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My heart beats for love. I want to be different. I want to be who I am called to be. WORTHY and LOVED!

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

“Exploring Ephesians: Maturing in Christ” Eph 4: 1-16

To mature. Webster’s Dictionary defines maturing as the process of growing or developing. Full development of the body and mind. To become complete and perfect. Now there is a word that we don’t like very often do we - perfection. 
I’m a big fan of Broadway musicals. One of the songs that rings through my mind from Mary Poppins, the story about a cheerful nanny, is called “Practically Perfect.” This was her way of introducing herself to the children and she declares that she is “practically perfect in every way.”
We’ve created an image of Christian perfection in our heads that few would even want to obtain –nonsensical, prudish, unimaginative, and perhaps even gruff. Someone who doesn’t smile or laugh or have fun. As a United Methodist, one of the tenants of our tradition is that we are moving on towards perfection, but if these characteristics mark perfection it is most certainly not who I want to be, nor is it who I wish to lead people to discover as their pastor.  
When I think about Jesus Christ, the one that we are invited to mature in the example of and through the power of, I don’t apply any of the words we fear around perfection - nonsensical, prudish, unimaginative. No Christ invites us into a much more Wesleyan understanding of perfection in this passage - becoming more deeply in love with God and your neighbor every single day. 
For the author of Ephesians, this deeper love expresses itself as unity. This is another word that seems to bother us from time to time, mostly because it is mis-understood. The author is calling for unity of the Church, or a coming together around Christ as the center of our faith. But unity is not uniformity. We all have different gifts and talents. We have lived out our faith in different ways. God is not looking for cookie cutter Christians. No. God wants us to use our uniqueness to bless the Lord every single day. However, we need to keep coming together around our Savior, Jesus Christ. 
Unity is emphasized through peace. How many times have we seen Christians behaving badly - arguing over things that do not have eternal value? Rev. Lori Steffensen shared at the 2015 Charge Conference about having churches that fought over who brought what covered dish to church events and the color of carpet. I wish I could say that this was abnormal, but I’ve seen some of the same fights in my time as a pastor as well. Do those things have eternal significance? No. Then let them go for the sake of unity through peace. Let them go for the sake of proclaiming the message of the Kingdom of God. 
This passage, friends, is talking about what it looks like to be the church and why it matters. One of the things I do my first year in a church is work my way through the directory visiting folks, so we can get to know one another in the body of Christ. But it can get quite awkward if the directory hasn’t been updated in a while and contains folks who have left the church. Then I hear heartbreaking stories of why folks have left the church, and often it is because they were not treated with gentleness, patience, and love. It’s equally heartbreaking when I’m new in an area and introduce myself as the pastor of XYZ church and I hear folks respond with the stories they’ve heard about why folks left that church years ago. The author of Ephesians is reminding us that we need to do better - we need to be unified - because our ability to fruitfully share about the Kingdom of God is at stake. 
Church, we have the most important and beautiful message to share that has ever been told - the story of Jesus Christ. The story of hope and faith. The story of God pursing us and making a way for us to be reconciled to a holy God, even when we were yet sinners. The story of the cross and the grace that is to be found there. But all too often all this other stuff gets in the way of us being able to share that message. And as a result we become a church that is better known for our fundraisers or our fights then sharing the love of Jesus Christ. 
Its time for us to grow up, church. Its time for us to mature in our faith. The ten dollar theological term for this process of maturing is sanctification, to become set apart for a special, holy purpose. This is an ongoing process as we focus more and more on the love of Jesus Christ and less and less on the things that don’t matter. 
Part of maturing is making sure that Jesus is in the right place in your life - right at the center. Have you ever noticed that when Jesus isn’t the center of your attention and focus that you can often become side tracked by other things? That you are more prone to slip into the sins that can rip apart a church, like pride and gossip? When we don’t have Christ as our center, we often think that the Church is about us - meeting our needs instead of reaching out to those who don’t yet know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. But when Christ is in that right place in our lives, all of our focus comes around serving God and glorifying the name of Jesus.
But the other part of maturing in Christ is building up the body of Christ. This is not building up the select members of the body that we like. Its encouraging everyone in the body to use their gifts and talents to live into the call God has for them and the call that God has for this local church. It's helping to carry one another’s burdens during tough times and celebrating during joyous times. We are to build up one another is all that we do. The local church is God’s greatest hope in the world for spreading the message of Jesus, but when we are dysfunctional we aren’t as effective in doing that.
Think about your own body - growth depends on all of the parts of the body working properly together. When one part is out of wack, even from something as simple as a cold, the whole body suffers. So it is with the body of Christ, we all need to be working together and not against each other in order to be the most effective at reaching folks for Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, how is our local body of Christ doing? Are we maturing in the faith? Do folks know us as a place where the love of Jesus is proclaimed and shown? If not, what needs realigned in order to get us there? And what about you as an individual? Are you moving on towards perfection? Are you loving God and your neighbor more and more every day? If not, how do you get your focus back on Christ? Folks, we are never done maturing. Never done growing. Never done moving on to perfection. Let us keep running the race with endurance, building one another up in love. Amen. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

“Exploring Ephesians: Alive in Christ” Eph 2: 1-10

“Alive in Christ!” For the last four years our annual conference has proclaimed this theme. We are alive in Christ - on a journey of faith, raising up transformational leaders, equipping congregations to be vital, and creating new places for new people. 
To be alive is pretty vital - its to exist, to have life, to be full of the Spirit, to be active. Yet far too many congregations today have forgotten this teaching from Ephesians, that we are alive together for Christ. They are focusing on existing just long enough that their needs be fulfilled and have given up on thinking about a future in ministry. A future of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. 
The writer of Ephesians is reaching out to a group of people who have been taught a lot of different things over the years about Jesus and God - some of which were not scriptural and lead them down the wrong path. He is trying to teach them the basics of faith. Brothers and sisters, I fear today that some churches have forgotten the basics of the faith, the basics about why they exist. 
The church exists to boast the message of Jesus Christ! And one of the ways that we do that is by telling the powerful story of how Jesus changed our lives. I’ve shared before that I grew up in the church - I don’t remember a point in my life when I have been without him, and haven’t deeply believed in him, but that doesn’t mean that he still hasn’t changed and is changing my life! Praise be to God! It doesn’t matter if you have a moment in time when you can point to when you have been changed or if you grew up with Christ and have been on a continually journey, we all have signs that we have been made new in Christ that need to be shared!
The truth is we were all dead before accepting Christ in our lives. Dead in sin. Dead in our trespasses. Dead because we lived according to the worlds standards and ways which do not lead to the abundant life, friends. We followed the ways of this world, grasping after power and privilege, not thinking about others, and living by the flesh, which is marked by greed, pride, and an obsessive need to put ourselves first. 
Yet, even in the midst of all of that, God made a way for us to have life and to becoming alive again, through Christ Jesus! God offers us life - both the breathe we take in and the new life we can have in Christ - as a a  good gift. But we have to accept the gift. 
I love how pastor Adam Hamilton describes the gift of life and grace offered by God. Pastor Hamilton tells the story of how he was putting away his Christmas tree one year and a gift fell out that had become lodged in one of the branches. What were they going to do with this gift? They unwrapped it of course! They didn’t throw it away saying that Christmas was over so they didn’t need the gift anymore. They didn’t put it away until next Christmas to wait to open it. They opened it right then and there, because gifts are meant to be opened and shared. 
Far too many people though never unwrap and open the gift that God it trying to offer them in Jesus Christ. They say that the timing isn’t right so they will wait until things change for them - until they have time to appreciate it, but never really knowing if that time will come. Or the toss the gift to the side, saying it isn’t right for them. Friends, the gift of Christ is meant to be opened and shared right here and now! 
God gave us the greatest gift we could ever need and never would have thought to ask for on our own - Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus we can be saved to new life and have our lives changed! You don’t find many folks who like change today - even when things aren’t going well in their lives, they have become so accustomed to it that they have forgotten that there is something better to be had. The truth is, change is a gift from God, not being comfortable or stagnant. God is calling us to be changed and to change the world, but that’s a little hard to do if we insist on staying the same ourselves.
One of the phrases I hear a lot in churches is “we have always done it that way” - when it comes from everything from worship to evangelism and outreach. And that is beautiful, except when it keeps us from reaching out to a world that is changing. If we continue to do things as we did decades ago because it makes us feel safe and comfortable, instead of asking what our neighbors need to help connect them deeply with the Jesus whom we love, we’ve made it about us and not Christ. We’ve missed the point. When we becomes so focused on our own wants and desires, it can actually distract us from being alive in Christ. 
God’s love should change us in such a way that we are willing do just about anything to reach new people and help them unwrap the gift of salvation in their own lives. My brother are identical twins, which means they share a birthday. There are several videos of when they are little - too small to open their own birthday gifts - that I gladly helped them tear through the paper and boxes. I wanted them to see and love whatever gifts they were getting. I knew they weren’t my toys to play with - it was their birthday - but I wanted to share in their joy and excitement of their special day.
One of the ways we can help folks unwrap the gift of salvation in their lives is to share our story. We need to share the story of how God saved us from sin and saved us by grace. I’ve told some of you before that I am a big believer is the Elevator Story - can you tell the story of how Christ entered and changed your life is the amount of time it takes to ride an elevator? I can hear the objections now - of course not! Christ has done so much for me I could never share it that quickly - but the point is this: can you share your story in such a way that invites other people to ask questions so you can be in further conversation with folks. Sometimes we talk so much church, that folks stop hearing. Can we share our story in a way that invites other people into it, so that they can come to know Christ possibly though us?
But in order to be able to share your elevator story, you first must be able to know how Christ changed your life. Have you ever stopped and considered this? And I don’t mean just change your life in the future in terms of eternity, but changed your life in a concrete way here and now. I fear that too many folks have not even considered this, so when they do have the opportunity to share they have no idea where to start or what to say.
We need to be able to share how we believe the power of sin is real, but God’s power is so much greater. But if we don’t believe that’s true in our own life, we will never be able to share that truth with others. How has God changed you and how can you share that story with others?
God has changed us all in some way. Set us free from something or someone that has controlled us. Changed our belief that we need to be able to do everything on our own, instead of claiming the power of God. Changed what we live for. Changed us from thinking that we can be saved by our good works or by being a good person. How has Christ changed your life, brothers and sisters, and how can you share this change with others? Amen. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Explorig Ephesians: Chapter 1

Exploring Ephesians: Lavishing Grace Eph 1: 3-14

I love to write letters. To send cards with encouraging notes. During most of college and seminary I would try to send at least three letters or encouraging cards per week and I would sign them with one of two things “You are Loved” or “You are worthy.”
If I had to describe the letter to the Ephesians I would use the same phrases - worthy and loved. For the next several weeks, until we arrive at the season of Advent, we are going to be exploring this letter together. Some in the parish have been studying this letter as part of a Bible study, but there are different things that we pick up on when we are combing through the word of God together than when we hear the Word preached on Sunday morning. Both are vitally important and remind us that scripture speaks to our hearts over and over again.
Our scripture this morning is found right after the greeting issued by the letter’s author to the church. The author didn’t waste any time jumping right in and boldly proclaiming the word of God, that Christ and God are to be blessed and worshipped. While we worship God for who God is and not just what God has done for us, the church in Ephesus is reminded of all the love that God has lavished on us through Christ. We know that we are loved by God because we have been adopted into the family of God - not because of anything that we have done or we have earned on our own merit, but because of Christ freely giving himself for us on the cross. It is because of that gift that we have life and have it abundantly. We are forgiven and redeemed and given new chances because of God’s lavish love for us. 
The problem church is that too many people still haven’t heard about this love. They think that God could never love them, that they would never be welcomed into the family of God because of things that they have done in their past. The truth is we all have done things that we regret. We have all sinned. And God doesn’t view one sin as worse than another. That tends to make church folks a little bit nervous - that a lie or gossip is the same in the eyes of God as stealing. But that’s the way it is. Sin is anything that separates us from the love of God and it all pains the heart of God. We also cannot fix our sin issue on our own - we cannot will ourselves to stop - instead we need a Savior that breaks the power that sin holds in our lives. Enter Jesus. 
God knew that a plan was needed to cancel the power of sin and death in our lives, so God fashioned Jesus, completely God but in human form to walk on the earth and teach us how to live. And when the time was right, Jesus gave his life for us, shedding his own blood as the price for our sin. This is the greatest gift we could have ever been given and because of it we are welcomed into the family of God and called the Beloved.
I graduated from a Christian college. To be accepted you had to write a statement of faith and covenant to grow in your faith while you attended. I transferred from a large liberal arts school with these ideal notions of how much easier it would be to live out my faith surrounded by other Christians, especially these ones who had to write out a statement of what their faith in Christ means to them to even be accepted. I was shocked the first year there, when I found that so many people were struggling with their faith. Shocked that so many people understood in their head that Christ had died for them, but couldn’t quite let it sink into their hearts. 
During the summer session after my first year I found a book that radically changed by life, Henri Nouwen Life of the Beloved. The book was written by Nouwen, a priest, to one of his non-christian friends about how much God loves them. Friends, Christian or non-Christian, we all need to be reminded about the lavish love of God. So I started to hand that book out to everyone I met who was struggling with the question if God could really love them, really forgive them. I wanted people to know that they were the Beloved of God, not just in their heads, but in their hearts as well.
Too many Christians are walking around with an unneeded since of shame and feeling like their life is worthless today. If anyone should be singing a song of hope and God’s love, it should be us! But when our faith is all in our head, it makes it really hard to accept with the author of Ephesians is talking about - a God who loved us enough to make a way through the cross. A God who loves us enough to adopt us into the family of God, no matter what we have done in our past. That brothers and sisters is the grace and mercy of God. That is why we are in awe and sing songs of wonder and praise.
But this love, this Belovedness, is not something that we are to keep to ourselves. Instead we are called to the specific task to serve God and neighbor out of gratitude for what Christ has done for us. Church, will we be remembered as people who shared the lavish love of God? Will we be the people who tell others about the God who has made a way to be set free from the power of sin? Will we be a people who remind people that they are worthy, not because of what they have done, but instead they are worthy because of what Christ has done?
Can I be honest with you brothers and sisters, nothing breaks my heart more than when we don’t put first things first as the church? When we argue over things that have little if any meaning for people’s salvation - what songs we sing, what color the carpet is, who will bring what dish to the next fellowship event. We are called to be better than that. We are called to act like the Beloved of God - who is set out to proclaim the salvation that can be found in Christ alone. 
Further, because of that salvation we should be people who proclaim the hope of God. Friends, the second thing that breaks my heart is when Christians bemoan all the reasons the church of God is failing and how we are going down like a sinking ship. We are the body of Christ and we will not fail. We may not have the same numbers in terms of worship and money that we once may have had, but that just means that we have more people who are waiting to hear the good news of Jesus, if only we are willing to go out and tell them! It is not our job to despair about the future, its our job to share Christ’s love in the present. Let’s go forth and share the hope that can only be found in Jesus, folks. Let’s focus on the amazing things God is doing in and through us. Let’s remember that we are the Beloved of God and act like it - in what we say and in what we do.
Sometimes it can be so hard to rest in the fact that we are the beloved of God. We live in a world that tells us that we need to earn our accomplishments and accolades. But the truth is, we could have absolutely everything that it is possible to earn or that we would want, but still not have the peace of God in our hearts because we haven’t fully accepted the love God is trying to offer us in Christ. Being the Beloved of God isn’t something you can earn, its a gift freely offered by God.
At camp this summer, one of the student’s favorite songs to sing was “How He Loves” by the David Crowder Band. Hear these words, “I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way Oh, how He loves us, Oh How he loves us. How he loves all.” Have you accepted that love in your life, yet friends? If so, may you find peace today in the assurance in your heart that you are the Beloved of God and may you go forth and live a life that proclaims to others that God is waiting on them with the best gift ever given. If you haven’t yet accepted that love, may you consider doing so this day, praying to God to accept Christ in your life, finding forgiveness for your sins,  and beginning to that voice of love that is saying to you that you are the Beloved of God. Amen. 


Monday, October 24, 2016

#healthypastor - Who is Coming After You?

     One of the things I love about my denomination is that we are itinerant - we move. We move with the bishop and the cabinet discern that our gifts and graces are needed in a particular place, a particular church. Now to be clear, I don't like moving. It's stressful. And I don't particularly like starting over. However, one of the things that the itinerant system forces you to do is to think about the  pastor who is coming after you, because there will always be someone coming after you.
   We may not know the name of the person to follow us. But they need to always be in our hearts and minds. When  I suggest a change or a ministry goal, I find myself thinking about that person and if this change will make the church stronger for them to lead in the future. When I ask for a change in the parsonage, I analyze if it will make their life better when the time comes for them to move. When I pick my battles, I think about whether it will be something that needs to be changed before they get here or if it can slide. Thinking about the pastor to follow is vital to this type of ministry.
    But it also forces me to adapt patterns that don't set the next person up for failure. Should I expect the next person to work 12+ hour days? No? Then is that reasonable for me to be doing now? Such questions help me to make healthy choices for myself while setting the next pastor up for the best possible appointment, even if it is years down the line. The itinerant system, at its best, holds us accountable to be great, well-balanced, whole pastors now so the next pastor can be great in their own way in the future.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

“Shiny Gods: Heart Giving” Matthew 7: 7-12 Lev 19:9-10

We are now in our final week of our sermon series focusing on stewardship. I can almost hear some of you taking a deep sigh of relief - we’ve made it though the talk about money until next year. But I hope that this sermon series has been challenging to all of us - a call to examine our own hearts and lives to see if we are giving our very best to God or if there are idols blocking our way. 
Todays scripture lesson found in the Gospel of Matthew is one that is memorized by many folks - or at least memorized in part. “Ask and it will be given to you, search and you will find, knock and the door will be open to you.” And we stop there. This teaching leads us to believe at times that God is like a cosmic Santa Clause, giving us whatever we want, when this is not the case at all. 
To the parents and grandparents in the room - do you give the children in your life everything they ever ask for? Probably not. Why? Because kids, at some point, need to learn to be stewards of what they have. When we were little, my brothers and I were given an allowance for doing chores around the house. We could choose what to spend that money on. Now, I will say that my parent and grandparents provided for us the things that we would never dream of asking for - basic necessities like socks and underware, but if there was a toy we desired then we had to save up our own money.
Even around special occasions such as Christmas we understood that the money was not endless. My parents were never ones to make sure that each of us had the same amount of gifts under the tree. As we got older we came to understand that there was a set amount of money for each of us. If we asked for more expensive things, then we would have fewer gifts under the tree. And even then, we weren’t going to get everything we ask for.
Yet, sometimes we treat our prayer lives like God should give us what we want, when we want it. I have heard story after story about people who have turned away from the faith because God didn’t answer their prayers the way they wanted. But when I hear such stories, I wonder if we have missed the point of prayer as the local church. God, like a good parent, supplies our basic needs. God, like a good parents, often lavishes more upon us then we realize. However, we, as God’s children, do not have the right to demand that we be given something. Because some times its not in our best interest - I don’t know about you, but there are plenty of prayers in my life that I’m glad God didn’t answer the way I wanted. And sometimes its not in God’s timing. And sometimes, God wants us to remember that we have been gifted with the ability to work in order to be able to earn instead of demand.
Parents and grandparents, how does it make you feel when the important children in your life demand that you get them something? While I’m not a parent, I know that the times I have had kids whine, demand, or plead with me for something it didn’t make me feel very good. Especially when looked at in the light of everything else that I and others had provided for them. How do you think God feels when we use our prayers and this particular scripture verse to demand instead of asking that God’s will be done? The scripture goes on to ask if anyone who loved a child amongst us would give a stone when they ask for bread or a snake when they ask for fish? Of course not! If we as humans give good gifts to our children, how much more so does God lavish good gifts upon us. 
Sometimes I think we need to do a little less demanding and a lot more taking into account our blessings. Rev. Mike Slaughter states, “What we do with what we have makes all the difference in the world.” We are called to take time to make an account of our lives - to see the wealth God has provided and what we have done with it. Now wealth isn’t just money - its time, treasures, talents, and gifts. I was once asked what it means to bear fruit and described it this way - fruit is what comes when we use what we have for the Kingdom of God. What fruit are you bearing, brothers and sisters? How are you investing all of who you are and what you have in the work of God around you? Scripture tells us time and time again that we aren’t supposed to fire and foremost worry about whether we have enough stuff, instead we are to put God’s Kingdom first, which is really about what this misquoted scripture verse is beckoning us towards. Its not about putting our will first and asking God to make all of our desires happen - instead its about seeking after the Kingdom of God and having it opened unto you! Is the Kingdom of God the first desire in your life?
When we start to seek after the Kingdom of God, we find that God’s heart is for people. In fact, thats the entire point of the cross is it not? That broken people could find their way to God through Jesus? God didn’t want us to have to pay our own price for all of our brokenness and sin, so Jesus died for us, paying the price. God loves the world. And if God loves people, we are to love people as well. Not just those who look like us or have the same job we do or worship at the same church. The heart of God is to love all of the world, even those who are different from us at first glance. 
If we love people like God loves them, then our work shouldn’t just provide for ourselves but for those around us as well. The book of Leviticus is filled with laws from everything to what to eat to how to farm. In today’s scripture passage, the Israelites are instructed to not gather food at the very edges of their fields - instead they are to leave a margin for the poor and the orphan and the widow and foreigner to come and glean. They were allowed to harvest everything except that margin or perimeter.
We too are supposed to leave a margin in our lives for the poor and the needy. Something that we intentionally set aside to give to those in need. For me its an extra 25$ per month that goes into a fund to support organizations that are doing tremendous work in ministering to people in their brokenness. But that’s just me. What is your margin that reminds you how God has blessed you so that you can bless others? 
The truth is that we, as Christians in the local church, are the hands of God used to reach out and comfort a hurting world. Yet, far too many Christians don’t even make giving to the local church a priority, which makes it hard for the church to reach out as it should. In 2009, a survey found that the portion of income given to the Protestant church as 2.38 percent. That’s less than 3 percent brothers and sisters and no where close to ten percent tithe. Who could the church bless if we all made it a priority to work towards a tithe? Who could we reach out to if we left an additional margin in our lives and budgets for the poor and the needy? What would our lives be like if we sought first after the Kingdom of God as a true act of worship, instead of so many shiny gods that get in our way?
Here’s the thing. We can’t change the past. What’s done is done. But we can make decisions to change the way we view and treat money, here, now, today. We can right here and now decide to start working towards a tithe and to set aside a margin for ministering to the poor and needy. And the way we put our decisions into action can change the future. Let us worship God with all we are and all we have, here and now, dear friends. Amen. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

#heathypastor - Community

    Who are your people, your tribe, the folks you turn to when times are hard and when you have joys to celebrate? While it is important to have friends, I think it is just as important to have larger communities where you can support one another in your needs. For me, such community comes from two places.
     First, the Young Clergywomen Project (http://youngclergywomen.org), is an online community for folks up to the age of 40 who are ordained. We represent a variety of denominations and ways to live out ministry. We ask each other for ministry ideas, advice about how to get through difficult situations and we celebrate life's amazing and joyous moments with one another. While many of us may not meet face to face, we support one another and share the love of Christ without one another as a community.
    Second, the Order of St. Luke (http://saint-luke.net), is a religious order who pray for one another and commit to a daily office with one another. We focus together on liturgy and the sacraments, but as whole we also support one another through the practice of ministry, education and scholarship.
    These are simply my people - but I have to ask, who are your people? We can't do ministry alone, we need community to lean upon and who point us back to God continually. We need a healthy community to be a healthy pastor.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

“Shiny Gods: Be Faithful, Save, and Give” 2 Cor 9: 6-12

John Wesley, the founder of the early Methodist movement, had advice about everything. Some was more sound than others, but what he taught about money has rung true through the ages, “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” He lived into his own words, living off of the same wage from the time he began his ministry, allowing him to give away accumulated wealth over his lifetime to the glory of God.
When I think of John Wesley, the words abundant life ring out. What does the abundant life look like for you? Is it about having everything you want or having a certain amount of money in the bank set aside for a rainy day? Is it about what you will have to pass on to your children and grandchildren as an inheritance? Or is it about how you live your life, here and now? 
We all need to think through what it means to have the abundant life for us. In this mornings scripture lesson, Paul points out the abundant life for each of us is based off of what we sow. That old adage that you reap what you sow? It’s biblical. The truth is that God provides for us through work. While some of us may dream of winning the lottery, or having an older relative leave us an inheritance that would make us comfortable, God’s plan for creation involved work. 
Think back to the garden of eden. Before it was corrupted by sin. Even then work was part of the plan. Adam and Eve tended the land and looked after the animals. They walked with God in the garden. It was their purpose. God provides each of us with different talents, gifts, and resources that enable us to work. That give us a unique calling and purpose in our lives. Not just so we can pay the bills, but rather so we can have fulfillment. In the words of Rev. Mike Slaughter, “Work is a gift from God and all of us are called to contribute to God’s creation and to serve God’s people through it.”
The second part of what Wesley taught was to save. In 2005, Americans went into a negative savings rate, spending $1.22 for every $1.00 they earned. We were living by impulse instead of saving and it caught up with us during the recession. Unfortunately, there are many people who are still spending more than they make, either because they don’t realize it or out of necessity, causing much uncertainty and anxiety around money.
The Bible speaks about saving. Remember that in Biblical times, especially during the times of the Hebrew scriptures, money wasn’t necessarily the paper and coins that we have today, but rather crops and craftsmanship. Think back to the story of Joseph. Many folks know the part of Joseph’s brothers being jealous because of how their father lavished love upon him, especially in the form of the coat. But sometimes we forget the rest of his story. Joseph was sold into slavery, but through a series of dreams and wisdom given to the Pharaoh, he was given the position of overseeing crops in the land. During a time of abundance, a seven year stretch that God had revealed to him in a dream, he saved grain. He set some aside, knowing that the seven years of famine were on the way. 
While others may not have understood Joseph’s idea about saving in a time of abundance,  they lived as if it was to last forever. Only Joseph knew it wouldn’t. When the famine hit, Egypt had people from other countries coming in search of food, because they were one of the only places that had any! Joseph exchanged livestock and other goods for grain and food. His saving plan helped the country not only survive the famine, but prosper. 
Too many Americans live like folks in the seven years prior to the famine. We don’t save. We spend what we have here and now. Saving requires us to live below our current means. Many of us don’t like the particular concept. Why should we save for later if we can spend it now? Because far too many Americans don’t even have $500-$1,000 set aside for an emergency. What happens when you need an expensive dental procedure, a major appliance breaks in the house, or something happens to our vehicles? We charge it, going back into debt or even further into debt, because we didn’t think of a plan to save. 
However, saving does not mean hoarding. Remember Wesley’s last piece of advice about money - give all you can. The apostle Paul urges the Corinthians to prayerfully consider what they are going to give. Not to give what is left over or compulsively pull out a few dollars to put into the offering plate as it goes by - but instead to be intentional about what you are giving. In the words of Rev Slaughter, “Our giving, as an act of worship, should never be sporadic or unprepared. Don’t just toss your leftovers into God’s offering plate. Plan giving ahead of time and make it a priority in your life.” Now there are many ways to give, but I first and foremost want to talk about the tithe. The word some church folks dread. A tithe is the first ten percent of whatever we have earned that we give back to the glory of the Kingdom of God. For me, this is the first check written out (or rather checks - one for each church I serve) after cashing a paycheck. Some folks are not in a financial situation where they can give ten percent, and that’s fine. The question is two fold - one are you being intentional about the percentage that you are giving and two are you working towards a tithe? 
But when Wesley and Paul are talking about giving, they are not only talking about the tithe, though that is surely address, but additionally, giving to those in need. Those who give to the poor. Who provide seed for the sower. In addition to my tithe, there are a group of charities that I work through giving to every year. Non-profits, some in the church and some outside, who I want to partner with through my finances to lift up the amazing ways they are transforming people’s lives. Places like Thistle Farms, which takes women who are struggling with addiction due to past traumas and gives them a place to live and a job. And the United Methodist Committee on Relief, which is often the first agency in after a natural disaster and the last to leave. I give because I believe in being generous with what God has gifted us with. In the words of today’s scripture lesson, “God is able to provide every blessing to you in abundance, so by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.”
We are to be channels through with the generosity of God can flow to others. In the words of Mike Slaughter, “Generosity is evidence of the Spirit’s work in a person’s life.” Think back to some of Jesus’s teachings about money. In Matthew when Jesus is speaking to his disciples about how to give alms. He didn’t say if you give, he said whenever you give. The assumption is that we should be generous to others because God has been so generous to us. 
Giving is a spiritual exercise. Think about exercise. Do you always want to do it? Probably not. So it is with spiritual exercises. We may struggle with doing it sometimes, but through repetitive practice, something changes within us and we grow closer to God. This spiritual exercise teaches us to trust God - especially when it doesn’t make sense to give. We have to trust that our God will provide of us so that we can provide for the work of the Kingdom in ways that bless others. Let us live our lives in a way that magnify the teaching of the Apostle Paul and the words of John Wesley - earn all we can. Save all we can. So that we can give all we can. Amen!