5 Ways to Honor God With Your Time

Stewardship is about honoring God with what he’s blessed us with. One of God’s gifts is time. And, it’s a precious gift, because in the grand scheme of things, our time on earth is extremely brief!

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. (Psalm 39.4, NLT)

So, we want to make the most of our time on the planet.

Teach us to number our days so we can have a wise heart. (Psalm 90.12, CEB)

Of all of the ways we might honor God with our time, here are 5 that I think are critically important …

  1. Connect with God! (prayer, reading Scripture, worship, etc.)
  2. Serve God’s purposes in the world!
  3. Spend quality and quantity time with family (or primary relationships)!
  4. Create margin! (sabbath, rest, self-care, etc.)
  5. “Ruthlessly eliminate hurry!” (John Ortberg)

What other ways do you think help us honor God with our time?

Weems on Money

This past week, Joleen and I attended one of our remaining requirements for ordination, an all-day training day sponsored by the Board of Ordained Ministry. The day featured Dr. Lovett Weems from Wesley Theological Seminary. The topic was “Church Finances.”

Part of the content confirmed some things we already knew, but we did learn some new things, or at least, were challenged to rethink some things. Here is some of what we took away from the event …

  1. Change the way we communicate the church budget. Instead of publishing the line item budget, break it down into major categories. I’ve done this a couple times in the past (more in addition to than in place of the line item budget, though). Categories I normally use: (1) Shares of Ministry, (2) Benevolence, (3) Ministry, (4) Pastor & Staff, (5) Building & Grounds. We’d still announce that copies of the line item budget, which is approved by Church Council, are available upon request. The purpose is to give a simpler, more mission-focused presentation of the budget.
  2. A significant amount of discussion was on whether or not pastors should know what individual people give. Weems stated that most pastors are divided 50/50 on the issue. In our case, we’ve never chosen to know what individuals give, but Weems made a strong case that pastors should know.

    Weems offered other ways of getting a sense of the church’s pulse without knowing what individuals give (e.g., the financial secretary providing general info on things like, how many people gave less in the last year, how many gave more, how many started giving for the first time, etc.). The point is not really to know how much people give, but because handling money is a spiritual issue, it is an indicator of people’s spiritual condition. That’s why, Weems said, we should “Always tie money talk to our walk with God.”

  3. The death rate in the U.S. has been, and is expected to remain, pretty stable from 2003 through 2018, then increase dramatically through 2050. It’s estimated that there will be 50% more deaths in 2050 than in 2010. Clearly, this has implications for aging denominations like the UMC.
  4. Nationwide, church attendance held pretty steady (and strong) in the 1990s. Church attendance spiked for five Sundays after September 11, 2001, and then has been decreasing ever since.
  5. When it comes to attitude toward money, there are two kinds of churches: (1) Pay the Bills Churches and (2) Serve God’s Vision Churches (though no church is purely one or the other). I have always tried to lead churches to be the latter type! Weems said, “Discipleship and giving go hand in hand.”

Money is one of the topics pastors tend to fear the most talking about. Thankfully, it’s never been one of our fears. Joleen and I normally spend a few weeks each year talking about stewardship (which is the larger issue; it can deal with things other than money).

We are stewards of everything God entrusts us with, and it matters how we handle it!

5 Practices to Make the Most of Time

I’ve been writing about The Balancing Act by Bishop Robert Schnase (see “The Balancing Act” and Pray More Than Criticize).

Bishop Schnase writes on “Redeeming Time.” By that, he means “making time sacred, useful to God, holy” (119). Schnase adds:

… redeeming the time involves discovering the holy, gift-like quality, the grace of time. It involves perceiving time differently, looking at time through God’s eyes. (119)

I have always been interested in time, specifically how to make the most of it (see last year’s post, Time Management). I’ve also always been interested in improving my use of time!

The language of “redeeming time” comes from the King James Version: “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5.16) and “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time” (Colossians 4.5). The New Living Translation puts them this way: “Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” (Ephesians 5.16) and “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4.5).

Here are five practices that help make the most of time …

1. Pray. “Teach us to use wisely all the time we have” (Psalm 90.12, CEV).

2. Pinpoint your mission. It’s impossible to make the most of our time if we aren’t clear on our purpose in life. When we know our mission, then we know what to say no to, which is critically important.

3. Prioritize your tasks. When we have pinpointed our mission, prioritizing tasks becomes easier—easier, not necessarily easy. See Michael Hyatt’s excellent post: Put the Big Rocks in First.

This is one of my challenges. I can prioritize tasks, but too often, I want to knock out a bunch of smaller tasks so that I can devote extended time to the big task(s). But sometimes, by the time I finish the lower-priority tasks, there’s not enough time for the big tasks!

4. Play. I’m sure we don’t do enough of it, but a healthy dose of play makes people more productive. That was a major premise of Jump Start Your Brain by Doug Hall, which I read a number of years ago. Of course, in our case, the kids help … when we let them!

5. Practice sabbath time. Like play, our bodies require adequate rest (e.g., I recently read about the hidden dangers of sleep deprivation, which adds extra motivation). It’s no wonder God built sabbath rest into the rhythm of our lives from the very beginning!

What practices help you make the most of time?

Our Best Financial Practices

In the years Joleen and I have been married, we can highlight several financial practices that have proven valuable. While we can always be better stewards, and we definitely have room to grow, we believe the following practices are an important part of being good stewards of what God entrusts us with …

1. Honor God with tithes and offerings!
Tithing wasn’t a new practice for either of us when we married, but we did develop a new system for the way we’d do it. Even though we were seminary students and money was tight (money was still tight after graduation), we set a percentage (10%, at the time) for the tithe (which means “tenth”). Within a year or so, we set another percentage for offerings, that is, special offerings beyond our basic giving (2%, if I remember correctly). Our plan was to periodically increase these amounts over the course of our lives.

Everyone has to develop their own system. Currently, we calculate our tithes/offerings on gross income, monetary gifts, credit card cashback, interest, other income such as Virgin Pulse PulseCash (fitness/activity rewards through our conference health insurance), as well as the fair rental value of the parsonage in which we live. The bottom line is, determine what it means for you to honor God with your finances, and do it.

This, by far, has been our best stewardship practice. We believe it also ranks as one of the most important commitments we’ve made in our lives. It’s not so much something we “have to” do; rather, it’s something we “get to” do!

2. Track expenses!
During the first couple years of our marriage, I kept a handwritten copy of our monthly expenses by category. The idea was to know where our money was going, in case we needed to make adjustments. Now, I keep spreadsheet files on my computer, which also automatically calculates our tithe and offering amounts.

Interestingly, because we’ve tracked expenses, we know that our grocery expenses (which were very low when it was just the two of us) increased 32% in 2008 from 2007 (Ethan joined us in February 2008) and another 24% in 2009 (Sarah joined us in October 2009). In 2010, our first full year with two kids, we’re on track for another 14% increase from 2009. Stated another way, our grocery expenses in 2010 may be 87% higher than they were in 2007 (our last year without children). Yikes!

3. Develop a budget!
Most financial advisors would probably tell you to start here. But for us, our budget really flowed out of our expense tracking. That is, after a couple years, we pretty much knew how we spent money, so we developed a budget based on what we were already doing.

One area where the budget helps us is clothing expenses. Joleen and I have separate budgeted amounts for clothes. This helps because we know how much we can spend and don’t have to have a financial conversation every time one of us needs or wants something.

A funny thing happened a few years ago at a Macy’s department store. Joleen handed a pair of pants to the cashier who she thought she’d try to get a reaction out of me by telling us the total was $90. The cashier was surprised when I didn’t react. I told Joleen later that it doesn’t matter to me how much she spends. The faster she spends her budgeted amount, the less time I have to spend in the store!

Another area where we budget is with our “offerings,” the percentage of our income beyond our tithe. Our offering total is equally divided between us and we each support ministries and special offerings of our own choosing (we support some things together, as well).

Budgeting is a good idea. You’ve probably heard (or perhaps know by experience) that finances are one of the leading causes of conflict in marriages. Budgeting can minimize conflict by dealing with it ahead of time!

4. Build your savings!
This may be tough to do, depending on your current situation, but make every effort to set aside some money for savings, regularly. Even a little bit adds up over time.

5. Prepare for the future!
Preparing for the future may mean saving for future purchases, children’s college expenses, and/or retirement. Again, it may be hard to do, but start as early as possible, so it can add up, or multiply, over time.

6. Guard against impulsive decisions!
As I’ve thought about our spending habits, it struck me that we generally do not make impulsive purchases, especially major purchases. In fact, just the opposite, we sometimes take too long to make financial decisions. Do your research. Shop around. Sleep on it. Make the best God-honoring decision you can (which could also mean not buying the item at all). I once heard Bill Hybels teach a great statement to say about things you want, but don’t necessarily need …

I can admire you without having to acquire you!

Good advice!

7. Use credit cards wisely!
We have always used credit cards as a form of cash, not as a form of credit (i.e., we pay balances in full each month). We also have always used cards that earn cash back rewards. Using them any other way is just too dangerous!

These are some of our best practices. What are yours?

God Works in the Summer, Too!

Here’s my latest finance letter for West Side …

Summer is upon us! Some days we can feel it in the warm sunshine and some days we wonder as we experience the cool rain and blustery winds. One day I was in eastern PA and we traveled from balmy eighty degree temperatures to an icy mix as we approached Clearfield! Nevertheless, summer is coming … just ask any student how many days of school remain!

Summer is a time of renewal and rest; a time of connecting with family and friends. It is a time of vacation, family reunions, class reunions, and travel, for weekends at the cabin and more. Rev. Melvin Amerson says that it is “M.M.I.A. Season,” which is an acronym for Members Missing In Action. The season can begin with Mothers’ Day and continue through Labor Day, including the additional holidays of Memorial Day, Fathers’ Day and 4th of July, as well as vacation time.

While we may need some vacation time; God never goes on vacation and the work of the Lord never stops. The ministry of West Side UMC continues throughout the summer. Summer is the grand time for weddings. It is the time for one of our main children’s discipleship and outreach events: Vacation Bible School. We expand our worship services to include a Sunday 8:30 am service. And our leaders are busy planning for the Fall.

We need your continued financial support throughout the summer. Let us be mindful of God’s continued presence in our lives throughout the summer. Even when we are away from West Side, God goes with us. Even when we are away from West Side, God continues to minister to and through West Side. Let’s support God’s Church while we are on vacation!

Have a blessed summer!

Extravagant Generosity

Jesus, consistent with the Old Testament,  speaks unabashedly and repeatedly about wealth, greed and generosity. In Mark 12.41-44, Jesus relates a story comparing the giving of the rich to that of poor widow who gives two very small copper coins. Jesus comments …

They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on.

There are many things that can distract us from faithful living, and money is one of them. We can become distracted by working too long and too hard, by comparing what we have with what  others have or by desiring earthly recognition for our giving, desiring our reward on earth and by giving with the wrong motivations.

What motivated the generosity of the poor widow that Jesus observed?

It was NOT the religious system; the religious system was corrupt. Prior to this passage, Jesus says, “Watch out for the teachers of the law … They devour widows’ houses …” We cannot base our generosity on the Church, the denomination, or the pastor. Our giving is to God.

The widow did NOT give out of her abundance, but out of her poverty. She gave everything she had to live on. She sacrificially gave all that she had as Jesus in two days would give his life on a cross for us.

The widow did NOT give in a showy manner, as the rich “threw” their money in such a way as to make some noise. The widow “put” her money in. No one needed to know but God. And God did see, just as Jesus saw. No offering goes unnoticed by God.

Her offering was small in value, but big on proportion. Some point to tithing as an Old Testament teaching, not present in the New Testament. Here Jesus lifts up proportional giving as: “all she had to live on.”

The widow was faithful and spiritually mature. She was thankful to God for his provision; she knew it was God who provided and cared for her. Implicit in this passage, she is a joyful giver–her attitude is right.

Questions for Reflection

  1. From whom have you learned your patterns of giving?
  2. Are you continuing to learn? Every aspect of our lives is touched, including our giving, when we grow in Christ.
  3. What proportion of your income do you give? Have you ever figured out the percent of your income that you give? If not, why? Why are you resistant?
  4. In what way does this story speak to you, inspire, touch you? To whom do you relate: the rich, the poor widow, the disciples gathered around Jesus to hear him teach?
  5. Finally, who do you love? In whom do you trust? Have you found your purpose in sharing Christ with others?

Involving Kids in Mission 2.0

IMG_0506Today, I connected my laptop to the TV and Ethan (wearing his backpack, at the time) helped us choose some gifts.

As we’ve written about before recently, we’re enjoying involving our kids (mainly Ethan, at this point) in our mission giving. We usually do some extra giving at the end of the year and one of our favorite year-end projects is Heifer.

Heifer’s mission is …

To work with communities to end hunger and poverty and to care for the earth.

Using Heifer’s online catalog, you can give the gift of various animals, from a flock of chicks or ducks ($20), to a goat ($120), or even a heifer ($500). You can also give a share of an animal if you choose to give less than the full amount.

It’s a great way to help alleviate poverty in the world!

Generosity

In the monthly West Side UMC Stewardship newsletter, we have been looking at the twelve qualities of the Christian steward as presented by Rev. Phillis M. Bowers in the booklet, Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation: Stewardship. The next quality, which is appropriate in the midst of Advent/Christmas and as we begin the new year, is generosity.

A Christian steward is generous. Christian stewards give whatever is needed and whenever it is needed (Proverbs 11.24-29; Mark 10.17-22; Luke 12.13-21; 2 Corinthians 8.1-15; 2 Corinthians 9.6-15; Galatians 5.22-23; 1 Timothy 6.17-19).

They voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints (2 Corinthians 8.3-4). In this passage the Apostle Paul is speaking of the Macedonian Churches. He states that they are poor, but yet they desperately wanted to give to the ministry of the Lord. What a beautiful picture of generosity!

What enabled them to give in such a way? Paul goes on to say, “they gave themselves first to the Lord.” The only way we can have generous hearts is if we first give our hearts to the Lord. The only way we can see God’s will, and to have a desire to be a part of God’s work in this world is to give ourselves to the Lord.

And so as we present our gifts to God, we give him our hearts. As we first give him our hearts, he enables us to give generous gifts. He stirs up in us a desire to desperately want to share in the ministry and work of the church through our financial gifts.

It is my prayer that as we enter this new year, we will once again commit our whole lives to Christ!

Involving Kids in Mission

In the days and weeks leading up to our first trip to Korea — and to becoming parents — we wrote about the kind of culture we wanted to create in our home and family life. Part of that included Shaping a Servant Culture.

To help our children become servants and givers, we want to let them share in opportunities of blessing others. And one of the ways we like to do that is Operation Christmas Child, an annual outreach of Samaritan’s Purse. Last year was <a href=”http://www.williswired.com/2008/10/29/operation-christmas-child-with-ethan/””> Ethan’s first year to participate in Operation Christmas Child. This year, Sarah got to watch. Next year, she’ll be ready to jump in, as well.

A nice new development this year is the ability to track where your shoe boxes go. By making an online donation (to cover the $7/box shipping cost) through EZ Give, you get a label with a bar code, which is used to track the destination of your shoe boxes. The traditional method is to include your donation with your shoe box.

Well, we would be interested in hearing how you have involved — or are involving — your children in mission and/or giving in the comments below.

Stay on Track

I have noticed a number of commercials from Fidelity Investments lately. They’re the commercials with the green line on the ground that offers guidance and direction. Last week, one especially caught my attention.

In the commercial, the financial advisor encourages the client that the plan they worked out for his retirement “makes sense” and that he should “just stay on track.” Shortly after leaving the Fidelity office, the client stops to look at some expensive cars. Back down the street, the financial advisor from Fidelity calls out, “Stay on the line!” The client smiles, gets back on the line, and moves along.

The commercial caught my attention because that’s not the message we’re accustomed to hearing in commercials. Granted, it was a commercial from an investment firm, not an advertiser for a product they’re trying to convince us we need.

But the message is a good one — have a goal, a purpose, stay on track, and don’t get distracted along the way.