Philippians 3: 4b-14
Paul Larsen encourages people of God to press on toward the goal of becoming like Jesus.
To press on is to grow. To grow is to change.
St. Paul says, "One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3: 4b-14) Paul says he is ever pressing on.
He says he will never glory in his achievements and use them as a reason to relax. He tells us he forgets all he has done and remembers what he still has to do. He teaches us no person or church should rest on their laurels.
Today is the Twin Cities marathon. I don't understand it. I am not sure why anyone would want to do that. I am proud of people who have the dedication and the discipline to work and sweat and accomplish the feat of running 26 miles, but I will never be one of them. It seems just a little crazy to me.
But I am sure there are people who think that our commitment as Christians is even crazier. The Christian life is not a marathon of 26 miles or even an ultra-marathon of 100 miles. It is a life-long run. We press on, striving for the goal of answering God's call to be like Jesus. It is a race we will never finish until the day we die and yet we are called to keep on running it.
That race is really Christian stewardship. Stewardship is the action phase of our faith. It is how we live out our faith in everyday life. It is the way we press on to be like Jesus. Giving of our time, our abilities and our financial resources is our response to the good news that God has loved us enough to send Jesus into the world to save us. God calls us to new life in him. We are called to a life where we are constantly converted from our selfishness and seek to serve God through serving others. Stewardship is living out our love in response to the love God has shown for us.
A young bride was extremely nervous. To calm her the pastor said, "When the processional begins, you will be walking down the same aisle that you have walked down many times before. Concentrate on the aisle.
"When you get halfway down, you will see the altar there before you, the altar where you have communed many times. Concentrate on that altar.
"Then, when you are two-thirds of the way down, you will see him, the one whom you will marry. You love him and you want to spend the rest of your life with him. Concentrate on him."
The bride seemed somewhat relieved. When the processional began, she came down the aisle apparently completely composed, except that people sitting next to the aisle were surprised to hear her muttering as she passed, "Aisle, altar, him! Aisle, altar, him!"
A person should not get married thinking they will alter or change the other person. Yet, this is exactly what Christianity proposes to do - change us. God is saying to us, "I'll alter you! I'll alter you!" From the day we are born until the day we die, the Holy Spirit is at work trying to change us into God's image. By assuring us of God's unconditional love for us, the Holy Spirit is seeking to change us into people who love others. Expect change. Welcome change. Encourage change. Embrace change gladly. We are to change and grow in our stewardship so that like St. Paul we press on forward toward the goal of becoming more like Jesus.
A church decided to put a Bible verse over each of the doors in the building appropriate to that particular room. Over the doors of the sanctuary, they inscribed, "I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house of the Lord." Over the choir room door they printed: "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord." But when they came to the nursery they didn't know what verse to use. They searched their Bibles and finally found one in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul's great chapter on the resurrection: "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed!"
A teacher of stewardship said, "The primary aim of stewardship development is not to finance the church's annual operating budget, but to change lives." We are not raising money here at Christ the King -- we are training Christians to press on toward the goal of becoming like Jesus.
The question we each need to ask ourselves as we consider our commitments is not: "How much does the church need this year?" or "What is the average pledge?" Rather, the question is "What does God expect of me as a disciple?" The question is, "Knowing that God loves me, how can I best respond to that love?" The question is, "Jesus has told me I am the light of the world. How can I let my light shine so that others may see my good works and give glory to the Father in heaven?"
The answer is that God expects us to change and to grow. God expects us to continue to press on toward the goal of becoming like Jesus. Jesus was a servant. He came not to be served, but to serve. I would invite you to prayerfully consider how you might serve God. When you fill out your shared ministry brochure today, ask yourself how you might use your gifts and talents to press on toward the goal of becoming more like Jesus.
A poster reads: "Growth is the only evidence of life." In Christianity, growth means moving from (a) where I am, to (b) where God calls me to be! That means growth at every level. It means growing in the ways in which we use our spiritual gifts to serve others. It also means growing in our giving. The Bible asks us to tithe or give 10 percent of our income. Tithing is a tool for growth. Tithing is a God-given way to measure growth. Tithing is not a legalistic rule or a rung on the ladder to sainthood, but it is a call to growth.
Esther and I grew into tithing gradually by increasing our giving by 1 percent of our household income every year until we reached a tithe and then moved beyond a tithe. We find great joy in it. I know that you other tithers find great joy in it also. If you are not yet tithing, I would encourage you and challenge you to try it. If you can't jump right into a tithe, then commit yourself to growing in your giving by 1 percent of your household income until you are giving 10 percent. If you are tithing, prayerfully consider continuing to grow and go beyond tithing for there is great joy in giving.
We are so privileged to have the Iringa Choir here today. These people know the joy of giving. They are filled with joy. They have very little in the way of money or possessions, but they are exceptionally happy people. The joy of knowing the love of Jesus simply exudes from them. We want that joy to exude from us. We want to express our joy over being loved by Jesus by giving of ourselves, our time and our possessions.
The joy of giving is something we should teach our children. If we want our children to grow in faith one of the best things we can do is to teach them to give in ways that demonstrate trust in God's promise to provide for them. Some would say that when we have grown in faith we will grow in our giving, but the opposite is also true. If we grow in our giving we will grow in our faith.
In his conversation about giving in 2 Corinthians 9, St. Paul encourages us to give generously and in proportion to what we have been given. He also assures us that we can trust in God to provide us with every blessing in abundance. That is something we should teach our children. It is also something we should put into practice ourselves.
A Methodist pastor tells of talking to his 6-year-old daughter, Susan, about giving to the church. He gave her 10 dimes and said "One of the things we believe is that God gives us everything. Because we are thankful to God we give part of what we receive back to God. These 10 dimes are your allowance. As you tithe you should give one of them in the offering at church." With a surprised look on her face she said, "And I get to keep all the other dimes?" When her father replied, "Yes." She cried, "Wow! God sure is nice!" When he told his wife what Susan had said, she responded, "It's too bad more folks in the congregation can't feel that same way about giving."
But we can feel good about our giving. We can feel good about growing in our gifts of time, abilities and money. We can feel good about growing in our giving because it means we are pressing on toward the goal of becoming like Jesus.
Thanks be to God, Christ the King needs our time, our abilities and our money. This is a church that is aware that God is saying to each of us, "I'll alter you! I'll alter you and make you my own. I will convert you and change you so that you can grow and become more like Jesus." Amen.
O God, fill us with faith that we may trust in you and in your promises. Help us to trust enough to change and grow in our giving so that your work and your will is done in the world. Empower us to be people who, like Paul, continue to strive for what is ahead and run toward the goal of becoming more like Jesus. Amen.
Paul L. Larsen is Senior Pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church, New Brighton, MN.