Nickels 4 Neighbors… Dollars 4 Daughters

Each week at CrossWay we have a children’s offering called Nickels 4 Neighbors.  It’s something that our conference does.  All 34 churches in the conference collect this offering each week, and every six months we give it to a ministry that benefits children.  It’s really cool to see all the kids come up each week to drop in their money.  They’re learning to give, and to give as an act of worship.  It’s also pretty neat that this offering helps other kids.

The past three weeks, Laura Marie has participated in the Nickels 4 Neighbors collection.  Since she can walk now, she’s able to come up (with some… um… direction) and drop money into the container.  It’s so cute to watch her walking up there with the other kids!

As I was reflecting on last Sunday’s worship service, a certain irony hit me.  Laura Marie came up during Nickels 4 Neighbors, carrying her dollar (apparently this offering was named before inflation), but she didn’t want to let go of it!  Here’s her daddy three minutes away from preaching about money, and she won’t let go of her dollar.

Actually, it’s a pretty good illustration of stewardship, but I didn’t think of it at the time.  She was given that money specifically for the purpose of giving it to the children’s offering, but she wanted to hold on to it.  How often do we do that with what God has entrusted to us for a specific purpose?

When I told Carolyn about all this, she told Laura Marie that she should have stayed in the service for the sermon.  Funny mommy.  That reminds me: Sunday marked a milestone for Laura Marie.  She stayed in the nursery without her mommy for the first time!  Of course, it helps that she had four other babies to play with.

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Published in: on April 29, 2010 at 9:30 am  Comments (3)  

Following God With Your Money

We wrapped up the series The Almighty’s Dollar on Sunday at CrossWay Church.  After a week about loving God with our money and another week on trusting God with our money, on Sunday we talked about following God with our money.

While we’re often surrounded by messages that tell us to indulge ourselves and live above our means, the wisdom of God tells us otherwise.  In fact, at church we looked at several verses that tell us to pay attention to ants and we can learn some biblical tips for good money management!  (See Proverbs 6:6-8; 30:25.)

We touched on three specific things we can do for financial success God’s way:

(1) Earn.  This may seem obvious, but it’s really not what we’re encouraged to do.  Rather than working and earning money, we’re constantly presented with amazing once-in-a-lifetime better-act-now get-rich-quick schemes.  If nothing else, at least buy our product for a chance to win $25,000 or a big-screen TV or a trip to paradise!  But the best plan for obtaining money (which we obviously have to do before we can manage it) is to go old school and earn it.  Instead of looking for shortcuts, let’s look down the road at the big picture.

(2) Save & Spend.  After the tithe, the next place to direct our money is savings.  It doesn’t have to be a lot.  A little bit over a long time adds up.  Personally, I’d encourage people to save for specific things rather than just have a lump savings account.  With online banking, it’s easy to have separate savings accounts for retirement, vacation, college, car repairs, etc.  Rather than waiting for that million-dollar check to drop on us from somewhere, the way to achieve our financial goals is by working toward them a little at a time.  After tithing and saving, it’s time to spend!  We’re responsible to God for 100% of our income, so we should still spend responsibly.  Pay the bills, have fun.  But be careful to live below your means.  Not within your means, which provides no margin, but below your means.  That way there’s room for financial emergencies.  Even if something dramatic happens and you have to take a pay cut, your standard of living can remain the same if you’re living below your means.

(3) Give.  This can include tithing, sure.  But it goes way beyond that.  There is tremendous joy in using our God-given resources to be a blessing to others.  Worldly “wisdom” has no room for being selfless and generous.  The closest thing it has to offer is making a tax-deductible contribution.  In other words, give so that you can keep more!  Nothing wrong with tax-deductible donations, of course, but our focus should be on giving in order to be generous and reflect the nature of God.

Earn.  Save.  Spend.  Give.  By practicing these biblical guidelines for money management, we’re not so vulnerable to the fluctuations of the economy.  Not only that, but we get to put our faith into practice by following God with our money.

Published in: on April 27, 2010 at 1:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Little Clarification

I realized I should clarify something from my earlier post about visiting Salisbury Christian School.  The reason I talked about feeling obligated to stick around during lunch was because I was aware of other things pressing on me that I needed to do, not because I didn’t want to hang out with the kid.  Just thought I should clarify that.

Published in: on April 22, 2010 at 1:55 pm  Comments (1)  

Unrecycling

Today one of the four-year-olds at the Training Station walked in and greeted me with, “Happy Earth Day!”

To use Earth Day as a teaching opportunity, one of the teachers had me and another teacher go out on the playground and throw trash all over the place.  Well, “trash” meaning plastics, paper products, and aluminum stuff.  Then she was taking her class outside to pick it all up and sort it out into bins.  Pretty creative teaching idea.

I felt like such a litterbug.  I’m something of a recycling fascist in my home.  “Carolyn, what are you doing with that half-used napkin?!?  Don’t throw it away–it’s recycling!  Don’t you care about the environment?  Think about our child’s future!”

So it felt quite unnatural to unrecycle.  Especially since a couple parents in the parking lot had to have seen me throwing trash all over the playground.  I have to admit, however, that there was something defiantly satisfying about it.

Published in: on April 22, 2010 at 1:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

Right Where He Wants Me

You ever have those days where you just feel like you’re right where God wants you?  Yesterday was one of those days for me.

There was some kind of pastors deal at Salisbury Christian School.  We have two boys in our church, a fourth-grader and a second-grader, who go to SCS, and they invited me to come.

I took a wrong turn on the way and ended up getting there half an hour later than I’d planned.  But like I started out saying, I think I was right where God wanted me even as I was driving around Salisbury (on the wrong side of Rt. 50, I might add).

When I got there, I was met in the parking lot by Christi, who is one CrossWay‘s long-time members.  She works at SCS and her two sons are the ones who attend there.  She showed me to her oldest son’s classroom, where I visited for about 10 minutes.  Then she led me to her younger son’s class, where again I only had a few minutes since I’d gotten there late.

At 10:30 we headed to an all-school assembly.  Wow.  It was excellent!  The first thing I noticed was the setup in their gym.  They had turned it into a top-notch auditorium, complete with what looked like an orchestra pit!  There was a huge screen that had cool visuals on it.  I got to meet some other pastors as I sat waiting for the assembly to begin.

When it started… wow, I loved the worship time!  After an interpretive movement by some younger kids, a  youth praise band led us in a couple songs and did a great job leading us into an awareness of God’s presence.  I felt so refreshed!  They were followed by a couple songs performed by the chorus.  “Performed” isn’t even the right word, because like the praise band, they were leading us in worship.

The last part of the worship service–I’m giving up on calling it an assembly, because it was a worship service–was a very challenging message by one of Salisbury’s pastors.  Again, I was totally caught off guard.  Sorry to sound cynical, but when I heard there was going to be a speaker, I expected one of the school’s administrators to give some spiel about the value of Christian education.  Instead we were given an obviously anointed preacher who gave us the Word of God!  It totally rocked.  His message was so challenging and convicting, and I’ve already been able to incorporate his teaching into my prayer life.

It kept getting better.  One of the highlights for me, probably the highlight, was during the pastor’s message.  There were several hundred people in the room, lots of kids and lots of adults.  Seated on the floor in front of me was a large group of younger children, including the second-grader from CrossWay.  I was in the second row of chairs behind this group, so he didn’t know I was there.  When the pastor was talking, at one point he asked rhetorically, “So how do you become a Christian?”  Right in front of hundreds of people, this second-grade boy immediately shot up his hand!  He was ready to tell the whole world how to become a Christian!  It was one of those moments where my heart jumped in my chest and I said, “God, thank You for letting me be a pastor.”

(Don’t get me wrong: This boy is so wise and bold not because I’m his pastor, but because his parents are sincere and passionate in their own faith, which they have incorporated into their parenting with amazing success.  But to see him raise his hand like that, ready to tell the world how to find salvation in Christ…wow… I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.)

After the worship service I went to the cafeteria, which again really impressed me.  It was large, clean, efficient, and…well… souped up.  It made me wish I went to school there!  I sat with the fourth-grader while he ate.  He cracked me up, by the way.  All his friends were talking around him, while he just sat there eating his lunch.  At one point I said something to him about how he seemed to take his food pretty seriously, and he smiled wryly and said, “Recess is for socializing.”  Kid’s got his priorities!

Having lunch with him was one reason I’m glad I got there late.  If I’d arrived on time, I would have left after the worship service.  Instead, I felt obligated to stick around.  I know the word “obligated” doesn’t sound pretty, but that’s how I felt.  You know what, though?  It taught me something.  There are times I do something begrudgingly, out of obligation, and it turns out to be a huge blessing.  I’m so glad I shared lunch with that fourth-grader.  It was very much a blessing, a blessing  that I wouldn’t trade for anything else I could’ve done during that time.  There are incredible blessings that God has for us in the things that we initially do out of obligation.

My day still was not done.  As I was leaving, I went to sign out.  But there was a dude leaning over the signout sheet, talking to someone in the office. I almost just left, figuring it didn’t really matter if I signed out, and I didn’t want to interrupt the guy’s conversation over it.  Kinda awkward, you know?  I turned to go, but then felt like I should just say a loud, “Excuse me” and sign out.

So I did.  And I made a friend.  Half an hour later we were praying for each other out in the parking lot.  Turns out this guy knows everyone I know.  We had a great talk and then prayed.  As he prayed for God to pour out His blessings on CrossWay, it started raining.  It was a very encouraging conversation and a new friend made, and I would have missed both if I had not been late and if I had not stuck around for lunch.

I’m trying to do a better job of being in tune with the Holy Spirit, going where He wants me to go and doing what He wants me to do.  (Interestingly, that was a big part of what the pastor preached about at the school.)  When I listen to God’s quiet nudges, it can make a big loud difference!

Published in: on April 22, 2010 at 11:51 am  Comments (2)  

Give Cheerfully? Freal?

In response to the recent post Trusting God With Our Money, Katie left the comment below:

I’m hearing ya on #1 & #2 but to be transparent it is sometimes hard to be cheerful about it. I am happy to be giving back to God what is his. I’ve been sitting here looking at the word cheerful and trying to think if that’s how I am feeling. Maybe I need to be praying about that cheerful thing :)

This seemed like it was postworthy, rather than just responding in the Comments section.

Katie, thanks for your honesty!  I totally hear ya on that one.  It’s definitely not natural or easy to give cheerfully, so I don’t have any quick or easy answers for you. I’ve been there myself… and often return there.

But I can tell you how it works for me.  Whenever I give my tithe, I remind myself that it represents just a fraction of what God has provided for me.  I also remind myself that God is going to use the money to do the things that are important to Him.  Finally, I’m convinced that God can do a whole lot more good with the money than I ever could!  It’s also helpful to keep in mind that money we give to God’s church and ministries has eternal value.

When I give money that’s not my tithe, it helps me to be cheerful about it by thinking about what it will mean to whoever it is I’m giving it to.  If it’s someone who’s struggling financially, it will remind them that God provides for them.  If it’s just a gift for someone to enjoy, it’s helpful to keep in mind what a blessing it’s been when I’ve been on the receiving end, and knowing that the other person/people will get to have the same enjoyment.

One more thing: for me, part of the joy of giving, part of what helps me to be cheerful about it, is knowing that giving regularly brings freedom.  I don’t have to worry about money and I don’t have to be enslaved to it, because when I give regularly, the chains of materialism and greed can’t keep their hold on me.  I enjoy that freedom!  I also enjoy knowing that I’m entering into one of God’s promises, that when I trust Him, He’ll take care of the details and He’ll provide for me.

Hopefully that doesn’t sound like a bunch of Christianese, because it’s not.  It’s personal experience.  Like I said, it doesn’t come naturally or easily, but it’s a work of the heart that God is eager to do.

By the way, Katie, on a personal note: I’ve often seen you give cheerfully!  When you’ve made food for small group, had people over to eat and shoot skeet, or more recently, when you took pictures of Laura Marie for us, you’ve seemed pretty cheerful about it!  It’s not just forking over the green that counts as giving.  All these other things are ways of giving.  So don’t be too hard on yourself. 🙂

Published in: on April 22, 2010 at 10:04 am  Comments (2)  

Trusting God With Our Money

On Sunday at CrossWay Church we talked about trusting God with our money.  It was the second week in our three-week series “The Almighty’s Dollar.”

The words “trust” and “faith” are very closely related.  To have faith in God is to trust Him: to trust Him with our souls, our families, our health… and our money.  The Bible has a lot to say about how we can exercise our faith in God by what we do with our money.  Money is very much a spiritual issue.

We discussed three ways of trusting God with our money:

(1) Give first.  Rather than paying off all the bills and seeing if there is enough money left over to give to support the church, other ministries, and people with financial needs, the Bible instructs us to give first (see Exodus 23:19).  Giving first shows that we trust God with the rest.  The Scriptures teach that we should give at least 10% of our income to the church–the Bible word for this is “tithe.”  Just as Jesus took one kid’s lunch and multiplied it to feed thousands of families (see John 6:1-13), so He can take our 90% after the tithe and do more with it than we could do with 100%.

(2) Give sacrificially.  This means giving to the point that we can feel it.  It means that our giving really costs us something.  This is very different from giving a little out of our extra.  Jesus teaches about this, among other places, in Luke 21:1-4.

(3) Give cheerfully and generously.  God loves a cheerful giver!  Some people give out of guilt, but God says not to do that.  Instead, we should give joyfully, as an act of worship and gratitude.  The more generously we sow, the more generously we reap.  (See 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 for a passage about this that is so simple yet so profound that we would do well to order our lives around it.)

By giving first, giving sacrificially, and giving cheerfully and generously, we actively trust God.  We show that our faith in God is not just something we talk about, but how we actually live.

Next week: Following God with our money.

Published in: on April 20, 2010 at 9:41 am  Comments (1)  

ACC Spring Assembly

On Saturday at CrossWay we had the opportunity to host our conference‘s spring assembly.  We had about 80 people representing 34 Mennonite churches, mostly from Pennsylvania but also New York, Delaware, Maryland, and probably some others.

They asked our praise band to lead the music.  That was the first time we had led music anywhere other than our worship services.  It was neat getting to worship with a different group of Christians!

One of the highlights for me was the message brought by Dr. Ervin Stutzman, who is the executive director of Mennonite Church USA.  I really enjoyed a class I took a year or so ago that he taught, so I’d been looking forward to this.  He talked about how the missional church is about loving God and loving people, which is also our motto here at CrossWay.  We recorded his message, so it should be up on the podcast soon.

Another highlight was hearing Josh Engle, our worship pastor, sharing a “God At Work” story during the conference.  He talked about what God is doing in our music ministry.  He did an excellent job, and with only about 10 minutes notice!

During lunch I went to Panera Bread with Josh, Keith Wilson (the administrative assistant at ACC), and Harry Jarrett (pastor of Neffsville Mennonite Church).  I loved having that time to get to know each other, compare notes, and learn from each other.

In the afternoon we had a great time of reading, reflecting on, and discussing Acts 9:10-19.  We spent quite awhile reading it together–three times–then discussing it around our tables, followed by a conversation with the whole assembly.  It was really cool!  I’d love to be a part of that kind of thing much more often.

As much as I enjoyed all those things, perhaps the highlight for me was the way our crew at CrossWay came together to pull off hosting the event.  Our numbers were small, but as Josh said, you wouldn’t know it.  The place was set up so nice for the gathering, there was a ton of food, the whole music team participated, and we had folks who spent Friday night setting up, Saturday serving, and Saturday evening getting everything cleaned up and ready for Sunday.  It was definitely one of my most satisfying experiences as a pastor at CrossWay.

Published in: on April 19, 2010 at 11:11 am  Leave a Comment  

Recycling

The other day I was recycling in Ocean Pines and the bin for tin cans was half-filled by air ducts.  I guess someone was replacing their duct work and decided to go green.

Speaking of recycling, only one time in the last six years have I seen anyone at the Ocean Pines recycling center that appeared to be about my age or younger.  Usually it’s the older folks recycling.  What’s up with that?  Certainly dispels any preconceived notions about the younger generations being more environmentally conscious.

Published in: on April 15, 2010 at 6:10 am  Leave a Comment  

Jesus’ Jamaica Project

Today during the Bible story at the Training Station Preschool, Ms. Grace was telling the kids how Jesus taught His disciples that He was going away to prepare a place for them.

When she asked if any of the kids knew where that place was, one little guy who’s three or four said, “Jamaica!”

Published in: on April 14, 2010 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment