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Sunday, August 02, 2009

the talent challenge

Right before I left (for Sabbatical) at the end of April, I issued the “talent challenge.” Each person present that day received a card with a challenge to use and multiply what they received for God’s Kingdom. I intentionally did not give examples so that people might not be boxed in. I’d like to share with you some of the stories relayed back to me.

Note that this exercise isn't an end in itself, but is meant to be a parable. The point wasn’t to simply double the money and give it back; rather, it was to use it as one would use one’s own money, talent, or time, for the sake of something God is doing in the world - to practice an all-life-as-worship response to God's rich grace. Each of these are wonderful examples and their variety is equally wonderful.

One person planned a missions benefit concert. He used the money he received ($5) to pay for the promotional materials. The concert is to benefit Francisco and Shirley Gross, GSPC-supported missionaries in Spain. In addition to organizing this concert, this person added his own musical talents to the seed money. A love offering will be collected.

Another person, given $5, used the money toward sending a child to summer camp at Good Shepherd preschool. Sometimes you don’t see the fruit of a gift like that, but in this case we heard that the child woke up every morning asking his mom, “Do I have camp today?”

Inspired by the knitting ministry that came from two of our members traveling to Nicaragua, another gift of $20 and some cloth material went to Tiffany Hinton to help her start a sewing ministry. That person also decided to “match the gift” and invested another $20 in Bank of America stock for Good Shepherd. In addition to the matching gift idea, this also was seen as a way to support our local community and economy in a small but representative way.

Another couple received $5. They wrote, “We prayed and pondered what we could do to make it grow for God's kingdom. He gave us the answer via the 5-cents-a-meal offering the congregation participates in each month. We felt a burden for the hunger fund, especially because a number of people have lost and are continuing to lose jobs. We modeled our challenge on the hunger fund offering by deciding that we would increase it and call it "25-cents-a-deed." Every time we do something for someone (other than ourselves or each other), we put 25 cents in the box along with the $5 we were originally given. Whether we are doing something as simple as taking the neighbor's garbage out to the curb or driving a friend to the doctor or visiting someone at home or in a nursing home or taking a meal to someone, etc., we are depositing the 25 cents in the box each time. We are anxious to see how much we will have at the end of July. Funny thing about this, I received a request in the mail to fill out a TV survey ($5 was enclosed for completing it), so I did that, and then I was sent $10 for another very short one. We also deposited that $5 and $10 in our "25 cents a deed box."

Another person shared (very honestly!) the temptation to just spend the money on weekly needs like groceries or gas, but left the money set aside in the envelope. After seeing a notice in the Voice for the youth mission trip fundraiser, she came to the pancake breakfast and car wash. She found the conversation with church friends and youth a great blessing and decided to give the original $5 plus $5 for each youth she met and spoke with that morning. I can only imagine, then, as the youth return and report on their experiences the wonderful feedback of hearing the fruit of this investment!

One person who received $50 responded to a newsletter from GSPC missionaries, Phil and Arleen Blycker. In that newsletter they were looking for donations to purchase a third octave for a set of hand chimes. Because of an interest in music and the wonderful way music can spread the work of the Lord, she donated her talent challenge money to that program. They were seeking $500 and had a promise of $50 so now they only need $400.

One person who received $5 decided to purchase organic green peppers and then plant the seeds. That person shared several setbacks and some of the learning process. He wrote, “I was hoping to demonstrate that with a little personal effort, we can take something we already buy then take the parts we don't use and multiply the return. Sometimes I think children and teenagers feel like they can't do as much because they can't get jobs, drive, etc. So I was hoping to do something that everyone could do and had a measurable return. After all, who doesn't like a plant full of free $2 green peppers they would normally buy anyway? I'm hoping to be able to share a lot of the fruits with people I feel may be having a difficult financial time. I can't say that the concept of seed money wasn't an influence as well. What I’ve learned from my failures are far more valuable lessons than what I've learned from successes.” Even beyond these wonderful lessons, he went on to write, “As you may already be imagining, my involvement in "organic gardening" has already blossomed into experimentation, several new acquaintances in the industry and several ideas that have evolved from the root idea. I think the developments over the next few months will be exciting.

Another person gave $50 to Samaritan’s Purse after looking through one of their catalogues. That amount went to a program to “Train a Believer to Preach the gospel.” She wrote, “It is my belief that by using the funds in this manner, the Gospel can be spread to people throughout the world who will hear God’s Word and learn of His never-ending love for us.” Again, this is one of those examples where we may never see the fruit of the planting, but through trusted ministries like Samaritan’s Purse, a long-time mission of Good Shepherd, we can support God’s work in the world.

Another person shared that she tithed a portion of her $20 gift back to the church and used the rest to sponsor a friend in a fund-raising marathon. Challenging other friends to match her gift, the support level is already over five times her initial gift.

There are more stories to be told! (Some shared with me at the door after church). Bottom line, the message and challenge of this parable is this: God has blessed us richly through His grace! How will you respond?

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