Nov 28, 2014

Thanksgiving and our Rituals

From time to time, people ask me why we should go to church. I would like to cite a specific example of how ritual functions—and worship is part of the Christian ritual.

A timely example of ritual is our secular celebration of Thanksgiving, which by the way, we model on the Hebrew notion of giving thanks to God. I suggest secular simply because Thanksgiving Day has been set aside for national thanksgiving to God by our presidents from at least as far back as Abraham Lincoln. In point of fact, for Christians every Sabbath Day is a day of thanksgiving. Thus, in a way, Christians should be experts at giving thanks to God.

Many families have their own thanksgiving rituals. I still remember the thanksgivings we spent at my grandmother’s house when growing up. We would all gather at the farm, eat a wonderful meal; dismiss the children to play outside. After the children left, the adults would push their plates back and listen to my grandfather spin tall tales about his life. Yet, his stories so entertained, that we youngsters would sneak back in and listen to his fantastic “whoppers!” Each Thanksgiving Day was exactly the same. Thanksgiving Days, as I remember them, are imprinted deeply on my soul. They were among my best childhood memories.

This is how ritual served us and my guess is that it functions this way for many families. We attend worship as either a nuclear family or part of the family of God because the ritual of worship gives our lives meaning and joy. Our worship ritual also gives us a formal opportunity to thank God for the gift we call life!

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

Nov 21, 2014

A Dormant Mountain

Scores of people lost their lives. The world’s mightiest army was forced to abandon a strategic base. Property damage approached a billion dollars. All because the sleeping giant, Mount Pinatube in the Philippines, roared back to life after 600 years of quiet slumber.

When asked to account for the incredible destruction caused by this volcano, a research scientist from the Philippine department of volcanology observed, “When a volcano is silent for many years, our people forget that it’s a volcano and begin to treat it like a mountain.”

Like Mount Pinatube, our sinful nature always has the potential to erupt, bringing great harm both to ourselves and to others. As Paul wrote: “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The biggest mistake we can make is to ignore the volcano and move back onto what seems like a dormant “mountain.”

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

Nov 14, 2014

Faith Means: Be Prepared

Too often in life an emergency arises and those caught in it are unprepared. The Boy Scout motto of “be prepared” is not a bad motto for most of us. 

The mighty Niagara River plummets some 180 feet at the American and Horseshoe Falls. Before the falls, there are violent, turbulent rapids. Farther upstream, however, where the river’s current flows more gently, boats are able to navigate. Just before the Welland River empties into the Niagara, a pedestrian walkway spans the river. Posted on this bridge’s pylons is a warning sign for all boaters: DO YOU HAVE AN ANCHOR? 


Faith, like the capacity to anchor a boat, is something we need to develop and use before we face a cataclysm.

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

Nov 7, 2014

Why People Give

In September 2007 my friend Tom Butts who is the pastor emeritus at FUMC, Monroeville AL wrote an article that answers the question “why are some people generous?” Our Stewardship Education Series this year is titled “Rethink: Generosity.” Tom Butts offers us some good things to ponder.

This is the time of year when churches are in the process of planning their projected budget for the coming year. This essential procedure lacks exactitude, but when done correctly and published to the membership everyone gets a birds-eye view of the scope of the mission of the church.

The next step taken by most churches is to conduct a campaign for pledges to that budget. Many ministers and church leaders do not look forward to this annual task. We are reluctant to ask people to give, even to so worthy a project as the church. For the most part I have always found this exercise to be potentially spiritually enriching. I believe most people want to give to causes which represent the betterment of society in general and individuals in particular.

There are at least 3 essential ingredients to a stewardship campaign with integrity. The first is a clear understanding of the sacred nature of the cause for which money is being raised. This is God’s money. It is to be used only for promoting the Gospel and helping people. These are two things to which Jesus called his followers when he was here in the flesh. “Go ye unto all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). After a laundry list of ways we are called to minister to the poor and oppressed, Jesus said: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren (and sisters) you did it unto me” (Matthew 25:40). Having established the holy nature of the effort we go to step two.

People tend to give generously when they know their leaders are giving generously. I recall a phrase from a stewardship campaign many years ago which I find to be true: “Financial influence runs downhill.” No minister or church leader should ask others to do something they are not doing. One of my friends was asked by a local church to direct the annual stewardship campaign. Early on he was told that the pastor of the church had never pledged, and had no record of giving. He went to the pastor and asked if this was true. After some stuttering and fancy footwork the pastor admitted this to be true, but said he gave to other undocumented causes. My friend said to him: “You will either make a pledge worthy of your means right now or I will pack my bags and go home. I will not ask people to do something their pastor is not doing.” [As an aside if you want to know what my family gives to the church, please ask and I will be happy to visit with you about it].

The third important element: “Do not be afraid to ask people to give.” When the cause is beyond our own interest—when it is for the highest purpose, be bold.

Robert Macauley, founder of AmeriCares Foundation, a humanitarian group that provides relief efforts at home and around the world, recalled an experience he and Mother Teresa had on an airplane flying to Mexico. As box dinners were being passed out, Mother Teresa asked how much the airline would donate to her charity if she returned her dinner. When she found out, she soon had everyone, including the crew, returning their dinners.

But it didn’t stop there. When the plane arrived at its destination, Mother Teresa asked the crew if she could have the dinners to donate to the poor. And, when the airline provided the dinners, she asked to borrow one of their maintenance trucks to deliver them.

These are reasons people give:

1. People realize that everything belongs to God.
2. The people who are our leaders are generous—and we follow their good example.
3. We ask people to give because it is part of our faith and we do good work!

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

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