The True Meaning of Stewardship

What is your immediate reaction to the word “stewardship?” I hear from too many that stewardship is just a nice, churchy way to ask for money. That kind of makes sense since most Stewardship Sundays have parishioners and the Priest asking us to consider how much we put into the envelopes. But, true meaning of stewardship is much more than about money. It is about how we live our lives. In a word, it is about discipleship. 

A big step in growing deeper in our discipleship of Jesus is acknowledging, in all humility, that God gives us everything. Every single thing we have and all we are is because of God’s gracious generosity. The Bible teaches us this truth in 1 Chronicles 29:11-14 and in Act 17:25. When we embrace this, when we take God at His word, we can’t help but be overwhelmed with gratitude. We are in awe of His lavish generosity. As Disciples, we should want to try to emulate Him.  We wonder how we should respond to all these blessings. Psalm116:12 asks the question for us, “How can I repay the Lord for all the great good done for me?”

Thankfully, the Church gives us the template of how to respond. She gives us the three pillars of how we put our faith and our stewardship into practice: Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving. We emphasize these during Lent, but they are meant for everyday use. 

Catholic.net in the article Joy of Lent, Liturgical Cycle C gives a great explanation of these practices.

Prayer purifies our intentions and relates everything we do to God.

Fasting detaches us from ourselves and our comforts.

Almsgiving is giving to the needs of the poor and reflects our brother/sisterhood with them. It is imitating the generosity of Jesus and reminds us that our wealth is not in things, but in the love of God. Here are a few Bible verses on giving alms:

  • Luke 11:41   But as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.
  • Deuteronomy 26:10   “Now, therefore, I have brought the first fruits of the products of the soil which you, LORD, have given me.” You shall set them before the LORD, your God, and you shall bow down before the LORD, your God.
  • Sirach 7:10   Do not be impatient in prayer or neglect almsgiving.
  • Sirach 35:4   One who gives alms presents a sacrifice of praise.

We do usually understand Almsgiving in terms of giving money. So in that sense,  the true meaning of stewardship encompasses money. As well it should. Think about it – can you go a single day without using money? You may not use a credit card or venmo, but you use resources every day that cost you money. If discipleship is about how we live our llves, shouldn’t something as ubiquitous as money is in our lives be a part of our spiritual life, part of our discipleship? 

Yes, of course it should. But we seem to have a huge disconnect between our faith life and our financial life. It’s as if we disciples say something like, “Lord, you be first in my life, in every area of my life. Oh – but not the money part, Lord. I got that.”

The data tell a different story. So many people have mountains of consumer and credit card debt to climb. Financial stress is cited as a leading cause of divorce. How we’ve been handling our finances isn’t working out too well. Something needs to change.

Put God First

What needs to change is that we need to include God in our financial life. We need to put God first in every area of our lives – including money. That is the true meaning of stewardship. When I finally accepted this truth, my life changed. I was doing what everyone seems to do, buying stuff I thought would make me happy and look successful. Getting the newest phone, buying a bigger TV, leasing luxury cars all made me feel good on the outside. But inside, the payment demands were stressing me to the max. And something gnawed at me. I knew I wasn’t giving what I should be giving at church. The $10 or $20 I happened to have in my pocket on Sunday was a pittance compared to what I was paying for the stuff that I knew had no lasting value. 

By the grace of God, it dawned on me that I should be honest with myself about how I was able to do what I did and earn what I earned. I should be honest about how much God blesses me and my family. I should make a return to God that sincerely reflects how blessed I am.

When I took that step of faith, put God first in my budget, and started tithing, what happened? Did we miss any meals? Did any bills go unpaid? No. What happened is that I gained a sense of peace I cannot explain. It is the peace of God that surpasses understanding. It is the peace that the world and stuff do not bring. Only God gives us peace like that.

If you have financial stress in your life, I encourage you to look at your giving. Is God first in your spending plan? Are you giving Him the amount that reflects how grateful you are for all the blessings and benefits He gives to you? Think about it, if we all gave what God asks us to give, how much more money would there be to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, educate children, help single moms keep their babies? Our lives would have more meaning by supporting ministries that do these works of mercy. Our communities would be better for it. And as a result, we would change the world.

Put God first in your finances. Give in return for His blessings. Gain that peace you seek. Change the world. 

Want to Retire Early?

I remember early in my financial planning career that a commonly expressed goal was to retire early, say at age 55. Retiring early may still be an aspiration for many today. And surely, some people do achieve that lofty goal. But I’ve often wondered why it was that so many wanted to quit working. Was that a good goal to strive for?

Work often gives us a sense of identity. Why would we want to walk away from that? Is it the stress and aggravations that cause people to want to stop working, to exit the rat race? Work is often challenging and difficult. It is, after all, work. Who wouldn’t want to avoid all of that? But is that realistic? Can we avoid, much less, eliminate stress and aggravation. Psalm 34:20 says, “Many are the troubles of the righteous.”

When it comes to working, I think it is important to identify and isolate the source of frustrations. The root cause is found in the answer to the question, “Why do you work?” Of course, you must provide for your loved ones. But, is your driving motivation to advance up the corporate ladder and make as much money as you can? If so, then stress is what you should expect.

But, can you think of work this way: God gives you everything including the talents, abilities, drives and desires you have that lead you to work. Phillipians 2:13 tells us that “God is the one who, for His good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.” Your role, then, as a disciple is to utilize those talents and desires as best you can to serve others, leaving advancement and material reward up to God. This puts work on a spiritual plane. That is a wholly different perspective.

Thomas Merton in No Man Is An Island, puts it this way, “Agitation is the force of fear or elemental greed for money, or pleasure, or power. In order to defend ourselves from agitation, we must be detached from immediate results of our work…from wealth and security, from pleasures and possessions…seeking first the kingdom of God and trusting that all our material needs will be taken care of.” (110)

This seeking first the kingdom, putting God first, puts the stresses of work in their proper place. We can now accept the aggravations and see them as opportunities for self-learning and growth. We can give them to God, and trust that He will use them for our good, to make us better and more productive, and to help us bring others closer to Him as we serve them.

With this attitude toward work, is retiring at 55 still a meaningful goal? Is retiring at all a worthy goal? Did you know that there is no scriptural basis for retirement? Actually, it is quite the opposite. Sirach 11:20 tells us to grow old while doing our work.

What Will You Retire To?

Not retiring does not mean remaining stuck in the same drudgery day after day until you die. But now a more worthy retirement goal can become to accumulate enough financial resources so that you can do work that helps bring more meaning and purpose to your life. Maybe that is taking a lower paying job at a non-profit, or non-paying volunteerism. The key question now is not what will you retire from, but what will you retire to?

Many of the clients I served found that once they retired, they became bored. There are only so many rounds of golf one can play in a week. Essentially, they would “un-retire”. They’d go find work that they felt added value to the community and to themselves. What will that be for you?

Think about your work and why you do it. Lift up your work, and your colleagues and customers to God, thanking and praising Him for the blessings and benefits of work. Ask God for the wisdom to know how best to use the talents He gives you, and then the courage to act, to do what will help them, and so bring glory to God. St. Augustine said, “Whatever you do, do it well, and you have praised God.” Have this view of work and see if you still want to retire early – if at all!

#Retirement

He Is Risen!

       Psalm 116:12   How can I repay the LORD for all the great good done for me?

He is risen! He paid the debt for our sins and overcame death. He did this for me and for everyone. Alleluia! How awesome. How overwhelming. I am so grateful. How can I repay Him?

  • Be a doer of the Word (James 1:22)
  • Continually offer a sacrifice of Praise (Heb 13:15)
  • Look around and acknowledge all of God’s goodness – in nature, in music, in others
  • Serve as Jesus serves – in humility and love as when He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17)
  • Keep responding to others with kindness
  • Keep forgiving
  • Keep giving generously

Cultivate His gifts of Time, Talent, and Treasure, and return them with increase to the Lord.

#HeIsRisen

Interest Rates are on the Rise!

Interest rates are on the rise. That is because inflation is at its highest level since the early 1980’s. You know this reality by how much more you have to pay to fill your car with gasoline. It hit me the other day when I had to pay $13 for a hamburger at a local dive. That supposed gourmet burger used to cost $10. But $13!! That gives me pause. I need to change my eating-out and spending habits to combat this assault on my cash.

 

The Federal Reserve uses a variety of weapons to fight against rising prices and rampant inflation. Their main weapon is to raise interest rates. They’ve done that once already, and have signaled many more rate increases to come. What does this mean to you?

 

When the Fed raises rates, Banks respond by raising the interest rates they charge on loans. The first loan category that gets hit with that increase is credit cards. Credit card rates are already high. But they are set to skyrocket in this inflationary environment. If you carry any credit card debt, brace yourself. 

 

Why should you be wary? Consider the average credit card scenario. The average balance carried on credit cards is $5,500. If just the minimum required payment is made, at the average 16.3% interest rate, it will take 16 years to pay off and cost over $6000 of interest expense. Think about that. That is an extra $6000 cost for you to enjoy the $5,500 worth of stuff and fun you financed. Could that $6000 be put to better use? 

 

Higher interest rates will only exacerbate this impact. The same calculus is true for student loans and adjustable-rate mortgages and home equity lines. You need a sense of urgency  to get rid of this debt. And you need a plan. You could play the game of transferring credit card balances to promotional rate come-ons of zero percent for six months. But it is far better to pay off these balances. 

 

Snowball Your Debt

To eliminate debt, financial planning best practice is to employ a strategy commonly called “Snowball your Debt.” The first step is to list your debts from smallest to largest, and include columns for “actual payment” and “minimum payment.” The first objective is to get that smallest debt paid off pronto. Use cash reserves if you have enough. Sell assets if you can. Do everything possible to pay off that smallest debt. Then, apply that debt’s payment to the next smallest balance. Also, pay just the minimum on all the other balances, applying the excess payments to that next smallest debt to get it paid off as soon as possible. When that is accomplished, apply that payment to the next debt, and so on. Here is an illustration of how this strategy works:

 

Snowballing your debt is a tried-and-true strategy. It is hard work. It demands commitment and discipline. But, it is worth it. And being debt free is Biblical. Proverbs 22:7 says that the borrower is a slave to the lender. No one wants to be a slave. But debt enslaves you by obligating you to pay back the debt – no matter what. So, pay it back and be free. Think about how much better your life will be when you are debt free!

 

I asked earlier if that $6000 of interest expense could be put to better use. What more could you do to help build God’s kingdom if you were debt free? You could redirect some of those payments to help ministries that serve the poor and the most vulnerable. You then become a participant in their mission. What a great opportunity to be a part of something so impactful. 

Time is of the essence. Rates are going higher. Please get serious and take the necessary steps to pay off your consumer debts. There are a few entities that can guide you if you want help developing a plan tailored to your needs. One in particular is Compass Catholic Ministries. They have great resources to help you. Their six-week Bible study Faith and Money Matters will walk you step-by-step along your pathway to financial freedom. Learn more by visiting their website www.compasscatholic.org

#Inflation #RisingInterestRates

Giving Money is Easy

The article Tithing Our Time to God in Knightline, the Knights of Columbus newsletter, makes many good points about being intentional with our time management. Author Philip Kosloski makes the great point that time is valuable, and so is hard to give. Our time is in demand. Our schedules are tight. So, we may be tempted to think that giving money substitutes for having to give time. As Kosloski says, “Giving money is easy.”

Giving money is easy. Until it is not.

Giving money is not easy when we give what God calls us to give. The Old Testament is clear in its teaching that we are to tithe ten-percent of our first fruits. But that’s the Old Testament. As Christians, we are more interested in the New Testament, in the spirit of the law. Where can we get a sense of that spirit?

Consider what John the Baptist exhorts in Luke 3:11, “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none.” He’s talking about giving 50%. Look also at how Zacchaeus responded to Jesus in Luke 19:8, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor.” And of course, Jesus gave His all-everything-100%. As disciples, we are to do as Jesus did. From this vantage point, giving ten-percent looks pretty good.

Giving statistics going back decades bare the facts. The amount of charitable giving of all Christians is just over 3% of income; Catholics come in at about 1.5%. Studies done by Notre Dame and Villanova consistently find that the average gift to the collection basket is $10 per week. No wonder giving money is easy for so many.

We Americans seem to disconnect our finances from our faith life. It’s as if we say something like, “God, be Lord of my life, in every area of my life. But, not the money part, Lord. I can handle that on my own.” In this attitude, we downplay what God tells us in the Bible. Being obedient to the Bible and giving what God calls us to give is a challenge for us.

I love how our church provides leadership and teaching on this important issue. She teaches us what to do and how to be in her definition of stewardship: We are to receive God’s gifts gratefully, manage them well, and share them in love and justice with our neighbor. We humbly acknowledge that God gives us everything we have. In overwhelming gratitude for all of His blessings, we are to make an appropriate return to God. So we ask, like the Psalmist in Psalm 116:12, “How can I repay the LORD for all the great good done for me?”

Trust and Give

The answer is that as stewards, as disciples of Jesus, we are to give of our entire self. We are called to give courageously of all of our Time, Talent, AND Treasure. The Church calls this “sacrificial” giving. Sacrificial giving asks us to step out in faith, trusting that God loves us and will provide for us, and give in amounts that are at the edge of what we can afford, amounts that make us dependent on God. For some, this might be $10 per week. For others, it might be ten-percent of income. A few might find it means giving tens of thousands. We are all called to eagerly and joyfully do what we can do (2 Cor 8:12).

Think about it – what would our world look like if we all gave in amounts that truly reflect how God blesses us? We’d learn that we can trust God, we can depend on HIm, and that He provides. Our lives would change for the good. We’d gain a sense of peace of mind that is beyond understanding. We’d want to give even more. Our parishes would then have even more resources available to feed the poor, clothe and house the needy, educate children, and help the vulnerable – the aged, the single parents. Our communities would change for the good. If we all would give like this all over the country, how many more people fed, clothed, housed, tended to? We would change the world!

It comes down to #faith. Do you believe and #trust that God can do more for you with 90% of your income than you can do for yourself with 100%? Do you believe that you will accomplish more by giving God ten-percent of your time, than you could accomplish if you try to manage all of your time on your own?

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