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Monday, February 20, 2006

Stewardship, parts 4 and 5

The final two parts of a five-part series on stewardship in the church's newsletter, Voices.

Part Four

Last time, I spoke about the Biblical principals of giving: one-tenth of our financial resources, one-seventh of our time, and one-hundred percent of our talent.

But these are basic guidelines for our giving back to God, not our “bare minimum requirements”. When we offer back to God out of the abundance he has given us, we should do so not out of a sense of duty or a fear of “not crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s” in our spiritual journey; we should give joyfully, in a state of worship and adoration of the Giver.

How do we accomplish this? Here are some guidelines:

First, we are called to give back to God in gratitude a portion of everything we have been blessed with. There is a common catchphrase: An attitude of gratitude. When was the last time you placed your offering in the basket on Sunday morning and said, “Thank you God for giving me the ability to give this back to you.” When was the last time you volunteered at the Church and said, “Thank you, God, for this opportunity to serve others on your behalf.” How many of us use our many talents on a daily basis and remember to say, “Thank you, God, for giving me both my talent and the opportunity to utilize it.” Somewhere along the line, each of us has failed to be grateful for what we’ve been given. By giving back – in gratitude – we are able to acknowledge our thankfulness in a very tangible way.

Second, we are called to give our gifts to God in a way that best honors Him. We do this by giving to Him first, not from what is left over. This is true in all areas. If we are blessed with a talent, we are called to make sure we are utilizing that talent for the good of the Gospel. If we volunteer time, it should be carved out of our hectic schedule first, not “fit in” to what ever time we have left. If we give of our monetary resources, it should be the first action we take, not what we do if there happens to be money left over. Putting God first shows honor; including Him only as an after thought does not.

Third, we are called to give with “no strings attached.” True giving is a return of our love for God unconditionally, just as He loves us unconditionally. Funding for special projects or “pet ministries” is a wonderful thing, but those gifts should be made in excess of our regular gifts to the parish. When we volunteer, we must be willing to take direction and do things in a way consistent with the overall good of the parish, and not have an attitude of “my way or the highway.” Giving with “no strings” is serving others; giving with conditions sometimes means being served.

Finally, we are called to give in a manner that is sacrificial. Giving sacrificially makes a gift Holy, and it isn’t a true sacrifice if it is too easily given. Why is the trinket bought for you by a child (with his or her own money they were saving for a new game or toy) so special? Not because of the value of the gift, but because the child had to give up – or at least put off – something they wanted in order to make the gift possible. It is the same with God. If I say, “I’ll volunteer on Tuesday nights, because there is nothing good on TV on Tuesday’s anyway,” am I really giving my time sacrificially? As we give up or put off things that we want, we are saying to God: “I value You, more than these other things.”

These principles of giving can be a hard pill to swallow, at times. Each of us fails to give in gratitude, give in a way that honors God, or give sacrificially from time to time. Part of our Stewardship Journey is recognizing when we fail, and praying for the Grace to do better in the future. When I recognize my own faults and work to improve my “attitude of gratitude,” I am cooperating with the Grace being freely offered. In that way, Stewardship is given to us as a means to greater Grace.

As a result, there are benefits to sacrificial giving. Once you cooperate with Grace and give in a sacrificial manner, you may notice that you begin to see giving in a different light. There is a satisfaction in being generous and a fuller sense of community in the parish. There is an increased awareness of God actually being first in our lives and recognition of our dependence on Him for all that we have. And, there is a heightened sensitivity to our society’s materialism and consumerism, and an increased awareness to our own susceptibility to those things. Our giving grounds us deeper in the fullness of God’s Grace. As Martha Stewart would say, “That’s a good thing.”

Part Five

Throughout the last year, I have heard a number of people asking a question similar to one of these two:

What if I haven't been giving of my time, talent, or treasure?
Each of us is called to understand and respond to the principles of stewardship which I have summarized over the last few months. Each parishioner is responsible to be a good steward of his or her own resources, and to encourage that same stewardship within the Parish. In order to best understand our individual role in the continuing efforts to be wise stewards, we must periodically submit ourselves to God's Will via prayer – either before the Lord Present in the Blessed Sacrament, or in another quiet prayer time – listening and discerning what God would have you give of your time, your talents, and your financial resources.

It is easy to dismiss the stewardship model as a “gimmick” because it runs contrary to our human tendency to see our resources as “our resources”. By laying the issue at the feet of Christ in prayer, we are allowing God to change us and mold our relationship to Him. If each of us will discern ways to unite ourselves in the stewardship of God's abundant gifts, we will strengthen our Church.

I give, but would like to give more. How do I find a way to do that?

Again, through prayer, begin to discern ways to find more time to give, discover additional opportunities to utilize your talents for the betterment of the Church, or uncover additional financial resources which could be given to build and strengthen our local congregation. Opportunities to give abound here at St. Joan of Arc. Ask God to help you take advantage of the opportunities offered.

Every decision we make requires us to set priorities in our lives. The stewardship model is an attempt to help us define those priorities in light of what God expects from us. Making God the first priority in the areas of time, talent, and treasure isn't easy, but nothing that is good comes easy. The most powerful shift in thinking within the church comes when each of us make time for other things after we have returned our thanks to God, rather than be content to find ways to “squeeze” God into our busy schedules.

There is a brochure titled Stewardship, Tithing, and Sacrificial Giving: Our Response to the Gifts God Has Given Us located in the book rack near the kiosk area of the church. Please take one as a handy way to review the principles of stewardship. Also there, you will find a small blue card. One one side is the printed Prayer of Stewardship, and on the other side a “Examination of Conscience” for stewardship-related matters.

During Advent and the Christmas season, let us each pray that in the new year every parishioner will find ways to give a little more, stepping up toward the expectations God holds for each of us.


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