Stewardship

“All In”

When we read a sermon title on “Stewardship”, we know we are going to hear about giving our money to the church.  The “money part” is often couched within the other aspects of living a life of faith.  As members in the United Methodist Church, we vow to be faithful with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness.  A sermon on stewardship in the Methodist tradition correctly admonishes us to be good stewards in all of these ways.

Often we limit stewardship to the amount of money we give.  Traditionally and from Old Testament mandates, one tenth is the standard given for a tithe.  As New Testament Christians, we are under a new order, a new way of being faithful.  No longer is the Old Testament our only standard for living.  Now we live by the standards that Jesus Christ has set.

One example of Jesus teaching his disciples and us about giving is found in Mark 12: 38-44. He warned the disciples to “Watch out for the religion scholars.  They love to walk around in academic gowns, preening in the radiance of public flattery, basking in prominent positions, sitting at the head table at every church function.  And all the time they are exploiting the weak and helpless.  The longer their prayers, the worse they get.  But they’ll pay for it in the end.”  Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection.  Many of the rich were making large contributions.  One poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together.  All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”  The Message. Eugene H. Peterson

You will not find any standard percent of giving discussed by Jesus in the New Testament, rather he does talk a lot about how we give and why.  The story of the widow’s mite shows us two things:  how not to give as demonstrated by the religion scholars, and how to give as demonstrated by the widow.  No doubt the religion scholars gave their tenth and did it out of an arrogant, self-serving, hypocritical heart.  The widow, on the other hand, gave a measly two cents.  Jesus compares her giving to theirs and calls her giving extravagant, sacrificial, and all of what she had.  She gave 100%!!

The widow reflects another standard of giving that is at the core of our being as people of faith and that is the standard set by Jesus himself.  Jesus gave his all—100% even unto death.  He gave his life willingly, out of love, and of course he gave sacrificially.

Nowhere do I find in the New Testament that Jesus will be satisfied with a tenth of who we are or what we have.  He wants all of us—100%.  When we are really understanding stewardship as Jesus taught us, we are “all in”.

Our percentages of giving in dollars may vary, but our commitment to discipleship should not.  We are all uniquely gifted by God to serve and follow him.  In order to be good stewards of what we have been given, we must seek ways to be faithful in all aspects of living a life that produces fruit for the Kingdom.  We ask ourselves,  “Am I 100% committed to the “body of Christ” with my prayer life; my faithfulness in attending church; my gifts, both monetary and spiritual; my service and ministry to others; and, my witness, sharing with others what Christ has done for me”?

Chances are we will not be perfect in our 100% commitment, but we can certainly strive to live a life of faith dependent upon the Holy Spirit to guide and teach us.  Ask yourself, “Am I ‘all in’ “?

Rev. Nancy Cole is an ordained Elder serving in the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church as the Coordinator of Natural Church Development and Coordinator of Disaster Recovery.  Nancy entered seminary after a thirty-year career in education where she was a teacher for 18 years, and a psychometrist and guidance counselor for the last 12 years.  She is married to Steve Cole and has one daughter, Tammy,  two sons, Jason and Bo, ten grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.  Before being appointed to Connectional Ministries in the Conference, Nancy served churches in Harpersville, Mignon, Tuscaloosa, and Gordo. She and her husband, Steve, reside in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Categories: Church, Faith Journey, John Wesley, Stewardship, Stewardship | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Growing Generosity by Julie Holly

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him.” 1 John 3:16-19

When we are the recipient of generosity—when someone does something for us— we are more likely to be generous ourselves.  This is a fairly natural and expected response for most of us.  And this is something like what the author of 1 John is saying about how people are expected to act once they have received the gift of God’s love through Jesus

When I say it is expected, I don’t mean that it is expected as in, “I expect you to do this or else…” But expect as in anticipation.  It is more like when you add vinegar to baking soda and you expect it to bubble up.  The natural and expected response to being filled up with God’s love is that one will also flow out with the same.  When we have received love, we are expected to share it with others.

There is also an element of expectation, as in obligation, involved in this as well because in order to live as a person of God, we are expected and commanded to love God and neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39).  But because it is the gift of God’s grace that fills us with love and makes it possible for us to act out of love, then what God commands us, God also gives us the power to do.

One of my favorite quotes about giving is attributed to Amy Carmichael, who was a Christian missionary to India from the early 1900’s.  She left her family, friends, and life in Northern Ireland to serve the people of India for 55 years.  She said to have shared this message, “one can give without loving, but one cannot love without giving”.  That is pretty much what the Gospel of John is saying here: We cannot believe in Jesus without loving, and we cannot love without giving.

In order to grow toward self-sacrificing generosity that embodies the love of God, most of us won’t just jump right in head first.  We need some beginner steps, like…

  • reading what the Bible says about giving
  • praying and seeking God’s guidance
  • giving a little something to see what it is like
  • talking about it with each other—to see how others do it, to receive encouragement, and to be challenged to continue growing

And then finally, we will get to a place when we can live it.  We will not just say that we believe, we will also do what we believe.  Our actions and our lives as individuals and as a church will speak much louder than our words of faith.  We will become generous followers of Jesus.

Julie Holly is the Senior Pastor at Discovery United Methodist Church in Birmingham. You can follow her blog by clicking here! or with this address: http://pastorchickword.blogspot.com

Categories: Church, Faith Journey, Friends, John Wesley, Leadership, Stewardship, Stewardship | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Important Invitation

“Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.” -1 Chronicles 29:11 (NRSV Translation)

This verse is part of King David’s ongoing acknowledgement of God’s great works in the world. It is a beautiful passage of praise and thanksgiving that comes from David’s joy in laying the financial foundation that will be used by his son Solomon to build the Temple in Jerusalem. David lifts up this blessing to God, telling the almighty that “all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours.” We say that a lot, don’t we? We repeat that mantra, that all good things, all blessings, everything comes from God. In fact, I just said it a minute ago before the offertory. The question for us this morning is, do we believe that? Do we believe that everything we have, all our possessions, all our stuff, all our money, really belongs to God? And if you do indeed truly believe that, the next question is, does your life reflect that belief?


Whether you realize it or not, you probably DO believe that God can make a difference in your finances. I would argue that MOST people really do believe that God can affect that financial future, the problem is that most people don’t live into that belief until their finances are in shambles. It’s only when the bottom drops out and our finances are in ruins that we find out we really DO believe this. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard and experienced this prayer in my brief time as minister:
“Dear God, my house is in foreclosure, I’m filing for bankruptcy, I spent my 401K, I am in midst of the worst financial hardship I’ve ever experienced. God, I need your help. I want to give you my life, everything I have, my whole life.”


To which God responds, “But you don’t have ANYTHING. Where were you 6 months ago when you had something to give?”


God doesn’t really respond that way, thankfully. But the question becomes, if you believe that God can have a hand in your finances at rock bottom, wouldn’t it make sense to invite him into your finances now, when things are good (or okay, or at least not ridiculously, terrible)? What is the point of waiting? Because God doesn’t force his way into your bank account or your wallet. You can make sure that God is never involved in your financial future, but I will bet that at some point in time you’re going to ask him in. How about now?
God wants to be invited.


But there is a risk when we invite God into our finances. I use that word invitation with great purpose. When we acknowledge that all things come from God and ultimately belong to God, when we INVITE him into our finances, there is some change that is required. It’s like any other invitation. What do we do as a church when a guest comes in? We do our very best to make them feel comfortable and welcome. I like to think we put the guest before the member here at Morningstar. And I imagine the same is true at your house when you welcome a guest for dinner or stay with you. We re-orient the way that we think and we put the guest first.
In our house, I’ll straighten up before a guest arrives. Then Denise will come behind me and re-straighten all the stuff I thought I had straightened. We plan meals and buy better food than we normally eat. We ask if they need anything? Can I get you something to drink? Are you comfortable? And we’re trying to teach our daughter Maggie how to treat guests. She’s still learning. When someone comes over, they get to choose the game we play or the movie we watch. The guest gets to choose!


And it’s the same when we invite God into our financial lives. It’s God’s choice what we’re going to do first. And here is what God chooses. Turn in your Bibles to Matthew 6:31-33 (page 6 in the New Testament).
Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God* and his* righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”


What is the first thing Christ tells us to do? STRIVE FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD. The Kingdom comes first. Be generous, help the poor, feed the hungry, take care of the widow, the orphan, the alien, care for the least of these, share the Good news. The whole shebang. That is what God wants when we invite him into our finances. And that might sound selfish, but Jesus adds this promise to the end: When you make the Kingdom of God your priority, He will take care of all your other needs. Clothing, food, drink . . .God will take care of those things. It’s a pretty amazing promise. Andy Stanley says it this way, “Here is God, the creator of the universe, who is willing to lower himself and enter into a symbiotic relationship with you and me. When we invest our lives bringing about the Kingdom of God, God promises to take a vested interest in our well-being.”
Now, here’s dangerous part of making this invitation. There is a reason why God has a vested interest in your well being and will continue to provide you with food, and water and a place to live, so long as the Kingdom is your first priority. When you invite God in, when you place your trust in Him and give generously, you are inviting repeat business. If a restaurant or a business gives good service, what do you do? You go back again and again. God remembers the loyal, the capable, and obedient. When you act out of a spirit of generosity, God will be back with another opportunity to give. But so long as you make the Kingdom your priority.
When you invite God into your finances, when you make His Kingdom your priority, more and more you will find that the obstacle of your fear is no obstacle at all. Because you have something you can trust in more than money, something stronger than your fear.

* Some parts of this devotional were greatly influenced by the preaching and books of Andy Stanley, so much so, that there may be some un-credited portions! Apologies to Pastor Stanley if I butchered or unintentionally took credit for any ideas that were his.

This article was written by Rev. John Mullaney.   John is the Morningstar United  Methodist Church’s pastor, and was appointed to the church in the summer of  2008. John’s passions include preaching, pastoral care, and  creating meaningful times of worship. John and his wife, Denise, who is also a United Methodist minister, have  two daughters, Maggie & Lucie. They live in Chelsea

Categories: Church, Church At Chelsea Park, Faith Journey, Leadership, Stewardship, Stewardship | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stewardship Article by Ron Schultz

The line was long as people moved toward the altar to leave an offering.
Some put in large , impressive amounts of money. One poor widow stepped forward and gave two small copper coins.  Jesus declared to His followers that the two copper coins from the poor Widow was more than anyone else had given.

Wait a minute! How can two small cooper coins be counted as more than the other offerings? Wouldn’t a check for $500 be counted as more than two copper coins in your offering plate?

Jesus says everyone gave out of their abundance that day except the poor Widow. Everyone gave from a heart that said, “out of all that is  mine I will give this to You God.”  Everyone except the poor Widow. She gave from a heart that said,”all that I have belongs to You God. Take what is Yours and I trust You will take care of me.”

Stewardship is the act of managing faithfully things that belong to someone else. Followers of Jesus believe that everything belongs to God.  When it comes to money, it too belongs to God. We have simply been chosen as stewards to manage varied amounts.

Each week,  many of you wonderful followers of Jesus at Union, the Church at Chelsea Park, demonstrate faithful stewardship. Your faithfulness makes ministry happen in your community and around the world through our system of apportioned connectional giving! I continue to be amazed by your stewardship efforts and the way God takes care of you.

“Lord Jesus, thank you for taking care of us. Thank you for trusting us to manage things that belong to You. Give us the faith to always put in Your two cents worth. Amen.”

This article was written by Ron Schultz.  Ron is the District Superintendent of the South Central District in the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church.  Ron graduated from Emory University, Candler School of Theology in 1983 and received his Juris Doctorate from Birmingham School of Law in 1994.  Ron is married to Robin Schultz and has 4 children.

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20% More?

Studies over several decades asked American families if they were happy. A large majority said No. “What would you need to be happy?” the study asked. The answer was about 20% more in income.

Stop for a second. Are you happy? If not, how much more would you need to be happy? More than 20%… or less?

The studies then did the tacky thing of following up on the surveyed families. They came back to them years later when they now were making at least 20% more — in ‘real’ money, not just due to inflation.

Are they happy now? “No!” What’s wrong? Well, we need 20% more.
It’s somewhat easy to figure this out. Our needs expand as the family grows. We didn’t really “need” this much years ago, but now we do. OK, well, it turns out that our ‘needs’ expand even after the kids move out. It depends on our definition of what are our ‘needs,’ you see.  I need This-and-That. After I get This-and-That, I’m not deeply satisfied because, in the meantime, somebody convinced me I need That-Other-Thing that ‘they’ have.

Psychiatrist Robert Coles, in his dealing with envious patients, wrote:
“Envy comes naturally to us, since we are limited in our distinctive ways, and so others (limited in their own ways) can seem so strong, so lucky, so blessed. We are bombarded so heavily in this secular world with invitations, suggestions, possibilities, and promises that we are bound to feel inadequate in their weighty presence, as we see them given life in others. Hence our wish to be those envied others, our anger that such has not come to pass.”

The happiest people you know are probably not the richest or the most famous or those who pay close attention to what others have or those whose every ‘want’ has been transformed into a ‘need.’ Nor are the happiest people those who pursue happiness — which is the surest way to never know happiness.
Happiness sneaks up on people while they’re doing other things, like caring and serving and enjoying the presence of loved ones or of God’s creation. Happiness is not stalked and trapped; it is welcomed.

 -Mitchell Williams is the Senior Pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Cullman, AL.  Mitchell was raised in Birmingham and spent a lot of time growing up at Camp Sumatanga. He received a Bachelor of Arts from Vanderbilt University (Theater) and a Masters of Theology from Southern Methodist University. He and his wife Jodi have two grown sons (Charlie, a Marine Sergeant, and Drew, an engineer) who both married very well and each have a son themselves. Mitchell has pastored for thirty years including nine years at Asbury (Birmingham), six at Aldersgate (Huntsville), and nine at Central (Decatur).

 

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The Transforming “I Will”

On a clear, cool Fall Sunday morning a young family makes their way to the altar of a local United Methodist Church.  They had been attending the services for three months.   After conversations with the pastor, and prayerful consideration, they made the decision to become members of the congregation.  As they approached the chancel rail of the church the pastor met them with a smile.  He asked them to face the congregation as he introduced them.  Then he asked them to re-affirm their commitment to Christ by remembering their baptism, and promising to be loyal to the the United Methodist Church by doing all in their power to strengthen its ministries. [UMH, page 37-38]  After their re-affirmation of commitment to Christ and the church, they were asked the traditional question that is asked of all who join United Methodist congregations.  “As members of this congregation will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?”  (UMH, page 38)  Their response was the same response every United Methodist has given as they began their discipleship journey.  “I will.” 

Each time a new member makes that commitment in our congregations, we as United Methodists, are challenged to renew our commitment and join their voices with a resounding, “I will.” 

It all begins with the promise:  “…will you faithfully participate in ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness?”  Your response of “I will” is the first step in an incredible Wesleyan journey to fulfill the core purpose of your congregation.  How can each person faithfully fulfill their church’s mission of making and growing disciples of Jesus Christ?  They begin in prayer, and continue by being present in study, worship and fellowship.  They celebrate their giftedness from God by being faithful financial disciples.  They become the hands and feet of Jesus at work in the world, and proclaim the word of God both spoken and lived out in a world that hungers for the love of God.

Conversations about stewardship and giving are viewed by some in the church as taboo.  If giving is mentioned only once or twice a year in a congregation, there is often an admonition that “all we ever do is talk about money” at church. Giving is often viewed as “too personal” to be discussed at length in the church.  By making stewardship and giving a forbidden subject Christians give money a mysterious power outside the bounds of theology.     In essence it is given god-like tendencies.  The truth is that stewardship is more about spiritual growth than financial strength or weakness.  It is time that modern Christians celebrate their role as financial disciples of Jesus.

The celebration of financial disciples begins by establishing a healthy theology of stewardship or giving.  Everything we have comes from God, and living out that giftedness in the world is vital to responsible discipleship.   Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Luke were both a truth and a challenge.  “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  (Luke 12:34, New International Version]  The treasure that a Christian posesses is a gift from God to be activated in love from the heart.  The theology of giving is best lived out in the church in three ways.  First, as an act of worship.  Both the Old and New Testaments talked about the offering of our gifts in the context of worship.  Most of those vignettes were in the temple, and were clearly acts of corporate worship.  Secondly,  giving is an expression of faith.  Not only does the Christian recognize the generosity of God in the bountiful gifts they receive, but also in the giving of those gifts they faithfully fulfill God’s purpose in the world.  Finally, stewardship and generosity are a spiritual discipline.  It is easy for modern Christians to have a serious disconnect between faith and money.  A healthy theology of giving helps us remember that our stewardship is about spiritual growth.  William Sloane Coffin began a stewardship sermon at Riverside Church in New York City with the following introduction:  “I have not come today to raise money for the church, I am here to remind you who you are.”  Stewardship and giving are not transactional.  Giving should be transformational for the church, for the world, and most of all of the faithful financial disciple of Jesus.  “I Will”,  these two simple words in response to God’s call in our lives can transform our lives, our church, and our world for Christ.

Article written by Rick Owen.

Rick has over 35 years of experience working with churches and non-profit boards. His passion for visioning, strategic ministry planning, functional- and gift-oriented board structures, leadership development, and the creation of cultures of innovation are refreshing in the world of churches and institutions. He is an experienced teacher, preacher and presenter in a variety of settings. He has served as a minister in churches from 15 members to 4,500 members; he has taught philosophy, ethics, Old Testament and New Testament on the college level, and currently works with leaders, boards and pastors as a strategic ministry coach. He has served on a number of church-related and community boards, and is committed to the vision of empowering people to live out their vision and purpose.

Categories: Church, Church At Chelsea Park, Faith Journey, Influenced By:, Leadership, Stewardship | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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