Cosmic Pentecost

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Today is Pentecost, when we celebrate the living presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst. For years, I used to describe Acts 2 as when God sent the Holy Spirit among us. But God is the Holy Spirit as clearly as God is the Creator and the Redeemer. And the Holy Spirit has been active among and around us from the very beginning, including throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and ever since, including now, and on into the future.Hubble 14 CROP pillars of creation

From the very beginning. I was stunned by a recent NOVA television program that showed pictures from the Hubble Telescope as it has traveled far beyond the earth’s atmosphere over these past twenty-five years. “Overcome with awe” is more like it, as I saw the Andromeda Galaxy as it’s never been seen before, as if we could visually count all 100 million of its brilliant pinpoint stars. Way beyond that in scope, the picture of what has been dubbed “the pillars of creation” dwarfs any of the galaxies, with towering clouds of light and stardust so vast that one tiny, dark disk is an entire galaxy caught in that instant being born.

The Hubble Telescope has shown us, for the first time, the age of the universe itself: 13.7 billion years old. Through Hubble, human beings have seen swirling galaxies of incredible shapes, colors and sizes, and have discovered a Black Hole at the center of every one of them, including ours. And Hubble has allowed scientists to discover that the universe is expanding rapidly, thanks to “dark energy,” previously entirely unknown, which is invisible to us and comprises seventy percent of the universe.

I have heard the Holy Spirit described as “God’s active presence and present activity.” Hubble’s photos witness to God’s activity in creation in every moment on such a vast scale that they are bound to overcome us with awe. It is as if Psalm 8 and Romans 8:9-25 come together to tell us the glorious story of God’s love for us all. If such beauty and intricacy exist in the creation that God has made, how can we not be in awe of the Radiant One who creates and sustains it all, and who promises its redemption?

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Creating Community

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Recently I went to an outdoor memorial to celebrate the life of a friend. She had multiple interests and participated in several different groups. Hearing different people speak about her life, I marveled at how she had the gift of cultivating community wherever she went.

Sometimes a sense of community develops quickly among people with a common purpose or circumstance. These days, radiation treatment takes up a major part of LINKS_bannerevery weekday for me. The schedule puts me in line for treatment at a set time with women and men from a variety of backgrounds and a wide geographic area. Some drive daily for an hour each way through the mountains, and some live closer in. We all arrive on common ground, once strangers and now connected in a deeply personal way. It’s amazing how quickly humor, conversations and warmth develop, as if we are instantly not only cancer survivors together, but also part of the same family.

All people are stewards of the relationships around us. We are meant to nurture, strengthen and be with one another in a way that builds up God’s kind of love and care for one another. I am grateful for those who nurture community over their lifetimes – and also for those who simply jump in when we find ourselves together.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Coming Alongside

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In the bad old days, cowboys used to “break” horses by using pain to force them into accepting a rider and multiple restraints. Some people still do that to horses. But domination does not produce trust, and horses that have been taught through pain will see the rider as a predator and will always want to break out.

Thankfully there’s a whole generation of natural-horsemanship trainers now who teach “coming alongside” the horse as a human partner, using the horse’s visual language to commTux and Gunner at grinding rock CROPunicate, engender trust, and teach desired behavior. One nationally-known horse clinician says it’s a three-part matter of “love, language and leadership.” This approach of coming alongside the horse to teach and lead him has revolutionized horse-human relationships – including with the horses my husband and I own and love.

So you can imagine my delight when our pastor first said that God “comes alongside us” to help, teach and guide us through human situations of struggle and pain. In fact, “coming alongside” is a favorite phrase of his – and a favorite pastime for God. When God nurtures and strengthens us through tough times individually and through crises as a people, it encourages us to learn crucial life lessons and to trust God, and also to come alongside other people, particularly those who have no other advocates. There’s a ripple-out effect that, in turn, empowers trust, courage and partnership with one another.

Thank You, God, for coming alongside us in so many ways, including through Jesus Christ himself. Help us to be willing, active partners with You and with others in Your name. Amen.

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Money Sanity Solutions by Nathan Dungan

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Written for “Live Free,” the 2015 issue of Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation, by the Ecumenical Stewardship Center

When it comeMoney Sanity Solutions bk covers to money, families often go silent out of fear or taboo, or else yell in rancor, born of financial anxiety and family conflict. So how do children learn healthy money habits from age five on up? And how can congregations help shape wise financial values and practices in the families they serve?

In Money Sanity Solutions: Linking Money + Meaning (Share Save Spend; 2010), Nathan Dungan presents a gold mine of interactive conversation starters and activities for families, to help them build healthy conversations and habits for dealing with money. In addition to using a DVD, this resource is chock full of discussion questions, exercises and proposed interviews, set in a user-friendly workbook format.

In the section on Money Sanity Basics, Dungan explores three core practices, beginning with becoming aware of our interactions about money: sharing family stories, relating our values to money choices, and noting who have been (or could be) our money mentors. Two other essentials are distinguishing needs versus wants, and determining the “money in, money out” of a family budget.

But that just lays the groundwork. Most of the book is devoted to fifteen “solutions” from which we can choose. They relate to:

  • Rebalancing our money habits;
  • Thinking more deeply about our spending and developing a “consumer conscience;”
  • Recognizing the peer pressure created by our exposure to an average of 5,000 commercials a day;
  • Investing ourselves in others through volunteer service;
  • Discovering the value of part-time jobs;
  • Planning together for family vacations;
  • Realizing the cost of technology connections;
  • Building our savings for financial choices and independence;
  • Devising a plan for those back-to-school days;
  • Changing the way we pay: plastic, cash, or cell?
  • Letting holiday gratitude give us balance over greed; and
  • Revising our expectations of more, more, more.

Living a life that fits with our values and frees us from consumer craziness takes some discipline, Dungan says. But making even small adjustments in family attitudes and activities can make a world of difference in our lives, as children, youth and adults. This is a terrific resource for families in your congregation.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub