Giving With Gratitude Because of The Unconditional Love of The Triune God–Questions About Giving in Love Have Many Functions: a Reflection on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17, Haggai 1:15b-2:9 and Luke 20:27-38

It is an innate human quality to reminisce on the past as a better time than the present. We all do it. Elementary school was better when we sang a patriotic song, said a prayer, and then recited the pledge of allegiance. Those were the good ole days.

In August 2016, I preached for a congregation, which was the church at which I did my field education internship while attending Fuller Theological Seminary. The congregation is just a shell of what it used to be. It was great to reconnect with folk, and the past was fun to remember; then the sanctuary was always packed, high energy was palpable, and great enthusiasm for reaching others with the good news of Jesus Christ pervaded congregant conversations. Now, any given Sunday has less than thirty in attendance, limited energy and low passion for evangelism. Is it helpful to pine for the past when facing a difficult present?

The texts in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17, Haggai 1:15b-2:9 and Luke 20:27-38 have similar contexts. The past seems more attractive than the present.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17 answers the question, “Can there be effective giving and loving in tough times?” Answer. It must be motivated by tradition and the Holy Spirit. When tradition and the Holy Spirit are properly linked, they bring life, comfort and hope. No one knows when Jesus Christ will return and claim the church as his bride. So, no matter how difficult times become for the church, followers of Jesus are not to think Jesus is coming the next day. We are to remain faithful and connected to the vision Jesus has for the redemption and salvation of all creation. 2 Thessalonians 2:15,17 reads, “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself…comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.” Every good work and word is strengthened by our tradition and the Holy Spirit.

Haggai 1:15b-2:9 answers the question, “Can there be effective giving and loving in tough times?” Answer. It must be motivated by hope. Hope keeps us giving and loving when times are tough. Hope helps us stand firm in times of crisis and conflict. Haggai encourages the people to rebuild the temple, but more importantly, to build the temple of their lives. Haggai 2:9 reads, “The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.” Every good work and word is strengthened by hope.

Luke 20:27-38 answers the question, “Can there be effective giving and loving in tough times?” Answer. It must be motivated by a keen understanding of resurrection. In answering the Sadducees trick question, Jesus teaches that marriage is not a necessary relationship for all people nor will marriage be something we are given to in heaven. The Sadducees do not really care about resurrection. They want to trap Jesus with Moses’ teaching that if a husband dies leaving his wife a widow, and there are other brothers in the husband’s family, a brother must marry the widow. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are not just revered citizens of a great heritage, but they are citizens of an age where God has triumphed over death. Their lives speak today to the truth of the resurrection. How the church takes care of the widows and downtrodden is a statement of citizenship. When we do it well, continue to give and love in tough times, it is because of our living in the strength of Christ’s resurrection. Luke 20:37-38 reads, “And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” Every good work and word is strengthened by Jesus’ victory over death, the resurrection.[1]

Although we pine for the way things were in the church, it is dangerous to think that a return to the past will alleviate the pains of the present. The present state of the church is troubling. There seem to be two types. Consumer centered and emptying parking lots and pews. A return to a program centered church won’t cut it unless we want to be consumer driven. A third way is what we are attempting at Geneva. But we need a radical change in heart in our understanding and experience of giving and loving, of being church, in troubled times.

Yes, times are perplexing, and the past looks attractive. Thom Rainer writes, “A church without a gospel-centered purpose is no longer a church at all.[2] I pray that each one of us… admit and confess the need for a change of mind and heart about the purpose of being a Christian and a participant in the church; recognize the slow erosion in your experience of Christian community; let go of the past as hero; build Geneva Presbyterian Church into a community of faith that looks like the community; focus the church’s generosity outwardly for the sake of others; make specific plans to minister and to evangelize our community (ies); practice the Great Commission; be motivated and guided by God’s ways and will not by preferences; value a long tenure for your pastor; make prayer a priority, both personally and corporately; and have a clear purpose of being church not going through the motions of church

Give and love motivated by tradition and the Holy Spirit. Give and love motivated by hope. Give and love motivated by a keen understanding of resurrection. Questions about giving in love have many functions. They can move us out of mediocrity and yes, even the death march of “doing” church. God’s ways and will, will change your experience of tithing from your cognitive, affective, physical, spiritual and financial resources from your life wallet. Living into legacy, the legacy of being known as a Jesus follower, is a life worth living.

[1]In all three sections of textual analysis, I have benefited from the thinking of Matt Gaventa, Edith M. Humphrey, Lydia Hernandez-Marcial, Lauren F. Winner, Patrick J. Willson and Kenyatta R. Gilbert in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 469-471, 471-473, 460-462, 462-464, 474-476 and 476-477.

[2]Thom S. Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 75.

 

Giving With Gratitude Because of The Unconditional Love of The Triune God–Love Always Welcomes Us To Give: a Reflection on 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12, Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 and Luke 19:1-10

Hudson Taylor, the pioneering missionary to China remarks, “When I travel to the interior of China, the Christian communities all claim they’ve seen and experienced miracles.”[1] Can we say that as a congregation? Giving the tithe of your cognitive, affective, physical, spiritual and financial resources is how we participate in God’s miracles of redemption and salvation.

As in the day of Habakkuk the people of God are losing their way. As in the day of Habakkuk, we need to tap into God’s vision of redemption and salvation. That vision is to hear love’s welcoming call, even when anxiety and fear seem to have their way. And as we walk in that vision, we and others will be transformed. The texts in 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12, Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 and Luke 19:1-10 ask us to wait on and listen to God in order to fully experience God’s welcoming love in our giving.

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4; 2:1-4 beckons us not to justify the church’s anemic condition because of persecution, but to seek encouragement to stay engaged in the suffering. The power base has been inverted so that the vulnerable and politically weak are lifted up and the institutions of empire and oppression are made low. God aims to purify his people and that is done as we reclaim unpopular positions and display the gospel in our words and deeds. 2 Thessalonians 1:4 reads, “…we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and afflictions that you are enduring….” Steadfastness and endurance are possible as we rest in God’s welcoming love all the while giving from our life wallet.

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 pleads with us not to justify the church’s loss of community, but to reclaim its vision of being united with God and one another. Humans are made in the image of God. As Christians we believe that truth is transformative of all aspects of our lives. In Habakkuk’s day, God’s covenant people had lost sight of being community. Sin had eroded their sense of relatedness and purpose. Habakkuk was guided by that dominant vision of “being community.” We are in community with God and others when we rest in God’s welcoming love all the while giving from our life wallet.

Luke 19:1-10 reminds us not to justify complaining, but to work for a solution. We seek God’s guidance and strength to make a difference. Zacchaeus was rejected, even though he had considerable wealth and status, because of his greed as a tax collector. Although he was an outcast of whom the people complained, he ran and climbed a tree in order to get a glimpse of Jesus. Zacchaeus knew that he would be welcomed in Jesus’ love. Jesus told Zacchaeus that he must stay at his house. The “must” is a divine imperative. It must be done because it is nothing less than God’s will. Luke 19:9-10 states, “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’” Zacchaeus gave half of his possessions to the poor and paid back four times as much to those whom he defrauded. And we can do the same when we rest in God’s welcoming love all the while giving from our life wallet.[2]

The good news of God, as we know it in and through Jesus Christ, is that we can love others as God loves us. Thom Rainer asks this question, “Why would a church’s failure to engage in meaningful prayer lead to its demise?”[3] Answer, “No prayer. No hope.”[4] And the church begins its death march in that it stops listening for God’s welcoming love calling for the congregation members to engage life, in its highs and lows, in giving of the tithe from their life wallet. Take note of the following when it comes to God’s love welcoming our giving:

12 Ways To Keep Geneva Alive

  • admit and confess the need for a change of mind and heart about the purpose of being a Christian and a participant in the church;
  • recognize the slow erosion in your experience of Christian community;
  • let go of the past as hero;
  • build Geneva Presbyterian Church into a community of faith that looks like the community;
  • focus the church’s generosity outwardly for the sake of others;
  • make specific plans to minister and to evangelize our community (ies);
  • practice the Great Commission;
  • be motivated and guided by God’s ways and will not by preferences;
  • value a long tenure for your pastor; and
  • make prayer a priority, both personally and corporately.

I pray that each one of us… admit and confess the need for a change of mind and heart about the purpose of being a Christian and a participant in the church; recognize the slow erosion in your experience of Christian community; let go of the past as hero; build Geneva Presbyterian Church into a community of faith that looks like the community; focus the church’s generosity outwardly for the sake of others; make specific plans to minister and to evangelize our community (ies); practice the Great Commission; be motivated and guided by God’s ways and will not by preferences; value a long tenure for your pastor; and make prayer a priority, both personally and corporately.

God’s welcoming love invites you to give. Go for it. How? Participate by giving the tithe of your cognitive, affective, physical, spiritual and financial resources from your life wallet. As in the day of Hudson Taylor let’s claim the miracles of God that come about through God’s welcoming love as we give of ourselves for the sake of others. Let’s see and experience miracles. Living into legacy, the legacy of being known as a Jesus follower, is a life worth living.

[1]Attributed to Hudson Taylor in Christian History, no. 52.

[2]In all three sections of textual analysis, I have benefited from the thinking of Matt Gaventa, Edith M. Humphrey, Lydia Hernandez-Marcial, Lauren F. Winner, Patrick J. Willson and Kenyatta R. Gilbert in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 452-454, 454-455, 442-445, 445-447, 456-458 and 458-459.

[3]Thom S. Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 69.

[4]Ibid., 68.

Giving With Gratitude Because of The Unconditional Love of The Triune God – Pharisee, Tax Collector or Jesus Follower, When It Comes to Loving and Giving: a Reflection on 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18, Joel 2:23-32 and Luke 18:9-14

Self-righteousness, legalism or gratitude? Which guides your pattern of loving and giving from your life wallet?

Friday, I returned from a three-day trip to Belize, a small country in Central America. I was on a fact-finding expedition of a possible mission partner for Geneva. The government in Belize stops providing free education at age 12. 40% of Belizeans live in poverty. 23% of Belizeans over the age of 15 cannot read or write. PathLight International states its mission this way: “PathLight inspires hope by partnering with schools, churches, and residents of under resourced and overlooked communities so that young people become steadfast followers of Christ, receive a quality education, and pursue pathways that lead to a meaningful vocation.”

The texts in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18, Joel 2:23-32 and Luke 18:9-14 ask us to determine whether we approach loving and giving from our life wallet with a perspective of self-righteousness, legalism or gratitude. What guides your generosity? Do you ever find yourself thinking look how godly I am, look how I adhere to the rules or, out of gratitude for God’s unconditional love for me, I can do no other?

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 leads us to discover that a life lived that is worthy of the gospel is one that does all that it can to promote the love and justice of God. 2 Timothy 4:7 reads, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Reflecting on his life and ministry, Paul wants to encourage those who come after him. Paul lived his life in gratitude.

Joel 2:23-32 leads us to discover that obedience to God’s ways and will is always preferable. The people of Judah experienced drought, a plague of locusts and the invasion of the Babylonian Empire. Yes, the drought, plague of locusts and invasion of a foreign army stripped away the people’s identity. But God promises to “repay” them with wholeness and restoration. Joel 2:25 reads, “I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you. The Hebrew word for “repay” comes from the same word group as shalom. Shalom means wholeness and restoration. Joel’s prophecy was rooted in gratitude for all that God had done for the people prior to judgment, what God would do in the judgment and what was instore following the judgment of exile in Babylon.

Luke 18:9-14 leads us to discover the human tendency to behave like a pharisee and a tax collector as opposed to a Jesus follower. Pharisees would boast how they kept the law and insist on others doing the same. On the other hand, tax collectors demanded tax payments far exceeding that which Rome charged. They were greedy. And Jesus calls his followers to be in the world but not of it. Luke 18:14b reads, “…for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Jesus teaches that in humility one will experience gratitude.[1]

The Bible’s message is simple. Until you respond to God’s electing choice of you in Jesus Christ, you will continue to make a mess of your life, other’s lives, and the world God’s created. The good news of God, as we know it in and through Jesus Christ, is that we can love others as God loves us. But loving others is not without conflicts and challenges. Thom Rainer says this about churches which use the means of self-righteousness and legalism to evaluate success of their pastor and overall ministry when he writes,

It is self-evident that pastors and their leadership are vital to churches. The problem is that many good leaders are leaving churches before they reach their prime leadership years at a church…pastors came and went at a pace of every two to three years, especially in the two decades leading to the deaths of the churches. The cycle was predictable. The church was declining. The church would call a new pastor with the hope that the pastor could lead the church back to health. The pastor comes to the church and leads in a few changes. The members don’t like the changes and resist. The pastor becomes discouraged and leaves. In some cases, the pastor was fired. Repeat cycle.”[2]

As your pastor, I have begun years six through ten. This is the time for fruit and harvest. Remember, year one is the honeymoon. Years two and three are filled with changes and conflict. Years four and five are the crossroads. Years six to ten are fruit and harvest.[3] How you continue to give out of your life wallet, as a Jesus follower not in self-righteousness or legalism (Pharisee or Tax Collector), will demonstrate a time of fruit and harvest.

I pray that you…recognize the slow erosion in your experience of Christian community, let go of the past as hero for it does not fix anything, build Geneva Presbyterian Church into a community of faith that looks like the community, focus the church’s generosity outwardly for the sake of others, practice the Great Commission, note that being motivated and guided by preferences hastens a congregation’s death and value a long tenure for a pastor who leads. Socially and ethically, we must not judge ourselves or Geneva successful by net worth, material gains or worldly favor. Drought is a universal predicament, both literal and metaphorical. We need God’s mercy.

How might we better partner with God in God’s mission of salvation? Resist self-righteousness. Resist legalism. Embrace gratitude. God calls us to participate. You participate by giving the tithe of your cognitive, affective, physical, spiritual and financial resources from your life wallet. Partnering with others in their marginalization, brokenness and suffering, like PathLight is doing with hundreds of children and their families in Belize, is loving and giving from one’s life wallet in gratitude for all that God has done for you. Living into legacy, the legacy of being known as a Jesus follower, is a life worth living.

[1]In all three sections of textual analysis, I have benefited from the thinking of David W. Johnson, Cleophus J. Larue, Tim Meadowcroft, Fairfax F. Fair, Vanthanh Nguyen and Stephen I. Wright in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 417-418, 419-421, 408-410, 410-412, 422-423 and 424-425.

[2]Thom S. Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 55-56.

[3]Adapted from Thom S. Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, 58-59.

 

Giving With Gratitude Because of The Unconditional Love of The Triune God–Giving Plus Loving Equals Justice: a Reflection on 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Jeremiah 31:27-34 and Luke 18:1-8

Erwin McManus believed God.

In his book An Unstoppable Force, Erwin McManus shares the story of how prayers resulted in what can only be called a miraculous re-creation. While ministering in South Dallas, McManus’s small congregation began to grow. Looking for a place to build a larger church building, the leadership spotted an acre of land for sale. Given its location near downtown Dallas, it seemed strange that the property was available. Excited at their good fortune, this small group of people—many on welfare—began to pray that the site would soon be theirs. Eventually, they were able to purchase the property after receiving financial help from an association of churches. As the congregation began the process of obtaining building permits, they discovered the property had been declared “unbuildable.” The acre of land in a prime location was nothing more than a worthless landfill. McManus grieved over this waste of precious time and money. He writes: “We had bought an acre of garbage. Several core samples were taken. From what I understood, they went at least twenty-five feet deep and found nothing but trash…All I could do was ask our congregation to pray with me and believe that God was with us and that he would even use the worst of human mistakes to perform the greatest of miracles.” After months of prayer, a woman from the congregation told McManus that since they had asked God to turn the land into something useful, surely it had been taken care of. Feeling God’s confirmation of her words, McManus asked for more core samples to be taken. This time the researchers found soil. McManus writes: “How did this happen? Was it because the core sample was in a different part of the land? Or could it be that God had actually performed a miracle and changed the landfill to good land? What I do know is that the same realtor who sold the property to me came back and offered me three times the amount he had sold it for once he heard the clearance to build had actually come through. What I do know is that the previous owners could not build on the property, but we could. What I do know is that we were told the property was worthless and unusable. What I cannot tell you is what happened beneath the ground at 2815 South Ervay Street. All I can tell you is what I know—and that is that God took my failure and performed a miracle. Today Cornerstone worships on that acre of land in a sanctuary built by our own hands.”[1]

We are called to be the presence of God in the world. Prayer leads us to discern specifically how, who, where, and when that engagement occurs.

Jesus is here and invites us to participate in that mission. Jesus Christ is the living Word of God. The Bible is the written Word of God. The injustices, selfishness and hate that fill life experience is staggering. The texts in 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Jeremiah 31:27-34 and Luke 18:1-8 announce the need for persistent faithfulness and sacrificial giving from one’s life wallet. Why? Because sacrificial giving and loving through our cognitive, affective, physical, spiritual and financial resources demonstrate justice overcoming injustice through being strong and courageous in what we firmly believe about God and Christianity. 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 instructs us to exhibit love, patience, endurance and consistency for the life we have been called to live in Jesus. Our lives are to interpret and affirm the message, life, and witness of Jesus Christ. The text in Jeremiah 31:27-34 indicates that the ways and will of God is written on our hearts. And Luke 18 tells us that unjust judges neither fear God nor respect people. And widows have neither power nor authority in society.[2]

The function of Scripture is to impart knowledge and how to use it in remembering, telling and living the way of Jesus. The written Word of God introduces to the person and purpose of Jesus Christ, the living Word of God. It also challenges and nurtures us in Jesus Christ, the living Word of God. Both the written Word and the living Word matter. Not just in our personal lives, but also in our daily interactions in the public square. Our lives testify to who God is and what God has done for us and for our salvation. And prayer discerns the how we are to open our life wallet in the giving and loving that equals justice.

Those who call Geneva Presbyterian Church home are encouraged to believe and act upon the Bible’s teaching. The Bible teaches followers of Jesus to tithe. Tithing is giving 10% of one’s cognitive, affective, physical, spiritual and financial resources from their life wallet. Indeed, God is doing good things at Geneva Presbyterian Church. Yet, how our church serves the Saddleback Valley and World in 2020 depends on the opening up of your life wallet. The Bible’s message is simple. Until you respond to God’s electing choice of you in Jesus Christ, you will continue to make a mess of the world God’s created. When you submit to Jesus Christ, you’ll gratefully give your life to God through the opening of your life wallet.

The good news of God, as we know it in and through Jesus Christ, is an ability to give and love for the sake of another person. And the outcome of such giving and loving is the ending of some form of injustice. Thom Rainer says this about churches that mobilize around giving plus loving equals justice when he writes, “We are to be servants. We are to be obedient. We are to put others first. We are to do whatever it takes to seek the best for others and our church.[3] And how do we do that? We resist focusing on our preferences such as “My music style. My desired length and order of worship. My desired color and design of buildings and rooms. My activities and programs. My need of ministers and staff. My, my, my.”[4]

Where is the landfill in your understanding and experience of giving and loving from your life wallet? Pray that you…recognize the slow erosion in your experience of Christian community, let go of the past as hero for it does not fix anything, build Geneva Presbyterian Church into a community of faith that looks like the community, focus the church’s generosity outwardly for the sake of others, practice the Great Commission and take note that a congregation which continues to be motivated and guided by member preferences hastens its march to death.

God was doing something new in Paul’s, Jeremiah’s and Luke’s day. And God is doing something new in our day as well. Are you aware? The new thing in all times is…giving plus loving equals justice. Say with me, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Giving plus loving from the wallet of your life equals justice. The Reign of God is revealed more and more. Like in the case of Edwin McManus, prayer will lead you to see God perform miracles. Living into legacy, the legacy of Jesus, is a life worth living.

[1]This illustration was submitted by John Beukema, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Mr. Beukema submitted this illustration to preachingtoday.com. It is adapted from Erwin McManus, An Unstoppable Force (Group, 2001), 151-153.

[2]In this paragraph, I have benefited from the thinking of David W. Johnson, Cleophus J. Larue, Tim Meadowcroft, Fairfax F. Fair, Vanthanh Nguyen and Stephen I. Wright in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 399-401, 401-402, 391-393, 393-395, 403-404 and 405-406.

[3]Thom S. Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 50.

[4]Ibid, 49.

Giving With Gratitude Because of The Unconditional Love of The Triune God–Giving, Loving and Deepening Faith: a Reflection on 2 Timothy 1:5-7, Lamentations 1:3a; 3:22-24 and Luke 17:5-6

Influenza Epidemic WWI

Glenn McDonald, Director of Mission Integration for the Ascension Ministry Service Center in Indianapolis, Indiana, is a friend of mine. He is also a covenant brother. We have been in a covenant group since 1995 along with four other Presbyterian ministers. In a recent daily reflection Glenn writes,

The greatest health crisis in human history is shrouded in mystery. More than 100 years later, scientists still struggle to answer important questions about the Flu Pandemic of 1918. What was its point of origin? No one knows for sure. Although at the time the illness was given the exotic name Spanish Flu, historians note that the first outbreak seems to have happened on a military base in Kansas. Influenza strikes most parts of the world every year. The majority of those afflicted suffer fever, body aches, and congestion. After feeling lousy for a few days, most of us recover. The 1918 strain of flu was different. It killed huge numbers of people within a few days. Why was this strain so virulent? Nobody knows…World War I was just coming to an end in the fall of 1918. Humanity was staggering under the unimaginable loss of something like 10 million combatants and another 7 million civilians. But that was just the beginning of the suffering. Within six months, the Spanish Flu had taken the lives of at least 50 million people around the world, from the tropics to the Arctic. Some historians believe the total approached 100 million. The death toll in the U.S. exceeded 675,000, more than all the losses sustained during the four years of the Civil War… The 1918 strain, without warning, vanished almost as quickly as it appeared. That’s yet another of the mysteries. After a century of research, is there a foolproof immunization? Not yet, although a flu shot may protect against 50% of this year’s strains. If you get the flu, is there a cure?  So far all we can do is alleviate the symptoms. But the search continues for a Magic Bullet…One hundred years ago the world’s top docs still didn’t know what caused the flu, or how they should treat it. At one point, 30 million people in Japan had been afflicted. A Japanese professor named T. Yamanouchi recruited 52 exceedingly brave doctors and nurses to become human guinea pigs. Scientists wanted to know if the flu was caused by bacteria or by something else. Yananouchi took infected goop from flu victims and placed it into the noses of the volunteers.  About half of them got it “as is.”  The goop given to the other volunteers was first run through a filter that would strain out any bacteria. The results? All 52 of the Japanese volunteers got the Spanish Flu. The experiment confirmed that influenza is caused by a virus – a strange, primitive entity (little more than a microscopic box of chemicals) that is far smaller than any known bacteria. That information immediately advanced the global medical community’s efforts to provide the best possible treatment for flu victims. In the midst of all the mysteries surrounding the pandemic, this one stands out: Why would 52 perfectly healthy people risk their own lives to be part of a medical experiment? Why would those nurses and doctors subject themselves to the worst plague in human history just to improve the odds for total strangers on the other side of the planet? We may not be able to predict the behavior of viruses. But history has demonstrated that human beings are predictably hardwired to care…Why would a nurse in Japan choose to risk the ultimate sacrifice? Followers of Jesus call it common grace…By God’s grace, no matter what is happening in the world, our call is to join the helpers.[1]

The suffering with which the 21st century began and continues to display resonates with the Babylonian captivity of Judah and the flu pandemic of 1918. Think of genocides, bombings, political corruption and shootings. Suffering begs a question. What is the relationship of God’s people to and with people who are suffering? The texts in 2 Timothy 1:5-7, Lamentations 1:3a; 3:22-24 and Luke 17:5-6 speak to the vaccine of salvation through the touch of generous human beings to those suffering. 2 Timothy 1:5-7 instructs us that we have been given a sincere faith by God through the loving interaction of others. The texts in Lamentations remind us there are times to be silent, break the silence, and protest the suffering through our words, deeds and overall engagement with others in their suffering. And Luke 17 admonishes us never to have faith in faith, but to keep faith rooted in the One we believe in as we embrace those in their suffering.[2]

The good news of God, as we know it in and through Jesus Christ, is a vaccination. It’s a vaccination that strengthens our immune system against the epidemic of sin as it is manifested in the words and actions of a calloused soul. The healing presence of others through their generosity, the time, talent and treasure from their life wallet, is the vaccine of salvation. Thom Rainer says this about churches which focus their budgets on themselves rather than on those captured in epidemics of suffering when he writes, “…where the money of the church goes, so goes the heart…Where funds were used more to keep the machinery of the church moving, and to keep the members happy, than funding the Great Commission and the Great Commandment,” churches began the slow death march.[3] Recognize the slow erosion in your experience of Christian community. Let go of the past as hero for it does not fix anything. Build Geneva Presbyterian Church into a community of faith that looks like the community. And focus your generosity outwardly for the sake of others to experience an answer to the epidemic of sin as it is manifested in suffering, the intended and unintended consequences of a calloused soul. Giving and loving generously from the wallet of your life, for the benefit of others, will deepen your faith and Christian experience.

A tiny faith inspires great things. A result of such a tiny faith is a deepening and broadening one with its corresponding experience. Living into legacy, the legacy of Jesus, is a life worth living.

[1]Glenn McDonald, Morning Reflection (Indianapolis, Indiana: Ascension Ministry Service Center, October 4, 2019).

[2]In this paragraph, I have benefited from the thinking of Ken Evers-Hood, David F. White, Jared E. Alcantara, E. Carson Brisson, Richard W. Voelz and Nancy Lynne Westfield in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 365-367, 367-369, 355-358, 362-364, 370-372 and 372-373.

[3]Thom S. Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 31, 36.

 

Giving With Gratitude Because of The Unconditional Love of The Triune God–“Give It Away. Only Love Saves.”: a Reflection on 1 Timothy 6:6-19, Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 and Luke 16:19-31

The ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor is scary. Be warned wealthy. And that is each one of us. Take note of these Early Church leaders and their thoughts on giving to the poor:

Ambrose (theologian and church leader, 4th century) wrote: “There is your brother, naked and crying! And you stand confused over the choice of an attractive floor covering.”

Basil the Great (theologian and bishop in modern-day Turkey, 4th century) wrote, “The bread you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of the person who is naked. The shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor.”

John Chrysostom (theologian and pastor, 4th century) said, “The almsgiver is a harbour for those in necessity: a harbour receives all who have encountered shipwreck, and frees them from danger; whether they are bad or good. … escorts them into his own shelter. So you likewise, when you see on earth the man who has encountered the shipwreck of poverty, do not judge him, do not seek an account of his life, but free him from his misfortune.”[1]

God is the foundation, architect and builder of the story of healing and redemption. And we are to participate in the writing of that story.

The texts in 1 Timothy 6:6-19, Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 and Luke 16:19-31 demand that the local church look more like the community it serves. More of our life wallet must be given away for the sake of others. Our intellectual, physical, emotional, spiritual and financial capital does not save. Love does. 1 Timothy exhorts us to be active and courageous in our choices. Less is more. Jeremiah 32 is the first-person report of Jeremiah’s redemption purchase of land; his cousin’s field. The redemption purchase of the land invites the listener then and now to be a participant in God’s mission of salvation. Luke 16 states that reversals in well-being do occur. We are to attend to the least in our midst.[2]

Jesus told us that the Church will never die, “But churches have and are dying.”[3] Why is that? The local church resists looking like its community. Thom S. Rainer in Autopsy of a Deceased Church writes, “When a church ceases to have a heart and ministry for its community, it is on the path toward death. Whenever local churches are mentioned in the New Testament, they are always exhorted to be other- centered…Vibrant and living churches look after the interests of others. They are concerned for their communities. They open the door for others.”[4] The community of faith at Geneva Presbyterian Church does not exist for itself. We are entrusted with the promise of redemption.

We are a community of followers of Jesus who embrace brokenness, ours and others. With the beginning of the church in the first century, God’s kingdom was opened to all people. People were valued not for their wealth and power but because they were created in the image of God. Let’s be a community of faith at Geneva that is known as a center of hope and advocacy for a better way for all people. To give the content of our life wallet away, we will demonstrate simplicity, welcoming the stranger, charity and justice on behalf of the “least of these.” It is true that love saves.

Being an inclusive and welcoming congregation, focused on Jesus Christ, is essential for Geneva’s better tomorrow. Yes, ethnic and economic diversity, younger families and the over 55 crowd are essential to Geneva’s existence. Recognize the slow erosion in your experience of Christian community. Let go of the past as hero for it does not fix anything. Build Geneva Presbyterian Church into a community of faith that looks like the community. Give it (yourself) away. Only love saves.

[1]As found on preachingtoday.com. All three citations submitted by Kevin Miller, Wheaton, Illinois. Ambrose and Basil the Great are also found in Frederica Mathewes-Green, The Illumined Heart: Capture the Faith of Ancient Christians (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Paraclete Press, 2001), 89.

[2]In this paragraph, I have benefited from the thinking of Ken Evers-Hood, David F. White, Jared E. Alcantara, Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, Richard W. Voelz and Nancy Lynne Westfield in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 346-348, 348-350, 337-339, 339-341, 351-353 and 353-354.

[3]Thom S. Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 28.

Giving With Gratitude Because of the Unconditional Love of The Triune God–Love’s Selfless Giving: a Reflection on 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 and Luke 16:1-13

In 1989, I was in South Africa on a mission trip. The Dutch Reformed Church taught that it was God’s intent to separate people. Not a very loving thing to do, to separate, divide and conquer. Apartheid was the rule of the land. I will never forget meeting with Desmond Tutu, who spoke out that apartheid was both a social and spiritual wrong. Desmond Tutu was God’s voice of love’s selfless giving. He also told me to pray. To pray for the political leaders in his country to see the error and harm of apartheid. To pray for the spiritual leaders in his country to come together in unity for the unity of a separated people.

The texts in 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 and Luke 16:1-13 speak to the necessity of recognizing the slow erosion in one’s experience of Christian community and how holding on to the past will not fix anything. Holding on to the past is not selfless. It is selfish. 1 Timothy asserts that conversion moves us into “the knowledge of the truth.” Truth is a conviction that is based on evidence. Faith is a conviction that God is trustworthy regardless of the evidence. Jeremiah’s joy was gone. Grief was upon him. It was the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.E. Jeremiah was God’s voice calling the people back home. The people’s heart was far from God. They became more and more distant from God. A few lamented the condition. And Luke 16 delineates that only as we relinquish the hold of wealth and power upon us, are we able to be effective followers of Jesus. Wealth and power are not the balm of Gilead. The balm is when words and deeds of followers of Jesus bring light into the darkness of others experience. The right use of wealth and power invites others to find strength in believing in Jesus’ way. The manager had squandered the owner’s funds. So he went to the owner’s debtors and reduced the amount they owed so that when he lost his job, they’d welcome him. The owner affirmed the manager for his shrewd ability to get some of the money back. A strange parable indeed. But it is a lesson on grace and how the children of light must give grace to others in order for more people to be welcomed into God’s eternal home. And, as we practice grace, we understand being welcomed into God’s eternal home. Grace is often shrewd. Dishonesty is always shrewd. Both have benefits. However, the benefits of dishonesty are short-lived whereas the benefits of grace are long-term.[1] Using wealth and power as acts of grace, the balm of Gilead, addresses the spiritual and moral crisis humans face.

Prayer taps us into love’s selfless giving. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face…is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner. This is a happy discovery for the Christian who begins to pray for others.”[2] Prayer is the quintessential spiritual discipline. Our prayers, as a community and individuals, bind others and us to Jesus. God’s voice is heard in prayer. We and others are led to forgiveness and repentance. And God uses prayer to expose our selfishness.

Jesus told us that the Church will never die, “But churches have and are dying.”[3] Why is that? The past becomes a powerful hero and blinds us to the reality of slow erosion. Thom S. Rainer in Autopsy of a Deceased Church writes,

Most of the churches in America that close don’t shut the doors over a single or few cataclysmic events. In most of the cases, the issue was slow erosion…The most pervasive and common thread…was that the deceased churches lived for a long time with the past as hero. They held on more tightly with each progressive year…And when any internal or external force tried to change the past, they responded with anger and resolution: “We will die before we change.”[4]

Openness to change, however, gets us in touch with love’s selfless giving. When we recognize the slow erosion of what the church is to be and confess making the past a hero it cannot be, we are greeted by God’s selfless love.

Bishop Tutu was speaking about lifestyle evangelism, my friends, when the group I led to South Africa gathered at his residence that day in 1989. Bishop Tutu taught us that Christians are to use their wealth and power to influence others for change. Love’s selfless giving is all about using wealth and power to serve God’s purposes. My friends, God is passionate about loving people. Are you passionate about loving God and others through your wealth and power?

Recognize slow erosion. Let go of the past. The past can be an anchor. In this case, the anchor is not a steadying effect. It plunges us deeper into despair. God did for us what we could not, cannot do for ourselves. God frees us from the anchor of the past. Let’s stop trying to keep the church like it was. Let’s participate with God in making the church what it needs to be, a place where we and others, the broken, come for the healing balm of Gilead, love’s selfless giving. Jesus loves you selflessly. How are you doing with loving selflessly? Loving selflessly is when you give away your wealth and power, for the benefit of others. Let’s get at it. Let’s stem slow erosion and take the past off its pedestal.

[1]In this paragraph, I have benefited from the thinking of Robert W. Wall, Magrey R. DeVega, Joseph J. Clifford, Allie Utley, Donald K. McKim and Lynn Japinga in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 328-330, 330-331, 321-323, 323-324, 332-334 and 334-336.

[2]Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (HarperSanFrancisco, 1954), 86.

[3]Thom S. Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 7.

[4]Ibid., 17-18.