I recently saw the following headline and article tagged in a social media post: “Cincinnati church wipes out $46.5 million in medical debt for 45,000 families.” Perhaps more interesting to me was the accompanying post, which was simply “We could do this. But would we?”
Think about it. What should we be doing? And why aren’t we doing it?
This has implications in our personal lives and for the Church as a whole. Sure, it would be easy to simply ask the question, “Why doesn’t my church do something like this?” or “Why are we spending large amounts of money on impressive churches or impressive icons or impressive liturgical items?” And those are questions that our leaders must be willing to ask and answer. But for us, something else is at the heart of the matter.
Take a moment and think about the past day, week, even year. How much time, energy, and talent was spent with an inward focus looking for or achieving an inward result? Would I summarize my actions, what I actually do, as primarily self-fulfilling or self-emptying? And, if I call myself a Christian, are my actions aligned with what Christ taught and did?
I don’t know the specifics about this Cincinnati church and what they were able to do. It’s not for me to analyze or judge. I do know that there are people in need. Financial need, emotional need, medical need, hunger, alone, unloved, uncared for, and the list goes on. What strikes me is that I spend most of my time and days ensuring that the needs above are taken care of for myself. How much time will I spend ensuring that they’re taken care of for others?
How shall I live?
Dn. Marek Simon
Dn. Marek is the Executive Director of Orthodox Christian Fellowship. He is passionate about serving and mentoring young people, helping them explore their faith, and growing the ministry of OCF so that all college students have the opportunity to participate. Dn. Marek lives in the Nashville area with his wife and two children.
Every kid has a dream job. Whether they want to grow up to be a doctor, veterinarian, ballerina, athlete, astronaut, scientist, a mom, a dad, or even the president, it is up to them to choose a path to follow. We, as college students, are in the ‘refinement’ section of choosing what we want to do, where we want to work and for whom we want to work. But, our human hearts crave more for our careers, we don’t just want a job, we want meaning in our work and in our lives.
Vocation is a word commonly discussed among Orthodox college students often in the context of where they want to work in the future. Let’s take a second to learn what it really means. Vocation comes from the Latin word, vocare or “to call,” therefore, vocation itself doesn’t refer to your future job, but to your actual God-given calling: to love. God calls us all to: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Vocation runs so much deeper than the job you hold or will hold.
God calls for us to become like Him, to “take up our crosses and follow Him” (Matthew 16:24). But what does that mean for us college students? It means we have to live our whole lives in God, and no matter where the journey of college takes us, following Him will always be the goal. Look at the saints! They were able to do follow Christ, all while being themselves, each on their own path. The saints led their lives celebrating their individual talents and skills as doctors, army officials, chefs, monks, bishops, emperors, mothers, fathers, and Christ, too, was a carpenter!
Luckily, our God knows us all so intimately, and He has bestowed on all of us that same calling. Your life is not going to be a straight line, there are going to be hundreds of twists and turns and sometimes you might really have no clue where to go. If you accept your vocation (to love the Lord and your neighbor) everything else in your life will fall into place, not your way, but His way. His way may not be the way you always saw yourself going–its pretty much never going to happen that way.
For me, when I decided I wanted to become a doctor, I could retrace my steps to the conversations and experiences that pushed me to be where I am today. But along the way, I had no clue how to distinguish any sign from the background noise, everything was just happening all at the same time and I was just trying my best the whole time. Today, I still don’t know where my choice will take me, but I am excited for every step of my journey, and I have faith that the Lord’s will be done. Ask me again in five years if I knew where I would be standing at that point, here’s a hint: I HAVE NO CLUE. If life was that predictable, it’d be boring.
And while modern times have made us value money and status above all else, a word of caution from the wise–do not let your job be the foundation of your identity. If you let your job become your source of self-worth and you begin to see people in terms of their salaries, you may be allowing your career to become your idol. Instead, ground yourself in Christ Jesus, and perform your job, no matter what it may be, with love and for His Glory.
I hope by now in this series, you have gained a richer, fuller, and deeper understanding of what it means to be a Christian steward. Namely, that stewardship is about a way of living, about tending to and caring for the things God loves. But I’m betting some of you are wondering how we’ve made it to part five of this series without mentioned money. Well, here it comes!
Give and receive and deprive yourself, because in Hades there is nowhere to seek luxury. Wisdom of Sirach 14:16 (LXX)
Look, money is part of stewardship for the same reasons that the other things we have mentioned are. Money is meant to be used for the caring of God’s creation in preparation for His return. We are already stewards of our money at some level when we spend it on (reasonable amounts of) food to nourish our bodies or when we treat our friends to ice cream just because they’re awesome and we love them. And just like we can be bad stewards of our bodies by mistreating them, or bad stewards of our time by wasting it away on nonsense, we can be bad stewards of our money when our financial priorities aren’t related to the King’s spiritual priorities.
We come from a rich tradition of money and goods being pooled for a common good or given liberally by those with great means, from a tradition that stresses simplicity as a way of life and self-deprivation as an expression of love. We really have no excuses to feel uncomfortable when the Church asks us to use a portion of our means to support her ministries. They are Christ’s ministries, for which we—as His stewards—are responsible. They are the ministries that keep us alive when everything around us is falling apart, and they do the same for millions of other people around the world. And I mean all of the Church’s ministries, from the most blatant and obvious responsibilities like caring for the poor, the sick, and the hungry to the beautiful responsibilities of building new churches, painting new icons, and providing vestments for new priests down to the most mundane responsibilities like making sure the lights are on in the parish hall, there are enough stamps in the church office to send out newsletters, and the cleaning staff gets paid a living wage.
These ministries are all in our hands and rely on our generosity.
I never could stomach these.
Now, maybe you’re thinking, “But I’m a poor college student. I make it by on student loans and ramen noodles. Are you seriously asking me to give money to anything right now? Maybe when I graduate.”
Ok, fair point. I know that when I was in college, I certainly wasn’t swimming in cash and dining in extravagance—honestly, I’m still about a million dollars away—but I also think that now is always the right time to build the habits you want to have for your whole life, even if it’s on a small scale for the moment. As Sirach tells us, now is the time to give because we don’t know what tomorrow holds. You are a steward today, so I think, my friends, today is the day to make a commitment to be a steward of whatever means we have.
Here’s a list of some college-friendly giving suggestions:
Give from Your Chapter Budget: Does your OCF chapter have a yearly budget? Consider donating a portion of your chapter budget to OCF as a way to support the Orthodox Christian campus ministry movement.
Keep a “Thank You” Stash: We all have really amazing days when we can experience God acting in our lives. Perhaps on those days, you can set aside whatever is in your wallet to offer up as a thank you to the Lord. Alternatively, you could add to the stash on the days when everything goes wrong as an offering of repentance and a show of dedication to God no matter the circumstances.
Fill a Coin Jar: Nobody likes loose change in their pockets. Keep a coin jar in your room and drop your change in as you collect it throughout the week. When the jar is full, take them to a coin changer, and give the balance to the Church! You’d be surprised how much one pickle jar can hold.
Make a Fasting Plan: There are four major fasting periods in the Orthodox calendar (not to mention the weekly fasts). Make a plan for setting aside a little extra money on fasting days by eating simply and eating less.
These are just a few ideas. Be creative. Be pro-active. Be generous. Whatever you do, give with love and joy and thanksgiving, knowing that God has entrusted you with the care of His Bride.
This week’s challenge: Give—even if it’s only $10—to the Church and Her ministries. To make OCF part of your stewardship plan, go to ocf.net/give!