October 2018

Dear friends in Christ,

When we think about stewardship and what it means, it is important to begin with the right starting point. There are many different motives for giving of our time, our money, or our skills.  But there is one motive or starting point that best moves us toward lives that imitate God's example of giving.

One possible starting point could be called stewardship as investment. "Give and God will bless you."  There is some biblical testimony for this understanding. When seeking to reassure the disciples who wondered at the sacrifice asked of them, Jesus said, "There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age...and in the age to come eternal life" (Mk 10:29-30). However, to use this as a starting point for stewardship can be misleading, if not counterproductive. If we begin by presuming that we give in order to get, where does that take us? If we give to secure God's blessing, aren't we giving in order to procure God's favor? God’s favor is given freely, it is not purchased or earned.

A second starting point could be named stewardship as crisis management.  The church needs a new roof, the furnace needs repairs, there's not enough in the checking account to pay the heating bill. However, if this is the starting point for stewardship, what happens to giving when the crisis is met? When the bills are paid and the balance is growing (or at least not declining), what will be the motive for giving?  

A third starting point can be summed up in three words: It's your duty. It states that stewardship is one's obligation to help shoulder the load. To be sure, a number of biblical texts define such duties in explicit terms. The first six chapters of Leviticus go into lavish detail on prescribed sacrifices. The tithe, for some religious groups, is the favored touchstone for defining the duty of stewardship, to the point of making it a legalized yardstick applied as a criterion for membership. But applying a law to giving runs counter to faith's moorings in grace.  Please do not misunderstand my point. Exercising discipline in giving is a positive thing. Tithing can be a valuable tool, either evaluating where we are in our giving or encouraging us to consider new levels of support. But tithing, if done only as an imposed obligation, does not benefit the giver.

So, if these three popular starting points come up short on stewardship's journey, what takes us the full distance toward lives that imitate God’s giving? Consider two texts, each capable of bringing stewardship to focus and fruition.

First, consider the opening verse of Psalm 24: "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it." All faithful stewardship begins in that affirmation. All that we have, all that we are, all that is - all belongs to God. Whatever comes into our hands does so as a trust from God. We live in a God-given world.

The second verse to consider as a starting point is John 3: 16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." All creation is not only God-given, it is God-loved - a love made clear in God's own selfless act of giving.

Christian stewardship simply, yet profoundly, imitates God's example of giving. Stewardship is our love taking form - even as God's love took form - through the giving of ourselves. Stewardship is nothing more and nothing less. Taken together, these two verses provide stewardship's most enduring starting point. To affirm that the earth is God's declares that neat boundaries between what is "mine" and what is "God's" are deceptive. Such stewardship involves not just what I do with 2, 5, 10, or 20 percent of my possessions or time or skills. It encompasses the whole of my life, spiritually and materially. To confess that God manifested love for the world in the gift of Christ calls forth sacrificial giving.

What I do with "what I can spare" has little to do with stewardship. What I do with those things that matter most to me is how I strive to imitate God's giving. When we take God's sovereignty and love for stewardship's starting point, we will always have a reason to offer thanksgiving, a foundation for our faith, and a motivation to love.

(Excerpts from the Clergy Journal July/August 2003, Logos Productions)

In Christ,

Pastor Jay