Good News and Taxes

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Okay, so we are getting closer to the U.S. tax deadline of April 15. It’s not as easy anymore (if it ever was for us) to just turn over our financial plans or receipts and have someone else do it for us: a spouse, an administrative assistant, a doctor or even an employer. These days, we are personally responsible for implementing and recording those essential details, whether they are tax payments or balancing checkbooks, pension plans or insurance or health premiums, and especially dealing with the ups and downs of the family budget.

Take pensions, for instance. Most companies have switched over from Defined Benefits to Defined Contributions. The same goes for most insurance plans. And then there are taxes, which have always required someone’s keeping track of receipts, what is taxable and what is not. This is a bad thing if we just keep practicing denial and avoidance. But it’s a good thing if we step up to the challenge and do our own financial planning.

The wonderful news is that there are some terrific resources for financial planning, beginning with that crucial family budget. The Good $ense materials are excellent tools for budgeting and financial planning as an outcome of our Christian faith (what a thought!). Now they include group materials for getting out of debt, preparing for retirement, and teaching our children and teens about money management and financial freedom. What a relief! There’s also Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

You can experience these resources firsthand June 21 through 23 at the United Methodist Stewardship Gathering, this year at Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois. Sponsored by the National Association of United Methodist Foundations, the event is designed for local church and Conference leaders and UM Foundation staff and Board members. To find out more, click on “Events” on this website, or go to http://www.naumf.org. Plan to attend and decide on a program that can free up your people and equip them to actually enjoy next year’s tax season!

Your partner in ministry,
Betsy Schwarzentraub

Written 3/28/2011 for the General Board of Discipleship
of the United Methodist Church

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Financial Security and the Bottom Line

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Financial security is a subjective thing. Certainly, it has to do with making our income and expense numbers come out right. But it also depends upon perception: our emotional well-being and personal answer to the question, “How much is enough to live on?”
One devotional Scripture for today is in Hebrews 13, which says in part, “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have.” For God has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” I used to think that love of money was all about acquiring more and more. But another form of it is thinking that what you have is never enough to live on, never enough to have peace of mind.

An essential word of hope comes from how Hebrews puts the two sentences together: Don’t obsess about whether you have enough money or not because God has promised to never abandon you. So the core issue of financial security is not really money; its about fearing abandonment. Can we trust God’s presence in all possible life circumstances and lean upon God’s ability and willingness to come to our aid?

Yes, the numbers are important, along with practical behavior and proactive saving. But the real bottom line has to do with God’s presence, promise, and power. Now that’s security!
Your partner in ministry,
Betsy Schwarzentraub
Written 3/21/2011 for the General Board of Discipleship
of the United Methodist Church

Teaching Healthy Money Habits: Christ Church, Richmond, VA

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What are youth learning about healthy money habits from the adults around them? How can local churches help shape young people’s financial values? The issue is urgent, and some churches are stepping up to the task.

Take Christ Church in Richmond, Virginia, for example. To grow generosity among their members, they knew they needed to break open conversations about money and values. Their goal was not just to raise money for the congregation’s ministries, but also to involve all generations in conversations that connect faith, values, and money.

So in 2010 they launched churchwide forums using Nathan Dungan’s Money Sanity curriculum. They chose a time of year to do the study different from when they asked for funding. Now they are moving to a second round of small-group discussions based on Dungan’s book Money Sanity Solutions: Linking Money and Meaning.

Small group exploration strengthens churches as well as families. A Canadian study of stewardship practices found that when congregations offered personal financial training for their members, overall giving went 25 percent higher than in churches that offered nothing.
With dramatic increases in debt, families need help now more than ever. “The church needs to step up and reclaim its voice as a countercultural leader,” says Dungan. “Millions of youth and adults are eager to live differently and to think more deeply about aligning their faith, money and values” with God’s call to be God’s people.

Questions for Discussion
* How does your church teach healthy money habits to children, youth, and families?
* What steps could you take to encourage conversations about money, faith, and values?

For more about Nathan Dungan’s resources, go to http://www.sharesavespend.com.
Written 3/16/2011 for the General Board of Discipleship
of the United Methodist Church

Grace and Temptation

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I hate being sick. When I do get sick, my temptation is to refuse to acknowledge the reality that would allow me to rest and focus on healing. When I engage in such denial, I try to plow ahead with my own plans, and then get worse.

Use of the word “temptation” here is deliberate, since life’s temptations come in myriad personalized ways. I guess that’s why the first Sunday of the season of Lent, now just past, recounts how Jesus was tempted and what he said in response to defend himself and overcome Satan for that moment.

For years now, my husband and I have been reading the The Upper Room Disciplines as part of our daily devotions. In this past week’s readings, Martin Marty said that the war against all that opposes God’s purposes is faced and won in billions of small encounters around the globe and across time. In other words, temptations don’t end within this lifetime; but that’s not the end of the story.

If we are growing in grace, conquering our temptations is both hard work and letting go. It is a gift of grace involving authentic prayer, reliance on Scripture, and trustful following of the Holy Spirit. The path is not easy, but there is always a way through.

“Growing in grace” is another phrase for “stewarding the gospel:” relying on God’s grace to deal with each moment’s temptations and following the patterns that reflect God’s loving presence in the daily actions of our lives.

Your partner in ministry,
Betsy Schwarzentraub
Written 3/16/2011 for the General Board of Discipleship
of the United Methodist Church