On today’s calendar the Presbyterian Church, along with many others, makes their stewardship commitment to support the church for the next year. Some folks will have sat down, put a pencil or calculator to their income and made a decision about what percentage of their income they can commit to the church. Others will have given it some thought but still aren’t sure how much they can give because they are uncertain about the current economic situation. And there are some who just don’t want to put it down on paper. They know what they’re going to give and they want to keep it private. There’s not one thing wrong with any of these ways of making a commitment.
When members are willing to put it down in writing it helps the leadership of the church make more informed decisions when they work on the budget for the next year. Every year that I have been involved with forecasting the budget for the next year I have observed that the pledges come no where near to meeting the needs of the budget. Every year the budget is put together based on the best estimates of what the next year will bring and then we go on ahead trusting in God to provide what we need to enable us to do his will for his church.
This is the time of year that many businesses are looking at the results for the past year and the forecasts for the next year and making decisions about how to proceed with their business. The church isn’t much different. We look at what has been accomplished in the past year, what went well and what didn’t, and then after spending some time in prayer and discernment put together a financial budget for the next year.
I’ve never been one to tell someone how much they should give to the support of the church. I believe that is between individuals and God. That’s what makes it so difficult to plan programs for mission, outreach, and education. Everything anybody does seems to take money.
I think its all about being prepared. That’s what the gospel lesson is for us today. We need to be prepared because we don’t know when the Master will return. The question you may be asking is how do we make sure that we are prepared? How can we know or be assured that we have done everything we can do and are ready for whenever He returns?
Winter is coming. As I write this the wind is coming out of the northwest at about 25 miles per hour and the temperature is hovering at 32 degrees. There is a dusting of white snow flakes on the wet leaves in the yard. The thought goes through my mind, “Am I ready for what might be coming this winter?” Is the gas can full? Has the oil been changed in the snowblower? Do I remember where I put the snow shovels? Do I have ice melt in case we get some freezing rain instead of snow? Am I prepared? Are you prepared?
What do we need to do to be prepared for the return of the Master? Jesus told the disciples in the preceding verses that even He doesn’t know the hour or the day, only God knows the time of His return. So we need to be on watch and we need to be prepared. What do we need to do?
I think if someone asked me that question I would begin first by finding out if they are practicing regular daily devotions. One of the first things we should be doing is reading the Word every day and letting the Spirit interpret the Message to our hearts. Along with reading and studying God’s Word is to spend time in prayer with God. That’s not us petitioning God with our requests and interceding for our family and friends and neighbors but it’s coming to God in conversation all day, every day, and allowing quiet time in our closets for God to speak to us.
These two tasks, and they are tasks because they require discipline, are important because if we neglect them then the world rushes in like nature filling a vacuum. Our hearts become hardened. The more we turn our backs on God the easier it is to find something else to do that we deem as more important than spending time with God. My fear is that when this happens it’s possible that Jesus may return and we will find ourselves unprepared.
It is tough work. We are bombarded daily by things that tempt us and pull us away from the work of preparation. Sometimes its really grunt work to go to our quiet place and pray.
Friends, we live in a time when we expect our wants and needs to be met immediately and when they aren’t we look somewhere else to find fulfillment. The readers of Matthew’s gospel had been expecting Christ to return and he hadn’t yet. They began to think he wasn’t coming ever and so they were becoming disillusioned with the gospel news. That’s exactly what Paul was talking about in his letter to the Thessalonians. Some believers of the Way had died and they were worried that they might miss out on eternal life. Paul was reassuring them that if they died believers then they would be the first to be with the Lord when he returned.
Friends, its 2008 and a new year is fast approaching. The Master hasn’t returned yet. Are you prepared?
Maybe you are already doing study and prayer. Is there anything else we can do to be better prepared? What about our family, friends, neighbors and those we don’t know so well? Are they prepared? What’s our responsibility to them?
We can’t change them. That’s up to them and the grace of God, but we can share with them our story of how God has helped us prepare our lives for his return. We can’t give them more faith but we can share how our faith has been strengthened by being in God’s Word and spending time in prayer and contemplation.
It sounds kind of harsh but we can’t change how people are or how they act. We can only love them as God’s children, share his love with them, and pray for God’s will to be done in their lives. It’s all up to each individual to make the decision to turn their lives over to God trusting in his grace and love through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection from the grave.
Maybe you aren’t sure where you’re at today. Maybe you want to get prepared but don’t know where to start. Friends the good news is you are in the right place right now to make a start. God brought you here to hear his Word for you today. The next step is to give your heart to Jesus. Ask him to forgive you for the times you have turned away from God. Believe on Him and confess your need to have him in your life. He will show you where to go next.
Everyday we wake up and the sun rises is one day closer to Christ’s return. Are you prepared?
Keep reading and studying God’s word. Stay in conversation with God. Listen for his voice. Look for Jesus in every person you meet. And keep coming back to worship God, our Savior and our Friend.
I began this morning by talking about making a financial commitment to the support of the church and ended by talking about making a personal commitment to God through Jesus. Our lives are about making commitments. Choose today whom you will serve and then make a commitment. I choose to serve Jesus and commit myself to being prepared through study, prayer, and worship. Put your hope in God and he will show you the Way in Jesus. Thanks be to God. Amen.