What Stuff Means

Standard

In The Power of Enough: Finding Contentment by Putting Stuff in Its Place, Lynn Miller has a great exercise for our personal reflection. It goes like this (my paraphrases):

  1. For each word on this list, write down what it means to you. There are no wrong answers.

House                                                                                                               Possessions Happy

Car

Salary

Food

Clothes

Cash Savings

Retirement Savings.

2. Think about how you formed those opinions. What did your parents teach you? What were the unspoken lessons you learned about having things? Were you aware of your family being poor or rich? Write down your thoughts.

3. Look back at the list of things in the first question. Which of your beliefs about these things are working for you? Which beliefs are working against you? Circle the ones that still make sense to you.

4. You can change your mind about what stuff means at any time. Write down what would be the “inherent usefulness” (the practical function) of each category in your life.

5. Given the inherent usefulness of each of these things, look at each word again and write down what is “enough” related to that item.

House

Car

Salary

Food

Clothes

Cash Savings

Retirement Savings.

What have you learned from this exercise? Does it change your perspective in any way? Might it make any difference in the decisions you make?

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Advertisements

Beauty, Grace and Gratitude

Standard

Clouds blue sky 1Looking up, I watch the high, bright clouds slide smoothly across e. e. cummings’ “blue, true dream of sky.” What beauty God makes with creation!

Gratitude gives us solid ground to stand on, but as long-armed as it is, it can never reach as far as God’s grace extends. Like the clouds, I want to be a steward sharing God’s presence in my way, as well.

A recent devotion* offers us a personal goal, where “every day is a blessing, every step is a prayer, and every act of mercy a statement of faith.” May your stewardship witness just as brightly as these.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

* – Brad Gabriel, Memphis, TN, in the 2016 Upper Room Disciplines for May 13, 2016

Seekers

Standard

YAs on coast from Yellowstone ConfThere was a trend among church leaders years ago to call non-church-goers “seekers.” It seemed like a polite term at the time: better than “the unchurched,” anyway. The problem is that “seekers” implied that members of the opposite group are “finders,” as if people who have found a church home aren’t seekers anymore. “Finders” sounds so absolute, as if we’re not seeking anything anymore, as if we have no more questions and are just filled with answers. And that sounds scary indeed.

It is God Who finds us, not the other way around. I hope we will always be seekers: seekers of the Holy Spirit, seekers of truth, seekers of peace, seekers of all the fruits of the Spirit. Hopefully we act in a way that shows what we are seeking – that is, to the degree that we have integrity, or wholeness, a consistency between what we do and who we are and seek to be.

One song by Jim and Jean Strathdee I love to sing begins, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God,” referring to Matthew 6:33. I hope we’ll keep on seeking God’s Reign, no matter how many times God has found us, or where we are on the journey.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Propel: Involvement and Generosity

Standard

I just wrote a book review for next year’s Giving magazine on Clayton Smith’s new book, Propel: Good Stewardship, Greater Generosity. The theme of that issue of Giving is “Living Generously,” and I hope you’ll order it online at www.stewardshipresources.org this fall. But there are a lot more ideas from Propel than I could pack into that review, and one is the connection between involvement and generous giving.

“Involvement is a vital indicator of generosity,” Smith says. “Those who are active members of smallPropel Clayton Smith groups, classes, and leadership groups donate eight to ten times more to our church than those who do not get involved.” While his numbers are dramatic I think that’s no surprise, since generosity is generous-hearted living, not just financial giving. For example, when people give their skills and in-kind gifts to helping others, their time and concern to neighbors, or their advocacy and care to strangers, it all comes from the same generous heart. Generosity is not about giving money to a church; it’s about trying to follow Jesus in every dimension of our living.

“Generous living is more often a measure of one’s soul than of one’s pocketbook,” Smith says, quoting Gordon MacDonald’s Secrets of a Generous Life. MacDonald goes on:

People who live generously share a firm conviction that a generous portion (that’s the generosity part) of what they have must be strategically given (that’s the stewardship part) for the betterment of others and for the advancement of God’s kingdom. . . . Stewardship is at the heart of the discipline of generous giving.

When we’re grateful to God for God’s love and the gift of Jesus Christ, our desire to be generous in return pervades every part of who we are, not just the money part.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Giving is Receiving is Giving is . . .

Standard

Mobius strip colorThere is no way to give without receiving in the process. No doubt you’ve thought about it. For example, you decide to visit a sick friend or shut-in neighbor. By doing that you’ll be giving your time, care and compassion, strengthening a relationship, and simply by going reminding that person of God’s presence. But when you return from the visit, you realize you have received a lot, as well. Even if the person was less than friendly, you came away with a deeper sense of personal connection and community, and often with the enrichment of his or her stories and appreciation, if not gratitude. Best of all, whether s/he knew it or not, you return with a sense of having gone there not only on your own behalf but also on behalf of God.

In my writing and book notes I have called this process “internal mutuality.” It’s usually not observable on the outside, but is felt in one’s heart. Neither is it a transactional (tit for tat) relationship with either the recipient or with God. It’s a give-and-receive for both parties.

This seems true for all kinds of giving: donating money, offering services, volunteering in the community or on mission trips, forgiving a person, doing something for someone who cannot reciprocate in a pay-back sense.

Here’s one recent personal example. A colleague needed to do some on-site research for his writing project but had no way to get there. I gave him a ride, spent the afternoon, then drove him home. But he gave to me in return: time together to share more of our life stories, lots of things learned from his knowledge and expertise, a closer relationship and now friendship, and mutual appreciation of one another and of God’s direction in our lives. What a gift that day was! The give-and-receive process seems to be a natural human part of life.

That experience reminds me of Paul’s description of the Jerusalem offering, where the Gentile Christian received spiritual blessings (the gift of the Good News itself!) and the Jewish Christians (helping their neighbors in the midst of famine) received material blessings. Likewise, Jesus told us that if we give, it will be given back to us, shaken together and pouring over. I think God for this way God made our life experiences, in a constant, life-giving flow!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub