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Duty, Delight, Joy: The Basics of Life-Long Stewardship

The goal in this small study book is to weave together duty, delight and joy with the three articles of faith as we profess them in the Apostles' Creed, and with the three life-long acts of thanksgiving which we traditionally identify as annual giving, special giving, and planned giving.

Duty, Delight, Joy
The Basics of Life-Long Stewardship

By [The Rev. Dr. Len Hoffmann]

As we prepare to gather around the meal that Jesus provided for his disciples of all ages, and which gathers the saints who were, are and who will be in praise and thanksgiving to God. We often hear recited the words, "It is our duty, delight and joy."

These words weave together many things in what we have come to know as the Great Thanksgiving. This Great Thanksgiving embraces all of our smaller thanksgivings and collects them together, as the people of God gather to be fed and sent forth as stewards and witnesses of God's amazing and abundant grace.

Our goal in this small study book is to weave together duty, delight and joy with the three articles of faith as we profess them in the Apostles' Creed, and with the three life-long acts of thanksgiving which we traditionally identify as annual giving, special giving, and planned giving.

The connection of duty, with creation and annual giving, delight with redemption and second-mile giving, and joy with growth in faith and planned giving, creates a tapestry of thanksgiving that offers praise to God and makes a difference for our lives of discipleship.

This tapestry of discipleship begins to look like a picture that brings into focus the Great Commandment, the Great Commission and the Great Thanksgiving

Our Duty

Recently, I was on a plane returning to Chicago from Baltimore. These flights often carry uniformed military personnel who are in transition from various tours of duty. On this trip there were Air Force personnel who the flight attendant announced were returning from their tour of duty in Afghanistan and we were all invited to applaud them for their service to our country.

The word duty is one of those words that apart from military usage often retain a negative connotation. The word elicits from us a bristling response. We often recoil from the word "duty" in that it seems to impinge on our sense of freedom and individuality.

Duty we think is particularly a bad idea when connected to words like stewardship and giving. We recoil at the idea that giving in any way should have connected to it a sense of responsibility. In other words it seems to diminish the idea of doing something of ones own free will which we want to always attach to giving.

However, just as in military usage duty has connected with it one's willingness to feely carry out one's responsibilities as the legally authorized mission is undertaken within the given rules of engagement, so also, one might see that duty in relationship to giving has this same sense of freely undertaking a response as one who is on a mission from God.

The basis for our response in the sense that "It is our duty..." is rooted in the First Article of the Apostles' Creed and the words, "I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth."

We profess here that God is the author and giver of all that exists. God provides an abundance of good gifts to us. In fact we must confess that all that we are and all that we have is a gift of God.

In his explanation to the First Article of the Creed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, sixteenth century reformer, writes the following:

I believe that God has made me and all that exists. God has given me my eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses and still preserves them. God has also given me my clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and home, wife and children, fields, cattle and all my goods. God daily provides for all my needs. All of this God does out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in me. Therefore, it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.

It is our "duty" Luther reminds us that we have a responsibility to thank and praise, to serve and obey. Our service and obedience flows from our acts of thanksgiving and praise. We offer thanksgiving (we do our duty, if you will) by giving our offerings to God.

The practice of bringing thank offerings to God is deeply rooted in our biblical understanding worship. Acts of worship have always included the bringing of the first fruits as a recognition that God is the giver of all good things and that we make a faithful and dutiful response to God by bringing our offerings.

Our offering is a sign of faith in that in its original, agrarian context offering the best grain, and the best of the live-stock demonstrated a reliance on God as the giver of the harvest and that the next year's harvest is also dependent on his blessing.

Although it is more difficult to perceive this same dependence on God as we bring monetary thank offerings, the intention is exactly the same. We bring our offerings out of a sense of gratitude. It is our response to what is given to us by a bountiful God.

When this offering is from our first-fruits, off-the-top, and a percentage or proportion (may be even 5%, 10% or more) it helps remind us of our dependence on the abundant generosity of this creator God, who not only provides for us, but still preserves us.

Thus regular giving, this weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly giving (depending on how we receive our monetary harvest) reflects our sense of duty. It is our duty. Our freely chosen duty is to respond to our God's generosity and reflects a generosity of our own.

The duty flows from the mission that we have been given to be thankful stewards of these blessings. Our gifts gathered with the gifts of others throughout the church multiply our thanksgiving and make a difference as daily ministry is done through the work of all the expressions of our church (congregations, synods, churchwide organization).

It is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey. This is most certainly true.

Our Delight

The word "delight" brings to mind those things which tantalize our senses. A snow capped mountain glistening in the bright sunshine. The first glimpse of one's soon to be spouse on one's wedding day. Beholding the smile as our toddler eats their first ice cream cone. In fact almost anything that makes our heart skip a beat or raises goose bumps on our arms might be described as a delightful experience.

In journeying from duty to delight in our lives of life-long stewardship we enter another level, another realm, a larger awareness of the how we have been blessed and the profound nature of those blessings.

It might be said that delight in life comes with a fuller awareness of God's activity of grace in our lives. This is the fullness of grace that comes as we grow in our appreciation of what God has truly done for us through God's son, Jesus Christ.

As we weave the thread of delight into the tapestry discipleship we move to the Second Article of the Apostles' Creed, where we profess the work of God's Son.

Martin Luther unpacks the Second Article in a way that enables us to become overwhelmed by this grace of God that comes through Jesus. Luther writes:

I believe that Jesus Christ is true God, begotten from God from eternity and also, true man born of the Virgin Mary, is the greatest power. He has redeemed me a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from sin and the power of evil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy and precious blood and his innocent suffering and death that I may be his own, live under his reign, and serve him in righteousness, innocence and obedience, even as he is risen from the dead and lives and reigns through all eternity. This is most certainly true.

My wife recently received as part of her inheritance some silver coins that belonged to her grandmother and some gold coins that belonged to her parents. It was a delight to look through the old silver coins and to handle the shiny gold ones. There is something about physically touching something that has intrinsic value that brings a sense of delight. There was tangible value there not something removed like stock certificates or a bank balance on a computer screen.

In Jesus Christ we have the tangible love of God connecting to us in very human ways. It is as John states, "The Word made flesh." We see God acting and living among us coming close to us and making God's presence a living reality.

Jesus is the means by which we are directly connected with God's grace and as Luther indicates it's not done with gold or silver, but with his own life, death and resurrection. As we are immersed in this grace, we come to delight in this abundant gift of God which brings us to life.

Our delight in this gift causes to look for increased opportunities to share not only from the basic blessings that are ours as children of creation, but from the experience of love that comes to us in  a special way as baptized children of God.

As baptized children of God, we now see opportunities for thanksgiving that go beyond the basic response of duty. We now have opened before us a second mile or over and above gifts that we often call "special gifts."

Our special gifts take us from our basic need to give to a delight in giving. This level of giving makes something happen that might not otherwise happen. It expands ministry beyond the basics and allows for more to be done because of our extra, second mile, special gifts.

These special or major gifts may expand something important in our own back yard, such as a building expansion that makes more space for ministry, or a debt reduction gift that fees up more resources for basic ministry.

Second mile gifts may also reach out across the miles and across the world to make a difference in the lives of people who are hungry, who need medical care, who need the other basics for everyday living. These gifts may be instrumental in providing for clean water, or developing the ability to establish a sustainable food supply.

A delightful gift may support a seminary that will equip evangelical leaders for the future. It may delight a social ministry organization as they reach out to meet the needs of the least, the last and the lost.

We delight in giving at this level because it is giving that is graceful and grace-filled. We discover that we have received more than we ever desired or deserve and we are feed to share with delight.

It is our delight to give thanks and praise. This is most certainly true.

Our Joy

In Galatians 5 Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit. The word that Paul places second, immediately following love is joy. Joy is much more than just an emotional happiness, but rather it is a deeper sense of overall satisfaction. It embraces a profound sense well-being.

It is joy that overflows, even some times out of tribulation, as witnessed by Paul as the Macedonians gave generously to the offering for the church in Jerusalem from an abundance of joy.

Joy is often the word that we use to connect the attitude that we have as we make gifts. We receive joy in seeing those gifts opened and utilized.

Think about the last time you gathered at a child's birthday party, or at a family Christmas celebration. The joyful anticipation that you experienced as you awaited the opening of that special gift that you had discovered, purchased, wrapped and gave. It was such an experience of joy when the present was opened and it brought joy to the face of the receiver, and you already knew it was received with a profound sense of thanksgiving.

It is this overwhelming sense of giving and receiving joy that comes from the depths of our being and is a gift of the Spirit that infuses and motivates the final act of our stewardship. This is called planned giving and it comes through our will and our estate as a legacy of joy that we leave to those who follow us.

When we profess the Third Article of the Apostles' Creed we acknowledge, as does Martin Luther in his explanation, that we believe that we cannot believe through our own reason or effort, but that the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, and it is through the work of the Holy Spirit that we grow in relationship with Jesus Christ and his church. We also profess that the ultimate gift that we receive is resurrection and eternal life.

This final thread that completes the tapestry of praise and thanksgiving is the weaving together of joy, eternal life, and planned giving.

Joy is the anticipation of a life well lived and eternal life is the gift that we ultimately receive as part of our connection with this generous, gracious and forgiving God.

As we take this long-term view toward the end of life, we do so with joy and thanksgiving for a God who has been with us through all the ups and downs, through the joys and sorrows, through the good times and the turmoil.

Our long-term view also recognizes what we have known all along that all that we are and all that we have is a gift of God and that none of the earthly blessings that we have accumulated can go with us. In fact that's how we know we really don't own a thing; we must leave it all behind when we die.

So, in planning who and how we will benefit those family members, friends, and ministries that have brought us joy in this life, we have an opportunity to bring joy to them through our ultimate gifts and the culmination of our life-long stewardship.

Now some may say that I don't have much so why should I bother making a will? The basic answer is that it will be an opportunity for you to witness to your family and friends what was important to you during your earthly journey.

In that regard there are two things everyone can do in preparing their will.

The first is to tell people what was important to you. A simple Christian preamble will set the stage and will be final witness to your faith and the God who brought you joy throughout your life.

It can be something as simple as the following:

I_________, of the City of ________, County of _______, and State of  ________,  being of sound and disposing mind and memory and being  under no restraint, do make, declare and publish this my last Will and Testament, hereby revoking all Wills and Codicils heretofore made by me.

First, I commit myself to God's care, secure in God's love for me and trusting in the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ.  I leave those who survive me in the comfort of knowing that I have died in this faith and have now joined my Lord in eternal glory.

Second, I commend my loved ones to grow in this faith, knowing that God will continue to provide for them despite my absence; and I encourage them to place their faith and trust in Christ alone.

The second simple thing that you can do is determine a percentage of your estate that will be used to go to the ministries that you supported during your life-time. This can be 10% (a tithe), or as some have suggested, since this will be your final gift a double tithe or 20%.  

Another choice that some have made would be to adopt those ministries that are important to you in the same percentage that would distribute to your children, if you have them. So, if you have two children, adopt ministry as a third child. If you have four children, adopt ministries as a fifth child. Again, this would allow you to provide proportionately by percentage.

One of the advantages of using percentages is that you can make a designation for your gift, even though you do not know what your ultimate value of your gift may be. Your gift may ultimately be more than you ever expected or less than you had hoped depending on your end of life situation.

However, in making a plan and sharing your joy you have prepared to share from what you have been given and you are placing an "Amen" on your life of thanksgiving and praise, as you complete a tapestry that reflects God's generosity to you throughout this earthly life.

Please understand, however, that you do not have to be old before you make this plan. In fact wills are intended to be living documents that must be reviewed and adjusted as time and life's circumstances dictate.

Young people, single people, and people with children need wills. If something would happen to both parents, a plan needs to be in place to recommend a guardian for your minor children and provisions need to be made to create a trust and appoint a trustee to care for your child's material well-being until they reach majority age.

Please remember, however, as you want your minor children to receive the greatest percentage of your estate, nonetheless, you can teach them about the joy of giving, by directing a small percentage of your estate to support your favorite ministry, or the ministry that may directly be involved in shaping the faith-life of your children. In doing so, you will have the joy of knowing all are blessed through your faithful planning.

There are many other options that are available to you as you prepare to pass on your legacy to family, friends and the ministries that bring you joy. What is most important is to do the planning and the work so the tapestry of duty, delight and joy is complete, so that others will see through your witness the picture of praise and thanksgiving that permeates your life-long stewardship.

What is most important is to do the planning and the work so the tapestry of duty, delight and joy is complete, so that others will see through your witness the picture of praise and thanksgiving that permeates your life-long stewardship.

Rev. Dr. Len Hoffmann
Associate Director
for Gift Planning
ELCA Foundation
8765 W. Higgins Rd
Chicago, IL 60631
773-380-2758 (O)
773-380-2775 (Fax)
800-638-3522 ext. 2758
God's Work. Our Hands.
Leave a Legacy


Rev. Dr. Len Hoffmann is the Associate Director for Gift Planning for the Evangelical Lutheran Church In America's Foundation.

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

Image credit: © Ignacio García Losa ( via Flickr. Used by permission.

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