Holy Habits                                       Various Texts

Stewardship 10 for 10                         January 29, 2023,                         St. John, New Orleans

The Book of Joshua recounts the fulfillment of God's covenant to return Israel to the promised land in Canaan. 

Each tribe was allotted a portion of the territory. 

After they settled and the former peoples were pushed out, there was a time of peace. 

And, Eventually, Joshua, Moses's successor as the leader of Israel, was nearing death. 

But before he died, he made everyone promise to not fall back into the old habit of worshipping idols and false gods.

Whether it was their exposure to the gods of Egypt as Pharaoh’s slaves, or the Pagan gods of their new neighbors, the Israelites struggled to remain faithful to God alone. 

Societal pressures, the result of mixed faith marriages, and threats from foreign kings, 

all led Israel to habitually look to other gods for their strength, 

starting with the golden calf at the beginning of their exodus from Egypt. 

But in Joshua Chapter 24, he lays it all out on the line. 

“15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua's time to keep them in line is nearly over. 

He has been faithful in teaching and leading by example, for many, many, years. 

If they haven't become worshippers of God by now, there was nothing more he could do for them. 

They've had lots of practice, but now they would have to rely on their own training and good habits to keep them faithful.

And that's what I'd like to talk about today: Holy habits that support faith. 

As our readings point out, there is lots of information available in Scripture which teaches about God. 

Some of it is very literal, and historic. 

And our other parts are more cryptic in nature. 

But Paul tells the Corinthians that it makes no sense without faith. 

Scripture is not the faith, but it delivers faith.

 Scripture does not save us, but it leads us to the Savior. 

And as we read from Micah and Matthew today, we are told of certain characteristics of those who have faith.

Jesus gives us the beatitudes, 

and Micah says, “do justice, love, kindness, walk humbly with your God.” 

All of which can be very hard to do if you are not used to date doing them,

 because they are all self-deprecating acts, 

or at the very least, require us to consider others first.

No matter where in scripture you read, those who are proud and self-serving are never held up as godly examples for God's people. 

Even though God promised Israel would be a great nation, God did not promise earthly glory. 

Even though they were promised to be many, Israel was not promised freedom. 

Even though the Messiah, the Savior, was promised to come from their ranks, not every Israelite would be saved. 

But throughout the Bible, those who would be saved by God and promised eternity shared one quality: Faith. 

From Job, who had everything and everyone in his life stripped from him, 

to the apostles who were martyred, 

the meek, weak, and humble who died in faith, had the same reward in heaven 

as the prophets, priests, and kings, who remained faithful to God till the end.

Building a faith that endures till the end can benefit greatly from practicing holy habits. 

And for the next 10 weeks we are going to help one another develop these habits. 

Because faith is delivered by the means of grace and the word of God, we will practice the habit of worshipping and communing with one another regularly. 

Because God desires that your heart grows closer to him, we will encourage one another to pray. 

And because he has been so overwhelmingly generous with us, we will attempt to grow in our own capacities for generosity.

And since Easter Sunday is just 10 weeks away, we're calling it 10 for 10 Where we will attempt to practice these three new habits, each for 10 weeks. 

For our first habit during these ten weeks, we will hold 18 different worship opportunities, of which I hope you can make it to at least ten of them. 

In terms of prayer, I'd like you to make a list of not more than ten different things you want to talk with God about consistently over the next 10 weeks. 

And lastly, in order to grow you're giving muscles, I want to challenge you to be more generous with your money over the next 10 weeks. 

Let's look at our worship first. 

Psalm 26:8 says, “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells,”. 

While the psalmist was talking about God's habitation of the temple, 

it was because God promised to be there that everyone else went there to worship him and hear the Scriptures. 

“The habitation of your house,” is a two party experience that requires God and people, to be fully realized. 

And therefore your presence here in worship is so important to our fellowship with each other. 

Whether it's Sunday morning, Lenten midweek, or Holy Week services, 

there will be ample opportunities for you to practice the habit of worshipping each week.

If you can't make it on Sunday starting February 22nd, you can worship on Wednesday.

Next, prayer. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “pray without ceasing.” 

I'm sure you pray often and about a great many things, but do you ever wait for an answer? 

Whether it's disbelief, superstition, or even hopelessness, I think many give up on prayer and see it as something for others to do. 

But what I'm proposing for us these ten weeks is to make a short list of the really important prayers we have. 

Whether it's a need or a request, or maybe it's answers to a problem you have,

or even a Thanksgiving that you want to offer up, 

Write it in your “10 for 10 Journal”

and pray through that list as often as you are able,

 weekly or even daily, 

and watch for the next 10 weeks to see how God replies.

The third habit I'd like us to adopt is a habit of generosity. 

And it is the part of this exercise which gives us the name “10 for 10” 

because originally it was intended as a challenge for everyone to give the tithe (or 10% of your income) to the church for 10 weeks,

And, of course, that kind of generosity 

can make a noticeable impact on our life together as a congregations 

as well as our personal faith,

 if each of us were to do that. 

However, I know that not all of us have the faith necessary to do that just yet, so I’ve modified the challenge a bit.

Our body and mind both grow stronger when we push them to new limits. 

Sore muscles after a workout means you were doing that, 

and being tired after an emotional event, or working out a difficult problem, do as well. 

In the same way, pushing our faith to new limits helps it grow as well. 

And our faith is stretched and tested when we suffer. 

Paul says in Romans 5:3-5, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

So if we stretch the limits of our generosity, we discover what is possible. 

Not only through our own efforts, 

but we see new ways in which God uses those efforts to build faith in us and others. 

And just like with any exercise, it's all relative and proportionate. 

If you have never lifted a weight before, 

you start with an empty barbell to see how it feels 

and to learn how to balance it in your hands. 

Similarly, if you have never made a monetary donation before,

 you may need to start small and slow. 

Your generosity muscle is probably not capable of the tithe, but it is capable of something. 

And so in my year end giving letter, I laid out several places to start so that you can increase the part of your faith that leads to generosity. 

If you don't give anything, start now with a small weekly gift that you are confident that you can sustain and stick with it for 10 weeks. 

Whether it's $0.10 or $10 or more,

the amount is not important, it's the habit of giving anything that is important for you. 

If you are an inconsistent giver, figure out how you can make it a regular part of your worship. 

Perhaps setting up an automatic payment from your bank or our website would be helpful for your situtation. 

If you are consistent in giving, but not yet giving 10% of the income God is providing for you, try to tithe for the next 10 weeks. 

And if you are already tithing, try increasing your gift by 10% for 10 weeks to see what happens.

Now, I'm sure there is a lot of discomfort in this room right now, right? 

As Lutherans, we are well versed in the ten Commandments and the scriptures. 

We know all about God's requirement to observe the Sabbath and to place him above all else in our lives. 

We know he wants us to pray to him and to give our first fruits offerings to him. 

But as Lutherans, we also like the grace that Paul preaches, 

especially to the Ephesians in Chapter 2, verses eight and nine. 

Paul. Gives us an out, doesn't he? 

We are saved by grace, not works, “lest anyone should boast!” 

“Yeah! That's right, we don't want to follow God's commandments too closely, or else we would look boastful.” 

But as Lutherans, we also know that we must consider the whole Council of God in scripture and within its own context. 

Starting with the fact that Paul's famous exhortation in Chapter 2 vs. eight and nine is followed by a verse ten. Which says., “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them..”

or, that James says that, “faith without works is dead.” (James 2:7)

or that Malachi closes out the Old Testament by saying, “(Malachi 3:10-12) Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11 I will rebuke the devourer[a] for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.

And with all of this scriptural evidence 

that we should be in worship, praying continually, and giving sacrificially, 

our discomfort can only be chalked up to one thing: A lack of faith.

Being found lacking faith is nothing new to us. 

Our faith is challenged all the time from things outside our control. 

But what disturbs us today is that these are things over which God has given us total control. 

Our time is ours to use as we please. 

Our relationship with God is only as strong as we want it to be. 

Our possessions have been given to us with no strings attached. 

In fact, God gives to all. Regardless of faith. 

And the unbeliever usually comes out better off in this life than the believer. 

And yet, we are troubled because we do have faith. 

We know we need God's forgiveness and have trusted in Jesus to give it. 

We believe in the resurrection 

and know that the faithful will have eternal life 

as opposed to eternal suffering for the unbeliever. 

And it is because of that faith that we can come in our shame and guilt, repent of our sins, be forgiven of those sins, and start anew. 

These next 10 weeks are a way to start fresh. 

These ten weeks are an opportunity for a, “do over,” or a “Mulligan,” where your faith habits are concerned. 

I'm giving you a challenge, but I'm also giving you an out. 

If you do these habits in earnest for 10 weeks 

and you don't see how they have grown your faith; 

you can go back to what you were doing before.

But, On the other hand, I'll also say this. “Be ready for your world to be rocked.” 

Yes, every force in the world, including yourself, will work against you so that your faith will not grow through this process. 

You'll get sick and have to miss worship. 

You'll get distracted and forget to pray. 

Your car or a major appliance will breakdown, putting a dent in your budget.

 But you will also be amazed at the blessings you will experience. 

Worship and fellowship and the Word of God will become richer and more important to you. 

You will see the hand of God moving to answer your prayers. 

And you will witness unimagined windfalls that come your way, 

perhaps not in a monetary way, 

but in ways which will, nonetheless, affirm your increased generosity in life.

Today you were given a little folder which has room for you to write down ways you want to engage in these holy habits of worship, prayer, and generosity. 

I urge you to take it home and place it where you will be reminded and use it regularly. 

And perhaps most importantly, keep it out for the whole 10 weeks. 

Because at the end of 10 weeks I want you to reflect on, and answer, the questions on the last page.

And then, for those who are comfortable doing so, I'd like to host a lunch the week after Easter to discuss what we've experienced, and learned, through this exercise. 

And may the grace peace and the love of God keep you forever safe in Christ Jesus. Amen.