From a Steward's Perspective
Stewardship Resources from Debra Ocepek, Ocepek Pottery Communionware
Our family has had some difficult times during the last couple years, since my husband Adam lost his job. Initially, we had some anxiety about what the future would bring. In the stagnant job market, the prospects of suitable employment didn't look good, and though we have our own business, it hadn't grown to where it could support us. We also had various economic matters to handle, and eventually some health problems, too.
Right from the start of this difficult time, though, I can tell you that I had an overwhelming feeling - a deep and secure knowledge - that everything would be okay. And I knew, absolutely, that that assurance came from God. I didn't know what to expect, or what form that help would take, but I knew we could lean on our faith.
We did all we could to cut back on expenses. We set ourselves on "Frugal Mode" and made a family project out of seeing how little we could spend. And every week, when I wrote the necessary checks, with our income less than half of what it had been, there was always enough. We call this time our loaves and fishes period. We had asked for help; we got it, and we moved on. It's still amazing to me, looking back, though now I am convinced that these acts of grace are around us all the time, but we don't always realize it.
Finally we found a supplemental job and that helped a lot. Then came October and time for the money speeches in church. Our offering had dwindled to what we thought we could spare, and I just wanted to get past the fuss over money. But another amazing thing happened. A friend got up and spoke and indicated that her family tithes. Ten percent of their income goes to the church. I KNOW those people, and they give ten percent.
I knew there was a biblical rule about that and it really was something I had always wished I could do, but it had seemed more theoretical than practical. But somebody I know is really doing it. Then Pastor Steve stood up and said the same thing: his family was going to begin to tithe!
So Adam and our son Steve and I spent some time talking about what we should do. We knew we had been blessed. THAT had already been proven. You tend to want to rationalize things even when reason isn't the most important factor, and we thought: If we can't do this when our ten percent is small, how will we ever do it when it's bigger? So we decided to make a commitment to begin to tithe.
It's been a year and our offering has been up and down, as our income has, but since that time it has always been ten percent. This is one very positive thing that has come out of a rather negative experience in general. And the joy that comes from giving has been a wonderful surprise.
There's no way I can tell you that I think you should tithe. It's not something that anyone can decide for someone else. There are lots of ways to respond to the gifts we have all received, and this is just one that was right for us. I don't know what chllenges lie ahead, but I am convinced that we are going to be all right because we're not alone.
The thing to do, I think, is watch for the opportunity to respond to God's grace and not to miss it when the chance comes along.
- Debra Ocepek
Do you like rummage sales? Why? Chances are, you love a bargain. Rummage sales, garage sales, flea markets, re-sale shops: all are excellent places to practice Christian stewardship.
One of the best reasons to shop at these sales is to support some worthy cause or other. Other excellent reasons have to do with your money. Money is the driving force in any of these ventures, working silently behind the scenes, magically changing its shape and its value all the while. It's how you feel about money that brings you to the event. It's the amount of money in your wallet that controls how much rummage you decide buy. It's the money not spent at the sale which can be put to use in another way. If you can buy something you need, used rather than new, you will have gained a fixed amount of money. As Ben Franklin said, "A penny saved is a penny earned." So, the value of the money in your purse actually changes and grows when used in this way. You might purchase more of some goods because you spent less on others. You might use the profits in some other way.
Here's the stewardship angle: What will you do with the money you saved? By now you may have begun to think of this as your money. A Christian steward knows better. No matter how practiced and efficient you are at saving money by shopping the sales and sock bins and bargain basements, the money you started with and the money you end up with still came from and belong to the same source; the money is God's. He willingly places you in charge of it. He hopes you thank him for it, enjoy it and use it well, and share it freely. The rummage sale idea is terrific and it produces not only savings, and bargains and fun, but also a fellowship based on sharing and re-using and recycling. All good stuff. All good exercises in money awareness and frugality. Keeping in mind the one who engineered the abundance in the first place is good stuff, too.
- Debra Ocepek
The miracle of God's presence in our everyday lives is easy to miss. The daily routine can dull our awareness. We easily see his intervention from afar when we hear, for example, of a surprising recovery from a deadly disease, or of the saving of people trapped in a mine, or of a survivor walking away from a terrible automobile wreck. We understand his undeniable presence when Jesus walked the earth and later when he led the disciples to establish the church. We see him as our aid on the battlefield. We read stories about people who have encountered him in times of sorrow and difficulty. And we try to feel a little closer to him when we gather for worship each Sunday. But we can so easily miss him standing beside us and holding our hand throughout each ordinary day.
Consider this illustration of God's presence and involvement in our lives, (quoted from the Corrie ten Boom website):
"Corrie ten Boom often used the example of a piece of embroidery. We look at the back of the embroidery. The only thing we see is a crisscross of threads, apparently without any connection, messy and far from beautiful. However, God sees the front of the embroidery. He sees a beautiful pattern. He see the piece of art. He knows there is a plan and He knows what He is doing. He wants the best."
No matter how "messy and far from beautiful" our progress may seem while stitching our life's pattern, God can see the whole of it. If we allow him to guide our hand while we make the little stitches, he'll take care of the design and the finished work will be wonderful. If we try to make our own design and keep him out of the process, though, there's no telling what the pattern will look like when we've finished! A fine mess, probably.
It's good to notice the little miracles around us all the time so that we don't miss God's unfaltering presence, ever. We may be doing the stitching, but the threads, the cloth, the talent and the vision are not ours. Little miracles encompass us each day. We have so much to be thankful for! Seeing life and all its beauty as undeserved gifts will shape our response proportionately. How can we help but praise God and respond with gratitude and generosity when we have come to acknowledge his constant presence in our lives? We're creating stunningly beautiful embroidery with his help and his great love.
- Debra Ocepek
Our celebration is appropriate, and we certainly have a lot to be thankful for. We celebrate another year of our life together as a church and the friendships and shared endeavors that have united us. We celebrate the love that God has shown by entrusting this wide-ranging ministry to our care, and the abundance he has given to us from which to sustain it. We celebrate the many aspects of our worship and nurturing presence in this community and in the world. With our pledges of support next Sunday, and the gifts they represent for furthering God's purposes, we do something very important, and very appropriate. We dedicate that day of worship and celebration to the generosity of God.
And we do it together, mindful of Jesus' own words in the Lord's Prayer - our theme for this stewardship season. In studying about the Lord's Prayer recently, I happened upon someone's idea of re-writing the prayer in an attempt to make it more meaningful. The author suggested that it would feel more personal if for the plural pronouns, we would substitute singular ones. So it would be, "My Father . . . " and Give Me this day My daily bread . . . " etc. The opposite point of view is presented in the article for this week, which is in the bulletin. It seems more likely that Jesus meant this to be a shared prayer, and his use of the words, "Us," "Our," and "We" indicates that the Church has a common responsibility, that together as members of Jesus' church we are blessed greatly, and made worthy and able to accomplish his work. That's what this stewardship season, and Dedication Sunday, are all about. Let's share a meal next Sunday after dedicating our gifts, and experience the joy of doing this work in the name of Christ.
- Debra Ocepek
As the prayer that Jesus himself gave to his disciples, the Lord's prayer is very significant, and very precious. It has much to tell us about Christian stewardship, among other things. It may at first seem to consist of a list of unrelated petitions, but it flows into a consistent whole when viewed from the Christian stewardship perspective. Between the introductory praise section and the closing affirmation, there are three simple requests - just three, those being bread (or sustenance), forgiveness, and protection from evil. That does not seem like very much to ask for, as compared with some much more elaborate prayers we have memorized or which we express spontaneously on our own. But understood in terms of stewardship, it may be all we need! Maybe that's what Jesus was trying to make us understand when he gave us this prayer.
Let's look at the first section, (prefaced by, When you pray, say:)
Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
We call God to listen to our prayer. Why does Jesus teach us to begin in this fashion? I think he meant for us to first remind ourselves that we recognize our smallness and God's bigness. Re-affirming this recognition honors God and opens us up to prayer. In other words, we are saying, "You are God. You are holy. We are small like children and we call you Father by the authority of Jesus. As Father, you are the maker, provider and owner of everything. We honor you, and call upon you for guidance."
Imagine how surprised the disciples must have been to be allowed to address God as “Father!" They'd heard Jesus himself call God "Father" but now Jesus was saying that they (we), too, were to have that honor. We didn't know that before. Jesus makes us aware of our amazing closeness to the almighty One who created all things. Imagine! Unbelievable as it may have seemed to those present, we are God's children. Such a precious gift.
In the next sentence, which begins, "Thy kingdom," we find an explicit point regarding stewardship, and the expectation that we are to play a role in asserting God's will on earth. This sentence might be expanded in this way: "We recognize your rule in the world and desire to be a part of your plan. We know this is earth, not heaven, and is imperfect. We give ourselves to you to use in bringing forth your kingdom. We know that Jesus spent his ministry telling us what your kingdom is like, and what you are like. We acknowledge our place as your servants in doing your will."
To do God's will is to follow the teachings Jesus expressed during his visit to earth - teachings which continually address how to be good stewards of our resources and God-given gifts. "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven" encompasses the crucial responsibility entrusted to those of us in Christ's church of learning what that "Will" is, and then acting accordingly. Thankfully, we are blended with Jesus in this undertaking. We are heirs to that task. Jesus works through us! We have been gifted with what we need to undertake the job, and we acknowledge in this prayer that we are partners with Jesus in a mighty endeavor: Thy will be done. The prayer calls us to action on God's behalf; in praying this prayer, we accept the challenge and claim the authority needed to respond.
So, having been given such a big job, and having been lovingly birthed into our Father's service, how will God help us proceed? We'd be quite helpless on our own, but we know God's counting on us. Does it seem an impossible task? Let's look more closely into the prayer Jesus entrusted to his disciples, and to us. The prayer will guide our way.
- Debra Ocepek
If I were assigned to write a basic prayer for all humanity to use from now until the end of time, I could come up with a long list of what we need. Jesus, though, completed that assignment in a different way.
My prayers are very human and clumsy, but the prayer Jesus taught us was very simple and efficient. First, as he instructs, we are to set a tone of worship and reverence, acknowledge the relationship of ourselves to God, and promise our obedience. Then he lists particular requests, just these, of all things: Bread, Forgiveness, Protection from evil. Peculiar choices. The prayer may seem disjointed; on the contrary, taken as a whole, it identifies and consecrates that combination of human blessings and responsibility which is also known as stewardship. Let's take a look at the first and second of these three requests.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Consider this interpretation: "We ask for sustenance. Everything comes from you. You are the only source of all that we have, the giver of life and bread." This petitions for a significant blessing. The term "daily bread" is shorthand for everything that sustains us, indeed, God's abundance. We boldly ask for it. Now, if it turns out that something as basic and easily obtained as bread is a gift, then all else must be too. We ourselves can take credit for nothing. We request that God should provide, and we leave the details to him. This is critical to the concept of good stewardship, which demands our dependence upon God as well as our fair consumption and distribution of the resources he chooses to put into our care.
An interesting point in this prayer is Jesus' use of the words, "Our," "Us," and "We." He's teaching this prayer to the disciples, to all of them as a group. The implication is that we are to pray this together, as church and community. We think of the Church as being established some years later. But here's Jesus, alive, in the midst of his earthly ministry, praying us into being by his very words.
By asking God for bread for "us," Jesus indicates we must include all of humankind, not just ourselves. Our response must be the sharing of God's abundant blessings. We are to trust, says the prayer, that there is enough for all. We are to share to make it real.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
Though we may forget that we even need forgiveness, Jesus reminds us here. It might be stated, "We have been imperfect, human, and wrong. Forgive us as individuals, as cultures, and as the world. Help us remember to forgive others so that we can please you and also receive your forgiveness." Jesus teaches that we must ask forgiveness from God, but we are only allowed to ask it to the extent that we ourselves act with forgiveness towards others. In fact, in the gospel of Matthew, Chap. 6, where the prayer appears, Jesus elaborates on this point only, immediately after reciting the prayer. He says, "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." We might understand our need for bread, but our need for forgiveness and forgiving is just as great. Our behavior toward others is a fundamental stewardship component. Forgiving and sharing go hand in hand.
What an honor to have Jesus' guidance in this way, showing us exactly what we need to ask for and commit to in order to please God and receive his blessings.
- Debra Ocepek
Jesus continues in his instructions on how we should pray,
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Jesus was well acquainted with evil. He had direct experience with it throughout his walk among us. He met the devil himself and overcame him, though he was tempted. So, Jesus knows what he's talking about when he includes this request as one of the three contained in the prayer he entrusted to his disciples.
This phrase might be expressed more fully in this way: "Father, you know the world is full of tempting things. We want more than we need, we don't appreciate what we have or share it generously enough. We keep the first and best fruits for our own use, rather than giving them back to you. We easily fall prey to negative forces, and seldom recognize them for what they are. Guide us and give us wisdom to see the false gods that would make us self-serving. Give us courage to be different from those who do not understand your purposes. Give us strength to stand firm and to let your love show through us." Jesus repeatedly stated this same message through his teachings, trying to make it clear to his disciples that they would face many kinds of evil, but that God was with them through all their troubles.
One difficulty in today's world is in even recognizing evil. Evil can wear such a pleasant disguise. We need God's help in identifying temptations and in fighting them off. In terms of stewardship, this section of the prayer should remind us of the need to give God "first fruits" rather than the leftovers, as evil would prefer us to do. Ordering our consumption of earthly resources in this way helps us to keep things in perspective much more clearly and to respond appropriately. Doing so is an excellent spiritual exercise. In this affluent society, we tend to expect to own and control more possessions than people in other cultures do. The temptations are great, and it's difficult to turn away from those expectations and respond as Jesus instructed. But here in the Lord's Prayer, we find that Jesus gives top priority to this need, along with sustenance and forgiveness.
And then, the best part is last!
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
We don't have to be swept up by evil and temptations. We don't have to lack for bread, or for forgiveness. We are allied with God! This closing phrase affirms, "You are God and you are forever. We are yours. All that is, is yours. We humble ourselves before you, and give ourselves back to you to do your will."
If the kingdom is God's, then everything is God's. There is nothing apart from his kingdom, power and glory. In this closing phrase, we acknowledge again that we are small and he is big. We submit ourselves to God's will and accept our part in his plan. There is no use pretending that we ourselves made ourselves, or are able to provide for ourselves spiritually or literally. All is God's. We submit, we rejoice, and we respond!
The Lord's Prayer has been prayed countless times by countless Christians. It is full of insights into the mind of Jesus and full of enlightened instruction for us today. It specifies the needs for which we should pray, and though they are few, they are full of meaning for the Church. Jesus has given us the all tools, in this prayer, to find our way into God's grace and the fulfillment of his purposes.
- Debra Ocepek
Over the noisy din of the restaurant I heard a familiar complaint coming from a nearby table. "I DON'T WANT MY LIMA BEANS!" a child's voice insisted. Another familiar phrase followed, spoken by the mother. "There are lots of hungry children in China who would be happy to have lima beans. You should just be thankful you have enough to eat." This logic has been passed down among families for many, many years. Its wisdom has been consistently lost on young children from generation to generation for as long as anybody can remember. Nice try, Mom, but we need to make it plainer. It's a subject worth thinnking about.
If I were a child hearing that argument for the first time, I think I'd respond (as many do) with something like, "Well then could you please give my lima beans to the children in China?" In fact, I think I tried that one, and got a "Don't be smart," in response.
The problem here is that we're using a serious issue to get the child to do what we want, but not giving him enough information to learn the lesson behind it. If he can grasp it, the child needs to know that
- many of the people in the world live on less than $1 per day and don't have enough to eat.
- however, God gives the world enough for everyone if those who have much share with those who have little.
- by wasting what has been entrusted to us only on ourselves, there is less available to share.
- we owe God our thanks because it is He who provides us with food, and not we ourselves.
Is the child old enough to absorb all these issues? If not, confronting him with a guilt trip won't teach him anything. If he doesn't get a full explanation, in fact, he may be led to believe that because he has plenty to eat, God must love him more than the starving children. That's certainly not something we want him to presume. I wonder if some of our adult attitudes of self-satisfaction and our justification of self-indulgence might spring from our early responses to these automatic, ingrained practices of child-rearing.
Our children are placed in our care by a God who loves them. We are stewards not only of our money and possessions, but of our children. They learn from everything we do, and deserve our conscientious guidance in little ways every day, so that they will understand the way God entrusts to them the abundance of life and asks them to join him in sharing it. Tell them the truth! They will learn and will follow our example. It's a big responsibility for all of us. With God's nurturing presence to guide us, we can help our children grow into thankful and generous adults.
- Debra Ocepek
I love the conservation talents of depression era and WWII Americans! When the situation demanded it, they learned to be frugal and to share. What I really admire is the way people got into the project and, realizing that everybody was in the same boat, willingly made sacrifices and found joy in making do with less.
Wouldn't it be great if we could do that again, for a much better reason than because we "have to"? Just think, if consuming less, and sharing more became the way we live rather than something someone made us do, we could wipe out hunger in the world. We could make God happy! Jesus would be pleased with the work we'd done after the example he gave us when he was on Earth. And we'd be happier too.
We have the skills and our parents and grandparents have shown us it can be done. Let's make our lives a Victory Garden for Christ!
- Debra Ocepek
It's depressing sometimes, to recognize how gullible and impressionable and easily-manipulated we can be as consumers. Come to think of it, even the term "consumers" is an insult to our intelligence and to our identity. Is that how we want to be known? The thesaurus provides these synonyms for "consume": ingest, squander, deplete, exhaust, finish, burn up, devour, spend. Are we the part of Creation that gulps and devours and swallows up and squanders what is so generously made available to us? Guess so, as consumers. It's our job in the economic system. Whew - what an ugly job. Maybe if we called ourselves something nicer, like "recyclers", we'd be inclined to do a better job of keeping God's world the way he intended it to be.
Shortly after the release of the Mel Gibson movie, believe it or not, I saw a sign on a religious bookstore: PASSION HQ. The layers of insult connected with that particular marketing device are too thick for me to delve into here, but let me say just one thing about it. It strikes me that we, as Christians, must have given a lot of people the completely wrong impression about what we will tolerate. We have led them to believe we are willing to subject even the most precious expression of God's love for us to marketing strategies. Somehow, they think we won't mind the insult and the trivialization of Christ's suffering because we are supposed to know it's just part of the way things are advertised and sold. Christians, too often, are just another brand of "consumer." Is that really our job?
- Debra Ocepek
Whether we describe American consumers as "lucky" or "fortunate" or "blessed," there can be no doubt that the average U. S. citizen is better off economically than the average world citizen. We acknowledge this difference. So, what do we do? In response to that luck or fortune or blessing, we could give thanks, or take it for granted, or perhaps view it as our birthright. Possibly, we could ignore this discrepancy completely, and assume that this is the "default" economic condition. By such a default, we have certain expectations about what our life should be furnished with: a nice place to live, enough clothes to wear, adequate food, a reasonably secure future, entertaining activities and hobbies - fairly basic expectations for most of us.
At the same time, we also must acknowledge that this is not the default financial condition worldwide. For at least 75% of the world's population, it's more likely than not that a permanent home, enough food, several changes of clothes and a hopeful future are not even in the picture, let alone being rounded out by pleasurable pastimes and interests. Isn't this a puzzle? How could a loving God have created such an inequitable world? Doesn't it make you wonder why we have so much, and why they have so little? There must be a reason. Maybe we're living right! Maybe we really are blessed because we are better than them! Not likely. Jesus didn't have a lot of patience with wealthy people when he was on earth. He's tried to tell us the meaning and danger of wealth, but we still struggle to understand.
One way of following Jesus' teachings and beginning a life of good stewardship is to change the default perspective. The first step may be to define wealth. Compared with the rest of the world, we are wealthy. We must attempt to admit that fact and proceed from there. "Okay, that may be true. But I'm supposed to be; I was born into it. I'm an American. So what?" So - the expectations are higher. From those to whom much is given, much will be expected. This means us! This is our clue about how we must respond. We were not given these gifts to waste on ourselves alone, but to share with others so that everyone would have enough. God has shown us over and over again in many ways that he wants us to be givers and sharers, not users and takers. But we have the default expectations that come with the default point of view standing in the way of understanding. Changing our default point of view will enable God to lead us into better stewardship of his world.
- Debra Ocepek
I would not have thought that I could be surprised by what God can do any more. After all, my life has been running on miracles for so long now that I'm accustomed to them. It's been one miracle after another ever since our family's "loaves and fishes" period that carried us through a job loss, and propped us up during the subsequent transitions, into our embracing of tithing, and on into serving God through our vocation. But this summer has proven to be one of surprises nonetheless. Little miracles are all around when you look for them.
Our century-old home is situated on what used to be a large farm. And some remnants of that history are still visible. Stalls in the basement of the barn, and the haylofts, old wooden ladders and curious ancient tools stored inside, remind us that years ago it was an active workplace. The top of an old pump still stands in our front yard. This was a busy place, and the soil was productive. By the time we purchased the land, much of the original tract had been sold off and developed as residential and commercial property. We acquired the remaining four acres, along with the house, barn and garage. The farm was gone, and the land was dormant. The homestead was showing its age. We had plans to develop the pottery business and live in the house, fixing up the property little by little. When Adam became unemployed, that dream had to be discarded. We didn't know if we could even manage to stay, let alone make improvements. "Loaves and fishes" appeared as a surprise, a pure gift from God. He carried us through a period of time during which somehow we were able to pay our bills and not get sunk. It was simply illogical, and amazing. After that, out of thanks, we felt the need to tithe and acted upon it. Some years later, we were led to change the focus of our pottery business to communionware. Blessings just continue to flow. So, life seems to be full of miracles, now that a certain awareness of God's providence has saturated our lives.
The old, old farm had a surprise in store for us this year. Our son Steven had decided he'd like to have a garden, and start teaching his children about how nature works. The land just sits here with nobody using it, and our care of it has not taken the turn toward improvement that we had once hoped, to put it mildly. We do mow much of it, but that's about all that's been done. I was thrilled to hear Steven's plans, though we anticipated that the first year might be somewhat of a disappointment since the soil had not been tended to for many years. Steven indicated that he regarded it as the start of a process, and said he and Tracy would try to get it in shape and just get the garden underway this year. Future years would be better. But, surprise! The soil seemed to remember. We got a great harvest! For amateurs, we seem to have fared pretty well. And little Charlie and Joel were able to see nature at work. It's miraculous to me, even now. I know that we planted those seeds, but we were mere watchers and wonderers when it came to changing the seeds into food. How can that be? Take a seed, add dirt, water and sunshine, get food. So amazing.
Another surprise came our way when we learned (speaking of growing) that a new little grandchild is on the way and can be expected to appear in early January. So much for God being done surprising us! Add to that the visit of an old dear friend, and our summer has been filled with good things. Much to be thankful for.
Bethany surprised me too! Or rather, I learned something good that was a surprise to me, and very welcome. I should have known. We had a guest preacher early in the summer who came to thank us for our support of "Our Church's Wider Mission." The amount we gave last year was over $30,000. The surprising part to me was that that is a budgeted amount. In other words, whenever we give to the general budget, we are supporting that important mission. Somehow, I had thought that outbound money was separate from the budget, but we factor it in, as a significant percentage. It's as if the whole church is tithing. That's appropriate, I think, for a church that is not self-centered or self-focused. It's great that our values reflect our thanksgiving in such a profound way. Monies that are given to the Mission Committee for its various endeavors on our behalf are outside of the budget. That's why it's important to support both, and I'm grateful for discovering this "surprise."
Surprises of all sorts made this a special summer, and one that is full of promise! Little miracles are all around when you look for them.
- Debra Ocepek
Every Christian grasps the concept of thankfulness to God, to some degree. It's the response to that thankfulness that varies greatly among us. Understanding and acting upon that thankfulness, with regard to material possessions, is called stewardship. Let's look at the specifics involved.
First, Christians recognize that everything that we possess comes from God and belongs to him, not to us. From that understanding evolves thankfulness for being sustained by God and for the additional resources he has granted which go beyond our basic needs. What does God expect us to do with these resources?
Defining our "basic needs" may be the biggest obstacle to ascertaining our responsibility. Our society's definition is far different from the Christian idea, and much more appealing to our secular nature. We are accustomed to being self-indulgent rather than self-denying. We view our resources as ours alone rather than on loan from God, and put our needs and wants before our responsibility to give back. The share of the pie that is returned to God shrinks automatically when we take this approach. That's why it is important to return to God what the Bible calls "first fruits." Before we pay ourselves, we must pay God. The plan is laid out clearly for us. If we can try to overcome the culture-born false priorities and our resistance to change, the way becomes clear. Sparkling clear! And God will provide all the help we need in the process.
- Debra Ocepek
What are some ways we can "return the first fruits" to God, affordably? That's the main concern that we stumble over once we've made the decision to try to increase out offering. Well, there are little ways and big ways.
Big ways include recognizing first that we are undeservedly rich, compared with the rest of the world's population. If you know where you're going to sleep tonight, if you have a choice about what to wear tomorrow, and if you don't go to bed hungry every night, then you are better off than at least 70 percent of the world's population. That other 30 percent lives on less than a dollar per day. Recognize that fact and you have what you need to know to get started – that even if we don't think so, we are all affluent citizens of the world. Fully absorb that fact and you won't be able to stop yourself from finding a way to give more generously!
Little ways include being frugal and avoiding self-indulgence throughout every day. (Frugal living is not the same as good stewardship, but a part of it. Frugal living by itself can focus on the self by trying to get more, but frugal living aimed toward good stewardship focuses away from the self by taking less and giving more.) Incorporate habits of frugality wherever you can. The savings will add up quickly and you will find joy in giving from them. Don't be wasteful, don't over-indulge. Re-use. Recycle. What once may have seemed like inconvenience can be turned into a positive project and a challenge because you know you are enabling God's spirit to fill you up! When you are so thankful that you just have to respond to His goodness, lots of big and little means to do so will come your way – try and see!
- Debra Ocepek