Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Reason Number Four

At our church, we often have a "stump the pastor" time during part of the morning service. Members of the congregation are free to pose any questions on their mind concerning the Christian faith and see how quickly I can come up with an articulate and biblically accurate response. One Sunday, a younger member who had been reading some work by Shane Claiborne asked, "In order to be fully Christian, do I have to give away everything I have?" Good question. Complicated answer.

How much are we to give? How do we balance giving to God with caring for family and other financial obligations?

This question leads to Excuse Number Four for avoiding worship: "Churches ask for money and I don't have any to give."

Most of us know the story of the rich young man who came to Jesus and wanted eternal life. After Jesus learned that the young man already practiced following the commandments, he told him, "Give away everything you have and follow me." The young man walked sadly away. He couldn't do it.

Is that a universal request? I don't think so. But I do know that the story makes a vital point: we can serve God or we can serve money. We can't serve both.

I have personally made two important discoveries after many years of wrestling with this: First, giving away a minimum of 10% of what I bring in has become one of the most freeing disciplines I have ever practiced. It teaches me deep gratefulness for what I do have, and I find I have little or no yearning for what I don't have. Second, money and possessions are demanding and ultimately ugly taskmasters. I, as did the rich young man, had to learn that if I possess something I can't give away, it actually owns me. I don't own it. This doesn't mean I must give everything away. It does mean I might need to someday, and it is good to be ready.

Ultimately, I am a steward of my possessions, not their owner. As a steward, I have an obligation to care well for them, to handle my finances with integrity, and to be prepared to hand them over to the real owner at any time. Such a mindset releases joy. It sets me free from the of golden handcuffs of thinking money or possessions are mine. They are not.

Yes, churches do ask for money. They do so because learning to give is an important spiritual discipline. Generous giving teaches us to trust in God, to learn that God's economy operates very differently from human economy, and to acknowledge that God's economy ultimately does win. 

A church should handle its finances with watchful holiness. That means transparent financial books, including clergy compensation figures, with this information freely available to anyone who asks. If this is not the case, beware. 

But a church of people who practice the discipline of giving is able to effectively use those funds for a transformation of the world. The leadership board, instead of sitting around glumly wondering how to get more money out of people, now spends time asking, "God, who would you have us feed today? Who needs clothing? Who needs medical care? Who can we send that would be particularly effective in bringing the good news of Your grace and love to the oppressed, the suffering, the imprisoned? What children can we help? Who needs to be set free and how can we do this?"

This is the mission of the church and the church is remarkably effective at both personal and societal transformation. But its effectiveness depends on people learning the freedom of generosity. It sounds paradoxical, but those who practice it know this: the one who gives freely ends up with far more riches than the one who says, "I have nothing to give." I have never figured out how it works. But I know it does.


Vicki Attaway said...

It is important to remember that your possessions are called that because something or someone in life has given them to you. You own them. You share discretion with yourself about what to do with them. That makes it important to identify what they are and to examine who you are in the midst of what you have.

I give a portion of my money to my church, which isn't very much because I don't have very much,because I need the church and the church needs me. And God just loves it when I find my way to Him in any way I can. I can do that even more when I realize there are many ways in my life in which I can be a good steward of my gifts---of what I own. To be generous with my time, my efforts, my insight, my devotion to the good of those around me and even to the care-taking of the earth.

You don't owe anybody or any church, anything. But you do owe yourself the chance to share what you have with a church, if you decide to belong to one, and to choose that which is noble and right in the sight of God, in the sight of others, and in the sight of yourself.

Vicki Attaway again said...

Hello again. I disagree in some ways with my own blog. Well, I would at least like to clarify some things. First of all,you have to own something, as opposed to just borrowing it, in order to truly make the sacrifice of giving it away. While our lives on the whole, are "borrowed time," the specifics, in my case, for one, are up to me to decide what to do with them.

On another note: I do not believe that you choose to do that which is good and right in order for others to see and appreciate it. In this I disagree with what I first said. As you might can tell, I am diligent in my thinking. I only wish to seek the truth. That would be a good thing for all of us to do. Why do some of us truly stay away from church? Is it money and the possible guilt of not wanting to give it? Or is it any of the other reasons Christy has spelled out for us to contemplate?

"Whatever is good, whatever is true, think on these things and your heart will be glad, and God's peace will be always with you."

Own your own responsibilities and commitments to yourself, then give...give of YOURSELF.