LCMS Stewardship Ministry September 2018 Newsletter Article
It’s September, and everything is in full swing again: back to school and back to church attendance after vacations and weekends away, and since everything is back into full swing, it’s a perfect time to get back to basics, back to the foundation.
At the end of the first of his chapters on the virtue of faith in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis provides a helpful reminder, by way of analogy, for the foundation of stewardship. He wrote:
Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already. So then, when we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what it is really like. It is like a small child going to its father and saying, “Daddy, give me six pence to buy you a birthday present.” Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is six-pence to the good on the transaction. When a man has made these two discoveries God can really get to work. It is after this that real life begins. (128–129).
This is the first thing we are given to confess about stewardship, and it has to do with ownership. God owns everything, and we are simply managers — stewards — acting on His behalf. This is true not only of all that we have in this life (Deuteronomy 8:17–18), but also all that we are in this life (1 Corinthians 6:20).
The rest flows from here. Since we are stewards, or managers, of what belongs to God, entrusted to make use of it according to His will, there is an expectation of responsibility and accountability.
For the Lord said, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:48b).
And from this comes blessing and reward: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21).
We have everything we need to support this body and life from our God’s fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us. We have everything we need for our spiritual life also from His merciful hands.
On account of the sacrifice of His Son, our Lord Jesus, through the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments, we have the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and everlasting salvation delivered to us with absolute certainty that it is ours — not as stewards but as sons (Galatians 4:1–7).
Let us then, as His own sons, press all that He gives to us into the service of His church and to His glory.
Stewardship Ministry Article August 2018
When it comes to stewardship, a favorite Bible verse is the account of the widow’s mite (Luke 21:1–4). It’s a moving account. Our Lord praises the seemingly small gift of two copper coins given by a poor widow above the abundance of gifts given by the rich, saying, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them” (Luke 21:3).
And that is usually where we stop. But the text goes on. “For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21:4).
She gave everything. She held nothing back. She trusted that the Lord who made her and all creatures, who gave her everything she had, who redeemed her from her own sin, from death, and the power of the devil, who called her by the Gospel and enlightened her with His gifts of Word and Sacrament, would continue to do this. He would provide her with all that she needed for this body and life because that is the character of the God she had.
But this is not why we give small gifts. Her gift, though it appeared small, was actually large. When we are tempted to give small gifts it is precisely because we want them to be small! We don’t trust the Lord to provide for us.
We give small gifts because we lack faith in the One who created us, redeemed us, sanctifies and keeps us in the one true faith. We give small gifts because we doubt that God will really give us what we need and desire. We give small gifts because we are not content with what God has already given.
We are not slaves, children of the slave woman, under the Old Covenant (Gal. 4). We are adopted sons of the free woman. And since we are sons, we are also heirs. And heirs receive the inheritance. For everything is already ours in Christ. And thus, moved by the willing spirit of adoption, we do the will of God in financial matters far beyond all that done by those under the Old Covenant who were forced by legal demands.
So what have you decided to give? How do I decide what to give? Let the Scriptures be your guide.
We are to give proportionally to what we have received from God’s giving to us (Luke 12:48; 1 Cor. 16:1-2, 2 Cor. 8:12). But you have not been set free to give nothing. See that you excel in the grace of giving (2 Cor. 8:7).
We are not free to live selfishly outside the Gospel, without regard for God who gives us all good gifts, without generosity for our neighbor who needs us and our gifts, without supporting the community of faith in which we live, without care for our spiritual fathers and those who teach and help raise our children in the faith, without resources for the poor and needy – in short, we are not free to live unto ourselves, hoarding what God has given us only for us.
For love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10). And the sum of the law is this: Love God and love your neighbor (Matt. 22:34-.40). We love because He first loved us. We give because He has given to us.
Luther once said, “Possessions belong in your hands, not in your heart” (LW 14:240). There is a reason your 10 fingers spread apart. With your hands you catch God’s gifts for what you need and let the rest fall through your fingers to your neighbors – your family, your friends, your community, your church.
Stewardship Ministry Article July 2018
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).
We celebrate this month because of the freedoms and liberties our country has afforded us. We are right to do this. We should be thankful for these liberties: the freedom to gather together to worship and to live out what we believe in our daily lives.
But freedom and liberty in our age has devolved. It has become a freedom from duty instead of a freedom for it. Indeed, freedom and liberty in our age has turned into licentiousness: a license to do what we want, when we want.
This license is a submission, again, to a yoke of slavery. For freedom as license to do what we desire when we desire it means we are slaves to our desires, slaves to our passions.
Christ died to set us free from our sinful desires. In Holy Baptism, our Old Adam is drowned and put to death along with all sin and evil desires so that a new man may arise and live before God in righteousness and purity.
In Christ, we are a new creation. We are set free from the passions of the flesh so that we are free to do our duty and bear fruits of the Spirit.
Our duty is what God calls us to do as members of a family, society, and the church.
God calls us to believe in His Word and gladly hear and learn it. He calls us to pray for all people. He calls us to live in faith toward Him and in fervent love for our neighbor. He calls us to put the gifts He gives to us in His service. God calls parents to provide for their children and raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord. And God calls children to honor their parents and provide and care for them when they are no longer able to do so themselves.
God calls the government to punish those who do evil and to reward those who do good. He calls citizens to pay their taxes and honor the governing officials as God’s servants. He calls pastors to preach and teach the Gospel as well as repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And He calls hearers to support those who teach them with every good thing.
Christ died to set us free from the works of our selfish flesh, giving us the freedom and liberty to do our duty. Stand firm, then, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
June 2018: Newsletter Article
By Rev. Jason Braaten
Immanuel Lutheran Church – Tuscola, Ill.
“There are three conversions necessary to every man: the head, the heart, and the purse.” Attributed to Luther, though yet to be located in his vast writings, this statement echoes what Jesus taught about hearts and treasures. He said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21; Luke 12:34).
But which conversion comes first? I submit that the order is this: first the head, then the purse, then the heart. Let me explain.
Our Lord Jesus Christ dwelt among us to save us. He took on our flesh, fulfilled the demands of the law in our place, became sin for us, and suffered torture and death on our behalf, in order that we would be free from sin, death, and hell. He gives us what He accomplished through Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper.
And so, He doesn’t just do it for us but gives it to us, makes what He did ours by making us His. Thus, we are called by His name: Christians. We have a new life in Him.
Through the preaching of Law and Gospel, God grants us repentance, a changing of our minds. It is a conversion of the mind. We are called to turn away from our sins and turn toward Him for forgiveness, life, and salvation. For when God calls us away from something, He is, at the same time, calling us to something.
And thus, He calls us to a new life, with new deeds. This is the conversion of the purse. Jesus said that “it is easier for a camel to enter through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Notice that our hearts follow our treasures, not the other way around. As Christians, God calls us to invest our treasures in His Kingdom to ensure that the gospel is preached and the sacraments are administered. He calls us to share all good things with the one who teaches us the doctrines of Christ. He calls us to be generous in giving to the church, for it is more blessed to give than to receive.
So where is your treasure? If it is not invested in the kingdom of God, then the only response is repentance—a conversion of the heart—and to begin doing just that. And as our Lord promised, where your treasure is there your heart will be also.
This is not to say that you earn your way into heaven. It is simply to say that as Christians, those who have been made to be temples of the Holy Spirit, who have been given a new life in Christ, who are dead to sin and now alive in Him, we are, actually, to live — think (conversion of the mind), do (conversion of the purse), and be (conversion of the heart) — a new life in Him.
And when you fail, know that God in Christ loves and forgives you and still calls you away from that and to Himself.
May 2018 Stewardship Article
St. Paul teaches, “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches” (Galatians 6:6).
And again, he says, “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” (1 Corinthians 9:13–14).
In other words, ministers of the gospel are supported by the offerings of those who are served by them. And this is how the Church lives even now. It is standard practice.
But this deserves closer examination. For it instructs us not just that we are to give but also what we are to give. And it does so with four little words: “In the same way …”
St. Paul is building his case for supporting the preachers of the Gospel with the sacrificial giving of individual members on the example of the Old Testament people who supported the Levites with their offerings and sacrifices.
We’re to support the Gospel ministry “in the same way.” But how did the Old Testament people support the Levites?
Moses records this: “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always” (Deuteronomy 14:22–23).
The Levites were supported by the tithe, 10 percent of all the yearly yield of that which was harvested.
Does that seem like a lot? Does it surprise you that St. Paul instructs us that we are to support the New Testament Gospel ministry “in the same way?”
If it does, ask yourself: is the Church’s job in the New Testament bigger or smaller than the Levites’ job in the Old Testament? Back then there was one Temple, and the ministry was almost exclusively located in one nation among the descendants of Abraham.
Jesus calls us to teach and baptize all nations (Matt. 28). And there are churches and ministries all around the world. How could we support this new Gospel ministry with anything less than the Israelites supported the Old Testament ministry?
April 2018 Stewardship Article
Our Father in heaven sent His Son, Jesus, to be our savior. His atoning sacrifice is the firstfruits of all the dead, a pleasing aroma to His Father – and ours – so that His perfect life and death count for all who believe in Him.
He claimed us as His own children in Holy Baptism. He sustains and strengthens our faith with His Holy Word and His Body and Blood. As new creatures, who have put on Christ, we bear good fruit. We do the good works prepared for us, which He makes known to us in His Word.
By faith then, trusting in the Word of God, we do what he says because He does not lie and always keeps His promises. For “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6).
And so the Lord promises: “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine” (Prov. 3:9-10).
How do we honor the Lord with the wealth that God has given us in His generosity? By giving it generously to those whom the Lord has called us to love and support: your family, your society, and your church. And His promise is that in so doing, you will never lack.
I can almost hear it now: “But that’s from the Old Testament!” But our Lord Jesus Himself gives us similar promises in the New Testament. He says, at the conclusion of the parable of the talents, “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance” (Matt. 25:29).
And then at the end of the parable of the dishonest manager, he says: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:10–13).
And in His sermon on the mount, he says: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19–21).
We have become conditioned against these promises because of their misuse by the peddlers of the prosperity gospel – the guys on TV who say you get rich by putting God in your debt. And thus, we miss out on the fact that God does reward temporal faithfulness in temporal matters with temporal blessings.
It’s no quid pro quo. It’s all from God’s grace, His fatherly divine goodness and mercy. But those Bible passages just quoted do in fact say what they say! It’s not the Old Testament’s problem. It’s ours. It is almost as if we have become so jaded against this that we think it a virtue to be stingy with our offerings.
But our Father in heaven still loves to bless those who bless others. He loves to give to those who give freely and generously. In fact, he challenges us to challenge Him: “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Mal. 3:10).
And so, while we don’t give so that we would get, we do receive from the Lord in order to give, and He will bless your giving with more receiving. For “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Rom. 8:32)?