Stewardship is FAITH FORMING

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 16:1 Concerning the collection of money for God’s people: You should do what I have directed the churches in Galatia to do. 2 On the first day of the week, each of you should set aside whatever you can afford from what you earn so that the collection won’t be delayed until I come. 3 Then when I get there, I’ll send whomever you approve to Jerusalem with letters of recommendation to bring your gift. 4 If it seems right for me to go too, they’ll travel with me.

O (Observation): As Paul continues to make his missionary travels, he is sure to help the churches care for one another. This looked practically like collecting the offering in Corinth to financially support the church in Jerusalem. So he told the church in Corinth to do what he told the church in Galatia to do: gather a weekly collection of financial gifts so that Paul might share those gifts with the other churches he serves.

But why? Shouldn’t they fund their own ministries? Well, ideally, yes. But sometimes the act of letting go of money to help another cause is a great reward…for it lays the ground work to increase one’s faith.

A (Application): What do we do with our offering? Good question! In a congregation, most of the money covers the staff salaries. After that, it depends.

Utilities and maintenance usually get the next biggest chunk.

But don’t let that be discouraging.

For what are the staff doing? Preaching, teaching, leading youth, leading music in worship, leading faith formation events, reaching out to neighbors and building relationships, visiting the sick, coordinating staff duties, overseeing stewardship practices, making more disciples, and much, much more, all in the name of Jesus Christ!

Where does this happen? Much of it happens in the facility owned by the congregation. Worship, youth group, bible study, communications, Sunday School.

Outside groups may also make use of the church’s building.

The rest of the budget supports the ministries we provide. Materials for faith formation, mostly.

But then another chunk is designated for what some churches call “missions.” Since the congregation I serve is part of the ELCA (ELCA.org), we give to “Mission Support.” That money (8% of our regular offering, in our case), is sent to the ELCA. The ELCA uses these funds to organize worship and learning resources, leadership development, missionaries around the globe and in the U.S., and much more.

Letting go is the hardest part. As individuals, we consume SO MUCH! And we typically give at the end of the month, instead of at the beginning! If we always wait, we will NEVER have enough to give. Yet if we give on the front end, we will be amazed at the fact that we will have enough at the end.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us peace in regards to our finances. Amen.

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Giving is More Than Just About Giving

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S (Scripture): Luke 11:42 “How terrible for you Pharisees! You give a tenth of your mint, rue, and garden herbs of all kinds, while neglecting justice and love for God. These you ought to have done without neglecting the others.”

O (Observation): If I we’re one of those Pharisees Jesus was talking to, I’d take great offense! Here I am, having worked my way all the way up to Pharisee level…and now Jesus comes down on me?!

Jesus even points out part of my obligation: donations of 1/10 of my mint, rue, and more! That’s expensive! That’s my donation we’re talking about.

So Jesus says that donation is right and necessary, yet there’s more? That’s not what they taught me in my training to become a Pharisee.

Jesus wants ALL OF ME? I have to work at “justice and love for God” AND keep up with my donations? How? That’s not in my manual.

A (Application): I’ve enjoyed transitioning my approach to the Observation section in these devotions to a first-person perspective, because it helps me get into the story a bit more. Helps me enter the joys and challenges of the Gospel.

Today, we see Jesus criticizing the Pharisees for their lack of empathy for those in need. They satisfy their own “requirements list,” but care not for the people in need. And they ignore their devotion to God.

I wonder how many times I’ve focused more on getting to the 10% level of giving, but have ignored homeless folks around me. How often have I contributed to a special need at church, but have not helped with stuffing backpacks for kids in need in our neighborhood?

A word that cuts deep into me today. I will pay attention to this.

Giving is more than just about giving. Giving is a true and necessary action of a disciple, and it is also an entry point into discerning one’s part in justice-seeking and love for God.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me to get unwrapped from my piety and more open to serving those around me. I’m sure I have a lot to learn from those you seek for me to walk alongside. Amen.

The Conundrum

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S (Scripture): Deuteronomy 32:6

Is this how you thank the Lord,

you stupid, senseless people?

Isn’t he your father, your creator?

Didn’t he make you and establish you?

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God found Israel in a wild land—

in a howling desert wasteland—

he protected him, cared for him,

watched over him with his very own eye.

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They made God jealous with strange gods,

aggravated him with detestable things.

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They sacrificed to demons, not to God,

to deities of which they had no knowledge—

new gods only recently on the scene,

ones about which your ancestors had never heard.

O (Observation): The recognition of God as sovereign is key…God is the one who claimed the Hebrew people. And how do they show their gratitude? By showing allegiance to other gods. And not just other gods…new gods – gods their ancestors have never heard of before!

A (Application): Interesting. We are are not so different from our ancestors. We invent new ways – all of the time – of creating other gods in our lives. Gods our ancestors never heard of:

Social media platforms. Smart phones. Smart tv’s. Smart watches. (Oops…those are just some of mine. : )

Fancy beach homes. Cruises. Vacation destinations. Fast cars. On and on and on.

My family and I are going to Disney after Christmas in 2018, and staying through New Year’s (yes it will be slammed).

As we are researching what to do, we see that the most exquisite meal (in my opinion) is around $400 for 5 people. Yikes! (That’s dinner at Cinderella’s castle – the iconic castle in the Disney logo.) So, we’re skipping that one.

So, yes, we make new gods all of the time. And yet we try to be faithful to God…to act justly and love mercy. And be humble about it.

I’m going to enjoy my vacation with my family. We work hard and will enjoy this time away. And we will continue to give 10% of our income and serve and create relationships in my home town. We will continue to dig deep into God’s word and share God’s Good News.

And I will struggle – also – with story of the rich man who (after admitting to keeping all of the commandments) receives this word from Jesus: “Well done. Now, go and sell everything and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, then come follow me.” And the man walked away – very sad – for he was very rich. (Luke 18:22-23)

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P (Prayer): Lord, guide and direct me. Amen.

Giving out of Abundance


S (Scripture): Luke 20:45 As all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the experts in the law. They like walking around in long robes, and they love elaborate greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ property, and as a show make long prayers. They will receive a more severe punishment.”

21:1 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 He said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4 For they all offered their gifts out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in everything she had to live on.”

O (Observation):  Once again, Jesus takes the most simple, ordinary, hidden action, and turns it into a lesson of eternal significance. 

This widow has no major source of income, since men were employed and women supported the family through acts of service.  Without a husband, she would need to be supported by the community around her.  So, as a widow, her sources of income would be severely restricted.  

And if not for Jesus, her actions would go unnoticed.  Jesus brings to light the impact that this widow’s actions have on faith and culture.  Her faith is brought to light in the fact that her gift, though small in the eyes of her culture, was likely a large proportion of her finances.  And being so, she would have to trust in the Lord that what she has is enough.  

Indeed, Jesus is telling the disciples that:

“How we behave in the treasury is a direct reflection of the internal reality of our heart.” 

(Laura Turner, Guest post on Rachel Held Evans’ blog: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/laura-turner-widows-mite, July 7 2012)

This point that Jesus makes lifts up the splendid show of faith on the part of the widow, but also cuts deep into the culture of the rich and the experts in the law. The widows’ actions and the actions of the experts in the law seem to be diametrically opposed to one another. The experts in the law seem to be doing what they’re doing for the show of it, whereas the window seems to be giving in the quiet of her heart – a place where no one is looking. But Jesus notices.

A (Application):  What is our motivation to give:  To have our name on a plaque?  To give glory to God?  To trust in God’s abundance?  

We all have varied reasons for giving, and today, Jesus shows us a good way and a way to avoid.  Why?  To show us that the quiet way is just as valid a way as any, to give.  

The abundance mindset is rare in our society.  Average giving per churchgoer in the US has hovered somewhere around 2-3% of annual income.  This is a far cry from the 10% lifted up in the Old Testament as a guideline for giving.  Of course, the amount is not the focus, the focus is in giving as one is called and trusting that God will provide for our daily bread.  

Our challenges are many in this country: the allure of a brand new car, hi tech gadgets, restaurants, movies, sports, and so much more vie for our attention and our finances.  We tend to give to these things first, and give the leftovers to charity and church.  

What Jesus lifts up today is the heart of the widow: she gives from what little she has.  Is that how we operate?  Do we give of our first  fruits?  

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to trust in you as we step forward in faith.   Amen.  

You Want Me to Do What???

 

 S (Scripture): Psalm 50:8 I am not condemning you because of your sacrifices,
or because of your burnt sacrifices that you continually offer me.
50:9 I do not need to take a bull from your household
or goats from your sheepfolds….
50:12 Even if I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and all it contains belong to me.
50:13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls?
Do I drink the blood of goats?
50:14 Present to God a thank-offering!
Repay your vows to the sovereign One!

O (Observation):  Worship practices are sometimes described in Scripture, like today’s psalm.  I love how the psalmist lifts up God’s voice here, regarding the worship practice of Offerings.  God’s people are giving as a “sacrifice” to God.  God doesn’t NEED the sacrifices… rather, God’s people are to give as a response of thanksgiving!  

The people perhaps got into a routine of offering something to God as part of a quid-pro-quo system.  I screwed up, so here is my penance.  Or, I need a favor, God, here’s a little something I have for you…

What does work, however, is bringing an offering from a posture of thanksgiving.   Let that be the simple practice of Offering. 

A (Application):  In our world, we look to give AND receive.   And only BOTH!   I look like a fool if I give to you, and you don’t give back.   Or I look lazy if I don’t give you back something, if you’ve given me something. 

In worship, we give to God because we celebrate what God has done, is doing, and will do in this world – not just what God will do with our congregation.  If we thought Offering was a time of sacrifice (quid-pro-quo), it would be a very low point in the worship service.   

Instead, I view the time of Offering as a high point in the service.  We are trusting that God will bless those monies.  We trust that the gift I give will be a blessing to my personal/household finances.  

How do we know that last part is true? Couple of options:  

  1. Ask others who are generous givers.  Ask if they regret it. 
  2. Just start giving 10% of your income.  This is known as a “tithe,” a concept from the Old Testament.  (Or increasing your gift towards the tithe mark.). Then, step back, and discern where God has surprised you. 
  3. Look at your personal budget. Does every dollar have a purpose?  Are you blowing through your finances and don’t know where the money is going? Classes like Financial Peace Univsersity are wonderful for helping to bring hope to people in the area of personal finances.  

These are some real ways that you can engage in to find a new purpose for giving to God. 

My wife and I have made the leap of faith to giving 10% of our income through our congregation and local charities, and we haven’t looked back since.  We are happy to give thanks to our God, and we invite you to do the same, whether to church or charity or a local neighbor.  Give, and you will receive blessing. 

P (Prayer):  God of Abundance, open our eyes to your generosity, and to giving out of joy, rather than sacrifice.  Amen. 

Time and Money

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S (Scripture): Acts 19:23 At that time a great disturbance took place concerning the Way. 19:24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought a great deal of business to the craftsmen. 19:25 He gathered these together, along with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that our prosperity comes from this business. 19:26 And you see and hear that this Paul has persuaded and turned away a large crowd, not only in Ephesus but in practically all of the province of Asia, by saying that gods made by hands are not gods at all. 19:27 There is danger not only that this business of ours will come into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be regarded as nothing, and she whom all the province of Asia and the world worship will suffer the loss of her greatness.”

O (Observation): Paul’s journey includes reminding people that worshipping gods and idols made by human hands are a distraction to the one true God. Doing so was bad for business for Demetrius, maker of Artemis crafts.

Allegiance was being called into question for these folks. Paul wants people to identify with the Lord. Demetrius and others wish to side with their money and their lifestyle.

A (Application): Sounds like an all too familiar struggle. We, like Demetrius, seem to think that playing to our earthly securities will keep us safe and will be best for us.

That means that spending time with the Lord is given lower priority than work. That our finances are better kept and stocked up for a rainy day, than to automatically give away the first 10%.

As we seek the Lord’s grace to give the first part of our day to the Lord in Scripture and prayer, and as we commit to the Lord the first 10% of our income, then yes, those other gods (work, wealth, etc.) “will suffer the loss of their greatness.”

Imagine that: work and wealth will no longer be our goal. Hmmm. I could live with that… And I do live with that. This blog is part of my testimony (and struggle) of giving away the first part of my day to the Lord. We give 10% of our income at the beginning of the month. Our kids give assay part of their chore money. These gifts of giving strengthen me and my family for whatever may come. Moreso than wealth and work can ever provide.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us focused on you, and not other gods, such as work and wealth. Amen.

King -> AUTHORITY -> Power

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S (Scripture): LK 20:1 Now one day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the gospel, the chief priests and the experts in the law with the elders came up 20:2 and said to him, “Tell us: By what authority are you doing these things? Or who it is who gave you this authority?” 20:3 He answered them, “I will also ask you a question, and you tell me: 20:4 John’s baptism – was it from heaven or from people?” 20:5 So they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ 20:6 But if we say, ‘From people,’ all the people will stone us, because they are convinced that John was a prophet.” 20:7 So they replied that they did not know where it came from. 20:8 Then Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by whose authority I do these things.”

O (Observation): The leaders of the church are really carefully watching Jesus now. They just can’t wait for him to slip up. So they start poking at him with questions. They try to trap him by asking him who’s given him authority to do what he’s doing.

From their discussion, it’s obvious that they would not believe Jesus, no matter what he said. Jesus has thus revealed the nature of these church leaders – hypocrites. They simply cannot accept the fact that God could be working through one such as Jesus. This means their understanding of how God works on earth has been totally turned upside down.

A (Application): As we go about our journey as disciples, we will do some things that look strange to others. We will speak out against evil, we will give to the poor, we will use our time and energy on things that seem less important to this world. And when we do these things on behalf of God (King of kings), power will come through our actions and words.

Recently, my wife and I began to give away 10% of our income (up from about 7%) – a commitment back to our God and King. Part of what got us to that point is me giving up an extra $25 per month of money to just blow on coffee or meals and even gifts for my wife or kids. Instead, that money goes to our congregation to support the ministries we provide and the benevolence to the ELCA. That looks weird to a world full of “It’s all about me.” But we also realize that this power to take action FIRST comes from God providing for us and giving us contentment. It always starts with God.

If and when people question us, we can be confident to tell them that the power we wield is simply a sign of the authority given to us to act on behalf of God in this world. But we must remember to do so humbly and not out of arrogance.

What weird actions have you taken on behalf of God? Who has questioned you? Friends? Family members? It can be a tough road, but you are not acting alone.

P (Prayer): Lord of all, King of kings, give us the authority and the power to do your will in this place and this time. Amen.