G is for Generous

There are many words in the Christian faith that begin with the letter G — Genesis, grace, Goliath, and God just to name a few.  These are important words to the life of faith.  However, it is also important to be generous.

I love spending time with generous people. There is something magical about being with someone whose energy elevates my own and who inspires me by their giving.  As much as I try to be generous with my time, talents and treasures I know that I fall short of where I want to be.

While it is typically the high-profile people who are recognized for their generosity, anyone can become more generous by thinking about eight simple actions.

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F is for Forgiveness

Forgiveness is something we desperately need in our lives.  By nature we tend to hurt each other and our selves by the decisions that we make.  We are at the same time both saints and sinners.  To understand what we are doing and why is important to be able to connect with one another and with God.

Author Phillip Yancey writes in his book What’s So Amazing about Grace a story about a prostitute who went to a counselor for help. The counselor and the prostitute talk about her needs and then the counselor asked if she had ever thought of going to a church for help. The counselor said “I will never forget the look of pure, naive shock that crossed her face. ‘Church!’ she cried. ‘Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself.  They’d just make me feel worse!'”

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E is for Evangelical

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with about 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. (via elca.org)

I sometimes question what the word “evangelical” means in the ELCA.  Quite often when the word evangelical is used many picture a crazy man on a street corner screaming Bible verses at people.  Another image that is used is a number of older members of a congregation that call themselves an evangelism committee.  These committee’s typically sit around complaining about why there is not enough people in church instead of ideas of how to spread God’s word to the world.

So what does it mean to be evangelical?

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D is for Devotions

To have a devotional life means that you are talking with God and growing in closer relationship with God.  I love prayer and I pray all the time!  However, to have some time each and every day — to put aside whatever is going on in my life and to read scripture, pray, journal and reflect on my faith is powerful.

God constantly comes to us in different ways.  I liken this back to when Peter tries to walk on water to Jesus, he got out of the boat and took a few steps but he was afraid.  Instead of letting Peter drown Jesus reaches out to Peter and pulls him back on to the boat to safety.  In the same way, like any relationship I think Jesus also wants us to come to Him.  Routine is good, it helps us stay consistent but I think the best way to have a deep devotional life we need to have an authentic experience.

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C is for catholic church

One of the questions I am asked all the time is about the phrase “catholic Church.”  This phrase is found in the Creeds of the church.  Many churches throughout the world including the Lutheran Church ascribes to three different creeds, The Apostle’s Creed the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed.  The Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed are used quite often in the church, while the Athanasian Creed may be used on Trinity Sunday (the Sunday after Pentecost Sunday) but rarely any other time.

The Apostles Creed is used the most throughout the year. It was first introduced into the church around the eighth century.  This creed does not come from the apostles of Jesus, but it does keep in line with the teachings from the New Testament.  It describes a faith in which we are all baptized into and therefore is used as the statement of faith by the gathered assembly at a baptism.  It is the creed that is used when there is not a festival of the church happening.

The Nicene Creed was first adopted by church leaders in 325 at the First Council of Nicaea.  This creed that is used by most Christian Churches around the world. Historically it has been used when we celebrate festival Sundays.

Finally there is the Athanasian Creed.  This creed takes its name from Athanasius, the great theologian of the fourth century who defended Trinitarian teaching. This creed is not commonly used in churches.  It is a historical creed that many study and we as a church ascribe to it but we do not use it very much, if at all in worship.

Within the text of the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene creed is a line that talks about the the ‘catholic Church’ which simply refers to the universal Church of believers. The way I like to explain it is that when we pray in the creeds about the “catholic Church” we are praying about the “little c” Church not the “big C” Church.

The word Creed is from the Latin [credo] meaning “I believe”, so the creeds are a statement of Christian beliefs. Some people have the mistaken idea that the word ‘catholic’ belongs to the Roman Catholic Church.

For a long time in our history there was one church that was recognized as the church which everyone belonged.  It was the universal church the Catholic Church.  However, over time there were a number of people who started to protest the way the Catholic Church carried out the practices of the church which began the Reformation.

Today the landscape of religion and the church looks very different.  There are many denominations and faith practices and so we can no longer say that the Catholic Church is the only church in town.  Instead we can say that there is only the universal church, not a Roman Catholic Church and a Protestant Church, but one Holy Universal Church.

The true church of God is the universal church, where we all belong and are members no matter what label we try and put upon it.  There are many, many churches living out what they feel God is calling them to in this world.  We don’t always get along, and there are arguments between the churches and there are arguments between the churches and those who don’t believe in God.

There are also many people (like myself) who spend their lives trying to proclaim the Gospel of love, grace and forgiveness from God to the world.  This message is from the church universal.

We could say:

I believe in the Holy Spirit, The Holy Universal Church, The communion of saints…..

Which would help those who are not as familiar with the language of the church not to be as confused.  However, if we are using a creed prayer in church we are praying with brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world. It is one of the few things in worship which we can agree on and use together across church boarders.

B is for Beatitudes

The Beatitudes are central to my faith as a Christian.  They can be found in two Gospels  Matthew 5:3–12 and  Luke 6:20–22.

Here is the version from Matthew:

 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Here is the version from Luke

‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.

‘Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.

I love the beatitudes because they remind me over and over again that we live in an upside down world.  Over and over again we are told that we have to be pretty, strong, smart, successful, rich, funny, and good looking.  If you are not these things, some people will tell you that God is punishing you!!  Let me be clear, that is not true.  What the beatitudes tell us, what God tells us is that we are perfect just the way we are.  Sure, we should read books to be more educated, we should work out to be healthy, we should save more money than we spend so we can live a comfortable life.  However, if we don’t that does not mean God loves us any less.

In fact, what Jesus is doing in both Matthew and Luke is blessing people.  All kinds of people.  Jesus does not say “all the rich people come over here, where are all the good looking people at?”  In fact not only is Jesus calling out to everyone, but he points out that those who are down-and-out, extremely vulnerable, and at the bottom of the ladder people should be at the front of the line.

Why?

Because God ALWAYS shows us where we least expect to see God, even in blessings.  God is with the poor, the sad, the meek, and the peacemakers.  This is not where citizens of the ancient world look for God and, quite frankly, it’s not where we first look either. If God shows up here, with the weak and the vulnerable, then God will be everywhere.

I don’t believe we always hear this message.  In fact, I don’t believe we always feel blessed by God when we feel weak and vulnerable   These are the times that we feel God is furthest away.  I want you to know right here and right now…….God loves and adores you, God wants the very best for you, not only is God with you when you feel hurt, lost abandoned or poor, but those are the times God is closest to you.

As you read the words of the Beatitudes also hear the words of blessing.  Whenever you feel down and out and in need of prayer, remember these words:

The Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make his face shine on you,

and be gracious to you;

the Lord turn his face towards you

and give you peace;

and the blessing of God almighty,

the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

be among you and remain with you always. Amen.