Pastor Mike's Blog
Summer in the city.
In the early church, the place to meet and greet people was the public market place. Every city and village had a public market. They didn’t just have veggies and meats available. They also had stalls where one could sip a beverage, wares for sale, and even schools were located in the public market places. If you wanted to meet people, that’s where you went. Things are different today.
What does God do for a living?
Odd question, certainly! But I think it deserves an answer. From day to day, what is God up to? Most people would say that God created the world, and that somehow he will have a hand in the affairs of this planet from time to time. How about in ordinary time? Does he just sit on a throne and listen to his angels sing? Hardly.
Luther referred to God's work in two categories: Alien work and Proper work. It's an artificial distinction to be sure. I am sure God doesn't look at what he does in terms of Alien and Proper work. What Luther meant by God's proper work, is what we would expect God to do. God bless his kids, edifies the church, calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the church. What Luther meant by the alien work of God was the things that we would not expect God to be doing such as raising up nations, bringing down kings, affecting the weather and politics (all that 'secular' stuff). There's no distinction in God's head, this is just a distinction between what we expect God to be doing and what may surprise us with God's engagements in his world. Believers come to expect the first one and are surprised by the second one. So, lets look at that second one: God's alien work (as Luther called it). There is a very strong biblical precedent for this.
In Isaiah 45 God calls a pagan king his "chosen one" (which is" messiah" in Hebrew - recognize that word?) This is not a believer, in fact twice in this passage God says that Cyrus doesn't even know who God is! And yet, God calls him his "messiah" or "chosen one." God is choosing Cyrus to accomplish something in the so-called "secular" realm that will ultimately bless his people Israel. Scripture says that God holds the right hand of Cyrus to subdue nations, disarm kings, and open doors before him. In other words, Cyrus conquered that entire region with the help of Israel's God. God says of Cyrus, "I will go before you and level mountains. Bronze doors I will shatter and iron bars I will hack through. I will give you hidden treasures, riches stashed away in secret places, so you may recognize that I am the Lord." And then he says, "For the sake of my servant Jacob Israel, my chosen one, I call you by name." God has two purposes here: 1) God wants Cyrus to acknowledge him and 2) God wants to provide for Israel his chosen. That's the goal. To get to those goals, God empowers a pagan king to conquer nations and subdue kings.
Here’s the point God is working where we might not expect Him to be working. It isn’t “alien” to God to work there, it’s “alien” to our way of thinking of God. From God’s point of view it is all his “proper” work, it’s what he should quite naturally be doing every day of the week.
So here’s the second point: What is God doing now, around you, in your city and nation, in the world where He is hardly known at all? Two things: 1) making Himself known and 2) blessing his people. So take a look around you and consider what hand God may be holding right now. God doesn’t act alone. He is holding someone’s hand to accomplish something. You probably can only see the hand of someone doing something really wonderful. And you probably cannot see God holding that hand to accomplish great things through them (we tend to be blind to God holding someone’s hand when something wonderful is accomplished). Give honor and glory to God today, for what He is doing in the world that you call “secular.”
This is what FAITH is all about: seeing the world differently than everyone else does. You can see God holding someone's hand whereas everyone else can only see the human hand doing wonderful things.
So," walk by faith and not by sight"
Remember that phrase? Paul said that to the Corinthians. He's asking them to look at things differently than they currently are. Currently, they see clearly there are differences in their community. Differences defined in part by who baptized each member, differences in the gifting of the various members, differences between weak and strong, etc. That's what it is like to walk by what you see. What differences do you see in people with whom you live, work, and walk? Some have a short fuse, others infinite patience; some have strong opinions and others are more reserved; some live a comfortable lifestyle, others struggle to put food on the table; some like classical music, others can't stand that stuff. ALL of us have things about us that cause us to differ from others around us.
Usually we walk by sight: we choose our friends on the basis of what we like and dislike. We consider it vital to know who's a democrat and who is a republican. We express our opinions and "friend" or "unfriend" those on Facebook based upon our personal opinions. We even choose the church we attend based upon our likes and dislikes (can't stand rock music, you say?). That's what it is like to walk by sight.
What would happen if we decided to rather walk by faith instead of sight? What if we did not choose our church by it's music, preaching, programs, architecture, landscaping, etc, and rather chose them because of the mission they were called to? What if we chose our friends on the basis of what THEY need and not what we want? What would happen if you chose your home on the basis of where you were most needed, not based upon convenience or comfort? It would be a whole new world, wouldn't it?
As I look across the landscape of life, I get the feeling that there are precious few Christians who walk by faith. They are certainly Christian, no question about that. The question has to do with the walk they have chosen. And on that score, I can't say that I am much different than all the rest. I can't say that I am any more faithful than the others I walk with. This is as much a challenge for me as it is for you!
Faith is a way of seeing.
Sometimes it helps knowing another language and seeing how the bible is translated into that language. Here’s something that I saw the other day.
In the TOB French translation of Hebrews 11:1 it states “faith is a way of already possessing something you are hoping in. It is a way of knowing (or seeing) things that you cannot see. It’s this faith that made the ancients testimony so incredible!”
Faith sees things differently, than the way most people see it. Remember Corrie Tenboom? In the concentration camp the women complained about the lice in the barracks. Bitter complaints. But then Corrie saw the situation differently, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. She realized it was the lice that kept the guards out of their barracks. The lice were protecting the women! That’s seeing things with Faith eyes.
Winston Churchill saw things differently than anyone else of his day. London was being bombed, thousands were dying. He said, “This is our finest hour.” Are you kidding Winston? We are dying! He saw things differently than anyone else. He promised them, “blood, toil, sweat and tears.”
What do you see: a job loss, an illness, a disappointment? Some years ago things were not going well for me in a job. I could easily see it was getting nowhere. There was no hope or future. So I quit. To some people it looked like a stupid thing to do. But I saw things differently. We headed into severe financial trouble in a few months. We really struggled for many months. I had no support at all from my ‘superiors.’ Finally God opened a door for ministry with a wonderful little church, then another one after that, and again now in another beautiful congregation. We have roughly 1,000 new friends since then! What a blessing. And we have had some phenomenal new contacts and possibilities that would never have been possible had we remained were we formerly were. Sometimes you just don’t realize what a dead-end job you have until you quit! It turned out to be the best decision of my life. Faith-eyes see things differently.
This way of seeing things is what made the testimony of the ancients so valuable. Noah was not great because he built an ark. His greatness was the way he saw things, that lead him to act the way he did. Abraham wasn’t great because of the promises. His greatness was in the way he looked at his world around him. Moses wasn’t great because of the 10 commandments. His greatness had to do with the way he saw God.
You are not great because of your accomplishments. You are great because of the way you see things. You see things differently than everyone else. And that makes a difference in you, and everyone around you!
In His Grip,
We are in the middle of the Lenten season, Easter is coming on April 24th this year. As you probably know, the traditional themes of Lent are things like reflection, contrition, repentance, self-examination, spiritual renewal & disciplines. I hope you will take the time to consider some of these themes during these 40 days of Lent. One of them that I would like to highlight here is the spiritual discipline of giving, and tithing in particular.
We call it a “spiritual” discipline because the primary result of tithing is a spiritual renewal in your daily walk with Jesus. If you primarily think of offerings as a way to pay the bills at church, you are missing the blessing of this spiritual discipline! Offerings do go to cover bills and help the poor, to supply the needs of ministry, extend the kingdom through missionary efforts, planting new churches, and a long, long list of other benefits. A small portion of every dollar you give goes to directly aid impoverished people all over the world, but this is not the main reason that giving is central to the Christian faith. It’s really a matter of being a Faithful Servant of the Lord Jesus. Our Lord calls us to give. You will find that all through the scriptures, parables and stories, letters to churches, history and poem, all speak to being a Faithful Servant. I am not a pastor because it’s a great job. I am a pastor because that is how God has called me to faithfulness. It is first and foremost all about being faithful. It is just the same for you as it is for me. A tithe is an expression of our faithfulness to God. In the early church a tithe wasn’t just a monetary contribution, tithing extended to everything, 10% of my time, 10% of my talent, and 10% of my treasure (including but not limited to monetary offerings to God).
And scripture is very clear that there is a reward for tithing. In Malachi God calls Israel to bring in the whole tithe and then says, “”Test me in this, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit. Then the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.” (Malachi 3:10) You tithe, and the NATION gets blessed! What a deal! It’s the only place in the bible where God commands us to test him like this. He doesn’t say, “jump off a cliff.” He doesn’t say, “surrender all you have.” But he did say, “bring in the whole tithe . . . and test me in this.” He wants to show himself to you as a God who blesses your socks off! He does most of his blessing without anything on our part. Life, health and daily food are all his blessing. But the tithe is a special kind of blessing. It comes to you in many non-monetary ways, that you can measure in quality of life, health, wellbeing, prosperity, and the WORLD will recognize your blessings as a result! No guarantees of being a millionaire as a result of tithing, it’s much better than that. It’s peace, happiness, contentment, sufficiency, and greater responsibility in His kingdom.
That last one (responsibility) is an important result of our faithful service: according to the parable of the 10 talents, the reward for their service (and they gave 100% back to the Lord, not just 10%) was increased responsibility, meaning their ministry expanded 10 fold! Want to see things explode at Zion? Tithe! God will bless it.
For some of you it would be difficult to immediately begin tithing, though not entirely impossible. So often the church leaders talk of “stepping up to a tithe.” Bishop Rogness is often spoken of this at conference and synod meetings. “Stepping up” means making a plan to increase our giving incrementally each year until we reach the tithe, just like we plan in so many other areas of our life. We can make a plan for our offerings to reach a tithe in 5 years. That is one way of demonstrating our faithfulness as Servants of a living God. And there are abundant rewards to those who tithe. It’s actually an adventure, tithe and see what God will do. “To the Tithe and beyond,” as Buzz Lightyear would say ( if he were a pastor and not an cartoon astronaut). Are you ready to step up “to the tithe and beyond?"
Why Do Church?
Isn't it kind of outmoded in this day and age to keep doing church, especially if it isn't the most contemporary and high tech possible? I am sure you have heard that before. Well, here's a good reason. The church is good for the world.
There are very few organizations today that can give assistance to those in need as cost-effectively as a church. If you want to help the poor, join a church. If you want to feed the hungry, join a church. If you want to help solve world hunger, join a church. Most other charitable agencies have vastly higher overhead costs, even the cost of collecting and managing donations cuts into the budget. Not so with a church. Since churches largely depend on volunteer help the savings are passed on to those in need.
Perhaps you had not thought about it, even your offerings feed the hungry and shelter the poor. Offerings do a lot of things besides keep the lights on. A portion of our offerings goes to Lutheran World Relief. I have a close friend who is the LWF director in Haiti right now. I know where my money is going! And I know she is using it effectively.
Locally, our church has regular fellowship events, usually around a food theme of one variety or another. It's all volunteer labor and all proceeds above the raw cost of the food goes to various community groups like the food shelf and Boy Scouts (among several). Join our church, we will put you to work helping those who need help.
Occasionally we get emergency calls from people who need a helping hand with one thing or another. I am not talking about a handout or meal ticket (our food shelf does that). I mean, help with moving, cleaning, sorting, packing, mowing, etc. We can always help out. If you want to help, join our church! The community will love you for it.
Church isn't just about what you get out of it (and you certainly do get a lot out of it). Church is also about providing a way for you to help out others in need, both here and all over the world. In fact, that is our mission: God's work, Our hands.
Technology is moving faster every day! I am amazed at all the devices we depend on every single day. I remember when cell phones weighed a few pounds and resembled a WWII communications set. Now they are amazingly compact! Technology has always lead the way in society. In the early years it was really low tech, how to lap a flint stone into a spear or arrow point. That totally revolutionized the way people lived! It's hard to imagine a world without roads, and the impact when the Romans began actually BUILDING roads. Instantly travel across the empire was a reality, not something left to the imagination. The Roman Garrisons across the empire kept the roads safe, another amazing technological innovation. Early banking systems, trading systems, transport systems, and building techniques radically changed the way people lived their daily lives. AND it had a major impact on the spread of the Gospel, for all those apostles, prophets, teachers, pastors, and evangelists crisscrossing the Roman Empire. They could plant a dozen churches spread across a continent in a very short time.
Today technology continues to provide Christians a way to spread the Gospel through music, video, internet blogs and websites, simulcasts, web streaming, Facebook, Tweets, and dozens of other amazing technologies.
So the question is: How are we managing these new innovations to spread the Good News? Change happens slowly, and it changes the slowest in churches. We become easily accustomed to the way things have always been done. And the challenge of learning a new way to do things just isn't quite as exciting as it is scary. The society around us isn't slowing down! We are! Will there be a church in 100 years? What will it look like? Will it have pews? I rather doubt it.
I have hearing aids now. High tech one's actually. They can't be seen unless you look REALLY close to the clear wire near my ear. They are connected wirelessly to my phone as well. So I can receive a call and talk back without touching my phone! Kind of scary sometimes. Like the day I was in the grocery store and Elaine called me. I was standing in front of the eggnog display when she called. I just started talking. The older woman next to me thought I was talking to her. I politely told her that I was not talking to her, but to my wife. She looked around and there was no one else there as I kept talking. So, she talked to me again. I tried once again to convince her that I was talking to my wife and not to her. She must have thought is was insane!
So it is with new technology. When the church catches on, the rest of the world will be convinced we are crazy (especially those who have not kept up with technological changes). But that is where the church is going, if it is to go anywhere in the future. Can you imagine the Apostle refusing to use the Roman road system to get to Galatia? Inovation! Who needs it? Paul did. And so do we.