Walking the Tightrope of Gratitude

Thirty-three years ago, I traveled to San Antonio to celebrate my first Thanksgiving away from my family. The attraction? Fort Sam Houston and a young PFC named Lisa who was three weeks shy of a name change for her and a life change for both of us. We made it to Galveston, Texas where we saw the sea waves crashing and ate our fill at the Holiday Inn’s all-you-could-eat buffet. Put it on my dad’s credit card, not thinking he might want an explanation of a pre-nuptial hotel charge. I suppose Shoney’s would have required less explanation. Up to that day, I had never celebrated a Thanksgiving Day marked by so much – love, hope, joy, and anticipation – and so little – money, certainty, security, and peace. Looking back, the balancing act between hope and fear, abundance and lack, joy and anxiety could not have been more stark. That tension, held in tow by large amounts of love, wonder, and trust in God and each other, proved thank-worthy in and of itself. Still does. Three-plus decades, two sons, three grandgirls, seven churches, and four states later, we are abundantly blessed and thankful. We just have different things to be concerned about and new blurry futures waiting to find focus.

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Reaching Deeper

Can I let you in on a pastor’s open secret? We ministers really do not like to talk about money. So says most every member of the clergy I know, including the one who weekly writes under the headline “Money Talks.” We shy away from it often for fear of misrepresented motivations. Truly, there are no shortages of Christian charlatans out there, but the bulk of pastors I know just want to lead their people to be faithful and financially enable the ministry God has called them to lead. Often we hold back out of fear of criticism or deflection of the message. And we are more sensitive than you know to people of more limited means who have been exemplars in stewardship – and these solid saints are the first to feel bad that they cannot do more. There are many reasons to leave this subject alone.

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Thanks & Giving Sundays

It is not often that, as your pastor, I ask you to do a specific thing with the expectation that God will prompt you to respond in a way that honors him, emboldens our people, undergirds our mission, and alters the way we feel about our calling and our capacity to give. This is one of those. After much prayer, reflection, and conversations with our leadership, I am asking you to mark November 19th and 26th as “Thanks & Giving” Sundays. In short, I am asking that on the weeks that surround Thanksgiving our people reach deep and bring forth an offering that rises far and beyond our expectations. The need is there. But so is the capacity, and I believe, the will. On these weeks, I am asking you to respond as God leads with your giving, but let me offer some specific encouragements:

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Winding Down

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We are winding down the last three Sundays in our series “What Kind of Church Are We?” We have walked our way through being Christ-focused, well-connected, ageless, generous, growing, and joyful. That’s a pretty good list to date. The thing that has struck me in the preparation of these sermons is the way there is so much overlap with the designations. Focusing on Christ seems to enhance and undergird all the areas. Generous and joyful seem to work well with each other. Well-connected and ageless logically feed on each other. Growing works pretty much the same way. You have heard me say that bigger isn’t necessarily better, but better usually gets bigger.

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The Opportunity of Christmas

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I kind-of cringed last month – not last week, last month – when Christmas made its way into the aisles of some of my usual shopping venues. I’m sorry, but sometimes it is too early to summon Santa in the hope of turning a buck or two on a season still weeks down the road.

But it is not too early to begin planning, promoting, and praying about Advent experiences that are on the FBC horizon. Christmas gives us a great opportunity to tap into meaningful traditions and enjoy events that lift our spirits and deepen our faith. It is also a prime time to see Christmas through the eyes of our community and invite them to start new traditions that their families will love. And in so doing, perhaps they will encounter Christ and his followers in new, rich, and deep ways.

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Generosity as a Way of Life

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For a number of years, I have used the pun-laden phrase “Money Talks” as the headline for my most-every-week blog. While my name is Money and I am apt to talk a bit – ask Lisa – I do approach both sermons and cyber summations as a chance to carry on conversations with my people. My aim is to talk about what is important in a way that answers the questions “So what?” and “Now what?” But on the heels of last week’s sermon of generosity, the moniker rings a little more literal. Money does talk, and the story it tells is often more personally spiritual than financial. And more self-revelatory than we might care to admit.

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That’s How We Grow

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What kind of church are we? Well two weeks into the series, we have given you three words. The first is the most essential – “A Christ-Focused Church.” This past Sunday, we gave our attention to being connected and united/uniting. All good words and better ideas. We really are better together. That’s how we develop meaningful spiritual relationships. That’s how we tend and care for one another. That’s the way we learn and learn to apply the Word. That’s how we stay accountable. That’s how we join together to make a greater Kingdom impact. In short, that’s how God designed us to be.

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The Not-Normal Experience

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Hard to believe we are two weeks out from the frantic days when we were watching the Weather Channel, battening down the hatches, and living out The Clash classic “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” After days of fearful anticipation, a night of forceful wind and rain, a day of evaluating damage, gas-challenged return trips, and lots of clean-up, we are collectively longing for a return to routine. Ready for the shelves to be restocked so our freezers can be refilled. Anxious for a day not marked by anxiousness. In a word; normal.

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Come Together, Right Now

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What a week it has been. And for many, continues to be. On the peninsula, we begged for the best and waited for the worst. The good news is that we, all in all, got more of our hopes and less of our fears. Decisions and strategies had to be made, protection sought, provisions laid by, shelter space claimed, priorities set, and prayers said. All done with the situation changing by the minute.

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Be Careful & Prayerful

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In his popular and inspiring book “The Noticer,” Andy Andrews has his angelic character tell the story of storms and our place in them. He reckons that, whether we know it or not, we are all in one of three positions. We are all either coming out of a storm, in the middle of a storm, or getting ready for a storm. Seems to me that getting ready for a storm has created a storm of its own. Preparation has given way to panic. Gas, batteries, and propane are in short supply. Police are keeping order over bottled water at Publix. Not Walmart folks, but the Publix on 4th and 37th (if things go rogue at Earth Fare and Trader Joe’s, we will know we are in crisis mode)!

As I write this, the images of Harvey are rightly in our heads as we stare down Irma – or as she stares down on us. It is impossible to know what lies ahead, so we pray for the best and prepare for the worst. We cancelled Wednesday activities this week to allow families time to prepare and protect, and make decisions about evacuation. We have just made the determination that Sunday services will be cancelled. There is just too much uncertainty about what may happen, and our attention and energies must be focussed on protection and preparation.

As your pastor, let me encourage you in these days to do a few things. Be careful. And be prayerful. These two postures will go a long way. Try to remain calm and not borrow trouble that is not yet here. At the same time, be diligent and informed about the risks at hand and respond appropriately. And be ready when this is over to be part of a long-term rebuild. We pray we will be spared the worst of it. But we know some places will not be. And we will be ready to respond as best we can.

For today, take care of yourself and your family. Leave if you can and need to. Hunker down if you cannot. And know that the one who rules the winds and water will stand by you. As will His people.