What Really Matters

By Rev. Morgan Dixon

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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

Abide with Me

By Daniel Hazel

The Christmas season is, to borrow the cliché, the most wonderful time of the year. It is filled with opportunities for families to reunite. It is a chance to break out of the drudgery of our everyday routine. The Advent season is a time when we are reminded of hope, joy, peace, and love, and that Christ is Emmanuel—God with us.

christmas-2919725_1280Christmas can also be difficult. It can be hard to feel welcome to express anything other than joy and happiness. Whether due to financial troubles, the death of a loved one (recent or long past), or something else entirely, the holidays can be discouraging and challenging. It can be hard to feel like Christ is with us.

I write this in the midst of the death of my grandmother. During this time, it is hard to find language for grief. It’s Christmas time, and Christ’s birth is on everyone’s mind, but the pain is real. However, the hymn “Abide with Me,” written by Henry Francis Lyte in 1847, provides helpful words. I love this sobering hymn with deep passages. It is a beautiful poem and has a wonderful tune. It was actually written and revised at the threshold of Lyte’s death. While this hymn is most often used in the church calendar around Lent or Pentecost, I believe it also has a place during Advent and Christmas time. It invites the worshiper to express hurt.

(The Brigham Young University’s men choir preformance of Abide with Me is a beautiful arrangement which allows for meditating on the lyrics and allows the listener to freely contemplate.)

“Abide with Me”

Verse 1
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens Lord, with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

Verse 2
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Verse 3
I need your presence every passing hour
What but your grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like yourself my guide and strength can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

Verse 4
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness
Where is death’s sting?
Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Verse 5
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies
Haven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee
In life, in death, o Lord, abide with me.

Lyte writes for an occasion like a family’s first gathering after hardship. It has given candle-2905395_1280language for grief as my family works through the death of my grandmother, and speaks to anyone who has painful memories or difficult situations arise during the holidays. No matter what is happening for you this Christmas, Lyte’s words can speak to you.

Take, for example, “Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou, who changest not, abide with me!” It is a line that is entirely destitute. There have been many times in my life when I realized that everything was different. The passing of my grandmother has certainly been one of them. It has affected everyone in the family, it has changed family dynamics, and it can be a hard reality to grasp, but a reality we have to come to terms with eventually.

The words, “The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide!” is a cry for help amongst grief and pain. It is a cry to feel the presence of God. Even if you aren’t dealing with having financial struggles, hurt among family, or a family member’s death, the holidays and Christmas is a busy time, and it can be hard to know and feel the presence of God. The hymn is a constant prayer for the Divine to be near and stand beside us.

What seems most important is how the hymn centers the singer with the Divine, and gives an assurance of faith. At the end of verse 3, Lyte writes, “Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.” Even though we are surrounded by death, heartbreak, and sorrow, we have assurance through Christ, our Lord. Through darkness, tears, and hardship, Christ stays the same. Through light, joy, and good times, Christ abides with us.

About the Author

Daniel_Hazel_photoDaniel Hazel is the Worship and Creative Pastor at First Christian Church in Aurora, Ill., where he lives with his wife, Emma, and their cat, Maisy. They enjoy reading together and escaping the city by taking day trips to hike and explore. To see too many pictures of their cat, you can find Daniel on Instagram at daniel.hazel and on Twitter at _daniel_hazel_

Image credits: pixabay.com

O Day Full of Grace

By Timothy Siburg

tower chapel PLU o day full of grace

I grew up in the choir loft of a Lutheran congregation in the Seattle area, where my mom served as music minister and choir director. I am also the descendant of generations of Scandinavian Lutherans.

One thing Lutherans historically have loved to do, is to sing hymns with four-part harmonies. One of my favorites, is “O Day Full of Grace.” Whether it was singing it in worship and knowing of its rich words, or singing it in choir in college in the moving arrangement by composer and arranger F. Melius Christiansen, the song always gets me.

There have been at least 8 different verses written for it. I will only include five of them. But the poetry speaks to- God’s work for us, God’s love and promises given for us; and the response of joy, hope, and praise because of what God has done and has continued to do. It’s a hymn that really gives my understanding of theology and stewardship a melody.

For example, “How blest was that gracious midnight hour, when God in our flesh was given…” God did all the work for us. Our joy is sharing that gift, and living in response to it through our stewardship.

O day full of grace that now we see appearing on earth’s horizon,

bring light from our God that we may be abundant in joy this season.

God, shine for us now in this dark place; your name on our hearts emblazon.

How blest was that gracious midnight hour, when God in our flesh was given;

then brightened the dawn with light and power that spread o’er the darkened heaven;

then rose o’er the world that Sun divine, which gloom from our hearts has driven.

Yea, were every tree endowed with speech, and were every leaflet singing,

they never with praise God’s worth could reach, though earth with their praise were ringing.

Who fully could praise the Light of life who light to our souls is bringing?

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As birds in the morning sing their praise, 
God’s fatherly love we cherish,

for giving to us this day of grace, for life that shall never perish.

The church God has kept two thousand years, and hungering souls did nourish.

When we on that final journey go that Christ is for us preparing,

we’ll gather in song, our hearts aglow, all joy of the heavens sharing,

and there we will join God’s endless praise, with angels and saints adoring.

This hymn gained a new meaning for me ten years ago, when my maternal grandfather, a retired pastor passed away near midnight, the night before Thanksgiving (in the United States). We sang this hymn, a favorite of his, the day of his funeral. And since then, as both of my grandfathers passed away in November shortly before Thanksgiving, this hymn has always been a comfort, and a reminder that my Grandpas are with the other saints, joining in God’s endless praise.

As you celebrate this holiday season, whether it be Thanksgiving this week in the United States, or Advent and Christmas to come in the month ahead, I pray that you take the time to see what God might be up to. My hope is that as you celebrate and give thanks, you remember that which God has done for you and promises to do, like the words of this hymn remind me.

About the Author

timothy headshotTimothy Siburg is the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a Deacon in the ELCA, and is a member of the COMPASS Steering Committee. His wife Allison serves as an ELCA pastor, and together with their cat Buddy, they reside in the greater Omaha area. Timothy attended college at Pacific Lutheran University, and graduate school at the Claremont Graduate University and Luther Seminary. Timothy can also be found on TwitterFacebook, and on his blog.

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: Timothy Siburg, pixabay.com

Taking Something on for Lent

By Timothy Siburg

sanctuary1-copyThis month on the COMPASS blog, we have been thinking about giving something instead of necessarily giving up something for Lent. As we are about half way through Lent now, I can say that I haven’t necessarily given anything more for Lent, but I have somewhat taken something on for Lent.

Getting to know “The Big Red” State

In my work and ministry, I have the privilege of getting to meet people across the state of Nebraska, my new home as of last fall. (I am not a native of Nebraska. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and spent a few years for seminary and work in Minnesota.) Traveling across Nebraska has allowed me the chance to get to know many new people, new places, new congregations, new perspectives, and in some ways, new cultures too.

This Lenten season I have been traveling quite a bit to meet with different congregations of all shapes and sizes. The one thing I have noticed myself doing even more though, is making room for conversation and especially making room for myself to listen. Listening to one another is a critical part of relationship, service, ministry, and leadership. And as I look at the larger communities and country I live in, it is something I believe is sorely needed.

With that in mind, I guess I have unintentionally taken something on for Lent– more deep intentional listening.

Our Lenten Journey

During this Lenten season, we journey to and through the cross. We return more intentionally in our worship to reflect on the insanity of such a pure gift of life for us, a gift that we can do nothing to earn. We are also confronted by our human frailty on Ash Wednesday, and again when we face death directly on Good Friday. During this season, no matter what separates us, we are each confronted by the realities of life and death which are true for every person.

Meeting a congregation-copy

Meeting a congregation

Every person faces questions of life and purpose. Every person needs to face their own mortality. Most people hope and dream that they can do something positive for their families, loved ones, friends, and communities, and leave a legacy.

I have been reminded of all of this so far this Lenten season by meeting with people across the state of Nebraska. By listening to them, by hearing their stories, I have seen their stewardship at work, but also heard how they are wrestling with their faith in their daily life. It’s a holy thing, this act of listening, sharing, and wrestling.

Some Faith and Stewardship Questions and Wrestling

It takes a level of trust and vulnerability though. Which, not to get too theological here, is probably only made possible because we believe in a God who is and was vulnerable for us, by coming into the world as one of us, growing and living, and then dying and of course being resurrected and ascended. To be willing to be human (both human and divine), our God took on our vulnerability to know us, and to know the good, bad, and ugly of life more fully.

A Nebraska sunset-copy

A Nebraska sunset

This Lenten season, we remember this. I am remembering this every day, when I hear stories of joy, but also of sorrow; when I hear stories of how people are stewarding that which God has entrusted to them; when I hear questions of “why,” or “what does this mean?”; when I can wonder with people about what God might be up to?

I don’t pretend to have any answers. But at least during this Lenten season, I am sitting, walking, and meeting my new neighbors across this state, listening, and hoping to grow in my understanding.

What are you giving as part of your Lenten journey?
Or, like me, what are you taking on?

About the Author

timothy headshotTimothy Siburg is the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a Deacon in the ELCA, and is a member of the COMPASS Steering Committee. His wife Allison serves as an ELCA pastor, and together with their cat Buddy, they reside in the greater Omaha area. Timothy attended college at Pacific Lutheran University, and graduate school at the Claremont Graduate University and Luther Seminary. Timothy can also be found on TwitterFacebook, and on his blog.

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: Timothy Siburg

Returning to “Why,” in Hopes of Getting Off the Consumer Escalator

By Timothy Siburgwhy-1432955_1280-red

Over the past three weeks we have pondered about the ups, downs, and challenges of riding and being on the consumer escalator. We have recounted many reasons why we might want to rethink our spending and the way we steward our time and resources around Christmas and Thanksgiving. In the previous November posts, Marcia, Matt, and John have done a beautiful job of offering alternatives and insight into positive ways to reconsider consumerism.

This week, I want us to dig into the question of “why?” What really matters this time of the year, and how might focusing on that question make for a more faithful response and richer holiday experience?

For a Christian, the why can be found in the heart of the Christmas gospel in Luke 2:1-20, often read every Christmas Eve. Within that rich text, we hear the proclamation from the angel of the Lord,

 nativity-scene-1807602_1280-crop“Do not be afraid, for see- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
– Luke 2:10-11, NRSV

 It might sound trite to say that this is the “reason for the season.” And I am not exactly trying to say that. But if we remember that this is at the heart of the celebrations, festivities, food, fellowship, and all of the gift giving this time of year; if we remember that it is the fulfillment of the promises of the prophets which guide our journey through the season of Advent to the manger; we might just have a chance to get off the consumer escalator.

I am one who loves to give gifts. My wife Allison and I see that as one of our love languages. We also love to say thank you, which is why Thanksgiving is one of our favorite holidays. But at the heart of our gift giving, joy, and gratitude, is a knowledge that we give gifts because it is one of our joyful responses to the pure gifts and good news of God who we know through Christ Jesus.

We don’t give gifts because we want to earn something in return. We give without the expectation of return. We give, because we can’t help but feel so overjoyed with the good news of a God who comes near, becomes incarnate, walks with us, is given for us, and loves us. In our joy, we can’t help but want to share our joy through the sharing of our stories, time, the giving of gifts, living fully in God’s abundance and love.

envelop-576252_1280 Of course, Allison and I don’t give without a plan. We always sit down and make our Christmas budget each year prior to Thanksgiving. We include plans for our annual Christmas letter and the costs associated with printing and mailing it, as well as our hopes for what we are willing to give to family and friends, our congregation, and other needs, nonprofits, and ministries we feel connected to and passionate about.

So, why do you give? Why do you do what you do this time of year- spending, wrapping, cooking, eating, decorating, gathering with friends, families, and colleagues? What part of the promises of God and the Christmas story motivate you and lead you into the way that you spend your days and evenings this time of year?

However you may answer these questions, I hope and pray that you have a meaningful journey to the manger, and are so caught up in the promises of the good news, that you can’t help but want to share it. And for those of you who feel like you are stuck on the consumer escalator, I hope that by thinking deeply about the “why,” you might feel comfortable and confident in your ability to get off it.

About the Author

timothy headshotTimothy Siburg is the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a Deacon in the ELCA, and is a member of the COMPASS Steering Committee. His wife Allison serves as an ELCA pastor, and together with their cat Buddy, they reside in the greater Omaha area. Timothy can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and on his blog.

Image credits: pixabay.com

Finding Your Enough: A Personal Reflection

By Timothy Siburg

Two and a half months ago my wife Allison and I packed up all of our worldly belongings- our countless boxes of books, dressers full of clothes, and our entire winter wear wardrobe. With the help of our family, we loaded all of it, except for one car load’s worth, in a moving container, and then watched as it was driven out of sight in early mid-August.

Now we’re in Nebraska. We know where we will be living, but can’t quite move in yet. We are excited to dive deeply into our roles and callings. And even though we don’t have our own home right now, we have been graciously welcomed by the local Lutheran camp, and two great friends who have been hosting and housing us.

small-wooden-house-906912_1920This past month, as we have lived without our own space in Nebraska, has been an “in-between time of sorts.” Or, perhaps as one of my favorite pastors likes to say, a wilderness time. It’s been a beautiful time to reflect, live simply, and be in community with those hosting us.

The other day, Allison leaned over and asked, “do you miss our stuff?” I said, “sort of,” and then proceeded to ask her the same question. Allison said, “nope. It’s been great.” Perhaps one day we’ll be a “Tiny House” family yet? Though we’ll definitely have to downsize our library of books.

This experience has been one where we have had to make do with less. And you know what, strangely, we have. And it hasn’t been bad at all. It’s been a chance for me to think about what indeed is my enough.

What does your enough look like?postergen-chalkboard-generator-i-have-enough-and-i-am-enough

Besides a sense of having enough stuff, there is the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual sense of being enough. Allison likes to remind me of the work of author Brene Brown.

Among many of the great quotes Brene Brown has shared, she has said that, “We are living in scarcity. If we want change, choose gratitude and joy over scarcity.”

For me, this means deeply knowing and being reminded that I have enough and I am enough.

Feeling called, loved, and affirmed, and helping others feel the same, that’s enough for me. Being able to help others grow and be better at what they do, that fulfills me. And knowing that God is with me, and being open to whatever that relationship and call looks like, is more than enough and opens up doors to experiences like the one I am having now in this in-between time of life, with more than enough.

About the author
timothy headshot
Timothy Siburg is the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and is a member of the COMPASS Steering Committee. His wife Allison has been called to be an ELCA pastor, and the two of them reside in the greater Omaha area. Timothy can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and on his blog.

Image credits: pixabay.com, postergen.com/chalkboard-generator

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.