Tag Archives: season

Understanding the word “stewardship”

Like a lot of faith communities, the Table takes time in October and November to refresh ourselves on the meaning of stewardship.

And it can be a really hard concept to grasp, especially if you’ve only ever learned about it in the context of giving money to support a ministry or organization.

But stewardship is more!

The psalmist in Psalm 65 (v. 9-11) speaks of God’s care for the earth.

You visit the earth
and make it abundant,
enriching it greatly
by God’s stream, full of water.
You provide people with grain
because that is what you’ve decided.
Drenching the earth’s furrows,
leveling its ridges,
you soften it with rain showers;
you bless its growth.
You crown the year
with your goodness;
your paths overflow with rich food.

At the heart of stewardship is ownership – what do we really own? Our consumeristic society teaches us that we work hard and earn something for it. We then trade or buy for things that we need to live and enjoy life. However, all of those things that we use at their most basic level were not created by us. The oil that we pull from the earth to power our plants and cars was not created by us. The wood and stone and dirt that we build our homes, livelihoods, and gardens from were not created out of thin air. Even the oxygen we breathe is a gift that comes to us out of creation itself.

And so at some level, all that we receive in our lives – every bite of food, every paycheck, every breath – depends on someone or something else moving on our behalf.

This is the underlying concept of stewardship – it’s recognizing that all we have in our lives, whether it is a lot or very little, is a gift. And if it is a gift, then how can we not share it freely with others since we ourselves received it so freely? Stewardship recognizes that we are not really owners in as much as we are caretakers of these resources. We might use them for a time but then insure that others in need and future generations will enjoy these gifts as well.

And so this season of stewardship is less about how much money you might give – it’s more about how we as a community respond to the ways God has blessed us and how we shall share those blessings with others.

Later this week, I’ll tackle a couple of other questions, like how much we give and how our giving can reshape the world.

A Place for Lament

Are you ready to lament?

Dictionary.com says that lament means:

to feel, show, or express grief, sorrow, or regret.

On his blog, Greg Stevenson, a professor of religion and Greek, poses a difficult question (which I’m paraphrasing) – why are our hymnals and song books overflowing with happy psalms? Why has the church neglected the songs of despair, anger, and sadness that we find throughout the Bible?

His answer:

My theory (and I would love to hear others) is that lament psalms are about brutal honesty before God. Despite our advertising slogans, we in the church have never been very comfortable with brutal honesty when it comes to our relationship with God. Because brutal honesty means admitting that we don’t have it all together, that a relationship with God can often be rocky and tumultuous, laden with confusion and, sometimes, even anger. Communicating this to the outside world is not good evangelism . . . or is it?

You know, I think he is on to something. We live in a materialistic culture that is preoccupied with happiness and success. Likewise, we are tempted to gravitate toward a faith that is about those same values. In that kind of culture, there is no place for a faith that isn’t about be showered with blessings and given a life free of trouble. If your prayers aren’t answered or your life is beset with challenge, maybe you’re doing it wrong.

And yet, the bible stories reveal time and time again people who get frustrated with God. Why is this happening to me? Why can the world be such a terrible place? Why won’t You heal my loved one? Why don’t You answer my prayers?

If we truly believe that God is big enough to provide for us and save us, then surely God can take those kinds of questions. Surely, God can receive the pain and woe we carry. Surely, God desires our honesty, even if we are in a dark place.

Starting this Sunday, the Table will be learning how to lament. Yeah, it seems like a dreary kind of topic, but it might just be a kind of prayer and conversation with God we need in a world that does seem filled with violence and brimming with corruption. There will be experiences of hope intermingled throughout our journey, but we will be learning to sing new songs that express our longing for a better world.

Along the way, we are going to have some great music too, including a few bands that you normally don’t hear “in” church.

Let’s cry out to God together in this season for hope, peace, health, and abundant life.

- Nathan

The Urgency of the Season

As I was studying the birth of Christ today, it occurred to me how much we do dress up what little of the story there is.

The Gospel of John and Mark have no birth story at all.

The Gospel of Matthew simply says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem – no mention of a manger.

And Luke’s account (Luke 2:1-7) is fairly to the point as well:

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Another translation I have suggests “guestroom” in place of “inn” in that last sentence.

We are sort of left to have to read between the lines to fill in a picture of what it was like that day in Bethlehem. The census required that families return to their ancestral home to be accurately counted. This would be the same if I, for whatever reason, had to take my family back to Anadarko, OK. My hometown is small, and most young people leave it to find jobs in cities or other parts of the country. If we all came back at the same time, the hotels, motels, and guestrooms would be packed. The city would have a festive, exciting vibe to it – joyous reunions, gossip, political conversation, lots of food, and family drama.

In to this picture come Mary and Joseph, both likely dreading what will be said when news gets out that Mary is pregnant – and who knows who the father is? You can imagine the furtive glances, the suspicion, the way Mary was given the cold shoulder, and so on. Maybe there was room in the family home, but Mary and Joseph were pushed out into the garage, dirty, uncomfortable, and away from the respectable members of the family.

And there Christ enters into the world.

When I put it together this way, the birth of Christ becomes a little less removed and becomes more like some of the things I have experienced. Life, even for Joseph and Mary, was not serene. Choirs of angels did trumpet the coming of the Christ child, but they did not sing softly in the background or bring feathery pillows for the Holy Family to rest upon. Their lives were just as hurried, tense, and often overwhelming as my own. They probably wondered why it had to be like this but then welcomed the new blessing they cradled in their arms.

This is what it means that Christ is Emmanuel, God With Us – God truly came into the life we all know and experience.

Blessings to you as we journey to meet, once again, Emmanuel in our lives.


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