Saturday, October 23, 2010

Stewardship of Prayer

I want to tell you about a new movement in the church. I do a fair amount of reading each week in preparation for the sermon and to keep aware of what is happening in the Christian world.
The religious world has as many fads and trends as the fashion world, or so it seems. It can be hard to get on-board with a new movement before it has seen it’s day and faded into the recesses of old magazines.

The movement I read about this week has real potential.

The people who began it are from several different denominations. They were all at an ecumenical conference on ‘Living the Deeper Spiritual Life’ and discovered their common interest.
A speaker at the conference was citing some statistics that today’s young people think the best place to find a hypocrite is in church.
-We’ve all see the stories on pastors who turn out to use a church to get money for themselves, priests who abuse children, and we’ve heard the ‘prosperity gospel’ preached again and again.
These stories reinforce the impression that Christianity is about how to get the MOST out of life."
-The Christianity we see displayed on TV and media is often one that makes us cringe. I find myself saddened but understanding of teens who think the one place to find a hypocrite is the church.
This one statistic really struck the founders of the new movement and inspired them to look at their faith practices.
They wondered what they could DO to deepen their faith and strengthen the image the world has of Christian church-goers.

Most of the men and women who founded the movement were current officers of their church boards, leadership councils or sessions. These are the people typically called on to be Stewardship Chair, board chair, or asked to hold some position of leadership.
They wanted to challenge each other to a higher level of spiritual practice so they wouldn’t get so wrapped up in their work for the church, that they forgot about prayer and Bible reading.
Since they had so much in common, they came up with a list of goals that would help them maintain the level of piety or spirituality they desired. This would be the way they stayed close to God and could better listen for God’s call on their life.<
Remember, This movement is aimed at people who do a lot at church so there is an assumption that to be part of this movement, you will hold or have held a church position of leadership (board, deacon, SS teacher) within the last 5 years.
In order to challenge each other, people in this movement commit to reading their Bible daily.
Many have decided to purchase a 1-year or 2-year Bible, which simplifies the reading process and insures you will read completely thru the Bible in the 1 or 2 year period.
-The founders are well aware of the statistic that only 17% of US Christians read their Bible daily. This 1st goal, will ground their practice in the words of scripture.

Being the leaders of the church, they have also committed to tithing knowing it takes funds for the church to exist. (You can tell many of the founders of the new movement have been stewardship chairs.) They even decided to take the original definition of “a tithe” which means 10% of their income and possessions.
Another statistic that troubled them says many Christians give closer to 4% or less of their income. So this group wanted to return to the biblical command to TITHE.
And to eliminate any question about what 10% means, they say in any case where there are questions about tithing ‘gross’ or ‘net’, they promise to give the larger amount.
This “pocketbook challenge” they know will help them be serious about their covenant to the movement. You have to be serious to make a promise like this. (Putting their money where their mouth is?)
A unique practice of this group is the reinstitution of fasting on a regular basis. They remarked that we all know more about Islam these days and hear how Muslims maintain days of fasting, where food is only consumed before dawn and at very minimal amounts during the weeks of Festivals or “Holy Days”.
The founders of the new movement think Christians should return to the older practices of fasting. (This is something they have in common with the early brethren.) So they plan to develop a schedule of fasting days and everyone who joins the group will commit to several days of fasting each year.

The key leadership of the movement also recognizes that they will need interpersonal support to maintain this level of commitment.  So, members within the same town, regardless of their denomination, promise to meet together regularly to pray for each other.
They feel this commitment to each other will strengthen the movement and build ties among the new community of those deeply committed to following Jesus, the Christ every day.
This is quite an admirable group who have begun the movement and the prayer they suggest to any of us who wants to join is this, “'Oh, God, we thank you that we are not like other people—. We fast regularly, read scripture daily, and tithe on all our income.”
Adapted from Luke 18:11-12 (MSG)
And the name of the movement is, The PHARISEE Way.

Now they make very clear, that they know they are not the only Christians in the world. Clearly there are many others who are Christians and they state there is nothing wrong with ‘other folks’. It’s obvious to the new movement that there are plenty of people who really need Jesus in this world. Certainly those who are struggling with addictions, Or who haven’t the resources that allow them time to devote to church work.
They recognize most ordinary Christians can’t take on these promises and they don’t want to burden ‘the average’ believer with such high standards. It doesn’t seem fair to coerce everyone with these strict practices.
They make a point of saying,
“we are the fortunate ones who have been blessed with good jobs and secure futures that allow us to make this kind of commitment to Christ’s church. It’s ok, if ‘you’ can’t all live at this level.”
There are so many people out there whose need for Jesus in their life mean they need the freedom to pray, “'God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'
Luke 18:13 (MSG) The movement’s first publicity statement says,
“We certainly want these needy Christians to feel included in our churches so we won’t push to impose these standards on everyone. This movement will remain for those who are blessed enough with the time and finances to be able to make this level of commitment.”
It’s quite a movement, isn’t it? What do you think of it?

Are any of you ready to join?

And Jesus said, “for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

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