Teaching First Fruits Living

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FruitsTeaching First Fruits Living helps people put God first in their daily lives.

Christian educators not only get to share the priceless knowledge about God’s presence, but also can guide people to respond to God through an essential pattern of “first fruits living.”

What is “first fruits living?” It is giving to God the first and the best of what God has given to us, and managing all the rest according to God’s own generosity. What a glorious way to live! Here are some Bible texts you can use to teach the practice and six reasons why first fruits living is so important – because it:

Applies to all our resources and relationships as gifts from God (2 Cor. 9:6-8). We put God first each day through prayer with God. We put God first each week in corporate worship of God. We put God first every time we receive income by giving a percentage of it to God’s work, off the top. We put God first in our social life by having fellowship with other Christians. All these dimensions keep us mindful of God’s primacy in our lives. It forms the basic fabric of our living in whole-life dedication.

Grounds us in gratitude for the bounty we have already received (Dt. 26:5-11). Generous giving always begins with God. So when we give the first fruits of our time, money, assets and passions, we celebrate God’s faithful acts and the opportunity to be involved in God’s ministries.

Becomes a daily pattern that shapes a lifelong way of living (Mt. 6:24-33). We cannot make both God and money our first priority; we must choose. When we choose God, our trust in God works to calm our anxieties about having enough of what is necessary to sustain us.

Counteracts the god of consumerism (Mt. 6:19-31). “He’s worth a million dollars,” people say, as if a person’s assets equal his or her worth. But we are children of God, no matter how much or how little we own. When we practice first fruits living and simplify our life style, we are freed-up from the endless race for more money and things.

Teaches us how to live as God’s first fruits of the new creation (James 1:18). It’s not just that we give our first fruits; it’s also the way that we live that can be the first fruits of God’s new creation. We do this by being bold “entrepreneurs of the gospel,”1 returning to God the best of who we are.

Points us back continually to God’s grace (2 Cor. 9:11-15). Beyond what we give to God, we seek to manage “all the rest” that God has given us according to God’s own generosity. So we become God’s agents, generously sharing in natural response to God’s amazing activity in the world.
Written 9/2011 for iTeach newsletter for Christian educators

1 = Lynn Miller, Firstfruits Living, 88.

Think About It:
* Where have you personally experienced God’s amazing generosity?
* How could you practice first fruits living in any aspect of your life and teach it to others?

Betsy Schwarzentraub is a stewardship author and writer and former Director of Stewardship at the General Board of Discipleship.

Resources

A Christian View of Money: Celebrating God’s Generosity, by Mark Vincent. Available at http://www.cokesbury.com

Afire With God: Becoming Spirited Stewards, by Betsy Schwarzentraub. Available at http://www.cokesbury.com

Enough: Discovering Joy through Simplicity and Generosity, by Adam Hamilton. Available at http://www.cokesbury.com

Firstfruits Living: Giving God Our Best, by Lynn A. Miller Available at http://www.cokesbury.com

http://www.gbod.org/stewardship

Basic Training

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After an extended time off, my spunky horse needed to go back to basic training. For horses, this instructional time includes ground work, safety issues, and fundamental cues for mutual respect and attentiveness. It emphasizes communication and affirms our core relationship (including who leads whom). Such basic training is not once-for-all-time. It needs to be reinforced throughout our years together.

This exercise with my equine partner got me thinking, “So what is basic training for Christian stewards?” I believe it involves one key theological understanding and one essential practice.
The key theological understanding is this: “Generous God; Generous Lives.” That’s the way church consultant Mark Vincent summarizes it, and I agree. So here is how I unpack the statement: All generosity begins with God, the ultimately generous giver of life, love, and the entire good news. As John 3:16 puts it, “For God so loved the world that God gave. . . .” And, of course, the Person whom God gave makes all the difference in the world!

God gave first. God always gives first. Always, everywhere, it is God who first loves us (see 1 John 4:10). So because of God’s incredible self-giving and unconditional love, we seek to live generous lives with everything God has entrusted to us as people, as congregations, as creatures, as children of God. Gratitude is where we begin and where we end. No matter where we go theologically from there as different denominations or as different individuals, this is the basic lesson for Christian stewards.

And here is the one essential practice: first fruits living. Because of the reality of this cosmic, kindred, gracious God, we try to give back to God the first and the best of everything God has entrusted to us, and we try to manage all the rest — everything — according to God’s generosity. This audacious exercise has two parts: First, we give the best percentage we can of our time and money (working up to and beyond a tithe) and skills and relationships to God, off the top. This shows up in our income, daily devotions, weekly worship, and core Christian relationships. And second, we keep practicing the fundamental cues for all the fruits of the Spirit in how we manage and use all the rest: the families we love, the money we earn, the neighbors and strangers we encounter, the communities in which we live, our possessions and passions, and everything else God has entrusted to us in this life. Between the giving half and the managing half of this practice, I am not sure which is more audacious. But it’s a process, learning with mind and heart and muscle: a lifelong endeavor.

This brings us back to my wonderful horse and two personal learnings from his basic training. First, whatever your discipline, partnership is all built upon a personal relationship from both sides. And second, “more advanced” simply means going deeper into the basics. So it is with Christian stewardship. The more we grow as joyful, generous stewards, the deeper we go into a personal relationship with our generous God, and the more fully our lives reveal first fruits living.
Your partner in ministry,
Betsy Schwarzentraub

Written 1/11/2011 for the General Board of Discipleship
of the United Methodist Church

Basic Training

Standard

After an extended time off, my spunky horse needed to go back to basic training. For horses, this instructional time includes ground work, safety issues, and fundamental cues for mutual respect and attentiveness. It emphasizes communication and affirms our core relationship (including who leads whom). Such basic training is not once-for-all-time. It needs to be reinforced throughout our years together.

This exercise with my equine partner got me thinking, “So what is basic training for Christian stewards?” I believe it involves one key theological understanding and one essential practice.
The key theological understanding is this: “Generous God; Generous Lives.” That’s the way church consultant Mark Vincent summarizes it, and I agree. So here is how I unpack the statement: All generosity begins with God, the ultimately generous giver of life, love, and the entire good news. As John 3:16 puts it, “For God so loved the world that God gave. . . .” And, of course, the Person whom God gave makes all the difference in the world!

God gave first. God always gives first. Always, everywhere, it is God who first loves us (see 1 John 4:10). So because of God’s incredible self-giving and unconditional love, we seek to live generous lives with everything God has entrusted to us as people, as congregations, as creatures, as children of God. Gratitude is where we begin and where we end. No matter where we go theologically from there as different denominations or as different individuals, this is the basic lesson for Christian stewards.

And here is the one essential practice: first fruits living. Because of the reality of this cosmic, kindred, gracious God, we try to give back to God the first and the best of everything God has entrusted to us, and we try to manage all the rest — everything — according to God’s generosity. This audacious exercise has two parts: First, we give the best percentage we can of our time and money (working up to and beyond a tithe) and skills and relationships to God, off the top. This shows up in our income, daily devotions, weekly worship, and core Christian relationships. And second, we keep practicing the fundamental cues for all the fruits of the Spirit in how we manage and use all the rest: the families we love, the money we earn, the neighbors and strangers we encounter, the communities in which we live, our possessions and passions, and everything else God has entrusted to us in this life. Between the giving half and the managing half of this practice, I am not sure which is more audacious. But it’s a process, learning with mind and heart and muscle: a lifelong endeavor.

This brings us back to my wonderful horse and two personal learnings from his basic training. First, whatever your discipline, partnership is all built upon a personal relationship from both sides. And second, “more advanced” simply means going deeper into the basics. So it is with Christian stewardship. The more we grow as joyful, generous stewards, the deeper we go into a personal relationship with our generous God, and the more fully our lives reveal first fruits living.

Your partner in ministry,
Betsy Schwarzentraub

Written 1/11/2011 for the General Board of Discipleship
of the United Methodist Church

First Fruits Living

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FruitsOkay, so our financial lives have been stretched greatly in this worldwide recession – and some people a whole lot more than others. But here’s one lesson hopefully all of us have learned: Whatever money we do have, we can choose to put it on God’s priorities instead of into greedy speculation, tight-fisted hoarding, or an endless line of possessions.
This is a particularly tough lesson for people living in the consumption-oriented U.S. society. But Christians everywhere have a time-honored, thoroughly field-tested way to make sure we put first things first: through first fruits living.

What a thought, that we could be intentional about where “our” money and resources go! Mark Vincent, lead partner and consultant at Design Group International,1  describes it this way: first fruits living is “giving the first and the best to God, and managing all the rest according to God’s generosity.” That is, according to God’s priorities, not someone else’s. So when we do first fruits living, we give the first of our day in devotions, the first of each week in worship, the first of our relationships in community with other Christians, and the first of our income in gifts for God’s work in the world.

There are at least two great things about this first fruits practice. First, it prompts us to be proactive in our giving of money, time, relationships and all the rest. This reduces our anxiety when a huge number of money requests come in the mail in times like these. If we’ve already noted where God is at work in the world and calling us to take part, we have chosen to support our top-priority initiatives already. So we don’t have to feel guilty and stressed when lots of secondary requests come to our door. Second, first fruits living focuses on what we do with all of what we have received, not just the percentage that we give to others. It challenges us to manage “all the rest” according to God’s priorities, including how we earn money, spend our time, save assets for the future, share generously right now with others, and participate in human community.

So first fruits living does a whole lot more than just help us deal with financial demands. It helps us put first things first, allow God to be in the center of our daily living, and engage our faith-in-action with 100 percent of what we have received.

Your partner in ministry,
Betsy Schwarzentraub

Written 6/10/2010 for the General Board of Discipleship
of the United Methodist Church
1 = See http://www.designgroupintl.com