Friday, November 14, 2014

"Your talent is God's gift to you; what you do with that talent is your gift to God."

A poster prominently displayed in a Sunday School classroom said,

"Your talent is God's gift to you; what you do with that talent is your gift to God."

In the Gospel we'll hear on Sunday, Jesus tells the story of a man who, before going on a journey, summons three servants and entrusts them with different amounts of money, measured in "talents" (from which we get our modern day word and understanding of talent).

They're not given the same number of talents: God gives each of us different gifts. We are always so tempted to compare ourselves with other people: who's got what, who's better at this and who's better at that.

But we are only asked to make full use of what we have been given.

We all have talents. Some people are very gifted at music; others at sports; some have a very high IQ, others are good listeners. But there is no one, absolutely no one, who can say they have been gifted with nothing.

The question is not, "do I have gifts?" the question is, "what am I doing with the gifts I have been given? Am I using them, or burying them?"

(If you don't know what your gifts are, then your first priority is to find out, or be reminded. The first step in doing that is to ask yourself, "what am I good at, passionate about, and comes naturally to me?--what makes me feel most fully alive?" The second step is to ask a few others (and I'd be happy to be one of those others) those same questions, until you get clarity.)

Two of the men in the story invest, or take risks with what they have been given. They are rewarded. But the third man safeguards (buries) the money. He is punished.

What a fascinating couple of points Jesus is making, and which we'll explore further on Sunday:

One, those who take risks by investing their gifts find themselves even more enriched. 

Two, the one who is cautious with what he's been entrusted with did not lose it, he did not do anything at all with it. If he had tried and failed, he would have been met with compassion and forgiveness.

Folks, it's a scary, but also liberating thought: it is not just those who do evil deeds who lose out, but those who have no positive good works to show for what they've been entrusted with. We are not punished for failure. We are punished for playing it safe. A dull, lifeless routine is more offensive to God than a lively albeit sinful one. At least with the lively sinful life, God's got something to work with and redeem!  

Friday, November 7, 2014

"Give me Gratitude or Give me Debt"

Each week, I usually share, with my congregation and on this blog, some of my own thoughts. This week, I'm doing something different, which is sharing a link to one of the most humorous, thought-provoking, and -- I think -- important blog essays I have read. 

It's the season of pledge campaigns and giving...thanks-giving. I can't think of a better way to say what needs to be said. So do yourself a favor and read that blog post. 

And enjoy wearing your new "perspecticles" ! 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Maybe You Hadn't Thought About Giving This Way Before...

In a letter going out in the mail next week to all those who contribute financially to The Falls Church Episcopal, we'll be asking folks to step up their financial support.

But first, there's an important question for any church-goer to ask him or herself:

Do you know what proportion, or percentage, of your income you give back to God in thanksgiving? 

Many people do not know: they simply put cash in the offertory plate or write checks Sunday by Sunday without ever figuring out how much they actually end up giving to the church over the course of a year.

Take a minute and do the math: how much do you give back over a year?

And what percentage of your annual income is that number?

If that number - that percentage - is not already a tithe (giving ten percent of whatever comes into your pocket back to God in thanksgiving), do yourself, your family, your church, and the wider community a great service and commit to doing so for the remainder of 2014 and in 2015.

You may not think you can jump to 10% overnight. 

You can. I'll bet almost every single person reading these words can.

If you don't think you can, then try this: start setting 10% aside in an envelope or special savings account labeled "RETURN TO GOD IN THANKSGIVING" and see if you miss, really miss, the money.  

If after 3 or 4 months you find yourself in dire straits - unable to pay bills, buy food or gasoline - then go ahead and dip into that envelope or savings account.

I'll bet you won't. In fact I'll bet as a result of giving back to God in thanksgiving 10% of whatever comes into your pocket, you'll find four things happen to you:

1)  you appreciate your other 90% -- the 90% you are keeping -- more than you ever did before - you feel more blessed, more fortunate than ever before; 

2)  you find that money - financial worries and concerns - have much less of a "hold" on you than ever feel freer of financial worry than ever before; 

3)  you find you care more about your church, "for where your money is, there your heart will be as well," and 

4)  unexpected blessings - so-called coincidences that are really God-incidents - start appearing in your life that more than make up for what you are giving back. You simply cannot out-give God. See Malachi 3:10. 

This has been true for thousands of people. And I know this has been true for Mary and me ever since, more than 20 years ago (when we could least afford it!) we jumped overnight to giving 10% of everything that comes into our pockets back to God in thanksgiving. The habit has never left us, and we have almost never regretted it.

At this point, I'm tempted to suggest a backup plan: if you really don't think you can jump to 10%, to commit to getting there over the course of a few years by immediately tripling or quadrupling your current giving, and keep tripling or quadrupling until you get there.

But I hesitate to offer that backup plan, because if you strongly resist the notion of letting go of 10% of your income, you are probably wrestling with an addiction (an addition to wealth) or you are captive to the illusion of financial security and independence, which, according to the Judeo-Christian faith, does not exist ("All things come of thee, O Lord; and of thine own have we given thee. "-1 Chronicles 29:14b) 

And according to Jesus, "the lure of wealth" is not only one of the most powerful addictions there is, it is a major -- if not THE major -- obstacle to living a life of faith.

So why tear the Band-Aid off slowly? Why be free in stages? Why delay the good that your giving can do? Why delay the blessings?