Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Giving Generously

We were invited by the seminary, at their expense, to tell the professors and administrators what they were doing well and what they needed to improve. I kept looking for the hiding of agenda.

I did not find it. They were authentically looking for the opinions and feedback from bishops and conference officers about the job they were doing. Perhaps even more surprising was the fact that they were not defensive when we ceased to be nice and polite and told them exactly where they were messing up and really needed to change if they were going to be effective in providing a quality theological education that would equip church leaders for the next twenty five years.

One simple statement struck deep cords of affirmation from both the seminary professors in the room and the conference leaders from across the Jurisdiction. "A theology of money appears to be missing from your graduates. They fail to demonstrate any significant integration of their understanding of God, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, and salvation with the use of their personal resources and finances." Finances and the use of money has been separated from the living of the Christian life.

I quickly reflected back on my theological training and realized that theological reflection on money and personal finances was not a recent omission. This lapse is not a new phenomenon. Many pastors refuse to discuss money, the use of money, or a Christian understanding of money. Occasionally, I hear a sermon near the annual financial campaign about the importance of tithing. I confess I rejoice when I hear such sermons, but it is often pathetically devoid of a solid theological foundation. The preacher quotes a few passages of scripture on tithing, but little, if anything is proclaimed about the use of the other 90%. It appears that God is totally unconcerned about how a majority of our money is expended each month.

One of my outstanding laity was fond of saying, "God owns all the hills and the cows upon the hills." It was a short hand way of saying that nothing belongs to us. We are the trustees, the stewards of all we "think" we own. It really belongs to God and one day, it will no longer be "ours". The issue confronting us is, "How faithful will we serve as a trustee of God's resources?" Most farmers quickly realized "their" land was a non-renewable resource. If they failed to care for it, we would all go hungry. The linkage is not as evident in the use of our money, but just as factual. It does not belong to us. Our money belongs to God.

John Wesley had a wonderful philosophy of money-earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can. He lived this philosophy. When he died, he had enough left to pay for his funeral. All of the other resources were gone. They belonged to God.

The question for most disciples needs to be, not how much are we giving, but rather how are we using and spending what truly belongs to God. If we are not generously giving, perhaps we need to closely examine our spending. Remember, it all belongs to God.

Grace & Peace,

--written by Karla Abernethy-Thetford

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Miss Lladale Carey

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