Worshipping The Triune God of Unconditional Love–Love? But, Please! No Change!: a Reflection on Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6 and Malachi 3:1-3

We all yearn to know the unconditional love of God. God came to earth in the form of a man. This man was Jesus. As followers of Jesus, we are sustained by God’s love in Christ. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Advent is a time of hope and peace.

Our lives are made to worship the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That’s right, you and I are encountered by the creator, redeemer and sustainer of all that we know as life. My preferences get in the way of God.  To be honest, I want to go to church on my terms, when it’s convenient. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love God, worship and being involved in God’s mission and truly love people. But, all of that does not come as naturally as wanting to play golf, reading, sleeping in or just hanging out with friends. Loving God and others requires obedience and a preference for being with God and Christians in community because of the higher value-added experience than some of the other things I place so much importance on. A full vision of worship envelopes all aspects of our lives: home, family, work, imagination, leisure, birth and death. Worship brings us face to face with God, the one who loves us the most and knows us the best. Sandra Maria Van Opstal writes, “One of the greatest challenges of our generation is that people make choices based almost exclusively on preferences…They may not understand that worship in community is more about us than about me.”[1]

Moving from an individualistic understanding and experience of God to one that places a higher value on the community experience of God requires a change of mind. San Francisco Theological Seminary Trustee, The Rev. Aimee Moiso writes, “The science of changing minds is complicated. We humans change our minds constantly — about what we want for dinner, whether to walk or drive, how much to spend. But we are also creatures of habit, and laziness can hold more sway than novelty. A deluge of facts will rarely shift our thinking, but a well-told story can transform our vision.”[2]The texts in Philippians, Luke and Malachi tell a story of and speak to the change which can occur in the core of our being, because of God’s unconditional love for us and our love for God and others.

You see, it’s God’s love for us which motivates us to love that makes change possible and normal. Sandra Maria Van Opstal writes, “Normal is something that occurs naturally: a pattern for how things should be. Describing something as normal implies it is regular and natural not only for us but for the people around us as well. We use the word normal to describe not only what is but what should be natural for everyone. We are comforted by normal. We assimilate to normal. There is a lot of power in naming something as normative.”[3]The peace promised by God is good news even though there is a level of uneasiness in it. God loves us in and through change. But real change is a matter of core beliefs and actions, not appearances. Have you ever heard of this British product, “Spray-on-Mud?” Citing an article on the website guardian.co.uk in 2005,

Many products are designed to imitate the real thing. There is plastic decking that looks like real wood. Vinyl flooring that appears to be ceramic tile. What about a can of Spray-on Mud? Spray-on Mud is designed for use on the outside of your SUV. That way it appears you use your vehicle for more than taking the kids to soccer practice. Spray it on and friends might think you’ve just returned from a wilderness adventure. Sales of the product are going well, especially in London where the concept originated. “If they want an authentic look,” says inventor Colin Dowse, “There’s not a lot else they can do. There’s not a lot of mud in Chelsea.” Apparently, $15 a can seems a reasonable price for the appearance of authenticity.[4]

So, I often experience in my own life and see in others, expressions of imitation Christianity: good wishes mistaken for prayer, success misconstrued as spiritual achievement, inspirational bumper stickers and symbols seen as evangelism, excellent music cover for authentic worship of the heart, humorous or emotional stories pass for inspired preaching, Christian clichés handed out as biblical wisdom and an attractive personality mistaken for a Spirit-filled life.[5]

Friends, we need Jesus, the one who embodies God’s love and shows us the way to love God and others. Change is real when we embrace love, not judgment. We worship God in the light of the real Jesus not a “Spray-on Jesus.” Again, Sandra Maria Van Opstal writes, “As long as our worship makes people feel excluded or in constant visitor status, we are not accomplishing the ministry of biblical hospitality.”[6]Who is this welcoming, inclusive and loving Jesus? Well, it’s not the “Spray-on…”

Political Party Republican Jesus, who is against tax increases and activist judges, for family values and owning firearms or the Political Party Democrat Jesus, who is against Wall Street and Wal-Mart, for reducing our carbon footprint and printing money.

Revolutionary Jesus, who teaches us to rebel against the status quo, stick it to the man, and blame things on “the system.”

Good Example Jesus, who shows you how to help people, change the planet, and become a better you.[7]

The welcoming, inclusive and loving Jesus is…

the Son of the living God. God in the flesh; the one to establish God’s reign and rule; the one to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, freedom to the prisoners and proclaim Good News to the poor; the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world.

the Creator come to earth and the beginning of a New Creation.

the Christ predicted through the Prophets and prepared for through John the Baptist, not a reflection of the current mood or the projection of our own desires. He is our Lord and God.[8]

Jesus is calling each of us by name. When you respond to God’s calling, it is good news for the world. You then represent what a human can look and behave like as envisioned in God’s desire. Believe in Jesus Christ. Repent. Change is possible. Really! This is the good news of Advent.[9]

[1]Sandra Maria Van Opstal The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 27.

[2]Aimee Moiso, “Changing Minds” in Saving Love & Tender Mercy: Daily Devotions For Advent 2018(San Anselmo, California: SFTS on Sunday, December 9, 2018).

[3]Sandra Maria Van Opstal The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World, 39.

[4]Taken from the PreachingToday.com website; Ian Sample, “Spray on Mud: The Ultimate Accessory for City 4×4 Drivers” (www.guardian.co.uk June 14, 2005).

[5]Ibid.

[6]Sandra Maria Van Opstal The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World, 63.

[7]Adapted from Kevin Young, “Who Do You Say That I Am?” from his DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed blog (posted June 10, 2009).

[8]Ibid.

[9]This paragraph was influenced by Alan Gregory in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 19-20.

 

Worshipping The Triune God of Unconditional Love–Longing for Love: a Reflection on 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, Luke 21:25-36 and Jeremiah 33:14-16

You and I are loved. And we are to love. We are wired this way by God.

We were also created to worship the Triune God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So, longing for love is intricately bound to worship. That’s right, you and I are encountered by the creator, redeemer and sustainer of life every day, particularly in our worship. In that sense, worshipping God is disturbing. At least it is to me. My preferences get in the way of God. That is, I like liturgy and the common experience we have as a congregation. I don’t care for the individualistic tendencies of worship…me and God getting lost in some mantra like trance. Worship embraces all aspects of our lives: home, family, work, imagination, leisure, birth and death. It brings us face to face with God, the One who loves us the most and knows us the best. Sandra Maria Van Opstal writes, “One of the greatest challenges of our generation is that people make choices based almost exclusively on preferences…They may not understand that worship in community is more about us than about me…Like many of our faith practices (preaching, Scripture study, prayer and leadership), both biblical principles and cultural preferences are at play.”[1]

I long for love…love from God and others. I long to love…God and others. Let me tell you the story of how Brennan Manning met Jesus.

In 1955, Brennan had a dream. He was a sophomore at the University of Missouri. Brennan’s major was journalism. The New Yorker magazine was planning to employ him following his graduation. Then came the dream.

In the dream, Brennan was driving a Cadillac up a steep hill. At the crest of the hill was a fourteen-room ranch-style house with a panoramic view of the valley below. He saw his name on the mailbox. Parked in the driveway were a Lincoln and a Porsche. Barbara was inside the house baking bread and the voices of their four children were in the background. On the wall in the entryway to the house was the Nobel Prize for literature that he was awarded. Brennan awakened from the dream in a cold sweat, shouting, “O God, there’s got to be more!” He began a search for God.

Brennan broke off his engagement to Barbara. He announced to his family that he was entering the Franciscan seminary in Loretto, Pennsylvania. Not once in Brennan’s life had he ever uttered the name of Jesus. The seminary was anything but what he thought. The routine was predictable, and the tasks were demeaning, particularly dusting the parlor. One day while dusting, Brennan was staring at an eight-day Swiss clock atop the mantel, covered with a large glass bowl. Father Augustine walked in and asked Brennan what he was doing to which he replied, “I was wondering how much beer that glass bowl would hold.” Brennan knew he needed to leave the seminary. Would Barbara take him back?

Before he could leave, however, Brennan needed to meet with Father Augustine. Prior to that meeting, Brennan visited the fourteen “Stations of the Cross.” At the first station the prayer began with the phrase, “Jesus is condemned to death.” At the twelfth station, the prayer began with the words, “Jesus died on the cross.” He began to pray. After three hours in prayer, and very suddenly, Brennan heard Jesus call his name. For the first time in his life, Brennan felt unconditionally loved. From the depths of his being, Brennan realized that Jesus Christ died on the cross for him. His mind and heart were being called to a personal engagement with God. Brennan realized that there is only Jesus. He is everything.[2]

It is true. There is only Jesus! Jesus is everything. It is in Jesus that our longing for love is met. Paul, in 1 Thessalonians, admonishes us to live gratefully and expectantly. Gratitude and expectancy help us focus on what matters most: loving God and loving others. Luke mandates us to take seriously the birth of Jesus, because the baby who was born in a manger can radically change the way we live. And Jeremiah pronounces a future that will come to pass and is already on its way. This “future that will come to pass and is already on its way (33:14-16)” is packaged in between “pronouncements of devastation and restoration set in Jeremiah’s time (33:1-13)” and “emphatic declarations that the Lord will bring about every promise of healing and restoration in an unspecified future (33:17-26).”[3] The future is  now and we are to look to Jesus as the model for how we are to live. Jesus shows us what is right and just. In Jesus we will be saved. In Jesus, our longing for love and to love are met.

We all yearn to experience the unconditional love of God. God came to earth in the form of a man. This man was Jesus. Today is the official beginning of the Christmas season in the life of the church. It is called Advent. Advent serves as a dual reminder of the original expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the nativity of Jesus as well as the second coming of Christ. Advent ties the coming of the Christmas child to the climax of redemptive history with the Second Coming of this “Christmas child.” Oh, for such love as this does the human spirit yearn.

As followers of Jesus, we are sustained by God’s love in Christ. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We can bank our hope on the Christmas child, because Jesus makes good on all his promises. Like Brennan Manning, Jesus is calling each of us by name. We are deeply loved by God. May our love for God increase. May our love for each other and others overflow.

[1]Sandra Maria Van Opstal The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 27.

[2]Adapted from Brennan Manning, Lion and Lamb (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Chosen Books, 1986), 28-34.

[3]Citations taken from L. Daniel Hawk in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 2-3.

Giving–Jesus is Lord: a Reflection on Psalm 132:1-12, John 18:33-37 and 2 Samuel 23:1-7

At the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, Martin Luther and John Calvin concluded there are three marks to identify the “true” church: the preaching of the gospel, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the right exercise of church discipline. Living the gospel, partaking of the sacraments, and practicing disciplined care of each other’s well-being are acts of being community.

It is true that Jesus is Lord. And on this Christ the King Sunday, let’s come to terms with that. Has Jesus marked your life? Is it guided by the Gospel? Do you repent of the insidious sins of anger, gossip, false accusation, deceit and self-righteousness? Are you in accountable relationships which practice the disciplines of reproof, correction, forgiveness and love? Listen to the following account of a form of religious thinking that is capturing fellow humans, yes, even Christians in their worldview.

A new religion invented by a Massachusetts psychologist…[c]alled “Yoism”…is based on the “open source” principle—where the general public becomes a combined, creative authority and source of truth…Yoism operates and evolves over the Internet…Dan Kriegman, who founded Yoism in 1994, did so because he wanted to make religion open to change and responsive to the wisdom of people everywhere. “I don’t think anyone has ever complained about something that didn’t lead to some revision or clarification in the Book of Yo,” said Kriegman. He added: “Every aware, conscious, sentient spirit is divine and has direct access to truth…. Open source embodies that. There is no authority.”[1]

Christ the King Sunday demands we take a second look at how we have made Christianity into something other than intended and Jesus into our image. Open Source religious authority is dangerous.

The psalmist declares that Christians are inhabited by a holy God who has chosen a people to live in a way that promotes God’s reign of plentitude, blessing, justice and joy.[2]   In Unity, Christians serve for the public good. Robert Bellah remarks, “Religious bodies are very much part of this meaning of the public, not because they are governmentally “established” religions with legal privileges but because they enter into the common discussion about the public good.”[3]  In the reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”[4]  2 Samuel states that David’s strength, worth and leadership is not derived from himself, but is a gift from the One who knows him the best and loves him the most. God. All three of our Bible texts point us to serve the common good. We are to give non-judgmentally and generously for the common good from what God has given us, from the wallet of one’s life.

As Christians, we must understand the difference between religion and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; ritual and relationship. A Christian’s faith should not be in a system, but in Jesus Christ. Religion is impersonal. Jesus Christ is personal. In a day and age when everything seems to be coming undone at the seams, people need hope. Those who name Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord mediate hope to others. Jesus loves us so much that he died on the cross for your sins, my sins and the sins of humanity. We need only to respond.

On this Christ the King Sunday, be reminded that we are to be faithful witnesses to the lordship (kingship) of Christ and as a community participate with God in the mission of transforming the world. How? By living the gospel, partaking of the sacraments and practicing disciplined care of each other’s well-being. Mike Slaughter writes, “Ultimately, we each make a choice, consciously or unconsciously, to invest our God-provided resources in serving ourselves or serving God’s purposes. The first is selfish and short-sighted; the latter leads to new hope and renewed life.”[5] Let us use our life’s wallet to serve God’s purposes not our own. Jesus is Lord. Christ is King.

[1]Charles Piller, “Divine Inspiration from the Masses,” LA Times (7-23-06); submitted by Jerry De Luca, Montreal West, Quebec, Canada. This illustration was found on preachingtoday.com.

[2]This idea of God’s reign being one of plentitude, blessing, justice and joywas gleaned from Michael Pasquarello III in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 321.

[3]Robert N. Bellah, The Good Society (New York City, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991), 179.

[4]John 18:36

[5]Mike Slaughter, The Christian Wallet (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 198.

Giving–The Joy of Simplicity: a Reflection on Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25, Mark 13:1-8, and 1 Samuel 1:4-20

The writer of Hebrews is clear. Life is not in vain when we see it as spiritual and from the perspective of simplicity. Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert in their book When Helping Hurts tell the following story.

One Sunday I was visiting one of Africa’s largest slums, the massive Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya. The conditions were simply inhumane. People lived in shacks constructed out of cardboard boxes. Foul smells gushed out of open ditches carrying human and animal excrement …. I thought to myself, This place is completely God-forsaken. Then to my amazement, right there among the dung, I heard the sound of a familiar hymn …. Every Sunday, thirty slum dwellers crammed into this ten-by-twenty foot “sanctuary” to worship [God]. The church was made out of cardboard boxes that had been opened up and stapled to studs. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a church made up of some of the poorest people on earth. I was immediately asked to preach the sermon. I quickly jotted down some notes and was looking forward to teaching this congregation [about the sovereignty of God]. But before the sermon began, I listened as some of the poorest people on the planet cried out to God: “Jehovah Jireh, please heal my son, as he is going blind.” “Merciful Lord, please protect me when I go home today, for my husband always beats me.” “Sovereign King, please provide my children with enough food today, as they are hungry.” As I listened to their heartfelt prayers, I thought about my ample salary, my life insurance policy, my health insurance policy, my two cars, my house, etc. I realized that I do not really trust in God’s sovereignty on a daily basis. I have buffers in place to shield me from most economic shocks. I realized that when these folks pray “Give us this day our daily bread” their minds don’t wander as mine so often does. I realized that these slum dwellers were trusting in God’s sovereignty just to get them through the day, and they had a far deeper intimacy with God than I probably will ever have in my entire life.[1]

Oh, how confrontation with the basic necessities of life brings the point home that our simple need for the basics is enough to compel gratitude for what we do have and a rejection of the complexities of life that consume our lives.

In the Gospel of Mark, Mark provides a picture of the significance of our existence in the moment. Life as we know will not remain forever. The things, institutions, and people that we cherish will not last forever. The end times have always been and so has our preoccupation with knowing when. The end of the kingdom of this world is inevitable and the new kingdom will come. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”Things we think will last forever do not. I remember the Northridge Earthquake of 1994, September 11, 2001, and when the sky darkened, and a tornado devastated the community of Moore, Oklahoma in May 2013. 1 Samuel 1:4-20 addresses the joy of a life well lived with giving of oneself as the centerpiece. Each one of us carries the purpose and nature of God throughout life. Each encounter we have, every person we meet, gives us the opportunity, through our “giving,” to be or receive “…that mystical, hopeful, riveting, and terrifying catalyst that fuels the ongoing story of God.”[2]Hannah pursued understanding her barrenness. Her petition of God to give her a son never ceased. The circumstances of how our births and families of origin came about are as different and varied as each of our interests. Such is the case of Samuel. Hannah named her son, Samuel, from the root word “to ask.” God answered Hannah’s prayers.

Our life’s outcome is quite simple: to witness to the good news of the gospel, so people do not take hope in things that most certainly will be destroyed. Because of Jesus, all that we are and do in the home, retirement, office, school, neighborhood, church and leisure, can be done with a sense of urgency in that it matters. Interactions with employees, friends, and co-workers can model God’s work of redemption. Our lives, the way we live in God’s simple purpose of loving God and others, is how we participate as best neighbors in God’s mission.

Like Samuel the toil of daily living is not an end in itself, it is a means. Why? Our toil participates in God’s toil of the mission of redemption. Both God and human give of themselves for the sake of meaning to be experienced in life. We, as Christians, see our lives as existing for the sake of others to know God’s incredible love for them. Mike Slaughter in The Christian Wallet writes, “We form and grow relationships in the margins of our lives. It is also within those margins that we do acts of kindness or service toward others. Most critically, it is in the margins that we build our right relationship with God.”[3]Bearing one another’s burdens and each of us taking responsibility for the day’s toil and cares is the call to a life of simplicity.

Radical dependence of the entire creation upon God is what is needed to experience the joy of simplicity. Think about it. Life is a tangle of relationships. We all desire to receive comfort in our grief and to give comfort to the grieving. I concur with Richard J. Foster, the author of Freedom of Simplicity, “We have no independent existence, no self-sustaining ability. All we are and all we possess is derived.”[4]Simplicity is demanding as we re-think and re-gift years of being conditioned to live for ourselves. Enduring persistence in our dependence on God is a spiritual discipline at the foundation of simplicity. Therein lies great joy.

[1]Adapted from Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts (Moody Press, 2012), 64-65.

[2]G. Malcolm Sinclair in David L. Bartlett and Barbara BrownTaylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009),295.

[3]MikeSlaughter, The Christian Wallet (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 198.

[4]Richard J. Foster, Freedom of Simplicity (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1981), 16.

Giving–Neighbor Choosing: a Reflection on Psalm 127, Mark 12:38-44, and Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

Author Philip Yancey writes,

In high school, I took pride in my ability to play chess. I joined the chess club, and during lunch hour could be found sitting at a table with other nerds poring over books with titles like Classic King Pawn Openings. I studied techniques, won most of my matches, and put the game aside for 20 years. Then, in Chicago, I met a truly fine chess player who had been perfecting his skills long since high school. When we played a few matches, I learned what it is like to play against a master. Any classic offense I tried, he countered with a classic defense. If I turned to more risky, unorthodox techniques, he incorporated my bold forays into his winning strategies. Although I had complete freedom to make any move I wished, I soon reached the conclusion that noneof my strategies mattered very much. His superior skill guaranteed that my purposes inevitably ended up serving his own. Perhaps God engages our universe, his own creation, in much the same way. He grants us freedom to rebel against its original design, but even as we do so we end up ironically serving his eventual goal of restoration. If I accept that blueprint–a huge step of faith, I confess–it transforms how I view both good and bad things that happen. Good things, such as health, talent, and money,I can present to God as offerings to serve his purposes. And bad things, too–disability, poverty, family dysfunction, failures–can be redeemed as the very instruments that drive me to God.[1]

Like Yancey playing chess, we sometimes rebel against God’s ways and try our own. Eventually, we stop our ways and submit to God’s. In the good and the bad, we experience God using us and redeeming us. Bybeing grateful in the good times and seeing the bad times redeemed and becoming the very things that drive us back to God, in both instances, we are banking our hope on God’s promisethat he engages life…our lives…in meaningful ways. God’s outcome is always for our best…our restoration. God chooses us as neighbors…better yet, as children. We discover and know this to be true as we worship, learn, connect, serve, and give on a regular basis.Why? It is foundational to our understanding of giving ourselvesaway for the sake of others, just as God did in and through Jesus.

The psalmist teaches us that God is the source of all things and all that God is for our benefit. God’s providence cares for us in the highs and lows of life. Divine providence helps us embrace a strong sense of security in insecure timesand establishes meaning for us. God always governs and has life covered.Mark lifts-up self-sacrifice through obedience as an act of love for God and others. He asks us to see ourselves as the two coins, not the poor widow.[2]And the writer of Ruth moves us to find meaning in life, regardless of the circumstances. That approach requires resolve. In Ruth’s experience, a religion and people foreign to her became her religion and people. Naomi chose Ruth to be her neighbor and trained her in the ways of the Covenant. And Ruthmarried Boaz. Boaz became her redeemer in that he married a foreigner to include her then in the covenant family. Ruth bore a son, Obed, who is the father of Jesse and Jesse of David.

Jesus calls people to follow him. The church is made up of followers of Jesusto serve others into relationship with Jesus. The church is not a social club. Worshiping, learning,connecting, servingand givingon a regular basisengages us in the work of unity, reconciliation, and justice just as Jesus didand commands us to do. When our lives are marked byacts of love to those that come into our sphere of influence, particularlythose who may present inconvenient circumstancesand demands on our time“…we catch a glimpse of what itmust be like to come close to Jesus.”[3]

What, then,is the significance of neighbor choosing for our giving of intellectual, emotional, spiritual, financial, physical, and time capital? Our lives are not our own. Nor are our neighbor’s lives. In reality, we do not choose our neighbors. We are to be our “brother’skeeper.”Mike Slaughter inn The Christian Wallet writes, “Christians in particular seem tochoose isolation and segregationfrom the rest of the world God loves, narrowly defining “neighbor”as someone who looks likes us, acts like us, and, most important,believes like us.”[4]Oh, the people in your lives, those easy and uneasy to embrace,are your neighbors. They are the ones you are called by God to love in word and deed.Loving God is giving ourselves away for the sake of others. Giving ourselves away for the sake of others is lovingGod.

We, as individuals and a congregation, exist to show our neighbors, in word and deed, restoration in Jesus Christ. Ours and theirs.

[1]Philip Yancey,“Chess Master,”Christianity Today (5-22-00), 112.

[2]The idea of emphasizingthe two coins over the poor widow is takenfrom Emilie M. Townes inDavid L.Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, YearB, Volume 4(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009),286.

[3]Cynthia A. Jarvis in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 216.

[4]Mike Slaughter, The Christian Wallet(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016),182.

Giving–Working to Live: a Reflection on Psalm 34:1-8, Mark 10:46-52, and Job 42:1-6, 10-17

Humans are made to be in relationship with God and one another. It is no surprise, then, that work, is central to life. From the very beginning, human was created good and designed to work. God purposed us for “…laboring and producing fruits from what God has provided via creation.”[1]  Yes, we work in order to live. And the work we do is not only about an income stream, but even more importantly the work we do loving God and loving others.

This is Reformation Sunday. Those who worked for the cause of Christ in the 16th– 17th centuries have set the course for Christians in the 21st century in how we are to work to live. From Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, John Calvin’s ministry in Geneva, John Knox’s ministry in Scotland, and the Peace of Westphalia bringing a new system of political order in central Europe, the most significant contribution of the Reformation is the five solas: Sola Scriptura, Solo Christo, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Soli Deo Gloria (Scripture alone; Christ alone; Grace alone; Faith alone; and Glory to God alone). Working these five solas is essential for living effective lives as followers of JesusChrist. I will highlight three solas. I challenge you to examine how these three can make you think differently about giving financially from the wallet of your life.

Sola Scriptura…only Scripture. What do the Scriptures have to say about giving financially? In Psalm 34 the psalmist recognizes that he was delivered, that is saved, from his selfish ways of living. Blessing the Lord, boasting in the Lord, and magnifying, seeking, and crying out to the Lord are essential daily practices or works for demonstrating dependence on God, not things or money. The psalmist prayed to be delivered from materialism.

Solo Christo…only Christ. What does Jesus have to say about giving financially? In Mark 10, we see Jesus asking Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the same question he had asked James and John earlier: “What can I do for you?”Whereas James and John were selfish about who could sit closest to Jesus, the blind beggar asked to see again. Salvation is not accomplished through financial security. Only belief in Jesus Christ, the One who knows us the best and loves us the most, can save us from the false savior of materialism. When our lives are marked by “encounters with the blind who want to see, the lame who want to walk, the leper who wants to be cleansed, we catch a glimpse of what it must be like to come close to Jesus.”[2]

Sola Gratia…only grace. What does grace have to say about giving financially? Job 42 indicates that our assurance of salvation is not based on merit. We cannot take any credit for our salvation. Our salvation is based on the unmerited favor we receive from the One who created us, redeems us, and sustains us.None of us, other than putting one foot before the other each day, can control the number of our days, the affection of our relationships, or anything for that matter. Being enslaved to our monthly income streams for a sense of security is rooted in a “works”salvation, not one of grace.

What, then, is the significance of the Reformation for our existence in and through the solas of Scripture, Christ, and Grace for giving financially? Our money is not our own. Mike Slaughter inn The Christian Wallet writes,

Almost all of us who work do so in part because we need to have an income, some method for filling our Christian wallets so that we can spend, save, give, and invest with a conscience…But work is for a much larger purpose than simply bringing home a paycheck, whether it’s the work we produce for our employment or the additional labor we invest simply for the kingdom. We ultimately work for the outcomes, not simply the incomes.”[3]

The purpose of working to live is to advance the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Christians live their lives rooted in the Bible’s authoritative and infallible message of salvation in Christ by grace.

We, as a congregation at Geneva Presbyterian Church, exist to show others salvation. Your intellectual, emotional, spiritual, financial, physical, and time capital are your tools for working to live. Financially, 40% of our members and regular attenders have pledged $512,868 to date. We’re making great progress in working to God’s purposed ends for living. In 2019, your Session is challenging everyone who calls Geneva their church home to give of their financial resources in gratitude for all that God has done for us. That’s right, we are called to the mission of “Loving and Living God’s Way. ”In anticipation of your generosity, here are a few things in store for Geneva in 2019: 10% of all giving will continue to go toward global and community ministry; revitalization of Small Group Ministry; Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian and the Executive Director of The Reformation Project, will be on our campus the weekend of February2-4; Marriage Retreat, Men’s and Women’s Retreats; Financial Peace University is coming in February; and Squad 51—Adult Genevans in the life of every child at Geneva.

It is my prayer that those who have no record of financial giving to Geneva Presbyterian Church, yet call Geneva their church home, will repent. Let’s complete the 2018 Generosity Campaign with 60% participation of our members and regular attenders, a ten percent increase over the 2017 Generosity Campaign participation level. Let’s grow as the Church, church! Sola Scriptura, solo Christo, and sola Gratia.

[1]Mike Slaughter, TheChristian Wallet(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 155-156.

[2]Cynthia A. Jarvis in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 216.

[3]Mike Slaughter, The Christian Wallet, 156.

Giving–Leveraging Our Giving: a Reflection on Psalm 22:1-15, Mark 10:17-31, and Job 23:1-9, 16-17

Fifty-three years ago, Geneva began as the Presbyterian Church of Leisure World. We held our first service in Clubhouse 1 on Sunday, May 16, 1965. The Rev. James E. Caldwell was our organizing pastor and our name was changed to Geneva Presbyterian Church of Laguna Hills, being officially chartered October 10, 1965. Three and a half of our four acres were donated by the principal founder of Leisure World and we purchased the additional one-half acre to make up our four-acre campus footprint. Our property was given as a commitment of the founder of Leisure World to have a campus, which would represent to the residents of the Saddleback Valley, God’s “home.” Now that is a vision of leveraged giving.

Geneva Presbyterian Church aspires to be known as followers of Jesus who are remembering, telling, and living the way of Jesus. Today’s Bible readings remind us that God enters our real-life circumstances and experiences. All we need to do is leverage God’s faithfulness with ours to make kingdom differences in the Saddleback Valley and the world.

God’s message of salvation in and through Jesus Christ is for humanity to live in integrity with God, others, and all creation. Like David in Psalm 22, we participate in the volley of being confident in God’s presence with us and for us and the profound questions of God’s absence. We must acknowledge that tension, yet come back to proclaim, confidently, that God does not abandon the faithful.[1]Mark 10 exhorts the community of faith to be selfless. Jesus taught the man who approached him and teaches us that  sacrificial living is God’s way. And Job 23 demonstrates that by living sacrificially, we know that the question “Where is God” is answered by the church’s historic answer, “God is here.”[2]

Leveraged giving spends your intellectual, emotional, spiritual, financial, physical, and time capital, sacrificially. Sacrificial and responsible giving makes the community stronger. Mike Slaughter in The Christian Wallet writes, “Responsible investing means taking all that God has placed into our hands and fully deploying it in every sense of the word toward God’s preferred future picture—both for our own lives and for the lives of others. Investing in tomorrow also requires a simultaneous trust in God’s provision for both today and tomorrow.”[3]Leveraging our giving, sacrificially, is responsible investing.

Your life is designed by God to be a wallet. As we read the Bible, we discover that God has given us prescription glasses enabling us to see more clearly the way of leveraging our giving. John Calvin refers to the Scriptures as spectacles for weak, failing eyes.[4]The Bible teaches us that God, through the local church, is to receive the tithe of our financial capital.

Geneva Presbyterian Church exists to show others a better way to live. We do that by leveraging our giving. Loving God. Loving Others. Let’s leverage our giving through spending our life’s wallet sacrificially.

[1]This insight in this gleaned from Kathleen Bostrom in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 154.

[2]My thanks to Thomas Edward Frank in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4, 146, 148, and 150.

[3]Mike Slaughter, The Christian Wallet (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 128.

[4]For the analogy of spectacles for weak eyes see John Calvin in Book I, Chapter VI ofInstitutes of the Christian Religion,vol. 1, translated by Ford Lewis Battles and edited by John T. McNeill (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), 69-74.