Pursuit and Possessions

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             Jesus says that what we pursue is what we treasure (Luke 12:33-34). The trouble with pursuing wealth as a source of security, adds author Sondra Ely Wheeler, 1 is that “it usurps God’s role as source and measure and guarantor of life.” By contrast, Wheeler notes, the Book of Luke lays out “a confidence of ultimate blessing so complete as to free people from compulsion about the material needs of their lives.”

This combination of confidence in God and freedom of living empowers us to pursue God’s Reign. It keeps us from chasing all the things that people otherwise see as ultimate measures of life: status, power, invulnerability against others, and business as usual.

Luke gives no single rule when it comes to what Jesus says about living with possessions. “Sell your possessions” is one reply (Luke 12:33-34). Other statements are to be generous to the poor (Luke 21:1-4), choose volunteer poverty (Luke 12:38), and refuse to call anything your own (Acts 4:32). Apparently there’s no one formula for us all; we have to figure out what is most effective, given our unique pursuit of God’s Reign in the lives and circumstances God has entrusted to us.

This can sound like bad news, in that there’s no one formula for us all – we have to figure out for ourselves what is the right relationship for us to have with the things we own. But in another way that’s also Good News: we keep working out how we can receive, give, and use our possessions for God’s purposes, in our lives and for everyone else’s life, as well.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – Sondra Ely Wheeler, Wealth as Peril and Obligation: The New Testament on Possessions (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), p. 71

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Dimensions of Stewardship

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Stewardstew-time-flower-handsship is the way we manage all that God has entrusted to us. Which stewardship dimensions are strengths in your church? In which areas would you like to grow? What would you want to teach?

Stewardship of Lifestyle and of the Environment

Caring for the earth and all creatures; finding a balance between work and rest

“Money, Values and Discipleship”

“Moving Toward Simpler Living”

Contact your conference officer related to Church and Society workshops and resources.

Funding the Church

Discovering ways to be creative and ministry-based in our yearly stewardship funding effort

“Creating a Climate for Generous Giving”

“Funding the Church”

“Annual Stewardship Campaigns”

“Funding Outside the Box” (grants, etc.)

Church Financial Management

Developing a church budget that’s clear and mission-focused; providing audits and effective financial accountability

“Designing the Local Church Budget”

“Narrative Budgets: Building Them and Using Them to Communicate Your Mission”

Personal and Family Financial Management

Getting free of captivity to money and credit; moving toward debt-free living

“Drawing the ENOUGH Line”

“Generational Stewardship”

“Empowering Stewardship Among Young Adults”

Time, Talents and Spiritual Gifts

Expressing the gospel through our time, talents, and personal involvement; developing a spiritual gifts-based ministry

“SpiritGifts” retreat

“Equipped for Every Good Work”

Planned Gifts, Trusts and Wills

Helping individuals know our options for giving to ministries in future generations; promoting planned giving and the local church endowment fund

“Nine Ways to Make a Planned Gift to Last Forever!”

“Why Endowments?”

“Setting Up a Local Church Endowment Fund”

Proportionate Giving and Tithing

Learning to give the first and the best to God and managing the rest according to God’s priorities

“‘Holy Smoke!’ Firstfruits Living”

Stewardship Education (biblical, theological)

Exploring stewardship in the context of Scripture in a variety of life situations

“Biblical Stewardship” retreat

“Biblical Stewardship” workshop

Shared Ministry & Mission Interpretation

Sharing stories of personal transformation thanks to our connectional giving and local mission involvement

Create a display of shared-ministry missions to circulate among the churches or use in your congregation

Plan and publicize speakers to share stories about how people’s lives have changed thanks to generous giving

Create videos and share them through social media

What Stuff Means

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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

Beauty, Grace and Gratitude

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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

Propel: Involvement and Generosity

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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

April 26 Author Chat

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Afire front coverI invite you to a free, online “Author Chat” with me on April 26, 2016 at 11 a.m. Pacific Time, sponsored by the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. I am looking forward to it!

In the first half, I’ll talk (live) over some Power Point slides about what I’ve learned so far through work with churches and my books, Stewardship: Nurturing Generous Living and Afire With God: Becoming Spirited Stewards. Then we’ll have a question-and-answer session using the participants’ typed-in questions and moderated by Marcia Shetler, Executive Director of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center.

Stewardship bookTo learn more and to register, go to www.stewardshipresources.org and click on “Register” in the Author Chat section. They’ll email you a URL so you can click on the link to participate. I hope you’ll join us!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Stewardship and Culture online course

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I’m excited to be teaching an online course from mid-January to mid-February, 2016 on “Stewardship and Culture: Building Contagious Generosity.” Sponsored by the Ecumenical Stewardship Center and TransformingTheChurch.org, it features four audio-video presentations over four weeks with an interactive Class Forum. We’ll also hold three conference calls: one on Jan. 11 (to give a week to learn how to navigate the site before the assignments begin), one on Jan. 30, and one on the final day, Feb. 13.Ecumenical Stewardship Center

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 include critiquing mainstream-culture assumptions about achievement and individualism, redefining themselves from consumers to stewards, shifting their focus from “the market of one” to hands-on community work, and strengthening a culture of generosity within their faith network.

The common book for our time together is Christine Roush’s Swimming Upstream, but I’ll reference some other outstanding resources as well, for use in church study groups and to put into an intentional Generosity Plan for the students’ congregations. While the presentations, questions and assignments are set up to begin Jan. 18, all of the material is available now, to be explored on your own time. The last day to sign up is Jan. 21.

I hope you’ll join me in this course, so we can participate together!

Your partner in ministry,

                                                     Betsy Schwarzentraub