Giving Back

Whose Money Is It Anyway?

What would happen if we were all to get completely wet regarding our faith. That is, what if we all were completely committed to God’s mission in this world. How would our lives be different? Would they be different? Personally, I do recognize that this is a very tall task as most of us want to keep a small corner, a small part of our existence completely to ourselves; we don’t want God messing with that part of our lives as we might be considered a radical for Christ if we did.

Sometimes I don’t think we understand God’s economics or God’s accounting, the way God looks at our world versus the way we look at the world. I don’t know about you, but I think the money I have in the bank is my money. The house I own or the bank owns is my house. The car I make payments on is my car. I often forget that “God gives to all mortals life and breath and all things,” so that “in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:25,28) James also tells us “every good and perfect gift is from God” (James 1:17) so why do we keep insisting that what we have is mine, all mine, and no one else’s? I suspect if you are at all like me or most people for that matter there is some greed involved, some idea that I earned it, I deserve it and I want to keep it.  

Here’s where that idea is flawed. All that is in the world is God’s and we are managers, overseers of what we have. We have been given talents, opportunities, material possessions, but once we recognize ‘all that we have is thine alone, a gift O Lord from thee’ we begin to realize everything belongs to God and will go back to God once we leave this earth. All we have, it’s all a matter of God’s grace, God being sovereign. Of course I don’t want to diminish our effort or our work involved in making money, but who gave you the skills to make money or the body you use to earn a living?

So why does God give things to us; because he loves us and wants the best for us. (John 3:16) God gives because God loves. God gives to us because God loves us according to Powell and scripture. When we give back to God in time, talent or treasure we show God’s love in return. Giving is an act of worship that demonstrates our understanding of God’s economy. If we don’t give it demonstrates our lack of love for God and one another and our complete misunderstanding of God grace.

Powell says and history shows us that one of our greatest needs as humans is to worship God. Remember the story of the widow and “two copper coins?” It wasn’t a story about the amount she gave, although for her it was all she had. It wasn’t a story of how much praise she received from her gift or who the gift went to. Jesus scorned the Pharisees and temple moneychangers when it came to their understanding of God’s economy. It was all about the widow’s attitude about her gratitude. We look at the outside of a person, but God looks at the heart. The window gave as an act of worship, an act of sincere gratitude for what God have given her.

For the next six months (and likely longer) God will be working on each of our hearts as we study together Powell’s book ‘Giving to God.’ Some may find this tedious, some may find it boring, some may find it frustrating, but I’m sure God will find it interesting as each of us is confronted with our understanding of what it means to be faithful stewards. From a scriptural perspective we are all stewards and God entrusts us with a high privilege when he gives us anything. Remember, we own nothing, but manage everything.
Giving as an Act of Discipleship

Transformation - moving from a membership model of how we see ourselves to a discipleship model is directly related to how we understand and practice stewardship. In a membership model we can get very hung up on what privileges members have, which of course means that non-members don’t have privileges, they are constrained. Of course even members are constrained. The ELCA constitution and bylaws limit behavior, although not always a bad thing, at times these documents and how we interpret and practice them can lead to operating a church in a Pharisaical manner. What do I mean?

In our gospel (Luke 13:10-17) text for Sunday August 22, 2010 Jesus healed a woman who could not stand up straight, but the leader of the synagogue was indignant because the rules said that no one was to work on the Sabbath. Jesus responded by saying, “You Hypocrites!” you give water to your animals on the Sabbath don’t you? When God’s mission is thwarted by rules that are built upon our personal preferences they do not empower, but they hinder God’s kingdom being ushered into this world. Instead of being supportive and joyous over the healing of this daughter of Abraham this leader used the rules to diminish the work of God.

As God’s people we need to be very careful when we make rules or policies or bylaws that support the work of God because rules are often more about personal preferences than they are about fulfilling God’s mission. This is not easy work and it requires a different attitude about how we approach life, which brings me back to discipleship. 

Stewardship and discipleship are joined at the hip. Stewardship is about how we glorify God through the use of our time, talent and treasure. Well, as it turns out so is discipleship. When we practice discipleship God draws us closer, God invites us into a closer relationship and wants our energy to be focused on glorifying God in all that we do. Through prayer, study, worship, and service to God we are brought to a place in our lives where we begin to see God at work all around us. When this happens, it changes us.

When God changes us on the inside, everything on the outside changes as well. According to Mark Allen Powel, he seems to say, show me a person who does not give in time, talent, and treasure to God’s kingdom and I’ll show you a person who has lost touch with God. I tend to say it a different way, “What we believe in, we have time for.” When God touches our heart we can’t help but give back to God in response. Luther discovered this. Most great church leaders down through history came to a point in their life where God called them to live a different way, and as discipleship took over the stewardship they practiced blossomed.         

I pray that God will allow each of us to blossom as we are feed with the Word and watered by the Spirit of God’s grace in our lives.