Thoughts on Stewardship – Quit Tithing. Really.

I almost titled this a ‘random’ thought on stewardship.  But it really isn’t random.  I’m working on my master’s thesis on stewardship so stewardship is something I spend a lot of time thinking about, not to mention researching and reading.  Yes, some of us do read books on this stuff!  Which is pretty ironic when you consider that one of the reasons I left the church in my 20’s was over stewardship.  That is the subject for another blogpost but soffice to say  God does indeed have a sense of humor.  The fact that I’m a pastor would indicate that but I digress.

Anyways, this week’s thoughts on stewardship are not entirely random though the timing is, of course.  It just came to me so I put fingers to keyboard.

A few weeks back I mentioned that stewardship isn’t about money, even though it is almost a universal result that the first thing people think of when discussing stewardship is money.  Stewardship is more accurately the care and concern of all of God’s gifts.  One of which, of course, is money.  So, let’s talk about that for a minute.

Point 1 – It is commonly held that according to the Bible the proper amount we are to give back to God is 10% of our income.  Commonly known as a tithe.

Point 2 – It is commonly held that money is “the root of all evil”

Neither are entirely correct.

In the first place, the 10% number in the Bible is one tithe commanded.  There are others that some say are additive.  Total number we’re supposed to cough up for God?  Biblically speaking, it is about 23%.  Apparently the 10% number, while Biblical in and of itself perhaps, doesn’t tell the whole story.

And it is in 1 Timothy 6 that we learn “The LOVE of money is the root of all kinds of evil…” (emphasis added).  This is most certainly true.  Money is neutral in spite of Shakespeare calling it ‘filthy’.  Protecting ourselves from loving our money is the basis for why financial generosity is important.  If we’re not willing to part with our money in worthy ways then money is becoming, or has become, an idol for us.  And that idol thing?  It rarely works out well.

What if we approached stewardship with an emphasis on faithfulness and consistency rather than numbers and rationales or even theology that aren’t correct?  I think God is calling us much more to be faithful and consistent than guilting us into tithing.  What do faithful and consistent mean?

Faithful is taking generosity seriously.  To be honest, I’m not particularly concerned what the amount anyone gives (for the record, my wife and I tithe – off gross).  But I am concerned that folks take generosity seriously.  If we have a six figure income, and some of you do, then $10 in the offering plate (and a quarter for Sunday school) is not very faithful.  What is the right amount?  For that you need to talk to God.  Ask God for guidance about generous giving (if you ask me about it, I’ll refer you to God.  Really.) .  Some people are in a situation of giving $1 per week.  Others may be $1000.  The amount in and of itself isn’t important.  The faithfulness in being generous is important.  Maybe the number isn’t 10% and maybe the number is OVER 10%.  Quit worrying about tithing and feeling guilty about not tithing (if you aren’t).  Figure it out with God and move on.

Related to faithfulness is consistency.  If you give on a random basis it is neither consistent nor faithful.  Figure out what the amount is (see above) and then be consistent about giving it.  Just as the amount isn’t the key factor, the when isn’t either.  It doesn’t matter if it is weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or whatever.  It just doesn’t.  It is the consistency that matters.

Faithfulness and consistency matter not because your dollars are needed to pay the light bill, or worse yet because the pastor wants to pay his, but because it protects your heart against making your money your idol.  There is just something to be said for not having the money albatross around your neck.

It’s time for a new outlook on stewardship, don’t you think?

Do It Or Else

Can we just be honest about what goes on in the interwebs?  There is a lot of crap that ends up out there in the world of eConversations.

I know.  You’re thinking “Thanks for that, Mr. Obviousman” and understandably so.  Except…  We fall for a lot of things.

Did you know that truth is not a requirement for a story to keep on going and going.  Nope.  Truth not required.  It does have to be fairly short and it does have to be interesting.  Truthful is not on the list for a story to perpetuate itself.  A couple of examples.  Did you ever hear about the guy who met a hot woman in a bar and after having a drink together he wakes up in a bathtub full of ice missing a kidney?  Or how about all the horror stories of the dangers of Halloween candy?

Turns out that the kidney thing is a hoax and the only kids documented that were killed by Halloween candy (2 of them) were killed by their own family.   The danger of Halloween for pedestrians is real but the candy dangers not so much.  (Check out Chapter One in Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath for more details.)

What really gets me going are the electronic descendants of a chain letter.  You know, the ‘like if you love Jesus’ memes that fly around.  It would be annoying if it were a limited thing but it isn’t.  Daily we have them cruising through our newsfeeds.  Why do they get me going?  The electronic equivalent of the “Honk If You Love Jesus” bumper stickers aren’t so bad but the not so subtle “Share this and God will do something good in your life” are downright scary.

Why are they scary?   They are scary because they call into question God’s saving grace in our lives.  They lift up the idea that God is sitting somewhere upstairs watching and waiting for us to do something inane and will reward us for it.  It is as if we had to do something to earn God’s attention, much less love.  It skips over the idea that God has already given us unearned forgiveness in Jesus Christ.  Why would God require, or even desire, a social media interaction?  The truth is, God doesn’t.

Sharing your faith via social media is a fine thing but engaging in a superstitious act undermines our faith. and possibly the faith of others.  It is as if we are saying, “I don’t really believe this will bring a blessing to me but I’ll do it  ‘just in case’.”   Just in case what?  Just in case I’m not good enough?  Just in case God doesn’t love me? Just in case Jesus didn’t really die on a cross for the forgiveness of my sins? Well, guess what.  You aren’t, God does and Jesus did.  No Facebook post or Twitter tweet changes that.

Why are you ranting about this, Lance?  Is it that important?  Yes, it is.  Let’s give some though to the ramifications.  There is no question that social media has the potential for tremendous reach.  Within that reach, if someone new to faith or not solid in their faith posts/shares/likes/forwards and then nothing happens, what are they going to think?  What are you going to think?  Do we really want to call into question God’s love for us based on a Facebook post?  Not so much.

Probably better if we just say that we don’t deserve it but God is filled with love in Christ Jesus so we are forgiven.  That’s kind of good news, don’t you think?

We Are the Storytellers So ‘Tell It Slant’

We really are storytellers.  There are a few people who don’t visit with other folks but not very many.  For the most part, we are the storytellers.  Look at what happens when family or friends (or both) gather at someone’s house.  Where do we end up?  Frequently it is in the kitchen where we… wait for it… tell the stories.  Stories of what is going on in our lives, funny stories, sad stories and all the rest.  Watch what happens before weddings and funerals sometime.  People gather in the parking lot as they arrive and start to… wait for it… tell the stories.

In his book Tell it Slant Eugene Peterson riffs on the first line of Emily Dickinson’s poem “Tell All The Truth” where she writes, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant”. My take on it is that Peterson uses the phrase ‘tell it slant’ to describe one of the ways that Jesus tells stories.  Instead of big, wordy and frequently pointed commentary there are times that Jesus uses less direct wording and phrasing and thus tells it slant.  Instead of churchy, religious language he uses common language and familiar illustrations to make his point.  He tells it slant.

When it comes to our own faith stories perhaps we’d be wise to tell it slant, as well. It seems that for most folks there is a latent fear in talking about faith.  I suspect this is often times a mistaken assumption that we don’t ‘know’ the proper faith discussion words.  I say that we do know the proper words but instead of trying to proclaim grand theological insights we can just tell it slant.  There is a time and place for grand theological discussions (they’re kind of fun, in a theo-nerd kind of way) but most of our conversations happen in places like the kitchen or the parking lot.  Let’s spend more time talking about our faith there like we talk about anything else.

Let’s tell it slant.

Stewardship – It’s Not About Money

Time is an interesting stewardship topic.  I know, I know, I know.  When I say stewardship what is the first thing that comes to your mind?  Money, of course.  For a follower of Christ, stewardship certainly has a money dynamic to it but stewardship goes far beyond just money.   For many decades the church has made the words stewardship and money mean the same thing and it is far past time to make it clear that stewardship encompasses so much more of our lives.  Money yes but also time, gifts, relationships all of these kinds of things.

When it gets right down to it time is equally, if not more valuable, than money.  Sounds crazy to say that but when we stop and think about whether we’d have rather have more money in our pocket or more time in our day, more time in our life, where is the priority?  We live in a 24/7 world where we seem to be running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Wouldn’t we give much for an extra hour each day?

Not to mention, we don’t have so many days in our lives that wasting any is a good idea.  Keeping things in perspective, we have about 25,000 days in our lives.  If you’re in the front half of that count it sounds like a lot of days but if you’re in the back half of that 25,000 you know it really isn’t that much time.  How many of us would like an extra day here and there?  What would we give to have that extra day?

It kind of comes down to the way we use your time.  The way we steward our time.  What if we used the same approach with the care of our time as financial planners suggest we do with the care of our money?  Financial planners say things like take the first 10% of your money and give back to God.  Take the second 10% and put it into savings.  And then do what you will in living with the rest.

Maybe this is just crazy talk but maybe the way we care for our time is similar?  Give God the first 10% of our time, save 10% of our time and do what we will in living with the rest?

This is the heart of stewardship in whatever form it takes.  Making God the priority and being wise with the gifts that God gave us.  All the time that we have is a gift from God and wise stewardship says that we give God some time.  Time in prayer, time in worship, time in recognizing that the creation around us is brought to us by God  Time in Bringing Christ’s Love to Life and letting the world know that God is faithful and true.

Saving time doesn’t work quite the same way as saving money.  You can’t really put time in a time bank and come back later to get some.  That’d be a beautiful thing.  Hey, I’ve got an extra ten minutes today.  I think I’ll put that in the bank that so I have it next week when I have to  ______________.  Go to the time ATM and withdraw the time you need.  There’s an app for that, call it up on your phone and transfer the money online.  The reality is it doesn’t work quite like that.  We may not be able to save for the future but we can certainly invest for the future.  And the return on the investment has a much higher rate of return than our 401ks.

Investing our time for the future can cover a lot of ground.  The daily faith acts in the home, the FAITH5 of sharing, reading, talking, praying and blessing certainly comes to mind.  If we invest 15 minutes a day in our families what does that look like 10 years from now?  Fifteen years from now?

There are no hard and fast answers as to how an individual stewards their time wisely.  There are too many variables in each of our lives.  The one thing I will guarantee though is that intentionally making time for God AND investing our time for the future will have deep and profound effects on our lives.  If you’ve got it figured out and your life is perfect then keep on keeping on.  For the rest of us that don’t live in that delusion then give some serious thought to giving back to God and investing in the future.  It will make a difference for the better in your life and it will make a difference for the better in other’s lives.

In doing this, we give God the glory.