God’s Managers – Balancing Finances in a Changing World

The new normal - money isn't what it used to be

The new normal - money isn't what it used to be so be generous

Life will never be the same.  We are not going back to the economy as it was.  There is a new normal in town and it isn’t just a radio network.  Some are predicting an economy beyond jobs.  Others feel that the vacuum left by the upheavals of the last few years are fertile ground for new innovative and more sustainable approaches to life, jobs and even faith.  One thing I am sure of as the New Normal radio network put it: the new normal has no choice but to be different.

So how do we steward our finances in this insecure time with the kingdom of God in mind?  I could not help but think about this as I work on strategic plans, budgets and fundraising letters this week. Also it is that time of year when many are thinking about end of year financial gifts.  Everyone is conducting their annual pledge drives and suddenly sermons on stewardship abound and are overwhelmed by the need and the number of requests.

Ironically the best resource I have found for this was given to me 35 years ago in a very different economy, where most people felt they could spend lavishly without worry.  It was also the time when I lived on minimal support on board the mercy ship Anastasis.  A small bowl of Greek yoghurt was seen as an extravagant luxury, yet I have never seen such generosity and shared caring amongst a community.

The resource I was introduced to at that time is called God’s Managers by Ray and Lillian Bair.  It’s principles are still the ones I use today, and it is still available today as a resource.  What I most appreciate about their budget advice is the two concepts they use for charitable giving – Firstfruits and overflow.

Firstfruits is the commitment of the first portion of our income to God.  They suggest starting at 10% though they realize that for some this may be impossible.  But they offer a further challenge to all of us: for most of us, we are convinced that good money management and a deep desire to become more like Jesus will cause that percentage to grow from 10% to larger portions.  

Overflow: The second form of giving they recommend is called overflow.  It comes not from our budgeted tithing or firstfruits commitments but from deliberate cutting back in other areas of our budget so that we can be generous to others.  For example – maybe you budget $5/ per person per day for food.  If at the end of the month you realize that you have only spent $4/ day then there is $30 for each person in your family that you can now give generously to others.  We practice a version of this each year as we commit to restrict our food budget to $2/person/day for a week.

Other forms of overflow occur when we receive unexpected gifts or income that moves us beyond our budget – an end of year bonus, an unexpected raise in pay, a family legacy can all provide fresh opportunities for us to be generous beyond our normal firstfruits commitments.  The authors comment Overflow… is the thrill and satisfaction of giving resulting from decisions about our way of life.  Overflow provides a direct line between giving up something or changing our style of living and the giving of the gift to where it is needed.  

I am more and more convinced that God’s view of economics revolves around sharing and caring, praying for our DAILY bread and trusting that God who loves and cares for us with a depth of love we cannot even imagine will indeed provide – enough for our own needs and an abundance for every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8)  Being different means being generous in a time when everyone else is cutting back.  Being different means caring for those who have lost jobs and livelihoods.  It means seeing what we have in our hands as provision for God’s kingdom purposes not for our own.  And being different means that we wait expectantly for God to provide in unexpected and sometimes miraculous ways.

how have you seen God provide in the midst of hard economic times.  Where have you encountered the unexpected generosity of God and been able to share it with others?  We need your stories to strengthen our faith and enable us to move forward into the new world of sharing and caring that God is creating .

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Is God Really A Generous God?

The generosity of God lavish in every way

The generosity of God lavish in every way

This morning I was meditating on two gospel passages.  The first is the parable of the landowner who hired workers, some early in the morning, some at lunch time and some late in the afternoon.  (Matthew 20: 1-16)  The second was the gospel reading for the day from the Book of Common Prayer – Matthew 6:25 – 34 which starts with the admonish “I tell you not to worry about everyday life – whether you have enough food and drink…  It ends ” Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously and he will give you everything you need.”

This is a scripture that many of us struggle with, particularly in challenging financial times like this when many are seeing their savings and their sense of security stripped away.  Does God really provide we wonder?  Is God really a generous God?  These are hard questions to answer and there are no simple answers either.  But I think that the first of these scriptures highlights part of the problem.  We like to be in control of the generosity of God and we are not always impressed with the generosity of God when it is given to someone else.  We are even less impressed if that person is someone we think is undeserving.

Most of us do not understand God’s principles of economics which I think are best summed up in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 “the one who plants generously will get a generous crop…. And God will generously provide all you need.  Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others…. he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you….

Generosity is at the heart of who God is and who God wants us to be.  We look at what we hold in our hands and don’t think we have enough for ourselves let alone enough to share generously.  So how do we recognize the generosity of God?  here are some principles that I try to live by which I will try to expand on in the next week.

  1. Budget wisely and always spend within your budget.  I find that when I have no budget I often spend far more than I intend on items that do not really matter. (more on this tomorrow).  A corollary to this is only ever shop with a shopping list in your hand and don’t buy items that are not on your list.  It is usually those unexpected purchases that push us over the edge.
  2. Live simply and be frugal in evaluating your own needs so that you can give to others even when you feel strapped financially.
  3. Trust God for your daily bread and act with generosity at the center of your life.  Sometimes we do not see the generosity of God because we take on ourselves the responsibility of provision and in the process we don’t leave room for God.  Tom and I have always given at least 10% of our income away.  We have shared our home, our hospitality and now a growing amount of produce from the garden and we have discovered that the more generous we are, the more generosity God seems to lavish on us.
  4. Look for and celebrate where God has poured out generosity, not just on you but on others as well.  A couple of weeks ago good friends of mine Jack and Cherie Minton who head up Hope Force International  found out that they were the Grand Prize winner of American Airlines “Flights.Camera.Action” contest  Hope Force International, from Brentwood, Tenn., was awarded more than 100,000 Business ExtrAA points – enough for 50 domestic round-trip tickets. The winner will be featured on American Airlines inflight television, a full-page ad in one issue of American Way magazine, banners on AA.com, and more. This is a time to rejoice and see in this event the lavish generosity of God.  Part of what I realized was that as I rejoiced with Jack and Cherie, my trust and expectation that God would provide for our needs too, increased.

Prayers for the Journey

Here is my weekly round up of facebook prayers

In this time of budget crisis

Be with all those who face cutbacks

Care for the vulnerable

Provide for the destitute

Fill those who are hungry with good things

___________________________________

God in this time of budget crisis

Be with those who make decisions

Speak through those who are wise

Silence those who are foolish

Help them decide with justice in mind

______________________________________

Praying in the midst of the budget crisis today:

God who offers abundance and plenty where we expect scarcity,

Provide for all those who are hungry and in need of food today.

God who lives amongst us, hear our prayer

______________________________________

Sit still in the presence of God
Look back with gratitude
Look forward with anticipation
trust in the One for whom all things are possible

_________________________________________

God we are like parched ground waiting for the rain to fall

We lift our faces in reverence looking for your touch

We lift our hands in praise with prayers rising from our lips

We lift our hearts in hope, faith rising within us

We are content to wait each day for your refreshment

____________________________________________

God we sit in the contentment of this moment

Knowing it holds all we need to find you

We sit with still hearts and welcome everything it offers

And be at peace, experience freedom, enter your rest

______________________________________________

Good time of brainstorming and listening to God today at our MSA retreat:

Small beginnings, hidden things, mustard seeds,

Planted in a place of darkness

May we seek and water them, nurturing into growth

A tree that the birds of the air come and nest in

_________________________________________________

Mustard Seed Associates staff retreat today & tomorrow. Starting with this prayer:

God we gather in this quiet place

To hear the prayers you have placed in our hearts

We come willing to listen to the silence

Alert and attentive to your voice speaking within us.

______________________________________________________

God help us today to embrace experience and not stuff

To hold onto you and not possessions

To rest in the presence of the living God

And see we need nothing else but you

______________________________________________________

Thinking of those killed in Norway this morning:

God today we mourn with those who mourn

Our hearts ache with those whose loved ones were killed

God have mercy on them

In the midst of despair may they find hope

In the midst of grief may the find your love

__________________________________________

Couldn’t resist this second prayer today:

God of a thousand names, Merciful, compassionate, faithful

God of infinite love, righteous, holy, trustworthy

God who provides in unexpected ways

You are beyond imagining and we praise you

___________________________________________

Budget Crisis/ Prayer Vigil

Budget Cris // Prayer Vigil

Budget Cris // Prayer Vigil

Yesterday I was asked by Holly Hight at Bread for the World to contribute a prayer for their Budget Crisis Prayer Vigil on Twitter and Facebook.  I don’t usually like to get involved in political issues but as I thought about it this morning I realized that it was too important for me not to.  It is also too important to restrict to a single prayer and so I have decided to write several Light for the Journey prayers throughout the day as I pause in my daily work to pray for this very grim situation.

As an Australian who has only recently become an American citizen I struggle with all that is going on.  The political posturing, the seeming indifference of the impact on both the poor and the middle class amazes me.  The lack of respect towards the president and some of the racial overtones to the vitriol that is flying also appalls me.

Do they realize I wonder that this has the potential to plunge not just this country’s economy but the whole global economy into a far worse recession than the one we are just coming out of?   And I can tell you that if that happens it will not be the crazy politicians who refuse to listen to reason that will suffer.  It is the poor and the vulnerable and more and more the middle class as well.   I have already posted 2 prayers this morning and will continue to do so throughout the day.

Bread for the World will live tweet the event using the hashtag #circleofprotection: http://www.twitter.com/bread4theworld So you might like to follow along there.  Here are my 2 prayers so far (which I forgot to add the hashtag to.)  If you like you can also add prayers to this post that I will make sure are reposted on twitter.  Blessings

God in this time of budget crisis
Be with those who make decisions
Speak through those who are wise
Silence those who are foolish
Help them decide with justice in mind

_________________________________________

God who offers abundance and plenty where we expect scarcity,
Provide for all those who are hungry and in need of food today.
God who lives amongst us, hear our prayer

________________________________________________

Local churches launch fresh-food market to change the way we eat

Tom and I are busy getting ready for our workshop Saturday at St Mark’s Cathedral here in Seattle entitled Recession II Ready or Not.  There is still time to sign up if you are interested.

It is encouraging to see what churches are doing to help in this challenging economic times and what better place to find out what is happening than in the local newspaper.  Someone just sent me this article Local Churches Launch fresh-food market to change the way we eat by Roberto Daza which highlights one of those creative possibilities.  What is even more attractive from my perspective is that it is also good for health.

Starting this week, a half dozen local churches are doing more than spreading the word of God. They’re trying to change the way we eat.

They’re using fruits and vegetables, and they have the support of local farmers and businesses to do it. Read the entire article

I also enjoyed reading this article – Cultivating Faith in the Master Gardener by Rev Patricia Hunter which I thought some of you would appreciate.  Right up my alley – gardening an act of faith and a great mystery.

Gardening is a giant act of faith. We prepare the soil, use our compost, plant seeds and then wait. We wait for weeks hoping that insects, grubs, birds and raccoons will not benefit from our labor before we do.

The mystery of seeds turning to fruit and veggies is a great wonder. Sure, we could explain the growth process using scientific details of germination, pollination and photosynthesis, but recognizing there is more to growth than just science is spiritually satisfying. Once we get hooked on eating the fruit of our own hands, gardening becomes a sacred ritual.  read the entire article

And here is another interesting and heartwarming story from Mukilteo

The 7-year-old at Olivia Park Elementary recently was asked to write a paper about his favorite childhood experience.
Grant chose the time he has spent in a new community garden taking shape at this school. A 140-by-180-foot square enclosure of thick weeds, thorny briars and stubborn Scotch broom once dominated the landscape that served as a hideout for illegal drug users.  Read the entire article 

Recession II Ready or Not

Recession II- Ready or Not! 

Join us in creating new ways to reach out to those that will be hammered by the coming wave of state cut backs, the ongoing federal cutbacks and increasing global economic volatility at Saint Mark’s Cathedral, 1245 10th Ave. E. Seattle, 98102

 9:00 to 12:00 Saturday July 23, 2011

Please register now:

Recession II- Ready or Not!

  • We will have church leaders share what they are already doing to reach out to those hammered by the recession
  • We will identify some of the new  impacts of the state cutbacks on the poor and middle class
  • We will brainstorm new ways churches can reach out to those that will be impacted by these cutbacks
  • We will also identify creative new ways to help our people to reduce their own economic vulnerability to increase their availability to their neighbors
  • We will offer a process to track how successfully people implement their new  ideas

After Katrina numbers of churches created disaster response capabilities in conjunction with local governments. Thankfully a number of those churches were ready to respond to the horrific tornadoes and floods as a result of that preparation. We want to enable churches to also prepare for economic crises.

This is the third event we have sponsored to enable churches in our region to prepare for waves of economic distress impacting our neighbors.  In prior sessions people came up with ideas like starting a church “craigslist” posting available vehicles or rooms in their homes.  Saint Margaret’s Episcopal asked attorneys, counselors and spiritual directors to offer their services pro-bono to those in need.  Trinity Lutheran Church in Lynnwood offered classes in financial management and food processing and a number of churches have started community gardens.

This ecumenical event is co-sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of OlympiaThe Washington Association of Churches , The Lutheran Public Policy Office , The Parish Collective and Mustard Seed Associates

Bishop Greg Rickel, from the Diocese of Olympia will welcome participants. Alice Woldt from WAC and Paul Benz from LPPO will describe the specific ways the new state cutbacks will likely impact our neighbors.  Younger church planters from the Parish Collective and leaders from other churches will describe creative ways they are already reaching out to those impacted by the first waves of the recession.  Tom & Christine Sine from Mustard Seed Associates will lead the brainstorming process.

We are counting on you to share ways your congregation is already responding and to imagine new ways we can reach out to those that will be impacted by the new waves of state cutbacks.

Following God in Turbulent Times – Build on the Foundations


I commented yesterday that how to maintain our spiritual foundations is not something that can be encapsulated in a single post.  As I thought more about this I realized that it is in fact too important to confine in that way and so decided to add this post as well.  Much of it is adapted from a previous post I wrote and may seem familiar to many but I make no apologies as I think we cannot be reminded often enough of these important foundations.  The steady stream of natural disasters and economic uncertainties hound our lives and undermine our security.  Economic indicators seem to bring hope one moment and despair the next.  Many of us live on a rather bumpy roller coaster ride with constant fear and trepidation that often reaches panic level.

How can we imagine new ways to respond so that the devastations of our physical world do not undermine our faith or destroy our ability to trust in our loving, caring God whose heart aches for all of us in the midst of our anguish?  How can we respond without allowing compassion fatigue to form walls of indifference between us and those who suffer?  And how can we respond in a way that strengthens our faith and draws us closer to God?

Once again I am reminded of Thomas Merton’s words in Seasons of Celebration, where he talks about how God’s people were called out of the slavery of Egypt and into the desert so that they could be educated into freedom.  It was in the desert, not in the promised land that they learned to strip away the false securities that distracted them from a whole hearted commitment to God.

Trial and struggle teach us what it really means to follow Christ.  It is in the desert and not in the abundance of the promised land that we learn to look beyond ourselves and really grapple with what it means to love God and neighbour as ourselves – the very commands that are at the heart of the gospel.  It is in the wilderness places that we learn to care for each other and become concerned about protecting the weak and vulnerable.  It also in the desert that we confront our own places of vulnerability and discover how God can transform them into new strengths.

Following Christ into tomorrow’s world is a challenging commitment.  It will require us to grow deep roots that anchor our souls and provide stable foundations that withstand the buffeting of wind and storm.  My own spiritual roots have grown deep over the last decade as I have, like many others, delved into ancient spiritual practices that sustained followers of Christ throughout the uncertain and turbulent times of past eras.  The resurgence of interest in ancient practices such as a rule of life, daily offices, and the liturgical calendar are heart warming signs that convince me God is alive and very active in our rapidly changing world.

Developing a rule of life is one valuable practice I engage in that provides a deep stability for my life. It has challenged me to re-imagine what my life could look like in the light of God’s priorities rather than those of the secular culture. It has enabled me to establish a rhythm of prayer that entwines through all of life and has encouraged me to live into God’s new world of wholeness and abundance by developing a balance between work and rest, solitude and community, feasting and fasting.  This has been made possible by my involvement in the Mustard Seed House community where we participate in morning and evening prayers and community meals.

The use of centering prayer is another practice that has strengthened my faith.  This practice begins with a time of silence focusing on the presence of God and reminding us that Christ is the center of all we are and do.  Reciting a short bible verse or phrase like God is love can help block out distractions and quiet our hearts.  In this quiet place meditate on God and are able to pray in response to God’s great love.  As a result of this type of meditation I began writing prayers that often flow out of my attempts to grapple with the challenges of our turbulent world.  Reciting these prayers on a regular basis calms my soul and frees my imagination to develop creative responses to the challenges I face.  It was this practice that initiated the Light for the Journey prayers which I post regularly on facebook.  These I know nurture not only my soul but the souls of many others as well.

More than anything, what has drawn me closer to God in the last few years is the recognition that life is a journey in which every experience entered into and every activity undertaken is an opportunity to both represent and meet Christ.  Looking for God’s love in a mother’s embrace of her child or in the compassionate sharing of resources with the poor is breathtaking way to both unveil and respond to the story of God.

We live in a changing world and I don’t think that the coming years will be any easier than the last few.  However I do believe that it can be a time in which God’s people shine as beacon’s of light encouraging all the world’s people to journey towards a society that reflects something of God’s eternal world of peace, harmony and wholeness, a society in which all the world’s people share abundantly from the riches of God’s storehouse.  A society in which there is mutual care and concern once more as there was at the beginning of God’s creation.