Stewardship Corner January 2018

It’s a new year. It’s a time when we take stock of the year past in order to improve the year to come. It’s a time when we sit down to plan and implement what we want to accomplish and even change. Part of that is planning our stewardship for the coming year.

Often we find this difficult and daunting and even joyless. But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, it is really quite simple and full of joy. So here are some tips to make that planning less stressful. You begin by answering these three questions: Who are you? To whom do I give? And how much?

So, who are you? The Table of Duties in the Small Catechism informs us. Are you a hearer of God’s Word? Are you a citizen of society? Are you a member of a family? Stewardship covers these three estates: church, society, family. We don’t particularly struggle to give to society or family. Our struggles, our difficulties and our questions arise in giving to the church.

So, what is our duty as members of the church with regard to giving? The Table of Duties, again, gives us a guide. If you are a hearer, a member of the church who receives instruction, St. Paul taught: “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor” (Gal. 6:6). This means the local congregation is primary.

Your pastor is the one called to preach the Gospel to you and administer the Lord’s blessed sacraments to you. Your congregation is the place where those things happen. Thus, when God calls us to give to the church, He has the local congregation in mind. For “the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:14).

How much do we give to the local congregation? Our only 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).

In other words, giving to the church is not to be an afterthought, given after everything else is spent. In this way, it is deliberate. We give regularly – weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly – keeping in mind our own strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. 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. This was a command for the ancient Israelites. We can give as much as we want, but ask yourself: do we really want to be less generous than was commanded of the Israelites? Is the job of the New Testament Church bigger or smaller than the job given to Israel?

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, as Jesus said, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

It’s that easy. And it is joyful. For in stewardship, our gracious and giving Lord invites us to take part in the work that He accomplishes here on earth, providing for the ongoing preaching of the gospel as well as those who are in need. Taking part in that makes all our work holy – work that is done in service to the Lord as priestly members of His kingdom.

Stewardship Corner December 2017

Christmas is coming.  It is a joyous time of feasting.  The Church feasts upon the Word of God in sermon, song, and Sacrament.

We hear the proclamation of the message of the angels: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you Good News of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10–11).

We mingle our voices with theirs as we sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14)!

We receive the proclaimed Savior, Christ the Lord, not wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in manger, but wrapped in bread and wine placed into our mouths for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

We feast in great joy indeed because of this great blessing from our Lord and God.

God’s people in ancient Israel also feasted with great joy.  The Lord showered His abundant blessing on His people.  And He commanded them to feast upon it (Deut. 16).  The people were to go to the place appointed, where the Lord would make His name dwell, and give offerings, each man as he was able, according to the blessing of the Lord that He had given them (Deut. 16:10, 15, 17).

And there the Lord would bless them with joy as they feasted upon what the Lord had provided.  They ate of the choice parts of their offerings.  They enjoyed the company of all the people of God as they together heard His promises of blessing, sang of His bountiful goodness, and partook of what He gave.

We feast on the Word who became flesh to dwell among us, not just during Christmas, but throughout all the year.

We feast not just on the salvation He has wrought for us in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, but we feast also on all the temporal blessings that God gives out of His fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us.

We enjoy the rich bounty that God provides, not only in Word and Sacrament, but also in house and home, property and income, family and friends.

Let us then, as did our brothers in the faith from ancient Israel, give as we are able, according to the blessing of the Lord our God that He has given us.

Let us, like them, give generously of the first fruits of our income, which He gives, so that all may know and enjoy the salvation He gives and the joy we have in the Savior born in the city of David, who is Christ the Lord.

Stewardship Corner November 2017

Our Father in heaven has claimed us as His own.  By the shedding of His Son’s blood, by the His death for our sins and His resurrection for our justification, God the Father has received us back into His family.  By water combined with His Word, promise, and name, the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in us.  We belong to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He is in us, and we are in Him.  And being in Him, all things are ours. In Him, we are richly and abundantly blessed.

Our true treasure and wealth is that we belong to the most holy Trinity and everything that is His belongs also to us: righteousness, peace, eternal life.  Even our temporal treasures are gifts from His fatherly divine goodness and mercy.

We receive our treasures from Him, and thus, as (good stewards of His varied grace,) (1 Peter 4:10) we manage them in such a way that they may be returned to Him.  We bring them to Him, hallowed through prayers of thanksgiving and God’s holy Word, as an offering.

Thus, all our possessions, as gifts from God, are also offerings to Him, from which we eat to nourish our bodies, share with our family, neighbors, and fellow Christians, with the poor and even our enemies, as holy things given by the holy God.  His temporal gifts are blessings to and for us, and bring blessing upon us even as they are pressed into His service for His kingdom and the souls that receive them.

Thus we place all that we have into God’s hands, and He never fails to remember us and pours out the fullness of His promises upon us.  We give thanks for all that He has done, is doing, and will continue to do.  We give thanks by not taking for ourselves, but giving to all even as our heavenly Father has given to us.

As we prepare for the celebrations of Thanksgiving, may we all give thanks continually for all that we are and all that we have because of God’s providential care.  And may we be all the more diligent in bringing everything that we have received from God to Him, so that He may bless it and employ it for the good of all — even for us. “ For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance” (Matthew 13:12).

Stewardship Corner October 2017

We are nearing the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, All Saints’ Eve, 1517, when Martin Luther posted the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. So, let’s hear from Luther himself on the topic of giving and stewardship.

In the Small Catechism under the Table of Duties, Martin Luther gives specific Bible passages to help Christians know their duty in their various vocations as members of their family, society at large, and in God’s family, the Church. Under the heading “What Hearers Owe Their Pastors,” Luther lists five passages from the Bible, three of which have to do with giving to your local congregation. They are these:

“The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14).

“Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:6–7).

“The elders [presbyters, i.e., pastors] who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:17–18).

Luther comments on these passages in his 1535 Lectures on Galatians. He wrote:

When Paul says “all good things,” this is not to be taken to mean that everyone should share all his possessions with his preacher.  No, it means that he should provide for him liberally, giving him as much as is needed to support his life in comfort. . . . The apostle is so serious in advocating this topic of support for preachers that he adds a threat to his denunciation and exhortation, saying: “God is not mocked.”. . . All this pertains to the topic of support for ministers.  I do not like to interpret such passages; for they seem to commend us, as in fact they do.  In addition, it gives the appearance of greed if one emphasizes these things diligently to one’s hearers.  Nevertheless, people should be taught also about this matter, in order that they may know that they owe both respect and support to their preachers.  Christ teaches the same thing in Luke 10:7: “Eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages”; and Paul says elsewhere (1 Cor. 9:13–14): “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings?  In the same way the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the Gospel should get their living by the Gospel.”  It is important for us who are in the ministry to know this, so that we do not have a bad conscience about accepting for our work wages . . . it happens when those who proclaim the glory of God and faithfully instruct the youth derive their livelihood from them.  It is impossible that one man should be devoted to household duties day and night for his support and at the same time pay attention to the study of Sacred Scripture, as the teaching ministry requires.  Since God has commanded and instituted this, we should know that we may with a good conscience enjoy what is provided for the comfortable support of our lives from church properties to enable us to devote ourselves to our office. (LW 27:125–126).

In other words, pastors are not to suffer from low wages just because they are servants of Christ and the Word. They are to share in the livelihoods of all to whom they preach the gospel and instruct in the faith, so that the Word can be proclaimed and the faith carried from one generation to the next.

Stewardship Corner September 2017

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might”  (Eccl. 9:10).

God bids us to be faithful in the tasks He calls us to do.  He calls us to be members of a family (husbands and wives; fathers and mothers; sons and daughters).  He calls us to be members of society (those who govern and those who are governed).  And He calls us to be members of His family, the Church (those who preach and teach and those who hear and learn).  Each of these callings from God places a duty on us.

As members of a family, husbands are given the duty to die for their wives as Christ gave His life for His bride, the Church; while wives are given the duty to respect their husbands and submit themselves to them as the Church does to Christ.  Fathers and mothers are to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, teaching them the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Scriptures concerning Baptism, Confession, the Office of the Keys, and the Lord’s Supper.  Children are to honor their parents throughout their lives, and even when their parents are no longer alive, serving and obeying them, loving and cherishing them, and speaking well of them.

As members of society, God calls those who govern to bear the sword, that is, to punish those who do evil—those who live contrary to God’s will—and to reward those who do good—those whose lives are lived in conformity with God’s will.  Those who are governed are to obey their leaders as to the Lord Himself, for their leaders bear the sword of God’s temporal justice for a purpose.

As members of God’s own family, the Church, He calls those who preach and teach to do so in faithfulness to His holy Word.  To preach and teach the Law of God to convict the hearts of hearers of their sin and to encourage, admonish, and exhort them to do good works in accordance with God’s will.  They are to preach and teach the Gospel, the full forgiveness of their sins accomplished by Christ and received through faith, not by works.  They are to administer the means of grace in accordance with the Gospel and the Word of God.  They do all this for the young and old alike, for those who are near and far off. Those who hear and learn are to submit themselves to their preachers and teachers. They are to support them by their prayers and their gifts.

Each of these callings from God places a duty on us.  They make a claim on our presence, our prayers, and on our time, talents, and treasures.  So, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Eccl 9:10).  Pray for your family, for your government, and your church.  Give of yourself by means of your time, your talents, and your treasures to your family, your government, and your Church.  That is what it means to be faithful in the tasks that God has given us.  That is what it means to do it with all your might.

Stewardship Corner August 2017

Winston Churchill reportedly said that “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”  According to Churchill then, our lives are defined less by what we have gotten, and more by what we give away.

Our Lord’s life is defined in this way.  He gave completely of Himself for us. He became man for us.  He taught the truth of God’s Word.  He healed those with many and various diseases.  He died the death that we deserve because of sin.  He gave of Himself in order to save us from sin, death, and hell.  And so, it is that by giving completely of Himself, He got for Himself us, making us citizens of His eternal kingdom by grace.

As it was for Jesus, so it is also for us.  We get more from giving than we do from simply getting.  For giving softens our hearts and frees us from the grip which the worries of this world and making a living has on us.  For when we are singularly focused on making a living, we are singularly focused on what we get.  That mindset begins to bleed into all areas of our lives—our relationships with friends and family, with neighbors and coworkers, and with the Lord.  It shifts our focus from asking the question—How can I be a friend, family member, neighbor, and servant to others—to asking the question—what have they done for me lately.  We become more selfish instead of selfless.

But when we give, we do not have less, we have more because when we give we join in the bond of friendship and family, the bond of service to those around us out of love for them.  And love is the fulfillment of the Law. It is the nature of God Himself, for God is Love.  Thus we are reflecting the divine nature.  As Jesus said “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

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.