- I have often heard Christians describe “conservatism” as though it’s a fruit of the Spirit.
- I know of church leaders who when faced with a decision about a ministry or application of Scripture will seek to identify the conservative choice, because they’ve predetermined that it’s the correct one.
- I’ve been part of a dying church with close to $200,000 in reserve simply to help it through some rainy day in the future.
- I know Christian worried that today’s culture will corrupt our youth. These same people fail to see that culture has influenced their own perception of God.
Churches have a lot of unusual words as part of their normal conversation. One of those words is STEWARDSHIP. The churchy definition of this word is: there’s about to be a sermon on giving more money to the church.
In contrast, the Bible definition of stewardship goes more like this: Everything in Creation belongs to God, and He’s given humanity the responsibility of taking care of it as He would. According to Genesis 1:26 God created humanity in His own image so that we could rule over and care for creation.
Stewardship is a fundamental purpose of human life.
Christians should be people who take this responsibility seriously. We don’t just care for Creation on behalf of God, we carefully manage all the resources that he provides us.
However, many Christians face the temptation to base their role of God’s caretaker, or manager, upon the philosophy of conservatism. We adopt the mindset that our job is to manage God’s resources carefully, and we use words like “frugal, wisdom, and fiscally responsible” to justify our worldview.
Jesus told (at least) two parables that challenge this conservative perspective.
PARABLE 1: The Parable of the Bags of Gold (Matt. 25:14-30)
In this parable describing the kingdom of heaven, three servants were given bags of gold and told to care for it as their boss would. They knew that the boss wanted them to earn a return on the money, but the most conservative servant decided to bury his gold to ensure its safety. When the boss returns from his travels he is irate with the conservative servant.
The lesson here is that God intends us to use the resources he provides to enhance the mission of the kingdom. This involves risk. Conservatism seeks to minimise risk, but in this parable the boss wants his manager to take some risks. The safest option is not the best option.
A key to this story is the statement in v24 “I knew you are a hard man….“. If we are to manage God’s resources the way He would, we need to ground our approach in the character of God. Many Christians have sadly lost sight that our God takes risks.
I’m not suggesting recklessness such as Jesus jumping off the temple roof because God had promised that he wouldn’t break any bones. I’m thinking more of the presence of two trees in the Garden of Eden. As any of us who’ve been through a romantic break-up know… The decision to love involves risk. God is love at his core, so the presence of two trees demonstrates his willingness to risk rejection for the sake of love. As does the third tree on Calvary.
Sometimes churches will be taken advantage of. Sometimes ministry ideas will fall flat. Sometimes we’ll use our gifts to preach or teach and we’ll say things that are wrong. Sometimes we’ll do things that in hindsight were just foolishness. And I’m confident that God says, “I’m so glad you didn’t bury those resources. Dust yourself off. Rub the sore spot. Let’s try again. The reward will be worth the risks.”
PARABLE 2: The Workers in the Vineyard (Matt 20:1-16)
In this story about Gentiles entering the kingdom of God, the farmer recruits workers throughout the day. He promises all of them a day’s pay, regardless of when they start. Needless to say, at the end of the day those who’ve been working since sunrise aren’t thrilled to see those that arrived during afternoon tea receiving the same pay.
While this parable isn’t specifically about stewardship, the dramatic hinge of the story depends upon the audience thinking God is a just God who gives everyone what they have earned. Instead, Jesus surprises everyone by describing God as generous, who’ll give what He wants to who He wants! “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (v15)
Many Christians see stewardship in terms of a bank. God has given us resources. These resources might include the church building, the church treasury, personal wages, individual skills. And in our worldview, we’re the bank. God intends for us to protect his resources and use them very wisely.
This means we have rules about using the church building. This means we don’t give money to people who aren’t good managers of their personal finances. This means we provide for our family first before we give to the church. This means I have to use my skills to work hard to make sure my family is provided for.
But what if our generous God gave us these resources not to act as his stewards by preserving them, but for giving them away? What if he’s saying, “I trust you to distribute these funds as I would distribute them.” What if it’s okay that we have to spend God’s money to repair a hole in the wall of the church building because a group from the community was breaking rules and running and throwing balls when they used it last week? What if generosity is more important that frugality?
God wants us to serve as managers of His resources, but the type of managers we’d expect. He wants us to be risky managers and he wants us to be generous managers.
Which means, God doesn’t want us to be conservative in representing Him while serving His world. Too often we have allowed cultural values of independence, self-determination, and wealth accumulation to influence our perception of God, that in turn influences the way we fulfill our function as God’s stewards.
- Read Romans 12:1-2 here and Matthew 9 here.
- If you missed Sunday’s sermon (26 July) you can listen to it here.
I have never really understood the desire of some people to place God in a church building shaped box. If God is universally present, shouldn’t I regularly pay Him attention throughout the week, not just storing it up until Sunday? If prayer or Scripture reading, or singing is worship on Sunday, then isn’t it on Thursday? Perhaps some of the disagreement comes from a failure to distinguish between “corporate worship” and “individual worship”?
I accept the idea of “corporate worship” and believe that we worship differently when we come together as a body than we do in “individual worship”. An important principle of corporate worship is that we act in a way that considers others (1 Cor. 14:15-17, 26) while “individual worship” is solely between the individual and God. While applied particularly to the practice of speaking in tongues, 1 Corinthians 14:18-19 seem to indicate a couple of key points regarding worship in general:
- In v18 Paul says he frequently speaks in tongues. Since the chapter’s context argues against tongue-speaking in the church assembly without an interpreter, Paul either speaks in tongues as private worship, or in the assembly with interpreters present.
- The opening words of v19, “But in the church (assembly)…”, clearly indicate to me that Paul’s tongue-speaking takes place outside of the worship assembly. Thus pointing to: 1) private worship, and 2) different practices between individual and corporate worship.
Building on last week’s discussion that proposed that listening to God in worship is as important as talking to God, this week’s sermon asked the question, “In addition to regular Bible reading, where do we meet/hear God outside of corporate worship?” Jesus was the master of the object lesson. Based on all the parables, metaphores, and images found in the Gospels, it seems that you could play a game with him where you gave him something obscure and asked him to use it to teach a spiritual truth. And he’d win every time!
Jesus teaching style involved constant interaction with the world around him. He saw God’s presence everywhere and he learned from it. In contrast, many Christians seem to look at the world around us and see only the presence of evil. However, all is not lost! I believe this is a skill, or perspective that can be learned. Peter Randall’s post in which he proposes modernized equivalents of Jesus “I am” statements in John seems to me to be a helpful process.
There’s a lot to talk about in this post, so feel free to tackle any of the ideas, but let me throw out a few questions that may help prompt converasation. Where have you met God during the week? Are there particular signs, businesses, natural beauty etc. that remind you of God? Can you think of some parables or Biblical illustrations that have modern equivalents?
Songs & Scripture
I guess the most prolific collection of songs along this week’s theme are those that speak of God’s presence in nature, but maybe you can think of some other illustrations.
- For the Beauty of the Earth
- All Creatures of Our God and King
- This is My Father’s World
- Walking Alone at Eve
- Can You Count the Stars of Morning? (SFP)
- Fairest Lord Jesus (SFP)
- Have You Seen Jesus My Lord? (SFP)
- How Great Thou Art (SFP)
- I Come to the Garden Alone (seems to describe “individual worship”)
- Free to be Me (Francesca Battistelli on the album My Paper Heart the lyrics use the image of ripped jeans and dented fender to reminds us of God’s grace and willingness to overlook our imperfections.)
These are some reflections by a friend of mine. See the tab “A Second Peter” at the top of the page for more background. I’ll be sharing his thoughts from time to time. If you appreciate his perspective (or not) please leave a comment and let us know you dropped by.
“I AM the Bread of Life” (John 6:25-60)
I’m writing short word-clips about 7 strange things Jesus said and 7 strange things he did. His life was interesting even if you think he wasn’t god. The first one was ‘I AM the bread of life’ which means: I am the spiritual equivalent to Helga’s (Wonder Bread in the US). I’m nutritious. I get stuck in your teeth. I’m filling. I don’t get mouldy, though sometimes people hide me in the back of their fridge. I’m at the top of the good food pyramid. I’m present at every meal. In Asia I’m the rice of life. You can’t live without me. 🙂
“I AM the Light of the World” (John 1:4-10, 8:12)
It’s not a spotlight, or infra-red for God doesn’t aim at interrogation. People get enough interrogation outside faith communities. Could the light be more like a welcoming fire with room for all and marshmallows? Or mood lighting to develop friendship and intimacy? Or a mirror ball or prism to make people dance and make the world look amazing? Or a sensor light which gives direction just when we need it? Or maybe like the sun which keeps a whole population perfectly warm? Yes! And more.
“I AM the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11-18).
I’m urban. So I’ll try and urbanise God/ Shepherds. God is like a sober driver who not only drives his unstable friends home, but keeps them out of fights in the city and takes them to McDonalds on the way home, and tucks them into bed and holds their hair back when their puking. God is like a gardener who during a heat wave shepherds his plants through the sun, by watering them and holding an umbrella over them, even it involves him getting sunburnt or going without showers so he can spare the water.
“I AM the Gatekeeper” (John 10:1-10)
God is not like the doorman at a night club who only lets you in if you’re blonde, size six and on the arm of a tanned and wealthy man, and God doesn’t misplace your bag and umbrella on the way out. God is like a boss who pays so well, that no employees can be head-hunted. God is the guy at a concert who helps people sneak over the fence when the concert sells out. God is like the sculpture on the Tullamarine freeway: ‘this city is always open’. God gives people tickertape parades when they enter his door.
“I AM the Resurrection” (John 11:17-44)
What does someone mean when they say they ARE the resurrection. I’m pretty sure this is an example of Jesus’ poor use of grammar. (Ha ha)
What I think he was saying is this:
- God is like a graffiti artist who takes an ugly urban city scape and transforms it with colour and beauty.
- God is like a sculptor who takes reclaimed guns by the thousands and crafts them into a sculpture of a tree which is a sign of life and strength rather than death and hatred. (This happened in I think Mozambique)
- God is like Soul-Viagra who can take people with impotent spirituality and raise questions and hopes within them of a better future.
- God is that feeling when you first stir in the morning and realise “I didn’t die in my sleep!!!! It wasn’t 3 days, but 8 hours, but I’m back to face another day!!!”
- God is the bullish stock market that transforms devalued people into irreplaceable priceless people.
- God is like the builder on Bruce street who went into a heritage listed house which was falling apart, and slowly making it new again, not stripping it’s original personality, but removing the mould, rust, bare wood, and spiders with newness and aesthetic perfection. (It may even be Art Deco-God does period pieces too)
- God is like the buddhist symbol of a lotus, which grows from the muddy bottom of a river into an amazing flower.
- God is like the Harry Potter-mentioned Phoenix which rises from the ashes.
- God is like an old man/woman who is about to die, who passes on wisdom with his final months into the ears and heart of a younger person. (Yes, I just read Tuesdays with Morrie.)
- God is like a plastic surgeon who instead of giving his patient massive breasts, spends time redesigning bodies disfigured by burns.
- God is like a masseur who takes a body worn out and broken by the high pace, high impact life it leads, and rubs life and limberness into every muscle.
“I AM the Vine and the Gardner” part a (John 15:1-17)
God being the vine brings to mind the body’s circulatory system. Being connected to Spirit means you’re healthy, and will never contract social leprosy, or emotional diabetes. I wonder how we avoid clotting? It also makes me think that God is like a good mobile phone network and choosing a wise company allows you to be on God’s wavelength more often. Please avoid the spiritual equivalent of using a Three phone in north Tasmania: no contact, no answering machine access, no news. 😉
“I AM the Vine and the Gardner” part b (John 15:1-17)
I’m a gardener and I do understand how God might do gardening in our hearts and minds, but he’s also like a cancer specialist, and a personal trainer. Both professionals see some danger within us, whether it’s deadly or unhealthy. Both make thorough assessments, plan surgery/ workouts, and are always aware of the possibility of relapse. Following God can be similarly voluntary, at your own pace, quite challenging, easier in groups and filled with hope: the dream of health always held before us.