The Gift of Receiving

Grace Pomroy, who led a Stewardship workshop in our Presbytery a few years ago, recently shared some thoughts she has had about giving gifts and presented some challenging ideas about what often happens to us in our gift giving. She also caused me to consider how I respond when I am given a gift. I hope you will see a little of yourself in her thoughts as I did…

“I don’t know about you, but I’m way more comfortable giving than I am receiving. I enjoy the whole process from start to finish—thinking of gift ideas, creating or purchasing the gifts, and seeing the joy on the recipient’s face. I also enjoy giving money to my favorite causes—researching the organizations, challenging myself to give just a little more than I might be comfortable with, and seeing how this money makes an impact for those in need. No doubt, giving is good for the soul.

At times, though, I’ve seen my giving slide from being more about the other person to being more about me. That sinner/saint duality churning deep within me comes bubbling up to the surface. I’ve seen it in the way I focus more on the reaction of the person than the act of giving. I’ve felt it as I’ve taken pride in being able to give to others freely with no expectation or want of return. I’ve sensed it as I’ve longed for recognition of my generous giving. It’s easy for my giving to become all about me.

As stewardship leaders, we love inviting people to give and to join in the giving ourselves. We live for those moments when the lightbulb blinks on and someone begins to understand the life-changing power of generosity. Yet, all this giving has no meaning if we forget why we are doing it in the first place. As people of faith, we are called to give, and give generously, not because we are rich, not because we have our lives together, not because we are better than other people, not because we enjoy it, but because of what God has done for us. We give as a response to the multitude of ways that God has come down to us in love. We give to live out God’s call to use all that God has entrusted to our care to love God and our neighbor. We give because we are stewards.

That’s why I think it’s just as important that we teach people not only how to be faithful givers, but also how to be faithful receivers. One of my favorite stewardship texts is Luke chapter 10—both Jesus’ dialogue with the lawyer and his parable of the Good Samaritan. For years, I read this text hearing God inviting and challenging me to live up to the example of the Good Samaritan. Someone who shows up giving everything he has to this man who was his cultural enemy. He offers his time, his possessions, his skills, his empathy, his money, his strength, and so much more. What a paragon of stewardship!

Yet, in the last few years, I’ve started to read this text differently. Maybe God is calling us, not to see ourselves in the place of the Samaritan, but in the place of the man beaten and left for dead by the side of the road? The one who has no choice but to accept God’s love and grace in action through the hands of a person he would least expect or want to help him. The one who has no choice but to be a receiver. For it is only in the act of receiving that we learn what it means to be a faithful giver.

Dr. David Lose says, ‘We are invited to be a community that is bound together by our shared need, by an awareness of our common vulnerability, by a sense that God has worked through so many people to care for us, wants still to meet our needs through others (and sometimes through those we would least expect or want to help us), and also invites us to look around and care for those similarly in need. Might we see ourselves, that is, as those who, having recognized ourselves as the traveler left for dead in a ditch by the road, can now arise to reach out to others in need?’

It’s a narrative of death and resurrection played out through the cycle of receiving and giving. As we continue to receive God’s boundless and unmerited love and grace, we can more eagerly give to our neighbors out of joyful response to what God has done for us. I continue to go back again and again to those times I played the role of the receiver. I recall the big moments, like the encouragement and generosity I received from friends, family, and co-workers after my husband was injured in a car accident a few years ago. The countless people who bought us groceries, sent my husband “get well soon” cards, picked up the phone when I was at my wit’s end, and patiently listened and helped us get through a dark time. I also think about the more mundane reminders of God’s love and grace: a smile from a stranger, the sunrise on a bleak morning, a call from a loved one just when I needed it.”

I think Grace has captured the essence of this season we are all anxiously drifting through. We have been challenged and called upon to give in new ways to those around us in need as we do what we can to protect them and ourselves. You may find yourself on the receiving end of someone’s generosity, and I invite you to resist the urge to shy away from it. Embrace the love of the giver and offer them the thanksgiving you feel in your heart. Let those moments and those gifts fill your cup to overflowing so that God’s love shines brightly on all!

This Christmas let us focus on all that is bright and beautiful around us because…

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

Merry Christmas! I look forward to what the New Year holds for us in ministry!

Blessings,

Deborah Rexrode
POJ Associate for Stewardship

Wholehearted Stewardship

“Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful in a few things,
I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
(Matthew 25:21)

In the Parable of the Talents, we are reminded that we are called to steward that which God has entrusted into our care. We are called to receive what we have been given, nurture and grow it, share with those in need, and return to God what belongs to God having been faithful stewards of many things.

Stay Focused on God

“They who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.”
(Isaiah 40:31)

In a recent blog, Olanda Carr, Senior Ministry Relations Officer for the Presbyterian Foundation, writes that over the past few weeks, he has been drawn to this passage of scripture…perhaps because all we have been doing for weeks and months is waiting…

Grateful: Finding Hope in Every Day

Grateful: Finding Hope in Every Day

 “For surely, I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,
plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
(Jeremiah 29:11)

Diana Butler Bass’s most recent book is entitled, “Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks.” We know that gratitude is good, but many of us find it hard to sustain a meaningful life of gratefulness. Most of us report feeling gratitude on a regular basis, but those private feelings seem disconnected from larger concerns of our public lives.

Planning a Fall Stewardship Program

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.”  Isaiah 40:31a

This fall presents a lot of challenges as to how we do ministry during a pandemic. It also causes us to wonder how our fall Stewardship efforts will be received. The reason is that while we say we are in this together, we are not all experiencing the pandemic the same. Some churches are struggling more than ever financially, while others find that giving has increased and finances are fine.

The Stewardship of White Privilege

One of my favorite definitions of stewardship, generally attributed to Clarence Stoughton, is “stewardship is everything we do after we say, ‘I believe.’” Stewardship is love in action—it puts feet to our faith.

What does that really look like? It’s easy for those of us who are white to join the crowd in professing “Black Lives Matter,” make a donation, and return to business as usual without doing the learning, listening, and soul searching required to join the movement for lasting systemic change.

Stewardship in a Liminal Time

Recently I have heard the word “liminal” used many times to describe this season we are experiencing in the life of our churches. The word liminal comes from the Latin word limens, which means “limit or threshold.” Author and theologian Richard Rohr defines liminal time in this way:

“It is when you have left, or are about to leave, the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.”

Faithful Stewards

Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.
I Peter 4:10

So much has happened in the past month, and our calendars and lists of activities have completely changed. We have replaced daily and weekly meetings at the church to Zoom meetings and conference calls. Worship has gone from weekly gatherings to video or recorded events. Sessions are meeting virtually. Everything looks a bit different than it usually does this time of year.