How blessed are you?
by Julie and Scott Krueger
There was a stewardship moment one Sunday this past year during which the speaker asked the members of Grace to think of how they would answer the question, “Are you rich?” Getting the uncomfortable response of people looking down in their laps and shifting in their seats, the speaker then asked us to reconsider the question and think of how each of us would respond to, “Are you blessed?” I didn’t look around to see what other’s reactions were, but I clearly sat up, reengaged eye contact and stopped feeling uncomfortable. Without hesitation I knew my answer was, “Yes.”
Our family is so abundantly blessed. We live in a place where education is supremely valued and have excellent schools as a result. We have beautiful homes and yards we get to live in and neighbors who care for one another. We have parks, libraries, community services, and events in abundance. We have wonderful restaurants, arts, music, theater and other cultural opportunities available all the time. We have access to amazing transportation options, businesses in many sectors offering employment opportunities, and universities for continuing education. Our personal blessings layer on top of all this: our health, in our immediate family and extending to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins; friends with whom we have built memories for over 30 years; a relatively crisis-free life (notwithstanding the stuff that comes with raising three boys); a marriage that deepens and strengthens our relationship each year; open communication, honesty and support of a loving family.
And while all of this has made our lives exciting, secure, and fulfilling, we would be lacking if we didn’t have Grace – and, yes, we intended the double entendre. The blessings that come from being in the community of Grace Church have been bountiful. What drew us to the church originally, the amazing music that creates such a worshipful experience for us, has continued to be a pivotal element in our spiritual life. It is at Grace where all three of our kids began singing and where the foundation for their love of music was set. The unexpected discovery of Grace School when we joined the church was a blessing that continues to impact our kids–and us–even after they have graduated. The friendships we have that started with fellow Grace School parents, Supper Shuffles, board memberships and choir are irreplaceable. The blessings of pastors who preach, teach, challenge, encourage and support us are never ending.
The consistency of the proclamation of the gospel, in a physical place that is magnificent and a liturgical style that is so worshipful for us, feeds our souls beyond measure. It is in the security of this knowledge, that by the grace of God, who sent Jesus to atone for our broken humanness, we will spend eternity in communion with God and not in the hell of separation from God, that we are most blessed. There is nothing else that matters.
Upon reflection on these many, many blessings, we realize that this is the answer to the question of how rich we are. We are richly blessed. It makes us look forward to the special Advent Thankoffering when we freely and joyfully, without pressure or guilt, respond to what God has literally poured out on us. It is with overflowing hearts of gratitude that we will again gladly participate in the Thankoffering this year.
Stewardship: Giving so that Grace can flourish
What does it mean to be “a good steward”? In this Giving Story, a husband and wife reflect on the responsibility of stewardship and compare it to the role of parents or friends.
Giving Story archive
Giving as circumstances change
As parents, my wife and I experienced great satisfaction when our last child finished college. We also experienced deep relief, knowing that the tuition payments would now end. The impact on our financial circumstances was significant—almost like receiving a huge raise at work.
Looking ahead, my wife and I discussed what this drastic change would mean to our household finances. We saw that now, it would be possible for us to achieve two important goals.
As chair of my church’s Stewardship committee, I had the opportunity to reveal our plans publicly in a brief “mission moment” during the Sunday worship service.
I began by describing our first goal: to increase our annual giving to our church by 50 percent. It wasn’t until the laughter died down in the pews that I realized the humor associated with describing our second goal: enrolling in “nursing home” insurance.
I am pleased to say that our postgraduate “windfall” has allowed us to accomplish both.
Does your household anticipate the end of college tuitions? Or another significant change in life circumstances? Perhaps it is time to consider what this change will mean to the family finances.
This Grace parishioner relies on the automatic withdrawal feature to aid in the practice of regular tithing.
Growing up in a congregation very much like ours at Grace, my Sundays began with Sunday School and worship. I sang in the children’s choir, and then high school and senior choirs ─ two services every Sunday ─ through my teens.
Giving to Grace is a family event in our home. A distinct memory from my childhood is my dad writing our offering check at the kitchen table. We have followed this example in our family. On Sunday morning, our checkbook and Grace envelopes are on the kitchen table along with cereal, milk and toast. During breakfast we write our offering check and our children gather their Sunday school offerings.
Why do we give to Grace? How much do we give? What does Grace do with the money? These are some of the questions our children ask over breakfast. These discussions are cultivating the seeds we hope and pray will take root and blossom into a lifetime of generous living.
How and when do we learn to be good stewards? One Grace member adopted the practice as an adult and says we’re never too old to learn.
God gave me so much when he brought my husband into my life some years ago. We met at work and had been dating for a while when he asked if he could attend church with me. (I was already a member of Grace.) He soon knew he wanted to make Grace his church home, and we were married at Grace’s altar.
The tithe: “our benchmark for giving”
The discipline of tithing played a key role in the married life of this couple.
Where do my offerings go?
“Like the vision of that globe on my offering envelope, our combined efforts in giving are blessed by God in vast and amazing ways.”
Can we give more?
Faithful stewardship is lifelong for this Grace member.
"Going to church was always important in my family. As a child I remember my parents giving me a coin for the offering plate. Once I began getting an allowance, my parents suggested how much I should give to church. Like many parents in the 1950s, Mom and Dad never talked much about money, so I didn't realize it at the time, but the amount they suggested was a tithe.
"As newlyweds, my husband and I didn't have much, but we always gave to church. One year, after reading a Grace Church stewardship appeal, we calculated the amount we were contributing to Grace and asked each other, "Can we give more?" We decided then and there to raise our giving by one percent.
"We discovered that the extra amount we gave didn't seem to have an impact on our household finances. So the following year, we asked ourselves the same question: "Can we give more?" And we did. Again, we saw the same result: we didn't miss that extra amount that was going to Grace.
"Before long, we were surprised to see that our giving had grown into a tithe. We've tithed ever since - and although I'm retired now and we live on a smaller income, we didn't reduce our giving.
"Giving ten percent of your income can seem like "so much." I think it's because we already have so much and don't recognize it.
"What would happen if you increased your giving by one percent? Give it a try."
Parents model for their children
This Grace member reminds us that parents play a key role in modeling faithful stewardship for their children.
The path to discipleship
As Jesus' disciples, we are committed to certain habits: participating in weekly worship, daily prayer, and the regular reading and study of Scripture; serving at and beyond Grace; nurturing Christian friendships; and giving of our time, talent, and money. Making a Faith Promise is a financial expression of discipleship.
Here is how one Grace member describes the path to discipleship.
The first fruits go to our Lord
Growing up in my close-knit Norwegian-American family, church was at the center of our world-even in the midst of the Great Depression.
My father had lost his business; my uncles, too. Still, our extended family continued to give what we called "the first fruits" to the Lord. (We didn't use the word "tithe," but it was ten percent that we gave - even during those difficult times.)
I learned that faithful stewardship also meant we served those in need. It's why my grandmother installed what she called "Jesus' chair" at her dining-room table: an extra place for a person that, she said, Jesus might send - and during the Depression, plenty of people were hungry.
It's also why my grandparents remodeled their attic into an apartment so that they could offer housing to Jewish refugees-a widow and her children - who had escaped the Nazis during World War II.
When I consider my faith formation, one childhood memory is particularly vivid. I remember drying dishes in my grandmother's kitchen as she washed them, and asking her, "Grandma, do you really believe in God?" She lifted her hands from the soapsuds and turned to me, pointing. "No, I do not believe in God," she said emphatically. "I believe God."
In believing God, I learned to stay open to His bidding and trust in His plan for me.
Believing God: it's what we as Christians are called to do."
What has God given you?
"Count Your Blessings" was a popular tune written in the 1950s by the legendary Irving Berlin. Counting one's blessings is also a practice many people enjoy doing at Thanksgiving. But you don't have to wait for Thanksgiving to think about all that God has given you. Faithful stewardship calls us to think about our blessings and to consider how best - and how much - to give back to God.
One Grace Church couple explains how their practice of tithing has returned manifold blessings to them.
God's blessings exceed a tithe
My wife and I tithed before we knew what that word meant. Early on, our parents explained to us that at least 10% of anything we earned was to be returned to God. My dad was a truck farmer who depended on rain, sun and late frosts for crops - gifts only God could give. My wife's father was a pastor in a struggling congregation. Our mothers were homemakers, managing small budgets and large families.
When we married, we just assumed we would tithe. We tithed as our children were born, as they attended college, as we saved for retirement and now we tithe in retirement. Though we both worked for not-for-profit institutions, living on 90% of our income was always enough.
Calculating a tithe was simpler in Bible times. If you had ten sheep, you sacrificed one. Now income can be taxed and untaxed, adjusted gross, tax-deferred and on and on. In our home we use a tenth of all our income as our starting point. We don't restrict our gifts to Grace Church and School because the need is great in so many places.
We continue to experience the joy of giving. Blessings, both spiritual and economic, have come to us in the half-century we have been married. God's blessings exceed a tithe, and we trust that as God "cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, how much more will God care for us."
Put your faith in God
It was in 2007 that my life took a downward spiral. My father died; I became divorced. I lost my job and on that same day I had to put down one of my two dogs.
Tithing has changed us
We grew up in church-going families, but because our parents didn't tithe we had no experience with it. Early in our marriage, however, some Lutheran friends - a couple with three young children - mentioned that they'd begun to tithe. Initially, they said, it was a challenge to "find" the money in their budget, but the longer they tithed, the easier it became. And after tithing regularly, they told us, something amazing happened: an unremitting stream of blessing seemed to come their way.
That testimony was powerful for us, but we soon became parents ourselves, bought a house and learned the meaning of ‘living on a shoestring." Years passed. When the subject of tithing came up again, we were juggling two jobs, a marriage, parenting, and the many other challenges of family life.
Despite our hectic existence-and with college expenses looming on the horizon-this time we gave tithing serious thought. At first the stumbling block seemed to be the ten percent: Could we set aside that much of our earnings without giving up ‘necessities'?
We decided to try it-to take it in stages, beginning with five percent. After regularly giving at that level for awhile, we discovered that the goal of ten percent felt not only attainable but compelling-something we felt called to do.
Tithing has changed us. It's caused us to look at the world in a different way. We feel enormously blessed.