The Tried-and-True Quartet

Lisa and I have a friend with a strong inclination to decorate her home with words. If you have made a recreational trek to Hobby Lobby, Kirkland’s, or TJ Maxx, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Picture frames come etched with belonging words like family or best friends. Inspiring words like courage show up on pictures of, well courageous looking things. Scriptures always sell well it appears. Graduations, births, wedding days all call for event specific words. And then there are the carved-in and painted-on sayings, possessing varied degrees of humor, advice, perspective, profoundness, and thanks to our friend and her word-worshipping tribe, profitability.

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Approaching Year-End

How can it be that Thanksgiving week has arrived already? I mean Easter was just the other week and school started back yesterday – right? At least it feels that way. We just got up from a great staff meeting putting the finishing touches on our Advent plans. As we get ready to get ready for the coming of the Christ child, there will be lots of ways to be meaningfully engaged at FBC. I trust you will take advantage of them and invite some friends to join you.

Approaching year-end brings about another important focus in congregational life; the fulfillment of the current budget and presentation of a new one. In 2018 we were intentionally ambitious in setting the annual ministry goal funded at 1.35 million dollars. We have received just short of one million of that to date, representing a considerable shortfall. There have been cuts, revisions, and postponements where possible, but the bulk of our commitments and unavoidable expenses have largely remained. In response to that deficit, we need a very strong financial finish over the next five weeks. That calls for all of us to be bolder in regular giving. And for those among us with the heart and capacity to dig deeper and step higher, now is an important time to do so.

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No Exceptions. No Excuses.

We have all been there; one hundred percent of us. No exceptions and no excuses. The Bible reinforces that with the declaration that all have fallen short. Sometimes it’s from aiming high and landing low. Sometimes from looking low and winding our way on down to where those thoughts take us. Patterns of behavior repeat themselves despite our sincerest resolve as “Here I stand” gives way to “Here we go again.” You get the picture. You know the pain first hand. At some level and at some time, we all do.

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Joyfully, Boldly, Faithfully “Take Ten”

A few weeks ago I challenged each of you to “Take Ten” as we prepared to enter into this, the tenth month of the year. In case you forgot, here’s the five tens that could change a lot of things for the good in a short order of time.

Well, how are you doing? The hardest one for me is the prayer for the church on the tens. (Kind of like the weather channel does local on the eights, or at least I think they still do.) Ten minutes one time a day focused on prayer and devotion may seem easier, but we are still forced to be intentional – and be still. Alas, our world is not known for either. I’ve pretty much got my participation trophy for good gatherings (yes, I do confess to a vocational advantage). Being Jesus for ten is heartwarming as we claim those chances. And the challenge has at made me surprisingly aware and regretful for the opportunities I missed or passed up.

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Licensing to the Gospel Ministry

One of my treasured roles in pastoral ministry is recognizing and pouring my life into young men and women who have sensed the calling and committed themselves to the ministry of the gospel in all its various shapes. One reason that matters to me is because some pastors and the churches they led did the same for me a generation or so ago. All of us stand on the shoulders of saints known and unknown as we live out our faith, and particularly vocational expression.

I am especially pleased to have the youngest ministerial staff I have ever led. (John, that should make you feel good, but you really do skew the numbers upward.) Of those, the one who was serving FBC before me was Chris Culpepper. I saw him almost immediately as one with special talents and aptitude towards pastoral ministry. He is young, but grew up in the temple and knows the rigors and rewards of vocational ministry. He has, and continues to serve us well at FBC. You cannot help but be impressed with that voice. And while that may be his most identifiable tool at this juncture, he possesses so many other attributes which are already evident to those who encounter him.

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To Stretch Ourselves

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house. Test me in this” says the Lord Almighty “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.
Malachi 3:10

Earlier this week I sent an email out to the FBC church family. In it, I encouraged our people to do five things throughout October that involve the number ten.  I am convinced that corporate commitment to these things, even over such a limited time, can be so spiritually impactful to us individually and collectively. I am crazy enough to believe that God honors intentional acts of faith from his children and that the very act of doing these things can set lives and churches on a new trajectory.

Four of the five challenges will cost you no more than your time, your presence, attention, and simple Christ-like responses to others. But the one in the middle calls for a specific action – to joyfully and faithfully give a tithe of ten percent of your monthly income to the ministry of FBC. To someone looking in from the outside or a new believer, this may sound like an excessive, even unreasonable ask. To longtime veterans of the faith, it simply reflects the biblical admonition that we have accepted and adhered to for years. For some, the tithe is a starting point for generous stewardship while others question whether the practice is attainable or desirable to them. I assure you that, for the believer, it is truly both.

In the four weeks of October, we are asking our people to follow the admonition from Malachi to “bring ye all the tithe unto the storehouse.” How wonderful would it be to get a snapshot of what can happen if all our people, for four short weeks, were obedient in this arena of personal faith? Try “this wonderful.” We would have a picture of what we are capable of if people follow the biblical model for giving to God. We could actually receive more than the ministry requires, building in some margin for our inevitable needs. More importantly, we could learn together that we cannot out give God and that our financial life is blessed by the very act of giving from our “first fruits.”

I have looked back over our giving for the past decade plus and discovered this. Since well before the great recession, FBC has never received as much as $100,000 in a four-Sunday October. I am challenging our people to make 2018 the year that shows we can! If you are a tither (a ten percent or more giver), keep on, and as God leads, reach a little deeper. I personally cannot imagine not making that my first financial priority each month. If you do not practice the tithe, now is the time to try and invite the Lord to both enable and bless you. If God has blessed you with more than you need, ask God just what he might have you do with some of that abundance.

Joyful giving is an essential part of our total life of faith. As your pastor, I implore us all to, for one month, stretch ourselves in that realm. I can promise you that God, who knows our heart and our capacity, will be honored, pleased, and compelled to bless us all as we respond together. Let’s make that happen.

A Faithful Flow

In three-plus decades of pastoring, this Money has learned a bit about the significance of money in the life of a church. First fact is that ministries must be funded, and God’s way of doing that is primarily through the voluntary gifts of the people of the church. Second fact is that people have varied views on what is spiritually and biblically required of them. Or put differently, are the motives and opportunities to give to the Lord through the church uniquely theirs to own and claim? In a recent podcast, Thom Rainer discussed the radical difference between “church giving” and the perception of paying one’s “church dues. “ Here’s how he broke it down.

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Bring a Friend

Marketers, strategists, and consultants everywhere are still looking for the secret to attract folks to whatever it is they want them to have, be, or do. In the world of social media, posts, tweets, Instagram, and Snapchat are the order of the day (of course this changes so fast I’m sure I have missed a new big one in just the time it takes to write this blog!). Oldies but goodies like TV and its 187 different points of delivery or audio with its 73 are still a staple. Print media these days involves very little ink and lots of cyber-whatever. I still get junk mail and doorknob hangers all the time, most of which don’t make it to the kitchen counter.

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What Took Us So Long to Get Here

For the better part of the summer, we have been having a pastoral conversation about what makes God happy. More specifically, as his children, how we can make making God happy our life’s defining mission and most passionate pursuit.

None of our nine happy places really are hard to understand and affirm. But my Lord, how often we fail and flail in the opposite direction. God likes his people to live in unity and community. It’s hard to argue that. We are taught to say thanks as toddlers, but often find gratitude choked out by contentment and coveting. God likes to be trusted and obeyed; we even have a hymn about that one. He gave us the ministry of reconciliation, yet poorly-handled conflict has often proven more damaging than the conflict itself. Learn what is good is good advice. We are called to be generous and faithful people in hopes of outliving our lives both on earth and in heaven.

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Finding Fulfillment Three Times Over

Every once in a while the longtime title of my weekly blog and its content share the billing. Yes, like all pastors I wrestle with what to say and how to say it when Money Talks talks money. Oddly, the Bible generally and Jesus specifically shares no such reticence. That happens when one’s views and practices regarding personal finance find their place within the broader mantles of Christ follower and child of God. It is self-evident that God, specifically as He is revealed in his son, is generous, caring, faithful, loving, giving, and self-sacrificing. When those of us who bear his name are at our best, we are too. That’s a tall, almost impossible order outside the faith we claim and proclaim, and the grace flowing from it. But through that identity, with God’s help, it is natural to think and act that way. Mutual faithfulness defines the lives of persons of faith in a way nothing else really can.

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