Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Stewardship article (written for Good News Tucson)

Stewardship: It’s what you think...and a whole lot more

What’s your definition of stewardship? Your answer depends on your frame of reference. And, your answer, along with how you understand and approach stewardship, can have a dramatic effect on your church or your ministry.

It could be that you think of that sermon in the fall when the senior pastor (maybe that’s you) talks about giving money. Or, maybe you would say it’s how we give our time, talent and treasure for God’s Kingdom purposes. Or, you may think of the earth, since in the secular nonprofit world stewardship is all about how we treat our planet. Or, you may have no idea at all, particularly if you’re younger! For some, stewardship is an old-fashioned word.

In my conversations over the past decade with pastors and ministry leaders, the most common response when I mention my passion for stewardship is often about giving money. “Oh, our giving is pretty good this year”, or “We’re little bit down because of the economy”, or “We just did our annual pledge drive”. And, some will even say they’re doing a stewardship/money management program like Financial Peace University or Crown.

Stewardship is about that, and a whole lot more. And, it makes a big difference how we define and understand stewardship in a deeper, Biblical context. In my first stewardship pastor job, people would meet me for the first time, hear my name and say something like, “oh, you’re the money guy, huh?” So, I’d tell them that I actually worked as a surgical assistant in the operating room - helping the Master Surgeon change hearts.

The dictionary defines stewardship as, “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care”. Lynn C. Miller, author/professor at USC says stewardship “is the act of organizing your life so that God can spend you.” And Martin Luther summarizes stewardship this way, “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all. But whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”

Whatever your answer to the stewardship question is, there is one Biblical truth that undergirds the whole conversation. And that is the fact that God created everything, “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). And not only that, He owns everything. “For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10).

So, if God owns everything, that means we own nothing. We are simply managers of His stuff. Which means we have no rights, only responsibilities. Oh, we act like we own our house, or we work at our job, or we parent our children but if we really believe and live out the Biblical truth, we know deep down inside that we’re managers of God’s stuff. 

And here comes the squirmy part, of everything God’s given us (on loan) to manage, the one thing we seem to have the most difficulty with and like to talk the least about and act like we have it all together with is (drum roll please) - money.

In fact there are 2,450 Scripture verses that deal with money and possessions. More than heaven and hell, more than faith and prayer, more than any other topic. In fact, about a third of Jesus’ parables have to do with money and possessions. So, money is obviously important to God. In fact, Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).

Several years ago, after having used the number of money and possession verses in the Bible many times, a pastor asked me just exactly where were all those verses? So, I contacted my friend with Crown Ministries and he sent me a listing of ALL those verses, subdivided into 20 different categories like debt, counsel, honesty, children, budgeting, and the list goes on.

Here’s the amazing realization as I looked at those topics, and one we all need to consider: only ONE category has to do with GIVING. Does that surprise you? Quite frankly, it takes awhile for most church leaders to even comprehend that fact because so much of our discussion in churches has to do with giving money. But God cares deeply about how we manage 100% of our money and possessions.

Stewardship is a primary discipleship issue, not just about how we give, but about how we manage everything entrusted to us. And all Christians, (and those seeking Jesus) at your church and mine, need help in this area, particularly in our culture today. Every church needs a stewardship champion and game plan on how to equip God’s people, at all ages and stages, on how best to manage His money, possessions, kids, jobs, cars, houses, clothes and well - everything.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

growing in generosity

At Grace in March our focus was on HUNGER and God accomplished some amazing things as our people responded generously (how cool!):

  • 14 people participated in the 30 Hour Famine, breaking their fast at communion during a Saturday night service and collecting over $1700 for World Vision. During the famine, volunteers made 300 sandwiches that are being delivered to those in need through the 363 Days homeless ministry in Minneapolis.

  • Grace volunteers helped to pack over 100,000 meals at Feed My Starving Children during three shifts the last two weekends of the month.

  • $900 was collected from the ELCA World Hunger boxes, and the funds go directly to World Hunger Relief.

  • God’s Global Barnyard collections from Sunday school offerings this month helped to purchase 70 chicks, three ducks, a pig, a goat and a COW!

  • Over 2000 pounds (a TON) of groceries were donated and delivered to local food shelves.

    • Friday, April 1, 2011

      On fasting, generosity, simplicity, serving & giving (and a great book)

      On Fasting: Most of you know that my wife Cathy & I gave up everything but 12 things (actually categories of food, etc) for our shopping fast during Lent. “So how’s it going” you ask? Well, it’s going pretty well, though we’ve tripped up here and there. Going out to meet with people has been challenging, though I’ve gotten adept at suggesting we meet at work for coffee or lunch. However, I had an interesting response to my public disclosure of our shopping fast. In late February, I received not one, but two $25 Caribou gift cards with the specific purpose to use them when I go out for coffee. Thank you. And, my ongoing challenge has been to keep focused on what I can be ADDING to my routine during this time of giving-up-ness. So, I’ve made a point of switching off the radio on my 25-minute commute and praying for whatever God places on my heart. This morning it was for the people of Japan. (we all could be doing that ALOT!)Or, it could be for a family member or someone struggling that you know. I also really want to grow in simplicity and generosity and joy during this time as well. This is not just about cutting out and giving up, but about growing spiritually in my walk with God. I mean, he owns it all; I’m just his “resource manager”!

      On Generosity: God blessed me about a month ago when someone came in the office with a contribution. They were a family who had received benevolence help from our church about a year ago and wanted to give back to help someone else in need, as they had been helped. It was a blessing to not only receive the gift, but even more of a gift to hear their story of struggle, faith, love, healing and God’s blessing in their life. It reminded me that generosity is about so much more than money and Jesus was right when he said it’s more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). It’s a matter of trust. It’s a matter of faith. It’s a matter of the heart.

      On Simplicity: We spent quite a bit of time in February here at church emphasizing simplicity and putting energy into living more simple lives. Well, "Make It Simple" is done with, but the journey continues, doesn’t it? The effort to simplify is almost a daily struggle, not just a once a year deal. So, evolving here to an effort I'm calling "Keep It Simple" and it is challenging to stay on the journey. And…it’s important to remember this is an integral part of spiritual formation and drawing closer to God. Frugality is one thing (and a good thing) but approached from a purely human standpoint, it can easily turn into a joyless experience, with God far removed from the process.

      On Serving: A great opportunity to connect with each other during Lent is a weekly supper we do here at our church. Not only is it a connecting point for people who attend but also is a great gathering juncture for those whose serve the meal. A couple weeks ago we had about a dozen guys giving joyfully of their time and talents, most notably some homemade soups. In addition, there were two guys who even took the day off from work to do preparation and ensure everything needed was there and ready to go. A great example of generosity on their part particularly, hey that's using up one of their PTO days from work, a big investment of time!

      On Giving: And finally, it’s tax time (like you hadn’t noticed) and many people might be getting a tax refund, or already have. Praise God and pass the US government check! If you do, take time to thank God for your good fortune and consult with him about what to do with that financial blessing. Hopefully, you’ll consider giving some of it for God’s work in this world. You choose, but follow God’s prompting.

      A great book: My friend Matt Bell just released a great book on a tough topic, money in marriage. And interestingly enough, it's called "Money & Marriage". Look into it & I'd highly recommend it. Just got it on Kindle (Android app) & of course it's available in book format, on Nook & other versions. Check it out when you have a chance!

      Have a great April!

      Tuesday, March 1, 2011

      I give up! (it's not what you think...)

      I give up…12 things actually. Well, it’s technically it's EVERYTHING BUT 12 categories of things. My wife Cathy and I are doing a shopping fast during Lent for a bunch of reasons: spiritual-we always need to grow & combat our materialistic tendencies; practical-we have way too much stuff; and financial-we want to cut back and trim our spending. We got the idea from my friend Julie Bullock, who did a much more restricted six-month shopping fast a couple years ago and had this to say:
      “Why do a shopping fast? I came to appreciate three reasons: Discipline; Resourcefulness; and Opportunities for Generosity.” (for more on this, go to Julie's article posted on Generous Church)

      Back to the fast Cathy and I are doing. Here’s what we ‘negotiated’ together as the ONLY items we can buy: 1)fruits; 2)vegetables; 3)bread/bagels/pasta/rice; 4)meat/cheese/eggs; 5)mustard/ketchup/salsa; 6)breakfast bars; 7)basic cleaning supplies; 8)basic toiletries; 9)cat food/litter; 10)milk & ½&½; 11)coffee; 12)gas & oil for cars. (okay, so we lumped some things together – hey, it’s our fast!)

      So that means no clothing; no buying coffee out; no beer or wine (as a church leader can I say that?); no new furniture; no movies out; no eating out; the list goes on. Sorry Sam’s Club and Target and Kohl’s and Caribou…we won’t be frequenting you much in March and April.

      But why do a fast? In addition to, or combined with what Julie had to say above? Probably the biggest reason is because it’s a primary spiritual discipline and a great catalyst for intentional spiritual growth. Stuck in your faith walk? Fast. Confused about things? Fast. Can’t sleep because you’re worried about money? Fast. As Richard Foster says:

      “Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant gratification is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.” - from Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth

      And when the disciples had difficulty casting out a spirit, Jesus said:
      ‘So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”’ (Mark 9:29)

      And there are countless other references to fasting in the Bible. It’s a good thing to do and one that will help you in your spiritual growth.

      But there are other things you could do during Lent, as it’s a great time to reflect; pause; dig deeper; and connect with the spirit of the Lenten season as you seek to draw closer to God. Here are a few: 1)Use the “Generosity” devotional by Gordon McDonald; 2)Read “Making Room For Life” by Randy Frazee and seek to slow down the pace of your life; 3)do your own shopping fast; 4) fast from something else that, for you, tends to get in the way of following God.

      Most of all, be intentional, and take advantage of Lent for restoration and renewal. God wants us to spend more time with him and listen for his voice. He loves us beyond anything we can imagine. I give up. And so can you!

      Wednesday, February 16, 2011

      Needs vs. Wants

      Pastor Steve here at Grace made me question my needs vs. wants. Well, he really didn’t do it, his phone did. It’s actually his NEW cell phone and it’s very cool. It’s a T-Mobile MyTouch 4G with all the bells and whistles. It’s an Android phone, it’s very fast, has SWYPE technology, and can download all kinds of apps and would really, really simplify my life immensely! NOT. I have a fine 3½ year old smart phone that’s very capable and does everything I need it to do. While I could make a case that I NEED it, it’s really a WANT.

      Why do we struggle with that so much? Jesus said this:

      "For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:32-33)

      “All these things” cover the pretty much the basics of life, things like food, clothes and drink. All of which we need, they are essentials for living, wouldn’t you say? What are our needs? How’s this for a definition, “the essentials, the basics of life we cannot live without.” And those essentials are generally regarded as: basic food; basic transportation; basic shelter; basic clothing; medical care; debt payments; and childcare. Beyond that, do we really need anything else? Plus, Jesus said that if we seek first the kingdom, God will take care of us.

      As we journey and seek joy through simplicity and generosity, it’s really important for each of us to get clear about our needs vs. wants. Matt Bell in his blog Matt About Money says this:

      "An Internet connection. An annual vacation. The financial freedom to shop for birthdays and other special occasions. Are these essentials or luxuries? For many of today’s baby boomers, they are essentials. According to a survey conducted by MainStay Investments and reported by MarketWatch, 84 percent of boomers consider an Internet connection a necessity, 66 percent said it’s essential to be able to shop for special occasions, and 50 percent said they need a once-a-year vacation."

      But I’m guilty of it as well, even in little ways. I rented a car on a trip recently and as I drove off, realized it had no power windows and no cruise control! How could I drive a car like that, it seemed so old-fashioned. How quickly we can turn luxuries and wants into needs. But living simply requires being counter-cultural and making intentional decisions to focus on the basics and on what fits with our values and goals in life. Someone at church said their grade-school aged daughter asked her, “What did you and dad text about when you were dating?” Now there’s wake-up call for you! (But you had to admit, if you meet an adult who doesn’t text, your response may be, “seriously, you don’t text?”)

      Our first and primary concern as Christians should be to focus on growing in our relationship with God. While we could make a case for needing many things we want (and really don’t need), they can often get in the way of that growing relationship. They not only get in the way, but sometimes we slip into the tendency to worship things, rather than God. And that’s a dangerous place to be as we worship idols - something other than our Creator.

      Solomon, one of the richest men in all of history, learned the lesson of needs vs. wants. He said:

      “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, as chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:11)

      As we seek simplicity and generosity in our lives, it’s not simply a means to an end so we can have a better life. It’s to fulfill our calling as Christ-followers to bless the world and let our lives be spent on God’s behalf, for the sake of others. Love God, love others and let your life be spent to bless the world. Just know it takes prayer; intentionality; accountability; and God’s help. Live simply so that others may simply live.

      Wednesday, September 22, 2010

      Can Money Buy Happiness?

      What do you think? You may have heard of the recent study done by Princeton that showed people were most content, happiest when they earned $75,000 or more. However, more money above that threshhold didn't make people any happier. So, how much money do you need to be happy? To feel secure? To be content? The study also showed that no matter what income level, people said they'd feel better if they earned about 10% more than whatever their annual income. Interesting. It's a complex issue with many factors involved such as level of education, health, etc. Take a look if you're interested!

      Monday, March 16, 2009

      Okay, I've been 'dark' for many months. No excuses, just other priorities, but that's gonna change. After my last post, over 7 months ago, the economy is still very challenging and my feelings about the church remain. Those of us who work at churches, in stewardship ministry, have a fantastic opportunity.
      I just returned from the CSN (Christian Stewardship Network) Forum in Tampa. A great time of learning, fellowship and connecting with like-minded stewardship leaders from across the country...and world. As one speaker said, "God's taking us to the woodshed" as our world continues to slog through an unprecedented economic downturn. But, none of this is a surprise to God.
      Scott Rodin presented thoughts from an upcoming book he's finishing. Scott is author of Stewards in the Kingdom & a great thinker in the stewardship field. His encouraged us all, telling us that stewardship is the tip of the spear in the battle of the heavenly kingdom against the earthly kingdom. Lots more to process.
      If you're interested, check the CSN website, plans are to have his presentations posted in a few weeks.