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From a Steward's Perspective
Stewardship Resources from Debra Ocepek, Ocepek Pottery Communionware

On these pages you will find my speeches and newsletter articles, etc. which have been used over the past several years by our church. My pottery career is a part of my devotion to living as a good steward. It's a big part, but only one part. If there are those who can use these ideas, please feel free to reprint them. More will be added over time, and they are in no particular order. I hope that God will feel happy that I have shared these articles with you, and I am sure He blesses all who try to be good stewards! - Debra Ocepek

MORE - Deb's first stewardship speech and More Articles

On His Shoulder - Witnessing Steward 10/13/2002

The last time I stood up here and spoke about stewardship was 9 years ago, in 1993. I talked about how God had led our family, following a job loss and stressful financial circumstances, quite surprisingly, to tithing. Today, I'd like to share a little more about our experiences with you, and start by telling you about my friend, Buddy.

Buddy was an olive green parakeet, and English budgie, and a very sweet bird. I can remember a moment in the kitchen, after we first got baby Buddy, when he decided to latch onto me as his favorite friend. I was holding him in my hand and he looked at me as if he were very astonished. I could see the wheels turning in his little birdie brain. And it was like he said, "Oh, there you are, Mama!" And from then on, Buddy totally loved me. He thought the best place in the world to be was on my finger, where he could see my face and listen to me talk, or talk to me. If the finger was busy, then a shoulder would do. I couldn't walk through the room without having him fly to my shoulder. And he would stay there no matter what, as long as I let him. The sounds of hair dryers, electric mixers and so on didn't matter; nothing bothered him as long as he was with me.

I often thought: what a brave little bird! While I would work at the potter's wheel, or wedge clay, or do glazing, Buddy was right there. He especially liked to do laundry. You'd think he'd be scared, of the noise or the motion, but he wasn't. I'd carry him upstairs and he'd be chattering in my ear, happy to be with me. And I thought: he is really, really brave.

Then one day it occurred to me that it wasn't bravery at all, that Buddy had. To be brave you have to overcome fear. Buddy had no fear. When he was with me, he had no fear. Whatever I did, it was okay with him, he was right with me. So it wasn't bravery. What Buddy had was trust. He sensed that I loved him and cared for him. And he completely trusted in me. I want to be like Buddy the bird.

God has been carrying me around on his shoulder for many years now, at least since 1993 that I know of for sure. I'm learning to trust more and more as I go along.

Our family didn't really know what to expect when we began to tithe. Our income was smaller and less dependable than it had ever been, but that's the time God chose to present us with this combination of challenge and blessing. We had to begin to trust more fully than ever before.

Two things I know: One is that we have been blessed. From that comes thankfulness, and from that thankfulness, giving back naturally evolves. The other thing I know is that God will provide. That's where the trust comes in. When we discerned this call to give ten percent of our income to the church, we hoped that we could lean on, and live out of our faith. We took the challenge quite seriously and still do. The financial challenge, in fact, continues. And the amount we give, though it is ten percent, is small. God continues to provide, and we're grateful. We have enough.

There is an old hymn called, "I Sing the Mighty Power of God" in which the songwriter wisely says, "While all that borrows life from Thee is ever in thy care." Borrows. From God. We borrow everything, everything we think we "own" and even life. All He asks is that we return something to him, first of all. We will be "ever in His care." Buddy taught me something about that idea.

So, how do Adam and I do it? Well, it takes reminding ourselves that none of this is really ours. All of what we seem to have is on loan from God. It takes some determination and careful choosing about spending and recognizing that we don't need as much as we think we do. We've become very good at recycling and re-using and not indulging every whim. I shop Goodwill and the thrift store rather than department stores. I've learned to enjoy being frugal; it's far more satisfying than splurging on a bunch of stuff we don't really need. We pay God first and use the rest as conscientiously as we can.

I'm not here to tell you what you already know: that our church is a wonderful church, and that our ministry is very important and deserves to be funded, especially now. And, though I highly recommend this approach to prioritizing one's financial resources, I'm not here to tell you that I think you should tithe. It is a very personal decision. What I am here to tell you is this: God will provide. He has demonstrated that to His people, again and again.

I want to have the same level of trust as that wonderful little bird who loved me so much. I want to completely trust God the way Buddy trusted me. If I can do that, I know the blessings will be great and I will be "ever in His care."

We have two special Sundays coming up, October 27 – a celebration of our family of faith – when we're reminded of how blessed we are in this church and what its ministry means to us. Also, Dedication Sunday, November 3, when we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit and ask God's guidance for what we will commit ourselves to give. We need to share worship together on those two days and I hope you will join me here, on both those days.
- Debra Ocepek

Stewardship Enthusiast - Witnessing Steward speech October 26, 2003

You could call me a "stewardship enthusiast." I try hard not to waste things or take things for granted. The subject of stewardship interests me greatly - I like it. I think about it, and talk about it, and read about it, and try as best I can to live it. Some stewardship-type things I do include re-using and re-cycling, and living frugally by spending less, while enjoying life more using my talents and by giving more. I don't think I'm as good a steward as I could be, or will be, but with God's help, I try to follow that philosophy as much as I can. So, when I was asked to speak one more time on the subject of Christian stewardship of our financial resources, I said "sure!" This time it was suggested that I might offer more specifics, so I'll try to do that.

God had been pestering me about tithing for years before I finally took the hint. When I was about nine years old, I was inspired by a guest steward's sermon at my home church. He explained that tithing means returning to God ten pennies out of every one hundred pennies. That didn't seem like very many pennies to give back to God! I had 250 pennies coming in each week, so I wrote down a pledge of 25 cents. However - before I could turn in my pledge card, my parents intercepted it. I know they meant well, but they told me that the speaker didn't really mean that tithing was for the kids; he was directing the sermon at the grown-ups.

About twelve or so years later, I was a grown-up myself, but I had successfully suppressed that tithing idea. God gave me another little nudge at that time, by way of my Grandma Kemp. Gram was a real spirited character whom everybody loved. She had a smiling face that would just melt your heart, and she was so charming - and also pretty nutty - funny to be around and listen to. Gram's peculiar vocabulary of mispronounced and made-up words kept us all in stitches. But - it was best to remember she might be putting you on. You had to watch for the tell-tale wink, or the twinkle in her eye.

She would send us to the store for Baby Johnson Powder, or a pint of Blueblerries or bucket of paint from Sharon Williams. She once called me up and said, "Debby, do you have the number for Walter Reuther?" I said, "No, Gram, I don't think I do. Why do you want to call Walter Reuther?" She said, "Well my drain's all clogged up and I need him to come fix it." (In the background, I could hear my mom saying - no, you don't want Walter Reuther. You want Roto Reuther.) She once told my friend Kathy that she smoked cigars - then turned and shot me one of her coy little winks. She did buy cigars - but she just liked the way they smelled, so in the evening she'd light one and let it sit in an ashtray and burn so she could enjoy the aroma, while she sipped her juice glassful of Mogen and David.

I visited her one evening while she was smoking her cigar, drinking her wine, and recounseling her bank statements. There were two bank books on the table in front of her. She said to me very seriously, "Debby, I want you to see this. Now - this account is for me; and this one is for my church." I looked at the sizeable balances in both books - roughly the same amount in each. She said, "I want to be sure you know that when I die, the church gets the money in this account." It took me by surprise. I didn't expect it. I looked her right in the eye - nope, no wink, no twinkle. She meant it; and that's the way we took care of it after she died, just as she wished. But even then, I didn't get the hint God was giving me. And what hurts is that I didn't take that opportunity to ask my grandma more about why she was giving all that money to her church. I wish I could talk to her about it now - now that I think I've caught onto that special part of faith that she had tapped into long ago. The part that blesses you with such joy and such a deep sense of security. The part that comes from responding with thanks and generosity for the abundance God himself has provided and entrusted to your personal care. I'd like to hear Gram tell me about how she learned to act upon her thankfulness, and about what giving that money to her church meant to her. I didn't ask then, and it took me several more years to begin to understand what God was trying to tell me. I didn't hear him. I didn't hear it when I was nine, I didn't hear it even when I observed Grandma living it, but when God needed for me to hear it and I needed to hear it myself, I finally did.

The day came when Marj Nickol stood here, and spoke about her family's practice of tithing. For some reason, at that point I took it to heart - finally, after those other false starts. Then Rev. Gehlert said that they were also starting to tithe. I felt very drawn to the idea. I knew we had been blessed; we could not have made it through our crises without God's direct assistance. But even though I was feeling sure that I would like to try to tithe, I thought, "Adam will never go for this." But he did. Bless his heart - he was willing to give it a try. We plunged right on into it and have never turned back.

We help each other in this church family, in whatever ways are given to us. Marj Nickol helped me by passing on some truths in her speech that Sunday. And it has impacted our son's life too, by the way. He tells me that today, at his church in California, he is giving a stewardship speech. I told him we would pray for their church, and he said they would pray for us. We learn together, and I can only tell you about my own experiences. Financial stewardship is an individual matter between us and God. No one can decide what is best for you, but the important thing is to listen for what God is asking of you. What I would like to suggest is this. If you have sensed God calling you to increase your giving, please pray about it, asking for help in finding a way to respond. If you don't think you can manage a tithe, one way to start is to just go up one percent of income this year, and next year try to do that again. Or take a look at what you spend on some category of non-essentials each month, and then match that amount in increased giving. If you doubt that your spouse will agree, at least take that first step and talk about it - you might be surprised, as I was. It's a leap of faith, into an ever stronger faith, that you won't regret.
- Debra Ocepek

Find a Penny - Newsletter Article

"Find a penny, pick it up. All day long you'll have good luck."

Remember this verse from your childhood? I can remember taking it to heart. I believed in it (of course! What child could resist a promise like that?) I waited expectantly for the good luck to show up after I had searched for and found the camouflaged penny hiding amid the dirt on the pavement. I probably spent more time looking down than up during that time, on my homeward trek from school each day. Sometimes you could find other good stuff, too, all there for the taking! ("Finders keepers, losers weepers.") Between my penny-finding and my pop bottle-returning, I made enough to buy myself a treat once in awhile - something my parents did not often have the discretionary funds to provide.

Later, when I was grown up and in an improving financial condition, I was still in the habit of looking for change. I had outgrown the belief in the "good luck", but the pattern still continued when taking daily walks to the store or elsewhere. One year, I kept all this found change in a jar and accumulated enough for us to go to a nice restaurant and buy a"free" dinner. All from my sidewalk income.

It wasn't until recent years, after God had led me to an interest in Christian stewardship, that I was prompted to an unplanned change in this routine. After shopping at the supermarket one morning, I happened to notice a little lady scrambling to catch up with a coin that was rolling between two cars parked in front of the store. As the little lady retrieved it and stood up to place it securely in the pocket of her over-sized, dingy coat, I realized that I surely would have picked it up if I had arrived there first. I was glad she was the one to find it, and suddenly felt ashamed of my own lack of compassion all these years. Now whenever I see a coin laying on the ground, I pass it by - knowing it was not left there for me.

One thing about practicing good stewardship, though, is that you are always learning new ways of applying it. I spoke with a friend recently about a contribution she had made at church. She told me that the funds for that particular donation all came from the coins she finds on the sidewalk when taking her walks! She saves them up and puts them toward a worthy project.

I think my friend is on to something. And, I think my understanding was still correct - for me. When I listened to God, I got one answer, and when my friend listened, she got another. The point is, we both were ready to be led by God to a truth about resources: that we must share them. Maybe when I was a kid in need, those coins were actually left there for me. Not now. I hope my friend collects enough on her walks to make a difference in a needy child's life. I hope the little lady finds enough coins to buy her dinner and a place to stay. I hope God continues to give me little hints in my daily walk.
- Debra Ocepek

Consumption - Newsletter Article

"Humanity?" "Americans?" "Citizens?" "Individuals?" No, they have a stronger name for people like us; we are known as, "Consumers!" Imagine! What an insult. To consume is by definition to use up, exhaust, deplete. Of course, the term refers to our position at the end of the economic chain, from producer, to manufacturer, to merchandiser/advertiser, and lastly to consumer. The problem is, we have taken this name to heart, really latched on and run with it! It's almost as if, with that negative name having been conferred upon us, we are determined to live up to it. We have become proficient at the Consuming Game, playing it skillfully but never quite winning it because there is no winning. There is just more playing, and more losing.

Another name you might use for people like us is "Christians." Somewhere in spiritual depths of all that this word implies is a designation that should feel more appropriate than "consumer." That word is "steward." One can be a good steward or a bad steward, but Christian teaching reveals such clear direction that the way to being a good steward is made quite do-able. Additionally, in the role of a good steward, we can be a blessing to the world.

Unlike the Consuming Game, the Stewardship Game has a clear win. In fact, you win every time you play! Beyond that, our families, our church, our communities, country, and even the world win too, as they benefit from our small individual efforts. It's like the parable of the mustard seed - little things, done with God in charge, can produce massive results.

In recent months, our church has begun to focus on some of the practical ways of being good stewards of the environment. Small efforts can contribute significantly. As Christians know, God has promised to provide for our needs - our needs. He has given enough for the whole world, and said in effect: Okay - SHARE! When we explore ways of sharing our abundance, we are following God's plan. When we indulge in keeping our material gifts for ourselves alone, we are obstructing God's plan. The world can know great blessings from our small efforts, and learn to know God through us in the process of practicing good stewardship. He has entrusted us with this task, assured us He will be present to guide us, and amazingly, will provide what we need.

Reduce, re-use, and recycle. Following these practices, we can be good stewards of the earth and all our resources.
Reduce consumption first of all (ask yourself, "Do I really need this item?" before buying, or "Is this trip really necessary?") Buy and use responsibly.
Re-use to control unnecessary spending and waste. Find ways to delay the disposal of everything you use by finding secondary uses. Teach your children to be creative about re-use. Re-using is always preferable to recycling, but when something can no longer be used, then
Recycle in order to eliminate excessive demand, and to create a cleaner world, more in tune with nature and God's plan.

I've become very aware of, and devoted to, practices of good stewardship over the past several years. I deplore wastefulness. I try to be a responsible consumer, if a "consumer" I must be. I've found it amazing how little I really need. Tithing has been a large blessing and it is a crucial part of my good-stewardship approach to life. We have not suffered from a lack of anything; and I know that what we have given back has grown like the mustard seed - grown to do more good than if we had just spent it on ourselves. I'm looking forward to learning more about the environmental issues involved, as our church explores ways that we can help the Earth, and be better Stewards.
- Debra Ocepek

Heart, Soul, Mind, Strength intro - Committee Night Speech

First of all, I'd like to say thank you for coming out tonight. When we visit New Trinity, they always make it a point to say that there are lots of other things we could have spent our time on, but we chose to come together, and that's a blessing for all of us. That's an important thing to acknowledge and I want you to know it is not just taken for granted - so thank you very much.

I also would like to say thank you for bringing in styrofoam peanuts and packing materials to recycle. Every time you do something like that, you are exercising good stewardship by enabling re-use instead of wastefulness. Bringing in bags for the Foodbank and Williard's Pantry are also acts of good stewardship. Recycling the cans and bottles and jars we use here in the kitchen or at home, trying to use less of resources like electricity or gasoline, spending less money on unnecessary extravagances for ourselves in order to have more resources available to share - these are a few of the many ways to be a good steward, a good caretaker, of our material gifts. All we have is on loan, after all, from a very generous God. He has not entrusted us with these gifts so we could just use them up and hoard them for ourselves. Not everyone in the world has access to such wealth, so our obligation is to share, to avoid self-indulgence, and try to further God's kingdom by distributing the abundance more uniformly. That pretty much sums up the concept of good stewardship. All this we know. But there is much more we need to consider about the subject.

This year we are using a verse from Mark 12 as a guide for understanding how we can love and serve God more. The verse is this: And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. I was asked to write four articles this month, each covering one of those points, heart, soul, mind, strength. It was a good exercise for me because I find Christian Stewardship to be such a wide topic - so much so that it encompasses everything in life. Attaching the idea of stewardship to this commandment helped me, in thinking it through, to understand more clearly the role of our church in applying the concept of loving God in these ways. It was easy to find specific examples of how our church is showing profound love of God - in the work we are all involved in, through our strong programs and our community of faith. Your committee work is so vital in making this all possible. Church committees are the engine that put good intentions into motion. You are the source of all the heart, soul, mind, and strength it takes to keep this work going and to make it better. I think we are fulfilling the commandment here in many ways, all year long. Our present concern with stewardship, then, is to continue to financially support the mission of this church that enables this love of God to be demonstrated.

Tonight begins our yearly celebration of our church life. Over the next few Sundays, we'll examine what it means to be Bethany Church, what our mission entails, and we'll consider what our personal response should be in furthering that mission. You'll hear from a number of people who will share their own reflections about Bethany and this denomination, and then we'll all be asked to make a pledge of financial support for the coming year. Because we can trust in God's providence to sustain us, we have the opportunity to use our resources to support and further strengthen the work of this church. When you meet with your committees, stop to consider the power of all the heart, soul, mind and strength that is there in the room, and the potential it represents for our congregation's life. May God bless our efforts on his behalf as a dedicated, and loving, family of faith.
- Debra Ocepek

Heart - Newsletter Article

. . . And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. Mark 12:30

What makes a church a church? Looking around, we can see all kinds of possible definitions by various denominations, sects, and individuals. Throughout the history of Christianity, believers have argued about a common definition, sometimes becoming so locked in the struggle to define what does and does not constitute a church that they have completely lost sight of the essence, the heart of Christianity - a love of God.

We have a church here. What is it, and what are we supposed to be doing with it? It may help to remind ourselves of our foundations in order to rediscover the nature of our true ministry. In 1917, some of our ancestors came together with a mission to actively love God, with all their heart, by doing something bold and very exciting. They all jumped up and said, "Let's make a church!" Then they established this new congregation in His name in order to do His work. Here is what they said they intended to do, out of a deep love for God and humanity:

Statement of Purpose
  • to establish a Christian congregation for worship,

  • to preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ,

  • to celebrate the sacraments,

  • to render loving service toward humanity,

  • to strive for righteousness, justice, and peace,

  • to advance the realm of God at home and abroad.

Can you imagine starting a new church? What a project to undertake! Every Sunday we gather as a congregation in the name of the same God who led them to establish the original ministry right here in this place. For us to perpetuate the church is, I think, quite a bit easier than getting it underway in the first place. But it is just as important. We support it in order to carry on the work and fulfill the stated mission. We are united with the founders in loving and serving God right to this day. We honor their memory, and their strong faith and their gifts to us, as we honor all those who have served God over the years since then, through this family of faith.

We honor them. We thank them, and we love them for their sacrifices and guidance. And we love the God who led us into this fellowship, with all our hearts. Every time we show Christ's love and care for all people, we are showing that God-inspired, and God-centered heartfelt love. For example… we pray - in worship, as individuals, and as part of the prayer chain. We visit our homebound and sick. We counsel, we show love through various functions like funeral dinners, work groups, craft groups and by mentoring our young people in the faith. We sing, we greet, we laugh, we cry, we share, we learn.

We, as the present Bethany UCC, are more than an on-going tradition. We are the current generation entrusted with "advancing the realm of God at home and abroad" through the work of this church and this denomination. To show God that we intend to honor our promise, Bethany will continue the good work we have begun - loving God with our Heart more fully every day.
- Debra Ocepek

Mind - Newsletter Article

. . . And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. Mark 12:30

My all-time favorite movie is "Harvey." I hope you've seen it; if not, do so! You're in for a treat. Jimmy Stewart plays Elwood P. Dowd, unquestionably one of the most endearing characters ever created for the screen. I've learned a lot about life from Elwood P. Dowd.

Elwood is portrayed as a gentleman and a dreamer who has abandoned a promising career in business. He shows sincere interest in and concern about everyone he encounters on his daily ramblings about town. After introducing himself, he asks about their life experiences, and always learns something that impresses him about his new friend. After these preliminaries, Elwood will give them his card and ask them to call anytime, and then instantly invites them to dinner at home with his family. He appreciates a wide range of people: cab drivers, doctors and nurses, security guards, gentlewomen, and fellow bar-hoppers. Yes, Elwood has a little drinking problem. Because of this, no one takes him seriously, especially when he tells them about his friend Harvey, the six-foot tall invisible rabbit. Though Elwood makes many friends, he is lonely because the concept of invisible Harvey is just too much of an obstacle for these new friendships to endure.

I love it when Elwood says, "My dear, in my life I have been oh so clever and then I have been oh so pleasant. I recommend pleasant." Elwood is not talking about education as opposed to frivolity. He is referring to the kind of cleverness that he has rejected, a self-serving, climb-the-corporate-ladder, make the grade, get all you can kind of cleverness. He has chosen instead, with Harvey's help, pleasantness. A pleasantness that calms his mind and welcomes all people into his world. He is lonely, true, but he has made many friends on his journey and the truest of these friends is Harvey. He looks forward to each day and the new friends it will bring.

Why do I like this strange guy, Elwood? He inspires me to try to be oh so pleasant, to reject negative cultural values, and not try to fit into the standard mold. Doing so is even worth being considered a kind of oddball, in my estimation. Not everyone can understand my values! This world has quite a racket going. Quite a clever way of drawing us into its alluring promises and away from God's version of sustenance. We buy and store up and are never satisfied because we are told it is good to consume a lot. We distrust and tear down others. Yet the Bible has told us there is a better way. It takes patience and an open mind to discover the alternative that Christ announced when he came to visit Earth. The alternative is a trust in God's providence. How do we open our minds to this truer and better way?

Bethany church and the instruction provided through the educational programs are a great resource for doing just that, allowing us to love God with all our minds, through learning. Elwood P. Dowd got his insights from a strange source indeed, but we can stir up a new vision just by being involved in this church. Think about all the mind-expanding, change-enabling enlightenment offered here! Christian Education, VBS, sermons, Adult Sunday School, Bible Study, financial counseling, study circles, library. Our openness to discovering what God intends for, and requires of us can help us live toward a fuller, more God-filled life, loving him with our mind, as well as our heart, soul and strength. There is a lot to learn, and a lot to do. Exercising that mind of ours in an effort to love God more and more is our challenge and our privilege. Not everyone in this world has access to the kind of resources that Bethany offers. We need to support and grow that mission. Let's use these resources to create a more pleasant life, and welcome any new friends we meet to come and share the feast!
- Debra Ocepek

Soul - Newsletter Article

. . . And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. Mark 12:30

Now this is where the fun part of stewardship comes in! SOUL! It's the part of loving God that probably comes the easiest to everyone in our church. Soul is the aspect of our being that enables us to feel things deeply, and respond in kind. In our congregational life we experience a deeply soul-felt love of God in many different ways.

The soul of a Christian responds to God by feeling. We are moved and touched and restored and made glad in the soul part of ourselves, and this feeling produces a response of gratitude and praise in the form of creativity, prayer, worship, and acts of caring.

An example is music. Not only do we sing praise to God, but God sings through us. Imagine! And those whom God touches with our singing feel God's love in their soul. As inspiring as the choir or the bell players or the children may be, their music is only felt in the soul because God has allowed his love to flow through it. The congregation hears more than they sing, and it touches the soul. Have you ever had a hymn or an anthem stuck in your head and find yourself humming it during the week? That's a form of praise, too. We are linked together through the music: from God, through the musicians, through the hearers, and back to God.

Similarly, whenever we feel a sense of God's presence in worship it is another form of the soul reaching to God (and God reaching back to us.) And in communion, of course. But our soul is also the part of us that keeps us involved with others in our Christian love relationship in the form of youth involvement, nursery, church dinners, fellowship, social hours, women's guild, men's group, camps, retreats, and acting in specific ways such as greeters and flower providers. All this activity and sharing gives us a good feeling, and a sense of being one with each other and our loving God. When striving to "love God with all your soul", these are some ways of turning that resolve into action.

All such endeavors are enabled by our time and talent commitment, as well as our financial support. We have such a wealth of soul-filled love of God at Bethany! Stewardship of our resources is central to Christianity. Just being Bethany is important work. By supporting the work of this church, we can sustain all the forms of soul-based praise and actions that come so naturally to our congregational life. Loving God with all our Soul is good and substantive work that comes with generous rewards.
- Debra Ocepek

Strength - Newsletter Article

. . . And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. Mark 12:30

When our son was visiting recently, he and I went on a long hike in the woods. The beauty was striking, the natural setting was very calming, and the sense of awe was overwhelming. It was a warm day, but entering the thick shade of trees we felt the instant change to a cool, perfect temperature. There was a winding trail which ended at a baseball field edged by a little creek. Coming back, we saw three beautiful deer, and they saw us! We said hello, but they didn't feel like making small talk, so they bounded off the trail ahead and were once again invisible to our intruding eyes. I kept thinking how far we have let ourselves stray from nature: This is the way God made his world.

Surprisingly, our hike had not taken us far from home. In fact, the beautiful, natural wooded trails we explored were, in some places, just a few yards from a busy street that I travel on almost every day. An oasis of nature within cluttered civilization which I had never visited, or even thought about before. For seventeen years I have lived on the periphery of that lovely place and never even known it was there. How much of our life is lived like that?

The bible verse which we have been studying is taken from Mark 12, a chapter which is full of familiar references - the vineyard owner, the stone which the builders rejected, Caesar's coin, the widow's mite. Somewhat less familiar in the middle of all this is the matter of a scribe who asks Jesus an important question: "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus tells him the answer in our current scripture, "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength," and goes on to include loving your neighbor as yourself as the second most important commandment. The scribe then agrees with Jesus, adding his own interpretation that all the burnt offerings and sacrifices aren't worth a hoot compared with these. He gets it! And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."

Do we get it? Or do we walk on the periphery all the time? We are so close! In fact we too are "not far from the kingdom of God." In our hearts, with our soul, and with our minds we try to love God. But we have to leave the edge and jump into it with all our strength also in order to make it meaningful. Otherwise it is just attitude. We have heard that what we need is prayer with legs on. That's putting our words into action, getting off the sidelines and into the game, with whatever surprises or risks there may be. I wonder if we recognize how close we are to the beautiful reality of the Providence of God. I think we are a little afraid to leave the familiar path and trust his promises by entering that place.

Bethany church has been blessed with great strength to love God with! Together, we turn our good intentions into specific action by loving God through endeavors like Ponca Creek and Mexico mission, IHN involvement, New Trinity partnership, Mission projects, Stewardship efforts, Youth projects (Rake ‘n Run, etc.), and even by using physical strength and stamina to maintain our property, provide transportation, work on dinners and various congregational functions. And I wonder, with all this strength at our disposal, what else is just around the corner or over there in the hidden woods? What part of the kingdom of God will be within our reach when we leap to the next level of trust? What is God calling us to do, as individuals and as a church? By bringing our hearts, souls, minds, and strength together in love and trust and sacrifice, we can find the path that God wants us to surprise us with!
- Debra Ocepek

Neighbor - Newsletter Article

. . . And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is,. . . ' And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Mark 12:28-31

Do you have a favorite charity? I love to give to the Foodbank. It seems to me that the establishment of the foodbank system was one of the highest achievements of our culture to date. Just think about all the components needed to make it work: agricultural suppliers, retail food suppliers, restaurants, transport, government, churches, corporate sponsors, individual sponsors, and volunteers. Someone was very smart to combine the resources of all these varying entities to form a means of distributing food to those who need it. Before the foodbank came along, this was food that would often have gone to waste, rather than be consumed, simply for a lack of a system of distribution. And the process is extremely efficient. Somehow they manage to turn every $1.00 donation into $11.00 worth of food distributed - amazing!

We don't need help in understanding that those whom the Foodbank serves are "our neighbors." Unless we have slept through every sermon we've ever heard or missed every bible reading in Sunday School, we know that when Jesus talked about loving our neighbor he did not mean just the person next door. Loving and Giving are understood clearly by followers of Christ's teachings as the work of the church. What we may need to understand better is the method we should employ in this task. How do we go about loving our neighbors as ourselves?

As much as I love the Foodbank, I love God more. I know that the funds I give to charities like the Foodbank are doing good things. I'm happy to send additional gifts, when I can afford to, to such charities. But first comes my responsibility to give to the church, out of thankfulness for so many things, and above all, out of a sense of responsibility I've recognized (at long last!) to bring "first fruits" to God.

Jesus must have had good reasons for establishing his church. One of them, I think, is that we can do so much more good combined than we can do as individuals. God made a wonderful world, but there is work to be done, and those of us who know God know that we are the ones entrusted to do that work. As much as I might want to feed the hungry, I couldn't do it without something like the Foodbank to multiply my money, and the Foodbank and other such exemplary charities could not exist without the Church and the foundation of Christ who taught us to care and give.

Bill Green of the UCC puts it this way: "The church itself does not just do mission - it is mission. The sheer existence of the church is already philanthropy of the highest order . . . Giving to the church is not just ‘thanks' for gifts and blessing. It is ‘praise' that prizes the whole sensibility of giving and compassion in the first place, inside and outside the church."

Our neighbor is the person sitting next to us in church, or at the ballgame. Our neighbor is also the little six-week-old baby visiting us through IHN, or the 65-year-old man who with his wife and son has been sleeping in his car for a month and a half. Our neighbor is the Ponca Creek child who cannot get enough of the hugs and love our youth bring with them to South Dakota every summer. Our neighbor is the down-trodden resident of Haven of Rest who we sing to when we visit. Our neighbor is far away or right beside us. When we return God's portion of the gifts he has given, through our church, we are actively and profoundly loving our neighbor in more ways than we can even understand.
- Debra Ocepek
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Funny Money - Newsletter Article

Everybody except church finance committees will get a laugh out of this one:
A one dollar bill met a twenty dollar bill in the cash register of a local grocery store. "Hey, where have you been? I haven't seen you around here much." The twenty answered, "I've been hanging out at the casinos, went on a cruise ship and did the rounds for a few weeks. I just got back to the US recently, went to a couple of baseball games, video stores, that kind of stuff. How about you?" The one dollar bill answered, "You know, same old stuff - church, church, church. . ."

Funny! But how true. How sad.

The traditional teaching about church giving is that we should give of our Time, our Talent, and our Treasure. Kindly notice the word, "and." If the word were "or," there might be some wiggle room. I could, for example, volunteer to paint a room, help in the nursery, sing in the choir, do some yard work, write some articles, serve on a committee, cook a meal, visit the homebound, serve communion, be a greeter, go on a mission trip, etc. etc., instead of pledging my financial support. As a matter of fact, that's exactly what I did, for many years.

Some have used those worthwhile endeavors as a reason for not giving actual money to the church, arguing that the time and talent shared has monetary worth or that participating in these ways is an appropriate substitute for giving. Some have complained that the church should be about holier things, and not focus so much on money. I know because I did that too.

All that would be okay if Jesus had not taught the opposite. Next to the Kingdom of God, Money was the most talked about subject of his ministry here on Earth. He knew how much a part of our lives it was, how carefully we might guard it, and how dear it could become to us. That's exactly why he demanded that we part with it, for his sake: to show our devotion to Him and our dependence upon Him. Getting hold of that part took me awhile.

There are many creative ways of engaging in good Christian Stewardship, many fun and light-hearted ways of talking about it. But the truth is that Jesus took it seriously, and reinforced many times the fact that God expects us to respond to him financially, as well as in other ways. Those little dollar-size bills tell God exactly what we think he's worth.
- Debra Ocepek

Helping and Thanking - Newsletter Article

It was Edith's church's turn to host the homeless families, and her turn to cook and serve their dinner. She had put a lot of thought into the menu, and decided to include her famous (though somewhat pricey) potato dish which was always a big hit at the potluck dinners. She looked forward to doing something nice that would be appreciated. The dinner was served on time, and all went well until Edith overheard one of the guests grumbling, "Do we have to have cheesy potatoes every night? We had this at the other church last night." Edith was crushed. "So, that's what I get for trying to be nice, I guess," she thought. "Never again."

One of many reasons people do volunteer work or help out at church or charitable organizations is that they want to feel good about having done something worthwhile. There's nothing unusual about that; it is an understandable reason and usually produces good results. We hope that when we have done a day's work for free, somebody will say thank-you to us. But, that doesn't always happen. If you have never had your feelings hurt when volunteering, you probably haven't been volunteering very long.

I've learned a surprising lesson from my experiences volunteering: It's important to give thanks! Amazingly, those who are putting the most effort into the project, and who should certainly be thanked the most, are also the ones doing the thanking. That is nothing short of Christ in action. Instinctively, these wonderful people seem to know that we need to be thanked by somebody. We really shouldn't need that, but it is human nature. It should be enough to know that we are doing the job that God has entrusted to us.

Feeling unappreciated for all your well-intentioned efforts? Consider this poem, found on the wall in Mother Teresa's Calcutta home for children :

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, People may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies;
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you;
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, someone could destroy overnight;
Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough;
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

It may be hard to always do good when it is not noticed or appreciated, but we must do good "anyway." Instead of waiting to be thanked, try saying thank-you to the other volunteers! You'll feel better. Helpers thanking helpers - it's a beautiful thing, and if you have not noticed or tried doing it yet, I hope you will. I hope that we can all learn to be the generous, giving, kind, gracious stewards of our time and resources that the best of those among us have modeled for us so faithfully. God shines right through us in surprising ways when we let ourselves put others' needs before our own.
- Debra Ocepek

Laundry - Newsletter Article

Today I hung my laundry out in the fresh air to dry! It was wonderful to be out in the sunshine and warm breeze.

I know - you think it's a waste of time and energy. I own a gas dryer, thankfully, and I use it most of the time. But I do love hanging out the laundry when I can. It's a genetic flaw. My grandma was nuts about doing the laundry too. Gram showed me the ropes (pun intended.) There is such a thing as good form. If she saw a line of clothes with colored shirts mixed among the white sheets and towels, she'd complain that it looked like the dickens. And - you must put things in order: towels, then sheets, then underwear, etc. right down the line. And don't waste pins! Connect one garment to the next. That way, it's less work taking them down and you need to buy fewer pins. When you take the towels down, give them a good SNAP to soften them up. Always stand up-wind from the laundry as you hang it. (It has nothing to do with odor. If you stand on the other side of the line and it's windy, you'll get a faceful of wet clothes!)

The more I get into stewardship, the more joy I find in something simple like hanging out a line of laundry. It's representative of a non-convenience-driven lifestyle. Not only does it give me an excuse to get out in the fresh air and remember dear Gram, but since I tend to see all things so differently now, I can see God's hand in it too. How? Well, I'm probably saving a little money by not using the gas dryer (there are more productive things to spend that money on), I'm making use of my yard and my good health, and I'm taking some time to enjoy a simple task. Maybe best of all, I get to smell that good smell that you only get from wind- and sun-dried clothes! Who but God could make such a great fragrance?
- Debra Ocepek

Give Yourself intro - Committee Night Speech 2007


First of all, I'd like to say thank you for coming out tonight! There are lots of other things we could have spent our time on (like watching the Red Sox lose to Colorado), but we chose to come together - in effect "giving ourselves", and that's a blessing for all of us.

Tonight is the introduction to the celebration of our church life that we traditionally share at this time of the year. Over the next few Sundays in worship, we'll be hearing about our church life and mission, from many of our own members. Then on November 11th, Dedication Sunday, we will bring forward our pledges. On your table you'll find reservation cards for the meals on that Sunday. You can complete the card and leave it on the table tonight, or take it with you and return it later, but please do fill one out because having an estimate of attendance helps us prepare for the meals.

Scott Myers is leading the stewardship effort this fall, and he'll begin by explaining the program. Our theme is "Give Yourself." He'll start shortly, and I think there's just time to go and get seconds now if you'd like more. To avoid interruptions, we'll wait until after the program to clear the tables. Thank you.


My topic is "consumption" - and I don't mean pie! I'm talking about our culture, which is in a super-consumption, excessively materialistic mode right now. The Christian response to the issue of consumption, though, is a matter of dealing responsibly with the material gifts with which God has entrusted us - choosing what to buy or what not to buy, what to carefully dispose of or re-use, what to keep and what to give.

I like this excerpt from in the introduction to the covenant with regard to the theme, Give Yourself! "That's what we're inviting every Bethany member to do this year. We do it not because we want to fund a church budget, but because we love every Bethany member and believe that we truly do find ourselves by giving ourselves away, we find life when we give ourselves."

Adam and I were talking about how during WWII families willingly gave up things for the common good. Chicken on Sunday, if you had it, was the norm because you could rarely get beef. Gasoline and other commodities were rationed. Families saved up and donated things like aluminum foil and cooking grease, even string. It was expected, and Americans responded enthusiastically to these constraints because it was important. The fact is, we really don't need all that much, certainly not as much of our material blessings as we routinely keep for ourselves - and resources can definitely be put to better use by sharing them than by simply gratifying our supposed "needs."

It just makes me wonder, if we are capable of such sacrifice for war and country, could we do something like that, for peace and God?

Dear Creator God, You have given us all we have and all we are. Thank you for bringing us together tonight. We thank you for the food and fellowship and love we have shared and we ask you to lead us as we go to our committees and then home and into the world. Bless these leaders of the church with your presence, and grant us the strength and desire to give more fully, the gift of ourselves. Give us your grace and peace, and hold us close to your heart as we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us, Our Father . . .
- Debra Ocepek

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Hymn Expressions - Newsletter Article

There's nothing like singing a hymn with other Christians in worship, is there! Old hymns and new hymns have a way of touching the soul. From a stewardship point of view, it could be said that the words of this older hymn from 1917 sum up what our responsibility on Earth is about:

Living for Jesus, a life that is true,
Striving to please Him in all that I do;
Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free,
This is the pathway of blessing for me.
O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to Thee,
For Thou, in Thy atonement didst give Thyself for me;
I own no other Master, my heart shall be Thy throne;
My life I give, henceforth to live, O Christ, for Thee alone.

In other words, there is nothing to strive for greater than Jesus' approval. Giving up all other goals and all other masters, by our own free will, with gladness and not grudgingly, allows him to provide for our needs and opens the "pathway of blessing." This is stewardship of our complete selves, depending upon and fully trusting in God. Of course, the hymn said all that so much more beautifully! With music, it's even better.

Many of the hymns from ages past convey some deep truths about our faith. They are an excellent resource for exploring ideas about stewardship, not only of our treasure, but of our talents, time, and indeed our lives. It's worthwhile to use them in worship to evoke a response to those ancient and true ideas. The old hymns tended to rely on poetic wording and images. The older the hymn, the more flowery the language seems to be.

Gradually, the hymns have lost that flavor and though the words may rhyme in new songs, the sentimental nature has disappeared and the text is more like prose. New hymns and praise songs certainly have more energy, though! They are quick to learn because of their repetition, and can be very captivating and endearing. This little story that has been passed around lately addresses the differences, and may make you smile:

An old farmer went to the city one weekend and attended the big city church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was. "Well," said the farmer, "It was good. They did something different, however. They sang praise choruses instead of hymns." "Praise choruses," said his wife, "What are those?" "Oh, they're sort of like hymns, only different," said the farmer. "Well, what's the difference?" asked the wife. The farmer said, "Well, it's like this. If I said to you, 'Martha, the cows abide in the corn,' that would be a hymn. If on the other hand I said to you, 'Martha, Martha, Martha, Oh Martha, MARTHA, MARTHA, the cows, the big cows, the brown cows, the black cows, the white cows, the black and white cows, the COWS, COWS, COWS, are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn,' well, that would be a praise chorus."

Practicing good stewardship is a joy - full of hymns and praise choruses! Whatever hymns YOU like to sing, sing them with your church family in worship regularly! I hope you'll enjoy the musical journey to a fuller, more trusting and expressive faith.
- Debra Ocepek

Loaves and Fishes - Newsletter Article

"Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over." - Matthew 14: 19-20

What an amazing story! We have heard it so often that we probably take it for granted, mentally assigning it to that "churchy" part of us that we always carry with us, but which we don't always take seriously or apply directly to our daily life. It's worth spending a little imagination on. What an experience it must have been to have actually been present at that meal. Or maybe not, come to think of it. I wonder if the people who "ate and were satisfied" had a clue about what had really happened in their presence. They got food from the disciples, probably passed around in baskets and consumed picnic-style. As a member of the crowd, could you have seen that the whole thing started with just five loaves and two fish, or heard the blessing? You're crowded in among 5000 other people, and sitting down preparing to eat when the fellow brings around the dinner. From your vantage point, perhaps you can't clearly see the little boy who brought the food, or even Jesus at that distance. All you may have been aware of was that free food arrived and it was enough to fill you up. There's no mention in the bible story of any applause or thank-you notes at all.

If God performed this great miracle once, it's a certainty that he can do it again. In fact, he has, and is! The same miracle is occurring daily on our little planet, but usually we are too busy eating our fill to notice. We don't see Jesus over there furnishing the goodies. Here we are, sitting secure and well-nourished, inhabitants of a world over-flowing with good things. Do we have a clue about the loaves and fishes that we're supposed to be distributing? There is enough for all! God has created the resources and patiently taught us the means to share them among all of us. Are we going to sit down and treat ourselves to our little picnic, or start carrying the baskets among the crowds? What we need are more disciples willing to do the job.
- Debra Ocepek

Materialist Vision - Newsletter Article

We have our work cut out for us. As Christians learning to be good stewards, we all have a long way to go - even those of us who consider ourselves pretty good stewards already. It's an on-going procedure; it's a skill that can never be perfected in any individual or group, but which can steadily be honed. And it's the process of learning and doing stewardship that is the continuous objective. The end result is, of course, in God's hands and not within the steward's reach.

There are so many things to try to overcome in the development of good stewardship, especially in a society which accepts and encourages materialism the way our 21st century culture does. We've been led to believe that things are what matter. We routinely assign major issues, serious concerns, and even religious matters to the materialism-acceptance side of ourselves, trivializing their importance in a most alarming way, though conveniently making them much easier to swallow. We do it all the time.

For example . . .
Within a few days of the 9/11/2001 attacks, I made a trip to the Post Office to ship a package for our retail business. I spoke with an acquaintance while waiting in line. She asked me whether our business makes any patriotic items. When I answered that we do not, she said, "You should! You could sell a lot of them right now!" I was taken aback. Never mind that our business is of a completely different nature. Never mind that we would never consider changing our product line to purposely profit by taking advantage of our neighbors' fears and pain. Her suggestion had nothing to do with patriotism or social responsibility. She simply recognized an opportunity for us to make a buck and saw nothing wrong with suggesting the idea to me. I've thought a lot about it since that time and I think her comment is representative of a pervasive condition in our materialistic society.

The 9/11 horror was so significant that as individuals and a society we had to find a way to cope with it and in doing so, we were tempted to bring it into a more comfortable and familiar side of ourselves - we marketed it. Other instances of this same, curious behavior are evident in more common experiences. We might not comprehend the significance of Easter, for example, but we can sure decorate for it. The depth of human sacrifice associated with Memorial Day is too hard to fathom, but at least we can have a picnic. If a bible study doesn't satisfy, we can always see a movie or watch a television show with angels, complete with popcorn and commercials. And Christmas - we all know how far afield we are from its true meaning. We hesitate to delve, to explore, to reason and learn. We can condense almost anything into a marketable, prettier version. It's territory we are familiar with. It's accepted. And I guess it's human nature; you certainly couldn't mistake it for anything divine.

Our problem with being good stewards of our resources and ourselves is not that it's such a difficult task, and it's not that we don't believe that's what God wants for us. As Christians, we all pretty much accept the idea in principle. The problem at this time in history is that we are looking at our responsibilities through the filter of consumerism, rather than Christianity. It's a cop-out. We fool ourselves into believing it doesn't matter. When Buying and Selling and Hype and "Ownership" (as if there were such a thing) are what we know best and are comfortable with and continually practice, consumerism is the lens we will use to view our world, our relationships, and our responsibilities. We are the prodigal son, but we have not yet returned home. We have a long way to go.
- Debra Ocepek

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Unexpected Opportunity - Newsletter Article

There are opportunities that come gradually, and then there are those that appear unexpectedly. One of the latter has recently been made available to most Americans in the form of an economic stimulus check. The checks have begun to arrive, and hopefully the idea of getting more discretionary spending money out into the marketplace will produce the intended benefit of jump-starting the nation's economy. An unexpected opportunity has arrived! Now, what to do about it.

As I began to consider how best to spend the money, narrowing down my list to what I wanted the most, this note came my way via the UCC Eastern Ohio Association. It is part of a letter from a church in the Indiana - Kentucky Conference regarding the refund checks which will soon arrive from the government.

"Collectively, it is estimated that members and children of our UCC church will be receiving around $250,000. What will we do? Will we shop till we drop or will we take some extravagant amount and give to those who really need it to survive? We would like to propose that all who are part of our faith community, who are not faced with a financial crisis, consider giving away some, or all, of this money to the poor, the homeless, the hungry and to organizations working to change the systemic causes of such conditions and bring about social justice. The Church Council supports this opportunity to share, and encourages you to prayerfully consider the possibilities. This is not a plea for money to go to our church needs. This is a plea for prayerful consideration of willing, loving, extravagant giving to those we are called to consider as the Christ knocking at our door."

As carefully as I may sometimes think I have honed my stewardship skills and as much progress as I believe I've made in being more giving, less wasteful and less self-indulgent, I must admit that my first reaction to this suggestion was less than generous. After all, I reasoned, the whole idea is to spend the money into circulation. Saving it or giving it away wasn't really what the legislators had in mind. Of course, because I had established the practice of tithing some time ago, the first ten percent would go to the church but then I thought I was supposed to spend the rest and I had planned to do so.
Here's where that reasoning falls short. Anybody who thinks that a homeless, hungry, or poor person wouldn't spend the money is nuts. Of course the money will still be spent! And it will be used far more productively than I would have used it myself.

One minute I didn't have that money. Now I do. Some opportunities are sought out and developed over time. Some fall in your lap.
- Debra Ocepek

Table Grace - Newsletter Article

A scene in an old movie depicts a large family at the dinner table. Heads are bowed and hands are folded. The father prays, "For what we are about to receive, Lord, make us truly thankful." Then everybody says, "Amen." This seems to be a commonly accepted prayer, since the same lines occur in more than one old movie. It must be viewed as a generic, representative table grace, at least in the minds of some screenwriters.

The first time I heard those lines in a movie, it struck me as odd because I had never heard anyone pray using those words. It's not the same, for example, as something more familiar like, "God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food." Maybe they wanted to write something that seemed more adult. When I heard it in another movie, I began to ponder it again. What about that prayer bothered me?

Maybe it's this: the words do not express a prayer of thanks, for the meal or anything else. We are used to saying, "Thank you," to God, in so many words, for the meal. And saying, "make us truly thankful," is not the same thing. Doesn't it seem almost rude to be given this gift of food, and then say to the Giver, "Oh, yes, and would you please help me appreciate it too?" It's like saying I know I should really be thankful but I can't quite manage it, so please make it so. Couldn't we at least be polite about it?

"Make us truly thankful." For the meal and the goodness of life which is abundant in all of us, we should automatically be truly thankful. But are we? Sadly, I think that I take a lot for granted most of the time, rather than marveling at the generosity of a God who provides such riches. I recognize in theory that I am blessed, but human nature and the world's values intrude into my thankfulness. Instead of seeing the dinner as a gift from God, and responding with gratitude and praise, I tend to see it as something I worked to buy and prepare by myself, no matter what prayer my lips may pray. If I'm really honest about it, I'd have to say I usually feel I'm entitled to it. It takes regular reminding (like in worship) to re-establish a thankful perspective. And then I still need to remind myself again and again. I know it's because I'm weak and self-centered; only by establishing habits of giving and by studying and re-learning what God wants from me do I make any progress in coming closer to the person God wants me to be.

"Make us truly thankful." Perhaps it is an impolite prayer. Or perhaps it is the truest prayer we can pray. "For what we are about to receive, and have received most abundantly, Lord, make us truly and profoundly thankful and aware, because we forget." Gratitude does not come easily for us because our wealth and egos and pride stand in our way. We must pray for gratitude. Gratitude is fundamental. It is the place where stewardship begins.
- Debra Ocepek

Other Resources:
UCC Page - The Bible on Stewardship

A photo of Debra Ocepek at the potter's wheel, Akron, Ohio