Palpable Presence

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What an outstanding experience I had recently — training the first half of our stewardship associates and meeting with all of them by phone! These nine people from across the United States will help teach stewardship and generosity in the local church.

The first event we are offering is a workshop called “Annual Funding and Extravagant Generosity.” The workshop shows church leaders how to develop a plan for cultivating generosity in their congregations, and it explains how an annual funding program fits into the big picture. It also introduces a great, new local church funding resource called Extravagant Generosity: The Heart of Giving. A stewardship associate will lead the first half of the workshop, and one of the Extravagant Generosity co-authors will lead the second half.

I couldn’t resist promoting the workshop we have to offer. But what I felt most when we gathered with the stewardship associates was the presence of God, right there with us. It reminded me of 2 Timothy 4:1 (NRSV), which says, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, . . . I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; . . . encourage with the utmost patience in teaching.”

Persistence and patience make a powerful combination, especially when we have a message — when we have a Person — who is true and loving and working through us (even despite us), right here and right now. The palpable presence of God, through a team of committed Christians — What a gift!

Your partner in ministry,
Betsy Schwarzentraub
Written 5/23/2011 for the General Board of Discipleship
of the United Methodist Church

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Mutuality and Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving is not a season. It’s an orientation of our minds and hearts that naturally flows into a lifestyle of generosity, of mutual giving and receiving. This week I had outstanding experiences with two groups of stewardship leaders. In both situations, our conversations and learning from one another began with gratitude and ended with expressions of thanksgiving to one another and to God. As the discussions progressed, the gift of each insight shared was built upon by another person’s experiences or skills and ended with an understanding that was greater than any one of us had had in the beginning. It was an exciting example of members of a Christian community “upbuilding one another in love.”

We cannot give without receiving in the process; nor can we receive without giving something of ourselves in return. Often, in daily life, there is mutuality in this process, a kind of interdependence that takes place. For example, when I go to visit a woman who is sick, she gives back to me in return through who she is, through our sharing and prayers together, and through our presence to each other. Even if an ongoing relationship has its rough edges, we both give something of ourselves; and we can choose to receive insight or understanding in return.

I thought of this mutuality recently when I reread 1 Timothy 4:4-5 (NRSV): “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified by God’s Word and by prayer.” Here is the mutuality written large, even between us as mortal creatures and the One who has created us. God gives to us God’s Word, the good news itself; and we give back to God our prayer, our desire for relationship, out of thanksgiving for the glimpses of grace we have seen. May you experience such mutual thanksgivings in the week ahead.

Your partner in ministry,
Betsy Schwarzentraub

 

Written 5/10/11 for General Board of Discipleship

James 5: A Community of Stewards

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Daily devotions often bring surprises. Take James, chapter 5, for example, which I encountered recently as if for the very first time. In verses 13-20, James describes the basics of Christian community. Pray in your suffering, he says. Sing songs of praise. Pray for the sick. Confess your sins and pray to be forgiven. Pray for one another. Bring back those who wander from the truth. And did I mention, pray?

So what does this group behavior have to do with stewardship? The Wesley Bible calls these actions “appropriate to God’s character and purpose,” noting that the integrity of our relationships depends, not upon how we pray, but upon the One to whom we pray. In other words, we are called to express the good news by the way that we live, to “walk our talk,” no matter what our circumstances. Now that’s stewardship!

James reminds us that we learn, grow, and reach out not as lone gospel stewards, but as congregations, as whole communities of Christians in training, practicing new or truer-to-Jesus behavior. So it’s a great thing that as churches we do not depend upon the mechanics of prayer, but upon the all-sufficiency — the sheer grace — of the One to whom we pray!
Your partner in ministry,
Betsy Schwarzentraub
Written 5/3/2011 for the General Board of Discipleship
of the United Methodist Church