February 16 - 22, 2004




Living Miracle-to-Miracle

Ever live by faith and trust in God alone -- really live it? Last week in Chicago I met an organization full of people Chicago who spend every moment that way. And it helps explain how, in a world where nonprofits come and go, Bethel New Life Inc. not only continues to be a strong presence in Chicago’s impoverished West Side, but a national model of church-based charity. The implications for stewards are staggering -- and inspiring.


Bethel helped me understand a puzzling paradox I’ve wrestled with for several years: Why is it many of the people who have the least among us in worldly goods often also have the strongest faith in God and the most visible trust in divine providence?


Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t those of us who have the most in worldly goods also have the most strident trust in divine providence? But often we don’t.


In our personal lives, those of us who are middle class or better shore up our 401(k)s and IRAs, yet still fret whether we have will have “enough.” The same worry drives our church lives, where some of our most financially secure congregations “sit” on endowments worth a fortune rather than risk in mission for the future.


Accumulation of wealth – congregationally or personally – actually can make fearful of taking risks, rather than emboldening us to risk what we have. It’s certainly fear and desire for security that drives our secular financial culture, but as people of God, we trust in the sovereign of the universe who owns and creates everything. Is there any safer bet?


Perhaps people who have nothing, have nothing to protect. So they live by trust in God alone. Maybe this is why Jesus told his disciples to own nothing and why Jesus taught more about economics and the dangers of wealth than he did about salvation.  (For some excellent essays along these lines in New Resources, check out the William Avery piece and the one from Christian Century and Moody Magazine listed below.)


"Exhibit A" is Bethel New Life, which began in 1979 as an outgrowth of Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chicago’s devastated Garfield Park neighborhood. Rather than leave (as did most of the other whites) for the safe suburbs, Pastor David Nelson, and his sister, Mary Nelson, decided to make it their lives work to be a positive force for God in the neighborhood.


They began with a little cash and a unwavering belief that people of God can make a difference against ignorance, crime, poverty and privation. Now celebrating 25 years, today Bethel New Life has an annual budget of $11 million and works to build a better neighborhood through safe and affordable housing, day care, day activities for seniors, job training, employment placement, substance abuse counseling, ex-offender transition services and other programs that build hope and neighborhood cohesion.


Yet success does not breed complacency for the managers of Bethel New Life, who are themselves faithful Christians. In interview after interview I conducted for a magazine article I’m writing, they showed a lean, entrepreneurial spirit marked by working hard, taking risks and trusting God to provide resources and make it all fly. One manager, commenting that her unit did heroic things with a tiny budget, said simply, "We live miracle-to-miracle."


Bethel’s mission statement says it all:


If you put an end to oppression, to every gesture of contempt, and to every evil word; if you give food to the hungry and satisfy those who are in need, then the darkness around you will turn to the brightness of noon. And I will always guide you and satisfy you with good things. I will keep you strong and well. You will be like a garden that has plenty of water, like a spring of water that never goes dry. Your people will rebuild what has been in ruins, building again on the old foundations. You will be known as the people who rebuilt the walls, who restored ruined houses.

--Isaiah 58:9-12


Rob Blezard, Webmaster and editor,

New This Week, Feb. 16 -22

 Can Stewardship Be More Inviting?

 "All stewardship talk which begins with money starts at the wrong place. The place to begin meaningful stewardship conversation is with the concept of freedom.  ... God’s love is freely given to us simply because we are God’s children, simply because God loves us apart from our worthiness or unworthiness. When we learn this truth and appropriate it at the center of our being, then we are truly free." By the Rev. William O. Avery, stewardship professor at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. From the Lutheran Laity Movement Archives.



Send Lazarus
A hard-hitting look at how Jesus' story of Lazarus and Divies applies to our own thinking about outreach to the poor. "Now, Luke's parable lacks the sort of data that people like  to have when deciding whether and how to help. It doesn't say, for example, if Lazarus was deserving or lazy,"drug-addicted, mentally ill, or a good Joe down on his luck. We don't know whether he cornered Dives with pathetic spiels every time he left the house, or whether he just lay there, annoyingly mute, day after day. All we know is that he was at the gate, sick and hungry. And that, Luke seems to say, is all we need to know to predict the reversal ahead. By J. Mary Luti in the Christian Century.



 The Value of a Good Word
It's always easier to motivate people to do their best by using a positive feedback than criticism. Everybody knows that, yet negative thinking still dominates in many organizations -- including our congregations. The strategy makes no stewardship sense.   In Dana Reardon's weekly reflection.



 The Life of a Steward-Servant
"Empowered by the Spirit, Christians can challenge indolence and indulgence -- without excuses, rationalization or other mental gymnastics. God's people are empowered to live a God-pleasing StewardLife using and enjoying all that they have received from God."  StewardLife from the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod



 Digging Deeper: Money and Your Heart
"Money can make it hard for an independently minded person to admit his need and dependently trust Christ for eternal salvation. Luke 18:18-30 [the story of the wealthy young man] does not teach that giving to the poor will merit one’s salvation. Other New Testament passages make it clear that salvation is not the result of good works. Luke simply illustrates how riches can hinder a relationship with God." By Mark L. Bailey of  Dallas Theological Seminary, in Moody Magazine.