Halloween Masks, Elections, and Christians

Halloween and election season are intersecting well this year! Which candidate is wearing the biggest mask? As I make my final decisions about the presidential campaign and weigh the pros and cons of each person, I have a number of values that I hold dear. A couple of those are authenticity and transparency. Neither candidate is totally forthcoming. One has a lack of clarity about tax returns and charitable contributions. The other has an email saga and a “pay for play” history with their namesake foundation. It’s a sad state of affairs when I am left trying to discern the most honest and least hypocritical of the people running for the highest office in the land.

The word hypocrite ultimately came into English from the Greek word hypokrites, which means “an actor” or a “stage player.” The Greek word itself is a compound noun. It’s made up of two Greek words that literally translate as “an interpreter from underneath.” That strange compound makes more sense when you know that the actors in ancient Greek theater wore large masks to mark which character they were playing, and so they interpreted the story from underneath their masks.

It’s difficult for any religious person to avoid the charge of hypocrisy. We are human, after all. It would be wonderful if our actions and beliefs were 100% in agreement, but they aren’t. So, we keep trying, and we put on a good show. We would prefer to look like we’re bosom-buddies with God than look like the reprobates that we are. Schmoozing has replaced doing as the object of the hypocrite’s charade. We want to look busy, even if that’s all we do.

Some have described the path of hypocrisy as “all show, and no dough.” I wonder how much truth will be in that statement in the fall financial campaigns? Saying one thing and doing another is the picture of hypocrisy. Famous churchman, D.L. Moody, said it well: “Most people talk cream and live skim milk.” The truth of the matter is that our sins of hypocrisy find us out far more quickly than we can imagine. As a seminary professor once explained, “People may not live what they profess, but they will always live what they believe.”

Halloween is a perfect holiday for hypocrites. Hypocrites hide behind masks all the time. They play-act at religion. But like the empty void that Halloween candy leaves, fake religion hardly satisfies either. I need the real thing in these perilous times. In the storms of life; i.e., Hurricane Matthew, I need a real relationship with Jesus.

Hypocrisy is easy-come-easy-go religion. It’s not about a relationship with a risen resurrected Lord. Hypocrisy is like a television show during sweeps month. It’s all about the ratings. Who cares if the writing or acting was any good? The only thing that matters is whether or not people watch. No wonder there’s so much junk on television. Hypocrisy plays to the crowd, not the Director.

We all want to look good, to be sure. I do my best to match colors in my attire, but the truth of the matter about who I am isn’t found in my color-matching ability. It’s found in how I act. Hypocrites care more about the cover than the book, the clothes rather than the person underneath.  It’s high time for us to synchronize the content of our character with our actions.

There is a “Peanuts” cartoon in which Lucy – that bossy, assertive, always-take-control character – is playing her role as psychiatrist. She sits in her booth with a banner on the top that says, “Psychiatric Help – 5 cents,” and then down below there’s a sign that says, “The Doctor Is In.” Charlie Brown, of course, is the patient.

Lucy says to Charlie Brown, “Your life is like a house …” In the next frame, she asks, “You want your house to have a solid foundation, don’t you?” Charlie Brown has his usual blank look on his face. Lucy says, “Of course you do, Charlie Brown!” Charlie Brown is still silent – saying nothing. Then in the fourth frame, psychiatrist Lucy says, “So don’t build your house on the sand, Charlie Brown.” About that time, a huge gust of wind comes up and blows the psychiatrist’s booth down. In the final frame, Lucy crawls out of the rubble saying, “Or use cheap nails …”

You don’t want to use cheap nails in building a house, or building a life. Hypocrisy is using cheap look-alike materials instead of the real stuff. In the storms of life we need the real Jesus with real discipleship.  This Halloween, and election season: take off your mask and quit playing somebody else. Be the best person that you can be. Be the real deal in and through Jesus!

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Tea Olives & Seasons of Love

The seasons of life are often unpredictable. The Broadway hit “Rent” has a song that always lights me up, “Seasons of Love.” 525,600 minutes are the time span of every year, but it can never adequately describe what happens in that year. What makes for a good year or a bad one depends on the content of each moment. We should make them count, but we live our lives in counter-productive ways that waste both time and money. We live as if our mantra is: Spend it; Save it; and Share it, when our values would better reflect God’s if we reversed the order: Share it; Save it; and Spend it. In the words of “Seasons of Love,” “that’s how to measure a year in a life!”

How do we measure a person’s contributions? Is it our obituary, the influence we’ve had on others, the fruit of our labors, a tree planted years ago? I’ve often told persons who serve on the Staff-Parish Relations Committee of their local church that service on SPRC is one thing for sure that ought to be in their obituary. It’s such a tough, but important committee. Most of us have read the poem “The Dash” by Linda Ellis (http://www.linda-ellis.com/the-dash-the-dash-poem-by-linda-ellis-.html). It is a reminder that the most important thing on anyone’s tombstone isn’t the birth and death date, but the dash in-between and what it represents.

So I’m planning to go shopping in a little while for a fragrant tea olive. We have a spot beside our house that is begging for something to go there. I love tea olives. Their fragrance immediately takes me back to walking past The Russell House at USC in the fall. How wonderful it would be that our presence with others would transport them to a pleasant memory. I want my grandchildren to smell this tree and say, “That’s MacMac’s tree!” We’re all God’s trees planted for a divine purpose. How’s our fruit and fragrance?

Sometimes my years are more measured by my distance rather than my closeness to God. It is really a daily, weekly thing. A diet and good eating habits are only good if they are habits. The same with spiritual disciplines. We all have spells when we get off the wagon of healthy living, and it’s so hard to get back on. If today is the first day of the rest of my life then some changes need to be made. Planting that fragrant tea olive is a baby step. Going to the Y in the morning will be a bigger one. I have 35 days until my annual physical. If I want to have more seasons to love, I’ve got to do my part to make sure that it happens.

Good stewardship isn’t just about our material wealth. It includes our health, too, spiritually and physically, but the silken snare of disinterest and apathy are hindrances to good habits. I loved playing hide-and-seek as a child. Living in a large creaky semi-spooky house with lots of places to hide was a boon. Younger cousins would be toughest to play with because they couldn’t count as well, or they cheated. They would count off to one hundred and say those familiar words, “Ready or not, here I come!” Unfortunately, their counting to 100 often went 1,2,3,4,5, on up to 20 or so, then skip to 94,95,96,97,98,99, 100 and then the warning of “Here I come.”

Because it was my home, I, of course, knew all the best places to hide. Here’s what I discovered. After they went by me for the umpteenth time and I had held back my snickering, I finally got bored. Yes, I would get bored even though the object of the game was not to be caught. I would invariably knock on a wall, or try to throw my voice in order to get caught. I can hear them now, “I found you! I found you! You’re it!” I wouldn’t let on that I let them find me. That would be admitting my own disregard for the rules and purpose of the game. To admit being bored is embarrassing.

Truth be told, however, that’s the way I am with life sometimes. I don’t want to admit that I’m bored when I squirrel away my money for some new splurge, get tired of my unapproved past times, or start disagreeing with my stated opinions on touchy subjects. I end up hiding from God and others, and I know what I need to do.

 I need to admit that boredom and fess up. There comes a time to get caught because the alternative is being stuck in some crack of a hiding place in a creaky old house. That creaky old house might be our own body, soul, or mind. We’re better off coming out from our hiding places and planting a tree, going to the gym, visiting a relative, writing a thank-you note, or a sundry other things that make our dash a joy about which people will smell a tea olive and say, “That reminds me of Tim!” and it’s a joy for them to remember us and not a curse. I’m headed to the nursery to buy a tree! What are you going to do? Come out, come out, wherever you are!

United Methodists and Missions

What do you want to happen in 2016? Get started now or it will never happen! I would contend that our whole year takes shape by what we do or don’t do in January. We set the stage for the whole rest of the year. If we want better relationships then start now. If we want a better world, start now. If our biggest desire is for a grand remodel on our homes, or the best family vacation ever, start saving now. We turn the calendar to inspire us to have fresh starts. One of the best ways to beat the after Christmas blues, is to start getting ready for the next one.

I have found that one of January’s biggest temptations is to think about our needs before anything or anyone else. The winter months put us into survival mode and it leads to selfishness. For instance, many people just got over the hump of paying last year’s pledge to the church so they’re not that compelled to think about doing it now. The reality is, however, that if we want a great 2016 we have to think about giving our lives and resources away now. Jesus in Luke 9:24 said, “Whoever wants to save his or her life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” So start the year off right by asking how you will give yourself and your resources away for Jesus. Don’t wait until the fourth quarter. Do it now!

Of course, the question arises, “To whom should I give my resources?” A wealthy man asked his pastor what he should do with his intended bequest of $50 million. This faithful church member knew that his pastor would be able to help him decide where to leave the money. The pastor reminded the man that the man had served on the hospital’s board of directors for years so it might be the perfect place to give the money. The man only half-way nodded in agreement, leading the pastor to suggest another place. “What about the local university?” the pastor asked, knowing that this philanthropist dearly loved higher education. The man replied, “No, I don’t think I’ll leave the money to the hospital or the university. They’re great institutions, though. I’m going to leave it all to my church.” The pastor asked incredulously, “Why?” The man’s response was amazing: “If I give all my money to the hospital or the university, they won’t build a church. But if I give it all to the church, they will build a hospital and a university.”

He was exactly right. History proves it! There are over 70 United Methodist hospitals in the United States and hundreds more overseas. There are 102 United Methodist colleges and universities in the U.S. and hundreds more around the globe. Claflin University, Columbia College, Wofford College, and Spartanburg Methodist College were all founded and continue to be supported by United Methodists in South Carolina. Duke and Emory are two other United Methodist institutions that are in nearby states and fit in both categories as hospitals and universities. Give to the church and missions will follow. Over and over again, Christians have given themselves to Christ and to the world. We have been blessed with Jesus’ example and admonition, “Do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”

This coming weekend at St. John’s we will host a “Missions Impact Celebration.” We will hear missionaries from nearby and faraway. They will share compelling stories of what God has been doing, and it will be up to us to be partners with them. Our church gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to missions. We’re doing what Jesus dared in Matthew 28: 19, “Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” What we often leave out in our quoting of this Great Commission is the next verse, Matthew 28:20, “and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

In my mind there’s a direct correlation between these two verses: discipling includes obedience. Whoever said that the church is a “voluntary society” missed this correlation. In Luke 9:23, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he or she must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” In other words, discipleship is a daily matter between you and God. This coming Sunday, you get to prove it as you make your pledge to our above-and-beyond mission partners.

Another passage of Christ’s comes to mind 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.” A farmer had a cow who gave one pail of milk each day. The man invited guests for a party. In order to save his milk for the special occasion, he refrained from milking the cow for 10 days. He expected that on the last day the cow would give 10 pails of milk. When he went to milk the animal he found that she had dried up and gave less milk than ever before. Simply put, “Hoarding doesn’t help!”

Tim in Nica

 

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

Stone Soup and a Stewardship Journey

Ah! The mysterious world of church finances can confound the best CPA. As a District Superintendent, I am the recipient of annual church budgets and myriad spreadsheets of audits and year-end reports. Some are presented via ACS (Automated Church Systems), Quicken/Quick Books, Church Books, homemade books, notebooks, or no books at all since they arrive handwritten. I have had to familiarize myself with all kinds of ways to look at figures and ascertain the bottom line of local churches.

Church finances are a sore topic for many church members and clergy. Some talk as if the whole matter is one of faith with no need of a budget or the usual month-long pledge campaign. “Campaign” is such an odd word since a financial plan for the church should not resemble anything like some concerted military action or a candidate’s political machine. My friend, Rev. Dr. Phil Schroeder of Emory, says that “Stewardship Journey” is more apropos when thinking of church finances, and he’s got a point! He asks the question: “Would your church like to wage another short-term campaign to raise money or go on an enjoyable stewardship journey together?”

I prefer adventure over overt or covert arm-twisting. As a matter of fact if the church lets its ministries speak for themselves then the money question becomes moot. It is a matter of faith and faithfulness! It’s like the parable of “Stone Soup” where everyone is hoarding their personal resources and starving until a stranger says he’s got a magic pot and stone that can turn plain water into a delicious meal. He lights a fire under the pot, drops the stone into the water, throws in salt and pepper and casually asks the townsfolk to have enough faith in his magic to share a carrot here, an onion there, a bit of meat, or a potato and before they know it everyone has given a little something until it adds up to a lot and feeds the whole village!

How wonderfully expressive this is of our United Methodist Connection, “Together We Can Do More!” Our Bishop, Jonathan Holston, has dared us to dream “God-sized dreams.” In our version of “Stone Soup” we are trying to collect a million new books to give to children K-5th grade. This whole adventure opens the door to churches that have able volunteers who can mentor these children. Local churches will engage their communities in practical and helpful ways. It will be marvelous if local churches and individuals will bring their books as ingredients for this recipe of success in South Carolina.

Yes, someone said this project is costly and it takes work, but I recollect that Jesus said something about taking up a cross, gave a parable about counting the cost, and offered Himself on a cross! I’m a bit reluctant to speak in mercantile terms, but we have to ask these two questions: “What business are we in?” and “How’s business?” The answers dictate that we have to spend money, time, volunteer hours and each of us add our personal ingredients from our meager storehouses so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can nourish the whole world.

George Ade was a journalist and author at the turn of the Twentieth Century who with great turn-of-phrase poked semi-well-meaning fun at the counter-intuitive world of church, faith, and finance. Give a read to his Flannery O’Connnor-esque “Fable of the Good People Who Rallied to the Support of the Church:”

“A Congregation needed Money for repairing the Church, so the Women got together and decided to hold a Raspberry Festival. Sister Frisbie invited them to come and Carouse on her Front Lawn. Some 22 Members of the Flock flew out and brought a few Things to Wear, the Outlay for washable Finery running to about $8 per Head.

Mr. Frisbie got $9 worth of Chinese Lanterns and strung them around. He wanted to do the Thing up Brown so as to get a Puff in the Weekly. The Paper came out and said that the Frisbie Front Yard with its Myriad Twinkling Lights was a Veritable Fairy-Land. That kind of Notice is worth $9 of anybody’s Money.

Mr. Frisbie and three other Pillars of the Church devoted $7 worth of valuable Time to unloading Tables and Campstools.

The Women Folks ruined $14 worth of Complexion working in the hot Kitchen to make Angel Food and Fig Cake.

On the Night of the Raspberry Orgy the Public Trampled down $45 worth of Shrubbery.

When it came time to check up the Linen and Silverware it was found that $17 worth of Spoons with Blue Thread tied around them had been lost in the Shuffle.

The Drip from the Candles ruined $29 worth of Summer Suits and Percale Shirt-Waists.

Four Children gorged themselves and each was tied in a True Lover’s Knot with Cholera Morbus before another sunrise. The Doctor Bills footed up $18.

After clearing the Wreck, paying the Drayman and settling for Ice Cream and Berries, it was discovered that the Church was $6.80 to the good. So everybody said it was a Grand Success.”

George Ade said this was the Moral of the Story: “Anything to avoid dropping it in the basket.” Now, he might have been right but some can only give their volunteer time. In my mind it takes everyone’s effort in whatever way to make the church a thriving enterprise, business-allusion intended. As my Daddy often said, “You have got to spend money to make money.” Money comes in a lot of different forms and that’s a good thing. It just has to be spent if you want to make Stone Soup! Life is a Stewardship journey!

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!?!

Thanks-Giving!

It’s hard to pray for my favorite team in the upcoming Carolina-Clemson game. Prayer and sporting events haven’t worked out that well for me in the past. Yes, the last few years as a Gamecock fan have been beyond my highest expectations – Steve Spurrier has tied Rex Enright for the most wins; this senior class has won more games (36) than any other in USC history; the Gamecocks have won 11 straight home games, a new record; the baseball team won back-to-back national championships in 2010 and 2011, and was runner-up this year. It’s been great but can we beat Clemson in football 4 years in a row? That is what’s on the line this coming Saturday. I feel like I’m being greedy because I would have settled for one in a row not too long ago.

Need I say more about praying for sports teams? If I pray for the best team to win, that team might not necessarily be mine, especially with Connor Shaw limping and Jadeveon Clowney gimpy, too. So, this year I know exactly what kind of prayer I should pray. It should be a prayer of thanksgiving. Gosh, We’re 9-2! The same could be true for Clemson folks at 10-1, too, and perhaps for fans of about every team except Kentucky and Tennessee. I have a lot to be thankful for as a Carolina fan, but more so as a human being.

There are so many blessings that are better than the vicissitudes of sports. There are many good and great things that overshadow an entire world’s bad news. In the midst of the somber we can either give in to depression or count our blessings. We all know which is better for us, even when it’s tough to do. My biggest thanks is that Narcie is two and half years away from Brain Tumor surgery on a oligodendroglioma and she is doing great! Please keep praying for her!

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? In a village in Denmark, there is a beautifully landscaped cemetery next to the community church. A visitor noted that at least a third of the gravestones there have the inscription, “Tak,” written upon them. That’s Danish for “Thanks.” What a wonderful sentiment whether it’s meant as gratitude towards God for blessing us with life, or as thanks to the people who visit and helped us get through life. Annie Dillard captures this same attitude in her words, “I think that the dying pray at the last not ‘please,’ but ‘thank you,’ as a guest thanks his or her host at the door.” “Thanks!” aims positive energy towards God and others.

Without thanksgiving our prayers are too much about us. We end up treating God like some sort of Cosmic Genie. I know it’s something that I sometimes do. Often in my prayers I spend a lot of time on the things that I need or what I think others need. This part of prayer is called “supplication.” We often spend the majority of our prayer time focusing on what we want God to supply, rather than saying, “Thanks.”

A Biblical model for prayer starts with Adoration, praising God for who God is. Next is Confession as we repent and ask for forgiveness. Thanksgiving comes after confession as we express our gratitude to God for what God has done. Lastly, Supplication is when we ask God to supply the needs of others or ourselves. This A.C.T.S. model for prayer works if we end with supplication and begin with praise and thanksgiving.

This Sunday is a time for us to express these altruistic sentiments. It’s not only Thanksgiving Sunday, but it’s also Christ the King Sunday – the last Sunday in the Christian Year. There’s no better day to get ready for Advent and Christmas when we especially need to remember the Guest-of-Honor at His own birthday! As I think about churches trying to catch up on their budgets and connectional giving responsibilities, I’m reminded of the story about the couple in the aftermath of World War II. They were getting ready to go to the memorial service for the son of friends of theirs. The young man had been killed in the service. His family was dedicating a window in their church to this young man who had lost his life. The window cost $10,000.

“What a beautiful thing to do in memory of their son,” the wife said to her husband. Suddenly, she turned around with an ashen look on her face and said, “What are we going to give?” Her husband replied, “What are you talking about? We don’t need to give anything. Our son came back alive and well.” “That’s exactly what I mean,” his wife responded. “Our friends lost their son, and they’re giving $10,000. We got our son back, and we’re not giving anything???”

Count and account for your blessings!

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!