Saying God’s Name

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Words can shape our reality by forming tBurning bush Creationhe way we think about ourselves, the world, and even God. I have known and said that all my life, insisting on gender-inclusive words for people and for God. But this week that truth took a step deeper into my soul.

Ever since my first Old Testament course in seminary, I have specially treasured God’s personal name, given to Moses at the burning bush.Thanks to biblical linguist Frank Cross and my Old Testament professor, Dr. Herbert Otwell, I discovered that YHWH is a verb phrase, meaning “He Who causes (gives birth to or begets) all that is alive or becoming.” The English phrase “I Am Who I Am” points to it, but loses a lot of the rich reality. The verb in Hebrew emphasizes ongoing action of being, or becoming, or living. So the personal name of God is as the One Who causes all that is alive, in ongoing being. It’s no wonder that the Gospel of John records all those “I Am” statements by Jesus, as he identifies with this mysterious, transcendent, redeeming Creator.

So for almost forty years now, I have made it a point to honor God by saying God’s personal name – but now I realize I need to honor God by not saying it.

Last week at a retreat after I read Scripture and preached, a longtime friend lovingly challenged me about pronouncing it. It is the sacred name, which Jews (including his wife) do not pronounce. While as a Christian I believe there is no longer a dividing line between the sacred and profane, this makes a big difference at this stage of my life. I want to respect my Jewish sisters and brothers, for whom pronouncing it is nothing less than blasphemy. But along with that, choosing not to say that name reminds me, even now, of the holiness, the vastness, the transcendence of God. Maybe that’s what Jews have meant by choosing to not pronounce it all along.

God is so much bigger than anything we can imagine, even while being the closest of our kin (redeemer), dwelling within and among us. If not saying the name reminds me of that, it is well-worth changing a lifelong habit, hard as that may be. After all, there are other names for God, as well. Like Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. And they all hold enough mystery for a lifetime of faith.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Compass Young Adult Network

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I was delighted to discover a brandCompass new network of resources especially for young adults, called Compass: Navigating Faith and Finances, at https://www.stewardshipresources.org/COMPASS. It’s designed to engage young adults in conversations about the ways faith can inform their management of money. – Not that they’re the only ones who want help in money management; I’m happy that the rest of us can jump in and learn right along with them, as well!

The Ecumenical Stewardship Center sponsors this initiative and taps into resources from its partner denominations as well as other North American stewardship leaders who provide a slew of practical resources. It’s really more of a network than just a resource, since it includes three avenues: a blog site that deals with specific aspects of faith and finances, a Facebook community, and selected resources with links.

The first issue of Compass shows the vast range from which people can choose. In the first edition, we can get free help to create a monthly budget or a plan for paying off school debts; learn how to save for emergencies and retirement; get a free download from First Things First about finding our financial True North; or catch stories of real people who have radically reshaped their concept of what is enough and what they’ve done with the “extra” money they would have spent. Three videos capture John Wesley’s insights on “Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can;” and there’s a link to group training for a personal finances workshop.

And that’s just the first issue! I’m looking forward to some serious – and fun – connecting with others who want to join their faith and finances more closely in their daily lives. See what you think and spread the word!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Five-Year Planned Giving Plan

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Steven Covey says there are certain things that are fundamental to human fulfillment: to live, to love, to learn, and to leave a legacy. “The need to leave a legacy,” he says, “is our spiritual need to have a sense of meaning, purpose, personal congruence, and contribution.”

A five-year Planned Giving plan for your congregation is not a one-time program, but an ongoing resource for families when they are thinking about their legacy for the future. Its purpose is for church members to discover they have multiple win-win options that include giving to their family as well as to ministries for future generations.

Planned giving has more to do with family relationships and passing on values than it is about disbursement of assets. It can be a way of teaching your children or grandchildren how to handle money, practice first fruits living, and decide the causes to whom they will give. Your Conference United Methodist Foundation can provide programs and technical expertise. By having a quarterly article, gathering, or workshop for a specific audience, you can let people know they have options for giving that will fit their unique situation.

The stewardship folks at the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church have an easy template for a five-year Planned Giving plan to get you started. You can access it at www.gbod.org/stewardship. The old adage is true: The best time to start a Planned Giving plan is twenty years ago; the next best time is now.

Your partner in ministry,Signed will document money

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Throwing Open the Door

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I’ve been thinking recently about what constitutes abundant life in our daily living. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Romans 5:1-7 (The Message) says that when we throw open our door to God, we discover that God has already thrown open God’s door to us.

“We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand – out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise,” he says. “We can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!”

Yes, yes! Whatever we do, all the words and songs and actions we can muster, cannot contain everything that God pours into our lives. Such overwhelming grace! But the thing is our experiences can be so raw, and this Holy Spirit thing can get tricky. Somehow it’s easy to not look for the Holy Spirit, to expect that we’re alone with our own strategies, dreams and disappointments, to assume that there’s no one on the other side of our door.

The key is to open our door – maybe just a crack? – when we cannot see exactly what’s on the other side. It’s easy to say but hard to do, when we’re facing an unknown opportunity or challenge. It’s a risk. But then life is a risk, and we trust the One Who is in charge.

Don’t we? door open to world

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

The Power of Enough by Lynn Miller

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As we enter Thanksgiving and the gift-buying days leading up to Christmas, now is a great time to talk about what is enough. According to the consumer version of this season (in the U.S., at least), excess becomes our expectation, even our norm: excess food, excess buying, excess entertainment and activity.

“Enough” is a word not only of sanity and balance, but also of spiritual grounding. In 2 Corinthians 9:8, Paul says that God gives us every blessing in abundance so that, by always having enough of everything, we may share abundantly in every good work. So our purpose is not to have everything in abundance, but rather to share abundantly. Having enough of what we need (in contrast to everything we desire) encourages us to share abundantly. With the “enough” that God promises, as we know from the Macedonians in Paul’s day (2 Corinthians 8:1-6), those who are centered in Jesus Christ can share abundantly, despite material poverty, because of the “wealth of generosity” in their hearts and lives and the sufficiency of God’s grace.

One good resource for exploring this idea is Lynn Miller’s book The Power of Enough: Finding Contentment by Putting Stuff In Its Place. This book makes an excellent piece for personal or group study. Miller explores Paul’s understanding of contentment (see Philippians 4:11-12) and key concepts such as the difference between need and desire, how a surplus economy works, and buying based upon “inherent usefulness.” (For example, if the purpose of a car is reliable transportation, then it does not have to be sexy, classy or any of the other intangibles that car dealers try to attach to their products.)

The Power of Enough is very practical. In each chapter, Miller offers personal reflection questions and exercises based upon our daily-living decisions. For example, in his “What Stuff Means” exercises, he invites you to write down what a house, food, clothes, and so on mean to you, where you formed those opinions, and whether those beliefs work for or against you. He then asks readers to discern what is “enough” in relation to their “stuff.” Miller’s basic principles apply equally well whether you are putting together your first-ever budget, planning for retirement, or deciding whether to invest in stocks or real estate.

In the Bible, “enough” is not just the bare minimum, Miller says, but rather sufficiency in everything. When we recognize that we have enough to be able to share abundantly, no matter what our external circumstances, we know that the things we own have nothing to do with who we are. We are set free, not just to have gifts or even to give gifts, but to be the gifts of God that God designed us to be for the rest of God’s world. The sufficiency of God’s grace: now that’s enough for this season and far beyond!

Written 12/7/2010 for the General Board of Discipleship
of the United Methodist Church