What Really Matters

By Rev. Morgan Dixon

christmas-1856982_1280
Many of my earliest CHRISTmas joys involve the singing of hymns and the playing of special music. My uncle would play the piano and we would all gather around and sing along making melodies and memories that would last for a lifetime. These hymns were at the crux of my understanding of the CHRISTmas story. They helped to form my own personal theology and appreciation of the nativity and birth of Jesus.

Over time as I have lived through life, those words of assurance and intention ring ever more important as I seek to navigate in this world of confusion. The Advent messages of HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and LOVE during this commercialized season are ever the more needful. The hymns help re-member us to the body of Christ when feeling out of sync and distant. They help ground our faith and reassure our confidence in a coming Savior.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel. And ransom captive Israel.
That mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear!

crib-1094317_1280Amid everything coming our way encouraging us to buy and consume, let us focus on the
simple things: things that cannot be purchased or wrapped and placed under a tree but have profound and lasting staying power. Recall the memories. Cherish the times with loved ones. Share Christ’s message of HOPE, PEACE, JOY and LOVE through a simple smile or random act of kindness. Use this time to focus on what really matters.

Joy To The World, The Lord Is Come!

Lord, my prayer is that we are able to be good stewards of the CHRISTmas story and allow it to inform our Christian walk throughout the year. Inspire our hearts with each melody and remind of your reason for coming. Help us to bring Your hope, peace, joy and love wherever we go.

About the Author

Rev Morgan E DixonRev. Morgan Dixon is an Itinerant Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and serves as the Church Administrator & Youth Minister at DuPage AME Church in Lisle, Illinois. She also works with the denomination’s district stewardship department as its Media Director.

Image credits: pixabay.com

A joyful song

By Matt DeBall

Thank you for joining us on this musical and hopeful journey of “Hymns and Hopes for the Holidays.” Though our theme for November and December may seem natural for this season, you may still be asking, “Why are you doing this?”

worship-singingMusic (and singing) is an important component of faith. Hymns and spiritual songs allow us to remember the nature and promises of God, both in the present and for all of eternity. They lift our spirits and allow us to encourage one another. They lead us to and through prayer with God through all seasons. And overall, they move our minds with the melody of the Holy Spirit and guide our hearts to beat in synchronization with the heart of God. It is for all of these reasons that singing helps nurture an attitude of thankfulness and generosity.

As we continue to share beloved hymns and our hopes, we pray that you will be encouraged.

“I sing because I’m happy, (I’m happy)
I sing because I’m free, (I’m free)
For His eye is on the sparrow
and I know He watches me (He watches me)
And I know He watches me.”

Why do the birds sing and chirp with joy? Because they know that God cares for them. Since the beginning of creation, God has sustained all things. Through times of difficulty or comfort, God has walked lovingly with all that He has made.

sparrowsThe beautiful hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” by Civilla D. Martin reminds us of the words of Jesus on (at least) two separate occasions:
> “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care”(Matthew 10:29, NIV).
> “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26, NIV).

God cares about every bird and cares even more for us. This does not downplay the value of birds, but clarifies that God is intimately aware of all our needs and concerns and is able to provide for us.

In remembering that God sustains all things, we are freed to be happy and hopeful. We can think less about ourselves and more about others. We can be generous with all that God have given us because God will continually impart what we need.

As we continue through the holidays, may we be inspired by the birds and sing a joyful song of our own.

About the Author

m-deball-9-2016Matt DeBall is the COMPASS Communications Coordinator for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. He also serves as Coordinator of Donor Communications for the Church of the Brethren. He has an MDiv from Northern Seminary of Lombard, Illinois and a BA in Communication Arts from Judson University of Elgin, Illinois. He loves running, reading, and napping. He and Chelsea live in Northern Illinois with their Welsh Corgi, Watson, and attend the First Baptist Church of Aurora.

Image credits: pixabay.com

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS Initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Let’s talk about money

By Mike Littlecheckbook-688352_1280 copy

When I talk to groups of people about faith and money, I often start by suggesting they share their checkbooks and credit card statements with one another. I’m (mostly) joking, but I don’t tell people that right away. As I watch people glance at each other nervously, I explain, “Money is such a dominant topic in our scriptures that we have to get our money conversations ‘out of the closet.’” I know how to make people uncomfortable, don’t I?

In response to this suggestion one day, a woman adamantly objected. “My generation was taught not to talk about money,” she said, and packed up her things and walked out. There was an awkward silence. Then a hand went up. “I am a lawyer,” a man said (I was the one who got nervous then)—a divorce lawyer. He shared that in his experience, 85-90% of his clients break up due to money. “If we can’t talk about money in church,” he asked, “where can we talk about it? That has been the problem.” Exactly.

Screen Shot 2017-05-29 at 12.40.28 PMWe don’t want to talk about money. But Jesus talked more about money and its relationship to God’s way of life than anything but the Kingdom of God itself. Our story as a people of God is that we are all invited to live in this new realm that Jesus talked about, the Kingdom of God, which includes every aspect of our lives, including our money. Perhaps especially our money.

The question is, what does it mean to be the body of Christ? Especially in the midst of the huge disparity we see in the world, how can we be the family of God? How can we live in God’s realm now? We’ve been trained in our individualistic culture that our money, resources and lives are private, but that creates such isolation and loneliness. Instead, God intends for us to have community, to be community to one another.

Perhaps it is so threatening to talk about money because it has somehow become related to our identity. Our worth is connected to how much money we make and what we own. That is absolutely antithetical to Jesus’ teaching that our identity is found in community and our love for others and that our worth is found in God’s grace and God’s love for us.

We have learned to place our security in our money, and we certainly don’t want our indiana-1888207_1280security threatened. Jesus called the guy who built the bigger barns a fool because he identified his security in what he had in the barn. It’s no different for us. We say we want our barns full of God but we have one shed out back full of money, just in case.

If we talk about money in the light of our faith, it might require something of us that we fear. But spiritual growth always involves a risk.

Growth starts with an acknowledgement that we want to grow deeper. It starts with an awareness that if part of God’s family is suffering, then I’m suffering. As a Christian, I’m responsible to help bring the fullness of life for everyone, a fullness that includes people’s inward lives and their outward, material well-being.

In our churches, many people recognize this responsibility and are unsure about their plenty and wonder what their obligations are. We are often caught up in all the time and energy involved in “making ends meet” but realize that the deepest values that we grew up with in the church have been attended to poorly. When we can acknowledge that, we are ready to make some changes in our lives.

About the Author

Mike Little-photoMike Little is director of the Faith and Money Network, a ministry born out of the Church of the Saviour that equips people to explore and transform their relationship with money within the grounding of their faith. Many resources are available at www.faithandmoneynetwork.org. Mike Little can be reached at mike@faithandmoneynetwork.org.

Join us TOMORROW at 8 p.m. ET for a Live Chat led by Mike Little. During this chat, we will explore your relationship with your money, writing a money autobiography, making good financial decisions, connecting faith and finances, and more! There’s still room to sign up at marcia_5.gr8.com.

Photo credits: pixabay.com

A Word to all Recent and soon to be Graduates

Congratulations, graduates! You have studied and grown, and are now ready to be sent out or start new chapters. For some of you, this may mean your first full-time adventure in the working world. For others of you, this may mean moving cross-country. For others, it may mean the transition from one school and degree to another and further study.

Whatever your chapter and transition looks like, congratulations! Your hard work and dedication deserves to be praised.

graduatesMuch has been shared on this blog (and will continue to be shared) to spread light on thinking about faith and finances. COMPASS has and will continue to be a place and resource to think about student debt, the different challenges of finances, and yet the hope and promise of abundance that we share in our collective faith.

Today, I don’t want to spend much time thinking about these challenges and bills—some that you are likely already facing and paying—and others—such as your educational debt—which may become due after deferment in about six months.

Rather, today I want to encourage you to give thanks: to celebrate and be joyful. Give thanks for your focused study. Give thanks for your family, friends, and loved ones who have supported you up to this point. They may have helped buy you dinner, get your study food, be the listening ears to talk through the challenges of life away from home at school, or shoulders to cry on when things didn’t quite go as you had hoped. These people—your network and community—have been a big part of your journey to this graduation. Thank them. Celebrate with them, and allow them to celebrate with you.

Congratulations, graduates! May your discernment and transitions into whatever lies ahead be blessed.

A Personal Word of Thanks

In the spirit of giving thanks, I too wish to give thanks today. I have recently received an exciting call to serve as the new Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In my transition into this new chapter, I will no longer be serving as the Communications Associate for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center (ESC).

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve in this way these past 2 years. I am tremendously grateful to Marcia Shetler, the Executive Director/CEO of ESC for this opportunity. I am also excited to share that though I will no longer be serving in this capacity; I will continue as a committee member for COMPASS and ESC and will continue to offer thoughts and perspectives on this blog about once a month as a volunteer contributor. I look forward to continuing the faith and finances conversation with all of you well into the future.

timothy headshotAbout the Author: In addition to these roles and news, Timothy Siburg also currently serves as a congregational mission developer, among a few other roles. He blogs regularly on his own blog as well.

Image Credit: Graduates

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

After Graduation… Student Debt?

After my wife Allison's and my most recent graduation.

After my wife Allison’s and my most recent graduation.

As the calendar turns to May, many students across the United States and Canada are preparing to graduate. Some are graduating from college or graduate school. Many others are preparing to graduate from high school, and then either enter the workforce or continue their educations in college.

All of these graduations are major life achievements worth celebrating. So in some ways I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but graduation can also mean it’s time to really look at and prepare for paying back your student debt.

For high school students preparing to begin college or further study, higher education loans are likely the first ones you will be taking on in your life. Most student loans require you to complete some kind of basic education about the loans, including learning about the life of the loans and their cost often online in a half hour or less.

This introductory information is helpful, but if you are like I was when I graduated from high school a decade ago, you may complete the online “training” with little more thought than going through the motions. Had I paid more attention, I would have better understood the potential for long-term student debt.

Those of you graduating college and entering the workforce will likely have a “grace period” on your loan payments upon graduation. After that period you will be required to make regular payments on your loan debt. Spend some time determining what those payments are and how they are structured, including the amount of interest. If able, I recommend beginning paying them off as soon as possible as to cut down on the amount of accrued interest.

Those who graduate from college and continue education with graduate study can place your school loans in deferment because you are continuing your education. However, if you are working while a student, it might be wise to make some kind of payments toward your student loan debt to at least reduce the cost of interest. (Not to mention that your student loan debt may continue to increase if you have added loans for your graduate education.)

These nuggets and observations are ones I have learned from experience. They are not necessarily bad things, but it’s helpful to have awareness and understanding of them.

Returning to graduation, congratulations on your studies and best wishes on your life’s journeys and next steps!

As we celebrate the graduation season during May and June,

  • What questions do you have about student loans and student loan debt?
  • What things are you wondering as you make final decisions and preparations for what’s next?

These are the questions that COMPASS will be exploring over the next few weeks. Please join the conversation.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

We Are What We Eat – Part 2

During April, the COMPASS blog is sharing perspectives about environmental stewardship and being eco-friendly on a budget. Today we welcome back regular contributor Dori Zerbe Cornelsen who reflects about how “We are what we eat.”

It is early spring where I live on the Canadian prairies.  There are just a few crocuses blooming in my otherwise still barren garden.  It’s the time of year when I begin to yearn for colour after a long white winter.

Produce from Metanoia Farmers

Produce from Metanoia Farmers

I also yearn for fresh food greens and veggies, grown locally.  One of the ways we have decided to enjoy fresh local produce in the summer is by participating in a Community Shared Agriculture project called Metanoia Farmers Worker Cooperative.  We buy a half share for the two of us and get to eat whatever the land is producing that week, by the work of hands of farmers we know, from sometime in June into September.

I like that faith is part of the Metanoia Farmers’ motivation.  Here is a description:

“The Metanoia Farmers Worker Cooperative is a group of CMU (Canadian Mennonite University) students and alumni, emerging as farmers motivated by our faith, who use sustainable practices to provide food to urban eaters.  We grow a wide variety of only heirloom vegetables and are developing our seed saving skills to continue to be able to grow these vegetables…The Metanoia Farmers operate as a workers cooperative, practicing consensus decision-making models.  We hope to foster meaningful dialogue while joyfully stewarding God’s gift of the land.”

dori-zerbe-cornelson-220x220I can almost taste the kale now…

About the AuthorDori Zerbe Cornelsen works with Mennonite Foundation of Canada encouraging and inviting generous living.  She and her husband Rick live in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Image Credit: Produce from Metanoia Farmers

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Higher Learning and Student Debt: Is it Worth It?

During March, COMPASS has focused on “Managing Debt: Loans and Money in March,” including last week’s original live chat with Sandy Crozier. Today, I offer some personal thoughts and questions about student loan debt as we continue the faith and finances conversation, specifically this month about debt. 

Timothy and his wife Allison on the campus of their undergraduate campus where they met, Pacific Lutheran University.

Timothy and his wife Allison on the campus of their undergraduate campus where they met, Pacific Lutheran University.

Before leaving the Pacific Northwest to study and complete my first graduate degree, I was a bit nervous about the potential student loan debt I was about to commit to. I shared my thoughts with my former economics professor when I saw him at my undergraduate school’s bookstore. He told me, “Timothy, it’s just money. It’s just money. It’s an investment.”

However, the increasing cost of higher education—and the debt students are taking on to complete degrees—are causing some to reconsider if the investment is really worth it. According to the Wall Street Journal, 2015 US college graduates accumulated the highest average student loan debt in history, a base average of $35,000 per graduate school graduate and $23,000 per baccalaureate graduate. It is projected that 2016’s class will face an even higher total.

It is not unheard of for those earning professional degrees to graduate with six-figure student debt, including doctors, lawyers, and yes—clergy. Many institutions of higher learning—including seminaries—are trying to curb costs, but the numbers are daunting. With loan totals so high, it is mathematically possible that one might work their entire career and never do much more than pay off their student loan debt. A report by Goldman Sachs suggests avoiding “mediocre colleges”; steering away from lower-paying majors like arts, education, and psychology; and considering other forms besides college education to prepare for a vocation.

Nonetheless, my generation—the Millennials—have the highest percentage ever of college-educated persons, according to a White House study. In our household, my wife Allison and I hold 3 baccalaureate and 3 graduate degrees between us, and Allison is finishing her masters of divinity program this spring. We make our monthly payments, hope for some relief, and trust that in time, the costs will be worth it for our vocations and careers.

Theologian Frederick Buechner has written that “vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.” As God’s people, I believe one pursues an education for opportunity and continued learning, and also to follow God’s calling or vocation. I believe that when one senses that they have gifts or passions for meeting the needs of the world, their neighborhood, or society, and when they most fully follow that call, it may lead to school or extended study. It is not always a call to become wealthy, sometimes far from it, especially if student loans are a part of the process. But if one is called, they are also called to trust that they will live in the abundance of God.

So when I think about my professor’s advice in the bookstore, I believe deeply that he was right. It hasn’t always been an easy path, but the investment has been and will continue to be worth it for me at least because it has led me to create connections, to learn, and to have experiences I couldn’t have dreamed about without the education I have been blessed to receive.

If you are looking for ways to reduce your debt—student and otherwise—check out the recording of the recent COMPASS Live Chat on managing debt led by Sandy Crozier, Stewardship Development Director for the Free Methodist Church in Canada.

What has your experience been like with student loan debt? How do you live faithfully while taking it on, or working to pay it off?

timothy headshotAbout the Author: Timothy Siburg is the Communications Associate for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center and focuses especially on the center’s COMPASS initiative focused on creating conversations and resources for faith and finances among younger Adults and Millennials. Timothy also currently serves as a congregational mission developer, among a few other roles and blogs regularly on his own blog as well.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.