A Thank You Plan

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Saying thank you is often a spontaneous thing. When someone does something for us, especially unasked for or at a cost to themselves, we naturally want to thank them, in words, by doing something for them, or by “paying it forward:” giving in some way to others. Most people don’t give in order to be thanked, but it feels good to know the receiver has noticed them and appreciates what they’ve done.

When we’re together as the Church, it makes a big difference when we plan to say thank you, regularly and in different ways. Cesie Delve Scheurmann, consultant and blogger, 1 offers a potent, three-part plan:

  1. Thank people who give a financial gift for the first time, or who make an unexpected gift at Christmas or at year’s end.
  2. Schedule one day every week, when you’ll write four notes of gratitude. A heartfelt thank you note for someone’s gift of time, talent, and/or treasure will make you feel good, and will please them, too.
  3. Every Sunday, plan to thank your congregation for being generous and for supporting ministries that make a difference. There’s plenty to be thankful for, including for churches that are struggling financially, and Scheurmann gives several examples. Over the course of a year, the message will sink in: “What you give brings joy to and matters in the lives of real people.”

However it’s done, giving thanks becomes a gift in itself. “You will be enriched in every way for your generosity,” Paul tells the Corinthians. Their giving will produce not only thanksgiving from Paul and his ministry partner and “not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.” (2 Cor. 9:11-12) The “saints” – that’s us, and all who seek to follow Jesus – will thank God for their needs being met, and will give their thanks back, as a gift, to God. So giving thanks keeps multiplying, grace upon grace!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – Cesie Delve Scheuermann, “Set Your Generosity Priorities – Part 1,” 1/11/2017, at http://www.umoi.org/blogdetail/inspiring-generosity-7343136

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Surprise Generosity

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Twenty dollars is a lot of money to my good friend, whom I’ll call Joan. She was homeless many years ago, and for decades lived financially on the edge, working multiple jobs as she found them and creating her own businesses whenever possible. With a family gift to help with a down payment a long time ago, she began buying a house, and now has it paid off. With personal discipline she continues to live frugally, savoring life’s goodness.found-faithful-little-much-all-logo

So it was a big gift when a friend sent her a twenty-dollar bill in her Christmas card this year. In gratitude, Joan tucked it away separately in her purse for some special, undisclosed purpose.

This week as she drove into the parking lot of a big box store, Joan caught sight of her neighbor’s car, just leaving. But instead, her neighbor pulled her car into the space next to her. “I saw a woman in a van, parked just a few spaces away from you, and noticed the car was full of things and she was cooking in her car,” she said. “I gave her five dollars. I guess she’s homeless, living here in the parking lot.”

Immediately Joan knew where her surprise gift was meant to go. She gave the woman in the van the twenty dollars. “I’m waiting for a job to come through,” the woman said, “and this makes all the difference in the world. Thank you so much!”

That surprise gift has been given over and over. The Christmas-card friend chose to give the money to Joan. Joan’s neighbor chose to notice the woman in the van and to tell Joan about it. Then Joan chose to give the money to the woman in the van. She is just as thrilled as the recipient to be able to make that gift! Next Joan chose to tell me, and now I am telling you – to spread it further and surprise someone else with the opportunity to receive and to give.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Giving is Receiving is Giving is . . .

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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

Simple Rules for Money: John Wesley on Earning, Saving, & Giving

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James A. Harnish, Abingdon Press, 2009Simple Rules for Money cvr

Written for the “Live Simply” (2016) issue of

Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation

published with permission

In Simple Rules for Money, James Harnish offers Methodist founder John Wesley’s guidelines for financial living, still strikingly appropriate for us today. “Wesley’s rules are not about fund-raising for the church,” he states. “They are about practicing the spiritual discipline of generosity so that we become generous people whose lives are shaped in the likeness of an extravagantly generous God.”

In this small book, individuals or study groups can delve into Wesley’s admonition to “gain [or earn] all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” With help from the book’s discussion questions, it prompts readers to realign their daily habits.

Earn all you can, says Harnish, but not by harming your health, hurting your neighbor, or damaging your soul. Work at your livelihood supported by your Christian community and financial counselors, trusting God in the process.

“Save all you can” means not to waste money on things that derail us from our relationship with God. Here the author offers eight real-life steps we can take to counter our instant-gratification, credit card-addicted culture.

“For Christ-followers,” Harnish says, “giving is a defiant act of rebellion against the insatiable power of greed.” Wesley’s phrase “give all you can” is not about giving from our financial leftovers, but “a total reorientation of our financial life around our commitment to Christ.” He then highlights Wesley’s four challenging questions to ask ourselves before we make any expenditure.

Summarizing Wesley’s outlook, Simple Rules for Money affirms that generosity is a non-negotiable Christian practice. It requires planning, motivated by our identity as children of God. And it results in joy, as we see our generosity “touch(ing) the life of this world with the love and grace of God.”

“Live Free” Financial Commitment Program

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ESC Gvg Live FreeWritten for the CA-NV United Methodist Conference

Instant Connection, 7/30/2015

Live Free, the 2015 issue of Giving magazine from the Ecumenical Stewardship Center (ESC), is now available. The center section, written by California-Nevada Conference minister, the Rev. Betsy Schwarzentraub, is the leader’s guide for a four-week worship emphasis on holistic stewardship that also helps fund local-church ministries.

Live Free is based on 1 Timothy 6:17-19 and Galatians 5:1. It offers four weeks of focus: Free from the Money Trap; Free to Be Rich; Free from the Uncertainty of Riches; and, Free to Take Hold of Life. The rest of the publication includes pieces on holistic stewardship, ranging from helping families gain financial freedom, to fueling mission giving and planned giving ideas. Persons can also order theme materials including printed bulletin inserts, separate commitment cards for children and for adults, letterhead, envelopes, bookmarks and posters.

The Rev. Dan Sturdivant, stewardship leader and pastor in the California-Nevada Conference, wrote four weeks of adult Bible studies, as part of the digital companion resources which can accompany this congregational emphasis. Additional electronic resources related to this theme provide a church with children’s stories, sessions for youth, calls to worship, prayers, and sermon starters.

Giving magazine is an ecumenically-based stewardship resource sponsored by nineteen North American denominations including the United Methodist Church. Schwarzentraub currently serves on its Editorial Board. To view or order this program, log on to www.stewardshipresources.org

December 2 #GivingTuesday

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What a beautiful gift some anonymous donor has made for the United Methodist “#GivingTuesday”! For the one day of December 2, every gift made online to The Advance at www.umcmission.org/give will be matched, up to $1 million.

“The Advance” is a collective term for hundreds of grassroots United Methodist mission projectHands circles in the U.S. and around the world which are encouraged as second-mile gifts, beyond our local-church apportionments for shared ministry. The Advance supports United Methodist missionaries and mission projects around the world. You can learn more about any of these ministries by going to http://www.umcmission.org/Give-to-Mission/Search-for-Projects/Focus. The website is set up so you can search by country or region; by specific ministry name; or by its type of work, whether it deals with poverty, global health, evangelization and church growth, or leadership development and education.

On #GivingTuesday, the donor will match up to $2,500 for every individual gift to a project. A specific ministry may receive a maximum of $25,000 in matching funds. Last year on #GivingTuesday, United Methodists raised a total of $6.5 million for mission projects through The Advance. Thanks to that one day of giving, for example, an entire community in the Philippines now is rebuilding after a devastating typhoon; families in Guatemala are raising their own food and generating income through gardening; and a health care center in Haiti can give greater access to people needing health care.

What a terrific way to counteract the whole consumerist season of Black Friday to Christmas overspending! Come to think of it, on December 2 we could make some of our Christmas gifts to an Advance ministry in that person’s name – so the gift doubles and everyone benefits!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving

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Free of Charge Miroslav VolfIf you love digging into serious theology, this book is for you! It is Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, by Miroslav Volf (2005: Zondervan). Miroslav Volf is not lightweight: Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. At the same time, he is a humble, personable presenter who offers his thinking in an accessible way.

What makes this book intriguing is how the multiple levels of Volf’s stewardship theology fit together as a whole. He links God’s giving and forgiving with how we can give and forgive, and with what makes it possible for us to even begin such a radically transformative process.

I am still savoring Free of Charge a few paragraphs at a time, but here’s one link between generosity and community: “The best gift we can give each other may be neither a thing (like a diamond ring) nor an act (like an embrace), but our own generosity. With that ‘indescribable gift’ called Christ, God gave us a generous self and a community founded on generosity. Such a self bestows gifts freely. It gives because it delights in the beloved and can’t endure the need of the needy. In giving, it subverts hierarchies and transforms rivalries into mutual exaltations. And in all of this, it forges lasting bonds of reciprocal love. At the most basic level, generosity itself is exchanged in all our gift exchanges: My generosity is reciprocated by your generosity, and the circle of mutual love keeps turning.” (p. 87)

Here’s another nugget: Volf says that God’s gifts to us oblige us to do four things:

1. Be receptive, realizing we are receivers who live on God’s given breath.

2. Be grateful for the wonder of being here “as fruits of God’s creativity and objects of God’s blessing” (p. 47)

3. Be available to participate in God’s work benefitting the creation.

4. Participate in God’s gift-giving to others, which in turn transforms us.

Happy reading! Or re-reading; it’s worth it.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub