How to honor Jesus at Easter

Business as usual not an option

What will you do to honor Jesus this Easter?   Let’s be creative and look past traditional habits and token self-denials.  Are there other practical answers to that question?  Unfortunately, many people who answer to the label as Christians will do little or nothing to honor Jesus this Easter!  No one could guess from their Holy Week activities that they were a Christian at all.  That’s not the way it should be.

Honor Jesus with action

During Holy Week true Christians remember the suffering of Jesus including his death on the cross.   Easter is the highest point of the church year, the time when we remember Jesus’ climactic victory over death.   Above all times, this is when Christians should be most active in celebrating their Savior.    And our celebration should not just be with words.  Words alone cannot honor one who taught us to put his sayings into action (Matthew 7:24-27).  But not everyone will want to honor Jesus in exactly the same way.  So here are five suggestions all of which will help us truly honor Jesus this Easter.

Five suggestions

  1. Give a gift of your time and love to help someone in need. This could range from random acts of kindness to strangers to volunteering at a nursing facility to visiting a disabled friend to doing outdoor work for an elderly neighbor to…    The more in-person the gift, the better for this one.   Jesus was always helping someone in need.   He told us he came to serve others and urged us to do the same (Matt. 20:25-28). 
  2. Give a gift of money to a cause that helps those who are among people who the OT would include among the “oppressed.” Such causes include aid to those suffering from natural disasters, aid to refugees, aid for victims of racial injustice, groups working against systemic poverty, food banks, etc.   If we are not willing to acknowledge God’s gifts to us and give of our finances to others, we have not yet caught the Spirit of Jesus. 
  3. Worship at church during Holy week. First of all, Jesus deserves to be honored by our presence in services in his honor.  Second, it is the upward look that sustains our outward focus and dims our self-centeredness.   At Copper Hill there are three opportunities from Palm Sunday through Easter.
  4. Speak to someone about your faith in Jesus. This conversation could be a short personal anecdote describing some way that your faith has helped you.  It could be an invitation to a friend to attend a service with you.  It could be an offer to pray for someone who is going through a tough time and would appreciate a prayer.   There’s no better time than Easter time to make Jesus a positive part of our conversation. 
  5. Read the story of Jesus’ last days again (Matthew 26-28 and/or John 13-20) or watch a video of it such as the Jesus Film with a friend. It is the most watched film in history and was digitally remastered for HD with a new sound track in 2014   http://www.jesusfilmstore.com/35th-Anniversary-JESUS-Film-Blu-Ray-Disc/productinfo/ZBRD-35TH-BLU-RAY/.    The original version is available on NETFLIX. 

 

 

A 10 point strategy for dealing with the many charitable requests we receive?

Question:   One of my parishioners recently wrote me about a dilemma that is certainly common to all of us today.

“I received email from 6 organizations wanting donations from me today. This is pretty much a daily happening and it’s causing me mixed feeling. The question is how do I handle this situation? I have my pet charities; but I don’t feel I should support them all.   Some of them do grab at my heart when it comes to children and animals, and even disabled or blind vets.  The list is getting longer and I feel guilty when I discard them. This is not counting the many calls I get via phone – please give me some advice.”

Answer  from the Pastor’s Desk:

It is unfortunately part of the modern world that we are able to receive so many calls for donations. As you mentioned, some come by phone and some by email, not to mention TV.   Many come from automated mailing systems.   I’m sure before long they will figure out how to send them in other ways as well.   Even at church we have plenty of fund appeals. There are twin spiritual and emotional dangers. On the one hand, we can become overwhelmed by them and laden with guilt so that we hardly know what to do.   On the other hand, and this may be even worse, we can become immunized by the barrage of them to the point that our compassion atrophies and we can no longer respond when we should.

Here is a strategy that I recommend that I believe will allow us to respond in compassion appropriately while protecting ourselves from overload.

1. Pray about where God is calling you to help.

2. Then choose a few charities that are very reputable and that deal with issues that are dear to your heart.   Use your passion for issues and world needs as a guide.  For example, if you feel strongly that you would like to eradicate cancer, then you might choose the American Cancer Society as one of your charities.

3. The number of charities you choose may depend on your means but for most people, I think it will probably be from 3-6. Keep the list small enough so that you can respond occasionally to all of them every year.   Don’t worry if you don’t respond to every call. I don’t think anyone does that. Most of us can’t.  Married couples may decide to each add some favorite ones to a joint list or they may each have their own.

4. Your local church will likely be your number one charity.

5.  I recommend that all Christians in developed countries like ours include at least one charity that ministers to needs in the third world in their list.   It might be UMCOR or World Hope (the one JoAnne and I have chosen), or Samaritan’s Purse or World Vision, for examples (Gal. 2:10).

6.  Consign all other email solicitations ruthlessly to the junk email box. For most of the repeated ones, you can get your browser to do this for you before you even see them. Trash both email and snail mail from other charities without even opening it.

7. For phone calls, tell the person up front if their charity is not on your list and if they won’t take “no” for an answer, they deserve a hang-up.

8. The fact that you are obeying God in generosity to the charities you have chosen helps you to not feel guilty in disregarding the others.  Seek to be at peace with your level of giving.   God does not want you to feel burdened with guilt about it but to be a joyful giver (2 Cor. 9:7).

9  Follow faithfully the charities that you have chosen, allowing God to use you to help them.  Read their materials and become knowledgeable about them.

10. Annually evaluate your overall participation in your chosen charities.   If you do taxes, that is a natural time to evaluate.  Your ultimate goal as a Christian steward is God’s well-done for your handling of the wealth he has entrusted to you.   A term that I have found helpful in measuring my response is to ask whether or not I have been generous.   God loves generosity and his economy rewards it.   As the Proverb says, “The generous will themselves be blessed” (Pr 22:9 NIV 2011).

You can help Houghton College today!

Houghton LogoMy favorite college is having a one day campaign to enlist support.  It’s a two-way matching grant opportunity.   In this day when most college education neglects character, Houghton mentors students by example and curriculum design to become servant leaders in today’s world.    Many college graduates are having a hard time getting work, but at Houghton the situation is different.  They were recently recognized for outstanding success with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates. “The success rate for STEM studies has proven to be true at Houghton College where over the past five years, 100 percent of  graduates who obtained degrees in chemistry, biochemistry, physics, math, and computer science have obtained jobs in their desired field of study within six months of graduating from Houghton or gone on to Ph.D. or master’s degree programs.”   (http://www.houghton.edu/news-media/recent-news/houghton-graduates-excel-in-stem-fields-compared-to-other-colleges/377/) If you would like to help students at a college like that, I invite you to participate in this one day of giving.  Both your gift and your presence among the givers will make a difference.  I very seldom put fund-raising things on my blog.  There are just too many available.  But today I am making an exception for a great cause. All gifts made today toward the Student Scholarship Fund will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $150,000. In addition, if 500 donors make a gift today to scholarships or any other projects across campus, Houghton will receive a gift of $100,000. Visit www.houghton.edu to donate today.

Thinking of others around the world with John Lyon

I’m posting part of an email letter from my friend John Lyon, President of World Hope International.   It reminds us all to keep in mind those in our world who have so little this Christmas season.   I have taught for years that every American Christian should have a regular donor relationship with a charity that helps people in the third world.  Our church here at Copper Hill United Methodist sends some gifts through UMCOR.  My wife and I had already sent our annual Christmas gift to World Hope as a part of our Christmas gift giving.   I have traveled just a little in third world countries — but enough to understand first-hand how we in our comfy North American culture take totally for granted what we enjoy every day, starting with simple amenities like drinkable running water in our houses. 

Here’s the quote from John’s letter.

“This Christmas was my 8-month old son’s first. It was a joy watching his eyes light up with the tree, his thrill at opening presents, and his curious mind taking in all the action. But as I celebrated our Savior’s birth with my son, my wife and our families, I couldn’t help but reflect on how different our Christmas looked than many others. We had a roof over our head, a warm house to sleep in and food flowing from the kitchen (with leftovers for weeks!) We had clean water to drink, wash our dishes and take showers with. Had my son been sick, we could have taken him to our neighborhood doctor’s office without a second thought. We exchanged gifts – a privilege foreign to many.

As we celebrated, my mind kept returning to a pastor’s home I visited on my last trip to Sierra Leone. The floors were dirt, there was no electricity, and children took daily trips to the nearby stream for water. Their Christmas, I’m sure, looked much different than ours.
It’s not often we stop to recognize how blessed we truly are. Not just because we have a Christmas tree – but because we have electricity. Not just because we have a Christmas dinner – but because we have food at all.”
Here is a link through which you can make a Christmas contribution to help others around the world through World Hope.

An interesting graphic about giving

The generous will themselves be blessed.  (Proverbs 22:9  NIV2011)

Are those who tithe better off financially?

How much people choose to give to charity is a very personal question.  Certainly no one should have to compare their giving to that of another.  And we also resist the idea that our giving could be guided by some universal standard.   But in biblical times there is little doubt that such a standard did exist.  It was the tithe, ten percent of the yield of field and flock (Lev. 27:30-32).  The concept shows up early in the Bible narrative when Abraham sets the example by giving a tithe of the plunder to the priest of Salem, Melchizedek (Gen. 14:20).   Later, it was standardized in the Levitical code.  Research says that few people today practice this Biblical idea.    Most probably feel that if they were to use such a rule in modern times it would impoverish them.  But according to the interesting study of tithers summarized in the graphic below, that is apparently not the case.  The chart is impressive.

Somehow, we should not be surprised

In the last book of the Old Testament God had promised, “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 there will not be room enough to store it.”  (Mal 3:10 NIV2011).  It is the only area of life where God ever invites us to test him.  In the New Testament we find a parallel truth.  “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”  (Lk 6:38  NIV2011).   So the principle of God’s economy is this.  God honors generosity.    And his standard for giving raises the bar for us as to what generosity might look like.

Is it an investment scheme?

We’ve all heard of crass preachers who misused this principle by promising earthly financial rewards, sometimes even with percentage gains attached, for gifts to their ministry.   What charlatanry that is!   While God has promised to bless those who are faithful to Him, God’s blessings are often of different character than money.  And even when God’s rewards are financial, they sometimes do not coincide in timing or mode with the financial sacrifice made by the offerer.     For example, there was a time in our ministry as pastor and wife when we felt led to make a significant gift (for us) to a special project of the church.  It was a sacrificial gift that did draw down our finances.  Now God didn’t refill our coffers per se, but it just so happened that we “co-incidentally” during that time frame received several unexpected non-monetary gifts of things we needed to help us along the way.   One such blessing was a huge scholarship that our daughter received to go to graduate school.    But giving, like deeds of service, is definitely a future investment.  The Bible does say, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:20-21 NIV84).

 

1-tithing

A Thoughtful Gift

 

Swiss Chocolate

People who know me know that I like chocolate; it seems that the older I get the more I like chocolate. So when Keely and Mark returned from their recent vacation, they brought me one special gift – more chocolate.   Now there’s chocolate and then there is chocolate!   This was Swiss chocolate from Lake Geneva in Switzerland.  These chocolates are shaped like the mussels of the lake, which is what the French words on the box mean.   The real mussels that live in the lake are small black and inedible, but the chocolate versions are something else.  They are filled with a chocolate mousse and are delectable.  Thank you to Keely and Mark for a delightful gift.

A recommended way to help Japan

Sometimes people ask a pastor for a good charity to give to in a crisis such as the one in Japan. I sent a donation today to World Vision, an excellent Christian charity I have known about for many years that is already at work in Japan. You can see a video report of what they are doing by checkng this link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_SooP8pVqs

Thanks for giving your gifts!

Gift giving expresses generosity

This last Sunday at Community Wesleyan was a festival of gifts.   In the Nativity Story  (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0762121/),  the old shepherd tells Mary that each one of us has a gift.  This is a biblical truth.   He also tells Mary that her gift is the baby within her.    Later, at the stable, Mary repeats the line to him as he reaches to touch baby Jesus;  then as she holds out the child, she says, “He is for all mankind.”    As with Mary, our gifts are not given us for ourselves but to help others.   That’s what I saw happening this last Sunday at Community Wesleyan.    

To begin, it was the day when many brought the gifts they had purchased for those less fortunate and placed them around the brightly decked Christmas tree on the platform.  It was stacked with gaily wrapped presents.   They represented the generosity of so many, a noble gift to the Christ-child indeed.    The gifts were made more beautiful by the decorations—the result of Leah’s behind-the-scenes touch.

Then there were the gifts of talents.   I am always so appreciative of those who take the time at this busy season to make sure that they give their talent back to God.   So many just bury it or use it only for themselves.    But always there are some faithful ones who will offer their musical and other talents back to God in worship.  We enjoyed two beautiful instrumental pieces.   One was a string trio, a classical sound so fitting for carols and brought to us by Josiah Durfee, Alex Paige and Carmen Hunn.   Another was a contemporary touch – two guitars, drums, and piano playing “Go Tell On the Mountain” (Mark Cloutier, Shaun Harrington, Aaron Wilkinson, and JoAnne Jones).    We reveled in the quiet of the carol, “Silent Night” sung a cappella in a perfect family blend by Licia, Cassie, and Kaitlyn Swain.   Mike Lamb, unofficial poet-in-residence,  read a new, thought-provoking  work he had written and the choir directed by JoAnne Jones inspired us with Vivaldi’s “Gloria”  and the striking “In the First Light.”   

Then there were the personal gifts – probably some I will not know about who gave gifts to a teacher or friends.   I received some.  I helped to collect and give one special one to someone who has helped us so much here at Community Wesleyan, our webmaster.   

It all blended with the theme of the message too – if we, as imperfect as we are, know how to use our gifts for others and give gifts that are appreciated; how much more will our heavenly Father give good gifts to those who love him!

Making Thanksgiving Real

Thanksgiving is one of the great holidays of the year.    These days when so much is determined by commercial value, it is being swallowed up between Halloween and Christmas.  I will do my best to see that never happens because Thanksgiving has so much to contribute to our lives.   

So the question is how do we keep Thanksgiving real and prevent it from going by in a blur between November busyness and Black Friday shopping sprees.    Here are my suggestions.

  1.  Know and teach the history of our Thanksgiving Holiday.   Right now you can download a short summary from http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=118.   A longer and much more informative version is at  http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=17984.
  2.  Don’t let the busyness of the season crowd out the family dimension.   Thanksgiving is still one of the holidays of the year most associated with family togetherness.  Let’s take advantage of that by sharing activities together in addition to the meal.
  3. Decorate for Thanksgiving, not just for fall or Christmas.  Even if you are starting to put Christmas things up afterwards, let the Thanksgiving table decoration remain for a few days to remind everyone.    

We also must remember the sacred dimension of the season.  Thanksgiving requires that we humble ourselves before God and honor the bounty of his hand, both spiritual and physical.    Thanksgiving is an attitude commanded for all seasons anyway so in this season we remind ourselves of those commands and we take special care to practice them.  “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Ps. 107:1 NIV).   “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.  Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts” (Ps 105:1-2 NIV).  This leads to two more suggestions.

  1.  Attend a service at your church that is especially set aside to celebrate Thanksgiving.   Our service is tonight at 7 pm.
  2. At your Thanksgiving Table, take time to give thanks to God by sharing things you are thankful for and then having a prayer of thanksgiving.   Many families go around the table quickly before the table grace and have each one share one thing they are thankful for.

Another dimension of true thanksgiving is generosity.  If we are truly thankful to God for all that we have, we will want to share with others.  So another great part of every Thanksgiving is giving.  I wonder if Christmas would be as powerful in giving if it were not preceded by Thanksgiving.    So more suggestions come to mind.

  1. At Thanksgiving, share with someone locally who is in need.  Many local churches give baskets to those in need.  I also highly recommend the Syracuse Rescue Mission at  http://www.rmsyr.org/Home/Main_Page.htm
  2. Help someone in the third world.  We in the United States have so much that our Thanksgiving should overflow to help others in our big world who suffer.  I recommend World Hope at  https://www.worldhope.org/.