Tag Archives: stewardship

Let God Lead With Generosity

Transitions are tough.  To move to a new town is challenging for us.  To start a new job and to learn new work habits and culture adds to the difficulty.  Yet thousands of people do it every year.  My wife and I did it when we married and moved to St. Paul from Kansas City so that I could start seminary.  I helped my daughter Christina move to Austin, Texas, so she could begin her first teaching job. With patience, wisdom and perseverance people transition to a new life.

The people of Israel had a difficult transition as they entered the Promise land of Canaan.  They had been nomadic sheep and goat herders in their wandering in the wilderness.  Moses, before he died, had a final word from God. In the book of Deuteronomy he instructed the people on how they were to act once they transition to farming.   

grain in basket    When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it,  you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.
And you shall say, “The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders;  and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 26:1-2, 8-10

This was the offering of first fruits.  God was teaching the people to practice generosity in their daily living.  The first-fruit generosity was stated as the expectation of God for his people as a response to God’s generosity in giving them the land they now settled and farmed.  Notice why they gave. It was not a payment in order to earn God’s favor.  Rather it was a thankful response to what God had already given to them.

The practice of generous giving is one that our contemporary society can embrace.  Our congregation witnessed such generosity when Inez Oehlke donated her farm buildings and land to the congregation when she transition out of the farm house.   We are ever grateful for her example of generosity.

The Oehlke farm house remains on church property

The Oehlke farm house remains on church property

The practice reminds us to open our hearts and minds towards God’s gracious gifts towards us.  It reminds us that God has given us not only the created world and all its produce, but has given us new life in his Son, Jesus Christ.  God is generous and gracious towards us; can we not be generous toward God’s ministry in the world?

When have you recognized a gift of generosity towards yourself?   When have you practiced generosity?

Lord Jesus, teach to me practice generosity towards others.

Family, Business or Army?

This past Sunday Resurrection Lutheran Church had its annual meeting. The meeting is stipulated in our constitution so that we can conduct the business of the church: review and pass a budget, elect officers and hear staff reports. On the surface this can seem fairly dry. Yet beneath the surface, vital vibrant ministry is going on.

For example, the discussion of the budget is really a question of stewardship and priorities. Where do we as a congregation want to invest ourselves? How does the stewardship of our physical church building compare with our stewardship of our outreach and mission in the world?

The Family of God gathers at the Table

The Family of God gathers at the Table

Many people compare the church to a FAMILY, which can be helpful metaphor. We are brother and sisters in Christ (Mark 4:34). As a family we care for each other and support each other in time of need. In a family, the focus is often on the most vulnerable, the “weakest” such as a our children or infirmed. Love is central to a good family.

Stewardship involves opening our wallets

Stewardship involves opening our wallets

But the church is not simply a family. Another valid metaphor is the church is a BUSINESS.  It has finances to raise, property to maintain, staff to hire, and budgets to negotiate. We have constitutions and bylaws to uphold. One thing to remember is that this is a “business” ultimately owned by God; we are stewards or overseers who manage God’s resources for God’s purposes. “It is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy” (I Cor. 4:2). As stewards, we are called to examine the finances as God’s money. Trust is key to good business. 

Feed My Starving Children has unique "helmets" for service

Feed My Starving Children has unique “helmets” for service

But there is a third priority: mission. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Here the metaphor is that the church is like an ARMY, charging forward into a broken, dangerous world to bring the light of God. The church is not simply a country club that enjoys each other company, nor a business that has a balance budget. The church has a mission to carry God’s message of love, grace and justice out into a world that is broken and hurt.  Preparing meals for overseas shipment at Feed My Starving Children is one place our Army serves.  Courage is vital to mission.

At Resurrection we describe that mission as calling all people to a vibrant life of faith in Christ.

In a healthy congregation, all three -family, business, army- compete for attention. Some members are clamoring for more dollars spent on caring and educating our members (especially our children and youth). Others are sharpening their pencil to make sure we are not spending beyond our means and that we are being good stewards of our resources. And others will be pointing out the door, wondering how we will become God’s hands and feet in God’s mission for the world. We need all three to converse to function well.

Our annual meeting is the opportunity to have that conversation: how we are fulfilling our mission, managing our finances and caring for one another?

Which metaphor (family, business, army) is your passion?

Lord Jesus, empowers us to work together for your kingdom.

Next: How Worship links all three.

Giving as Trust

The simple story of the widow’s gift in the temple has fascinated me for years.

the-poor-widows-offeringJesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44

In a past post I wrote about how Jesus may be chastising the temple officials for taking the last coins of a poor widow. That still may be true, yet one cannot help but notice, as Jesus does, the trusting heart of the widow. Then this week I read a story that underscored the emphasis of giving as trust.

The Rev. Gordon Cosby was the founder and pastor of the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C. When Cosby was a young man, minister of a small Baptist congregation in a railroad town just outside of Lynchburg, Virginia he got a call from a church deacon. Cosby later wrote

My deacon told me that he wanted my help. “We have in our congregation,” he said, “a widow with six children. I have looked at the records and discovered that she is putting into the treasury of the church each month $4.00 – a tithe of her income. Of course, she is unable to do this. We want you to go and talk to her and let her know that she needs to feel no obligation whatsoever, and free her from the responsibility.”

I am not wise now [writes Gordon]; I was less wise then. I went and told her of the concern of the deacons. I told her as graciously and as supportively as I know how that she was relieved of the responsibility of giving. As I talked with her the tears came into her eyes. “I want to tell you,” she said, “that you are taking away the last thing that gives my life dignity and meaning.”

“I tried to retrieve the situation. I was unable to do it. I went home and pondered the story of Jesus in the temple watching the people put their offerings in the collection plate. Jesus’ attitude amazed me. He had the audacity to watch what people were putting in the collection plate. Not only did he have the audacity to watch, he had the audacity to comment. Of the rich who put in large sums he said, “They put in what they can easily afford.” Of the poor widow who dropped in two coins, he said, “She in her poverty, who needs so much, has given away everything, her whole living.” I knew I would have said to her, “Let us take this to the council. We have a sensible council that always makes exceptions and I know that they will relieve you of your discipline of giving.” From Letters to Scattered Pilgrims by Elizabeth O’Conner.

Giving can go beyond sensible into the realm of trust and devotion.  Giving reorients us to the core of our lives.

Lord Jesus, teach me to give with total trust and devotion.

Questions about Cheerful Giving

Cheerful Givers at the Walk For Justice 2006

Cheerful Givers at the Walk For Justice 2006 (Photo credit: Mykl Roventine)

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  2 Corinthians 9:7

Today I read two quotes that got my head spinning. Maybe they will spin your heart and mind as well. The first is from C. S. Lewis and it is about giving to charity.

I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures excludes them.” quotes at http://www.brethren.org/stewardship/documents/stewardship-quotes.pdf

The Kilns in Oxford, England

C. S. Lewis himself lived in a modest house in Oxford with his brother and gave half of his income away.  He often had house guests and cared for others  in sacrificial ways.  He walked what he taught.

The second quote from Richard Rohr seems to affirm that such financial stewardship can be a way of dying so that one can be reborn in Christ.

Pain teaches a most counterintuitive thing—that we must go down before we even know what up is. In terms of the ego, most religions teach in some way that all of us must die before we die, and then we will not be afraid of dying. Suffering of some sort seems to be the only thing strong enough to destabilize our arrogance and our ignorance. I would define suffering very simply as whenever you are not in control.  Richard Rohr Adapted from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, p. 25

Reflecting on both quotes, it made me wonder if giving can be seen as both a “painful” moment as one gives beyond one’s self (a kind of dying) as well as joyful experience where one experiences new life in Christ? Do I place too much emphasis on joyful giving when in reality Christian giving always has elements of sacrificial pain?

What do you think?

Lord Jesus, you gave your whole self for us. May we give back sacrificially to you.

Fuel the Flame

My blogging here has slowed the past week due to a new adventure: video blogging. Resurrection has started its fall stewardship emphasis called Fuel the Flame. Our stewardship team has made some video interviews of our members, asking them the question, “How has Resurrection Fueled Your Flame?” Another form of the question might be, “What do you appreciate about Resurrection?”

I have the joyful task of making simple edits and posting the video to our special blog: FuelFlame.blogspot.com I am discovering there is certainly an art and skill to video editing, and like anything, it takes practice and time. As I posted a month ago, doing something new has an awkward phase to it. Yet I am confident that I can learn to do video editing better. My hope is to add video posts to my trustliveserve blog soon.

I am thankful for how the stewardship team is working together to make Fuel the Flame a significant part of our congregation’s ministry. Our theme is based on 2 Timothy 1:6, “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God” (NIV). Part of that flame is becoming a generous people, contributing financially to our shared mission. God has ignited a flame within the hearts of Resurrection and I am excited to see it grow and spread.

Lord Jesus, help me fan the flame of your Spirit in my life and others.

Garage Sale Stewardship

Testing a Garage Sale Donation

Thursday, May 10, begins the big Woodbury Lions Club Garage Sale and Resurrection Lutheran will be participating. The church is being transformed into a market place of new and used items.  I took a few minutes this morning to test a donation.

The test remined me of a discussion with fellow pastors about stewardship. It was triggered by one pastor’s comment that his congregation does not “do” special fundraisers like car washes or garage sales. “Our congregation has adopted the stewardship philosophy that all funding comes through the offering plate. Our members believe in the mission of the congregation and they donate directly to its budget.”

I agree that the bulk of the stewardship giving needs to be through the offering plate or direct contributions to the congregation. This has become more sophisticated with on-line giving and electronic fund transfers such as Simply Giving from Thrivent. We recently added QR codes to our bulletins so that people can use their smart phones on Sunday Morning to make contributions. I am delighted with how many members of Resurrection Lutheran stepped up in March to make special contributions for our High School youth who will be attending the ELCA Youth Gathering this summer.  Direct contributions remain the primary way people give to their congregation.

As Paul wrote to the church at Corinth about being generous in giving,

This relief offering is a prod to live at your very best, showing your gratitude to God by being openly obedient to the plain meaning of the Message of Christ. You show your gratitude through your generous offerings to your needy brothers and sisters, and really toward everyone. (2 Corinthians 9:13, The Message)

Still I think there is a place for special fund-raisers like the Garage Sale. It allows a variety of people to participate actively in a congregational ministry, thus building relationships. It promotes the recycling of various items, eliminating some of the waste that goes in landfills, a form of environmental stewardship. It also allows new and old residents to visit our church building; last year I met two people who later came back for our outdoor worship. We also provide a service to the shoppers by having clean restrooms and shelter. The garage sale has become a unique form of ministry for our congregation.

I certainly don’t want our church building and volunteers to do this every week. It is neither our primary mission nor our primary form of stewardship. There will probably come a day when Resurrection will not participate. Still, for three days this week, Resurrection Lutheran will be a place of friendly hospitality and great deals. Check it out.

Lord Jesus, guide each of us to be good stewards of our time, talents and treasures.

Cheerful Giving

Like many of you I have received year-end giving appeals from various organizations, many of them Christian. I realize that many (if not all) realize that people make year-end contributions for two main reasons. The first is the year-end tax deduction that one can receive from the IRS for charitable giving. The other is the “Holiday Spirit” when people feel more charitable.

A part of me sometimes chafes at such reasoning.  “A true and pure Christian would simply give out of love of God, no matter what time of year it is.” But is that just being cynical and snide?

In the Old Testament, the people were instructed to give their offering with the first harvest. It was when they actually had something to give.

Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest (Lev. 23:10).

I’ve come to think that God is very practical and earthy, not so idealistic as I sometime make God to be. God knows that our hearts need encouragement in giving. Many of us are not instantly generous. If the IRS or the “Christmas Spirit” gives you an incentive to give to your favorite charity, then go for it. And if that helps you become a more generous person, give thanks to God.

Which reminds me of a story of a congregation where a guest missionary preach. After her sermon, an offering was taken by the ushers. The usher stopped by one grim-looking member who refused to pass the offering plate. The usher whispered, “It’s for the mission work in Africa.” The member still refused. The usher whispered louder, “Don’t you care about unbelievers?” Still no response. Finally the usher in a voice everyone could hear, “Then why don’t you take some out, it’s for pagans like you anyway.”

Our generosity is to be a fruit of our trust in Jesus.

With that thought made, I would encourage you to make a year-end contribution to your local congregation. And since this blog is an outgrowth of Resurrection Lutheran Church where I am a pastor, you are welcomed to make a contribution to Resurrection if this blog has been a blessing to you in the past year.

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous towards others.

REI and Stewardship

REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated) has to be one of my favorite stores.  I truly need to button up my wallet before I enter because of all the backpacking, hiking, camping, biking, and skiing equipment they have.  I started buying REI equipment when their only store was in Seattle and I would take the ferry from Bremerton to gaze upon all the possibilities.  I still use an REI down sleeping bag that I purchased more than forty years ago.

So it caught my attention this week when I rediscovered  that part of REI’s mission is stewardship.  “REI’s passion for the outdoors runs deep. Our core purpose is to inspire, educate and outfit people for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.”  Now the word stewardship has often gotten a bad rap in churches, because it often becomes a code word for “fundraising” or worse “begging for money.”  But with REI the word is cool because they recognize that the magnificent outdoors that their customers enjoy must be maintained for future generations.  None of us “own” these landscapes, but rather we are to be stewards or managers of creation for others.

They see it as a sound business decision, because without the protection and care of the wilderness, their business will decline.  REI even produces an annual stewardship report which

measures progress toward our goals to operate a sustainable business. It also tracks our broader efforts to ensure that the next generation has a connection to the natural places we all enjoy.

Stewardship is a biblical concept in which as creatures of God we recognize that God is the true owner of all creation. We have responsibility to care for the earth. The psalmist praises God for this gift,  “God, you have given human beings dominion over the works of your hands” (Psalm 8:5).  Dominion is not domination, but responsible care and oversight, or in a word: stewardship.

A few years ago I went on a hike with my son to a renowned alpine lake.  The gorgeous setting beneath a large peak had been photographed many times.  However when we reached it, the beauty had lost much of it luster from overuse.  Toilet paper, trash and half-chopped trees littered the lake side.  Good stewardship had been neglected.  I saw then why REI wants to restore it.

How are you a steward of God’s creation?

Lord Jesus, teach me to be a good steward of my wealth, time, relationship and gifts.

Witnessing to God’s Power

Clif Christopher’s book “Whose Offer Plate is It?” offers challenging insight into what motivates people to give to their local congregation.  In the chapter titled, “Do we really have to compete?”  Clif examines how churches need to consider the competition for people’s charitable giving.   People no longer give automatically to the church.  We are all inundated with opportunities to give to good, meaningful charities and nonprofits.  Clif argues that church member and friends need a convincing case that their money will affect lives in and through their congregation.  He writes,

 

People need to hear our life-changing stories and be helped to understand how their dollars are creating positive change in the lives of people in ways that other institutions could not do.  If we want to argue that we are a great place for people to feed the hungry, then World Vision or Oxfam will beat us every day because they are experts at feeding the underprivileged.  We, however, are the one place whose mission it is to bring people into the life-changing relationships with Jesus Christ. Share with people how this place helps bring the power of the Holy Spirit into broken and grief-stricken lives.  Point out how those who were without direction came to find direction and a new life through the church.  Compete on that field and you will be chosen.  

WE ARE THE ONE PLACE
whose mission is to bring people
into life-changing relationships with
Jesus Christ.
 

The people in our pew (or chair) are asking “Why should I choose the church over World Vision or Oxfam or Boy Scouts or the university or the hospital?”  We must be prepared on a daily basis to boldly answer the question, and if we cannot easily do it, then we must get busy changing our church. 

I am thankful that Resurrection has such stories of personal transformation.  We need to discover ways to share these stories with the wider community.

Jesus said, “You shall be my witnesses” Acts 1:8.

Do you have a story that bears witness to Jesus’ power and love

Lord Jesus, thank you for my congregation that bears witness to your grace and mercy.