Monday, June 30, 2008

A call to be faithful

I’m on the road a lot and eat many meals by myself, looking for ways to pass the time while waiting for my food to come. Billings, Montana happened to be the place where I was sitting in a Cracker Barrel restaurant looking at stuff on the walls and I noticed some very old copies of the Saturday Evening Post. You may remember that magazine, made famous to many of us through the artwork of Norman Rockwell. Anyway, I was looking at two of the old covers: one was from April 22, 1906 and the other was from March 12, 1938. While I don’t remember much else about the magazines or their covers, I remember that the price: five cents.

Then it struck me. The price had not changed over a 32 year period!

How amazing and alien is that to the world we live in. So dramatic now when the price of gasoline goes up between the time you drive to work in the morning and the time you drive home in the afternoon. When staples at the supermarket have jumped by 1/3 in a matter of months.

Even in days that are not so economically challenging, the expectation that the cost of things this year will be more than they were last year or a few years ago is pretty widely accepted. And of course, most of us expect that our income will be a little better next year than this as well.

This present reality is not always reflected in the way people give to the church. How many folks walk into our churches and are transported back to that alien world where things don’t change and costs don’t go up even over 32 years? How many folks will put a dollar in the offering plate, or put the same amount they put in five years ago? It makes it hard for the church to cope, but it also erodes the spiritual discipline of our giving. The biblical mandate to tithe was important to insure that God’s place in our priorities always came first.

When we don’t teach and call our folks to embrace the concepts of tithing or percentage giving, we say its OK for them to give in a way that doesn’t reflect the realities of the world we live in and which doesn’t honor God in our giving.

The point of Christian stewardship is not to focus on the “holy grail” of 10% giving, but to remind us of the 90% that God leaves in our hands, along with the blessings of life, health, creation, work, and so many other things. It is a call to be faithful in the world we live in today, not an alien world where the price of a magazine doesn’t change over 32 years!

--Rev. Dr. Ken Sloane, Director of Communications Ministry, United Methodist Communications

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