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Grace Church Connections

Relationship, not Religion.

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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.

Easter Challenge: GIVE

April 27, 2016

There is no better way to break the bonds of materialism than to give.

Now some of you are thinking, “Yeah, I knew this was coming. Here comes the pitch. Gimme’, gimme’, gimme’. Dang Christians are all the same. All they want is your money.” If that’s what you’re thinking, I beg you to give me (hahahaha! sorry, couldn’t help myself) just two minutes to change your mind.

Yes, Churches need money to operate. In that we are no different from any other organization, be it for-profit or non-profit. We need money for practical things like rent and insurance and salaries. We need money for impractical things like feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and teaching our young people. And we don’t sell anything, so we have to ask.

But here’s the deal. If you’re not a follower of Jesus, we’re not asking you. You are an honored guest in our community. We would no sooner ask you for money than we would invite you to  dinner and ask you to pay for groceries. If you are a follower of Jesus… Well, if you follow Jesus then we shouldn’t have to ask you for money. Your Lord already has.

Why is it, do you think, that God wants us to give? It’s not like it changes His bottom line. The earth is Lord’s and all this is in it (Ps 24:1). As Lewis reminds us, when we give back to God, God is sixpence none the richer. So when we give, it is not because God needs to receive. God is sufficient unto God’s self. We give not because He needs us to, but because we need us to.

That’s right. We need to give. When Jesus tells us we cannot serve both God and money, he is not just giving advice. He is being descriptive rather than prescriptive. Jesus is explaining how we’re made. It’s not that we shouldn’t serve two masters, it’s that we can’t. We’re not made that way.

Look at the rich young ruler in Luke’s gospel. This is good guy. Jesus loves him. But he can’t let go of his wealth. And this keeps him from following Jesus.

...  Jesus said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.

Why does his wealth get in the way? We see other wealthy people follow Jesus (Cornelius the Centurion, Lydia the seller of purple, even Paul himself). It’s not his wealth that is the problem, but his heart. Instead of trusting in God, the young man trusts in himself. He trusts his ability to follow the law. And he trusts in his money to provide for his needs.

Money is not the problem. Our attachment to money and all it can buy is the problem. And there is no better way to break the bonds of materialism than to give. When we give away things that are important to us we lessen the hold they have over us. This is why God calls us to give. So we can learn to trust the Creator of all things instead of the things themselves.

Easter Challenge – BIBLE: why

April 20, 2016

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Jamie and I have been married almost 23 years, a long, long, loooooooooong time (though we might not be married much longer, once she reads that). A while ago, we took separate cars to a meeting with someone important. I arrived first and discovered the important person had a really nice office, in a really nice building with really nice wood floors. You could tell how important this person was by how busy things were. People were coming and going outside the office like cars in an HEB parking lot the day before Thanksgiving. Footsteps clattered up and down the hallway, clickity-clackity-clack.  As important person and I sat around the conference table making small talk, I kept half an ear open for Jamie’s arrival. Sure enough, a few minutes later, I knew she had arrived.

Now, I couldn’t see her yet. The office’s privacy blinds were closed. But I knew it was her. I turned my chair to face the door and told important person, “Jamie’s here.” Sure enough, my beautiful bride strolled in moments later.

How did I know she was there before I could see her? I heard her heels clacking down the hall. How could I tell her heels from the hundreds of others walking by? Well, I’ve been listening to her walk down hallways for longer than we’ve been married. I’ve spent plenty of time looking forward to the arrival of my love in a variety of situations. I just know the sound of her walk, like I know the sound of her laugh, or the sound of my children’s cries.

That’s why I read the Bible. I want to recognize the sound of my Savior’s laugh. I want to know the rhythm of my Creator’s walk down the hall. If I want to follow what he says, I have to hear Him. And to hear Him above all the pointless noise of the world, I must be able to recognize his voice. The Bible is where I most clearly and consistently hear the voice of God. If you would know God, know Jesus. And if you would know Jesus, know the Bible.

If you would know God, know Jesus. If you would know Jesus, know the Bible.

I don’t read the Bible because I think it is life’s instruction manual. I don’t read the Bible so I can memorize verses to be thrown like daggers. I don’t read the Bible to back up my own theological understanding. I read the Bible because in its pages I encounter God. I go to the Bible to have my theology stretched and broadened. I go to the Bible to discover God’s truth, and I’ve never been disappointed.

I have been confuzzled (confused + puzzled) a time or two. I’ve been frustrated. I’ve been surprised. More than once, I have read a passage that I’ve clearly studied before (I know because I underline and write in my Bible like crazy) only to come across a verse that I swear I’ve never read before. This feeling has been so strong that I’ve gone to other copies of the same version to see if my Bible somehow had an extra verse in it. Weird. Makes no sense. Until I remember that the Bible is the living word of God.

To me, the Bible is God’s living word because God enlivens the words of the Bible by His Spirit. He reveals to us what he wants us to see, know and understand. It’s not that my Bible changed before I went back to the study the same passage again. It’s that I had changed, or more accurately, that God had changed me. So God’s Spirit now opened my eyes to read his word in a new way.

As a follower of Jesus, there are five practices I would absolutely recommend to anyone who wants to grow in the knowledge and love of God. I can go so far as to say, if you do these things you will grow closer to God.

Worship every time you get the chance. We are made to worship, and we are going to worship something. We should strive to worship the only One who truly deserves it.

Serve those in need. We love God by loving our neighbor. Our neighbor is whomever God places on our path. Serving others is serving Christ.

Give away money and things. There is no better way to weaken the hold materialism has over us than to give.

Pray like you mean it. Pray like everything you do depends on God. Because it does.

Read the Bible. When you dive into the pages of Scripture, you drink from the living water of Jesus, who is the Christ. Your soul will be satisfied. And you will find yourself changed.

And if you struggle with understanding the Bible, don’t sweat it. Ask someone with more Bible experience than you. Ask your pastor. Read a commentary. And remember God’s promise in Isaiah 55:11.

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

 

Easter Challenge – BIBLE: How

April 20, 2016

You can’t know what the Bible means until you know what it says.

Okay, look, this is turning out to be more difficult than I thought. I just wrote 400 words as an introduction. Too much. Waaaay too much. So I deleted all that and started over. I’m going to keep this as simple as possible. I’m going to give you one way to study the Bible that absolutely works. Then I’ll give you a bunch of links you can follow to learn more (if you want to).

Step 1 – BUY A STUDY BIBLE

Buy an ESV Study Bible*. You can get it at LifeWay or CBD or Amazon. Cost is $25-$60. If you already have an NIV Study Bible, use that one. If you have any other kind of Study Bible, you’ll be okay, but the notes won’t be as helpful.

Step 2 – HOW TO USE A STUDY BIBLE

A Study Bible is a specific type of Bible. There literally 1,734, 906,422** different types of Bibles. There are Youth Bibles and Worship Bibles and Devotion Bibles and Women’s Devotional Bibles and Men’s Devotional Bibles and on and on and on. A Study Bible has 4 distinct advantages over these others: introductions, cross references, footnotes, and study notes.

In a Study Bible, each book of the Bible has a carefully researched introduction that gives you that book’s author, date, location, major themes and outline. Very helpful. Don’t skip it like you did the introductions to books you were assigned to read in college.

Cross References are the odd column of numbers in the middle of the page. images-1

Each verse of Scripture will have tiny superscript letters that correspond to that same verse found in the cross reference column. These cross references take you to other scripture verses that have the same word or theme. This is a fascinating way to discover what other books of the Bible have to say about the verse you are studying.

Footnotes are a little harder to find and a little harder to understand. They are referenced from small superscript numbers in the biblical text. The footnotes are located below the biblical text, but above the line that separates the text from the study notes. Footnotes refer to textual variations between original language manuscripts. They are most useful if you discover that a particular verse is “missing” from the biblical text. You will likely find an explanation in the footnotes.

Study Notes are the best part of the Study Bible.2432237210_301c99af40

Each page of your Study Bible will have actual verses of the Bible at the top with study notes about those verses at the bottom. These notes are very helpful tools in understanding what the corresponding verses say and mean. Just remember, the Bible itself is the inspired Word of God and the notes are just what a bunch of really smart biblical scholars think.

 Step 3 – STUDY THE BIBLE

You bought it. Now read it. Study it. Wrestle with it, chew on it, argue with it. Squeeze it like a sponge and don’t let go until you’ve wrung it dry. Use a highlighter. Use a pen. Write in it, underline verses, circle words. Here is a simple way to study the Bible.

1 – Pray  – Before you begin to read, pause and pray. Ask God’s spirit to open your eyes and brain to what the Bible says, ask the Spirit to open your heart to what it means. Confess your limitations (understanding, patience, attention span, time, whatever) and ask the Spirit to overcome them. Open yourself to what God wants to say to you.

2 – If you are reading a passage from a book you’re unfamiliar with, read the introduction to the book first. Then, read the passage once straight through. Don’t stop, don’t look at the study notes, don’t write anything down.

3 – Read the passage again, but read it out loud. Listen to the language, feel the rhythm of the words. Notice what stands out to you. It may feel funny to read aloud all by yourself. Don’t let that stop you. Your ear will hear words and phrases when you read them out loud that your eye won’t notice when you read silently.

4 – Read the passage a third time, silently again. Underline verses or phrases that catch your attention. Circle words that you don’t understand. Read the study notes for each verse. Ask yourself these three questions: what does it say? what does it mean? what does it mean for me?

There you have it. That’s a simple way to study Scripture on your own. If you don’t know where to start, begin by studying the Bible passage we read in worship last Sunday. Or go to our website to find out which passage we’ll read next Sunday and study that one. That’s a great way to prepare for worship.

Studying the Bible on your own is an important practice for all Christians. But it gets even better when you study the Bible with others. If even 7 of you tell me you want to get together to study the Bible on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights, I will make that happen. Of course, that presumes that at least 7 of you have read this far in the post. Email me if you want to study the Bible together.

Extra Bible Study Links

How to Use a Study Bible

Study Bibles as Theological Toolkits

Why So Many Versions?

How to Study the Bible (this one’s a little iffy, but there’s some good stuff in this post – use what you can, ignore the rest)

 

* ESV – English Standard Version; NIV – New International Version : Version refers to the translation from the original languages. Different versions translate differently. Compare any KJV (King James Version) to any ESV and you will the difference immediately.

** This may be a slight exaggeration on the part of the author.

Easter Challenge – LAUGH

April 13, 2016

MarkWatneySpacePirate

Humans are made in God’s image.

God’s image is trinitarian, relational.

One cannot be human alone.

The Easter Challenge this week is to laugh with someone you love.

Sounds easy enough, right?

But if you’re too busy to click the link to read the rest of this post, you realize this challenge might not be as easy as it sounds. So take a minute and slow down long enough to read this, really read it, and think about how you live.

Carl Jung once said, “Busyness is not not just FROM the devil, it IS the devil.” When I look at the pace at which we live these days, I cannot help but conclude he was right. The evil one has taken the Transitive Property of Equality (if A = B, and B= C, then A = C) and twisted it into the Transitive Property of Busyness. If busyness equals productivity, and productivity is good, then busyness is good. And we believe the lie.

Just look at your calendar. That’s all you have to do. Or look at your friends, if they pause long enough for you to see them. Watch your kids – overworked, overstressed, always rushing off to the next good thing. See how they learn from us. Ask yourself, I dare you, ask yourself, when was the last time you stopped just to hang out with people you love? How long ago was that? How often? What percentage of your waking hours do you give to simply enjoying the people you enjoy being with?

Now look , I get it. I really do. Overworking is one of the demons I wrestle with. I appreciate the self-satisfaction that comes from hard work. And I understand there are “seasons” in life, some seasons being busier than others. So I know, from my own experience, how easy it is for the busy seasons to bleed into one another until every season is just as busy as the last. Where is the joy in that? Where is the laughter?

Our problem is too many good things. Who of us willingly gives sacrifices our time and our relationships for bad things, for wasteful things? We may be forced to attend a few pointless meetings, but always in the context of some greater good. We’re too busy for wasteful things. We cut them out of our lives. Because if we’re going to miss a soccer game, or piano recital, or dinner with a friend, it better be worth it.

But is it? Worth it, I mean? Is our busyness worth the sacrifices we make to keep going, to keep running, to keep spinning our wheels?

My favorite seminary professor taught us something I just can’t forget. “You cannot be human alone,” he said one day. We didn’t get it, of course. So he explained.

To be human is to be made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). God exists as Trinity, three-in-one. God exists in a relationship within God’s self. To be made in God’s image is to be made for relationship. Humans are hard-wired for connection. Thus, to be disconnected, to be truly and totally alone, is to be less than human.

Robinson Crusoe on his island, not human until he meets Friday. Tom Hanks on his island, not human until he meets Wilson. Mark Watney on Mars, not human until he establishes contact with NASA. Why do you think solitary confinement is the worst punishment we can come up with?

We are made for relationship. Our busyness doesn’t merely wear us out. Our busyness renders us inhuman by the exact amount that it disrupts our relationships. Laughter is the antidote to this poison. Not the hollow laughter of a business traveler watching reruns of The Office in her hotel room. Nor the sad laughter of a dude watching cat videos. But the honest laughter that flows from the conversation of friends relaxing over coffee. Or the free laughter of lovers who have been married so long they no longer worry what the other one thinks.

Slow down this week. Create space in your schedule for someone else. Go out to dinner. Grab coffee. Catch a ball game. Just hang out. Don’t spend all your time at work. Give your time to the people you care about. Laugh with someone you love.

 

Easter Challenge – SERVE

April 6, 2016

“You can serve and not be a Christian. But you cannot be a Christian and not serve.”

The challenge this week is to serve someone who can’t serve back. We’re not talking about helping out a friend or doing chores around the house. We’re talking about giving away some of your time and energy to do something for someone in need.

Jesus wasn’t kidding, you know. He didn’t say maybe, kind of, or if you feel like it.

Jesus said love each other.

And he didn’t mean send flowers or cards or chocolates. He didn’t mean be nice. He wasn’t talking about feelings. He meant serve one another.

Jesus gives his followers a new command at the Last Supper. “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 13:31-35)

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Now, a new command presupposed an old command, which we know well enough. Jesus tells us the two great commands are to love God and to love our neighbor (Mt 22:36-40). But this command is that we love our neighbor as ourself. We are to love others in our way, with our ability, by our means.

Our way is the old way. Christ’s way is the new.

At the Passover meal on Maundy Thursday, Jesus shows us how we are to love our neighbors. No longer are we to love others as we love ourselves. From that point on, we are to love others as Christ loves us. Not our love, but His love. Love born of sacrifice (this is my body, broken for you) and lived out in service (if I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet).

If we are to call ourselves followers of Jesus, then we must love others as he loved us. We must sacrifice and serve because that is the example he has set before us.

Moreover, service is the measure Jesus himself will use to judge between us. Not doctrine. Not tithing. Not worship attendance. Not orthodoxy. Service. “As you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me” (Mt 25:31-46).

I’m not suggesting doctrine, giving, worship and orthodoxy don’t matter. I’m simply pointing out they matter less to Jesus than serving does. As I have said before, if you only have one hour to give Jesus this week, and you have the choice of serving someone or attending worship, then you should serve someone. (Of course, my next question would be why are you only giving Jesus one hour. Why not give him two and do both.) If serving others  really matters to Jesus, then maybe serving others should matter to us, too.

Jesus even gives us some ideas of whom we should serve. We should serve those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, strangers, sick or in prison. Not that this list is definitive. But it gives us a good place to start.

And since Grace Church is all about creating opportunities for you to experience the presence of God, I’m going to give you some ideas on how you can serve those in need.

THE HUNGRY – Provide and serve a meal with us at Taking it to the Streets this Saturday evening. Click here: www.gcsa.me/Ti2ts  to sign up to bring food or help serve the meal. And if you can’t go with us, you can go on your own any Friday or Saturday night.

THE THIRSTY – Donate to provide clean water for children in Africa. Check out the ministry of Lifewater International. Or join a diocesan mission team to drill water wells in Honduras. Find them on Facebook (World Mission – DWTX) or e-mail Kaitlin Reed.

THE NAKED – You can always clean out your closets. But what if you did something more? You can bring gently used clothing with you to Taking it to the Streets this Saturday. NEW socks and underwear are especially appreciated. Or you can give shoes to the shoeless. Check out Soles4Souls. If you want to donate shoes new or gently-used shoes to Soles4Souls, bring them with you to worship during April.

THE STRANGER – We’re gonna’ keep this simple. Talk to someone you don’t know at worship on Sunday. Here are some helpful tips on talking to visitors. Or better yet, bring someone new to worship with you. Then introduce them to others. For a non-Sunday option, look for moving trucks  in your neighborhood. When you see one being unloaded, take note of the address, then go by and introduce yourself (after the movers have left).

THE SICK – Drop off a box of kleenex and a card. Bring a meal for the family. Help them pick up their kids from school. Doing a small thing can have a big impact. And if you want to go big time and learn how to visit people in the hospital, let me know and we’ll get you some training. Email Jay.

THE IMPRISONED – I told you on Sunday this was doctorate level, hard core disciple type of service. If you’re ready for this, check out Kairos Ministry.  Or talk with Rebecca Harris, our Grace administrator. Email Rebecca. She leads a prison ministry for women that includes a weekly Bible study in the jail.

“Whatever you may do for your brother, being hungry, and a stranger, and naked, not even the devil will be able to despoil, but it will be laid up in an inviolable treasure.”
—John Chrysostom (349-407)

The Other Brother

May 27, 2015

Nobody invites him to the party.

The other brother, the older one.

Nobody invites him in. You ever notice that? No phone call, no text, no e-vite. He doesn’t even know what’s going on. He has to ask one of the servants. Easy enough to imagine why, right? From what little we see of him in Luke’s gospel, the older brother comes off as kind of a jerk. He’s one of those guys who gets mad if you bring too many items into the fifteen item check out line, but thinks his seventeen items is no big deal. Just look at his self-righteous little speech.

“Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” – Lk 15:29-30 (ESV)

You see what he does to his dad there?  These many years I’ve served you. Not loved you. Not worked with you. Not learned from you. Served you. And I never disobeyed your command. Really? That’s how you want to play this? Never? Never, ever?  Not even a little bit, not even once? He’s upset about the fattened calf, but look who he wants to celebrate with, his friends! Not his family. Presumably not his father, certainly not his brother.

And why not? Because that son of yours, that good-for-nothing, that guttersnipe, that wastrel, that… that… that PRODIGAL has thrown away all the money you gave him, our inheritance, not just the interest but the capital, gone, wasted, thrown away on cheap wine and fast living.

Which is just what prodigal means, really. Prodigal doesn’t mean underdog, or returning, or someone who finally gets it right. We use it that way all the time, “he came back from injury to lead his team to the win; the prodigal son returns.” Wrong. That’s not what prodigal means at all. Prodigal means wasteful and immoderate, particularly as relates to money; spendthrift. The prodigal is not the one who gets it right in the end. The prodigal is the one who gets it wrong.

Just like the older brother.

That’s right, the older brother. We’ve long called this passage from Luke the parable of prodigal son, in direct reference to the younger son who squandered his inheritance. And lately it has become fashionable to refer to prodigal father as it relates to the father’s recklessly generous nature. Yet the elder son is no less prodigal than either of them.

He worked on the family land for years, day in and day out. Did he learn nothing from his father?

This isn’t a parable of the prodigal son. This is a parable of the prodigal sons. Sure, the younger son wastes his money. But the older brother wastes his time. He wastes his experience. He wastes his opportunity to learn from the father. The younger son is separated from the father’s abundance, but the older brother is separated in the midst of the father’s abundance.

When the younger son returns, the father throws discretion to the wind and runs to meet him. Yet when the older brother hears the celebration he refuses to enter the house, forcing his father to come out to him. Has he learned nothing of Grace?

When the younger son returns, the father cuts short his apology, immediately pulling him back into the family. He doesn’t make him beg, he doesn’t even let him finish. He calls for the best robe (could his name have been Joseph?), shoes for his feet, a ring for his hand. The father dresses him as a son, not a servant. But later, when the father leaves the party because the older brother won’t come in, he makes his father beg. His father entreats and pleads with him, to no avail. Has he learned nothing of Mercy?

When the younger son returns, the father doesn’t keep him at arms length. He hugs him and kisses him and calls for the best robe and shoes and a ring. The younger son is prepared to accept the place of a servant, but his father welcomes him as a son. And his brother? His brother won’t even name him as such. “This son of yours,” he calls him, because he is no brother of mine. Has he learned nothing of community, of forgiveness, of inclusion, acceptance and love?

So who’s the real prodigal here? At least the younger son comes to his senses. The older brother lives in the midst of the father’s abundance, yet he acts from a place of scarcity. He is just as lost as his brother was, just as alienated from the father. He, too, has run off to a far country. Pray the day comes when he longs to return, to come home to his father. Pray that we opens our eyes and see the Father’s invitation has been with us all along.

Give to Serve (G2S) Teams

May 12, 2015

One of the ideas which undergirds the entire Grace Church experiment is that of the God-sized goal. If we set a a reasonable goal which we can reach on our own, what is the good of that? Sure, we may have accomplished something, and it may even be worthwhile. But if we do only that which only we can do, we will never experience the power and the purpose of God.

Remember, Grace Church is God’s Church, first and foremost. Everything we do and are exists only to serve Him and further His Kingdom and glorify the name of His Son, Jesus (may his name be praised forever!). So why would we ever limit God by limiting ourselves to our own abilities?

No way! Again, I say NO! We are going to set audacious goals which require God’s intervention and help. We will not settle. We will step out in Faith, seeking to do that which only God can do. This is why our goal for participation in the Give to Serve Campaign is so outrageously high. 99%. That’s right. Ninety-nine percent participation. Sounds impossible, right? Good! That means we’re on the right track. Because for us, it is impossible. But for God, all things are possible.

And we want you to be part of God’s possibility. That’s why you should sign up for one of the G2S Teams. We need you to reach our participation goal. We need you to make Give to Serve succeed. This is one of those “all in” moments. If we try to do this half-way, we will fail. If we try to do this three-quarters way, we will fail. Only together, all of us, with God’s provision, will we succeed.

So take a minute and look over the G2S Teams. Ask yourself which one sounds fun, sounds interesting. Which one fits who you are and the gifts you bring to the table. Then sign up for that G2S Team.

PRAYER TEAM – led by Jamie George

The prayer team is actually the most important team in the Give to Serve Campaign. They will pray for the campaign, sure. But more importantly, they will help the rest of us to pray for the G2S Campaign, as well. They will create new and interesting ways for us to pray as individuals, families and a community.

CONNECTION TEAM – led by Aubrey Tolentino

The connection team will be an ongoing team in the life of Grace. The G2S Campaign will simply give this team a boost. This team requires two types of people: 1) people who will talk to anyone; and 2) people who are good listeners. Note that these two gifts are seldom found in the same individual. We need folks who will welcome new people at Grace events, people that I can introduce to newcomers. But then we need folks who can take a newcomer to coffee and listen to their story. So, talkers and listeners will both help newcomers connect with Grace.

CELEBRATION TEAM – led by Kerry Green

The celebration team is just what it sounds like. This is the team that throws the parties. But we won’t have just regular old parties for the Give to Serve Campaign. No sir, no ma’am. These are going to be epic celebrations that we’re going to talk about for years. Maybe a gala… maybe a dance… maybe a concert… Who knows? I just know they will be great.

SPIRITUALITY TEAM – led by Chris Mitchell & Cindy Murray

One of the best things about the G2S Campaign is the opportunity for spiritual growth. God will not bring us through this without strengthening our relationship with Him. Chris and Cindy and the spirituality team are going to help us with this by creating new classes and small groups. There will be formation opportunities for parents and youth and adults and children and families. This is going to be exciting.

COMMUNICATION TEAM – led by Marjorie George

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” C’mon, you know this movie. The only difference is, we will NOT have a failure to communicate because our communication team is going to keep us up to speed. They will communicate with email, Facebook, Twitter, our website, texts, video, blog posts and our very own GRACE CHUCH APP! If you are a good communicator, or just like to post stuff online, this may be the team for you.

BUILDING TEAM – led by Bill Cruse & Brent Anderson

The building team will oversee design and construction. They have a huge task ahead of them. Thankfully, we have great people on this team and it is already full.

GIFT TEAM – led by Robby Turner

This is the money team. They are the ones who will go out and ask people to give. As with the Building Team, we have great people on board and this team is already full.