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

Understanding Our Relationship With Money

By Marcia Shetler

puppy-1647692_1280Have you ever thought about you and your money being in a relationship? It might seem like a bizzare idea, but it’s true. You might be the one in control of your relationship—or it might be your money. Most likely, it’s an ongoing tug-of-war between the two of you.

Followers of Jesus are not exempt from this relationship. In fact, in the Bible we find that Jesus speaks more about money than any other topic, save the kingdom of God. This emphasis indicates that a healthy understanding about our relationship to money is essential if we are to realize our full potential as children of God.

Our relationships—healthy or not—are formed over time. Your connection with your money has been shaped by many things, including your family and friends, your environment, your personality, and your faith. Taking some time to think about those influences can be very helpful in understanding your relationship with money, and putting you in charge of that relationship.

One way to begin that exploration is by developing a money autobiography. A money Money bookautobiography is a reflection process on the role and influence of money and material possessions in your life. It challenges you to explore the past to see how your attitudes, assumptions, and values concerning money and wealth were formed. The money autobiography provides a lens through which you examine how you manage money and how money manages you. It allows you the opportunity to wrestle with your needs, wants, and desires and helps you understand the lifestyle choices you make. It can even help you set some priorities and goals for the future.

This month, the COMPASS Initiative will take a look at money autobiographies:

  • Get great insights every week on this blog and on our Twitter feed and Facebook page.
  • Join us for a Live Chat with Mike Little, director for the Faith and Money Network, Mike Little-photoon Tuesday, May 30, 8:00 p.m. Eastern time, 7:00 p.m. Central time, 6:00 p.m. Mountain time, and 5:00 p.m. Pacific time. The Faith and Money Network equips people to transform their relationship with money, to live with integrity and intentionality, and to participate in creating a more equitable world. One of the resources of the Faith and Money Network is guidance on completing a money autobiography. Mike will give us even more information about this benefical way to explore our relationship with money.

Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24, NIV). Your relationship with money influences your understanding of Christian stewardship as discipleship, your willingness to give generously and joyfully, and your responsiveness to use what you have been entrusted with as channels for generosity and love. I hope the information shared this month will help you improve your relationship with your money!

Many of the ideas in this article come from the Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church website.

About the Author

marcia shetlerMarcia Shetler is Executive Director/CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. She holds an MA in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, a BS in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a Bible certificate from Eastern Mennonite University. She formerly served as administrative staff in two middle judicatories of the Church of the Brethren, and as director of communications and public relations for Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana, an administrative faculty position. Marcia’s vocational, spiritual, and family experiences have shaped her vision and passion for faithful stewardship ministry that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of Christ’s church and the common call to all disciples to the sacred practice of stewardship. She enjoys connecting, inspiring, and equipping Christian steward leaders to transform church communities.

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.

Image credits: pixabay.com, Mike Little

Give Something for Lent

Give Up Something for Lent

By Marcia Shetler

church-535155_1280-copy“For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes
he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.“
– 2 Corinthians 8:9

Last Wednesday you may have noticed people with a black mark on their foreheads. Or maybe you were one of those persons. March 1 was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season on the Christian calendar. Lent is the 40 days—not counting Sundays—between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. The 40 days represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.

Ash Wednesday and Lent have been observed since the early days of the Christian Church. Ash Wednesday’s invitation to wear ashes as a visible symbol of repentance begins a time of a call to remember Jesus’s sacrifice, and to mirror that sacrifice through self-reflection in preparation for the Easter celebration. Traditionally, that has included spending additional time in prayer and study, fasting, and giving up something, like a favorite food or activity.

But what if we not only gave up something, but gave something for Lent? What if Lent was volunteer-1888823_1280more than a time to think about ourselves, but to find ways to turn our sacrifices into
doing good for others?

  • If you give up your Starbucks coffee, can you give the money you would have spent to
    your church or another worthy cause?
  • If you give up spending time online, can you invest it in volunteering?
  • If you decide to fast, eat less, or give up a favorite treat, can you buy some healthy food for your local food bank instead?

In the 2016 issue of the Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation magazine, Maribeth Westerfield shares her story about giving up something for Lent that blessed someone else. A Facebook post from her pastor-friend suggested that instead of giving up food or beverage for Lent, it would be good to clean out closets, garages, drawers, and the like and contribute 40 bags of stuff to a suitable recipient. Maribeth used this challenge as giving-volume-18-cover-5-x-7-150-dpian opportunity not only for giving but for jump-starting her goal of living a less consumeristic lifestyle. While she didn’t gather 40 bags of stuff together, her friend’s church was the recipient of three bags of shoes for their Soles for Souls ministry.

As Christians, our financial decisions should not be just about us:

  • As stewards of what God has given us, we live our lives in response to God’s bounteous grace;
  • We give generously and joyfully;
  • And we understand that our faithful stewardship and generous giving is an opportunity to be channels through which God’s generosity can flow and God’s love can be shared.

What will you give for Lent this year? Your thoughts could be someone else’s inspiration! Share your comments here on the COMPASS blog, or on Twitter or Facebook.

About the Author

marcia shetlerMarcia Shetler is Executive Director/CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. She holds an MA in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, a BS in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a Bible certificate from Eastern Mennonite University. She formerly served as administrative staff in two middle judicatories of the Church of the Brethren, and as director of communications and public relations for Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana, an administrative faculty position. Marcia’s vocational, spiritual, and family experiences have shaped her vision and passion for faithful stewardship ministry that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of Christ’s church and the common call to all disciples to the sacred practice of stewardship. She enjoys connecting, inspiring, and equipping Christian steward leaders to transform church communities.

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.

Image credits: pixabay.com

Reconsidering consumerism

By John Withum

It was Christmas Eve 2014, and I was in panic mode.

vrcvr4qdFor a few years, my wife and I set Christmas budgets on what we could spend for each other. We left a little wiggle room, but always tried to stick to it. I had spent my budget, but the pile of presents under the tree seemed unimpressive. She was having a rough year at work, and I felt guilty that I had not put more effort into selecting her gifts. And that explains how I ended up spending almost $100 on last minute gifts at Target.

What in the world caused me to attempt to satisfy an emotional response with inanimate objects? Searching for the answer led me to re-examine the messages consumer capitalism has sold me about my self-worth, particularly around the winter seasonal celebrations.

Beginning almost immediately after the front doors have closed on the last trick-or-treaters, retailers roll out deals and decorations for the variety of celebrations between November 1 and December 26. Interestingly, very few of these sales focus on Thanksgiving, and most of them skip straight to the end of December. Why? No one gives Thanksgiving presents.

Consumer capitalism, at least the variety found in the United States, utilises every opportunity it can to earn money on the emotional response to various holidays and special days in cultures. As winter celebrations have continued to evolve in the U.S., consumer capitalism has ensured it has a hand in shaping public formation around two traditions: traditional winter cultural celebrations and the actual Christian holiday of Christmas.

Where did most of what we know as the “holiday season” in the United States originate? The long, dark winters of northern Europe is as good of a place as any to start. Think yule santa-claus-1628845_1280logs, wassail, the various iterations of “Santa Claus” (such as Sinterklaas from the Netherlands, Father Christmas from England, Kris Kringle from Germany), trees, and stockings. There are many, many more to be mentioned, but hopefully this is enough to make the point. It is easy for capitalism to co-opt these winter celebrations because, being cultural, they have developed over long periods of time. They can be further exploited by retail marketing, advertising executives, and businesses who are interested in cashing in on good feelings. Most of these traditions being exploited are from northern Europe, where the lack of daylight in winter months has encouraged celebrations revolving around community, light, warmth, and rebellion against the darkness.

What is surprising is how easily marketers have drawn in classic Christian celebrations of Christmas. The whole message of Christmas, in the words of Christian author Scot christmas-1010749_1280McKnight, is “about a God who entered into the world in a socially shamed family in order to lift the socially shamed to the highest name ever.” It is about Israel’s true king being born into a feed trough while the false king of Israel murdered children. Christmas, situated at the end of Advent, must deal with looking back on the moment when our help in this world arrived and looking forward to the day when justice and righteousness reigns in fullness through Jesus’ return to Earth.

There is a long history—dating back to the late 300s—of Christmas being used to lure followers of Jesus away from the sort of northern European pagan celebrations mentioned earlier. It seems, sadly, that Christmas has a bad reputation for being compromised. For whatever reasons, Christians have constantly been willing to trade the deep, world-shaking message of Christ’s arrival for a more comfortable place in society. It is not insignificant to consider the trade-off of message for comfort began after Constantine imposed the will of the Roman empire on the church by declaring Christianity the official religion in 317 C.E.

And here we are today. We are still trading comfort for our witness in the world. We would still rather tell our children about Santa Claus than have them be outcasts. We continue to drain our wallets and pile up debt in the name of hoping our loved ones feel our love in the weight of the possessions in their hands. We want to go with the flow of society, except on Sunday when it’s time to proclaim and sing the Scriptures of old about the arrival of our Saviour. Jesus Christ, Son of God, forgive us.

fireplace-croppedConsumer capitalism helps all of us to feel better about all of this by appealing to the same sensitivities that gave birth to the aforementioned winter traditions. The sunlight grows short, the darkness grows long, the cold creeps in—so bring us light displays and fireplaces. The change in the season often brings loneliness—so tell us it is time for families and parties at your local chain restaurant. We become thankful for all the people who help us get through the tough seasons of life—so thank them with lots of gifts, purchased online or at your local retailer.

But what if we flipped the script on consumer capitalism and collusion with old pagan traditions? When we realise God is not far from us (Acts 17), we see there could be one thing the winter celebrations have to offer: the focus on light.

Read John 1. Read Isaiah 9. The arrival of Jesus Christ is a light in the darkness. These old winter celebrations are awake to a reality that darkness is difficult to live with, and light is necessary for survival; what they miss is how the light truly arrives and is manifested. God sent his light in the world to illuminate the darkness, and has called followers of Jesus out of the darkness to be witnesses to this light.

When we are confronting the darkness as followers of Jesus the Light, we must be careful not to fall prey to the traditional consumer capitalistic agendas for our world. Splashing the cash on a bunch of gifts is not going to bear witness to the Good News of God being born to rescue the world. There must be a difference between the way we behave towards Christmas—a Christian holy day—and whatever this watered down, consumer capital nonsense is. It begins by asking ourselves what is actually redemptive, especially in the face of what the rest of culture tells us.

Most of us, at this time of year, have calendars full of events and activities. What if we reconsidered which of those were actually important? Colossians 4:5 (NLT) tells us to “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity.” Carefully consider what is occupying so much of your precious time. Which social events will be enhanced by your presence and allow you to spread the light? Which events are merely obligations and only require you to “make an appearance”? Your presence and absence is a message to others, and we are poor stewards of our time if we say yes to every gathering.

If our time matters, then it makes little sense to spend our time in stores (or online shopping!) when that time could be used to remind your starbanner-boxloved ones, children, etc. that they are actually a priority in your life. Use the opportunity to rest and recharge (which is absolutely a biblical response to free time) or to find a way to increase the light of Jesus in your neighbourhood, community, or family. Again, if how we spend our time makes a statement, it will make a statement to our families if we are spending time with them rather than being elsewhere.

What about the thorny business of gift-giving? We can fairly thoroughly dismantle lots of the persuasions of consumer capitalism, but since childhood, we have been taught to expect we will give and receive gifts at this time of the year. Our desire to please our loved ones is not intrinsically bad; our desire to quantify our love with possessions is. We have a choice of whether to buy presents for a few people who we truly love and care about, or a lot of people we feel obligated to give a gift to. When we pare down the list, we can reduce the time and potential financial damage due to guilt, and we can increase how much the gift means to us. My uncle regularly travels throughout the country, and takes beautiful pictures everywhere he goes. One year for Christmas, he combined some of his photographs with my mother’s favourite hymn out of an ornate older hymnal and presented it to her in a beautiful frame. It was very thoughtful, and it hangs on her wall to this day.

This is also an excellent time to teach our children new expectations when it comes to gifts. I grew up making lists of desired toys from adverts in the newspaper, then eagerly storming the living room on Christmas morning to see the piles of presents I expected. No matter what the haul was, I always felt empty by Christmas evening. The presents were opened, the meals were eaten, and there was no longer anything to look forward to. If we teach our children early about the good news of Christmas, and tell them in their terms about our priorities for Christmas, we create an opportunity to form their lives around the Gospel rather than consumer capitalistic desires. Consider the “Want, Need, Wear, Read” approach. It involves buying one thing your child wants, one thing she is in need of, one thing to wear, and a new book to read. This allows children to see gifts as purposeful, meaningful, and that there is more to Christmas than wrapping paper.

Reconsidering our behaviour towards Christmas is not nearly as tidy as tweaking a few shopping habits or taking back our calendars. These long-held consumeristic patterns are tied up with our emotions and, often times, can mingle with our fears of hurting someone’s feelings or disappointing our children if we change these ways. To be sure, toes will be stepped on and boundaries must be created and enforced.northern-lights-984120_1280

Since the fateful trip to Target two years ago, my wife and I have slowly taken back Christmas’s meaning in our lives. We started a Christmas morning pancake breakfast and service at our church for anyone who needs a warm, bright, inviting place to be. We have tamed the number of people we buy gifts for, and focus on gifts that involve spending time with the ones we love. And this year, rather than giving each other gifts, we are scratching an item off our bucket list and going to Minnesota to see the northern lights.

Reclaiming Christmas is hardly easy, but it is worth it.

About the author

Processed with VSCOcam with kk1 presetJohn Withum is the associate pastor of the First Baptist Church of Aurora, Illinois. He also serves as the recess supervisor at a local elementary school. He has an MDiv from Northern Seminary of Lombard, Illinois and a BA in Journalism from Marshall University of Huntington, West Virginia. He and his wife, Katie, live in Northern Illinois with their dog, Bacon.

Image credits: pixabay.com