Faithful Financial Management Leads To Stability

The market is up one day and down the next. Some analysts believe that the recession is nearing an end and others caution that the recession could linger for another year or two. How do you find personal and emotional stability in an unstable economy?  The only way I know is by practicing the principles of Christian stewardship, and there are no shortcuts.

Christian stewardship is a pragmatic spiritual discipline…a management responsibility which applies to every facet of life.  As believers and worshippers, we are accountable to God for how we exercise that managerial responsibility over all of our resources, especially our time, our spiritual gifts, our opportunities, and our finances.

Although Florida’s economy began to spiral downward in the aftermath of the sequential hurricanes in 2004-2005, the negative trends in Florida have been compounded by national growth in unemployment, a depressed housing market, a depreciating market, and global economic anxiety. Although we do not know how long these recession conditions will last, we do know that God’s economic guidelines bring stability during all of the seasons of life.

God’s plan for economics begins by calling us to a positive and proactive attitude toward managing. A primary step toward managing all of your God-given resources is to present the firstfruits, or the first tenth of your increase, as a tithe unto the Lord.  The prophet Malachi probably has the most emphatic words to say about giving:  Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.  Malachi 3:8-10 NIV

In his book, Full Disclosure: Everything the Bible Says about Financial Giving, Dave Bell writes, Stewardship is not just an opportunity to enter into God’s service but an opportunity for God to enter into you.  I believe that for those who dare to practice biblical stewardship, giving becomes a fun part of our management responsibility. Paul gives us a vivid description of a believer’s attitude toward God’s economic plan when he writes, Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver ( II Corinthians 9:7  NIV).

Herb Mather, author of Don’t Shoot the Horse (Until You Know How to Drive the Tractor), proposes that “The vertical relationship to God and the horizontal relationship to neighbor come together in the act of giving.” In other words, that cheerful spirit of managing and appropriating our resources for kingdom purposes cultivates within us a passion for mission and ministry.

How do you begin, or continue, the practice of Christian stewardship?

  • Understand that all resources are a trust from God.
  • Prioritize your tithes and offerings.  
  • Provide for your family through careful management.
  • Adopt a lifestyle of enjoying simple gifts.
  • Be ethical and honest in all transactions.
  • Limit credit liability and strive to eliminate debt.
  • Invest in the future through a savings plan.

During these tough economic times God’s principles of stewardship can bring stability to our homes and our businesses, as well as the ministries of our church.

 

It Takes a Thief

By Barry Howard

If you are on our church campus this week, you will likely notice the reverberating sounds of construction, you will hear the echo of orchestral instruments and a large chorus of vocalists rehearsing, and you will notice men of all ages curiously unshaven, some with a mature beard and others with adolescent fuzz.  This year, for the first time since Hurricane Ivan, First Baptist Church is presenting the Pensacola Easter Pageant.

For many years this annual musical re-enactment of selected scenes from the passion of Christ has been a culminating highlight of Holy Week for our community. The pageant itself requires a lot of work. Volunteers spend countless hours building and assembling props. Members of the music staff are relentless in recruiting the cast and costuming the major characters. The choir and soloists begin right after Christmas memorizing and rehearsing the music.  The closer we get to the pageant date, the more intense and numerous the preparations become.

Our church is blessed with a significant number of retired and semi-retired members who are skilled with both hammer and saw, so we have a dedicated crew to build the set.  We are gifted with an extraordinary choir and orchestra, determined that the music will be presented with excellence.  And typically we conscript an adequate and willing troupe to portray the cast of the biblical passion narrative.

Some of the dramatic roles are easy to fill.  As I compared this year’s cast to the video clips from pageants past, I have noted that Jesus is a carryover from the last pageant.  Although he has married since the last pageant, he is about the same size and though youthful, the guy can grow a beard overnight.

The disciples and the guards are a mix of new volunteers and repeat performers, some of whom are a little grayer and a little more portly than last time.  Mary, the mother of Jesus is a brunette, and Mary Magdalene is a blond.  Nicodemus has lost about 30 pounds, Joseph of Arimathea is a seminary graduate, and Judas is portrayed by an exceptionally honest naval pilot.

Other than the role of Judas, the most challenging part to fill is the role of a thief.  Few who have played the part of the thief volunteer a second time. The role of the thief is strenuous and laborsome, being strapped to a cross for a significant portion of the program…condemned, semi-clothed, exposed….just hanging there helplessly for all the world to see.    

Our cast includes two thieves, one on each side of Jesus, a “good” thief and a “bad” thief.  There is just something about being the thief on the cross that many find a little distasteful or uninviting.  But you can’t have a real Easter pageant or grasp the full meaning of the Easter story without a thief.

In actuality, the thief should be one of the easier roles to fill, primarily because everyone, other than the original Jesus, has at least a little bit of real life experience playing the part. What usually happens when you are confronted with the gospel story is that you become aware of the thief within. To internalize the real Easter story each of us must identify ourselves as the thief before we are able to identify ourselves as a disciple.

Had you rather play the good thief or the bad thief?  The good thief was the repentant one.  

Easter is almost here. And it takes a thief to make the story come to life.

(Barry Howard serves as senior minister of the First Baptist Church of Pensacola, Florida.)