Monday, June 30, 2008

A call to be faithful

I’m on the road a lot and eat many meals by myself, looking for ways to pass the time while waiting for my food to come. Billings, Montana happened to be the place where I was sitting in a Cracker Barrel restaurant looking at stuff on the walls and I noticed some very old copies of the Saturday Evening Post. You may remember that magazine, made famous to many of us through the artwork of Norman Rockwell. Anyway, I was looking at two of the old covers: one was from April 22, 1906 and the other was from March 12, 1938. While I don’t remember much else about the magazines or their covers, I remember that the price: five cents.

Then it struck me. The price had not changed over a 32 year period!

How amazing and alien is that to the world we live in. So dramatic now when the price of gasoline goes up between the time you drive to work in the morning and the time you drive home in the afternoon. When staples at the supermarket have jumped by 1/3 in a matter of months.

Even in days that are not so economically challenging, the expectation that the cost of things this year will be more than they were last year or a few years ago is pretty widely accepted. And of course, most of us expect that our income will be a little better next year than this as well.

This present reality is not always reflected in the way people give to the church. How many folks walk into our churches and are transported back to that alien world where things don’t change and costs don’t go up even over 32 years? How many folks will put a dollar in the offering plate, or put the same amount they put in five years ago? It makes it hard for the church to cope, but it also erodes the spiritual discipline of our giving. The biblical mandate to tithe was important to insure that God’s place in our priorities always came first.

When we don’t teach and call our folks to embrace the concepts of tithing or percentage giving, we say its OK for them to give in a way that doesn’t reflect the realities of the world we live in and which doesn’t honor God in our giving.

The point of Christian stewardship is not to focus on the “holy grail” of 10% giving, but to remind us of the 90% that God leaves in our hands, along with the blessings of life, health, creation, work, and so many other things. It is a call to be faithful in the world we live in today, not an alien world where the price of a magazine doesn’t change over 32 years!

--Rev. Dr. Ken Sloane, Director of Communications Ministry, United Methodist Communications

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What Kind of Day Is It?

“Just then Jesus looked up and saw the rich people dropping offerings in the collection plate. Then he saw a poor widow put in two pennies. Jesus said, “The plain truth is that this widow has given the largest offering today. All these others made offerings that they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.” {Luke 21:1-4, The Message}

“How can the church survive if people can no longer afford to give in support of its mission and ministry? This question seems to come up in one form or another in almost every church I visit these days. Given our current economic turmoil and uncertainty it’s no wonder both pastors and laity are concerned about the future of the church. The more I pray and contemplate an appropriate response to the above question the more I find myself coming back to the story of the Widow’s Mite.

As our economy groans under the pressure of escalating fuel prices, a slumping housing market, and an increased cost of living our ability to give that “which we will never miss” gets harder and harder. As a read the Widow’s Mite I believe Jesus didn’t heap a lot of praise for those who simply gave out of their abundance anyway. Perhaps the current economic reality will cause each and every person in the church to look deep within and ask ourselves, “What is God calling me to give?”

Maybe the day has come or soon will when we as the followers of Christ will have to decide that the church and its ministries are worth giving to extravagantly even out of our poverty. In other words, maybe the moment is upon us when we will have to decide that participation in the mission and ministry of the church of Jesus Christ is worth a change of lifestyle with our time, talent, and treasure. Maybe the time has arrived when being numbered among United Methodists in the Greater New Jersey annual conference means that we are willing to give sacrificially to God through the mission and ministry of the church.

Senior Pastor Brian Tome of Crossroads Church in Cincinnati, Ohio ends every staff meeting with the question, “What kind of a day is it? His staff always responds the same way, “It’s a good day to die!” This cryptic phrase embodies the church’s ethic to be a blessing at all costs instead of clinging to self-preservation. They strive to follow Christ’s example of blessing people by giving everything all the time. Being a blessing is a passion that permeates everything they are, say, and do. May we also be filled with a passion to be a blessing at all costs and may God bless us and others through us as we, like the Widow, offer everything to God.

--Rich Henderson, Coordinator of Stewardship Education and Development, Greater New Jersey Annual Conference

Monday, June 23, 2008

How one church built excitement in kids

First United Methodist Church in Hopkinsville, KY, held Vacation Bible School June 8-12 with the theme “Beach Party: Surfin’ Through the Scriptures.” For their mission project, the church selected Nothing But Nets, as emphasized by Cokesbury.

To get the children excited about giving, the group leaders showed how buying a bed net helped saved the lives of other children. This is something that the children could understand – when I give, I’m helping another kid!

By the end of VBS, the children along with other Sunday School classes raised over $300 for Nothing But Nets. The children (averaging 80 children per day) were very excited about giving and was evident by their offerings.

--Rev. Matt Seel, Associate Minister, First United Methodist Church, Hopkinsville, KY

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Shortage of Enthusiasm?

The idea of a blog which surrounds United Methodist giving is surely welcome in the electronic age. My hope is that inspiration, information, appreciation and enthusiasm will be shared by all who participate.

There is no shortage of money - just a shortage of enthusiasm for using it to make ministry happen. We United Methodists do things as well as any other group, but we somehow we don't get people involved, because we do not let people know. The more we "tell the story" - the greater the funding of United Methodist Mission efforts. UMCOM and United Methodist giving is a truly wonderful support for educating and inspiring the local church efforts to fund the larger church ministry.

--Rev. Dr. Robert E. Costello, Gateway North District Superintendent, Greater New Jersey Annual Conference

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Could you live on $100 a year?

I was reading an article about mission outreach of The Advance concerning a missionary in China by Diane Allen. It talked about illegal blood collecting dealers that targeted impoverished farmers that earn less than $100 per year. I can not fathom living on $100 a year.

This prompted me to track my spending over a few days last week to see where I spend my money and how much.

Lunch - $6.73
Vending Machine - $1.25
Fuel - $36.00
Total: $43.98

Breakfast - $3.83
Vending Machine - $1.25
Misc. items from Wal-Mart: $29.84
Starbucks - $4.68
Total: $39.60

Vending Machine - $1.25
Groceries - $24.59
Total: 25.84

In three days, I had spent $109.42. In three days, I had spent more than some farmers make in a year in China. This amazes me. Could I live on $100 a year? Absolutely not. Could I live on $100 a month? Again, I couldn’t. What about $100 a week ($5,200)? I don’t think I could.

Then how can we turn a blind eye to the impoverished in China? The Amity Foundation (TAF) hasn’t. This Advance based mission is making Christian presence more widely known to the Chinese people through programs of health care, education, blindness prevention, integrated rural development, advocacy, emergency relief and rehabilitation partnership with local communities.

Could you live on $100 a year? What about $100 a month? Or even $100 a week?
Think of how much God has blessed you – and I hope you feel led as I was to give back to those who truly need it.

--Tracy Wood, Web Coordinator, Connectional Giving Team, United Methodist Communications