“Stewardship and Culture” course in January

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person-w-cross-signI’m excited to teach an online course on “Stewardship and Culture: Building Contagious Generosity” this next Jan. 9 through Feb. 11. Registration will be open beginning in December at transformingthechurch.org. The class will feature four audio-video presentations, an interactive online Class Forum, and four weekly live conference calls on Saturdays, Jan. 21 and 28 and Feb. 4 and 11. We’ll begin with a conference call on Jan. 9 to introduce ourselves to the class, website, and one another.

The course will explore how aspects of our North American culture influence our practice of stewardship and giving. Students will frame critical questions about consumerism and God’s vision of sufficiency, recognize the impact of technology and marketing on consumerism, and begin to create an intentional Generosity Plan for their congregation. Topics will include critiquing mainstream-culture assumptions about achievement and individualism, redefining ourselves from consumers to stewards, shifting our focus from “the market of one” to hands-on community work, and strengthening a culture of generosity within our faith network.

“Stewardship and Culture” is sponsored by the Ecumenical Stewardship Center, which provides stewardship resources for churches and Christian organizations all across the U.S. and Canada. I look forward to joining in this venture with you!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

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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

Mission Shares Part 2: The Local-Global Balance

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Okay, so it’s an art keeping local and global ministries in a healthy balance. But paying our Conference Mission Shares helps us hugely on both fronts.

To begin with, Mission Shares help us fight consumerism. Yes, our whole society swims in those waters. But the consumer attitude can seep into our churches – like the view that when we give financially we’re buying the church’s services instead of participating in God’s work. We can see ourselves as recipients, even consumers, and that “if some services are good, more are better.” We can assume that the local church exists to serve us, and “you get what you pay for.”

But regular, intentional participation in our Mission Shares reinforces a different viewpoint: that it’s an honor to participate in God’s work in the world. As we hear how they support life-changing situations, they also give us a sense of hope, knowing that we are actually doing something specific to help transform people’s lives.

For example, Mission Shares empower Congregational Development work in this Conference: not only creating new worshipping faith communities, but also helping existing churches revitalize by reconnecting with their local communities. The “Nu Places for Nu Faces” course prepares members to strengthen new churches, while the Conference Lay Servant Ministry equips United Methodist to be a force for revitalization in their churches by teaching, training and leading in all facets of congregational life.

Second, Mission Shares remind us that we are baptized into the global Church. When we were baptized, it was not into a single congregation or even a particular denomination. It was into the Body of Christ worldwide, beyond all partisan labels. When we pay our Mission Shares we give “a portion meant for others” (hence “Apportionments”) so the whole Body of Christ can heal, grow, and transform this world, both nearby and far away from our front doors.

And third, our Mission Shares help us express our United Methodist vows. The more aware we are of where our money goes and what ministries it empowers, the more we can pray for one another, be present to one another in direct and indirect ways, and offer our monetary gifts, our personal service of involvement, and our witness to the power of the gospel in our lives.

All this presumes that God – the true Sovereign of the universe and Redeemer of our souls – really does transform people’s lives through our connectional giving. If you’re still not sure of that, ask any Yellowstone Conference leader about where they see God changing lives, congregations and communities. Then check out http://www.umcgiving.org to glimpse where our General Conference Apportionments go. Through our Mission Shares, we participate in an exciting local-and-global ministry, spreading out from right outside our door, all the way around the globe!

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Written 7/2013 for the Yellowstone Conference UM Foundation

Mission Shares and the Local-Global Balance by Betsy Schwarzentraub is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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

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

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity, by Adam Hamilton

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Enough bk Adam HamiltonIn an intriguing article from Luther Seminary’s e-newsletter, Stewardship for the 21st Century, Linda Rozumalski writes about “the theology of enough.” Practicing this theology counteracts the attitude of acquisition, she says, and breaks the illusion that we own and control our lives and the things that we have.

One way to develop this “theology of enough” is to move closer to simple living, working to break our dependence upon acquiring possessions. Such a statement is easy to say, I know, but hard to do. Yet Adam Hamilton’s little book, Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity, can take us as far as we might dare to go.

Hamilton offers some big-impact specifics, beginning with six financial-planning principles and including a simple budget worksheet, a three-point credit card pay-off strategy, fifteen financial management tips, and five steps for simplifying your life. But describing the book this way makes it sound like just another self-help tool. It isn’t. Really. Each of his principles connects to a biblical teaching, but more than that: He bases it all on a theological foundation in God’s generosity and the generosity to which God calls us. He also gives plenty of Bible passages and related personal-experience questions in each chapter for us to work through our own best strategies on our own terms, whether it is in the context of a family study book or as a catalyst for group exploration.

Thanks in part to affluenza and “credit-it is,” he says, our lifelong dreams can twist themselves into financial and spiritual nightmares. But it is possible to turn ourselves around, to move to a sense of “enough,” then toward cultivating contentment, and on to honest-to-God joy through the practice of simplicity and generosity.

Such words of hope bring us back to Rozumalski’s “theology of enough.” Instead of competitively counting our physical possessions, we can recognize the blessing of enough in a different way: enough people in our lives who love and care for us, enough material goods to share and to keep, enough time to spend some of it on others, and enough to do to contribute and to be content.

Your partner in ministry,
Betsy Schwarzentraub
Written 11/29/2010 for the General Board of Discipleship
of the United Methodist Church