wasn’t far from the convenience store that sold the over $400 million dollar lottery ticket to a guy who was on an errand to buy some hotdog buns. Without finding any, he decided to purchase $20 in lottery tickets instead. He won and has chosen to remain anonymous. I surveyed the charge conference members last night to see if anyone had an especially big grin on his face, hoping to spot the big winner. I know the UMC is against gambling, but, you know, the devil has had the money long enough. It’s time for Jesus to get his due! Without observing anyone with a rags-to-riches look on their face, I dared to press the issue and outright ask if anyone wanted to come forward and let us know they won. No takers!

But when reading the epistle text from I Timothy 6 for this coming Sunday, I see that we’re already rich enough: “Godliness with contentment is great gain (I Tim. 6:6).” There’s nothing wrong with money but loving it is “a,” not “the” root of all kinds of evil (6:10). There’s plenty of ways for money to lure us away from faith. I Timothy 6:10b says, “Some people people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” It’s not that life or poverty has attacked them with problems. They have “pierced themselves.” It’s fascinating, but true. We can want and want and want, and let our faith be replaced by fret, and pretty quickly we’re sunk spiritually and our financial condition is no better either. Our griefs are compounded.

In contrasting worry with faith, Jesus promoted the life of faith over an incessant desire for what we think that we need. He says in Matthew 6:33 “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” In essence Jesus is stating the same words that Paul so beautifully writes in I Timothy 6:17 Paul says, “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God…” and a moment later he really gives every church stewardship campaign a boost, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure… for the coming age,” and here’s the part that really lights me up – the “so that” at the end of verse 19: “so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

Wow, if I give generously and quit worrying about money and spotting lottery ticket winners to solve all the world’s ills then I will “take hold of the life that is truly life.” That is one of the greatest promises in the Bible! Who wouldn’t want the life that is truly life?

The best formula to gaining riches isn’t hitting the jackpot but giving what you have away. Listen to Luke 12:32-34 where Jesus says “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted…” Listen also to Jesus’ words in Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Now, that’s a great formula for Godly gain!

Of course there was someone else with a different formula. They said the sure-fire way to get rich is to get 50 female pigs and put them together with 50 male deer. If you do it you’ll have 100 sows and bucks! Ouch! So sorry! No, the only certain formula to be content and blessed is not in the worrying or hoarding, but in the giving to and for God to a hurting world. Simple as that.

Someone was offered an option if they wanted to go to heaven or hell. First they visited hell. There were throngs of people sitting across from each other at banquet tables loaded with mounds of sumptuous food. Each person had 4-foot-long chopsticks in their hands. Everyone was emaciated, gaunt and starving even though the table was loaded down with a feast. Then the person went to visit heaven and, guess what, it was a nearly identical scene: throngs of people at banquet tables loaded with food with 4-foot-long chopsticks in their hands. The only difference is that all the people in heaven were well fed, happy, full to their heart’s content. The visitor asked why things were so different for the people in heaven than they were for the people in hell especially since the circumstances appeared the same. The answer was pretty simple. The people in hell were trying to feed themselves with their 4-foot-long chopsticks and physically couldn’t get the food in their mouths. The people in heaven used the same chopsticks to feed each other and were as happy as could be.

Where would you rather go – heaven or hell? If heaven, you’d better start practicing here! Taking hold of life that is truly life – giving is more important than getting! Amen!?!

Church Budgets and Stewardship

I have been pondering church budgets at charge conferences and wondering how the economy is affecting giving. There are lots of ways to give that don’t include money, but churches have to pay their light bills, etc. Thankfully there are lots of church members who, in spite of their economic circumstances, are stepping up to the plate.

We have heard it said about certain people, “There will be stars in their crowns.” Usually these are folks who have had to endure a lot. If there is such a thing as earning stars in crowns, I think the people receiving them would be the most surprised. Anyone who does things to purposely get either earthly credit or heavenly reward will be sadly disappointed. The kingdom of God most often rewards the last, the least, and the lowest. The humble who help others without any expectation of reward are the ones who will be blessed, “The branch that hangs the lowest bears the most fruit.

Many people don’t bear any fruit at all! Instead they give God their leftovers. Paul Harvey reported that a woman called up the Butterball Turkey Company’s consumer hot line and asked about the advisability of cooking a turkey that had been in her freezer for 23 years. The customer service representative told her that it might be okay to eat it if the freezer had maintained a below-zero temperature the entire time, but even so, the flavor would have deteriorated so much that it wouldn’t be very tasty. Said the caller, “Oh, that’s what we thought. We’ll just donate it to the church.” The church has received more than her share of “old turkeys.”

How can we do a better job in humbly helping others? I read of a woman who recently confessed her struggle to find ways of responding to her elementary-aged children when they drove by a homeless person holding a sign that read “Hungry. Need food.” The children wanted to stop. They insisted that something should be done to help this person get food. The woman said it was obvious to her that this man had been drinking and that while he might be hungry, he probably was more interested in drinking beer. But her children were not convinced. She was caught between her desire to teach generosity to her children and her reluctance to give money that would be spent on alcohol. In addition, this man was not the only such person they passed on their regular route to work and school. She talked with her children about it and they decided to keep a bag of groceries in the back of the car – mostly bread and peanut butter. When they came upon a hungry man or woman, they reached into the bag and handed them food. What a great lesson in stewardship!

 This is exactly the kind of altruism that is taking off with today’s young professional families. This kind of helping the poor is a lot better than the lifestyle of self-centered Yuppies from a decade ago. The word “Yuppies” was an acronym for “Young Urban Professionals.” It became a universal synonym for greed and me-firstism. Things have changed! Volunteerism among this age group has overtaken the old attitudes of selfishness. New Yuppies don’t care about reward or recognition. They simply want to help people. The only reward is a sense that their lives mean something because they’re doing something for somebody else. Today’s “Yuppies” should stand for “Young Understanding Professionals.” I hope this trend continues! This depends, to a large degree, upon a person’s attitude about work. Some people live to work and others work to live. Some see their job as a benchmark for success and self-esteem, while others see their work as a means to live, to help others, or to find satisfaction in “making a difference in the world.”

 How do we determine our value? Do we count our worth in salary or in charitable giving? Reaching the end of a job interview, the human resources person asked a young engineer fresh out of MIT, “And what starting salary were you looking for?” The engineer said, “In the neighborhood of $135,000 a year, depending on the benefits package.” The interviewer said, “Well, what would you say to a package of five-weeks vacation, 14 paid holidays, full medical and dental, company matching retirement fund to 50 percent of salary, and a company car leased every two years — say, a red Corvette?” The engineer sat straight up and said, “Wow! Are you kidding?” And the interviewer replied, “Yeah, but you started it.”

What are you working for? Is yours a heavenly reward or an earthly one? True satisfaction is found in helping others without any thought of “What’s in it for me?” I am grateful for those who, like the widow and her mite, are doing their very best for Jesus!