Stewardship Corner July 2017

“I will bless you …, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2).  The Lord blessed Abraham so that he would be a blessing.  How did He bless Abraham?  He promised that from His seed would come the Savior of the nations.  And Abraham believed that promise, trusted that the Lord would provide it just as He had promised.  Thus, everything Abraham did was colored by that promise.  He willingly gave of himself and his household in service to the Lord in view of that promise.

Our Father in heaven has richly blessed us.  Not only has He given us everything that we need to support this body and life, but He has also provided, that promised seed in His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.  He is the Savior of the nations.  He is the Redeemer of the world.  He is the one who has conquered sin, death, and the power of the devil by His death, resurrection, and ascension.

Just as we are richly blessed, we are also thereby freed to be a blessing.  Since God has endowed us with His gifts, we are set to endow others.  Thus, we give of the blessings we have received so that others may be blessed.  We do this in our homes, our communities, and our churches.  We press the blessings God has lavished upon us in service to those around us.  We use our time, our talents, and our treasures to be a blessing even as they have been a blessing to us.

The Lord blesses us.  And He enlists us to be a blessing to others.  So, whenever you put that envelope in the collection plate, when you set out to serve at the local food pantry, when you sit down to help your kids with homework, think of this: The Lord has blessed you, so that you will be a blessing.

Stewardship Corner June 2017

One of the best known and beloved psalms is Psalm 23, the Shepherd Psalm.  There we learn that the Lord is our Shepherd.  And since He is our Shepherd, we will not want.  We will not suffer want because the Lord, our Shepherd, will lead us to green pastures and beside still waters.  In other words, the Lord, our Shepherd, will provide for all that we need in both body and soul.

Yet, we live as though this is not the case.  We live as though we actually suffer from want, that the Lord, our Shepherd, will not provide for all that we need.  And thus, we live as though the Lord is not our Shepherd.  And that means that we live as though we are not the Lord’s sheep.

How do we do this?  We do it when we put anything else before Him and His provision for us.  When we think that going to work is more important than receiving the gifts that He won for us on the cross, a violation of the First and Third Commandments.  We do it when we fail to give generously of the first fruits of what the Lord has provided for us because we think we don’t know what the future will bring, even though He has promised that He will lead us to green pastures and still waters.  We do it when we think that the Lord is only in the business of helping those who will help themselves, we do this because we have a mind set on earthly, temporal things and not on heavenly, eternal things.  We do this because we have stopped hearing the call of our Shepherd, which comes through His Word.

The Word of God is how our Shepherd calls us to himself.  Through that Word, the Holy Spirit gathers and enlightens us with His gifts.  Through that Word, we are kept holy and nourished in the one true faith, the faith that follows our Shepherd wherever He leads us.  He promises to lead you to your true home, to the land flowing with milk and honey, to a better country, not of this world, but a heavenly one.

And so, here’s the good news:  The Lord is your Shepherd still, even, and especially, for wayward sheep.  For Jesus seeks and saves those who are lost.  He finds the lost sheep and carries them back to the fold.  He is the Shepherd that lays down his life for His sheep.  The Lord is your Shepherd.  Let us live then as His sheep.

Stewardship Corner May 2017

“It is more blessed to give than to receive,” said St. Paul, quoting our Lord (Acts 20:35).  How can this be?

Jesus and His disciples withdrew to a mountain by the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  The crowds followed them, for the Lord had just showered upon them the gift of His teaching, the gift of His Word.  But the day was waning; the sun was setting, and it was getting late.  Looking upon the crowds, Jesus had compassion on them and asked, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat” (John 6:5)?  Philip said that two hundred denarii (a day’s wages for two hundred men) could not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.

But Andrew, Peter’s brother, brought a young boy forward, who had five barley loaves and two small fish. “But,” Andrew asked, “what are they for so many” (John 6:9).  Jesus replied, “Have the people sit down” (John 6:10).

Then Jesus, the Son of God, gave them a second gift, a gift from what only He could give—a gift from above.  He took the bread and the fish, gave thanks, blessed them, and distributed them to the crowd.  Then came the miracle.  As these five loaves and two fish were given out, they multiplied.  He fed the hungry crowd until they were all full.  And twelve baskets full were left over.

But Jesus was not the only one who gave that day.  There is one person who also gave from what he had.  It was the boy with the five loaves and the two fish.  All the others, including the boy, received the gift of a miraculous feast.  And they would look back on it with wonder.  But the boy, when he would look back on it, would look back and remember not just what he received.  He would look back with wonder and delight when the Son of God made his gift into something miraculous.  For it is more blessed to give than to receive.

This our Lord does for each of us.  He presses our gifts, no matter how big or how small, into His service and works wonders with them.  He provides through what we give: water for baptism, bread and wine for the Lord’s Supper, a man called and sent for the preaching of the Gospel and Absolution.  He provides a building in which we can gather as His children, lights so that we might not gather in darkness.  He provides funds for the care of the poor and struggling, for missionaries who preach and teach beyond our borders. He makes Christians, disciples of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ in our midst by bringing them to faith and nurturing them in that faith.  He takes our gifts and turns them into something miraculous.

Indeed, it is more blessed to give than to receive.  Thus we give.  We give of what we have. And the Lord works His wonders.

Stewardship Corner April 2017

Easter is a moveable feast. Easter isn’t on the same calendar date every year in the way that Christmas is always celebrated on December 25.  The date for Easter each year always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring equinox.  And once you find the date of Easter, everything else finds its place—Good Friday and Maundy Thursday, Ash Wednesday and the Transfiguration, the Ascension of our Lord and Pentecost.

All this is a long way of saying that Easter determines everything.  Easter defines everything. It orders not only the entire church year, but it orders our very lives.  It defines and gives meaning to our lives, as well to the things that happen in them.  And since Easter defines everything, that means it changes everything too.  It redefines who we are and where we stand with God and with one another.  Easter makes all things new.

Without Easter, Jesus would not be raised from the dead.  Without Easter death would still reign, we would still be in our trespasses and sins, and our faith and hope would be in vain.  But Jesus is raised from the dead.  Easter changes everything. It makes all things new.  Therefore, darkness is overcome with light, wrath with peace, fear with hope, angst with rest, sadness with joy, hatred with love, sin with righteousness, and death with life.  Easter changes everything, redefines everything, determines everything.  Easter makes all things new.

Thus, Easter also changes our attitude about giving.  For if God gave us His own Son into death so that we will live, how will He not give us everything else we need?  He will, and He does.  He provides for us.  He even gives us the gifts that we give back to Him for service in the church.  Easter demonstrates that we have a God who loves us, a God who provides for us, a God who presses us into His service, a God who has made us new in the death and resurrection of His Son.

For when you give to the church, you pass along those things that God alone has given to you.  You pass along the message to others that Easter changes everything and makes all things new, even as it has done this for you.  This is not a burden, but pure joy.  For God has given you a part in the administration of His kingdom.  He provides for the needy through your hands.  He ensures that the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments are given out through the work of your hands and in the gifts that you give.  And He honors and blesses this work and generosity as it redounds to those around you.

So when you sit down on the first day of the week to make your offering to the place where Easter is proclaimed and where the gifts of Easter are given out, remember:  Easter changes everything. It makes all things new.  More than that: Easter has changed you and made you new.  Because Jesus who was crucified for our transgressions is raised for our justification.

Stewardship Corner March 2017

Lent is a season of repentant joy.  There is joy in repentance because in repentance, God, through His Word, turns us away from our sins — our failures of thought, word, and deed — to believe in the forgiveness and new life He has accomplished for us in the death and resurrection of His Son.   For our God is our Father, and fathers discipline their children.  He loves us enough to point out when and where we have erred, so that we are not weighed down by false belief, despair, and other great shame or vice.

Thus we do well to listen to God’s Word, His own teaching, about giving.  St. Paul exhorts: “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor” (Gal 6:6).  This means that the local congregation is primary.  In other words, everything else that we might give to during the year — laudable and worthy charities —are to be on top of what we give to our local congregation. For the local congregation is the place that serves us with the gifts of Christ’s death and resurrection.  The local congregation is where our spiritual needs are met when Christ’s atonement is preached, when the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed, when we were baptized into the name of the Triune God, and when we partake of the body and blood of the risen and living Lamb of God.

But how much are we to give to this local congregation?  His instructions are these: to give regularly (1 Cor 6:1–2), proportionally (1 Cor 16:1–2; 2 Cor 8:12), and generously (2 Cor 8:20) of our first fruits (Gen 4:4; Prov 3:9; Lev 27:30) with a spirit of eagerness (2 Cor 9:2), earnestness (2 Cor 8:7), cheerfulness (2 Cor 9:7), and love (2 Cor 8:23).

Thus, giving to the church is not to be an afterthought, given after everything else is spent.  In this way, it is deliberate.  We give it regularly, whenever we have income.  We set it aside beforehand, before anything else is spent.  From those first fruits, we set aside a proportionate and generous amount.  Ten percent was the standard for the Israelites.  Tithing was a command for them.  St. Paul never mentions a tithe.  Since a tithe was the bare minimum for the people of Israel in the Old Testament, perhaps St. Paul had more in mind.  That aside, however, ten percent is an easy way to figure out an amount.  You simply move your weekly, bi-weekly, bi-monthly, monthly, or yearly income one decimal point to the left.  And that’s it.  That’s what you put in the Offering plate to support your local congregation so that you may continue to be a hearer of God’s Word by sharing all good things with those who teach it to you.

And how are we to give it?  We give it with eagerness and earnestness.  We give it cheerfully and with love, not out of compulsion.  For through the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments, God has made us His children, forgiven us all our sins, given us grace upon grace, promised us life everlasting with Him in His kingdom, and filled us with His own Spirit, the Holy Spirit.  This makes giving a joy.  For it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).

In repentant joy, then, do we hear God’s Word on giving, and we let that Word dwell in us richly.  We let that word wash over our ears and seep into our hearts, to turn us away from our own selfish desires and turned toward Him in faith and love.  We love the Lord and His Word.  And we desire to do it.  And when we have failed, that Word reproves and corrects, forgives and consoles.  It calls us back to Him who is our God, our Savior, our Father.

Stewardship Corner February 2017

We’ve all heard that stewardship is giving to the church of our time, talents, and treasure. This alliterative trinity helps us see that giving is not just about money, but about our whole lives. For God has given us everything we have and enjoy as we confess in the meaning to the First Article of the Apostle’s Creed. And what we confess first among those is that God gives us “our body and soul, our eyes, ears, and all our members, our reason and all our senses.” Only then do we confess that he gives us material things. Thus the time, talents, and treasure trinity places before our eyes the fact that we are to give something of all of these things toward the mission of the church in thanksgiving for what God has provided. For everything we have and indeed everything we are comes from God’s fatherly divine goodness and mercy.

The problem with this alliterative trinity comes when we replace one little word with another little word—when we replace the word and with the word or. It is always written with the and, but when we read it, we read it with the or. Thus this quite helpful trinity, which extolled that everything that we have and are is a gift from God and which is to be pressed into the service of God in His church, turns into a trinity that we can pick and choose which of the trinity we use into the service of God. The giving of our time, talents, and treasure turns into the giving of our time, talents, or treasure.

Then the question arises: Can we give of our time and talents instead of our treasures? Or perhaps it is the other way round: Can we give our treasure and not of our time and our talents? But these are the wrong questions. The right question is, can we give of our time and our talents in addition to our treasure? Yes, indeed, we are called to give of all three. The things that God gives us are not to be pitted against one another. They are given to us and we are to press them all into God’s service for benefit of His church and our neighbors in need.

Thus we give all three. We give our treasure in the form of a generous, first-fruits, proportion of our income. We give of our time in generosity for the benefit of Christ’s holy church. We give of our talents in the same manner. Since God gave us all these things, we are called to give generously of all these things in faith toward Him and in fervent love to our neighbors.

For God has provided all these things to us. Out of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, He gives us each time, talents, AND treasures as a means to bless those around us. We serve our neighbors with these things, blessing them with the blessings in which God has blessed us. We give of our time, talents, and treasures to our families, our society, and to our church, our local congregations. And we do this because we know that we are not our own. Rather, we belong to God. We have been bought with a price—with the holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. He gave everything—His time, His talents, and His treasure,—to have us as His own and to live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness. We have these things as gifts and blessings from God. Let us then press them all into service for the sake of His love—time, talents, and treasures together.

Stewardship Corner January 2017

Celebrating New Years is a celebration of the past and the future. We take stock of the past with thanksgiving and sometimes even relief (that it’s over), and we look to the future in the hope and anticipation and perhaps even worry of what it holds.

The point is that New Year’s celebrations remind us of who we are as opposed to who we would like to be; what we have done in comparison to what we want to do. It reminds us of our accomplishments, but mostly it reminds us of our failures. What we’ve lost. Who we’ve lost.

New Years is our own version of Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. And we all play Scrooge. We are visited by the ghosts of our pasts, presents, and futures.

St. Paul writes: “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’ He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (2 Cor 9:6–15).

St. Paul tells us that the Lord of all will both supply and increase what you need to give to the church for its work in and for the world. He tells us that this work that God is doing in us will enrich and bless us in every way and through this it will produce thanksgiving to God. With this in mind, here is some practical advice to help you take stock of your giving of years past, which will help you to change what needs to be changed, improved, or done away with altogether.

First, attend the Divine Service to receive God’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. If you’ve not been faithful in attending worship to hear the preaching of God’s Word, to receive forgiveness, and feast of the rich food of our Lord’s body and blood for the eternal benefit of your body and soul, then repent and come to receive the gifts God freely gives. God doesn’t want your money. He wants you—all of you (Matt 22:20–22).

Second, pray for the Lord’s help. Your right as a Christian is to speak with your Father, the King of all creation, freely through His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Go to the throne of grace and ask for strength and wisdom to follow His bidding faithfully (John 15:1–16).

Third, consider what the Church is and what the Church does. The Church is a mercy place. It inhales the mercy of the Father by the death, resurrection, and ascension of His Son through the preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments. It exhales this mercy in love toward the neighbor. You are a member of the Church, of God’s family. Thus, you are not only a recipient of God’s mercy, but a bearer of that mercy for the life of the world. You spread that mercy in showing mercy through the generous giving of your income to support the work of the Church in and for the world, as the Israelites did in the Old Testament (Lev 27:1–34).

Fourth, take stock of your current giving in light of the New Testament’s teaching on supporting the work of the Church. Are you giving of your first fruits, taking it out of your paycheck first, or does God get what’s left over? Are you giving voluntarily and cheerfully? Are you giving proportionally and generously? The Old Testament required a tithe, ten percent. The New Testament gives freedom to be generous, to give more for the Church’s work. Are you relying on God’s promise to provide and increase what you need to do His work? If your answer is no to any of these, repent. If God gave you His only Son, will He not provide for you all things, even physical things? Trust Him, His Word, and heed it.

So, don’t let your past define your future. Rather, commit for the year a generous proportion of your income, which is God’s gift to you for this body and life.

Stewardship Corner December 2016

Every Christmas present that sits wrapped under your Christmas tree will wear out.  It will break or go out of style.  This fact was there, somewhere, in the back of your mind even as you bought them, but you bought them anyway.  For you love the person you bought them for, you wanted to see that look of joy it brings to their face.

So also God gives to you.  But greater.  What He gives will never wear out, break down, or go out of style.  For what He gives is His eternal and only-begotten Son, wrapped in your flesh, and placed upon the tree of the Cross.  He gives His Son for you.  He gives that you may have everlasting joy.  He gives because He loves you.  This is why the Word became flesh to dwell among you.

And that is who is given to you.  The Word who is God yet was with God from all eternity.  The Word through whom all things were made.  The Word who is the only-begotten Son of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, being of one substance with His Father.  The One who called all things into existence, the One who spoke to Moses from the bush that burned yet was not consumed, the One whose glory filled the tabernacle to dwell among His people, God Himself, has taken on your flesh.

Even though the Word is made flesh, even though God became Man, His Divinity is not lessened.  His Divinity is not changed.  His Divinity remains, pure and unchanging, but your flesh, your human nature, is exalted.  Your flesh and humanity is assumed into God.  God became man so that you would become like unto God—holy and righteous, without sin, without death.

And so it is that the Son given to you wrapped in your flesh is placed upon the tree of the Cross. And no tree was ever adorned more beautifully.  Its ornaments were nothing less than the Blood of God, poured out as an atoning sacrifice for your sins.  Its garland the Body of God, hanged in death that you may have life.  Its light the incarnate Light of the world, strung up to call you and all men unto Himself, to enlighten you, to make you His own.  He gives you His life;  He gives you joy and peace—peace with God in heaven and peace with one another on earth.

And from the tree of the Cross the Lord Jesus places another gift for you upon the Altar.  It is the Fruit of the Cross, His crucified and risen, living Body and Blood, the Fruit of the Tree of Life, wrapped in bread and wine and given to you.  He fills you with His Glory.  He makes your mouths and your hearts His manger.  He abides in you and you in Him.

The Word became flesh to be placed under the Cross for you.  You are forgiven.  This is why we give.  We give because He has first given to us.  And just as it was a joy for Him to give all He had to us.  It is a joy for us to give to one another and His church so that this message of forgiveness, life, and salvation may be proclaimed.

Stewardship Corner November 2016

“O give thanks to the Lord for He is good.  His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1).  The love of the Lord does endure forever because the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, is risen from the dead, lives and reigns for all eternity.  He was crucified for our transgressions, but He is raised and lives forever for our justification. We are acceptable to God in Christ Jesus.

This is indeed something for which we give thanks.  We give thanks in our prayers. We give thanks in the hymns we sing in church.  We give thanks by talking about it with our friends and neighbors and teaching it to our children and grandchildren. And we give thanks by giving to the church a generous, first-fruits portion of the income He provides us.

Giving is giving thanks.  It is one of the concrete ways in which we thank God for all He has done for us.  This includes not just what He has done for us here in time, but what He does for us for all eternity.  He provides for all that we need in both body and soul.  He is more ready to give than we are able either to receive or even ask.  That is who He is.  That is His character.  He is good and His love endures forever.

Let us then give thanks in all these ways, not in one way or the other.  But rather in all things, everything that we do and say, whether it be in word or deed, in prayer and praise, in teaching and giving, let us give thanks to God for He is good.

Stewardship Corner October 2016

Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again.  If you believe this gospel, if you stand upon it, cling to it, you are saved.  Trust in this is the dividing line.  It defines, either positively or negatively, all men.  It separates and divides Cain from Abel, Job from his so-called friends, Abraham from Abimelech, Isaac from Ishmael, Jacob from Esau, David from Saul, Daniel from Belshazzar, Joseph from Herod, Lazarus from the rich man, and the tax collector from the Pharisee.  What defines men is not whether they are good or bad, but whether or not they believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

The problem with man is his heart.  Our hearts are fallen and predisposed to think that we can impress God.  We think that if we do all the right things God will reward us, and we will escape evil.  We think that God will be impressed with our gifts, that our prosperity and goodness is evidence that God loves us or that it should motivate God to love us.

But we know better because God has blessed us with the faith of Abel, Job, and Abraham.  We know that God’s grace in Christ saves us, not our works.

We know that God is not impressed with our giving.  He is not impressed when we give him that which is already his.  God doesn’t benefit from our giving and He doesn’t need it.  But our neighbor does need it.  And God delights in us growing more and more like Him.  He blesses us, and He invites us to bless one another with our giving: so that the Gospel may be proclaimed, so that the poor may be fed, so that all God’s work through the Church may be done.

So consider God’s priorities in comparison to your own.  And be honest.  Reevaluate where you are and where God has called you to be.  Look into your own bank statement.  Would any accountant think that the Church was your priority?  He would see a spreadsheet filled with where your money actually goes:  into house and clothing and cars, into eating out and beauty supplies and entertainment.  Indeed, much of it wasted on frivolous things.  But would he find great percentages going to the church?  Figure up the percentage.  Put it in relation to the proportion of your income.  What percentage of your income do you give for the mission of the church:  the preaching and teaching, the baptizing and communing, the help for the weak and poor brothers of Christ?  Is it even enough for a deduction when you file your income taxes?  The widow gave all she had and thought nothing of it.  She was glad to do it.  The rich man gave what to him was a meaningless, trifle amount and desired a plaque in his honor.  Why is it that the less we give the prouder we are and the more credit we expect?

All your works, even your monetary gifts, done in faith please God now for Christ’s sake.  No matter how great or small, frequent or infrequent.  They are all washed and cleansed by grace through faith on account of Christ.  Whatever you do from faith in God pleases Him for the sake of the Son.  So reevaluate your generosity in the light of the grace of Christ.  Freely  you have received, freely give.