5PM Candlelight Service – Wesley
7PM Candlelight Service – Asbury
11PM Candlelight Service – Asbury
Your Heart and Your Treasure
I read today that a pastor in Colorado allegedly swindled members of his congregation out of 1.3 million dollars. He sold cryptocurrency to his flock. (Crypto to me is just another Ponzi scheme dressed up in technological clothing.) Apparently, God told him to set up this business, therefore you should trust him and buy what his business was selling—worthless investment in his cryptocurrency coins.
It’s familiar pattern of a scam perpetrated by other pastors. The script is, “God told me that everyone should buy into this real estate deal…this ministry I started…this Gulfstream jet…this _____; parishioners trust the pastor but then later regret their decision. As the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “What has been, will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” These ministers are the reason the United Methodist denomination requires ethics training of all pastors every four years.
I’m sure scams happen in other professions and other religions with equal regularity; however, it pains me to see it in our own faith. One of the top reasons “Nones” walk away from Christian faith and the church are these mistakes with money and obsession with wealth. It’s an unfair comparison because 99% of pastors are not scammers, but social media and mainstream media makes it seem like the norm—just like every other issue. Jesus cautions us about money and how it can cause us “decay and rust on the inside.” (Matt. 619ff) We should listen to him!
I say this as the Church tithes and offerings end-of-year statements go out this week. In the envelope, I include a short pastoral letter that shares some of the good ministry work done at Madison First UMC. It’s our way of transparently witnessing how we serve Christ in this community and around the world. There will be no invitation to buy crypto at a reduced price or a plea for a new Gulfstream 650.
As I’ve said many times, there are no secrets in budgeting or how money is spent in our church. For example, I don’t know of any other denomination that invites all its members to a meeting in the Fall to vote on a Pastor’s salary package. It’s awkward for pastors, but very transparent. The budget line items are openly discussed in open Finance Committee meetings and approved at open Administrative Council meetings. It’s God’s money and we are simply caretakers of it. We have nothing to hide from you or God himself.
So if I or anyone else tells you “God told me that you should invest with me.” run the other way. Your wallet and your Lord will be glad.
Lost and Found
I’m not good with jewelry. I know this because I’ve been married for almost 20 years, and I’ve owned seven wedding rings. Two platinum bands and five silicon rubber. If marriage vows depended on the ring, then I would be out of luck.
The first wedding band I lost was at Disney World. I vaguely remember taking it off before jumping into the cold water of the hotel pool. I worried my fingers would shrink and the ring would fall off. It must have fallen out of the bag somewhere around the pool. Disney vacations are expensive; that one was even more so.
I bought another ring a few months later. Not too surprisingly, the Shane Company had a perfect match at almost twice the price. I shouldn’t have told my “lost ring” story to the salesman. Wedding ring prices increase corresponding to the level of a husband’s carelessness. At the end of the day, I had a replacement ring, and all was good.
Later that week, I asked a local jeweler to engrave a phrase on the band to help identify my ring if I lost it again. I probably should have inscribed something like “True love forever” or “Just the beginning”. A bible verse reference like “1 Corinthians 13” might have been sweet. However, I decided to be practical and perhaps less inspirational. I told the jeweler to engrave my name and cellphone number on the inside.
Unfortunately, I lost wedding ring number two about a year ago. I think it flew off my finger while throwing a baseball on a cold day on the parsonage front yard. I searched for that ring in the grass on my hands and knees for an hour or more. Later I borrowed a metal detector and scanned the yard. Like the worried woman who lost a silver coin in Luke Chapter 15, I frantically did my best to find my ring. Sadly, it was gone.
My Valentine’s Day gift that year was a $20 pack of five silicon rubber rings of various colors. Of those five, I’ve lost two…nobody cares. Like I said, I’m not good with jewelry, but I’m still married.
Thankfully, the covenant of marriage is not based on a ring, a house, or other material things. Leigh and I strive to base our relationship on unconditional love, which reflects our belief in God’s unconditional love. At weddings, I say, “rings are the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace signifying to all the uniting of this couple in holy marriage.” Rings are just outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace. I’m grateful my relationship with my wife is more precious than a piece of metal on my finger. I believe there is more rejoicing in heaven over “inward and spiritual grace” than outward symbols like rings. God’s love is unconditional for us. Thanks be to God!
However, the story is not over.
Last Thursday I received a text from the pastor who followed me at my last church appointment. The text read, “Did you lose a ring once upon a time while putting up or taking down Christmas decorations in the sanctuary?” Praise God, the engraving on the ring worked!!! Apparently, a worship volunteer was packing up garland and saw a ring in the bottom of the box. He examined it and saw my name and phone number and knew whose it was. I’m proud to say that today, “what was once lost is now found.”