Stewardship is not Just Giving to the Church – Stewardship is Giving Wisely

Jesus Without Baggage

For the past two posts, I have made the case that mandatory tithing does not apply to believers. Such teaching is unbiblical, legalistic, and wrong. We examined the proof-texts proposed by mandatory tithing proponents and found them faulty.

This is not to say that we should not give generously; Jesus speaks much about helping the poor and needy, and he also had a good bit to say about those who were too attached to their wealth. Believers should be caring and giving people, but we should not give blindly.

Stewardship is a word often used to encourage believers to give more to the local church; but stewardship is not just giving to the church—stewardship is giving wisely.

Tithes and offerings Tithes and Offerings

Church Stewardship

For many years, I belonged to a church of about 2000. Giving was always heavily emphasized, and mandatory tithing was expected—in addition to generous offerings. The…

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In The Presence of Our Enemies

In the sacred texts of Buddhism, there are several stories about a being named Mara, sometimes referred to as “the evil one.” One such story takes place on the night before Siddhartha Gautama’s enlightenment, where Mara tempts him in various ways, unsuccessfully. Mara, who believed the throne of enlightenment belonged to him, confronted the Buddha many other times. The Buddha is said to have greeted him every time with only these words: “I see you, Mara.” Then the Buddha would proceed to prepare two cups of tea, making the table ready for his visitor.

As a Christian, I wonder, fancifully, whether stories ever reached the Buddha of a king who lived half a world away, half a millennium before him: King David of Israel. I don’t imagine it’s likely, but I don’t know enough to know. I just think of the Buddha preparing a cup of tea for Mara, and a seat at the table, and I’m struck by the similarity to a line from what is likely King David’s best-known psalm:

You prepare a table before me
In the presence of my enemies.

Psalm 23:5a, NRSV

All my life, I’ve thought of that as being a reward for the just which the unjust must witness. Something to show them what could have been theirs, if only…. But I’m starting to think of it differently now.

What if God prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies because that’s precisely the way they become our friends?

There’s a part of me that I struggle to love. In fact, a lot of times, I hate it more than I can express. You may have heard of it. Doctors call it an anxiety disorder. Unexplained worrying, muscle aches, and even panic attacks, depending on the situation. Sometimes without warning and sometimes seen from miles away, but disabling either way. For a few moments, at least.

I’ve had people tell me to quote Bible verses to make it go away. I’ve talked with counselors. I’ve tried medication. But it doesn’t go away. It’s likely that it never will. And I’m beginning to see that I’ve gone about it all wrong for the past 12 years.

I don’t want to minimize the discoveries that science has made; neurotransmitters can be too abundant or too few in number or downright diminished for various reasons, leading to symptoms of anxiety (and other mental health disorders). We would do well to be mindful of lifestyle changes that can help us to combat these very real imbalances. But if our aim is simply to “make it go away,” we will probably end up sacrificing more than we should, just so we can feel like we’re in control.

Roughly 2 out of 7 people in the US will know what it’s like to have Anxiety knock on their doors. But most of us have never thought to invite it in. If we turn off the lights and pretend we’re not home, hoping this visitor will go away, are we not trading our peace for anxiety? But if we dare to open the door and invite Anxiety to come inside, we are deliberately choosing to keep our peace–and to share it with our guest, whether or not that guest cares to accept our hospitality.

This isn’t true for mental health disorders only. There are many things we resist. Often, it’s whatever is in our lives but out of our control. We can’t keep bad things from coming our way, but we can choose to stop judging them as bad, which is what makes us want to resist them in the first place. Not that we have to call bad things good, of course. But if I get stuck in traffic, I can choose to judge the situation as bad. I can tell myself that I should be anywhere else–further down the road, perhaps. Or I can stop and accept that while I’d like to be moving faster, I’m finally free to observe my surroundings in ways my usual speed doesn’t allow. To look at how blue the sky is or what shape the clouds are taking. To invite that visitor in and offer it a cup of tea.

Perhaps this is what King David had in mind when he praised God, who prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. Perhaps it is at the very table of the Lord Jesus Christ, as we partake of the sacred mystery by way of a common meal, that we sit down as enemies only to rise again as friends. Friends of God and friends of each other.

Everyone’s A Theologian

Everyone’s a theologian. Yes, even you.

Our theology is how we relate to the divine, though it isn’t the relationship itself.

Maybe you’ve decided God is everything you’ve been told. Maybe you’ve decided God is nothing you’ve been told. Maybe you’ve decided God is not able to be known or understood. Maybe you’ve decided that God is not at all. That God does not exist.

So I want to ask: how is your theology serving you?

Is it bringing you peace and love in increasing measure? Is it causing you to react to every headline you read with anger, fear, or sadness? Is it leading you to hope? Or despair?

I’m not going to tell you what to believe (though I definitely have opinions about which sorts of beliefs are helpful and which are harmful or even toxic). I’m just going to say:

If your theology leads you to say we’re all made in God’s image and then to dehumanize others by labeling them and making snap judgments about their life or their eternal future, it’s not serving you well.
If your theology leads you to withhold love to those who don’t look, think, and act like you, it’s not serving you well.
If your theology leads you to look less like the God fully revealed in the life and person of Jesus and more like the primitive understanding of God espoused in a number of Old Testament texts, it’s not serving you well.

Everyone’s a theologian. But when the very thing that is meant to foster a relationship with God ends up keeping us from God, it’s not serving us well. And it needs to be left behind.

Speaking Up

There are a million reasons I’ve kept quiet.

I’ve spoken up before and been made to feel like I shouldn’t have. I’ve spoken up before and regretted it. I’ve spoken up before and grown tired of the conversation before it was finished. I’ve spoken up before, and no one understood.

But mostly, I’ve just been afraid.

Afraid to offend. Afraid to voice an unpopular opinion. Afraid to voice a popular opinion among those who eschew that sort of thing. Afraid to overstep my boundaries.

The thing about my boundaries, though, is that they’ve always taken up less space than I do.

It’s not like when you go back for seconds and then wish you had an elastic waistband. It’s like trying to wear the shirt that you used to wear 10 years ago. Only it didn’t fit then, either. Maybe then you had a physique that you didn’t mind showing off. But now you realize there’s no more justifying it, because you’re tired of not being able to breathe. Of suffocating yourself, more or less.

There are a million reasons I’ve kept quiet. But now there is one reason I won’t, and it trumps them all: myself.

It may sound selfish, but answer this: am I selfish for wanting the freedom to say out loud what I do in my mind, or are you, for wanting me to say only what you’d like to hear? Am I selfish for wanting to stand up to my full height, or are you, for wishing I’d stay low enough for you to see past the end of your nose?

There are a million reasons I’ve kept quiet. But I have a mind to speak.

The Veil Has Been Torn

The veil has been torn
But whose?
Am I seeing more than before
Or just being seen more than I’d like?

Those once closer than a brother
Now keep a safe distance
Forgetting everything we had
Now they only see what’s different

Am I seeing more than before
Or just being seen more than I’d like?
Can a person bare her soul
Without it costing her whole life?
Can a person maintain dignity
Without it making him go blind?

Far better to be seen for who I am
To trade my modesty for sight
To bear this cross in nakedness
But finally feel alive