Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Faith Works 2-23-08
Jeff Gill

Worse Yet, The Subject Is Money Next Week

If I told you that it might be worth your while to go check out the website of http://www.relevantchurch.com in Tampa, Florida, it might just be another congregation doing something interesting on the internet.

You might go, you might not, but no big deal either way.

If I told you this was the church which also has the website http://30daysexchallenge.com, would you move a bit faster to the computer?

Which is clearly a part of the strategy, maybe even an outreach agenda, of this church plant which is largely younger couples and singles, which meets in a rented hall.

To be perfectly candid, when I first heard about “The 30 Day Sex Challenge” on TV, I assumed it was a cheap play for coverage – which worked, since I’m hearing about it in Ohio – and was more flash than substance.

After going to the website, particularly the blog they’ve set up for participants (which I’m sure is moderated verrrry closely), and from reading the guides they offer for download for free (as .pdfs) at http://blog.relevantchurch.com, I have to repent of my initial skepticism.

What the pastors are offering in their congregation, and to others who wish to participate over the internet, is a season that is clearly embedded in Lent, while not mentioning those 40 days and Sundays since their target audience is a largely unchurched bunch for whom Lent is something under the bed.

As for what going on in the bed, well . . .

This 30 day challenge is to be defined by the individuals and couples involved, between Valentine’s Day and Easter, and will be accented by sermons and studies in and through the church. But the core idea is that divorce and alienation is rampant, as people “hook up” casually and over-commit to work and amusements to the detriment of their marriages.

So Relevant Church is actually swinging a double–edged sword, starting with asking singles to commit to 30 days of NOT having sex. Many of us who are life-long church goers and committed Christians are saying, “Um, guys? Your job is to tell them they shouldn’t be having sex in casual relationships at all, not for 30 days.”

I’ll admit that was part of my initial reaction to the “30 Day Sex Challenge.” Looking closely at what the church is saying and doing, though, I have no doubt that this is their consistent teaching. But they know who they’re trying to reach, and to unchurched borderline seekers, they’re saying “Hey, we know this sounds crazy, but single folks, what if you spent 30 days without sex as an excuse not to communicate, and looked at your current relationships and approach to relationships during that time?”

It seems to be striking a chord. Will Relevant encourage them to not stop with 30 days of self-control and restraint? I think so.

And then there’s the challenge to married folk. They have lots of young folk with small kids, and double career strivers. What they’re challenging them to do is make a major commitment to each other, and it’s not just about sex, though that is unapologetically the baseline they’re proposing. Focus on each other, and your relationship, and make time and space and privacy for intimacy, and leave the bars and the BlackBerries and buddies behind. Just the two of you, and a time commited to closeness.

The study guides are very simple, which means folks will do them (Rick Warren should get a royalty), but they are affecting and engaging in how they use the point of married intimacy as a potential blessing from God, and not an oxymoronic punchline of a TV sitcom.

They recommend Bible readings and suggest reflections, with the Song of Songs prominently featured (well, duh). There is a starting questionnaire that is licensed from Willard Harley of Marriagebuilders.com, whose materials I’ve used in pre-marital counseling for years. He’s an excellent Christian counselor with much wisdom around marriage, and doing this questionnaire alone could open up marriages in growing directions, with or without the 30 days.

Before anyone writes me to say “no, the Song of Songs isn’t about couples and sex, but about the relationship between Christ and his church,” yes, I know the citation. But what about this: might God intend the healthy intimacy of a married couple to interpret for us the relationship between Christ and his church?

Kudos to Relevant Church, and Amen!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him where he’s off-base at knapsack77@gmail.com.

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Notes From My Knapsack 2-24-08
Jeff Gill

Make More, Take More, Now or Later

If you’re working the plan properly, we all should be well into figuring and filing our taxes for 2007.

For some of us, that includes estimating our income for 2008 and getting a legally mandated head-start on paying those taxes, too.

We who proudly number ourselves among the self-employed include a number of odd categories that the Tax Code includes (yes, they call it a “code” right up front, which is mighty honest of ‘em).

Clergy, for instance, are often considered “self-employed” for tax purposes even when you serve a specific congregation. Many other so-called “independent contractors” are considered self-employed, which can be a nice deal for their employers.

This means you pay both halves of your FICA, also known as your Social Security payments. Some churches and other contractors offer offsets for that difference, but many working folk don’t even know their employer pays half when they do.

What really makes this interesting is that the feds, the state, and for many of us the local government when there’s an income tax all require you to estimate your income for the coming year. Well, if I knew that, would I be a free-lancer? Anyhow, I have goals, I have dreams, and a whole lotta hope.

On the other hand, I have to pay quarterly estimated taxes, often (usually) before I’ve actually gotten paid for the contract writing or teaching or speaking that I’ve done – being an adjunct or supply or freelance contributor means I’m at the end of the line, payroll-wise, which is just how it is.

What makes this a truly intriguing system is that if I estimate too low what I think I’ll make, that I’ll have to pay taxes on before I receive, then I have to pay an extra penalty on top of my additional tax obligation, for having “paid too little” in estimating the money.

Checking with the Lovely Wife, aka The Brains of the Outfit, she confirms that we’re “Okey Dokey” if we pay (in advance, remember) at least 90% of our taxes that we’re estimating. So if I earn 11% more than my wildest dreams or most prudent imaginings can calculate, I owe both the additional taxes and a little bonus to each of the Federal Treasury, to Gov. “Keno” Strickland’s coffers, and to my beloved village of Granville.

All this in the same country that solemnly declared after the last Christmas season that consumer spending was “only” up 3.5%. That’s an economic crisis, but 11% improvement of my lot is penalized – what’s the deal with the narrow 7.5% window of permissable success?

Candidates like Mike Huckabee can make lots of hay while the sun doesn’t shine on shenanigans like this. His IRS eliminating, national sales tax establishing plan doesn’t make a lick of sense when you try to break it down, but there’s a good reason why people feel unreasonable about the Infernal Revenue Service.

Which is what I write every year on the envelope with the 1040 form. And it’s never been sent back to me “Addressee Unknown.” You know what Attorney Fred Gailey proved in “Miracle on 34th Street,” right?

Every year the Lovely Wife and I do one extra calculation not required by the forms, but ought to be for citizenship. We add up all our income, and all our taxes – federal quarterly and final, state income and sales taxes, local income and property taxes – then we do the division. This year looks to be about 34% of our income going to the common weal, not counting the extortionate penalty factor, admittedly small.

Having said that, we’ll likely be voting for pretty much all of the local levies for our schools and public services. You pay those taxes to support the value of the real estate they’re calculated on. I still think taxes in that form for those purposes make plenty of sense, though the monkeying around with rollbacks and formulas to help make things “fair” (i.e., take from some, keep most, give a little to poorer districts) does more harm than good.

That has nothing to do with my sense that the overall payroll and sales tax system is dangerously near broke, and no amount of “gaming” will fix it. Disincentives in the tax structure work even better than incentives, and they’ve gotta go. If someone doesn’t come up with a better alternative, sheer frustration is gonna get some Huckaplan shoved through Congress. Ideas, anyone?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he is no tax accountant. Set him straight on the numbers through knapsack77@gmail.com.