Potlatch Giving

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A potlatch was one of the most significant ceremonial events practiced by the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast in North America. Potlaches helped unite villages and were held for important occasions such as, births, weddings, funerals, house building, and the raising of a totem pole. The festivity was marked by music, dance, theatrics, and spiritual ceremonies. The word potlatch means “give away.” The host’s purpose was to establish his status in society and during the celebration the host gave away much of his wealth. In this culture the status of a family was raised not only by his resources but also by how much of his resources he distributes. The host demonstrated his wealth and prominences by giving his resources away.

Sounds pretty generous, doesn’t it! But what about the motivation? The more lavish the potlatch, the more prestigious the host became. Prestige was the motivating factor.

How generous are we in giving our resources for the purposes of Christ? What is our motivation for giving? Do we give so that others will notice? In his book Cultivating Fruitfulness, Robert Schnase describes extravagant generosity as “the practices of sharing and giving that exceed all expectations and extend to unexpected measures.” He goes on to share that fruitful congregations thrive because of “extraordinary sharing, willing sacrifice, and joyous giving out of love for God and neighbor.” As Christians, our motivation for giving should be to obey and please God.

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 2 Corinthians 9:6

Early Christians practiced extravagant generosity by selling their possessions and giving to the widows, orphans, sick, and poor. How would “sowing generously” affect us today? How would our communities look if we practiced this kind of giving? If all Christians practiced extravagant generosity, could we eliminate hunger and homeless? How much mission work could be accomplished?

If members of historically Christian churches in the United States had raised their giving to the Old Testament’s minimum standard of giving (10% of income) in 2000, an additional $139,000,000,000 a year would become available assist in Christian based mission work (Generous Giving, Inc. Statistics, 2004).

Christians could change the world by practicing generous giving and by heeding the advice in 1 Timothy 6:18-19,

Tell those rich in this world's wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they'll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life. (The Message)

Risk Taking

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What is the riskiest thing you’ve ever done? I don’t consider myself much of a risk taker, but I have taken a few risks over the years. I have ridden in a high powered speed boat in New Zealand with a professional driver going over 100 miles per hour though. Some (my mother, specifically) might have thought it risky to fly with my dad when he was getting his pilot’s license years ago. Oh, and when I was in Russia (back when it was still behind the Iron Curtain), I stepped off the sidewalk to take a picture of a Russian woman laboring with a shovel. A total violation of KGB laws! That was pretty risky! Most people don’t think it risky to climb to the top of the Statue of Liberty, but I was five months pregnant and became claustrophobic and acrophobic (fear of heights) the last time I made the trek. The people with me were probably most at risk!

Richard Schnase, in his book Cultivating Fruitfulness, says risk taking pushes us out of our comfort zone, stretching us beyond situations and people that we already know. He further defines risk-taking mission and service as the efforts to alleviate suffering and injustice in the name of Christ. It involves serving others that we would never ordinarily encounter.

Why is it that many of us are willing to take risks for our own enjoyment, but are much more reluctant to take risks to alleviate suffering and injustice to those out of our social circle?

What are risk taking mission and service opportunities? For some, it may be risky serving Christ in an inner city ministry. For others, it may be a risk working with patients at a mental health institution or in a prison ministry. For some, a foreign mission trip would be an uncomfortable stretch, while for others, a ministry in the Appalachian Mountains would be a risky effort.

Jesus said, “Come learn from me” (Matthew 11:29). We learn that Jesus is the ultimate role model for risk taking mission and service. He stood up to the powerful Pharisees. He was accused of being a friend of sinners and tax collectors. He touched a man with leprosy and he healed on the Sabbath. And when Jesus healed the man with demons, the people of the region asked him to leave because they were overcome with fear.

The disciples were fearful too when Jesus walked across the water in the middle of a storm. When Jesus called to Peter, the disciple had a choice – to avoid a risk or to take a risk. Peter stepped out of the boat in faith and walked on the water.

We have the same choice. We can be a risk taker or a risk avoider. We can step out in faith to share the gospel with those we don’t normally encounter. We can stay in the calm waters of familiarity or we can step out in faith to those in the storm. Let’s remember that when Peter stepped out of the boat, Jesus was already in the storm. He’ll be in the storm with us too if we dare to experience risk taking service and mission.

Are you a risk taker or risk avoider?

To Faith

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What does it mean to have Christian faith? Faith is not just a single act of belief. It is not just a belief in a doctrine. It is an ongoing commitment to Jesus Christ. Dr. James Fowler, the foremost researcher on faith development, refers to faith as a verb. He says “to faith” involves continual growth and nurture from less to more mature stages. He states that a person comes to faith through community. In other words, a person’s faith is shaped by his own experiences and the influence of his family and faith community.

Let’s look at these influencers of faith.
Family Influence -
In the 1990s the Search Institute study titled Effective Christian Education surveyed over 11,000 people in 561 congregations. Researchers discovered several key factors that promote faith. The first is family religiousness. Families who participate in devotions together, parents who talk about their faith to their children, and the families who do service projects together have the greatest impact on a person’s faith.

Faith Community Influence -
The study also examined congregational factors that promote faith growth and maturity and discovered that Christian education is the most vital factor. Christian education is defined as the programs of study outside of worship services, such as Bible studies, Sunday School, and small groups, that help us grow our faith. In fact, the study showed that Christian education has twice the impact on faith growth of all other areas of congregational life. This influence began in the first Christian church established at Pentecost. “They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42

Personal Experience -
Much of my own faith growth has come through trials and tribulations, or what the Bible refers to as "the testing of our faith" ( 1 Peter 1:7 and James 1:3). While coping with cancer, divorce, and deaths, I struggled with the direction my life was going. I questioned God and tried to make meaning of suffering and pain. However, I clung to the belief that God is faithful and called on him for peace. He gave me a strength and courage I could never have imagined. During those dark times, I turned to the firm foundation I had been given through my family and faith communities.

I’ve learned that faith growth can be both intentional and unintentional.

We can be intentional in our families as we encourage faith development. We can choose to have family devotions, participate in service projects, and discuss our faith.

We can be intentional in our involvement in the community of faith. We can participate in Bible studies and small groups in order to learn about our faith. This is what Rev. Mark calls learning the orthodoxy, or “right beliefs” of our faith. We can reach out in orthopraxy, or “right practice” by sharing our faith and giving sacrificially of our resources.

If we are diligent with our intentional faith development, then when the trials and tribulations come, however unintentional they may be, we will have that strong foundation to see us through. We will be armed with the influence of our family and faith community so that we can face the storms.

As we mature in faith we move beyond a belief about God toward deep abiding in God. We move from studying the orthodoxy, “right practice” to orthopraxy, “right practice.” We become not only “hearers of the Word” but “doers of the Word.”

Here’s “to faith!”

Passionate and Personal Worship

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

For the six years my son attended McCallie school I read the marker at their entrance each time I drove onto campus: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Our primary aim in life is to glorify God in everything we do and say and think and to enjoy our relationship with God forever. Isn’t that a wonderful way to view worship! Glorifying and enjoying God!

Warren Wiersbe offers this definition of worship, “Worship is the believer’s response of all that he is—mind, emotions, will, and body—to all that God is and says and does.” The Greek word for worship is proskuneo meaning to fall down and adore. It is used over 60 times in the New Testament to show acts of total reverence to God. Proskuneo is what Jesus describes in John 4:23-24: “…the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth.” God wants us to worship him from the inside out. He wants us to be consumed with him, to be on fire for him.

While I have attended worship services since I was two weeks old, I don’t think I really appreciated the full scope of worship until my faith was tested. You see, it seemed quite natural to go to church to worship God, but I learned through my darkest trials how to worship God with full surrender and in an intimate and personal way.

One of the darkest periods was in 1997. After a bout with cancer and painful divorce, I was moving forward with my life and began building a house. My brother Chuck had been so faithful to me during my crises. He was always ready to offer comforting words, financial help and plenty of construction advice, as well as hard labor on my house. He owned an air conditioning company and was installing my unit on that sweltering summer day. Using faulty electric equipment and sweating profusely, my dear brother was electrocuted. This was the most horrifying, tragic event that had ever affected my family. We struggled with our loss and questioned God for taking such a dynamic man, a husband and father of two children at an early age, 41. Under girded by the love and support of hundreds of friends, our family drew on our faith and our tight bonds to see us through.

Through these crises my spirit was crushed. I had to “work out my faith with fear and trembling” as Paul describes in Philippians. I seemed to have lost the joy of my salvation. It was during this valley that I learned to worship God despite my circumstance. God was present in all my circumstances offering love and hope and drawing me to him. Richard Foster says, “Worship is our response to the overtures of love from the heart of the Father.” As I chose to move forward in trust and acceptance of an all-knowing, loving God, I became a real worshipper. I discovered that to worship God is to glorify him and enjoy him forever. I could claim Psalm 61:11, “In Thy presence, is fullness of joy…” Real worship of a very real God brings real joy.

The best way for me to demonstrate my worship is by living fully for God. One of the ways I worship God is through pouring out heart to God in prayer. I’ve found the ACTS model to be an effective way to express my worship.
A – Adoration –I begin by acknowledging and praising God. I call out names of adulation and love. “All-knowing, all-powerful God, you are the Good Shepherd, King of Kings, Holy One, Lord of Lords, Creator. You are my God.” Beginning prayer with adoration brings such joy to me and such honor to our Heavenly Father.
C – Confession –After praising God, I focus on my iniquities and frailties. I confess my sins and ask him to make me aware of unacknowledged sins. Then I ask forgiveness.
T – Thanksgiving – Jesus willingly gave his life as payment for my sin. Now it’s time to thank him for the many blessings of life, such as, family, friends, health, job, salvation, and church. A thankful heart transforms me and changes my attitude, as I face the challenges of the day.
S – Supplication – After thanking God for my blessings, I then pray for the needs of my inner world and outer world.

Worship is giving all of me to all of God in pure adoration.

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