Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Path of Discipleship - The Gift of Compassion

As with generosity, there are some people who are naturally compassionate.  They have a gift for reading the emotional atmosphere of a person or situation.  As Paul writes to the church in Corinth, these are people for whom “if one member suffers, all suffer together with it.”  (1 Corinthians 12:26).  These folks can be the heart and soul of a community, pushing all of us to pay attention, to expand our vision to include those who are on the periphery of our lives.

                Yet just has generosity is a value that can be learned, so also can compassion.  Most religious traditions give high value to compassion, that ability to notice and accompany others, that ability to pull your head from the sand of modern life and see what is happening around you.   Most religious traditions also have techniques and advice in how to grow in compassion.

                For Christianity, much of the focus has been around service to those in need.  The Lutheran tradition has a long history of organizing to help people locally and around the world.  Check out the work of the Lutheran World Hunger Appeal, Lutheran Disaster Relief or, in New England, Ascentria Care Alliance (formerly Lutheran Social Services).   This is not to mention the work of local congregations in feeding, sheltering and advocating for people in need around them.

                Such service is the product of compassion.  However, sometimes we are tempted to skip the compassion and move straight to the service.  We know the sorts of thing that the church ought to be doing.  We develop a social outreach committee and turn it into a program of doing good deeds.  However, there is a marked difference between working out of a space of obligation or expectation, doing things because we should do them, and working from a place of compassion, doing things because we can’t help but do them.    

                I would argue that the church’s job is shifting.  At one point in history, religious organizations were the primary means of social services in many communities.  The church had the food bank.  The church had an emergency fund.  Today, many of these functions are done more effectively by social service agencies and organizations, some religious and some not.  Perhaps the church’s job is not so much to provide these services but to cultivate compassionate people who might be moved to aid and volunteer for such agencies and organizations.  Is our goal to develop a Christ Lutheran Church food bank or is it to develop compassionate people who will support and volunteer at our local service center, a group that has already done the groundwork and organization to feed other people?

                One tool for developing compassion is along the lines of the daily examen meditation in the tradition of Saint Ignatius.  At the end of the day you take a few of minutes in stillness to replay the events of that day.  As you go through them, consider those moments that were opportunities for compassion.  What happened?  How did it feel?  How do you think the other person was feeling?  The purpose of this exercise is not to label these moments as good or bad, but to consider how they were handled and how they might be handled differently.  The hope is that through reflecting each day through the eyes of compassion, we might prepare ourselves to be more compassionate in days to come.

                Another important means for growing in compassion that is common among many contemplative Christians is meditation on the passion and the cross.  In our culture we often want to skip the pain of the cross and embrace the joy of resurrection.  Yet there is great power in considering what Jesus experienced as he suffered not only pain but also betrayal, abandonment and mockery.   Through the story, Jesus offers himself as an icon for compassionate thought. 

                Most importantly, through the story of Jesus, we are set free to be compassionate.  We are set free to step away from self-centeredness and into compassion for others.  We are also set free to be less than perfect, knowing that through Christ’s compassion our incomplete compassion does not disqualify us from the love of God.  Compassion is a gift that can change the world and a virtue in which Christians are called to grow.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Path of Discipleship - The Meaning of Compassion

This article begins a new section, reflecting on another  virtue of discipleship, compassion.  There are several ideas in the Bible that might funnel into this virtue of compassion.  In Psalm 86, God is described as “gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger, and full of kindness and truth.” Before the feeding of the multitudes in Matthew, Jesus is described as having compassion for the people.  Although he intended to withdraw to be alone for a while, his compassion for the crowds that followed him into the wilderness moved him to heal the people and feed them. (Matthew 14:13-21)  The author of Ephesians instructs the church saying, “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”(Ephesians 4:31-32)  The church of Christ is supposed to be a model of the compassion of Christ.

            The word compassion comes from a Latin word that means to suffer with or experience with.  It means allowing yourself to consider the feelings of someone else, to pay attention to another person’s experience and embrace the feelings that experience might invoke.  It is not feeling sorry for someone, but feeling sorrow, joy, anger and excitement with someone.  I cannot know exactly how someone feels, but I can imagine how I would feel if I were living their story and in that way I am drawn to become part of the story with them.

            Compassion is what moves people to feed the hungry, because they can identify with hunger.  I know what it’s like to miss a meal and can imagine how that might feel extended out over time.  Compassion is what moves people to respond to natural disasters.  The rational part of us might question those who build their homes in flood zones, yet the compassionate part of us can imagine what it means to lose everything and watch your home washed away.  True compassion has few boundaries: no religion, no race and no official language.  It draws us into shared human experience as we allow ourselves to feel the joys and struggles of someone else.

            In recent years for the church, a large part of living compassionately has been listening to the stories of “other” people, people outside our normal parameters.  We have listened to the stories from the LGBTQ community, stories that the church dismissed (and in some cases, still dismisses) as a collection immoral choices.  We heard stories of people who grew up feeling different, who were rejected for being who they are, who were excluded from family and faith community for being honest with themselves.  And compassion for those stories has led the church to question its past, to question its scriptural interpretations, to challenge itself about the limits of acceptance.  In some cases, compassion has led the church to take a stand, risking division for the sake of compassionate justice.

            In the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, we have been struggling to hear the stories of racial minorities in our church body.  According to a 2014 survey by the Pew Foundation, the ELCA is one of the least diverse religious bodies in the United States (96% white).  Because of this, we have been guilty of ignoring other voices, assuming a church shaped by European culture should be the cultural norm for Lutheranism.  A challenging reflection on this can be found in the documentary, Do Black Churches Matter to the ELCA which you can link to here: Do Black Churches Matter to the ELCA

            Compassion starts with mindful listening, paying attention to the neighbor, the stranger, the “other.”  This is not a time to give advice (unless it is asked for).  It is not a time to think of a clever response.  It is a time simply to listen and learn in love.  This may move us to prayerful action.  It may move us to bold advocacy.  It may move us in directions that are not always comfortable.  Compassion moved Jesus to feed the crowds but also led him to his death on the cross.

            Compassion is of the essence of who God has revealed God’s self to be.  It is the essence of the story of Jesus.  It is the gift of the Holy Spirit that dwells among us.  May compassion become who we are, because compassion is what we have been made to be by a compassionate God.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Path of Discipleship - Generosity and Joy

It is more blessed to give than to receive.” – Acts 20:35

 These words are often trotted out at Christmas time in an effort to make the season less commercial, a message to children not to make it all about the packages.  It a phrase found in the book of Acts, given by the Apostle Paul to the leaders of the church in Ephesus.  Paul claims that they are words that come from Jesus himself, though they are not found in any of the four gospel texts.

The word that is translated as blessed can be translated in a number of ways.  We sometimes associate blessing with God’s favor, God’s response to our actions.  This is part of the calculus the modern prosperity preachers announce.  If you make the right choices, do the right actions and avoid the wrong, you will open your life up to God’s blessings, especially material abundance.

I prefer a simpler translation: happy or joyful.  It is not that our actions stir God to action, but that the actions that Christ models for us lead to happiness.  The path of discipleship is intrinsically joyful.   We aren’t earning extra points or extra blessings or approval through our actions, we are accessing a joyfulness that is already present, already available.  Generosity points toward happiness and joy.  Generosity points toward the peace that comes with contentment.  I can be satisfied with what I have, so much so that I can give more away.

For many in our culture, this is not obvious.  My North American culture celebrates having and holding on to more.    As I have mentioned in other articles, the Lutheran church in which I have grown is shaped by a culture of equitable/socialized giving, figuring out the least we all have to give to maintain the ministry.  The idea of giving more than your fair share, giving toward things that are not necessary when its not a rainy day, can be a bit foreign.  The path of discipleship leads to a different place, where we give because it is joyful, because our generosity makes something beautiful, participating in God’s beauty.

Yet the desire to hold on to what we have is a strong force.  You may have had parents or grandparents who lived through the Depression.  You may have experienced poverty or financial insecurity.  You may be looking at retirement, uncertain if you have enough.  You may currently be making hard decisions about what to spend; what bills to pay.  These are very real fears that require prayerful wisdom and consideration.  At the same time, we need to be honest with ourselves about what we have and what we can give away.   It turns out that if we wait to be generous until we have enough, we will almost never have enough.

Generosity is another place where God gives us the opportunity to overcome fear with joy.  We are afraid of running out.  We are afraid of being foolish.  We are afraid of having less, especially as we compare ourselves to our neighbors.  God invites us to have more joy, more contentment and more peace.  God invites us to participate in the abundance that is essential to who God is.  God invites us to be generous.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Path of Discipleship - On Becoming Generous

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. – Psalm 1:1-3 (NRSV)

                A common complaint I have heard over the years is that the church is only interested in people’s money.  For Lutherans this may be carry-over from families who immigrated from countries with a state-church tradition.  Taxes paid for the major expenses like building upkeep and salary, so there wasn’t as much need to cover costs through weekly offerings.  Much personal giving could be directed toward social ministry or mission work.  But when those Lutherans started congregations in the United States, the model changed from state-supporting to self-supporting.  Pastors and councils had to appeal for basic expenses.  Clergy depended on their congregations to make a living, leading to strange, new tensions, the potential power of the generous giver.  We cannot offend this person.  If you make that decision, I will withhold my offering.  Why is the church always asking for my money?

                An unfortunate consequence of this shift is that appeals to generosity always seem to have a hidden agenda.  Be generous….so that we can make our budget.  Be generous…so we can fix the roof.  Be generous…so we can pay our pastor.  It also feeds into a consumer-driven culture, where people are motivated by what they might get if they are generous or what they might lose if they are not.  Be generous…so we can keep our music program.  Be generous…so we can have a children’s program.  Be generous…so we can finally make the bathroom accessible.  Those who peddle the prosperity gospel have turned this into a divine quid pro quo.  Be generous…so that God will bless you with more.

                What we miss as the body of Christ is that generosity is meant to be as much a gift as it may be a challenge.  Generosity is about freedom.  Generosity is about joy.  Generosity is about bearing fruit, making something beautiful.  Generosity is fundamental to the nature of God.  The creation story; the Israel story; the Jesus story; the Pentecost story are all stories about the generous nature of God; generous in creation; generous in forgiveness; generous in love; generous in empowerment.  The generosity of a community may well keep a church building open, but that is a side effect of stepping into the stream of God’s generosity.

                Generosity is a joy, but it is also a challenge.  Paul describes generosity as one of the spiritual gifts of the church in the book of Romans:

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.  (Romans 12:6-8)

One implication of Paul’s understanding is that there will be some people in any congregation who will naturally be generous.  Just as there are people we meet and think are natural leaders or natural teachers, there are also people who are natural givers, who can share what they have without the qualms or concerns that affect many; who don’t second guess their giving; who give because is feels good to give.

                For the rest of us, generosity can be a learned skill and the primary way to learn a skill is through practice.  The best musicians and best athletes you know are a combination of natural ability and intentional practice.  Generosity is not so different.  We learn by practicing.  We learn generosity by intentionally giving things (money, possessions, time, attention) away. 

                Here are some practices that you might try to grow more generous.  Be generous in attention.  When someone is talking to you, practice paying full attention to what they are saying.  Often we mull over our response as someone is talking, which means we are only giving partial attention to the person talking to us.  Try simply to listen until a natural pause arrives.

                Be generous in praise.  Here I don’t mean being disingenuous or heaping empty compliments, but if someone does a good job, tell them so.  If someone shows you a simple kindness, acknowledge it.  Show gratitude even when unnecessary; even if it just someone doing his or her job.

                Be generous with time.  I have met a number of people who tightly plan their schedules for the sake of productivity.  They are the first out of the meeting, always heading to the next event.  No time to talk.  No time to by fully invested in any one thing.  I suggest that we hold onto time loosely.  Pad the schedule so you can give yourself fully to whatever you are doing. 

                Give more money than you have to.  I could go into a whole spiel about why tipping is not the best practice and can be seen as an unjust practice.  As a society, I think we would be better off paying people in service positions a living wage rather than making every meal a performance review.  Yet, since tipping is a part of our culture, it becomes an opportunity to practice generosity.  Try giving more than you feel that you have to just because you can.  I also suggest this in terms of church giving.  In my congregation, as in many others, most people pledge a certain amount at the beginning of the year.  If this is your practice, I urge you to meet the commitment, but I also challenge to throw something on top of that pledge, not because you have to, but because you can. 

                Again, these are suggestions and not rules.  Try and see what works.  Think of other way that you can share what you have and who you are.  Remember that although generosity can be a challenge it is also the gift of participating in the fundamental nature of God.  God has been infinitely generous with us.  May that stream of generosity continue to the flood into the world through us.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Path of Discipleship - The Stewardship of Time

We are blessed with 24 hours in a day; 60 minutes in each of those hours; 60 seconds in each of those minutes.  Each of those seconds is an opportunity to make a choice; to do something creative or do something destructive; to do something that builds us up or tears us down; to do something joyful or do something wasteful or do something that simply needs getting done.  The good news of grace is that God’s love for us is not dependent on how we use that time.  We may go into the deep depths of binge-watching a show which we will not remember in a year but from which we cannot turn away, coming up after hours of time that we can never get back, embarrassed because of missed appointments or chores left undone, and still find that God is in love with us; is waiting to see what we will do next.

                Some argue that time is an illusion, a convenient frame of reference that breaks down with careful measurement.  What we perceive as time is a trick of the light.  We look at a starry night and are seeing the past, the light from millions of years ago from stars light-years away.  Some of the stars we think we see now may have in fact exploded thousands of years in the past.  Even as I look at you across the room I am not seeing you now.  I am seeing the light that bounced off you with an infinitesimally small time delay.  I am always seeing where you just were and never exactly where you are right now.

                My Hebrew professor, Walter Michel, frequently proclaimed that “Eternity has nothing to do with time!”  As he explained it, the Hebrew word for eternity is more about a state of being than an unending timeline.  We should not worry about being bored in heaven, because life after death is more about entering an eternal present with God.  I sometimes imagine that God sees the universe like a mural in a natural history museum describing the origins of life.  As you walk by the mural, you begin at one-end with single-celled creatures that over time develop into plants and animals, life-forms becoming increasingly complex; insects fly; amphibians follow them out of the water; dinosaurs rise and rule and fall; scruffy mammals slowly inch towards life as primates; finally homo sapiens walk upright only to take their seats in office chairs.  As we walk by the mural, time passes.  Yet if we stand at the doorway of the room, we can see the whole picture, taking in species that never coexisted.  To God everything is present; every moment is this holy moment.  Christ is always crucified and always resurrected.

                With all this in the background I would suggest some different ways to measure the stewardship of time.  The common way to talk about use of time in my context is productivity.  What did you get done?  How many things did you cross off your list?  While it is true that sloth was listed as one of the seven deadly sins, there is more to life than productivity.  Constant production can turn into mere busyness, doing for the sake of doing.

                One question we might ask is : Was the use of time creative or consumptive?  This idea goes along with the “make something beautiful” theme I have been discussing.  Did the use of time create beautiful moments of lovingkindness, justice or peace?  Did the use of time point people toward the beauty that is God? 

                Or did the use of time consume other people’s work or further consume God’s creation?  Just to be clear, consumption is not a sin in and of itself.  When I read a book I am consuming the author’s creative work, but hopefully those new ideas will create something new in me or will recreate me, allowing for rest and renewal.  The issue is when there is no balance, when we are only consuming or overconsuming and rarely creating.

                Another question we might ask about the use of time is: Were you present?  Often we spend our moments analyzing the past or fearing the future.  Yet God is only found in the present and one of implications of the illusion of time is that the true you is only found in the present.  So be there.  Whatever you do, do it in that moment where God is and you are.  There is an old Zen Buddhist story about a teacher who was asked about the secret of happiness.  He replied, “When I eat my rice, I eat my rice.  When I wash my bowl, I wash my bowl.”   Pay attention to the tastes and textures of the moment.  They are gift from God.

                Finally, as the 3rd commandment (as my tradition counts it) reminds you, don’t neglect to rest.  If you can take part in restful celebration for a day each week, do it.  Sabbath is more than being somewhere Saturday evening or Sunday morning.  Sabbath is recognizing God’s wisdom that human beings are not meant to be in constant production.  It is not good or healthy.  Find Sabbath hours, Sabbath minutes or Sabbath moments.  Remind yourself to stop and breath and pay attention.  Sabbath is not a waste of time.  Sabbath is a gift of rest and refreshment.  We rest because it is good; because it is what allows us to be creative; because it is a gift.

                The stewardship of time is similar to the stewardship of money or possessions.  It is not just about religious choices, but every choice with we make about how to use our time.  Each moment is a gift; some for creating; some for resting; some for simple appreciation, taking it all in.  Each moment is a gift of our loving God.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Path of Discipleship - Why We Give as We Do

In this article, I am going to reflect on the different ways that Christians give, specifically to the church.  I know in past articles I have focused on the idea that stewardship is more than giving money to a church, but is reflected in all of the choices of what we do with what we have.  Our Christian stewardship of money impacts what we spend on ourselves, what we save, and what we give away including what we give to a congregation.  Many of us learned about giving by observing our parents or family and so many congregations have a learned culture of giving.

                For Lutherans as well as for many traditional American congregations, giving is shaped by a model found in the book of Acts.  Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common…There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.  They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”( Acts 4:32;34-45)  This is not exactly how the church is living.  Very few Christian communities of any size adopt a radical, communal lifestyle.  But congregations have been imprinted with the idea of the church as a community, responsible for one another, caring for one another and, importantly, sharing what they have in a fair way.

                This is even more marked in congregations of Scandinavian heritage that may come with a cultural worldview known today in Swedish as jantelagen, a disdain for sticking out or seeming more important than others.  In many congregations, what developed was an ethic of equality, so giving was about people determining their fair share of congregation’s expenses.  In some cases, this led to a system of dues, where every member paid a weekly or annual fee.  In other cases, it simply led to a culture where over time people figured the least amount (the fair share) that an average person should have to give.  This is also why many of these congregations have a heritage of barely covering their expenses each year, because most budgets are planned to let the congregation just get by.  Giving is tied to the congregational budget.  If expenses are lower, giving tends to be lower as well.

                I would argue that the fair share model that still shapes giving in many mainline congregations no longer works and hasn’t been working for at least my twenty years of ministry.  It may have worked well in immigrant communities where family incomes were at similar levels for most of the congregation and costs were relatively low.  As costs have increased and income levels have diversified, a standard fair share will be an easy burden for some and a heavy burden for others.

                Other communities, especially those of Evangelical or Fundamentalist persuasion, tend to focus more on the individual’s personal responsibility for faith.  Thus giving also is about a personal choice and personal discipline.  They are not asking, “What is my fair share for this community?” but “How is God asking me, personally, to give?”  The most common answer to that question is a tithe.  The tithe (or tenth) is a concept that appears primarily in Hebrew scripture.  According to the Book of Numbers, the Levite priesthood is supported by tithes from the rest of the tribes of Israel (Numbers 18:21).  Leviticus defines the tithe of a herd or flocks as “every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s staff.”  (Leviticus 27:32).  The frequency of tithing is unclear.  At times, people offer a tithe for a special occasion or dedication to God.  The whole nation was supposed to tithe at least once a year at the harvest. 

                The tithe is not mentioned much in the New Testament.  Jesus critiques the Pharisees for being very careful with their tithing, even tithing their spices, while neglecting to live with justice and mercy.  This absence may be because between the writing of Leviticus and the New Testament, the economy had shifted from a purely agrarian economy to a money-based economy.  When everyone is giving produce and livestock, the tithing system works.  When everyone is giving money, the tithing system works.  In Jesus’ time, some were still giving agrarian gifts and some were giving money.  The definition of a tithe was probably a bit muddy in that context.

                Today most people seem to have moved away from the original concept of tithing, a tenth of one’s holdings, to a more practical concept, a tenth of one’s income.  This makes sense because most of us don’t receive our income in one batch at a harvest but spaced throughout the year.  So those who tithe, donate 10% from their regular income (normally pre-tax).  Tithers see a number of benefits to this practice.  It forces you to control your money and, for many, leads to working within a budget.  It directly answers the, “How much should I give?” question.  In communities with a variety of income levels, it allows for a fair way to talk about giving.

                The main critiques of the practice of tithing are not so much with the practice but how it is presented.  Tithing can fall into an empty legalism, determining who is faithful by what they give, rediscovering the law-based faith of the biblical Pharisees.  It can lead to “magic”/transactional/prosperity thinking with leaders proclaiming that those who tithe faithfully will be blessed with more.  If you give, then you will get.  At an extreme, giving is not about honoring God or serving God, but manipulating God to get more.

                Tithing is simply a model for giving, a scriptural model that has been modified to work in a changing economy.  It is certainly a faithful way to give and a simple way to think about giving.  The good news of grace is that God’s love is not dependent on what we give or how we give.  The freedom of the gospel is that we can find other models and experiment with how to give. 

                An alternative way to think about giving might be to use Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)  How you spend is a reflection of your priorities.  You pay taxes if it is a priority to be a good citizen.  You pay a mortgage or rent because housing is important.  You buy food because you need food.  You also spend money on things you don’t need, entertaining yourself, treating yourself.  How does what you give away to churches and charities fit into that scheme?  Based on your personal spending, that is, where your treasure goes, where is your heart?  What are your priorities?  Does your congregation look like a priority in your spending?  Does the kingdom of God, where the hungry are fed and the needy are cared for, look like a priority? 

                This article is an invitation to think more deeply about giving and explore different models of giving, using the freedom we have as disciples.   You can explore tithing.  Figure out what 10% would be and ask yourself how it feel to give that amount; perhaps try it for a few months.  You can explore priority giving.  How would it feel to match what you spend on yourself for entertainment with what you give away?  Again, try it for a month or two.  Challenge yourself to be generous.  Deepen your understanding of what it means to be a steward.  Let your life be a reflection of our God who is eternally generous.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Path of Discipleship - Stewardship and Money

A common mistake we make as the church is in identifying the stewardship of money with donating to a congregation.  All too often, when the pastor gives “the stewardship sermon”, it is a sermon about why you should give more to the religious organization, a sermon on supporting the mission of the community and the life of the congregation.  When money is in short supply, we might hear that we need to be better stewards.
                And we do need to be better stewards, but that can only happen when we understand the breadth of stewardship.  When I talk about the stewardship of money, I am talking about every decision that you make about money.  What you choose to give to a congregation is one of those decisions, but it is not the only decision that matters.

                If you find a five-dollar-bill as you are going about your day, there are a number of choices that you can make.  You might see if the original owner is nearby.  You might spend it on something you need.  You might spend it something you don’t need.  You might buy a gift for someone else.  You might give it to someone else.  You might place it in next offering plate that you see.  You might stuff it in the back of your sock drawer.  You can probably think of many more choices, but all of them are acts of stewardship.  You have a resource and you are deciding what will be done with that resource.

                Money is a resource, a means of transacting business, a means of attributing worth to an item or service.  If our economy ran on rocks, I would be writing a stewardship and rocks article.  But our economy is based on money and, laying aside all the cultural taboos and personal secrecy around money, it becomes another resource among many.  For Christians, money becomes another tool with which to do the work of the kingdom of God, a means to continue God’s work of creation and make something beautiful.  We need not fear money as an evil, but we also must not turn into something more than it is.  The amount of money we have or lack says nothing about our intrinsic value to God or to one another.  Money is a thing.  Some have more.  Some have less.  All are called to be stewards.

                One way of stewarding your money is by paying greater attention to how it is spent.  How much do you spend on food?  How much on entertainment?  How much on housing?  Is it dripping away like a leaky faucet of impulse buys and automatic payments?  This isn’t about good spending or bad spending but noticing spending habits.  Are there places you could spend less?  How would it feel to give away more?  Are you funding what is truly important to you?  Investing in your priorities?

                Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  How we spend can be a sign of our true priorities.  So I will end with a challenge.  Take a few minutes to think about something that matters to you and relates to God’s work in the world.  Maybe it is a mission  of a congregation: taking care of those experience hunger or homelessness.  Maybe it is a scientist looking for a cure to a disease or seeking a deeper understanding of the universe .  Maybe it is an environmentalist looking to preserve an ecosystem or species.  Think about the possibility that you might contribute to that work even in a small way.  My challenge to you is to let your treasure go where you feel your heart is leading, and let your heart and intention be where your treasure is.