Sunday, November 5, 2017

STEWARDSHIP SIX –  Final Chapter: Where do we go from here?


For the past six weeks I have been speaking of our spiritual life and how it affects our stewardship life, and now I ask, “Where do we go from here?” Our faith life is dependent upon our economic well-being, our personal faith, our spiritual satisfaction, and our commitment to God. We may talk about not feeling connected to our church, but the more basic concern is separation from God – the source of all that we are and all that we have. Are you grateful for all that God has done for you –for God’s love and mercy and care? Are you confidant of your place in God’s kingdom and the good news of Jesus’ Gospel?

Our spiritual journey follows a complicated and circuitous pathway. It leads us away from and toward our destination with startling and upsetting detours. Sometimes we feel secure in our voyage and confident in our destination. At other times we are alarmed by the lack of empathy and love we feel for those things which we once held near and dear to our hearts. We are prone to wander as we long for God – hungering for God’s love – searching for something to fill what can only be described as a “God-shaped-hole” in our hearts. Whether we are believers on not, God has sovereignty over our lives and made to be God’s children and adopted heirs of God’s kingdom.  And when we allow our secular world and the culture in which we live to trick us into doubting or denying God, our spiritual health is endangered.   

What can we do if this describes our own situation? How can we bridge the gap between our spiritual life and God – between where we are (spiritually) and where our heart longs to be? Well – the first thing to do is realize that we cannot bridge the gap by increasing our payment of ‘dues’ to the church club. We cannot become spiritually well by opening our checkbook to God to prove our faithfulness and love toward God.

We need to reach across the gulf that has developed between ourselves and God by reaching out – by reaffirming our love for God and for the many blessings we have received from God! We need to recognize that when a gap between us and God develops it is because we have moved away from each other. And when there is a distance between us, who do you think has moved to make that distance – you or God?

God cannot bridge the gap that has developed between us. We must make the first move and become the disciples of Jesus we were meant to be. By praying, worshiping, studying, loving our neighbors in community, and serving – and then we can be good stewards.                                     

Sunday, October 29, 2017

STEWARDSHIP FIVE – Bridging the Gap



I was born a child of the sixties. I never fully understood exactly what that meant except that I was torn between following rules and rebelling. I was an adolescent. And it was a time of war and conflict. By the time I comprehended that I could be sent into harm’s way in service to my country, I had a lottery number for the draft and I had begun to realize that the Presidents which I had supported and believed – had lied to me!

This was the beginning of the loss of trust I experienced in figures of authority – politicians, law enforcement, clergy, and God. If every President that had served since I was born could lie to me – and the American people – how could I trust anyone?

For many years thereafter, my life was marked by divide, separation, and wandering. Over time I found guidance – for time truly heals all things. I discovered Psalm 124; “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth,” and in Robert Robinson’s haunting hymn, Nettleton (H 686), where the wanderer laments “Oh to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!”  I realized I owed my life to the grace I had received and, so I sought and found solace in God.

I didn’t know that God couldn’t reach into my heart and draw me across the great chasm that had grown between us. I didn’t know that God could not bridge the gap that had developed because of the ugliness and bitterness that had taken root in my heart. It was close. I was nearly lost.

But I answered that call God placed on my heart and though I was “prone to leave the God I loved,”— I didn’t. I said, Yes.

Someone once later told me, “you never know what lies on the other side of obedience.” I had no clue what that meant but my decision to trust in God and to be obedient to God, as best I could, has made all the difference.

For I am now a disciple of Jesus.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

STEWARDSHIP FOUR - Building your spiritual muscle.



One of the most important habits we have as Christians is the habit of daily prayer. It is how we connect with God – it is how we ask for God’s intercession or his healing or his love – and how we offer our love to God.

When we pray to God we strengthen our relationship with God by practicing an ancient communication means with our creator. Why is that important?

The important people in my life are those with whom I have developed a bond through regular communication – people I see or talk to on a regular basis.  We develop an understanding and rapport through which a bond of trust and connection may occur. When I need support or guidance, these are the people I seek out because I have done the heavy lifting to build a relationship which will provide that bond. If I do not do the work to build this relationship, the support and guidance is not forthcoming.

The same can be said of God. Without regular attention to our relationship, God can feel distant, cold, and aloof. Without nurturing this relationship, it is not as vibrant and vivid as one that received regular attention through my prayers and supplications.

Prayer may be done privately and individually, or it may be done corporately in the presence of other parishioners. Prayer can be incorporated into a daily "thought life", in which one is in constant communication with God. (Pray without ceasing).  But the reality of our time is that many people have lost the habit of prayer and many find Sunday worship dull and church activities self-serving.

Why is this so? What is happening to our religious commitment? It may be too time consuming. It may be that religious extremism and fundamentalism have turned many away from God. We need to ask if we have allowed our image of God to be twisted by others who wish to destroy our faith and trust in the Lord, or if our spiritual health is endangered because we have allowed religious corruption to cloud our religious beliefs?

Allow yourself to turn to daily prayer and build your spiritual muscle through regular communication with God.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

STEWARDSHIP THREE – Our Journey



Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation. (BCP page 848)

I have been taught, sin is that which separates us from God. But, why is sin sinful?  Why is it bad for us? Because, we need spiritual health and there is no way to have spiritual health and well-being if we are separated or disconnected from God.

Separation from God is a forlorn and lonely place. Regardless of how we arrived there, it is the place from which we must start our journey back to the source – God our creator. Alienation from God, manifested by our having fallen out of our habits of discipleship, is a most pressing and serious issue in the church.

We live in a culture that is full of apathy and skepticism – the result of losing our way. As a people, we have become lethargic – weary and listless. We wonder if there is a better way or something more that we could get from our spiritual life but, we neglect to do anything about this. We fail to develop resources that will meet that deep need to satisfy our spiritual hunger and relationship with God.

Our journey in life is not to reach a destination – but to continue to grow and mature into a greater purpose – into something of true value.

It is one thing to feel that the church is staid and out of touch with the reality of today’s culture – that our worship is boring and dull – but if we allow our minds to remain stuck in this misconception, we lose the fundamental quality which sets humans apart from the rest of creation; a relationship with God and our identity as Children of God and adopted heirs of his kingdom.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

STEWARDSHIP TWO - How healthy is your spiritual self?



When I was installed as the Rector of St. Andrew’s in 2008, Bishop Howard told me, “don’t worry about the numbers,” just love the people and God will take care of the rest.

I told him, “but I am a finance and accounting guy, I have to worry about the numbers, it’s in my DNA.”

Over the years I have worried about our numbers in some way or form. I pour over the Income Statement and Balance Sheet and look for trends to try and tweak the budget to make room for new programs, worship services, beautify our grounds, and maintain our property. But ten years of trying have taught me one thing, there isn’t much relationship between the time and energy spent in these endeavors, and the growth in the church and its contributions.

Some people will try to use financial results to undermine their leaders. But pledge results are about personal faith and economic well-being. The healthier your spiritual self, the more you are willing and able to give back to God and his church. The more willing you are to give to God’s work in the world.

Gratitude is difficult to feel when we are in financial distress – but most of us are not. We have survived the economic hardships of previous times and have moved on. Our financial condition may not be splendid, but it is solid – and for some its great!

Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven …”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
We give back to God because we are grateful for God's gifts to us. We are grateful for the food we eat, for meaningful work, our education, shelter to protect us, and much more. All which should invoke a certain level of gratitude to God. But most giving, and certainly any giving beyond the token dollar in the collection plate, arises from deep gratitude, spiritual wellness, and maturity.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

STEWARDSHIP ONE - Up or Down?

Contributions to churches across the country have been in freefall for years. Attendance at Sunday services is stagnant or declining, as is church membership. The cause of this phenomenon is not clear, though many authors have written many words while trying to understand and explain what is happening to the faith lives of so many of our friends and neighbors.

This is the background that our Annual Stewardship Campaign is set against.  Many have fallen out of the habits of discipleship. We pray less than we used to. We attend worship services on fewer occasions than before. Scripture no longer holds our interest and attracts our attention to study. Our time is in short supply so we no longer feel drawn into service to others. And the time we used to have for fellowship with other church members is dwindling – we are called to other, more exciting activities.

There is a growing distance between ourselves, our clergy, our church, and our God.  We no longer nurture the relationships between ourselves and church or God. We do not see the connection between what we feel we should give to God – and what we actually give to the church. We may not think that God really needs our money so we don’t give our money to support our church and the work it does in our communities and the world.

How do we approach Stewardship in times like these? What we need to do is examine our economic well-being, our personal faith, our degree of spiritual satisfaction, and our commitment to God – the source of all that we are and all that we have.