Sunday, June 27, 2010

What if...this was your last day on earth?

The average life expectancy in the United States for women is 28,891 days and for men it is 26,371 days. That is a lot of days to live. Of course, they are not all guaranteed, but that is the average.
Now think about how many of those days will be days you will never forget. How many of those days were memorable? Weddings, births, deaths, and other life changing moments make days memorable. I still remember the first day I saw my future wife on the seminary campus. I also remember the night my life was changed as I gave my life to Christ.
Now, how many of your days were average and forgettable? Days that you just went through the motions. The days that were routine and you were on autopilot. I would guess we all have more forgettable days than memorable ones.
However, if we decided to we might be able to change that. That is the idea behind the question; what if this was your last day on earth? Would you want your last day to be memorable or forgettable?
If we decide to live each day to God's fullest, each day would make a difference in this world and therefore be memorable. Living for God's fullest means that we have given up living for ourselves and decided to help people become aware of God's presence. If I live each day for God then it would be easier for me to have that be my last day on earth.
I know this is a rather larger ideal, and living each day fully for God is a big goal, but I still dream. I still challenge you and myself to live each day as if it were our last. Don't miss the opportunities God places before you each day. Make the most of those opportunities. It is through those daily opportunities to live for God that we will share a piece of heaven with those here on earth.

Monday, June 21, 2010

What if...God was your go-to-guy?

I thought a good illustration of the way we often look at God is as a hail Mary pass. In football a hail Mary pass is a desperation heave down the field. It is an attempt to throw the ball towards the end zone just praying someone from your team will catch it and score. Every once in a while it works, but most times it does not. (The picture is of Warren Holloway catching a hail Mary from Drew Tate in the 2005 Capital One Bowl Iowa Hawkeye victory.)
I see us relating to God this way when we say something like, "well, I have tried everything else, I guess I could pray." I know I have thought or said that before. We also may not say it, but our actions speak it. We try everything in our own power before turning to God.
What I want to encourage us to do is to make God our go-to-guy. Instead of God being a desperation choice, make God the number one option. Go to God first thing. Make God the first place you turn in good and bad times. God is waiting for you.
If you want to read a great passage about God as a go-to-God read 1 Kings 18:22-39. This story is about Elijah and his trust that God would show up when he needed God.
I want to be a Christian who turns first to God, instead of waiting until I feel I have gone as far as I can go and now God can help me keep going. I still tend to do this as I try to fix things myself. I often jump straight into Mr. Fix-it mode. Instead I need to slow down, take a breath, pray and then go where God leads. When I have taken the time to turn to God first the situation seems to go better.
Where have you seen this work in your life? When has God responded as your go-to-God?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Did you know that only 5% of Christians tithe? According to a Barna study that has been true since about 2000. And the average United Methodist gives under 2% of their income to the church. Tithing is giving 10% of your resources to God's work. So if all Christians tithed there would be a big difference in resources available for God's work.
Just within our medium sized church there would be a large increase in resources. The average net income in Williamsburg is around $45,000 a year. We have 200 families in our congregation. So if every family tithed on that average amount, we would have $900,000 a year for God's ministry. Our current general budget is $265,000.
Noticing the extra $600,000 I went to the United Methodist Advance webpage, which lists ministries around the world that need support to continue God's good work. You can check it out if you want at The Advance. You can look by ministry type or by region. We could support hospitals in foreign countries or clinics here in America. We could support orphanages in Haiti, teach farming in underdeveloped countries, and get fresh drinking water to people all over the world. We could work towards ending malaria or other diseases. The possibilities are endless.
However, I also know there is more to tithing than just the numbers. If all Christians tithed that would let me know that all Christians have a better understanding that everything we have actually belongs to God. 100% belongs to God and yet He gives it to us to use. We then make the decision on how God's resources are used. And when we tithe we can change the world. We can direct God's resources to His work. And we do this because we were created in the image of a generous God. God gave his Son for our salvation. God believes through giving the world will be changed and we can make that happen as well when we are generous and give.
Let me know if you have any questions on tithing, and imagine the possibilities. We could change the world if we all decided to tithe.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What if...we did not have Annual Conference?

For the last four days I have been at our Iowa Annual Conference. This is where all of the pastors and a portion of laity from Iowa get together for our annual meeting. It is basically an annual business meeting. It seems to be one part celebration of ministry and mission, one part business and one part politics.
I was 15 when I first went to Annual Conference as a youth representative. I have not been every year since then, but probably missed 2 or 3 years. Some conferences I have left feeling God had some work for us to do. Other times I have left wondering if God had been there at all. I wrestle with parts of ministry that relate to business and politics. I know it is reality that both aspects are present in the church, but I still dream of the day when it will be different.
I do not think the church is a business. There are some similarities because a business and a church are organizations. There are some structure similarities and of course you need a budget to know where your resources are going.
I also see where political views intersect faith. But I am not sure they need to be a central part of the church. Main issues I heard debated were marriage, environmental justice, and immigration reform.
I wonder what if Annual Conference was no longer a business or political meeting and instead a time of healing and training for effective ministry. We do already have prayer and worship there, but then add in time for healing and care of pastors who as caregivers are often left uncared for. And then we could also be training pastors the most effective ways to be be caregivers and leaders of their churches.
I know I don't have all the answers, but what we have always done seems to be getting less effective to me.
Anyone else have thoughts on the business and political aspects of the church?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What if...we lived unplugged?

The idea of living unplugged is about getting rid of our distractions, so that we can focus more fully on Christ. If you read Luke 10:38-42 you will see the passage about Jesus' visit to the home of Martha and Mary, two sisters. Martha is working diligently to be a good host for Jesus and the disciples. Her sister Mary is just sitting at Jesus' feet listening to his teaching. Martha wants her to help and asks Jesus to tell her to help, but instead Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen something better.
The application is clear to me, being with Jesus and learning from him is more important than any other good thing. Of course this calls for balance because if every just focused on learning from Jesus and not on preparing food we would eventually starve. So this does not say get rid of everything that distracts from God, but it does not hurt to reflect on areas that might be getting too much attention and draw us away from God.
So we can work to clear our distracts. The unplugged idea came because a major distraction can be things we plug in: TV, computer, media, video games... However our distractions are not limited to these electrical things. They many be anything, some good, some bad, but all distractions from what God wants us to be focused on.
I know I have wrestled with distractions. I often get focused on details. I regularly work on details because I believe when the details are right the big picture will be clear. This is not always the case, but I feel if I focus on the details that will remove some distractions, so that others can see the big picture better. I need to get better at unplugging my focus on details in order to pay plenty of attention to the big picture.
At the same time, I do need to plug Christ into my details and make sure they are always done for his glory and not for what I hope to accomplish.
Think about your distractions. What might you need to unplug? Or how might you plug Christ into all the activities of your life? Remember that Jesus always wants you to choose what is better. You may have plenty of good things that take up your time, but where are the great things? Give the great things your attention.