Grace to you all, and peace,

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”(Jeremiah 29:11)

These are God’s words to the people of Israel, during one of the worst periods of their history—the Babylonian Exile. Thousands were either killed or carted off in chains. The Temple and the city of Jerusalem were utterly destroyed. But even so, God offered words of hope.  

In much the same way, we live in uncertain times in just about every sense of the word and, to one extent or another, I’m sure we’ve all felt it. I know that Gardens Presbyterian Church has been through a lengthy, challenging period of transition and, even with my arrival, there’s still some apprehension about the future. I also know that if we were alone in this, there might be cause for alarm, but we are definitely NOT alone! Paul reminds us: “If God is for us, who can be against us,” (Romans 8:31) and so I believe that we, like God’s people throughout history, can have genuine hope, knowing that God will guide us and provide for our needs.

As we enter into Stewardship season, I am keenly aware that the competing demands for our money have never been greater. It would be foolish to pretend that it doesn’t, especially at a time when many are struggling. But, at its core—whether speaking about our time, talents or treasure—stewardship is all about what’s in our hearts. While churches put a lot of emphasis on the administrative part of stewardship every fall, it’s largely for practical reasons, so we’re able to plan responsibly and make good decisions for the coming year. Still, we shouldn’t confuse the administration of stewardship, which frankly most of us don’t enjoy that much, with the act of stewardship; the understanding of stewardship as a way of life, an expression of faith—integrating what we believe and what we do.

I’m aware that giving is down and as mentioned, I understand why. Still, the shortfall has led to the church drawing down its reserves. While necessary, it’s rarely a position where churches want to find themselves. In the long run it is not sustainable. We will most certainly renew the discussion about the development of church property, but this is only part of the larger picture, and for our purposes here, is beside the point. So, what if we were to think of giving as a sacrament? Not something we must do, but something that gives us understanding and insight into God’s grace.

All that we have is a gift from God—our lives, and those of our families, our salvation through Jesus Christ—how do we even begin to respond to God’s generosity? We start by giving—whatever we give, whenever we give—unconditionally, with grateful hearts, from the abundance we’ve received from God’s hands. In doing so, we gain insight into God’s unconditional love for us, and in placing our trust fully in God, we experience God’s truly amazing grace. As you thoughtfully and prayerfully consider if you will pledge (which I hope you will), what you will pledge, or what you will give throughout the year, I ask you to do so sacramentally. Consider too, as part of that: How might we grow? What spiritual insights might we gain? How might our church be blessed as a result? Whatever you decide, please know that your gifts, great and small, are appreciated. May God continue to bless you richly—now and always!

God’s plan. God’s grace. Our future. Our hope.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Jeff