Homecoming, by another way Oak Grove 2018
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. [NRSV]
I have such wonderful memories of racing out from Emerson to Euharlee and trying to beat the long coal train heading to-and-from the Bowen. It is so good to be back. I have been here on a cold and snowing morning when it was only two, and no more and we had Good Preaching. So I hope that is the case today. I am proud to see the growth of the ministries and good work at Oak Grove and am honored to be with you today.
I began to think back about the years I was pastor, student and neighbor. The years would have been between 1985 and 1989. Some remarkable things happened while we were in ministry together:
• The infamous “New Coke” was released, The Titanic found, The first report of Mad Cow disease
• and Madonna was holding the place Taylor Swift holds today. Michael Jackson released his “Bad” album and MTV actually played music videos.
• The Kroger in Cartersville and Town Center Mall opened. The news of the Atlanta Olympics was
• The movies out during that time included: Back to the Future, Top Gun and Dirty Dancing
• Some notable songs were: Walk like an Egyptian, The theme from Phantom of the Opera, and We are the World.
• Imagine back to the time of the start of the Internet, the first Game Boy and Nintendo, The first intel processor and MS Office and Windows debuted.
• We were witnesses of Haley’s comet, the Galileo mission to Jupiter and removal of the Berlin Wall with Mr Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan.
• People were watching: “The Cosby Show”, “Cheers”, “Hill Street Blues”, Johnny Carson, Magnum PI and the start of the Simpsons.
We are not the same people today. The world has changed and is changing in a whirlwind of transformation. As our denomination looks ahead to the Winter of 2019 we know that more change is to be expected.
As important it is to look back and remember from where we have come, it is the witness of the magi that call us to look to the present and prepare for the future.
I have always found it remarkable that the Bible contains the story of people of faith who look for God in the movement of the starts, in a distant country with a different culture and perspectives and yet God is self-revealing in all creation.
I had a conversation with young man in his mid-twenties who was convinced that there was no need for God. The wonders and marvels of creation were but the finely tuned change of random variables that brought him more peace and “common sense” to his perspective. I asked him from where did the forces of gravity, fission, fusion, physics, mathematic and love evolve. He uncomfortably had no clear answer except to say they were only explained as observations that followed rather than formed the universe. He left the conversation and went home the same person. I hope that some of the conversation helped change his fears and desire to control rather than to follow and trust.
We live in a divided culture that is more segregated than at any moment in our lifetimes. The struggles leading through Civil Rights Era and the Civil War are not our finest moments. Now more than ever are we needing to make a life-giving, hope-sharing, love-trusting impact on the world around us.
When I was at Oak Grove I was married to Sarah Jane, who search the Cassville Church for a couple of the years. We enjoyed covered dish dinners, singings, and being with you in worship and in your homes. That is no longer the relationship that shapes my life. She loved the idea of being married much more than being married to me. I didn’t share that at the time, as I was immature and unwilling to share what it mean to fully share what it means to be a community of faith. I finally learned that 1) clergy are people who struggle with marriage too, 2) I’d be happier unmarried or married for a few years than to be miserable for 50 pretending a marriage. 3) I have learned that God’s path for us is only as straight and narrow as our willingness to trust. But grace goes before, with and behind us.
Now I have three children: Susanna at Stanford, Luke at 1st Leu in the AF, and Frances a sophomore studying AP Chinese and my wife Wendy is beginning her second career in Insurance. (If you ever seen the Hot-ones sign, a Hardees star, a Georgia Tourism commercial or a magazine in a plastic bag you have seen her work.) The past ten years we have cared for her parents in our home, her mom having Dementia and her father having Kidney failure, was not the road that we had planned, but God has carried us through a different way that blessed and shaped us profoundly.
Why the Wise-men passage on Home Coming?
During my years at Emerson and Oak Grove, Singer, James Taylor, released a song by David Bailey called, Home By Another Way. David Bailey was the son of a Presbyterian minister. As a fellow preacher’s kid the song resonated with me: Here was a famous hippy trippy ballad rocker singing about a bible verse: Not the paths that typically cross. Listen to the lyrics of his song:
Those magic men the Magi, Some people call them wise, Or Oriental, even kings, Well anyway, those guys
They visited with Jesus, They sure enjoyed their stay, Then warned in a dream of King Herod’s scheme
They went home by another way
Steer clear of royal welcomes, Avoid a big to-do, A king who would slaughter the innocents, Will not cut a deal for you, He really, really wants those presents, He’ll comb your camel’s fur
Until his boys announce they’ve found trace amounts, Of your frankincense, gold and myrrh
Time to go home by another way
Home is where they want you now, You can more or less assume that you’ll be welcome in the end
Mustn’t let King Herod haunt you so, Or fantasize his features when you’re looking at a friend
Well it pleasures me to be here, And to sing this song tonight, They tell me that life is a miracle, And I figured that they’re right, But Herod’s always out there, He’s got our cards on file
It’s a lead pipe cinch, if we give an inch, Old Herod likes to take a mile
It’s best to go home by another way
Home by another way
What does it mean to Go Home, by another way?
To God home is hopefully a place of security, grounding and belonging.
Hear the Good News: God’s home, “Oikos”, is with us! With us!
It starts in a garden, it travels in a wilderness, it crosses paths in the crucifixion, it opens through an empty tomb, it blow as the wind around us, and surrounds us.
We are not who were once were:
In Christ we are those who make straight the paths for others
In grasp of the Holy Spirit we are those who open hearts and conversations
In the love of God we are those who God is creating new life and ways of living.
I regret that I must leave without a longer visit but I am leading a class for the district to build our skills in sharing Difficult Conversations as churches and church folks. As I look back on the Roads and Paths that God has lead, carried, and immersed me, I see at:
• Oak Grove taught me that God can take a mustard seed an make something grand and purposeful beyond our dreams.
• Grant Park I learned from one of the most diverse congregations in the Southeast what it means to share love
• In some other congregations I learned what looks like when we live in fear, pride, greed and worship of self.
• At Candler and Gammon I learned how to prepare for God to use me in changing ministry conditions.
• At Rock Spring I am ready to see how God will lead us into being a relevant part of the body of Christ in the 21st century.
The message I have received from much prayer, much prayer, much study, much conversation, much reflection, writing and reading is this:
1. Change is to be assuredly expected. (It is ok to embrace change, WHEN God leads us.)
2. What will be has not yet been revealed.
3. But when it is revealed: Count on seeing Jesus or not seeing at all.
• Therefore it is all important to make our home in God who does not change.
• Therefore it is essential that we find our way through what has been revealed.
• Therefore it is our purpose, passion and path to stick with Jesus, not for our sake but for Christ.
God Lord, we give thanks for these and all other blessing, for Christ’s sake. Amen.
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. [NRSV]
A large part of what is dividing our church is summed up in this passage from Hebrews.
- The Word of God is living and active. (Not an idol that is worshiped.)
- The Word of God is not always comforting.
- The Word of God divides the soul from the spirit, joints from the marrow.
- The Word judges thoughts of our minds and intentions of our hearts.
- We have more than a written word, Jesus Christ, our high priest,
- exposes all that is good and all that is evil,
- all that is fired up and that which lukewarm and that this is cold and empty.
Our response to place our whole self in Jesus’s program, team and alumni program.
Approach the Throne of Grace with BOLDNESS So that we by RECEIVE Mercy and find God and Grace in our time of need.
- When do we Need God’s grace?
- When we have sinned and fallen short
- When we have faithfully followed, praise and serve.
- When we forget that we are naked before God.
- How does a team take the field in college football?
- Assuming they will lose or
- Confident they will win?
- Somewhere in between?
Go onto the field of your daily life with BOLDNESS seeking MERCY and GRACE
Run passionately toward the goal in Christ,
- Scripture is alive, meaningful and powerful
- Jesus Christ is our High Priest, our Worship Leader, our present Guide
- Live BOLDLY trusting you are naked without being clothed in Christ.
- knowing you will be renewed, refreshed and whole in Christ with Mercy and Grace.
Simply Sermon: Taking God seriously only when we
The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard, yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens, he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hidden from its heat. The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is a great reward. But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. [NRSV]
Begin with the ending:
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”
Some preachers quote this verse as a little insurance policy. “I hope what I say is acceptable to you because I’m standing up here in front of everyone speaking in your name.” At best, we quote this verse as a declaration: that what comes out of our mouths should reflect God that is revealed in the world around us; God who is our foundation and salvation.
This passage is not just for preachers: All who are in Christ speak of God’s work, love, plan, and law, even if we never say a word. We need God to live and share the life that is joyful, full and true.
Seeing God in the Heavens
Look to the heavens to see the presence and power of God.
The heavens are telling the glory of God’s purpose and abilities.
The earth reveals the evidence of God’s work and plans.
- God is with us, “Day by Day”
- One image of God is that of an engine who designs a grand machine, starts the motor and sits back to see what the creation will do.
- The Psalmist is proclaiming that God is with us every day and every night.
- Speaking without words and sounds: The witness of design and process.
- The stars, planets, comets, asteroids, light, dark matter, energy, and gravity are evident even though we have no words to create them, nor order them, nor change them.
- There is beauty in the heavens, as a groom and bride look at one another and see with love and joy.
Seeing God in the Workings of the Earth
The earth is working like a strong laborer that takes no break and strives with joy that is unending.
- The seasons and calendars to measure and plan,
- the way seeds and soil work together,
- the way water and clouds work,
- the way populations are reproduced, t
- the way air and nutrients sustain all that is living.
Together All things work together to witness God is present and working with us.
The Sun, stars, and planets are the beginning and the ends, they are interdependently operating in a connected system. The light and heat of the sun is greater than anything we can create
2. The Law of the Lord is perfect [enough for all things, people, and times.]
The purpose of the Law of the Lord is to revive the soul.
- Decrees are sure, both simple and wise
- Precepts are right, to give joy to the heart and soul.
- Commandments are clear, informative, pure, enduring,
- Ordinances are true and righteous
Together these are of more value that much-refined gold and sweeter than fresh, raw honey from the hive.
3. We See and Know, but so what?
The purpose of the Law is to be a warning.
Our reward is found in keeping the Law…
4. Why bother and Where to Start?
Problem: Who can determine who, when, why, how we have not kept them all truly?
Solution: God clears me from my faults, failures, sins and all evil…
- Protect me from those who tempt and lure, entice, me from your power and law..
- Protect me from me. Don’t’ let others have dominion, rule, power or control of my life, purpose, work, and joy.
- If you protect me, I will be blameless, if I am left alone will be lost in my transgressions.
- THEREFORE. Protect me from what I say, think, do and believe.
I need you to save me and be the one who I trust
- in all things,
- at all times,
- in all ways.
..but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. [NRSV]
The snakes remind us that Moses and the Hebrews were in the wilderness. They were not in their regular place of what now seems like comfort and ease. (Even though the we slaves and had no freedom, they were given food and had regular shelter and a general sense of privacy and home.) In the Wilderness there were no comforts, no food lines, no house, no bed, and snakes. Remembering the scene in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, he and heroin, Marion, they are lowed into the Well of Souls where there were countless asps, lethal vipers in every direction.
“Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?” *Getty Image
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford): “Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?”Indiana Jones: (Passing a torch) “Take this. Wave it at anything that slithers.” Marion: “Thanks. Oh, my God! This whole place is slithering!”
Whether your comfort level is high or low, snakes are the villain from Adam and Eve, to Ka and Mogli, to Harry Potter and Nagini, to the numerous Snakes on an airplane. So it is, they remain a symbol of threat, danger, fear and evil.
One of the most common complaints about God from those who are outside the faith, is that if God is so loving and knowledgable when would God allow evil to harm God’s chosen people? Why do bad things happen to God’s people? Why would a loving God send snakes out to punish grumbling people? Thing how faithfully the Hebrews had done following Moses out of Egypt and traveled in the Wilderness, shouldn’t they at least be allowed some room to complain when the conditions are less than usual and a good bit uncomfortable?
Think about the Wilderness of the world today, don’t we deserve some special protection if not some comforts… The catch is Moses promised them a land of freedom. But that does not mean a freedom from struggle. Even God shows God’s desire and willingness to work six of seven days.
God charges Moses with the task of “Making a poisonous snake” and place it on a pole. I don’t suppose Moses was suppose to make a live poisonous snake? He makes one of bronze and puts it on a pole, and it become a restorative tool of resurrection and resuscitation from those who are bitten by the servants in the wilderness.
God does not stop the snakes from bitting. God does not scare off the snakes and prohibit them from threatening the people. People are still painfully bitten and suffer the affects of poison, but there are offered a remedy… resurrection, as their healing salvation.
Evil is a real power and it causes us pain and suffering. But we have a remedy, we hav a cure, we have Salvation in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ!
The lesson is that we face the painful bite of fear, struggle, pain and death as people of God, but God has a sign that is our salvation: It is found in the resurrection of Christ, raised up on the cross for the world to see, that death no longer is the end. But never everyone is forced to look to God for the salvation.
So what do we do with this passage in our wilderness?
Where is evil biting us?
What is it that threatens our lives?
What brings fear into our sleepless nights?
What worry do we carry to school and work and home each day?
We have a sign::
We have more than a sign, we have a living SAVIOR
not made of bronze, not written in words, not limited to our minds and calculations
Where there is evil in our hearts and the world there will w user and know loss and pain, but there is a hope God will save us, restore us and make us new.
May that day come soon and may we trust God every day until that da comes.
<outline based on Adam Hamilton’s lesson of Generosity from ‘Enough’>
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want. A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water. (Proverbs 11:24-25)
Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. (Proverbs 22:9)
A Theological Foundation for a Generous Life
Created to be generous, tempted to hoard
God created us with the willingness to give—to God and to others. This design is part of our makeup; we actually have the need to be generous. Yet there are two voices that work against our God-given impulse toward generosity and that tempt us to keep or hoard what we have. The charge is to multiply: God graciously gives us life, breath, brain, purpose, and passion: What stops us?
- The voice of fear
Fear of what might happen to us, along with a misplaced idea about the true source of our security, keeps us from being generous and leads us to hoard what we have. The truth is that hoarding offers us no real security in this world.
- The voice of self-gratification
Our culture tells us that our lives consist in the abundance of our possessions and pleasurable experiences. So we find ourselves thinking, If I give, there won’t be enough left for me.
Defeating the voices
When we give our lives to Christ, invite him to be Lord, and allow the Holy Spirit to begin changing us from the inside out, we find that our fears begin to dissipate and our aim in life shifts from seeking personal pleasure to pleasing God and caring for others. Although we still may wrestle with the voices from time to time, we are able to silence them more readily and effectively the more we grow in Christ. And the more we grow in Christ, realizing that our lives belong to him, the more generous we become. Generosity is a fruit of spiritual growth.
Biblical reasons to give to God and others
- “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
- “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
- “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Psalm 24:1).
Biblical guidelines for giving
From the early days of the Old Testament, God’s people observed the practice of giving some portion of the best they had to God. A gift offered to God was called the first fruits or the tithe, and it equaled one-tenth of one’s flocks or crops or income. Abraham was the first to give a tithe or tenth.
- Genesis 14:20b and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything.
- Genesis 28:18-22 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you.”
- Leviticus 27:30-33 All tithes from the land, whether the seed from the ground or the fruit from the tree, are the Lord’s; they are holy to the Lord. 31 If persons wish to redeem any of their tithes, they must add one-fifth to them. 32 All tithes of herd and flock, every tenth one that passes under the shepherd’s staff, shall be holy to the Lord.33 Let no one inquire whether it is good or bad, or make substitution for it; if one makes substitution for it, then both it and the substitute shall be holy and cannot be redeemed.
Giving a tithe
As Christians who live under the new covenant, we are not bound by the law of Moses; we look to it as a guide. Yet most Christians agree that the tithe is a good guideline for our lives and one that is pleasing to God. Though tithing can be a struggle, it is possible at virtually every income level. If you cannot tithe right away, take a step in that direction. Perhaps you can give 2 percent or 5 percent or 7 percent. God understands where you are and will help you make the adjustments necessary to become more generous.
Giving beyond the tithe
Tithing is a floor, not a ceiling. God calls us to grow beyond the tithe. We should strive to set aside an additional percentage of our income as offerings for other things that are important to us, such as mission projects, schools, church building funds, and nonprofit organizations.
What Our Giving Means to God
How does our giving affect God?
From the earliest biblical times, the primary way people worshiped God was by building an altar and offering the fruit of one’s labors upon it to God. They would burn the sacrifice of an animal or grain as a way of expressing their gratitude, devotion, and desire to honor God. The scent of the offering was said to be pleasing to God. It wasn’t that God loved the smell of burnt meat and grain. Rather, God saw that people were giving a gift that expressed love, faith, and the desire to please and honor God, and this moved God’s heart. When given in this spirit, our offerings bless the Lord.
What is God’s response to our giving?
- Luke 6:38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
- Matthew 25:14-30 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’23 His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’26 But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return, I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
What Our Giving Means to Us
Through it, our hearts are changed.
When we are generous—to God and to our families, friends, neighbors, and others who are in need—our hearts are filled with joy. They are enlarged by the very act of giving. When we give generously, we become more generous.
In it, we find the blessings of God.
Many Christians have it wrong. They say that if you give, then God will give more back to you. But that is not how it works. We do not give to God so that we can get something in return. The amazing thing is that when we give to God and to others, the blessings just seem to come back to us. Of course, there is no guarantee that if we tithe, we will never lose our job or never have other bad things happen to us. Nevertheless, when we give generously, the unmistakable blessings of God flow into our lives.
O God, we thank you that you have given us life, that you sustain us by the power of your Holy Spirit, and that you gave Jesus Christ as an offering for us and for our sins. We thank you for the abundance that we have in our lives. And we pray, O Lord, that you would help us. Help us to honor you with our tithes. Help us to care for the poor and those who are in need. Help us to recognize that it is more blessed to give than to receive. We offer ourselves to you. Guide us now as we prepare to fill out our commitment cards. Help us, O Lord, to do your will. Lead us, we pray. In your holy name. Amen.
Hebrews 13:5-6, Ecclesiastes 2:20-11, Luke 12:15
Sermon Aug 26, 2018 RSUMC “Cultivating Contentment” Adam Hamilton’s “Enough”
Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)
[Jesus] said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure. . . . Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11)
In recent years we have witnessed a number of devastating natural disasters, including hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and wildfires. Natural disasters remind us that everything in this world is temporary. Most recently in the Hawaiian islands, we see the power and the loss. This is why we can say with Jesus, “[My] life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Yet the culture is shouting that it’s not true. The result is a wrestling match in our hearts.
Despite the fact that we say we believe Jesus’ words, we still find ourselves devoting a great deal of our time, talents, and resources to the acquisition of more stuff. We say that our lives do not consist in the abundance of our possessions, but we live as if they do.
Restless Heart Syndrome: Struggling with Discontent
Perhaps you’ve heard of restless legs syndrome (RLS), a condition in which one has twitches and contractions in the legs. Something we might call Restless Heart Syndrome (RHS) works in a similar way, but in the heart—or soul. Its primary symptom is discontent. We find that we are never satisfied with anything. The moment we acquire something, we scarcely take time to enjoy it before we want something else. We are perennially discontent.
When discontent is a virtue
There is a certain discontent that God intended us to have. God actually wired our hearts so that we would not be content with certain things, causing us to seek the only One who can fully satisfy us. We are meant to yearn for a relationship with God, to cultivate a deeper prayer life, to pursue justice and holiness with increasing fervor, to love others more, and to grow in grace and character and wisdom with each passing day.
When discontent destroys
The problem is that those things we should be content with are the very things we find ourselves hopelessly discontented with. For example, we find ourselves discontented with our stuff, our jobs, our churches, our children, and our spouses. God must look down on us and feel the way we feel when we give someone a special gift and the person asks for the gift receipt. It’s as if we’re saying to God, “I don’t like what you have given me, God. I want to trade it in and get something better.”
Four Keys to Cultivating Contentment
The Apostle Paul is an excellent example of contentment. In his letter to the Philippians, he wrote about the “secret” of his contentment (Philippians 4:11-12). Like Paul, we can learn to be content in whatever circumstances we may find ourselves. Four keys, which include the “secret” Paul referred to in his letter, can help us to do that.
- 1.Four words to repeat: It could be worse.
John Ortberg, pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California, says there are four words we should say whenever we find ourselves discontented with something or someone: “It could be worse.” This is essentially the practice of looking on the bright side or finding the silver lining. It is recognizing that no matter what we may not like about a thing or person or circumstance, we can always find something good to focus on if only we will choose to do so.
- 2.One question to ask: How long will this make me happy?
So often we buy something, thinking it will make us happy, only to find that the happiness lasts about as long as it takes to open the box. There is a moment of satisfaction when we make the purchase, but the item does not continue to bring satisfaction over a period of time. Many of the things we buy are simply not worth the expense. This is why it is a good idea to try before you buy.
- 3.Develop a grateful heart.
Gratitude is essential if we are to be content. The Apostle Paul said that we are to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). A grateful heart recognizes that all of life is a gift. Contentment comes when we spend more time giving thanks for what we have than thinking about what’s missing or wrong in our lives.
- 4.Where does your soul find true satisfaction?
The world tells us that we find satisfaction in ease and luxury and comfort and money. The Bible, however, answers this question very differently. From Genesis to Revelation, it tells us that we find our satisfaction in God alone.
- “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” (Saint Augustine)
- “O God, you are my God, I seek you, / my soul thirsts for you. . . . / My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, / and my mouth praises you with joyful lips / when I think of you on my bed, / and meditate on you in the watches of the night.” (Psalm 63:1, 5-6)
- “Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure. . . . Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11)
- Jesus said the two most important things we must do are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39). If we keep our focus on these two things, we will find satisfaction for our souls and lasting contentment.
Five Steps for Simplifying Our Lives – Contentment through Simplicity:
The road to cultivating contentment in our lives, is finding the most simple path. Contentment and simplicity go hand in hand.
- 1.Set a goal of reducing your consumption, and live below your means.
Set a tangible goal to reduce your own personal consumption and the production of waste in your life. For example, use canvas bags when you go grocery shopping and refuse any extra packaging. Whenever you are making purchases, look at the mid-grade instead of the top-of-the-line product. When buying a new car, aim to improve fuel economy over your existing car by at least 10 percent. Reduce your utilities 10 percent by setting the thermostat back a couple of degrees when you are away during the day and asleep at night. Find other ways to reduce your consumption and live below your means. To find other ways of reducing consumption, do some research, share ideas with others, or have a brainstorming session with your family.
- 2.Before making a purchase, ask yourself: Do I really need this? Why do I want this?
These questions will help you determine the true motivation for your desired purchase. Is it a need, a self-esteem issue, or something else? You may find yourself wrestling with your true motive and decide that your reason for purchasing the item is not a good one.
- 3.Use something up before buying something new.
Take good care of the things you buy and use them until they are empty, broken, or worn out. Buy things that are made to last, and when buying things that have a short lifespan, spend your money wisely.
- 4.Plan low-cost entertainment that enriches.
When it comes to choosing entertainment for your family or friends, plan things that are simple and cheap. You’ll be amazed at how much more pleasure you derive from low-cost, simple activities.
- 5.Ask yourself: Are there major changes that would allow me to simplify my life?
Consider downsizing your home, canceling a club membership you don’t use, or selling a car to buy one you can pay for in full. Ask yourself questions related to your home, possessions, job, and activities to identify some significant changes that will simplify your life. Remember, if you cannot do all the things God is calling you to do and you’re unable to find joy in your life, perhaps it’s time to simplify in some major ways.
The Power & Responsibility of Self-Control
Simplifying your life requires the practice of self-control. Solomon wrote, “Like a city whose walls are broken through / is a person who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28 NIV). When a city’s walls are broken through, the enemy can march right in and destroy it; there is no longer any protection. Likewise, self-control is a wall around your heart and life that protects you from yourself, from temptation, and from sins that are deadly and ultimately can destroy you. Self-control often comes down to making a choice between instant gratification and delayed gratification for some greater cause. The choice can be examined using three questions:
- What are the long-term consequences of this action?
- Is there a higher good or a better outcome if I use this resource of time, money, or energy in another way?
- Will this action honor God?
Conclusion: Which tent will you live in?
Will you live in “discon-tent” or “con-tent-ment”? You and you alone determine which “tent” will be yours. You choose it in large part by deciding what life is about. If you decide that “life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15), then you are choosing contentment. Choosing contentment means we look to God as our Source, giving thanks for what we have; we ask God to give us the right perspective on money and possessions and to change our hearts each day; we decide to live simpler lives, wasting less and conserving more; and we choose to give more generously.
Lord, we pray that you might cure us of Restless Heart Syndrome. We are truly sorry for the times when we received the gifts you give us and asked for the gift receipt: when we were dissatisfied with a person you entrusted to our care, with our children or parents, with our home or our car, with our healthcare or our jobs. God forgive us for the times we’ve offended you by our discontent. Forgive us for being content with the things we should not be content with. Give us a hunger to pursue righteousness and holiness and justice and love, to long for you and for your will in our lives. Help us to simplify, to get off the treadmill, and to find our peace in you. We ask these mercies in your holy name. Amen.
(Drawn on Adam hamMilton’s Resources for Enough)
The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to want. (Prvb 21:5)
Precious treasure remains in the house of the wise, but the fool devours it. (Proverbs 21:20)
Where Did All Our Money Go?
FROM LAST WEEK: We must allow Christ to work in us.
Christ works in us as we first seek his kingdom and strive to do his will. As we do, we begin to sense a higher calling—a calling to simplicity and faithfulness and generosity. We begin to look at ways we can make a difference with our time and talents and resources. By pursuing good financial practices, we free ourselves from debt so that we are able to be in mission to the world. A key part of finding financial and spiritual freedom is found in simplicity and in exercising restraint. With the help of God, we can
- simplify our lives and silence the voices constantly telling us we need more.
- live counter-culturally by living below, not above, our means.
- build into our budgets the money to buy with cash instead of credit.
- build into our budgets what we need to live generously and faithfully.
Living as prodigals
From Jesus’ description in Luke 15:11-16, we see that the prodigal son had the habits of squandering and spending. The word prodigal does not mean someone who wanders away or is lost. It literally means “one who wastes money.” Many of us struggle with that habit. We’re not worried about tomorrow; we want it today. The problem with that kind of thinking is that, for most of us, the “famine” eventually comes. It comes when we have spent everything we have and even a little bit of next year’s income. So we use the credit card and charge it, and we go a little further into debt. Finally, we come to a place where we have nothing left, not even credit, and we can’t figure out how we are we going to get by.
The more we make, the more we waste.
It seems that the more financially secure we become, the less we worry about spending money here and there. We waste a dollar on this or that, and we forget where it went. Money just seems to flow through our fingers. We’re not as careful with our money as we should be. There are many ways we waste money, but there are two primary money-wasters that many of us struggle with. It is not necessary to eliminate these two things altogether, but we should think more carefully about how we spend our money.
How to avoid impulse buying
- Never go grocery shopping when you are hungry.
- Shop only for what you need.
- Don’t wander down every isle, only go where you need to go. Make a list and stick to it; buy what you need and get out of the store!
- Consult a trusted person and wait twenty-four hours before following through on an impulse buy.
Number One Area of impulse spending is Eating out
- The issue is frequency. The average American eats out an average of four times a week.
- By eating out less frequently, we will have more money to save, to spend on more important things, and to give away.
If you were to simply prepare all meals at home, you’d move 4.2 meals from restaurants to your home. At an average cost of $12.75 per meal, you’d save yourself $8.75 for each of those meals. In other words, the average American would save $36.75 per person per week by moving all of their meals from restaurants to home-prepared meals. If we are eating out more than 4 times a week, we need to evaluate our lifestyle.
Clarifying Our Relationship with Money and Possessions
We do not exist simply to consume as much as we can and get as much pleasure as we can while we are here on this earth. We have a higher purpose. We need to know and understand our life purpose—our vision or mission or calling—and then spend our money in ways that are consistent with this purpose or calling.
Be clear about your purpose and calling.
Our society tells us that our life purpose is to consume—to make as much money as possible and then to spend it. The Bible tells us that we were created to care for God’s creation. We were created to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We were created to care for our families and those in need. We were created to glorify God, to seek justice, and to do mercy. Our money and possessions should be devoted to helping us fulfill this calling. We are to use our resources to help care for our families and others—to serve Christ and the world through the church, missions, and everyday opportunities. We have a life purpose that is greater than our own self-interest, and how we spend our God-given resources reflects our understanding and commitment to this life purpose or mission.
Set worthy goals.
Being able to accomplish the greater purposes God has for our lives requires some measure of planning. Taking the time to set goals related to our lives and our finances is crucial if we are to become wise stewards of our God-given resources. Each of us should think about our life purpose and goals and then identify two short-term financial goals, two mid-range financial goals, and two long-term financial goals that are aimed at helping us accomplish our broader life goals. At least one goal in each category should relate specifically to our faith. (Suggestion: Use the bulletin insert “My Life and Financial Goals Worksheet” in 3. Communication Resources.)
The Discipline of Managing Your Money
Adopt/Review your budget and spending plan.
Once we’ve set some financial goals, we need to develop a plan to meet those goals. A budget is a spending plan that enables us to accomplish our goals. Some people use an envelope system to help them manage their saving and spending and stay on budget. Others use a variety of different approaches. Many people find it helpful to seek the advice of a financial advisor. For those who find themselves in the midst of a financial crisis, a financial counselor can help arrange terms with creditors and develop a workable financial plan. Whatever approach you choose, the important thing is simply to have a plan.
Follow six financial planning principles. (Ramsey Model or others)
The following financial planning principles can help us manage our money with wisdom and faith:
- Pay your tithe and offering first.
- Create a budget and track your expenses.
- Simplify your lifestyle (live below your means).
- Establish an emergency fund.
- Pay off your credit cards, use debit cards for purchases, and use credit wisely.
- Practice long-term savings and investing habits.
What can we do? Simple Truths:
- Seek God’s wisdom,
- Listen to the wisdom of those who are trustworthy,
- hold one another accountable* (See Goal Setting Worksheet)
- Remember we are created out of generous love and
- We are called to live generously
God, you know all about us, even when we don’t. We don’t know where every dime went, but somehow you know what we did with all that we had, last year and every other year. You don’t forbid us from having joy in our possessions; in fact, you delight in our having joy. But what you know is that simply acquiring more stuff isn’t where we find joy. Lord, forgive us for being wasteful, for being prodigal. Forgive us for leveraging our future in order to have pleasure in the present. And help us to be good managers of the talents that you’ve given us. Help us to be generous and willing to share, kingdom-minded and focused on accomplishing your purposes for our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
My Life and Financial Goals
How would you define or describe your life purpose?
What are some goals that can help you achieve this life purpose?
What are some financial goals that can help support your life goals and purpose?
Short-term financial goals (next 12 months):
Mid-range financial goals (2–5 years):
Long-term financial goals (5 years to retirement):
When Dreams Become Nightmares
(from Enough: Stewardship, Adam Hamilton)
Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10b NIV)
The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
“For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Matthew 16:26)
The American Dream
What characterizes the greatest hopes, desires, and dreams of most Americans?
For most people, the American dream has to do with the desire for achieving success and satisfying the desire for material possessions. It is the opportunity to pursue more than what we have, to gain more than what we have, and to meet success. We tend to measure our success by the stuff that we possess.
The pursuit of immediate material pleasure
The love of money and the things money can buy is s primary or secondary motive behind most of what we American’s do. We want to consume, acquire, and buy our way to happiness – and we want it now.
The American Nightmare
The American Dream has become an American Nightmare owing to two distinct yet related “illnesses” that affect us both socially and spiritually.
“Affluenza is the constant need for more and bigger and better stuff – as well as the effect that this ‘need’ has on us. It is the desire to acquire, and most of us have been infected by this virus to some degree.
- The average American home went from 1,660 sq ft in 1973 to 2,700 in 2016.
- Today there are estimated to be 2.3 billion square feet of self-storage space in America.
“Credititis” is an illness that is brought on by the opportunity to buy now and pay later, and it feeds on our desire for instant gratification. Our economy today is built on the concept of credit-itis. Unfortunately, it has exploited out lack of self= discipline and has allowed us to feed our affluenza, wreaking havoc with our personal and national finances.
- Average credit card debt in American in 1990 was around $3000. Today its nearly $17,000.
- The average sale is around 125 percent higher if we use a credit care than if we pay cash because it doesn’t feel real when we use plastic instead of cash.
Credit-itis is not limited to purchases made with credit cards; it extends to car loans, mortgages, and other loans. The life of the average car loan and home mortgage continues to increase while the average American’ savings rate continues to decline.
The Deeper Problem Within
There is a spiritual issue behind both affluenza and credit-itis.
Our souls were created in the image of God, but they have been distorted. We were meant to desire God, but have turned that desire toward possessions. We were meant to find out security in God, but find it in amassing wealth. We were meant to love people, but instead, we compete with them. We were meant to enjoy the simple pleasure of life, but we busy ourselves still pursuing money and things. We were meant to be generous and to share with those in need, but we selfishly hoard our resources for ourselves. All of us have an inclination toward this sin.
The devil plays upon this inclination toward sin
Jesus said, “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). In order to destroy us, the devil doesn’t need to tempt us to do drugs or to steal or to have an extramarital affair. All he needs to do is convince us to keep pursuing the American Dream – to keep up with the Jones’s, borrow against our futures, enjoy more than we can afford, and indulge ourselves. By doing that, the devil will rob us of joy, makes us slaves, and keep us from doing God’s will.
- MT 4:8-10
- LK 8:14
- MK 8:36
- 1Tm 6:10
The Bible’s Solution
We need a heart change.
Although we received a changed heart when we accept Christ, in a sense we need a heart change every morning Each morning we should get down on our knees and say, “ Lord, help me to be the person you want me to be today. Take away the desires that shouldn’t be there, and help me to be single-minded in my focus and pursuit of you.” As we say this prayer and act on it, God comes and cleanses us from the inside out, purifying and changing our hearts.
We must all Christ to work in us.
Christ works in us as we first seek his kingdom and strive to do his will. As we do, we begin to sense a higher calling – a calling to simplicity and faithfulness and generosity. We begin to look at ways we can make a difference with our time and talents and resources. By pursuing good financial practices, we free ourselves from debt so that we are able to be in mission to the world. A key part of finding financial and spiritual freedom is found in simplicity and in exercising r4estraint. With the help of God, we can:
simplify our lives and silence the voice constantly telling us we need more.
- Live counterculture-ly, by living below, not above, our means
- build into our budgets the money to buy with cash instead of credit.
- Build into our budgets what we need to live generously and faithfully.
Activity: Place your hands in your lap, extend palms upright. Pray quietly with me: Change my heart, O God. Clean me out inside. Make me new. Heal my desires. Help me hold my possessions loosely. Help me to love you. Teach me simplicity, Teach me generosity. Give me joy. I offer my life in Jesus. A
The Greatest Park of a Yard Sale
Live Like you are a child of God
- Set your mind on the things of God
- Clothe your spiritual self with Christ’s glory
Live as a Citizen of Heaven
Don’t live like God is busy up in heaven:
- fornication, impurity, passion, (Fulfilling the desires of the body are not eternal.)
- evil desire – Invested and claiming what we declare as good but God does not.
- greed (idolatry). (what we control and how the world values & measures.)
- get rid of all such things–anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive talk.