Whose end of the year review do you most enjoy? Every newspaper, many magazines, and most television news and commentary shows have a list of top stories for 2014. Some are narrowly defined to a particular segment: Best movies, people we have lost, top inventions, …
And as people of God we should also spend some time reviewing the previous year, not merely recounting what we did as in a congregation’s annual report, but considering where and how was God in all this?
We have seen the hand of God at work in medical breakthroughs (no one died of Ebola in these United States and researchers are zeroing in on a vaccine), at work in furthering peace and prosperity (the price of oil dropped helping many family budgets and drying up funds for terrorists), at work in our community (employment numbers have risen for 6 consecutive years and new stores are opening), and …
Many people will also set up new year resolutions: eat more vegetables and fewer sweets, exercise at least 30 minutes everyday, spend a few minutes reading the Bible or a book of devotions, and …
As people of God we should also declare a few hopes and prayers for the coming year:
that we will welcome new people to worship with us,
that we will find new opportunities to work with our neighbors, and
that God will find opportunities to use me fulfilling these hopes.
What are your hopes and dreams for the coming year?
Part of me prefers to keep lights used to welcome Christmas up and lit the entire year, for once we welcome the light of Christ into our lives, that light should always shine. Thus keeping Christmas lights up and lit would show that Christ remains alive in our hearts. Lights adorning a home would boldly announce the presence of a disciple of Christ, someone who would welcome a stranger.
Imagine entire communities striving to live every day of every year, shining the light of Christ in how they live as brightly as a yard full of Christmas trees.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
— Matthew 25:34-36 (NRSV)
On the other hand, we need a time between holidays, ordinary time in the jargon of the Church liturgy, so that the holidays are indeed special times. For people, like the flowers of the field, fade and need fresh reminders of the glory of Christ’s light.
Thus again this Christmas eve I hope and pray that after lighting candles together at midnight we will carefully carry not merely lit candles home, but we will carefully carry the light of Christ out into our communities, reminding one another of the best of what the Kingdom of God calls us to do and to be.
How do you remind yourself throughout the year of the light of Christ?
I spend several hours each month working on tasks that have only indirect if any benefit to the ministry of the congregation that employes me.
At least once a month I awaken an hour early to drive for an hour and a half to attend an all day meeting before arriving home typically ten hours after I leave in the morning. Some months I take part in two even three of these long meetings at which I speak only a few words. In between these meetings I do associated tasks including long teleconferences and writing various documents. On average, I work about 7 hours a week on these tasks.
I suppose I could decline these meetings and not volunteer for additional tasks between meetings. Several of my colleagues avoid similar opportunities.
Instead I perceive these tasks helping other congregations as my call to ministry. An opportunity to further God’s kingdom in the world.
The first chapter of the Gospel According to Luke records Mary answering God’s call to service.
Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.”
In order for Mary to agree to conceive and give birth to a son, and name him Jesus, God had to allow her to say “no.” I cannot recall any instance where God imposed a duty on an unwilling person. Several people ask for and receive signs verifying angelic announcements. Several ask if God has called the right person. But God commands no one to serve against their will.
In order to say “yes,” to agree to serve, saying “no” must be a possibility.
How have you said “yes” to God’s call to further the Kingdom of heaven?
A budget is a theological statement since how we divide our resources shows what we truly value.
For over thirty years I have tracked our family’s expenses using a variety of tools. Initially I had filled in a simple spreadsheet with each week’s expenses, doing little more than automating our check register. Now I use a sophisticated database that tracks how much I spend in several categories and compares totals for each category with my budget. Thus now I can easily review how much I have spent in each category over the past year, even several years.
Merely reviewing how much I have spent last year and estimating how much more I am likely to spend in the coming year based on changes from earlier years is seldom practical. We have always had changes in our family from year to year: new homes, new after school activities, changes in employers, … But ultimately our income provides a limit. Should we intentionally spend more than we earn or should we find some place to trim? The answers to these questions is the essence of a budget.
Trimming my budget to fit our expenses within our income tests my theology. Can we cut back on entertainment? Eat out less often? Shop for insurance? Turn the thermostat a little lower? No we won’t cut education, pet care, or charitable giving (at least as a percentage of income).
What do your finances say about your theology?
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor rust consumes
and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
— Matthew 6:19-21 (NRSV)
A friend from seminary worked as an estate manager. In addition to over seeing the cook, the maids, and the gardeners, she also monitored the security system. The security system a gated driveway where she would accept various deliveries, video monitoring, and motion detectors. All designed to protect the estate and the owner’s privacy. As I mentally added up the costs of the various layers of security, which included my friend’s apartment, it left me appreciating the value or living simply.
This year’s Advent calendar from Presbyterians Today suggests “Decluttering for Christmas.” Among the suggestions for this week is “the rule of 100”; a reflection about a woman’s decision to downsize to owning no more than 100 items in her home. Instead I would recommend striving toward shared ownership rather than minimal ownership. What tools in your garage do you and your neighbors each own and rarely use all at the same time. For example, could you have a shared lawn mower, shovel, rakes, or fertilizer spreader perhaps kept in a shed with a shared key? In addition to lowering each person’s expenses, these shared resources might encourage a sense of community.
How else might things we own become opportunities to create relationships with the people around us?
The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity.
— Ecclesiastes 5:10 (NRSV)