Everybody Always: Immigrants

Today we welcomed Karla Marquez for an interview with Pete. She has done extensive work with undocumented immigrants in Napa, and shared some of what they are going through. Her experience helps us better understand what this segment of our population faces as our US immigration policies have shifted over the years.

Everybody Always: Liberty and Justice for All?

What do you recall being the primary reasons motivating the United State’s Declaration of Independence?  These were deep political issues of the day that moved the leaders of our colonies to put their lives on the line for what they deemed a better future.

What do you imagine will be among the most important issues debated in the 2020 Presidential Election?  If you were running for president, how would you land on the key issues?  What is the reasoning behind your position?

My stomach turned as I watched a high profile pastor tell his congregation who to vote for in 2012, especially since I knew that a number of years before he would have singled that same candidate out as apostate, who could not be trusted given the faith tradition of which he was a significant leader.  Other churches have invited politicians onto their stages to promote their flavor of partisan politics – both on the red and blue side of the aisle.  I gladly join the chorus who want politics out of the church.  In an eye-opening book entitled To Change the World, author James Hunter notes that religious groups have become the useful idiots of political parties: Evangelicals in service of the Republican party, and more progressive churches for Democrats.  Recent polls regarding support of President Trump and Republicans in general certainly affirm his assertions.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could just stick to the Gospel like Jesus did?

In Luke’s remembrance, Jesus taught from the Prophet Isaiah to set the tone for his forthcoming ministry:

Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
     When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:
     “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
     for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
     He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
     that the blind will see,
     that the oppressed will be set free,
     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
     He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”
     Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. “How can this be?” they asked. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” – Luke 4:14-22 NLT

In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry, we read the following:

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. – Matthew 4:23

And then a little later, basically the same thing:

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. – Matthew 9:35

But then, at some point, John the Baptist – the guy who baptized Jesus and told everybody he was the guy to follow, began to wonder if he made the right choice, as the following verses display:

     When Jesus had finished giving these instructions to his twelve disciples, he went out to teach and preach in towns throughout the region.
     John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”
     Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” And he added, “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.” – Matthew 11:1-6 NLT

What would prompt one like John the Baptist to question Jesus’ role?  In a word, politics.  What Jesus was doing and saying conflicted with John’s way of seeing the world politically.  In fact, he probably thought Jesus was way too political, period.  If we walked in his shoes, we probably would, too.

When we hear words like Gospel, Good News, and Evangelism, we might naturally think first of Jesus and the movement he started.  In fact, however, he was stealing terms that already flooded the market.  There was another group that used these same words when they rolled into town: the Roman Empire.  What was their Gospel (which means Good News)?  The Pax Romana.  Want peace and prosperity? Put your trust in the Empire and in its Emperor (who liked to be called Lord and God). When Jesus’ audience heard him use phrases which included “Good News”, they immediately knew he was challenging Rome.  Not only that, when he was calling himself the one anointed by God to bring the Good News, he was essentially calling the Emperor himself a fraud.  When he invited people to follow him, he was in effect guilty of insurrection.

What would it look like if Jesus was engaged in his ministry years today, in Napa, CA?  You might hear him say something like this:

     I have been anointed to Make America Great Again!  The Kingdom of God is here to bring liberty and justice for all.

Anyone who heard what he said would immediately recognize that he was challenging President Trump, and the United States of America.  Any fans of President Trump and the United States would be immediately on edge, because Jesus’ words were unequivocally politically challenging and unsettling.  If Jesus then went on to heal people – making it obvious that God was working in him – it made his threat legitimate.

But the Roman Empire and her emperor were not the only powerful presence to be challenged in word and deed.  In what is considered his great sermon – the Sermon on the Mount – Jesus said some challenging things that don’t ping our radar: But I warn you – unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven! (Matthew 5:20 NLT). And then he went on, using the phrase in different ways, “You have heard it said, but I say…”  Do you know what Jesus was doing here?  He was saying that he had a new interpretation of the faith.  Do you know where he was saying this?  In Galilee.  Do you know who was ultimately in charge of interpreting the faith for Jewish people everywhere?  The High Priest and his “court”. Do you know where they resided?  Jerusalem.  With his words, Jesus was directly challenging the authority of another political group: the Jewish leadership, who were given authority by the Romans over the people of Israel to carry out the religion and keep people in line.  They even had their own courts and military-type presence. 

Think about how it would fly if a catholic priest began gaining notoriety as a teacher, and then began boldly saying, I know the Pope said women couldn’t be priests, but I’m here to tell you God thinks it is fine.  So is marriage for clergy.  God has anointed me to tell you this.  You might think he was nuts, of course, but then what if he follows his words with miracles – pulling off healing that only the Spirit of God could bring about.  Now he has your attention.  Returning to Jesus’ ministry, what if you were in love with the Temple and its traditional way of thinking and being?  You would feel challenged, and maybe even threatened by Jesus’ politics.  And the fact that God was obviously with him only made his presence even more troubling.

Political powers eventually killed Jesus.  They saw Jesus as a threat, and they took care of business. If only Jesus hadn’t been so political…  Why did he touch that third rail?  Didn’t his mom and dad teach him never to talk about politics or religion? Or was Jesus’ death the cautionary tale that gave rise to the social-setting advice?

Jesus wasn’t trying to play politics.  He wouldn’t sink that low.  While he surely used words in his teachings that were provocative, he wasn’t interested in playing on the field of the Roman Empire or even the Temple.  He had a higher source that guided his steps, what he called the Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of Heaven).  Whenever he spoke of it, he was referring to what things were really like in God’s mind – what really mattered, what values were most important, etc.  In one passage he said, “I only do what I see my Father doing” (John5:19). If he were here in the flesh among us today, he would be the same.  At times both political parties would cheer him on, until he pointed out the corruption in both.  He would not endorse a candidate either, because his allegiance is to something and someone much more important than the President of the United States, the Pope, the American Flag or the Christian flag.  It is the Kingdom of God that drives him, and always will, which at times will lead to new interpretations of long-held, time-honored traditions, and including people who once were excluded.  The Spirit of God flows from the Kingdom of God.  Jesus didn’t worry a lot about Rome or Jerusalem because neither were his home or goal.  He really did march to the beat of a different drummer, playing a totally different rhythm that Rome and Jerusalem couldn’t pick up.

This, my friends, has implications for any of us who dare call ourselves followers of Jesus.

The first implication has to do with our primary allegiance.  The Temple fell at the hands of the Roman Empire in 70 C.E.  Eventually the Roman Empire fell, too.  We don’t have those two powers in our face these days.  But we do have our country, the United States, and we do have the Christian religion.  Both are modern day empires in their own rite, wielding power for good and ill all over the world.  Do you love your country?  Do you love your religion?  I bet you do if you’re reading this.  Do you love the Way of Jesus?  Which is primary for you?  One quick way you can know is whether you’ve seriously asked yourself where Jesus is at odds with your political party, faith tradition, or its leaders.  If you’ve never asked, you have, by default, made something else primary.

The second implication I want to have us consider has to do with the “So what?” factor.  Is it possible that we have been on auto pilot regarding our primary allegiances, and on what Jesus’ Way is all about?  If we have been, my call to us is to WAKE UP!  Discover what the Way of Jesus entails and follow.  This will require curiosity on our parts.  If you don’t know whether the Way of Jesus conflicts with your political views or religious views, this simply means you are asleep at the wheel.  So, again, WAKE UP!  Jesus didn’t do everything he did so we could nap our lives away – he did it all so that we would experience the transformation that the Spirit of God brings to our lives, and that we would get further transformed by helping others experience restoration individually and collectively.

You probably know your party’s and religion’s position on a range of issues.  What does your thoughtful, prayerful study of Jesus’ Way lead you to believe would be the Kingdom of God position on the critical issues of our day, which may or may not include the key election issues undergoing debate?  Surely the following would be on the list (and I encourage you to add more):

·       Immigration of refugees, asylum seekers, and hopeful workers.

·       Nationalism, capitalism, globalism, and the US’ role in each.

·       Climate change.

·       Military: defense spending and our international involvement.

·       Denuclearization of North Korea and Iran

·       Gun control and violence.

·       Equality and equity for all people regardless of race, gender, and sexual orientation.

·       Income inequality and disparity.

·       Healthcare.

·       Foreign influence regarding US intelligence and elections.

·       Transparency and freedom of the press.

·       Character and demeanor of our highest elected officials.

·       Taxation: who gets breaks and for what purpose?

When we begin to discover where Jesus departs from our chosen political and religious leanings, it is at that point that we have a choice to make about who and what claims our highest allegiance.  And once we have a picture of that – and if we choose the Way of Jesus – it will necessarily lead to appropriate attitudes and behaviors that will conflict with your religious and political parties.  Faith isn’t simply about inner peace.  Our spiritual practices are meant to renew our minds, transform our hearts, and give us vision from the heart and mind of God so that we what we do with our lives is rooted in the same way as it was for Jesus.  Discover anew the Way of Jesus.  Prayerfully process the important issues of our day.  Then, taking the lead from Jesus, do something with your new understanding.  May you be a voice, a presence, for the things that mattered to Jesus and God.  May your hands and feet go places and do things like Jesus did.  May you be known for your deep and abiding love that permeates everything you do and guides your thoughtful steps.

Everybody Always: Catch People on the Bounce

This week we tuned in to Bob Goff via video for his insights into how we become love with those a few rungs out on our sphere of influence. For your benefit, below are some quotes and “homework” we provided during our service. If you’d like to listen to what Bob Goff said, click play to the right or subscribe to our podcast.

Quotables from Bob Goff’s Video Teaching

•       Instead of telling people what they want, tell them who they are.

•       Recognize that God made people just like God made you – and God made you to know others.

•       The best way you can express your faith to people is to tell them who they are becoming.

•       God found you right where you are, and you can find other people the same way.

•       The story of the Gospel is that [in] Jesus [God] jumped out of heaven to be with us.

•       Talk about the right stuff behind people’s backs: who they’re turning into, not who they used to be.

•       Don’t let shame distance you from God, and don’t let it distance you from others.

•       Follow Jesus to people who are hurting – who have hit the ground hard – and catch them on the bounce.

Which of the above quotes is especially relevant to you today? Why?

 

 

 

What do you feel compelled to do in response to today’s teaching?


During the week…

Read the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)

There is a whole lot in this story to chew on.  The father in the story is a metaphor for God, and the two sons sure seem to reflect our human tendencies.  In a world that was hyper focused on keeping score, the father chose to focus on mercy instead.  The younger brother came to his senses, came home and received it.  The older brother never left the property yet was never really home, and never really embraced the love that the father had for him all along.  God’s love is truly unconditional and unlimited in breadth and depth.  Will we come home to receive it?

Questions to think about…

1.       In what ways can you relate to the “score keeping” nature of the older brother?

2.       In what ways has God shown you mercy like the younger son?

3.       How do you respond to the idea that God threw a party for the younger son?

4.       How does this parable challenge your vision of others?

5.       Do you think the older brother ever joined the party?  What would you do if you were in his place?

Questions for chapters four through six of Everybody, Always

1.       Does your Christian practice feel more like “faith” or compliance?

2.       Is there a relationship where you’ve let shame create a barrier between you and someone else? What would it look like to heal that divide?

3.       What does it mean to build a “kingdom” rather than a “castle” when it comes to accepting others who are different from you?

4.       What are some ways to love the difficult people in your life “thirty seconds at a time”?

5.       Why is it so important to react to those who have failed with compassion and understanding instead of disapproval or indifference?

Everybody Always: Daddy

When we come to a place where we realize that God is truly loving in the deepest possible way, it makes it a lot easier to open up to God. (Versus a fear-based religious perspective – the parable of the talents).

Jesus did a lot of his teaching using parables, short stories that carried great meaning and inherent challenges.  One of his parables has a major point that has been largely missed, perhaps especially by “can-do” Americans.  Here is the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25:14-30 (NLT):

     “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.
     “The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.
     “After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’
     “The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’
     “The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’
     “The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’
     “Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’
     “But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’
     “Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

We read this and freak out, wondering if we’re doing enough to warrant a high five from Jesus.  Freaking out, however, means we’ve already missed the point, and actually serves to make the point Jesus was making about the character and nature of God and about how God longs to interact with us.  The thrust of the story is that we, as the servants, have been entrusted and encouraged by the Master – a great honor that we miss in our fear of underperformance.  The problem with the servant who blew it was that he never really understood what had really been given him – trust and support.  Because he missed that memo, he lived his life way below his capacity. 

Bob Goff shared an interesting insight in his book: Don’t tell people what they want; tell people who they are.  He says that we are constantly told what we should want – by our parents, friends, church, employers, marketers.  But we become who we are told we are.  Jesus was doing that sort of thing with this parable, telling his followers who they are: beloved and entrusted servants who are encouraged to risk on that love and trust.  If somewhere in the recesses of your mind you are living your life and faith afraid of God’s wrath, you’ve probably missed Jesus’ memo (and the primary thrust of his life and teaching).  God is love, and God loves you.  Once we get that, it makes it a whole lot more likely to fulfill the first and greatest commandment to love God with everything we’ve got.

When we know we are inherently and unconditionally loved by the very source of life, it makes loving ourselves and feeling loved a whole lot easier.  The Apostle Paul was writing to a church that was caught up in performance and comparison, and had gotten away from the whole point about love.  His “Love Chapter” (1 Corinthians 13 - MSG) is quoted often at wedding ceremonies:

     If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
     If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.
     Love never gives up.
     Love cares more for others than for self.
     Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
     Love doesn't strut,
     Doesn't have a swelled head,
     Doesn't force itself on others,
     Isn't always "me first,"
     Doesn't fly off the handle,
     Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
     Doesn't revel when others grovel,
     Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
     Puts up with anything,
     Trusts God always,
     Always looks for the best,
     Never looks back,
     But keeps going to the end.
     Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
     When I was an infant at my mother's breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.
     We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
     But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

In my personal experience, when I am in touch with how much I am loved, I seem to be able to reflect Paul’s sentiments much more naturally than if I’m not in touch with love.  When I feel unloved – mostly because I’m not paying attention or distracted by pain – I really struggle to love myself and others as Paul describes.  Being in touch with how much we are loved is essential if we want to live into the second greatest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.  I wonder if one of the reasons we sometimes suck at loving our neighbors is because we don’t love ourselves?

Do you remember how Jesus referred to God?  He often spoke of God as his father.  But he also did an audacious thing: he called God “Daddy”.  Nobody called God that.  It was nearly heretical to use a term of such familiarity for God.  Yet Jesus did.  I think he believed it for himself, which gave him the confidence to do a lot of bold stuff – a lot of high-risk investments, reinterpretation of scriptures, and hanging out with “questionable” people.  He knew the love was there.  The love informed how he thought.  As he no doubt reflected deeply on God’s love, he surely realized that God felt this way about everybody, always, which made it so much easier to love people.  Jesus became love incarnate because he heard the words from God that he was loved.  He became love.  So can we.

I want to invite you to consider using a different name for God as you pray this week: Daddy.  Just see what happens.  Who knows, maybe using such a familiar term will help you realize how safe and loved you are, and maybe that will lead you to love yourself as you should, and maybe that will lead you to see everybody, always, as brother and sister, and maybe that will lead you to love them as your heavenly Daddy has loved you.  May it be so.

Everybody Always: Introduction

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it appears as if we live in a country that is somewhat divided.  Okay, that may be an understatement.  Upon reflection, I think our country has always been divided over one thing or another yet comes together’ish in unity – albeit brief – when we must.  Perhaps division is inevitable in such a diverse country as ours, when different people and groups broker for power in every sector. 

I love our country, but we suck at how we talk about our differences.  We have surely made progress in so many ways, but I have to think it could have been less bloody (literally in some cases) if we took a different tactic.  The different approach I think has everything to do with how we think about ourselves and everybody else.  Perhaps if we took an approach to people like that modeled by Jesus, we would see a lot more love in a world where hate seems to show up all too regularly.

Everybody Always, by Bob Goff, is all about helping us become more lovely in all we do to make the world a better place by following Jesus’ lead.  The book is filled with really great stories from Bob’s life experience and adventures, all tied together with quick wit and poignant observations.  I found myself laughing out loud, tearing up, on the edge of my seat with some stories, and even filled with righteous anger as I read through the work.  And I highlighted a lot of great insights, too, thanks to Goff’s ability to turn a phrase.

I really appreciate the gracious view of the human experience that Goff brings.  He is realistic while remaining hopeful, understanding the we are all in process.  Using this book – his 2nd or 3rd depending on your perspective – he writes about our lives: God continues to rewrite our lives the way I rewrote my book – in beautiful and unexpected ways, knowing the next version of us will usually be better than the previous one.  Here are some other notable quotes I highlighted:

Whenever I make my opinions more important than the difficult people God made, I turn wine back to water. I’m trying to resist the bait that darkness offers me every day to trade kindness for rightness.

Only Jesus has the power to change people, and it will be harder for them to see Jesus if their view of Him is blocked by our big opinions.

While we might be known for our opinions, we’ll be remembered for our love.

Love isn’t something we fall into; love is someone we become.

Burning down others’ opinions doesn’t make us right. It makes us arsonists.

If you really want one statement that gets at Goff’s goal for the living in the Way of Jesus, it might be this: God wants us to grow love in our hearts and then cultivate it by the acre in the world. We’ll become in our lives what we do with our love.  And to encourage us on our way:

Loving each other is what we were meant to do and how we were made to roll.  It’s not where we start when we begin following Jesus; it’s the beautiful path we travel the rest of our lives.  Will it be messy and ambiguous and uncomfortable when we love people the way Jesus said to love them? You bet it will. Will we be misunderstood? Constantly. But extravagant love often means coloring outside the lines and going beyond the norms. Loving the neighbors we don’t understand takes work and humility and patience and guts. It means leaving the security of our easy relationships to engage in some tremendously awkward ones.

We will be playing with the theme of this book all summer long.  On weeks when we hear from Bob Goff via video, I will give some highlights.  Some weeks I will offer a related teaching and will do my normal summary in this blog.  Some weeks we will hear from community members who have something to share with us about certain aspects of our collective “everybody” who may get overlooked.  I will hope to provide some questions to help you take the series a few steps further.  Enjoy!

Stuff that was on this week’s insert:

Quotables from Bob Goff

•       Let the people in your life know that they are not only invited but welcome.

•       You do business with buyers, but you do life with neighbors.

•       Loving your neighbors is woven into your DNA and your faith.

•       God’s message to you is that you don’t have to be afraid anymore.

•       We are given a peek at what God is doing in the world through the people around us.

•       Part of finding your joy in life is helping others find their joy.

•       God wants you to love everyone, but what you need to do is start across the street.

 

Which of the above quotes is especially relevant to you today? Why?

 

How might you get to know your least known neighbor better this week?  What questions can you ask to get to know their story?

During the week…

Matthew 18:1-5 (MSG)

At about the same time, the disciples came to Jesus asking, "Who gets the highest rank in God's kingdom?"
     For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, "I'm telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you're not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God's kingdom. What's more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it's the same as receiving me.”

There is a lot in Jesus’ statement here to chew on.  Children in antiquity were to maybe be seen, yet definitely not heard.  They did not have a voice, and their rights were limited.  They could not survive on their own – they were dependent on their caregivers.  They also had a lot to learn – and they knew it!  In addition, they had to learn to trust those looking after them, taking their advice and direction. 

Questions to think about…

1.     What else might this metaphor communicate?

2.     What aspect of being childlike in your faith comes easiest to you?

3.     What aspect of being childlike in your faith is more difficult?  Why?

4.     How does being childlike differ from our cultural view of success?

5.     How/why does welcoming a child translate into welcoming Jesus?

6.     How is all of this related to living in the Spirit of God?

Questions about loving your neighbor…

1.     Who do you know that loves their neighbor well?

2.     What barriers do you encounter when trying to love difficult people?  How might you learn from Jesus about how to deal with them?

3.     What does extravagant love look like in your life?

4.     What are some ways that you are actively loving your neighbors? How has this involved more than just speaking with them occasionally?

The Stuff of Life: Getting Real

I really don’t like talking about money.  Mostly because I know it is a sensitive subject for people to talk about.  Finances command a lot of our attention.  Money is one of the most common topics for conflict in marriages.  Then add faith into the mix, and an ugly history of the church using all sorts of measures to squeeze contributions out of their members and, well, is it any wonder I wouldn’t like talking about this?

Today I want to bring this series on The Stuff of Life together, and even add to it some other dimensions of giving – like our time and talent.  But before I do, I want to get some things off my chest and hopefully put you (and me) more at ease.  First off, I hate guilt trips, and have no desire to use guilt or shame to motivate generosity.  The Church has used shame and guilt (as well as coercion) which is just simply counter to the Way of Jesus.  Sometimes the story of the Widow’s Mite is used for this purpose.:

Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins.

Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.” – Luke 21:1-4 (NLT)

This text has been used inappropriately to make those of us who don’t follow suit all feel like selfish losers!  In truth, while the widow deserves honor for her faithfulness, Jesus was not happy about the situation.  The fact that she had to give anything at all was abhorrent to him.  Taking what little this poor woman had to help fund a Temple that at that time was being run by leadership who lived lavishly on such offerings was – and is – disgusting.  If Jesus were in charge at that moment, he would not only tell the vulnerable widow to keep her pennies but would likely pull out a few bucks of his own to give her and advise the rich bystanders to do the same.  If you are like the widow, having barely enough to get food on the table and pay for the most basic expenses – keep your money!  Let us help you if we can with our Food Pantry.  Again, I am instructing you as your Pastor: don’t go hungry because you feel obligated to contribute a few of your limited shekels to CrossWalk – keep it!

Another thing I want you to know is that I think the whole notion of a transactional faith whereby we do our part to get God to do God’s part is false.  I know this challenges part of the heart of Christian orthodoxy, but that’s okay – it needs to be challenged and updated!  The following passage has been used for such coercive thinking:

Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! – Malachi 3:10 (NLT)

Is it a good idea to support the Temple/Church?  Yes!  Is the point of this text in its full context to do your part of the transaction?  No!  The context of the text is about fostering a healthy relationship with God.  A relationship that has as its foundation a contract of sorts is doomed to be shallow and cold.  No heart, no love required.  That kind of thinking lends itself to a poor relational paradigm for faith – you will always wonder if you’ve done enough to encourage God to do enough for you in return. 

So, where does that lead us, if coercion and guilt and transactional faith are off the table?

I think the whole point of the Good News Jesus came to share was that resurrection now and post-death are a reality.  We can experience a renewed life infused and empowered and directed by the very Spirit of God that is everywhere, all the time.  This invitation to new life is all a gift of grace. All of it.  It is already at work in our lives even if we don’t know it, and it is available in much greater ways if we learn to walk in it.  When we really begin to wake up to this and embrace it, we get a new lease on life.  It is truly transformative.  So much so that Jesus said it is like being born again.  This isn’t meant to be a once-and-done type of experience, either.  I have had many, many milestone moments in my life when I’ve had my eyes opened to new insights about the Way of Jesus.  When that happens, it is a day of renewal, and yet also a deepening of my roots and convictions that this God thing is real.  Living in that Spirit of God, walking to the beat of that Drummer is the point of everything.  Both of which are sometimes very different than that of the world in which we live and the systems that formed us.  As we experience ongoing renewal we realize with greater appreciation, as Paul noted,

…that God will empower you with inner strength through God’s Spirit. Then Christ will make God’s home in your hearts as you trust in God. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep God’s love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. – Ephesians 3:16-19 (NLT)

When we are immersed in that way of life, in that growing insight, all forms of transaction and legalism simply melt away and are replaced by a living relationship with the Divine.  Our motive and logic shifts from wondering what we have to do to what we get to do, from asking what is required to how can we best express our gratitude, from a minimal, guarded offering of select parts of our lives to wondering how we might entrust all of ourselves to God and see where that might lead.  We entrust everything to God and God’s Way of being.  We hold nothing back, confident that the Way of Love works, even if it is counterintuitive.

I honestly think that the more we meditate on the love of God for us that in time our ethics will change as we are changed.  But I think we can also speed up that process by studying the life of Jesus and learning the ethic he embraced, which was, of course, motivated from the same ethos we’re growing into.  Meditating on the love of God is a choice to not meditate on other things.  People worry a lot about money.  Lower-income people, middle income people, and wealthy people all worry.  Lower-income folks worry about having enough.  Wealthy people worry about losing it.  Middle income people worry about making it to the next level.  Worry is a form of meditation.  When we focus our attention on something, that’s a form of meditation.  You may not have realized it, but you meditate a lot, don’t you?  Jesus invited his followers to meditate differently:

I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing. Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?

“Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

“And don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.

“So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.

“Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. – Luke 12:22-34 (NLT)

Trust that the Way of God works.  Trust in it.  And, very practically and in response to our holding on so tight, Jesus tells his followers to give to those in need.  We trust and we offer our whole selves to be used in response to the love of God.

So, brass tacks time: if we are in the flow, grateful for the love of God and wanting to express it tangibly through giving, what does that look like?  How much?  There is no one definitive answer that fits every situation.  You are going to have to pray and dream this up for your life.  Here are some ways that have been helpful to people in the past.  I hope they help you.

“Fair” share.  This, in my opinion, is the worst way to think about this subject for a range of reasons.  The idea here is that we take the total budget and divide it by the number of member households to determine what everyone’s fair share should be.  Some of us cannot afford the fair share – it’s not fair at all.  For some of us, the Fair Share is chump change – making that our number surely cannot adequately express generosity.  Besides, it doesn’t account for folks newer to the faith verses longer termers – maturity and generosity likely go hand in hand.  I think the only thing it might be good for is as a mere point of reference to break down a big number and help it become more relatable.

Baseball Diamond.  I learned this metaphor a few years ago.  It’s not too bad.  Think about hitting a single, double, triple, and a home run – what might that look like in terms of financial generosity?  A single is simply getting on base – you’re helping the team in the smallest way possible.  Think of this as just simply giving something.  Very helpful!  But likely not where you might like to be.  A double might be like covering our Fair Share for ourselves.  A triple might be covering Fair Share for our household.  A home run is when we think way beyond ourselves and contribute with people in mind that we don’t even know yet.  If you’re not in the game, you might consider starting with just getting on base.

Percentages.  The biblical percentage that gets tossed around a lot is 10%, which is what the word tithe literally means.  It refers to giving 10% off the top of your earnings to the Temple, which would then use those funds to serve those in need.  Later, the early church adopted the same percentage for the same purpose, except instead of the Temple, it was the community of Jesus followers.  Ten percent for most people seems like way too big a number for their budget.  Especially in the Napa area where housing costs command between 40%-50% of earnings, there isn’t a lot of margin.  I think there is genius in a bigger percentage than we would feel initially comfortable with, however.  For you, the stretch might be 5%.  Do you know what you would do if you decided to contribute that much?  You would watch your money like a hawk because you would be worried about not making it!  Do you know happens when we watch our money closely?  We are usually much better stewards.  We save more, spend less, and spend more wisely.  We feel blessed all around because we’re being smarter with our money because we sort of must.  A challenge for you might be to step up a percentage point or two.  And for some of you, 10% is a cake walk.  Maybe doubling or tripling that makes more sense?  Rick Warren, who was the founding pastor of a mega church in Orange County, had a best-selling book that made him a lot of royalties.  With his new wealth, he paid back the church his salary – for the entire duration he had been serving there!  His goal was to live on 10% and give 90% away.  Be aware that we usually think too low, not too high.  Work hard to stay focused on your ethos – your motive – and see what makes sense.

All In.  We have been focused on financial contributions, but we are not simply ATM’s for God.  While money will always fight to be priority in our culture and is very important to get in line, it’s just a part of us.  You also have time, talents, and prayer to offer.  All of them matter.  I hope you’ll pray a lot for CrossWalk.  Everybody can do that, and it makes a difference.  Some of your time and talent may be suited for some role at CrossWalk.  Very likely your time, talent and prayers can be used outside of CrossWalk to serve your neighbors in the fullest sense of the word.  Sometimes we tell ourselves that since we give time and talent, we can drop treasure off the list.  In most cases I think this is a bad idea.  Because money is such an alluring false God, giving financially is really important to keep its position in check.  And, CrossWalk needs financial support.  But the biggest reason is that when we compartmentalize our lives – allowing God access to some parts but not others – we are choosing to close off a huge part of our lives to the Spirit of God.  The hope is that as we are awakened, we will find ways to open ourselves evermore, not silo certain parts of ourselves off to God.  When we hold that piece back, we hurt ourselves, the church, and the people we are trying to serve.  Your offering matters to you!

Legacy Giving.  Not to be morbid, but we are all going to die someday.  When we do, we will truly discover that “you can’t take it with you.”  Will what you leave behind at death go toward the things you valued in life?  A tragic reality for many faithful people is that they give generously in life, but their kids never really got it for one reason or another.  The faithful folk naturally leave their estate to their kids, who are their top priority (which is wonderful).  But if the kids don’t give a rip about the faith, the faithful giving ends with you.  Why not set aside some portion of your estate to make a final or perpetual gift that embodies your values?  We’ve had this happen in different ways over the years.  Sometimes we get stock before a person dies – you get the full tax credit without taking the capital gains hit because you transfer the stock to us – win-win!  Sometimes we honor a loved one who has passed by making a significant donation toward a need in the church.  Our remodeled Kitchenette was funded in memory of Jay Corley, who founded Monticello Winery.  Our Youth Lounge and Rec Room were remodeled when a woman came into some unexpected money from an estate.  What might you consider dreaming about that could outlive you?

Consistency.  A great gift you can give to CrossWalk is to automate your giving.  I used to set this up on my bank’s side through their bill paying feature.  My bank would send checks every month.  I recently switched over to using the online Realm program we’ve been promoting.  It is really easy to set up.  I can dictate which funds I want to support, and I can use my credit card and build up points for a future vacation.  When you do this, you can rest assured that your values are taken care of – you are supporting your church even if you are not able to be here physically.  It also provides great stability for CrossWalk.  Our contributions can vary significantly month to month – automation helps the cause that helps so many!

I hope this has been helpful – I really want it to be.  Yes, CrossWalk needs support.  As the Pastor, that matters to me very personally (!) and because I am charged with keeping this place vital.  But way more than that, I hope I have helped you recognize that this is a really, really important faith issue.  This presents an opportunity to offer your whole self – and for many of us the most focused-on part – to God as an act of gratitude and faith.  May you get to that space in life where you can echo the Apostle Paul:

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength…

At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me… They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God. And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:10ff (NLT)

LGBTQ and the Church: WT*?! Why Most Churches Are NOT LGBTQ Friendly

CrossWalk is a Welcoming and Affirming church.  Recently I saw a Facebook post about a church that refused to baptize a woman unless she renounced her lesbianism and her marriage to her wife.  For the woman to get that far into engaging the church says that she felt pretty welcome, but when push came to shove, she definitely did not feel affirmed regarding her sexual orientation.  Why?  Why are most churches NOT LGBTQ friendly while others are?

Here are three reasons that I believe top the list.

Biblical Inspiration and Interpretation.  Most churches in the United States believe that the writing of the Bible was so inspired by God that it must be viewed as without error and incapable of being incorrect.  The related fancy words to look for in a church’s Belief Statement include plenary inspiration, inerrant, and infallible.  The words appear to make the Bible seem super-duper holy and final.  I do not believe that is how the Bible was viewed by the earliest rabbis (remember that Christianity comes from Jewish roots – Jesus was not a Christian, but rather a Jew).  The original handlers of the text viewed it as a living, breathing document that was meant to be wrestled with and interpreted in light of its original context as well as the context in which is was read, with all the available information from both contexts on the table to help in its interpretation.  Jesus and Paul, I am quite certain, would not sign off on the view held by the loudest churches and traditions that hold to the position formally adopted by Fundamentalist Christians in the late 1800’s (!) whereby literalism was affirmed as the only valid approach to the Bible and its interpretation.  In fact, if you did not adhere to this doctrinal position, your very Christianity was placed in doubt.  If a church hails from an Evangelical camp, this view of the Bible is baked into their cake, making it extremely challenging for them to be truly affirming of the LGBTQ community because there are a few texts – very few! – that condemn homosexuality.  For them, the original context is moot.  Their motto is: “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.”  There is another way of approaching the Bible which I believe is more faithful to the approach Jesus and the Apostle Paul took, as did the scholars before them.  See the resources below.

Denominational Constraints.  Most Evangelical traditions will not allow their churches or pastors to affirm the LGBTQ community, which in many cases means that membership is off the table, as is becoming a leader at any significant level.  Forget about marriage.  In their view, homosexuality is a sin, and therefore must be renounced as such before being truly welcomed.  Baptists comprise the largest swath of Evangelicals in the United States, but Assembly of God and most “Independent” churches are not going to be open.  Some “Mainline” denominations make room for the LGBTQ community.  United Church of Christ (UCC) are boldly open and affirming (not to be confused with the very conservative Church of Christ). United Methodists are struggling with this as you’ve seen in the news.  Some Presbyterians are cool with this.  CrossWalk is an American Baptist Church (ABC-USA) which is divided on this issue.  So long as we have a place at the table, we will remain at the table and offer our perspective and encouragement to become increasingly inclusive.  Heads up on this: the constraints are real. Because CrossWalk’s tribe does not dictate what we do locally, we can do whatever we please.  Other traditions are not in the same boat, and their LGBTQ-affirming pastors are caught in a very tough spot.  Another heads up: nearly all churches that are attractional (often large with really impressive production value in their services – great band, staging, multimedia) are Evangelical and therefore not LGBTQ affirming.  Catholics as a whole are not affirming of LGBTQ or gender equality.

Homophobia.  Let’s not underestimate prejudice.  What we don’t know or understand scares us.  That’s operating here.  I do have a few friends who hold to their Evangelical position who I believe are not homophobic.  But most of my Evangelical friends have not spent much time getting to the know people behind the label.  The Bible, in their view, supports their prejudice and the discrimination it fosters and therefore justifies their attitudes and behaviors that hurt so many.  It sucks.

To the LGBTQ community at large: I am so sorry if you have been hurt by the church in some way.  It is almost certain that you have on some level.  This does not reflect the heart of Jesus who was a rebellious reformer in his day (which got him killed).  Coming to new ways of thinking – changing our paradigms – is a very difficult process.  Throw deeply-entrenched faith perspectives into the mix and it only gets harder.  I know – I shifted.  There was a time when I did not approach the Bible in the same way I do now.  Expect the process to be clunky at best.

In spite of the hatred (which is real), know that there is cause for hope.  We live in a time when the conversation can be had in the daylight, and the law of the land allows for marriage!  What a time to be alive!  And there are churches right here in Napa that will truly welcome you and affirm who you are as created in the image of God.  CrossWalk is one of them, and I am proud to be her pastor.

Resources:

Making Sense of the Bible by Adam Hamilton

How the Bible Actually Works by Pete Enns

Jesus and Homosexuality, a teaching by Pete Shaw at CrossWalk