Friday, November 26, 2010

The Practice of Giving is for the Giver

I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.- Maya Angelou

Stewardship is a counter-cultural practice that is fundamental to a growing, vibrant discipleship. What do I mean? We live in a culture that celebrates wealth, that encourages accumulation, and that promotes ownership as an ideal. We work hard so that we can not only pay our bills, but enjoy the “nice” things in life – flat screen TV’s, well-made cars, regular trips abroad, and all sorts of gadgets. We work hard to ensure our own security as well as the security of our children and grand-children, and being secure is wholly tied up with how much money is in our savings, our stocks, and our IRA’s. We are afraid of giving for all sorts of reasons: that there is only so much to give, that if we give we will not have any
for ourselves, that others do not deserve our giving, etc. It is almost impossible not to be influenced by our culture in some way.

The practice of stewardship resists and opposes our culture head on. It draws our attention to God, our Source, rather than to ourselves. It invites us to rest in God’s abundance and generosity, trusting that indeed, we will have all we need. It celebrates the Kingdom of God and God’s dream – where all are welcomed and all have enough. It broadens our vision from ourselves to the possibility of wholeness for all of God’s people and creation. It inspires us with the affirmation that we are an incredible part of that vision. It encourages giving generously and extravagantly, just like God does. And it promotes service and the recognition that we are the managers, not the owners, of the hard-earned money we have, the 24 hours in our day, and the skills and gifts we bring. Stewardship – the practice of intentional, prayerful, grateful response to God’s gifting – enables a concrete way for us to live this out. At the end of the day, our giving – be it of our time, our prayers, our gifts, our witness or service – significantly shapes us and
molds us into the people we want to be, the people we are called to be, into the likeness of Christ.

In the old hymn, “Spirit of the Living God”, we invite God’s Spirit to melt us, mold us, fill us and use us. How does this happen? How does the Holy Spirit melt and mold, fill and use? Practicing stewardship in all its complexity and simplicity, is an every day we can live this prayer. When we loosen our own grip on “our” money, we live into trusting God and depending on God. When we share our time, we live into recognizing and affirming ourselves as vehicles for God working in the world. When we make use of our gifts and skills in ways that contribute to the good of the whole, we live into God’s kingdom here and now. That is the promise. That is the miracle. Thanks be to God!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Offering, Pledging, Tithing – What’s the Difference?

There are three words that often get mixed up when we talk about our financial giving in the church context: offering, pledging and tithing. The goal of this article is to clarify each and enable you to make intentional, prayerful decisions about your financial giving.

A tithe literally means one-tenth (1/10). Throughout the Hebrew Testament, the people of God were taught to give a tenth of their possessions to God. In an agricultural context, this meant that a tenth of the harvest and a tenth of all new livestock was given to God. The tithe was considered “God’s portion” and used to support the priests (who were the only tribe who did not receive any inheritance
lands), the widows, orphans and the poor in their midst, as well as to extend hospitality to the strangers amongst them. Today, when we talk about tithing, we mean the commitment of giving one-tenth or 10% of our income to God. There is much discussion as to whether this is of our gross or net income. As with all
matters of giving, you are invited to prayerfully make that decision with God.

A pledge is an estimate of giving, sometimes called “a statement of intent.” A pledge differs from a tithe in that it can be any amount or percentage of your income, including 10%. You could pledge, for example, $520 for the year ($10 / week) or $5,200 ($100 / week). Pledging involves planning ahead for your giving and enables you to make conscious choices about spending the money you have in ways that reflect your faith and values. At CCUMC, we encourage proportionate giving or basing your pledge amount on a percentage of your income. This enables each of us to keep tithing as a goal and practice raising our giving percentage each year. You can begin with 1% or 2.5% (which is the equivalent of pledging your first hours pay on a 40 hour work week.) If you are new to tithing or pledging, start with a percentage that fills you with joy, and keeps you conscious of God as the true source of your well-being. If we choose a percentage that is too low, the act becomes so effortless that it slips from our consciousness and becomes a habit rather than a practice.

Receiving your pledge or tithe allows the Board of Administration and Trustees (BOAT), the church’s governing board, to do for this faith community what you do for your household: plan wisely for the use of our resources in support of the mission and ministry to which God has called us. As such, we strongly urge you to return your Stewardship Response Card on Sunday, Nov. 21st.

So what of offerings? An offering should be distinguished from our pledge and our tithe. One way to think about it is as freewill giving, something given for a specific or general purpose over and above your pledge or tithe, something given out of your abundance. For example, you might write a check to UMCOR towards disaster relief one Sunday or decide to contribute $20 in cash just because. These are offerings over and above the pledge you have made. We do so as acts of thanksgiving and generosity.

Having distinguished between offering, pledging and tithing, you are encouraged to have intentional conversations as a family and with God about your giving. You should know that your pledge amount may be changed, increased or decreased at any time during the year, at any time as your financial circumstances change. This can be done simply by contacting a pastor and/or our Financial Coordinator,
Adrienne Fong. Finally, we also recognize that many families “split” their tithe or pledge – giving to multiple worthwhile, important organizations that do God’s work. For all the ways you give and all the places you give, thank you.

Please consider meditating on these words from an Episcopalian hymn:
A world in need now summons us to labor, love, and give; to make our life an offering to God that all may live; the Church of Christ is calling us to make the dream come true: a world redeemed by Christ-like love; all life in Christ made new.

Is Stewardship JUST About Money?

When a church leader says she is going to talk about stewardship the church automatically expects that the preacher is going to talk about giving and tithing. Unfortunately, we do a disservice to our churches when we think that stewardship and giving money are synonymous terms. Stewardship includes giving, but is not defined only by giving. Stewardship has a much broader definition that if properly understood would help us give more glory to God.

I like the stewardship definition given by Kenneth Boa in his book Conformed to His Image. Boa observes:

…. we own nothing, and we are not here on our business. As stewards, we manage the possessions of Another; as ambassadors, we manage the affairs of Another. The King owns everything, and we are on his business to serve and represent him in the world.

A steward, thus, is one who has been entrusted with something. Anything we have received from God we are expected to properly utilize, manage, and multiply. Stewardship (οἰκονόμος) is a criteria used to establish the effectiveness of God’s servants. God simply asks, was our use of the gift faithful or faithless?
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10 NIV) The goal of stewardship is to act in a way that is consistent with how God would act were God the one who was in possession of the same items.

What does God entrust to us with which we can be good stewards?
• Time
• Family
• Opportunities
• Money
• Relationships
• Resources
• Gifts
• Environment
• Employment
• Networks

This week, consider praying this personal stewardship prayer:

Loving God, I come to you in thanksgiving, knowing that all I am and all that I have is a gift from you. In faith and love, help me to do your will. I am listening, Lord God. Speak your words into the depth of my soul, that I may hear you clearly. I offer to you this day all the facets of my life, whether it be at home,
at work, or at school—to be patient, to be merciful, to be generous, to be holy. Give me the wisdom and insight to understand your will for me and the fervor to fulfill my good intentions. I offer my gifts of time, talent and possessions to you as a true act of faith, to reflect my love for you and my neighbor. Help me to reach out to others as you my God have reached out to me. Amen.


Christian Stewardship – What is it?

When the word ‘Stewardship’ gets mentioned in church it is very easy to simply think…”Uh-oh, they want more money.” But is that really what stewardship is all about?

Christian Stewardship is actually a way of life in which we regard ourselves and our possessions as a trust from God to be used in God’s service. It begins with celebrating the generosity of God and experiencing deep gratitude for God’s love and faithfulness in our lives. It begins with understanding that all we are and all we have come from the loving hand of God. It begins with remembering that we are not the owners of our lives or our possessions, but the stewards or the care-takers. The true owner and source is God. We are reminded of this from the creation story in Genesis when Adam and Eve are given the land then called to “keep” and “till” it. We are reminded of it again by the Psalmist who prays, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Psalm 24). And we are reminded of it again
through the life of Jesus and how he lived. Christian stewardship then is not just about money, but about everything God has given us: our time, our abilities, our possessions, our relationships, our money, our whole lives! Christian stewardship is our grateful and obedient response to God’s redeeming love, expressed by the use of ALL resources for the fulfillment of Christ’s mission in the world.

“But can you define it in one simple sentence?” Yes! In fact, several times over, take your pick:

Christian Stewardship is…
• Christianity in practice. It is creative and joyful living as a Child of God.
• The systematic giving of body, mind and spirit to God.
• Being responsible before God for all that I have and all that I am.
• The total discipline by which the people of God mobilize their God-given resources to carry out God’s purpose.
• A challenge and a privilege that affects the whole of our lives as Christians.
• The measure of faithfulness in carrying out given responsibilities.
• Waste-watching!
• The practicing of gratitude to God.
• Our complete and joyful obedience to God, who entrusts to us the management of life and possessions, that the world might be transformed.
• Everything I do after I say ‘Yes!” to God.

This week, consider praying this personal stewardship prayer:
Almighty God, your loving hand has given me all that I possess:
Grant me grace that I may love you with all that I have,
and be found faithful and acceptable stewards of Your bounty;
through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

(Adapted – in parts – from

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sunday morning book study: The Heart of Christianity

*Do you struggle with finding words for your faith? Have you ever
wondered about the "truth" of the virgin birth? Is there only one way to read
the Bible? And why do Christians have such different understandings of the
"basics"...who's right? Together, we will explore these and many other
fresh questions of faith in the adult Sunday School class beginning October 31st.