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Tending the house of God

IT’S that time of the year again when charities remind their supporters to donate and get the benefit of a tax deduction.

Government policy rewards generosity.

Last year the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies, based at QUT Business School, released a study of tax-deductible gifts claimed for the 2008-2009 financial year.

Based on that data, mixed crop and livestock farmers claim the highest percentage of their income, about 3.4per cent.

The second highest percentage of income was claimed by ministers of religion.

They gave almost 1.9per cent of their income in ways that were tax-deductible.

However, the data about tax-deductible donations does not reflect the money placed in an envelope by pensioners each week to support their local church.

Nor does it reveal how many people tithe their income via direct-debit or funds transfer.

In addition, many people give spontaneously to support disaster relief or put cash in the retiring offering on communion Sundays which helps people dealing with life’s emergencies.

There are more than 500 verses in the Bible on prayer, 500 verses on faith but more than 2000 about money and possessions.

The way we use our money can indicate the priority we have chosen.

Many of the parables that Jesus told raise issues of money and property.

In 1998 Rev Douglas Jones prepared a paper for the members of Synod titled, Explorations in Stewardship.

From it I learned that the term “steward” is used in a particular way in the Hebrew Scriptures.

It can be translated as “servant” but it is a more superior role than a slave.

It is more like a foreman or supervisor who has the authority to make decisions, take initiative and give and take orders.

It is one who is given responsibility for the management and service of something belonging to someone else.

It is a position of trust granted by the owner, ruler or king.

Joseph, favoured son of Jacob, became a steward in the household of Potiphar.

The role of a steward was not just a job.

It was an office or a vocation.

The Greek word for household is oikonomos.

The same word can also be translated as economy.

So how do we exercise appropriate stewardship of God’s household?

In his book A Pilgrim People John H Westerhoff III wrote: “Stewardship is what we do after we say we believe, that is after we give our love, loyalty and trust to God, from whom every aspect of our lives comes as a gift.”

Our time, talents, money and possessions are not only for our own benefit but for building up the whole.

Our stewardship of God’s economy also has a corporate aspect.

It is easy to be generous when everyone is getting along well.

When relationships are strained people sometimes behave by with holding affection, time, support or money.

From time to time congregations have chosen not to support the wider church with their funds because they have disagreed with a decision of a council of the church or a public statement made by a leader.

Generosity can be fickle.

Stewardship is the careful commitment to caretaking as a response to God’s provision for our lives.

This month we have been trying to craft the next budget for the Synod in Queensland.

I am mindful that every dollar committed to a particular project or to provide wages or stipends has to come from somewhere.

Some congregations struggle to meet the costs of maintaining ministry.

Other congregations are overwhelmed by the number of new people moving into their communities and wonder how they will be able to respond to the many hungry souls in their district.

Take some time to reflect with people in your part of the church about how you are being stewards of God’s household.

Look beyond your own area and consider how you might be able to support the work of God in other parts of the Synod.

The Mission and Service Fund is one way that you can support those helping people to grow in their relationship with God.