Choices

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Most things in life are not rocket science. They’re more a matter of persistence and consistent behavior. That doesn’t make living a good life easy, but it does make it possible.Trail runner

Health habits are a good example, including food and exercise. I’m a Lifetime Weight Watcher. That means I weigh in at least once a month within two pounds of my (very moderate) goal. But what it really means is a daily, sometimes even hourly, decision to overcome impulsive eating and think about needs versus wants. It means attending a supportive group every week, to remember why health is important and that I’m not alone in working on it. And it means practicing varied, enjoyable activity often enough that I remember how good it feels and how great it is to be able to stretch and move. Years of constant choices gradually become the “new normal,” so new habits work for my benefit.

Becoming good stewards of our bodies is like any other aspect of faithful, joyful stewardship. Making regular, life-affirming decisions doesn’t necessarily get easier, but the rewards mount up and it’s fun along the way. Actually, improving our physical health is a lot like choices we make for our spiritual health: making intentional decisions about our daily practices, participating in our faith community to remember our purpose (the One to Whom we belong) and to know that we’re not alone. And in both cases we keep trying out new behaviors to reflect more faithfully the cause we profess to follow.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Means of Grace

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“Discipline” can be a scary word. Even when we hear it in churches, as in “spiritual disciplines,” our first instinct might be that it’s punishment or obligation. When that unconscious reaction happens, it’s hard to respond out of a place of gratitude and joy.

So maybe it’s better to say “framework” or means of grace. John Wesley refers to a whole group of “spiritual disciplines:” prayer, baptism, fasting, Holy Communion, daily Bible reading, even something called holy conversations. When I first heard about these as a group, I was doing some of them individually but hadn’t put them together in my mind. What a relief and release it was to experience them as a framework for daily life. They can be a kind of anchor on the stormy seas of our sometimes-chaotic living. I began to sense them not as that old-fashioned ‘discipline’ word, but rather as a way to remember God’s generous grace in the midst of over-busy life. Together they can express God’s reality and love despite the disappointment or uncertainty, the sorrow or fear or anything that can assault us.

It’s surprising how some of the ancient practices of the Church can actually be a comfort and a reminder or God’s grace: the colorful seasons of the Church Year, for example, or daily canonical hours that trace Jesus’ life and ministry. It’s not that these actions are magic rituals or divinely-given obligations, but rather that they can free us up, so we know every day of our living is framed by God’s love. Whatever you choose to do, may you live to the fullest and give glory to God!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Redwoods

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Written 12/17/2013                                                                     

Many people are enjoying a Christmas tree in their homes this time of year, often a pine or fir in the European tradition. That’s true of our family, as well. But Christmas aside, I have been partial to the redwood tree for years now, not only because of its beauty but also because you can see its growth. Whatever its internal processes, the new tips show bright green against the darker, older branches.

So the redwood is a great metaphor for Christian growth. To the degree that we are open, the spiritual growth we experience comes from something deep within us: a dynamic, God-prompted relationship that moves us from stability to change. If we are listening and responsive, it reshapes us in some small way that begins to show in our relationship with others or in the way we interact with the world. The new-green tips are visible to those who have eyes to see.Redwoods new growth

In Ephesians 3:14-21, Paul recognizes this inside-to-outside process in a prayer for us all. He says, “I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through God’s Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” This is my prayer for you, as well, in this Christmas season.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

United Methodist Stewardship Creed

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UNITED METHODIST CREED FOR CHRISTIAN STEWARDSHIP

Approved by 1988 General Conference

“We believe in God, Creator of the world; and in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of creation. We believe in the Holy Spirit, through whom we acknowledge God’s gifts, and we repent of our sin in misusing these gifts to idolatrous ends.”

From “The Social Creed” of the United Methodist Church

We as stewards affirm the goodness of life. We rejoice in accepting the abundance with which God has endowed the earth. We commit ourselves to participate in God’s redemptive intention for the world: that all people should be able to live in peace and to enjoy the days of their lives free from hunger, disease, hopelessness, and oppression.

As stewards, we commit ourselves to love and justice among persons and nations in the equitable distribution of income and wealth. We affirm the ownership of property as a trust from God. We acknowledge the responsibility to share the abundance of creation. We regard the conditions created by poverty to be demeaning to the human spirit.

As stewards, we insist on the efficient management of human and natural resources in the production of the goods and services needed by the human community. We insist on conserving resources in order to sustain permanently the fruitfulness of the earth.
As stewards, we are committed to give generously of our time, money and service through the church to the world. We affirm the tradition of tithing as a disciplined practice of giving.
As stewards, we acknowledge the necessity of civil government. We encourage all people to participate in the activities of responsible citizenship.

We believe that Christian stewardship is a joyful response to God’s gifts: it is a spiritual understanding of the practical and economic aspects of all of life. Our stewardship affirms the redemptive power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and our confidence in God’s final victory in the world.

Sample Scriptures Related to Simpler Living

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And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.
– 2 Corinthians 9:8

“Why is everyone hungry for more? “More, more,” they say. “More, more.” I have God’s more-than-enough, more joy in one ordinary day than they get in all their shopping sprees. At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep, for you, God, have put my life back together.
Psalm 4:6-8 (The Message)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to . . . put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God.
1 Timothy 6:17 (NIV)

The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity.
Ecclesiastes 5:10

For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
Matthew 16:26

The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to want.
Proverbs 21:5

Precious treasure remains in the house of the wise, but the fool devours it.
Proverbs 21:20

No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
Matthew 6:24

Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. Fr where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Luke 12:33-34

Honor the LORD with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce.
Proverbs 3:9

Do not wear yourself out to get rich; be wise enough to desist. When your eyes light upon it, it is gone; for suddenly it takes wings to itself, flying like an eagle toward heaven.
Proverbs 23:4-5

Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.
Proverbs 22:9

And [Jesus] said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.
Luke 12:15

Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.”
Hebrews 13:5-6

I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.
Philippians 4:11-12

Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, and you did it to me.
Matthew 25:40

Factors That Predict Generosity

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From Growing Up Generous: Engaging
Youth in Giving and Serving
By Eugene Roehlkepartain, Elanah Dalyah,,
and Laura Musegades (Alban Institute, 2000)

Studies of giving and serving among youth and adults identify several consistent themes. How can your congregation create or encourage opportunities for young people to have more opportunities for these experiences that shape their generosity with time and money? Try to list at least one for each of the experiences listed below:
 Experiencing the generosity of others and receiving care from parents and other significant adults
 Spending time in settings (home, church, school) where caring and generosity are invited and respected
 Being guided by religious beliefs (or other “frameworks or consciousness”) that encourage care, compassion, and generosity
 Interacting with mentors and role models who both practice and teach generosity
 Having concrete opportunities to serve and give and being personally invited to participate
 Experiencing a faith that is alive, deep, dynamic – in short, life-shaping
 Finding enjoyment and fulfillment through acts of giving and serving
 Being connected to people from diverse backgrounds and who have unique awareness of issues in the world
 Possessing self-confidence and a belief in one’s own capacity to make a difference