GAIN + SAVE + GIVE

A devotional guide on Christian stewardship

In the present state of mankind, [money] is an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest ends. In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked. It gives to the traveler and the stranger where to lay his head. By it we may supply the place of an husband to the widow, and of a father to the fatherless. It may be a defense for the oppressed, a means of health to the sick, of ease to them that are in pain. It may be as eyes to the blind, as feet to the lame; yea, a lifter up from the gates of death! It is therefore of the highest concern that all who fear God know how to employ this valuable talent; that they be instructed how it may answer these glorious ends, and in the highest degree.  (John Wesley, Sermon number 50, The Use of Money)

INTRODUCTION

Money is a difficult topic for most Christians. It doesn’t matter whether we are clergy or laity, there’s something about money that makes us uncomfortable… especially in the context of faith.

Maybe our discomfort goes back to our commonly held belief that money is the root of all evil. Money may be necessary for our lives in the world. We may need it to provide ourselves and our loved ones with homes, food, clothing, education, medical care, transportation, and entertainment. Yet, we continue to feel as thought there’s something inherently dirty (and most likely sinful) about it. So if we have money, we don’t like to talk about it. We certainly don’t want others to know how much we have. And if we don’t have money, we try our best to pretend that it’s no big matter. Somehow we’ll get along.

We certainly don’t like to talk about money in church. It’s as if God and money have nothing to do with each other… as though sacred worship and prayer need to be separated as far as possible from unrighteous money. This may be why so many ministers (myself included) dread annual stewardship campaigns. It may also be why attendance in worship typically declines during stewardship months. And yet – believe it or not – the Bible has far more to say about money than it does about almost any other topic. Among the things the Bible tells us are:

  • If riches increase, do not set your heart on them. (Psalm 62:10)
  • A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. (Proverbs 10:4)
  • The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
  • No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (Matthew 6:24)
  • For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (1 Timothy 6:10)

And that’s just a  small fraction of everything the Bible has to say about money. In fact, money is one of the central issues addressed by biblical authors.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement,  understood the importance of money both to our physical and to our spiritual lives. His sermon entitled The Use of Money provides important guidance on the role that money should play in the lives of Jesus’ followers. Unlike many, Wesley is not afraid of money. He sees it as an essential tool in people’s efforts to lead healthy and productive lives. But just like any tool, it is capable of being use for contradictory ends… to do good or to do bad… to enhance life or to cause harm… to build community or to sow chaos… to do God’s will or to defame God’s honor. More consequentially, money can be used with complete thoughtlessness, giving little or no attention at all to the impact that its use might have on individuals and communities.

Above all else, Wesley’s sermon is a call for Christians to be prayerful and mindful as they make decisions about how to earn, save and spend their money. In Wesley’s way of thinking, Christian stewardship is not just a matter of giving money to the church. It is, more fundamentally, a question of how we use all of our resources, including our money, for the glory of God and the wellbeing of God’s people.

A PRAYER BY JOHN WESLEY

O merciful God,

whatever you may deny me,

do not deny me this love.

Save me from the idolatry of loving the world,

or any of the things of the world.

Let me never love any creature but for your sake

and in subordination to your love.

Take full possession of my heart;

raise there your throne

and command there as you do in heaven.

Being created by you, let me live to you;

being created for you, let me ever act for your glory;

being redeemed by you, let me render to you what is yours;

and let my spirit ever cleave to you alone. Amen.

Click here to read the full text of John Wesley’s sermon, The Use of Money.


WEEK ONE – EARN ALL YOU CAN!

I entreat you, in the name of the Lord Jesus, act up to the dignity of your calling! … No more sloth! Whatsoever your hand findeth to do, do it with your might!

(John Wesley, “The Use of Money”)

Those who till their land will have plenty of food,
    but those who follow worthless pursuits have no sense.

(Proverbs 12:11)

John Wesley has no use for those who disparage money as a bad or sinful thing. Money is a tool – no more, no less – and it is capable of being put to a wide variety of good and bad purposes. The real issue has never been money in and of itself, but rather the intent of the people who make use of it. So, rather than being discouraged from pursuing money, people need to be taught how to make and use it in ways that are godly and just. To do this, Wesley proposes three plain and simple rules, the first of which is “Gain all you can!”

Recognizing that money is necessary both to provide for a person’s own needs and for the needs of the wider community, Wesley nevertheless encourages his followers to be wise in their decisions about how to make money. He knows that not all work is good work. He understands that some work should be avoided, no matter how much it pays. This is why he tells his followers:

We ought to gain all we can gain, without buying gold too dear, without paying more for it than it is worth.

Wesley asserts that Christians should follow a few simple guidelines as they determine the kind of work they will do in pursuit of monetary gain:

  • Don’t earn money by engaging in work that will jeopardize your life or health;
  • Don’t earn money in ways that will cause harm to your mind or your conscience;
  • Don’t earn money in ways that will endanger the physical, economic or spiritual wellbeing of your neighbors.

Wesley insists that it’s a Christian’s “bounden duty” to make as much money as he or she can, so long as that money is earned in ways that glorify God, edify the community of God’s people, and benefit the world that God has made and loved. Wesley’s call to “gain all you can” is not a call to selfishness or even unrestrained capitalism. It is a call for Christ’s followers to acquire the wealth and resources to survive and do God’s will in the world, using all the understanding and common sense that God has given them.

DAY 1 

Read Deuteronomy 8:18

Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today. 

Meditate

For a few moments consider the financial and other resources that you have managed to acquire during your lifetime.

Where was the hand of God at work helping you to gain these much-needed resources?

How is God helping you now in your efforts to gain even more?

Pray

God, you are generous, and all that I have comes from you! Help me to recognize your hand at work in my life to bring me the financial and other resources I need to survive and thrive in this world. Teach me always to be grateful. Amen.

DAY 2

 Read Luke 14:28

Which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?

Mediate

For a few moments, think about the plans you are making for the next few years of your life.

What are the resources you need to acquire in order to ensure you can bring these plans to fruition?

How will your efforts to carry out these plans bring glory to God or otherwise benefit God’s people?

Pray

God of the past and God of the future, guide my planning so that all I do during the course of my life will glorify you. To the extent that my goals and plans are in accordance with your will, help me to gather the resources I need to bring them to completion. Amen.

DAY 3

Read Proverbs 21:5

The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to want.

Meditate

For a few moments, think about some times in your life when you were actively pursuing a worthwhile goal.

How did you exercise diligence in pursuing those goals? What thought did you give to the resources you would need, the strategies you would follow, and the actions you would undertake?

Were there moments when your desire to achieve a goal led to thoughtless haste? What were the consequences of your hastiness?

To what extent did you seek God’s wisdom and will in pursuing these goals?

Pray

God who brings order out of chaos, teach me to be diligent and wise as I seek to do your will in the world. Calm my anxiety and slow down my haste so that I might be attentive to your still small voice as it leads me toward your abundance. Amen.

DAY 4

 Read 2 Corinthians 9:8

And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.

Meditate:

For a few moments, consider how you have received God’s blessing in abundance at various times and in various ways throughout your lifetime.

Were there times when you had difficulty seeing God’s blessings in the moment? What prevented you from recognizing the presence of God’s goodness in your life?

How is God blessing you now? Where do you see abundance beginning to take shape in the day-to-day realities of your existence? How are you giving thanks to God for these blessings?

Pray

God, you bless me with abundance in all the circumstances of my life. Open my eyes to see through the veil of anxiety and fear that too often keep me from recognizing the good that you are doing. Help me to see glimmers of hope even in the darkest of moments so that I might always live in gratitude to you. Amen.

DAY 5

Read Matthew 6:34

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Meditate

For a few moments, think about the worries and anxieties that tend to dominate your thinking and keep you from living fully in the present.

How does worry about matters ranging from your personal finances to the national economy, from your individual health to the global pandemic, from the wellbeing of your family to the state of national politics, have an impact on your capacity for believing and trusting in God?

What, if any, are the signs that God’s goodness and grace are already active in the current circumstances of your life?

What practical hope and peace can you draw from knowing that God is with you, no matter what is going on in your own life or in the world around you?

Pray

God, I worry! You know that I do! And in my worry, I sometimes fail to see you… even though my faith teaches me that you are always beside me. Touch my heart with your grace.  Give me faith to break free from the narrow confines of my anxieties and fears, so that I may view the world through the lens of your boundless love. Amen.

DAY 6

Read Matthew 6:24

No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

Meditate

For a few moments, consider one or two times in your life when you felt most devoted to God and most committed to God’s ways?

What are the things in your life that most readily come between you and God? How do they first intrude into your relationship with God, and by what means does your service to them gradually displace your service to God?

What role does money play in your life? How do you bring your relationship with money into harmony with your service to God? Are there changes you could or should make in light of Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 6:24?

Pray

O God of abundance, you have promised to provide for all of my needs. And yet, there are still times when I worry that I won’t have enough. Save me from becoming a slave to the pursuit of money and the things that money can buy. Teach me instead to put my relationship with your first, so that I may devote all that I am, all that I earn, and all that I have to your good purposes for me and for this world in which I live. Amen.

DAY 7

Read 1 Timothy 6:10

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

Meditate

For a few moments, ponder the power that money exercises over your life, either by its presence or by its absence. Consider the time, energy and creativity that you expend thinking about money and about how to acquire it.

What do you think John Wesley means when he states: “We ought to gain all we can gain, without buying gold too dear?” What have you expended in pursuit of money? What have you sacrificed in order to acquire money?

The apostle Paul does not assert that money is the root of all evil, though many presume that he does. It is the love of money, not money itself, that too often leads to “all kinds of evil.” How does the love of money manifest itself in your life? What damage has it caused? What steps can you take to root it out?

Pray

Save me, O God, from anything that supplants you in my heart and mind. Correct me when I cease to treat money as a tool for serving you, and turn it instead into an idol that demands service from me. Free me from the love of money, so that I may love you with all my heart, soul and mind and love my neighbor as myself.  Amen.

WORSHIP FOR NOVEMBER 22, 2020 + ADORACIÓN PARA EL 22 DE NOVIEMBRE 2020

REIGN OF CHRIST SUNDAY + DOMINGO DEL REINO DE CRISTO

THANKSGIVING SUNDAY + DOMINGO DE ACCIÓN DE GRACIAS

(Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost + Vigésimo quinto Domingo después de Pentecostés)

GIVE ALL YOU CAN!

¡DA TODO LO QUE PUEDAS!


The Generous and the Selfish: Matthew 25:31-46

Los Generosos y los Egoistas: Mateo 25:31-46


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Here is the Order of Worship for this morning + Aquí está la Ordén de Culto de esta mañana:

PASTORAL LETTER FOR THANKSGIVING 2020 + CARTA PASTORAL PARA EL DÍA DE LA ACCIÓN DE GRACIAS 2020

(Vea a continuación para la versión de esta carta en español)

November 20, 2020

Beloved family at Echo Park United Methodist Church:

May God’s peace be with all of you during this strangest of Thanksgiving seasons!

When word first arrived in early February that a deadly new virus had been identified in Wuhan, China, I briefly wondered whether this might not be ‘the one that we had been waiting for.’ But that thought quickly passed as I reminded myself that we weren’t living in a disaster movie and that real life was generally different from Hollywood. Besides, there were other things to worry about.

Of course, by late February and early March, we had started receiving news of people in this country becoming sick with what was then being called a novel coronavirus. Before long, new cases were being diagnosed in localities scattered across this nation. Even worse, large clusters of cases began to take shape in places like Santa Clara County, California, and King County, Washington. Public health officials were becoming increasingly alarmed!

By the middle of March, Echo Park United Methodist Church stopped holding in-person gatherings and meetings and started doing everything online. On April 12, we celebrated the good news of Jesus’ resurrection from our homes using a social media platform called Facebook Live. We turned to a video conferencing program called Zoom to facilitate our classes and meetings. And we gave thanks for the technology that made all this possible. The church could continue to be the church although a deadly global pandemic was forcing us to remain separated from each other.

Yet even as we gave thanks for the opportunities that digital technology provided us, we continued to hope that the pandemic would quickly pass so that life could return to normal and we could once again worship together in our sanctuary just as we always had. Who among us dreamed that we would still be worshiping online at Thanksgiving, or that we would be making plans for a digital Advent?  Yet here we are! And it appears as though we will continue to worship online until at least the early part of next year.

For the time being, the pandemic is worse than ever, and we are looking at the very real possibility of another lockdown. Although very promising vaccines are on the horizon, there is no clarity about when they will be made widely available to the general population. Consequently, this Thanksgiving will be different from any we have ever had. Trips are being called off. Family gatherings are on hold. Our homeless neighbors will receive their Thanksgiving meals in sealed grab-and-go packages. And football games will either be cancelled or played in largely empty stadiums. Tragically, more than 250,000 families will spend this Thanksgiving in mourning for loved ones lost to COVID-19, while thousands of others will pass their time worrying about family members and friends who have been quarantined or hospitalized after having contracted the disease.

So how do we give thanks in the middle of a global pandemic? Even more, how do we give thanks when our world seems to exist in a perpetual state of crisis fueled by political chaos, economic uncertainty, and natural disaster?  How do we give thanks when the people we love are suffering and dying? How do we give thanks when all our futures seem bleak and uncertain?

Yet giving thanks is precisely what we are called to do as servants of God and followers of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul articulates this calling powerfully in his letter to the church at Philippi:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

According to Paul, our thanksgiving should not be conditioned on the circumstances of our lives. We ought not to give thanks when things are going well, but immediately start grumbling when they go sour. Quite the contrary! We are called to give thanks in all things because thanksgiving is the foundation on which effective Christian lives are built. It inspires and empowers our efforts to seek God’s reign and do God’s will on earth as in heaven. And it gives us the peace we need to remain steadfast in our faith despite the enormous challenges that daily confront us.

I am thankful that Alex Arias has recently been posting inspirational words from his cousin Carlos Rodriguez on Facebook. I have found it comforting to re-read Carlos’ words of compassionate wisdom all these months after we lost him to COVID-19. Let me highlight a portion of the prayer that Alex posted on Carlos’ birthday, November 16:

Make this month of Thanksgiving be a reminder that grateful hearts can heal a family, a healed family can restore a community, and restored communities throughout our country can start to heal our nation. We as a grateful people all need to drop all walls that block the view of the horizon that you see for each one of us. Grant us the courage and perseverance for the job at hand.

Carlos Rodriguez

Carlos’ prayer reminds us of the power that thanksgiving has to make a difference in our world. So, I invite us to embrace it as our own during this season. Our world may be going through a horrible and deadly pandemic; it may be facing political chaos, economic collapse, and natural disasters. Yet, God is still God! And God who gave us birth is still with us to guide us, care for us, and love us through all the trials and tribulations that come our way. As Paul assured the church in Rome:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

So, let us give thanks, not just during this season of Thanksgiving, but through all the days and weeks and months to come. May thanksgiving be the resounding theme for all our lives.

May God bless you always!

Pastor Frank


20 de noviembre 2020

Querida familia en la Iglesia Metodista Unida de Echo Park:

Que la gracia de Dios sea con todos ustedes durante esta extraña temporada de la Acción de Gracias.

Cuando la noticia llegó por primera vez a principios de febrero que se había identificado un nuevo virus mortal en Wuhan, China, me pregunté brevemente si esto podría ser ‘el que habíamos estado esperando.’ Sin embargo, ese pensamiento desapareció cuando recordé que no estabamos viviendo en una película de desastre y que la vida real era generalmente diferente de Hollywood. Además, tenía otras cosas de las que preocuparme.

Por supuesto, a finales de febrero y a principios de marzo, habíamos empezado a recibir noticias que personas en este país se habían enfermado con lo que se llamaba un nuevo coronavirus. En poco tiempo, nuevos casos se estaban diagnosticando en localidades esparcidas por toda esta nación. Peor aún, grandes grupos de casos comenzaron a tomar forma en lugares como el condado de Santa Clara en California, y el condado de King en Washington. ¡Los funcionarios de salud pública estaban cada vez más alarmados!

A mediados de marzo, la Iglesia Metodista Unida de Echo Park dejó de celebrar reuniones en-persona y empezó a hacer todo en línea. El 12 de abril celebramos las buenas noticias de la resurrección de Jesús desde nuestras propias casas utilizando una plataforma de redes sociales llamada Facebook Live. Acudimos a un programa de videoconferencia llamado Zoom para facilitar nuestras clases y reuniones. Y dimos gracias por la tecnología que hizo todo esto posible. La iglesia podría seguir siendo la iglesia aunque una pandemia mundial mortal nos estaba obligando a permanecer separados el uno del otro.

Sin embargo, incluso mientras dábamos gracias por las oportunidades que nos brindaba la tecnología digital, seguimos esperando que la pandemia pasara rápidamente para que la vida pudiera volver a la normalidad y pudiéramos adorar juntos una vez más en nuestro santuario, como siempre lo hicimos. ¿Quién de nosotros soñó que todavía estaríamos adorando en línea durante la temporada de la Acción de Gracias, o que estaríamos haciendo planes para un Adviento digital? Sin embargo, ¡aquí estamos! Y parece que continuaremos adorando en-línea hasta al menos la primera parte del próximo año.

Por el momento, la pandemia es peor que nunca, y estamos anticipando la posibilidad muy real de otro confinamiento. Aunque vacunas muy prometedoras están a la vista, no hay claridad sobre cuándo estarán disponibles para la población en general. Por consiguiente, esta temporada de Acción de Gracias será diferente a cualquiera que hayamos tenido. Los viajes se cancelan. Las reuniones familares están en espera. Nuestros vecinos sin hogares recibirán sus comidas del Día de la Acción de Gracias en paquetes sellados para llevar. Y los partidos de fútbol se cancelarán o se jugarán en estadios practicamente vacios. Trágicamente, más de 250,000 familias pasarán este Día de la Acción de Gracias de luto por sus seres queridos perdidos por COVID-19, mientras que miles más pasarán el tiempo preocupándose por familiares y amigos que han sido puestos en cuarentena u hospitalizados después de haber contraído la enfermedad.

Entonces, ¿cómo damos gracias en medio de una pandemia global? Aún más, ¿cómo damos gracias cuando nuestro mundo parece existir en un estado perpetuo de crisis alimentada por el caos politico, la incertidumbre económica, y los desastres naturales? ¿Cómo damos gracias cuando las personas a las que amamos sufren y mueren? ¿Cómo damos gracias cuando todos nuestros futuros parecen sombríos e inciertos?

Sin embargo, dar gracias es precisamente lo que estamos llamados a hacer como siervos de Dios y seguidores de Jesucristo. El apóstol Pablo expresa este llamado poderosamente en su epístola a la iglesia en Filipos:

Por nada estéis angustiados, sino sean conocidas vuestras peticiones delante de Dios en toda oración y ruego, con acción de gracias. Y la paz de Dios, que sobrepasa todo entendimiento, guardará vuestros corazones y vuestros pensamientos en Cristo Jesús.

Filipenses 4:6-7

Según Pablo, nuestra acción de gracias no debe estar condicionada por las circunstancias de nuestras vidas. No debemos dar gracias cuando las cosas van bien, sino empezar a quejarnos inmediatamente cuando se ponen feas. ¡Al contrario! Estamos llamados a dar gracias en todas las cosas porque la acción de gracias es la base sobre la que se construyen vidas cristianas efectivas. Ella inspira y empodera nuestros esfuerzos para buscar el reino de Dios y hacer la voluntad de Dios en la tierra como en el cielo. Y nos da la paz que necesitamos para permanecer firmes en nuestra fe a pesar de los enormes desafíos que nos enfrentan diariamente.

Estoy agradecido de que Alex Arias haya estado publicando recientemente palabras inspiradoras de su primo Carlos Rodriguez en Facebook. Me ha reconfortado volver a leer las palabras de sabiduría compasiva de Carlos todos estos meses después de que lo perdimos por COVID-19. Permítanme resaltar una parte de la oración que Alex publicó en el cumpleaños de Carlos, el 16 de noviembre:

Hagamos que este mes de Acción de Gracias sea un recordatorio de que los corazones agradecidos pueden sanar a una familia, una familia sanada puede restaurar una comunidad y las comunidades restauradas en todo nuestro país pueden comenzar a sanar a nuestra nación. Todos nosotros, como gente agradecida, todos necesitamos dejar caer todas las paredes que bloquean la vista del horizonte que ves para cada uno de nosotros. Concédenos el valor y la perseverancia para el trabajo en cuestión.

Carlos Rodriguez

La oración de Carlos nos recuerda del poder que la acción de gracias tiene para marcar una diferencia en nuestro mundo. Entonces, nos invito a abrazarla como nuestra durante esta temporada. Nuestro mundo pueda estar pasando por una pandemia horrible y mortal; pueda estar enfrentando el caos politico, el colapso económico, y desastres naturales. Sin embargo, ¡Dios sigue siendo Dios! Y Dios que nos dió a luz sigue estando con nosotros para guiarnos, cuidarnos, y amarnos a través de todos las pruebas y tribulaciones que vienen a nuestro camino. Como Pablo aseguró a la iglesia en Roma:

Por lo cual estoy seguro de que ni la muerte ni la vida, ni ángeles ni principados ni potestades, ni lo presente ni lo por venir, ni lo alto ni lo profundo, ni ninguna otra cosa creada nos podrá separar del amor de Dios, que es en Cristo Jesús, Señor nuestro.

Romanos 8:38-39

Entonces, demos gracias, no sólo durante esta temporada de la Acción de Gracias, sino durante todos los días y semanas y meses por venir. Que la acción de gracias sea el tema resonante de todas nuestras vidas.

¡Que Dios los bendiga siempre!

Pastor Frank

WORSHIP FOR NOVEMBER 15, 2020 + ADORACIÓN PARA EL 15 DE NOVIEMBRE 2020

THE TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

EL VIGÉSIMO CUARTO DOMINGO DESPUÉS DE PENTECOSTÉS


SAVE ALL YOU CAN!

¡AHORRA TODO LO QUE PUEDAS!



The Industrious and the Lazy: Matthew 25:14-30

Los Industriosos y los Perezoso: Mateo 25:14-30


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Here is the Order of Worship for this morning / Aquí está la Ordén de Culto de esta mañana: