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Relationship, not Religion.

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Walk thru Holy Week – Wednesday

April 12, 2017

Wednesday Holy Week by Kerry Green

 

  • The chief priests and scribes were looking for a way to arrest and kill Jesus.  They were afraid of him because the crowds were spellbound by his teachings.   
  • Judas Iscariot goes to help them.  He betrays Jesus.
  • Jesus teaches the disciples and tells them of what will come

 

Jesus continues to teach his disciples.  He also speaks of three prophecies:

First,  He tells his disciples “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”

Secondly, he repeats the same message.  He states that “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”

Lastly, he says this to them:    “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”  He also tells them that He will be betrayed by one of his own disciples.

QUESTIONS:

Pretend you are one of the disciples.  You have given up  your life to follow and learn from Jesus.  You have followed Him everywhere.  You have learned so much from Him.  Now He tells you and the others that he is going to be killed, and killed in a brutal way.  

  1. What is your reaction? Are you scared? Mad? Sad? Confused?
  2. What are the reactions of the other disciples?
  3. Are you afraid the Roman authorities will come after you, too?
  4. What do you say to Jesus when you talk to Him after hearing this?
  5. What does He say back to you?
  6. Do you want to run or never leave His side?

Walk thru Holy Week – Tuesday

April 12, 2017

Tuesday Holy Week by Kerry Green

Read Mark 11:27-12:44

  • longest day in Mark’s story of Jesus’ final week.
  • ⅔ of Tuesday consists of conflict with  temple authorities and their associates.
  • Jesus’ authority is challenged by the chief priests, scribes and elders.

 

Tuesday morning, as Jesus and his followers return to Jerusalem from nearby Bethany, where they had spent the night.  They see the fig tree “withered away to its roots.”  The fig tree symbolizes Jerusalem and the temple:  Mark juxtaposes the withered fig tree with  a saying about “This mountain”, that is, Mr. Zion, on which the temple stood–being “thrown into the sea.”  

As Tuesday continues, Jesus and his followers arrive in Jerusalem and enter the “temple,” not meaning the sanctuary itself (which was quite small), but the large open-air courts of the temple platform.  This area was often the scene of teaching, and during Passover week it was thronged with pilgrims.  All of Mark 11:27-12:44 happens in this very public setting.  

The authorities and their associates challenge Jesus with a series of questions intended to entrap and discredit him in the presence of the crowd.  Jesus responds in an equally challenging way, sometimes turning the questions back upon them, sometimes directly indicting them.  

QUESTIONS:

  1. Where do you see yourself in this scenario?  Are you standing close to Jesus when he is being challenged?  If so, what is his demeanor? Does he show any emotion?
  2. If you are watching from afar, what do you see?  Is there commotion or is it calm?
  3. Are people whispering, wondering what is going on or are they listening attentively?  What are you doing?
  4. How does Jesus act when confronted?
  5. What are the expressions of the chief priests, scribes and elders when Jesus turns the questions back on them?  Are they mad? Confused?

Give God One Day

April 1, 2017 1 Comment

 

Good Friday Challenge

I am calling Grace Church to a Day of Prayer & Fasting Good Friday, April 14.

I challenge you to Give God One Day.

The purpose of the Good Friday Challenge is to call us into a deeper relationship with our Lord as we share in His suffering by deliberately walking through Good Friday on our way to Easter Morning. We should expect God to reveal Himself to us more fully as we more fully dedicate ourselves to Him. We should expect God to reveal more of ourselves to us, as well.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. – Mt 7:7-8

This is a challenge. It won’t be easy. But it will be worth it. The Good Friday Challenge is comprised of six separate, yet related, areas of spiritual discipline. They are:

  1. Day Off
  2. Prayer
  3. Fasting
  4. Scripture
  5. Worship
  6. Devotion

#1 – Take the day off from work, school, and housework.

Take a personal day. Take a vacation day. Call in sick if you have to, but take the day off and give it to God. This may not be possible for everyone, I get that, but take a chance and stretch yourself. Whether you work outside of the home, or work from home, attend school, or stay at home your work will still be there on Monday. Here’s some suggestions:

  • Plan ahead – any work due on Friday or Saturday needs to be done by Thursday
  • Students – make a plan for when you will do your homework (but let’s be honest, it’s not like you were going to do any homework on a Friday anyway).
  • Don’t check your email – make sure your workplace can get in touch with you in case of an emergency, but don’t check your email. You’ll just get sucked into the black hole of busy-ness.
  • Stay-at-home moms & dads and people who work from home – This will be harder for you than for people who work outside of the home. Those folks go to work, so they can avoid work by not going to the workplace. You don’t have that luxury. You live in your workplace. It becomes even more important for you to prepare ahead of time, or you will find yourself distracted by all the things you can see need to be done.
    • Do your house chores Mon-Thur
    • Stay out of your home office

#2 – Spend Time in Prayer

Spend some time in prayer, more time than usual. Use your own books or online resources and devotionals. Or make up your own prayers. Or use the prayers provided on our website. We have 7 series of prayers (14 prayers in each series) available for you. All you need to do is click and download the .pdf documents. As an added bonus, you can use the prayers to walk the Prayer Trail at GraceLand. The Prayer Trail is 3/4 of a mile long, has 14 prayer stations, and will be open all day long.

Find the prayers at : www.gracechurchsa.org/worship/prayer-trail or www.gcsa.me/pray.

The prayer series are:

  1. Stations of the Cross
  2. Prayers for Good Friday
  3. Prayers for Those in Need
  4. Prayers for Those We Love
  5. Prayers for Others
  6. Prayers for an Individual
  7. Prayers of Thanksgiving

#3 – Day of Fasting

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer lists only two days in the whole year as days of fasting: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Though we have largely forgotten fasting as a spiritual discipline, it is still a practice recommended for all Christians.

Because this is new to us at Grace, I am providing several different types and levels of fasting for us to choose from.  There is a fast for children, and one for teens. There are several fasts for adults, and even some alternative fasts. I encourage you to begin slowly if you have never fasted before.

Click here to choose your fast: www.gcsa.me/fast

1“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven…. 16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. – Mt 6:1, 16-18

#4 – Read Scripture

Read Ch 26, “The Hour of Darkness” in The Story.

Or read the crucifixion narratives in each of the four gospels

#5 – Attend Worship

Attend one of the Good Friday worship services in All Saints Chapel. Service times are 12:00 and 7:00 pm.

Good Friday Worship

Good Friday worship is characterized by prayer and silence. It is simple, yet powerful. There is no music. We neither celebrate nor serve communion. We dim the lights and forego the use of technology. It is a chance for each of us to kneel at the foot of the cross. We do not have childcare during the Good Friday services.

About the Liturgy
The Friday before Easter Day, on which the church commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus. It is a day of fasting and special acts of discipline and self-denial. The liturgy of the day includes John’s account of the Passion gospel, a solemn form of intercession known as the solemn collects (dating from ancient Rome), and optional devotions before the cross (commonly known as the veneration of the cross). The eucharist is not celebrated in the Episcopal Church on Good Friday.

#6 – Acts of Special Devotion

This sounds pretty religious. But it’s really just finding a different way to connect with God. Be creative. Use your environment. Use your gifts & talents. Here are some suggestions:

  • Movies – watch a film that makes you think about God, whether or not it is an overtly Christian film
    • The Passion of the Christ (not recommended for children)
    • Episodes 8 & 9 of The Bible mini-series
    • Facing the Giants (Kinda’ cheesy, but not horrible. Jay has several copies. It’s not available to stream on Netflix, only on DVD)
    • The War – featuring Kevin Costner & Elijah Wood (contains some graphic language)
    • Remember the Titans – starring Denzel Washington
    • The Prince of Egypt – animated story of Moses, excellent for children
  • Service
    • Call your local animal shelter. Ask how you can volunteer on Friday.
    • Call the food bank. Ask how you can volunteer on Friday.
  • Activities
    • Walk the Prayer Trail at GraceLand.
      • Bring your Story Group. Bring your family. Or come on your own.
    • Go on a hike with your family. Thank God for His creation.
  • Spiritual Reading
    • Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
    • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
    • The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
    • Jesus with Dirty Feet by Don Everts

Good Friday Fast

April 1, 2017 1 Comment

WHY ARE WE DOING THIS? WHAT’S THE GOAL?

1“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven…. 16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. – Mt 6:1, 16-18 

“Throughout Scripture, fasting refers to abstaining from food for spiritual purposes” (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 48). Fasting is an ancient spiritual discipline, practiced by Christians since the founding of the Church. As you can see in the quote above, Jesus assumes his followers will fast because he twice says, “when you fast”. He doesn’t say, “if you fast” or, “should you fast” but, “when you fast”. So the first reason for fasting is that our Lord, Jesus, expects us to do so.

The second reason for fasting is to enable us to focus on God. “Fasting must forever center on God. It must be God-initiated and God-ordained…. Every other purpose [for fasting] must be subservient to God…. If our fasting is not unto God, we have failed…. John Wesley declares, ‘First, let it [fasting] be done unto the Lord with our eye singly fixed on Him. Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father which is in heaven…'” (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 54-55).

Another reason for fasting is that fasting reveals hidden truths about ourselves to us. “More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface” (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 55).

Part of why we are fasting on Good Friday is to prepare us for Easter Sunday. By fasting, we share in some small way in Christ’s suffering on the cross. By sacrificing, we share in His sacrifice for us. When we give our meal time to God, we allow ourselves to experience more deeply the power of Good Friday. How much more precious then will be Easter morning!

HOW TO FAST – Some Fasting Recommendations

  • Plan ahead. Do something to connect with God during the time you would usually be eating. Give God your meal times. Pray, read Scripture, attend worship. Don’t just skip a meal; that’s dieting, not fasting.
  • Recognize true hunger.  “You will probably feel some hunger pangs or discomfort before the time is up. That is not real hunger; your stomach has been trained through years of conditioning to give signals of hunger at certain hours. In many ways, the stomach is like a spoiled child, and a spoiled child does not need indulgence, but needs discipline…. You must not give in to this ‘grumbling.’ Ignore the signals, or even tell your spoiled child to calm down, and in a brief time the hunger pangs will pass. If not, sip another glass of water and the stomach will be satisfied. You are to be the master of your stomach, not its slave” (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 57).
  • Beware of hangry. Many people feel angry when they get hungry. Hangry is the popular term for this. The best way to counteract feeling hangry is to pay attention. Look for it. Name it. Recognize your feelings. Remind yourself that you control your emotions; they don’t have to control you. It may be that you are using food to cover up anger. God might use fasting to draw this to your attention.
  • Drink lots of water.  You take in more water than you realize from food, so you need to replace that water intake by drinking extra water.
  • Limit your caffeine intake. If you can go without caffeine for the duration of your fast, then do so. If not, then limit your caffeine intake by substituting water or fruit juice for your typical beverage.
  • Do not exercise. When you exercise, you burn calories. If you burn too many calories without taking in any additional calories from food, your body skips the hunger stage and goes straight to starvation mode. This may leave you feeling dizzy, lightheaded, and nauseous. This is not fun, and makes it almost impossible to maintain a fast. You will have a much better chance of completing your fast if you skip the exercise for the duration of your fast.
  • Consult your doctor. If you have any sort of ongoing medical condition, health concern or illness, then you ABSOLUTELY MUST CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR before taking on a fast. Don’t assume you can’t fast. But also don’t assume you should. Check with your doctor and follow his/her advice.
  • Food with medicine. If you regularly take medicine that needs to be taken with food or after eating, THEN CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE FASTING. Figure out what you can and/or should eat in order to take your medicine. Don’t assume you can skip your medication for a day. Don’t assume that it is safe or useful to take your medication without following the instructions.

SEVERAL TYPES OF FASTS – Choose one that works for you

Fast for Children

As we discussed the idea of our day of prayer & fasting, the staff at Grace wanted to find a way to include our younger children. We don’t want to make parents’ jobs any harder than they already are. Nor do we want to create any food issues for the kids. This is what we came up with:

  • Fast from sweets and desserts – Let your kids know that no one in the family will eat any sweets or dessert on Good Friday. No cookies, candy, cake, cupcakes, ice cream, etc.. Make sure they know you are doing this with them. Move any sweets out of children’s sight. Explain to them why your family is doing this.

Fast for Teenagers

Teenagers deserve special consideration for our Good Friday Challenge. Their bodies are already burning a ton of calories just growing. And many of them participate in athletics or other activities that require their bodies to burn even more calories. So we thought of a special fast that accounts for their unique requirements.

  • Fast from meat and fish – This allows teenagers to still take in the necessary calories from carbohydrates. It also allows them to take in protein from eggs, beans and rice. Yet it requires them to give up something significant that is a normal part of their meals. They (and their parents) will need to plan ahead for meals that exclude meat and fish.

Fasts for Adults

  • 6 hour fast
    • 10:00 am through 4:00 pm
    • Miss 1 meal – lunch
    • Break your fast with dinner on Friday, 4/14
  • 13 hour fast
    • Sunrise @ 7:09 am through sunset @ 8:01 pm
    • Miss 2 meals – breakfast and lunch
    • Break your fast with dinner after 8:01 pm on 4/14
  • 24 hour sunset fast
    • Sunset on 4/13 @ 8:00 pm through sunset on 4/14 @ 8:01 pm
    • Miss 2 meals – breakfast and lunch
    • Eat dinner before 8:00 pm on Thursday, 4/13
    • Break your fast with dinner after 8:01 pm on Friday, 4/14
  • 24 hour sunrise fast
    • Sunrise on 4/14 @ 7:09 pm through sunrise on 4/15 @ 7:08 am
    • Miss 3 meals – breakfast, lunch, and dinner
    • Break your fast with breakfast after 7:08 am on 4/15
  • Juice fast
    • Apply to any of the above time frames
    • Replace eating meals with “juicing” vegetables and/or fruit or drinking smoothies
    • Break your fast with meal appropriate to the time frame you have chosen

Alternative Fasts

If medical concerns prohibit you from fasting from food. Or if the fasts listed above just seem like too much. Then rather than ignoring the idea of fasting all together, consider an alternative fast. These alternative fasts can also be done in conjunction with any of the above fasts.

  • Phone Fast – Turn off your cell phone for 12 or 24 hours. Don’t put it on silent. Turn it off and leave it alone.
  • Social Media Fast – Ignore all of your social media for 24 hours. Twitter. Facebook. Instagram. Snapchat. Linked In. Blogs. And whatever else is out there. Pretend it simply doesn’t exist.
  • Deodorant Fast – Go without deodorant for 24 hours. See if your family and friends still hug you. KIDDING! THAT’S A JOKE, PEOPLE. Please don’t do this. Your loved ones will thank you.
  • Screen Fast – No screen time for 24 hours. This means no phone, tablet, computer, TV or movies. Don’t look at any screens for a whole day.
  • News Fast – Are you a news junkie? Consider taking a day off from all of your news sources. Go 24 hours without taking in any news.
  • Negative Fast – Could you go 24 hours without complaining? Can you cut out sarcasm, put-downs, and negativity from your vocabulary? Go 24 hours without saying anything negative.
  • Sports Fast – No Spurs. No baseball. No ESPN. No blogs. Go 24 hours without watching, listening, reading or doing anything that connects to sports.

DON’T BE A PHARISEE

Remember our tag line: relationship, not religion. This is between you and God. Challenge yourself. Push yourself. Don’t be afraid to make yourself uncomfortable. But remember Grace. There is room for mercy here. So be gentle with yourself, especially if this is the first time you have fasted. This is not a test of your self-discipline. It’s not a measure of willpower or the practice of goal-setting. This is about connecting with God in a new and powerful way. Stay focused on Jesus. Allow fasting to be another tool you use to strengthen the foundation of your Faith.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Foster, Richard. “Celebration of Discipline.” Harper Collins, San Francisco. 1978.

Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down

February 28, 2017

Ring around the Rosie,

Pocket full of posies,

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

Remember that one from kindergarten? Back when falling down was fun?

It seems pretty much everyone has heard the explanation that this nursery rhyme originated with the plague in 14th Century Europe. Even the good people at Snopes.com. They tell us this bit of children’s doggerel has nothing to do with the Black Death, at all. You can read their explanation here – http://www.snopes.com/language/literary/rosie.asp/

“Ring around the Rosie” may not be about the plague, but it does seem to fit Ash Wednesday pretty well. Imagine, if you will, this poem as a metaphor for life. Remember playing it as a kid. Holding hands, spinning in a circle, then dropping to the floor and laughing like a loon the whole time. Good times.

“Ring around the Rosie, pocket full of posies” — Singing, dancing, laughing, playing — this is living.

“Ashes, ashes, we all fall down” — collapsing to the ground in a heap — this is also living.

Because no matter how great our denial, no matter how hard we pretend otherwise, no matter how much time and money and energy we spend, life on this planet comes to an end. For each of us. For everything. Dying is simply another part of life.

That’s why we impose ashes to begin Lent. As a reminder. The ashes remind us of our mortality. They remind of us our basic createdness, thus pointing us back to the Creator. Which is exactly what Lent is supposed to do.

 

So let’s talk about Lent. Lent is the 40 day season on the liturgical calendar between (the season after) Epiphany and Easter. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday). You might notice there are 46 actual days on the calendar between Ash Wednesday and Easter. That’s because you don’t count Sundays as part of Lent. Lent is a season of fasting and penitence. And Sundays are always days of feasting and joy, Sundays are the Lord’s day, 1/52nd of Easter. So you remove the 6 Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter and end up with 40 days. Not insignificantly, these 40 days mirror the 40 days of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness (Mk 1:12-13), the 40 days Moses spent on the mountain with the Lord (Ex 24:18), the 40 days it rained on Noah (Gen 7:12) and even the 40 years Israel spent in the desert (Deut 8:2).

Lent is a season of penitence and fasting. It is a time of re-collection, when once again we remind ourselves of who our selves really are. Lent is a season of humility. Not bad-relationship, wipe-your-feet-on-me, barely hidden self-loathing kind of humility (which isn’t humility at all, but a perverse inversion of pride). But a truly biblical humility where we recognize  we are not the center of the universe, others don’t exist for our pleasure and we are not God. As the fabulous Pastor Warren has said, “It’s not about you.” Biblical humility involves knowing that we are creature, created and creating, yet not Creator. (Here’s a quick way to check and see if you are God: speak something into being from nothing. If it works, ascend immediately to your heavenly throne. If it doesn’t, get in line with the rest of us to receive your ashes.)

Ashes are a sign of mortality and penance. We are marked with a cross of ashes on Ash Wednesday to remind us of our own certain demise. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. From dust we were formed (Gen 2:7) and to dust we shall return.

Penitence is the act of recognizing our wrong-doing and working to set it right. If you cannot directly amend that which you have broken, then do something else in its place. Acts of service, or devotion, or prayer can all be penance. We’re not talking about self-flagellation, we’re talking about a sacred apology.

Fasting is the act of giving up something in order to grow spiritually. If you give up meat in order to lose weight, that’s not a fast. That’s a diet. If you give up caffeine in order to break your addiction to Diet Coke, that’s not a fast. That’s torture. Fasting is letting go of one thing in order to gain a closer relationship with God. There are all sorts of Fasts, and you can learn more about Fasting in my post “Fast food Fast”.  https://revjayg.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/fast-food-fast/

 

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the
observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and
meditating on God’s holy Word.

(1979 Book of Common Prayer, p265)

Into a Bag with Holes

February 18, 2017

In Ch. 19 of The Story, fifty thousand of God’s people return from captivity in Babylon to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. The work begins with excitement and enthusiasm. When the foundation is laid, the old timers weep with remembrance of Solomon’s temple. But opposition from neighboring tribes builds. Dissension within the leadership stalls the project. Years go by with no further work on the temple being completed. Instead of looking to God, the people look to themselves and build their own homes. Then the word of the Lord comes to them through the prophet Haggai.

It took me a while to understand what God was trying to tell us in this chapter. The history was interesting, but not the point. As I read it again, the prophecy of Haggai began to make sense to me. Then it really began to make sense. Then I got it. Haggai is not only speaking to Israel, Haggai is speaking to us.

 

The story of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem is not about rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. It is not about the history of Israel, or about the religious tolerance of the kings of Persia. The story of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem is the story of rebuilding God’s people.

Why does God ask them to rebuild the temple? Is he a creature who needs a dwelling place? Is he a human who needs a bed and a couch and a roof over his head?

Thus says the Lord. Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What is the house that you would build for me? And what is the place of my rest? – Isa 66:1

God created the universe from nothing. He spoke the earth into being. His hands shaped the mountains. His strength pushed back the waters.

For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In His hand are the caverns of the earth; the heights of the hills are his also. The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land. – Ps 95:4-5

Is the One who hung the stars in the heavens impressed with our construction? He says to the mountain “rise up”; He tells the wind “go there”.

All these things my hand has made and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in Spirit and trembles at my word. – Isa 66:2

The Lord doesn’t need a house. God is not impressed by our efforts. He tells them to build the temple so He may be worshipped and glorified. He tells them to build that He may delight in their devotion. He tells them to build so they will seek him first, making Him a priority.

But the work is difficult. There is opposition. Their efforts to rebuild the temple slow, then stall, then stop. They turn from building God’s house to building their own houses.

 

Consider their ways, says the Lord of hosts.

You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. – Hag 1:6

Consider your ways, says the Lord of hosts.

God is not impressed by our efforts. He tells us to seek Him so He may be worshipped and glorified. He tells us to seek Him that He may delight in our devotion. He tells us to seek Him first, that we might live in abundance.

But this work is difficult. There is opposition. Our efforts to give God priority slow, then stall, then stop. We turn our focus from God to ourselves.

We have sown much, and harvested little. 44% of Americans feel more stressed today than they did five years ago. 20% of us live in extreme stress. Why do choose to live this way? For cars and clothes and houses and stuff? Why do we accept such little return on the investment of our very lives? Why, when God has a better way? Jesus says, lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:20-21). 

We eat, but we never have enough; we drink, but we never have our fill. 66% of us are overweight.  34% of us report binge or heavy drinking in the last month. 15.1 million adults struggle with alcohol. If living this way makes us happy, why are we eating ourselves to death? If we find so much joy in the world, why do we drink so much to avoid it? Paul describes us like this, “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Phil 3:19).

You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. How quickly our clothing stops being about us and starts being about what others think of us. We are uncomfortable in our own skin, so we cover it up. If I don’t trust God to take care of me, then I have to take care of me, then I have to look a certain way to get what I want. And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Mt 6:28-30)

And we who earn wages do so only to put them into a bag with holes. We surround ourselves with things, we fill our days with busy-ness. We buy clothes we can’t wear because we eat too much food. We feel bad about our bodies, so we drink to dull the pain. Which really only delays the pain, ’cause you know you’re gonna’ feel it tomorrow. So we go to work hungover, and we can’t concentrate, we don’t produce, so we have to work longer to earn the same paycheck that we use to go out and buy ____________ more clothes! Jesus explains our insanity, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Mt 6:24).

This is madness!  But we live in the middle of the whirlwind and we just — can’t — see it.

So what do we do to step out of the whirlwind? What do we do to open our eyes? Seek first the Kingdom of God.

We are people who “…have sown much, and harvested little. We eat, but we never have enough; we drink, but we never have your fill. We clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And we earns wages only to put them into a bag with holes.” (Hag 1:6)

What can we do to change all that? Seek first the Kingdom of God.

Do you want to sow little and harvest much? Seek first the Kingdom of God.

Do you want to eat enough and drink your fill? Seek first the Kingdom of God.

Do you want to stop worrying about how you look? Seek first the Kingdom of God.

 

Do you want to keep your wages, building up your reward for the work you have done? Then seek first the Kingdom of God!

Stop seeking first the Kingdom of YOU!

The Kingdom of you will crumble. The Kingdom of you will fall. Don’t pour out your life for the wages of this world that will be consumed like grass in a fire. Don’t seek your own glory and honor and power. For yours is the glory, oh Lord, yours is the glory and honor and power! Work for the glory of the Lord, let it be for his honor. By his power we live and move and have our being. Seek God in prayer. Devote yourselves to worship. Study the Scriptures. Serve the poor. Give your life away: your gifts, your skills, your personality, your money, your time. Give your life for the benefit of others and see how God gives it back to you tenfold.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Mt 6:33

This is not some health and wealth gospel lie. The amazing thing about seeking first God’s kingdom is the amounts don’t change. You do. God probably won’t give you more money or food or clothes. God will give you a new perspective, so you can appreciate what you have, so you are satisfied with what you have, so you can see the abundance of what God has already given you instead of always wanting more.

You know one of the definitions of a rich person? Someone who has everything he wants, everything she wants. There are two ways to look at that. One way, our way, is to have everything. The other way, God’s way, is to want only what God gives us. And the only way to do that, my friends, is to seek first the Kingdom of God.

 

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http://www.stress.org/stress-is-killing-you/

https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/Pages/overweight-obesity-statistics.aspx

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db71.htm  “Sugar drinks: For these analyses, sugar drinks include fruit drinks, sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened bottled waters, consistent with definitions reported by the National Cancer Institute (8). Sugar drinks do not include diet drinks, 100% fruit juice, sweetened teas, and flavored milks. Population estimates of sugar-drink kilocalories are based on data from one in-person, 24-hour dietary recall interview.”

The Death of Someone Else

October 20, 2016

This is taken from the Stewardship Talk given by John Green last Sunday. The story of Someone Else can be widely found on the internet. The author is unknown.

The church was saddened this past week to learn of the death of one of its most prominent members, “Someone Else.”

After being with us for so many years, Someone Else’s passing creates a vacancy that will be difficult to fill.  Someone Else did far more than a normal person’s share of the work. Whenever there was a job to do, a class to teach, or a meeting to attend, one name was on everyone’s list. Let “Someone Else” do it.

It was common knowledge that “Someone Else” was among the most generous givers in the church. Whenever there was a financial need, everyone just assumed that “Someone Else” would make up the difference.

“Someone Else” was a wonderful person – sometimes appearing to be superhuman – but one person can only do so much. Were the truth known, everyone expected too much of “Someone Else.”

Now “Someone Else” is gone. We wonder what we are going to do. “Someone Else” left a wonderful example to follow, but who is going to do the things “Someone Else” did?

We cannot simply stand by and expect someone else to lead and serve and give. You are the someone else at Grace. You are the someone else God wants to use. So am I.

I won’t leave giving up to someone else. I’m going to up my pledge. So up yours.

(Hahahahahhaha. Get it? Up yours? It’s a joke, people. But really, you can increase your giving.)

Being God’s Hands

October 12, 2016

This is the written transcript of the stewardship talk given by Bill Cruse during worship on Oct. 9.

Susie and I have been members at Grace from pretty much it’s infancy

Coming to a newly planted mission church, we knew that joining Grace would be an important part of our spiritual journey.

We knew that we could no longer just sit in the boat, but we were going to have to get out of the boat and serve.peter_walking_on_water Our theme for stewardship this year is time, talent and treasure. The first two, time and talent, come together to create service.

I have served on the Bishops Committee and acted as The Bishops Warden and I am now on the Give to Serve Campaign as we work towards our goal of moving onto Graceland to grow Gods kingdom.

Serving means giving our  time and I know our time is so very precious. There are only so many hours and minutes in the day.  We go through our busy, hectic lives trying to find balance and harmony . Why should we give that precious time to something other then work and family? I believe that by serving others it helps us stay healthy. There are multiple studies showing that people who engage in giving behaviors live longer and healthier lives. Our interactions through serving provide for positive emotions and healthy social bonding.

We all have multiple God given talents to share. My profession [editor’s note: Bill is a dentist] has afforded me the opportunity to serve those in need over the years by providing care at charity health events for the homeless and less fortunate. I have even had the chance to care for refugees in my office.  I have also stepped out of my comfort zone to work in disaster areas, just providing physical labor and comfort. When we use our time and our talents to serve people, we serve God.

Now let me touch on the last ‘T’, Treasure.  Susie and I firmly believe that all of our worldly treasures have been provided to us by God to be used for the good of his kingdom.  It is important that we keep that in mind and give back accordingly. The more generous we are in our giving and serving, the more we will receive into our lives. 

I don’t read the Bible as much as I know I should, but I love Paul’s letters. Let me finish by reading from 2nd Corinthians 9:6-8

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

God has blessings planned for us, we have to be willing and available to be his extended hands!

3T Stewardship

October 5, 2016

 

This is a written transcript of the stewardship talk given by Nancy Stinson during worship on Oct. 2.

When many hear the word Stewardship they only think of money. But Stewardship is much, much more than that. It is what we in the “trade” call the three “T”s of Time Talent and Treasure. You can’t talk about one without the others. Because if you believe that life and everything we have is a gift from God, then we become caregivers for ALL those gifts including the time we have on this earth, the talents and abilities God has given us, and most importantly the gifts of family and friends we have in our daily lives. I’ve picked up a lot of Stewardship catch phrases over my years at the diocese. My favorite is: Stewardship is everything you do after you say, “I believe.”

For the five weeks of October, we will be talking about Stewardship (the 3 Ts). I get to be the first speaker and have the advantage of surprise. So – Surprise! To help the lucky five speakers, Jay suggested just a few questions we might want to answer.

Jay began with Time and Talent – in other words – our Service to God. Jay’s questions ran along the lines of

  1. How do you serve at Grace Church?
  2. How much time do you spend?
  3. Which of your many talents do you use?
  4. Why do you serve, and how does it make you feel?
  5. How do your gifts contribute to the larger mission of Grace and furthering God’s Kingdom?

How long do I have? Just Kidding! I’ll try to make it short.

  • How do I serve Grace church? For me what you see is pretty much what you get. I help create a visual liturgy that guides us through our praise and worship to God each week. Did you realize our church year is full of liturgical seasons with different colors – green, red, purple, blue even gold and white. You can see it on the altar each Sunday, and I try to extend it to the screen. We are still in the season of Pentecost a very long season (which is green) but for the Fall I have moved from grass green to more of a teal green. I’m not sure any of you noticed, but honestly I got tired of looking at the same old color!
  • How much time to you spend? On average my Grace Church “work”, including Sunday, is about 5 hrs. each week for 52 weeks.
  • My first Sunday was Grace’s first Sunday at TMI – October 18, 2009. According to Google, that was 363 Sundays ago!
  • Why do you serve and how does it make you feel? Simply put, I do it because it makes me happy to give just a little of God’s gifts back to him to further his Kingdom.
  • Which of your talents do you use? The talents I don’t have are obvious. I’m not a preacher, I’m not a prayer, I’m not a singer or a greeter, and for sure I’m not a baker. In fact, it’s an odd set of talents I can give to Grace Church. One is the boring administration piece, but my passion is trying to create and find images that say “it” as well or better than all those words that tend to fly in one ear and out the other. You know the adage that, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I believe it.

So, let me share a couple of images that I use when thinking about that pesky financial “T” – the Treasure – at Grace Church. But first – remember back to the Fall stewardship seasons in 2010 – 2012. We did the New Consecration Sunday program. In my 20+ years of considering Financial Stewardship personally and professional, this program has had the largest impact on my spiritual stewardship.

First I explored WEEKLY GIVING as they recommended. weekly-giving-doesnt-hurt-words

Remember the story of the frog and the pot of boiling water. You throw a frog in boiling water and he will jump out, but put the frog in room temperature water and slowly increase the temperature and the frog is oblivious that he is cooking. I’m that frog hanging on to the side of the pot with a smile on my face. When I took my old-fashioned monthly gift to God and divided by 4 the weekly amount was a little embarrassing and small. Surely I could do better than that! So I increased the amount (temperature) 10% each year. And that smaller WEEKLY amount does not hurt. Better yet, I’m still not cooked!

Now to the second change I made –AUTOMATIC GIVING prune-bowl-words

Stay with me for a minute on this. Yes, it’s a bowl of prunes, and when you think of prunes you think of regularity, right! This is one of the greatest gifts you can give Grace Church. Regularity! If the budget and leadership can depend on your gift EVERY week, for EVERY month, all year long, they can in turn move forward with confidence and faith to expand the larger mission of Grace church and to further God’s kingdom. No summer shortfall, no running-short appeals.

What a gift to Grace and to Jay. So let’s keep them both regular with our own dose of prunes in the form of Automatic Giving.

And there was another benefit to ME the giver. I let go of my money, and truly gave to God with no strings attached. It didn’t matter if it was Christmas and I wanted to buy more presents for Grandkids. It didn’t matter if I had a $300 water bill PLUS a huge plumbing bill to fix the leak. God’s money was off my radar. It wasn’t mine to use, and better yet, I discovered I didn’t need it. The gift to me was taking a leap of faith that God would give me enough, if I was willing to let go. And he did, and he will.

So let’s recap.

For 2017 when considering Stewardship, we remember it is more than just money. It is the 3Ts of Time, Talent and Treasure. But when you do think of the financial stewardship think of my two images:

The frog in the pot and the prunes in the bowl for Grace Church. This year prayerfully consider Automatic – Weekly – Giving. Just like the frog – it will make you smile.

Thank you!

You Don’t Need the Holy Spirit

July 14, 2016

Our goal, our theme, our experiment this Summer is to be led by the Spirit. This is not easy for us. We believe, theologically, in the idea of the Spirit. We would even agree that as followers of Christ, born-again in the waters of baptism, that we have received the Holy Spirit and He dwells within us. But this is exactly the problem. Our quiet acquiescence to the idea of the Spirit as an intellectual construct robs us of our ability to know Him as God.

Our family vacationed in Lake Tahoe a few Summers ago. Our hosts told us to bring sweaters because it would be chilly in the evenings. It was August. In San Antonio. Cool weather sounded like heaven. Then we got there.  Amazing sunshine. Fresh, crisp air. Beautiful lake. It was gorgeous! Then the sun set. And it was freezing. We went to our suitcases only to discover we had forgotten to pack sweaters. You see, we believed our friends when they said Tahoe would be chilly. But some part of us couldn’t grasp the idea of sweaters in August. So we ignored them; we left them out.

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That’s what we do with God’s Spirit. We believe in Him, but some part of us cannot grasp the idea of Him. So we ignore Him. We leave Him out. We accept the Spirit as part of the Trinity, but we do not follow Him as God. We find ourselves out in the cold, suffering a spiritual hypothermia, wondering why our Faith won’t keep us warm.

Our problem comes from wanting only a little bit of God. We want God, we know we need God, but we only want so much of Him, just enough, really, to make it to next Sunday. God allows us to all but ignore Him, living with the presence of His Spirit, but without His power. Francis Chan explains it in his book, Forgotten God:

Nowhere in Scripture do I see a “balanced life with a little bit of God added in” as an ideal for us to emulate. Yet when I look at our churches, this is exactly what I see: a lot of people who have added Jesus to their lives. People who have, in a sense, asked Him to join them on their life journey, to follow them wherever they feel they should go, rather than following Him as we are commanded. The God of the universe is not something we can just add to our lives and keep on as we did before. The Spirit who raised Christ from the dead is not someone we can just call on when we want a little extra power in our lives. Jesus Christ did not die in order to follow us. He died and rose again so that we could forget everything else and follow Him to the cross, to true Life (Francis Chan, Forgotten God, p.105).

Our God is no little tin god (thank you, Don Henley).

He is the master and creator of the universe. Jesus Christ is not some puppet god we can play with when we feel like it. Jesus did not die in order to follow us. Jesus died, and rose from the dead, so we can follow Him. When we try to fit Jesus into our lives, our plans, our church, our way of doing things, we will find there is never enough room for Him. But when we step back, step out of the way, when we choose to fit our lives into His, form our plans from His plan, place our church in the Church, then we find more Jesus than we ever knew existed. This is the gift of the Spirit.

“You don’t need the Holy Spirit if you are merely seeking to live a semi-moral life and attend church regularly. You can find people of all sorts in many religions doing that quite nicely without Him. You only need the Holy Spirit’s guidance and help if you truly want to follow the Way of Jesus Christ” (Chan, Forgotten God, p.106)

If we want to truly follow the Way of Jesus, if we want more than a little bit of God, then we need the Holy Spirit’s guidance. We don’t need Him as an idea, we need the Spirit to lead us. Here is one simple way to let the Spirit lead you.

  1. FIND A PLACE – Go someplace where you cannot see another human. Inside, outside, standing, sitting — doesn’t matter. Go. Be alone. People are the most distracting things in the universe (beside cell phones), and you want to minimize distractions.
  2. TURN OFF YOUR PHONE – Not like at the movies, where you just turn off the ringer. Actually turn it off. All the way off. You will be tempted to just set it aside on silent. Don’t. You cannot focus with your cell phone on.
  3. READ JOHN 14:26-27 – 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (I know I told you to turn off your phone, so copy these verses down on paper.)
  4. PRAY – Pray something like this: “Holy Spirit, open my heart to your presence. Help me hear your voice. Show me what you want me to see. I want to follow you. Lead me. Amen.”
  5. LISTEN – Pay attention. As you open the door, turn on your phone, and go back into your day, pay attention to the people God places in your path. Listen with God in mind. Read your email with one eye on Jesus. Check your texts knowing that God’s Spirit may be reaching out to you through your contact list.