Thursday, February 26, 2015

Giving – and the Federal Budget

If pastors ever want to ensure low attendance some Sunday, all they have to do is announce the week preceding that they’ll be preaching on tithing. Messages about money attract congregants like vinegar attracts honeybees. “All they want is money,” is a common complaint uttered by some about the contemporary church.

We don’t like being told how to handle our money, whether by the clergy, parents, friends, or sometimes, even our spouse. After all, it’s “my money,” isn’t it? I have every right to do with it as I choose, don’t I?

Whose money is it, anyway?
I don’t intend to explore the concept of tithing, but one principle has helped me over the years in not maintaining such a tight grip on my wallet. As a friend explained, from a biblical perspective it’s not “our” money. We are not “owners” of our possessions, including our cash and bank accounts, but stewards – or managers.

In His so-called Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus told of a wealthy man who, before leaving on a journey, entrusted talents (some money) to his servants. He asked them to manage the money in an appropriate way during his absence, and upon his return, they would give an account of what they had done with it.

Two of the servants invested the talents wisely, doubling the amounts that had been entrusted to them. Both were commended for their stewardship and then informed they would be given even greater responsibilities: Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21.23).

The third servant, however, did nothing with the money entrusted to him, choosing instead to hide it until the rich owner returned. His explanation? Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground” (Matthew 25:24).

None of these servants owned the money in their possession, but still were expected to put it to good, productive use. In a similar way, we might work hard to earn our paychecks, but ultimately the money is not ours, but God’s. Our skills, abilities and gifts come from Him. He simply asks us to be wise in how we manage or use our financial resources. And if He asks us to give a portion of that directly to help in advancing His eternal kingdom, is that too much to ask?

This principle reminds me of how “our money” – the taxes we pay to the Federal government – are being used. We often hear, from both Democrats and Republicans, about the “government” funding various projects, ranging from education to highways. Our elected officials, from the President to members of Congress to those who serve at the local government level, seem to view themselves as owners of tax revenues, authorized to use the funds as they choose.

But lately there’s been a strong pushback, taxpayers complaining that in reality the government – Federal, state and local – has no money of its own. They note that in a real sense, government leaders are basically managers – stewards – asked to use the funds entrusted to them with wisdom and frugality.

Government seems to have stepped into the role of the wealthy man in the Bible, described by one of his servants as “a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed.”

This isn’t advocating non-payment of taxes. In fact, I believe all U.S. citizens have a responsibility to pay their fair share to support functions of government, ranging from law enforcement and emergency responders who come in times of need to road crews that pave our streets and fill in potholes. If God has prospered us financially, we have an obligation to help in supporting not only His work, but also the public works from which we all benefit.

But wouldn’t it be nice if our elected officials took their own stewardship more soberly? That rather than spending tax monies like drunken sailors, heedless of budgets and growing deficits, they would realize they have merely been entrusted with tax revenues – resources provided by American taxpayers? That they have the responsibility for using them with great care and discretion, rather than acting as if they’d been given a blank check for unconscionable, reckless spending?

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