A Roller Coaster Week

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen!”                                               Luke 24:5

Read Luke 23:55-56, 24:1-12

Have you ever used the phrase “It’s been a roller coaster week”?

Maybe your experiences have been all over the place: working, grocery shopping, talking with friends, visiting a loved one in Hospice, attending a funeral, celebrating a new baby in the family, enjoying a few days of vacation, taking a business trip.

Maybe your emotions have been all over the place during the “ordinary” week: happy, sad, joyful, angry, peaceful, anxious . . . all of the emotions wrapped in one mind and heart – YOURS!

For me, the very nature of ministry is a roller coaster. One moment I am praying with a church member who is preparing for surgery. The next moment I’m completing a report that is due to someone. From funerals to new babies, from reports to rehearsals, from worship to meetings, ministry life is a constant up and down. Throw in family concerns and vacation . . . well, you get the picture.

It happens to all of us. Long ago, it happened to Peter, Mary, the mother of James, James, Mary Magdalene, John, Joanna . . . to all who followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. It was a roller coaster week!

The followers watched as people cheered the Savior as he entered the city. It was a joyous time! Everyone seemed happy except the Pharisees, but then again, they were never happy. They tried to hush the jubilant crowd but Jesus quickly told them: “if these were silent, the stones would shout out!” *

The followers experienced the angry Jesus, the one who threw out those selling and buying in the temple, turned over the moneychangers’ tables, and called them robbers. Jesus was furious – quite a change from compassionate Jesus who welcomed the children with loving arms.

Then they watched as Jesus cried over the city, desiring to gather His children under his wings as a hen gathers her brood. 

The followers were shocked as Judas, one of their own, betrayed Jesus with a kiss.   Most likely, they were fearful as they wondered: “would they be next?” They wept as their friend, their son, the person they believed to be the ONE to save them all, died in agony on a cross.   They sadly followed as Jesus was laid in the tomb. Then they rested on the Sabbath as they were commanded.

Happy, sad, shocked, fearful, confused, disillusioned . . . all of the emotions of life in one week.

But it’s the beginning of a new week. Maybe things will be different. Maybe somewhere in the darkness some light will shine. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others go to the tomb.

It IS a new DAY! He is not there. He is risen. Jesus is resurrected! The complicated emotions that have filled their souls are gone, replaced by the sheer joy of LIFE!

Sarah Young, in her devotional book Jesus Today, writes that often the Evil One uses the 3 D’s to draw us away from Jesus: deception, discouragement, distraction.   The followers of Jesus were indeed deceived, discouraged and distracted by the events of the week.

My guess is that you may have experienced these same D’s. I know I have. I get deceived in my thinking that God is not in control. I get discouraged when I hear the complaints over the little stuff of life. I want to say “Really?” Sometimes I say it. I get distracted by the clutter of my desk . . . yes, the clutter of my life.

But then I go to the ONE whose light may be shining, to the place where new life may be springing and I am never disappointed!

Christ the Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!

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* Luke 19:40

Matthew 23:37-38

Young, Sarah. Jesus Today. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publisher, p. 108.

Photo by Jon Strother

This blog entry is adapted from my message at Pine Valley UMC’s sunrise service this morning.  If you are an early riser, you’ve “experienced” it twice!

Building Financial Margin – Week 5, Day 5

Daily Scripture Reading:

 John 8:36 – So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

John 10:10 – “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Philippians 4:19 – “And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”         

“Are you in debt so as to embarrass you in your work?”*

Since the beginning of Methodism, all ordained clergy have been asked this question when they stand before the clergy session for approval to be ordained. Sometimes the question gets smiles but the response should always be no. As a matter of fact, it’s the only question that should get a negative answer of John Wesley’s Historic Questions – all 19 of them. Everything else is supposed to be YES!

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, knew that debt could be a problem for his preachers. Today every preacher that is ordained in the UMC not only goes to seminary, writes papers, has a health screening and a multitude of other steps, he or she also has a credit check.

Why this strenuous examination of finances? Because debt is a burden that can pull us away from serving God freely and fully.

But it’s not just the clergy.   Raise your hand if at any time in your life, you’ve worried about your finances. I see your hands. My hand is raised also.

Worry over our finances takes the energy that we could use for serving God. Instead of worry and anxiety, God desires us to live freely and abundantly, without burden. He stands ready to help us. We just need to take the first step.

Prayer: Holy God, you promised us an abundant life, filled by Your grace and glory but too often I’ve let my worries and anxieties overshadow that abundance. Forgive me, Lord. Guide me to make changes in any area of my life that will increase my financial margin and help me serve you more fully and faithfully. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Reflection/Application Question for the Day:

What do emotions do you have when you think about your financial picture? Are you at peace or are you anxious?

What can you do today to move towards a life of peace and abundance? If needed, who can offer you guidance?

What do you need to do increase your financial margin?

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*  The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 2012.

Devotion from Building Margin for a Balanced Life, devotional book, small group study and sermon series

©Tim Reaves and Trish Archer

All rights reserved

Building Financial Margin – Week 5, Day 4

Daily Scripture Reading:

Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.”                                                 

James 1:5 – “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” 

It happened when I was a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill. My first credit card! The application came in the Student Stores shopping bag and I thought: why not? If everyone shopping was getting a credit card, then certainly I needed one too!

Oh the joy of the $200 credit limit. (Back then you could get a lot of “stuff” with $200.)

And so it begins – the card that gives you the freedom to have a little “retail therapy” whenever you want it, the card that only needs a minimum monthly payment of $10, the card that has an interest rate of 19% . . . and on it goes.

If only I had been wiser, if only I had stopped to think about the future, if only I had thought about my actual needs as opposed to my wants. But our culture seems to run on the financial plan of: “buy now, pay later”. Oh, we pay later, don’t we? And pay and pay and pay.

God has promised us that He will give us wisdom whenever we ask for it. He has promised to direct our paths. But first we need to turn to Him. He is the One that will whisper in our ear “do you really need this?” He is the One who will help us re-order our priorities. He is the One who will give direction in all things – including our finances.

Prayer: Gracious God, thank you that you are the God of all wisdom. Direct, guide and speak to me regarding my finances. Forgive me when I’ve turned aside from you and gone after my own wants and desires. Help me re-order my financial life starting today. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Reflection/Application Question for the Day:

How would you describe your financial situation?

Are you in debt? If so, are you managing the debt or is the debt overshadowing your life?

If you are struggling in your debt, stop and take a realistic picture of what needs to change. Write down your expenses, set a budget, explore ways you can pay more than the minimum payment, or get help from a Christian financial program like Financial Peace University. Make a plan!

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Devotion from Building Margin for a Balanced Life, devotional book, small group study and sermon series

©Tim Reaves and Trish Archer

All rights reserved

Building Financial Margin – Week 5, Day 3

Daily Scripture Reading:

Luke 6:38 – “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” 

Luke 21:2-4 – “He (Jesus) saw a poor widow put in two small coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’”

Jesus sat down opposite the offering plate. He watched as folks came and put their offering into the trumpet-shaped container. Not only did Jesus see what was being given, everyone else heard the coins drop into the container.

The offering of the rich made lots of noise as it was dropped it. Some offerings made only a little noise. However, the offering that Jesus pointed out was the smallest – the offering of the widow. Most folks would not have noticed or even cared about the two small coins. But Jesus knew that this offering meant far more. The widow was giving everything she had. She was sacrificially giving.

Maybe she should have given one coin and saved the other – just in case she needed it. But she gave all she had. Her gift was a tremendous statement of trust and surrender. She surrendered her fears of not having enough and she trusted the God whom she served to take care of her needs.

It is never the amount that we give that makes Jesus jump up and down. It’s always the spirit and the heart in which we give. Are we giving sacrificially or are we giving IF there’s enough after WE’VE taken care of all of our needs?

Prayer: God of all grace, You are indeed the One that can meet all of my needs. Teach me to give to You sacrificially, trusting You in all things. In Christ’s name, I pray, Amen.

Reflection/Application Question for the Day:

Think about your giving. Would you gladly welcome Jesus to watch as you gave your offering?

Are you giving sacrificially or are you taking care of your wants and needs first, and then giving out of your leftovers?

God calls us to tithe (10%) of our income. If you are doing this already, is God calling you to increase your giving more sacrificially? How can you do this?

If you are not tithing yet, what can you do today to move toward tithing? Maybe giving incrementally – 2%, 5%, 8%?

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 Devotion from Building Margin for a Balanced Life, devotional book, small group study and sermon series

©Tim Reaves and Trish Archer

All rights reserved

Building Financial Margin – Week 5, Day 2

Daily Scripture Reading:

Psalm 37:3-5 – “Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act.                                                        

I’ve always loved this verse, particularly the part about God giving me the desires of my heart. Anything my heart desires? Wow! Let’s see. I’d like some new jewelry, a new wardrobe and well, while you’re at it, Lord, how about a new car?

Oh, wait, God didn’t mean that?

I always seem to skip over the part about “taking delight in the Lord”. IF I seek the Lord and listen to Him, there will be a change in my priorities.

How do we know our priorities? Christian financial counselor, Larry Burkett, once said “If we look at our checkbooks, then we know our priorities.” Ouch!

What does our bank statement say about our priorities? House payments, car payments, educational loans, dining out, new clothes, giving to the church . . . what could we learn from our financial statements? Sometimes our statements show the evidence of past financial mistakes. Sometimes they show the charitable giving that blesses others.

The good news is that whatever they show now, can be changed when we build financial margin into our lives. God desires to be our guide in all things, including our finances.

Prayer: Gracious God, guide me this day to seek you in all things, especially in my finances. Rearrange my priorities. Help me to be faithful. Guide me with Your grace. Thank you, Lord. Amen.

Reflection/Application Question for the Day:

 Take some time today to look at your bank statement. Categorize the debits to your accounts.

What do you observe from these categories?

Is there room for improvement in the way you are spending the resources that God has given you?

What can you do differently today to take a step towards these improvements?

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Devotion from Building Margin for a Balanced Life, devotional book, small group study and sermon series

©Tim Reaves and Trish Archer

All rights reserved

Building Financial Margin – Week 5, Day 1

Daily Scripture Reading:

Psalm 24:1 – “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it.”                                                            

Psalm 145:16 – “You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.”

Psalm 104 :27-28 – “These all look to you to give them their food in due season; when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.”

I really don’t like to talk about money at church. It’s my least favorite topic to teach or preach on in any church I’ve ever served. Folks squirm, we hear whispers like “all they talk about is money”, or people decide to skip out on this week’s sermon – just because the topic is money.

Wow! Jesus would never have had anyone listening to his sermons. He talked about money more than any other subject other than the Kingdom of God. He talked more about money more than heaven and hell combined. Eleven of 39 parables were about money. One out of every 7 verses in the gospel of Luke was about money. *   That’s a lot of preaching and teaching about money.

Maybe the dilemma is ownership – deciding who really owns our money. I’d like to think it’s me but I would be wrong. I’m a steward of all that God has given.   We are all stewards. We’ve been entrusted with God’s world and all His riches. It’s up to us to use them wisely.

Building financial margin into our lives helps honor God and helps us be good stewards of His resources. What kind of stewards are we?

Prayer: Gracious God, You are indeed the Source of all life and the Provider of everything. You have given me the gift of being Your steward. Forgive me when I have been unwise. Give me the strength and the wisdom to honor You in this responsibility. May I be faithful to use Your gifts for You and Your kingdom. Through Christ our Lord I pray, Amen.

Reflection/Application Question for the Day:

What kind of steward are you? How are you managing the resources that God has given you?

Is there room for improvement?

Ask God to show you places that need growth.

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* Financial Peace University study materials

Devotion from Building Margin for a Balanced Life, devotional book, small group study and sermon series

©Tim Reaves and Trish Archer

All rights reserved

Building Margin for Sabbath – Week 4, Day 5

Daily Scripture Reading:

John 4:13-14 – “Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

 Let’s be honest. Everyone has times – moments, days, maybe even weeks – when they feel far from God. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been following Jesus for years or for months.

It might be a difficult time in your life and you wonder: “Where are you, God?” It might be a busy time in your life and you’ve skipped a few days of prayer time. Now you wonder how you will make your way back to God. It might be a time when you know that you’re not in God’s will and you feel unworthy or guilty. It’s just easier not to open your Bible or talk to God.

Sometimes you reach a point of giving and giving until you have nothing left to give. Too often this happens to God’s servants. We serve and serve but we do it on our own strength. Our resources become depleted.

Think about the difference between a canal and a reservoir. A canal allows water to flow through it – as water flows in, water flows out. A reservoir waits until it is full before the water flows out. If we operate our spiritual lives as canals, we are in danger of depleted resources. Instead God calls us to operate as reservoirs. It’s out of the overflowing fullness of God’s power that we give. God’s water gushes forth as a spring of life.

 Prayer: Lord Jesus, I confess that sometimes I feel a little lost. I am not as connected to You as I want to be or know I should be. Forgive me. Help me remember, Lord, that You are always there ready to fill me again. Come and quench my soul so that I will never thirst again. In Your name I pray, Amen.

Reflection Question and/or Application for the Day:

Be honest. How close to God do you feel today?

If there is room for improvement, what can you do to come back to God? More time in prayer and/or in reading your Bible, asking forgiveness of someone, asking forgiveness of God for some way that you know that you are out of God’s will?

Whatever the reason, what will be your next right step towards a deeper relationship with Christ?

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Devotion from Building Margin for a Balanced Life, devotional book, small group study and sermon series

©Tim Reaves and Trish Archer

All rights reserved

Photo by Will Archer