Sunday, September 26, 2010

On the Challenges of the Church--Continued

The devotion book we were given is entitled, 40 Day Spiritual Journey to a More Generous Life. The cover lets me know that it is a bestseller, of 400,000 copies plus translations in 40+ foreign languages.

During the last part of church, I decided to open the book and thumb through it. Bad move. I began to read the daily lesson titles, and I was immediately turned off. Some of these topics include:
  • The LORD watches your giving
  • Even the poor are to give to God from what they have
  • Set up a plan to faithfully give 10% OR MORE of your financial resources to the Lord's work (emphasis theirs)
  • Don't live for this life, but for your heavenly home
  • Women play a significant part in giving to God's work
  • God will reward you for your faithful generosity and diligent labors
  • Your giving in this life will have an impact on your experiences in eternity
This is just a sampling of the daily topics. So many things rub me the wrong way about this. I don't know where to begin.

Let's start with the need to point out that women play a role in God's work. As a feminist Christian and a feminist theologian, I, obviously, whole-heartedly agree. However, the fact that this needed to be highlighted in a chapter made it sound more like, "even women play a significant part in giving to God's work." Also, that this was one day out of 40 made me think that the other 39 were all about men. Maybe that's not the case, but that token chapter made me sick.

The chapters about giving in this life will impact experiences in eternity and God rewarding you for your generosity border dangerously on prosperity gospel. A quote by Sir John Templeton states, "...I always saw greater prosperity and happiness among those families who tithed than those who didn't." This basically says tithe and you will have more prosperity.

Another statement that troubled me was that giving 10% or more of your income will "ensure you of treasure in heaven." What?! Is this saying that this will buy your spot into heaven? Or is it saying your spot in heaven will be better if you give; better than those who do not give? This whole notion that giving or tithing will guarantee treasure in heaven puzzles me. Is God's grace not enough?

One thing that really frustrates me about this book is that it is all about money. At our church, we talk about being stewards of and giving of our time, talent, and treasures. Yet, this book is all about treasures, and in that context, it says that even the poor are expected to give from what they have to God. Also, it says that you are only poor when you want more than what you have. Really? That might be true for middle-class U.S. Americans, but tell that to a family living well below the poverty line within the United States, or tell that to people living within poverty-stricken nations of the third world. I think it is safe to bet that for a single-mother who works two jobs to keep the lights on, heat on, some food on the table, and a roof over her children's heads--and still at times comes up short--it isn't her wants that is making her poor.

The book is so out of touch with reality. It is filled with the message of give and you shall receive, and likely you will receive even more. However, I've seen so many people who have given with that expectation and have ended up disappointed. I've seen people give their 10% to the church, when even with that 10% they would not have had enough or have had barely enough to pay their bills, and when due dates come around, they don't get that "extra blessing" they were promised, and they are left unsure what they are going to do and how they are going to do it.

Perhaps I need to be more constructive, rather than critical, regarding giving to God. What does a healthy understanding and a life-giving theology of stewardship look like? I'd love to hear your suggestions in the comment section, as well as your thoughts on this book. As for my own constructive thoughts, I'll save that for another post.

On the Challenges of the Church

My church is entering a time where we are beginning to build an addition to our existing facility. To prepare for this period, we have been asked to participate in a couple of different studies.

The first study is on the biblical book of Nehemiah. We are encouraged, as well, to participate in a small group study of a study guide to accompany weekly sermons. My small group has been unable to find a time that works for everyone, and thus, I have the guide but have done nothing with it.

As part of this study, we were challenged to attend church each week for the next 70 days, bring our Bibles to church, etc. Seeing as I am nowhere near a perfect attendance award at church, that 70-day challenge of weekly church attendance was daunting, and I already failed. In week two.

And bringing our Bibles to church? It's been a while since I have attended a church in which people brought their personal Bibles to the service. I mean, why should I when the words to the scriptural text are on the big screen for me? Back in the day, I took my Bible to church and even had a fancy-schmancy cover in which to carry it. Now? My favorite Bible--my Oxford Annotated New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha--has been in my garage since I moved. In June 2009.

However, that challenge and my lack of commitment to it is really about my shortcomings. Yet, this second challenge? I'd like to think its problems are bigger than my inadequacies.

I was confused when we were issued a 40-day challenge to read this devotional, because we are still in the midst of the 70-day Nehemiah study. Then, I realized I was expected to multi-task. Lovely.

I received my family's devotional book, and I was hopeful that this would be a way for hubs and I to settle down, focus on something, and grow together, as well. Yet, when I opened it, I immediately knew otherwise...To be continued.