Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Bearing the Cross

“That’s my cross to bear,” some sighing, self-pitying soul laments. What is it that we identify as a cross? Is it poor health? A hard-to-get-along-with an in-law? An unfeeling employer? An unpleasant situation of some kind?

What was the cross of Christ? It was the instrument His enemies used to kill Him. It symbolized the lowest degree of humiliation possible. Through His death in our place, Christ exalted the cross. We look to the cross, not with shame, but with humble joy, for there our Savior took the punishment that is ours. There He won eternal life for us. There He won the victory over sin, death, and Satan.

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me,” Jesus declared (Matthew 16:24). The Christian steward taking up his cross is ridiculed by the world, just as his Savior was. The world hated Christ, and the world will hate His followers (John 15:18-19). Still we stewards, filled with His Spirit, equipped with His gifts, and renewed in our minds, joyfully take up the cross He gives us. The cross, rather than being an agent of death, frees us – frees us to serve, to give, to sacrifice willingly and freely.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, grant me to be willing to deny myself and take up my cross to follow You. In Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

Blessings on your journey as a steward!

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Lessons and Hymns for Epiphany 7 C

These are the Scripture readings we will hear this coming Sunday:

Genesis 45:3-15
1 Corinthians 15:21-26, 30-42
Luke 6:27-38

As the Son of God Is Merciful and Forgives Your Sins, You Also Be Merciful and Forgive

Your inheritance as a child of Adam is sin and death, but in Christ you are made alive through His resurrection from the dead (1 Cor. 15:21–22). As you have died with Him in Holy Baptism, so are you raised with Him to newness of life. Therefore, “do not go on sinning” (1 Cor. 15:34). Instead of serving your desires and harming your neighbors, live as “sons of the Most High,” and “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35–36). Deal with others as you would have others deal with you (Luke 6:31, 37–38). As Christ loved you when you were at enmity with Him, as He blessed and prayed for those who abused Him, and as He did good to those who hated Him and hurt Him, so also “love your enemies, do good” (Luke 6:27–29, 35). For God sent His Son to bear the cross and suffer death, not to condemn the guilty, but “to preserve life.” So does He provide a place for you within His Church, where He is near and deals kindly with “you and your children and your children’s children” (Gen. 45:5–10).

These are the hymns we will sing:

Lord of All Nations, Grant Me Grace (LSB 844)
We Give Thee But Thine Own (LSB 781)
Take My Life and Let It Be (LSB 783)
My Soul, Now Praise Your Maker (LSB 820)
Lord of Glory, You Have Bought Us (LSB 851:1-2)
Lord of Glory, You Have Bought Us (LSB 851:3-4)

“In a recession?”

Our devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Jeremiah 17:5-8
1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20
Luke 6:17-26
Psalm 1

A few years ago, at a Rotary meeting, I was both informed and mystified by a representative of the Federal Reserve Bank. I learned a few things, not the least of which is that while almost everybody talks about “the economy,” nobody really knows what it is. Even the experts can’t agree. I also heard, as most of us already knew, that the blue-est of the blue-chip experts regularly disagree about what the economy is going to do and why.

Much of what the speaker had to say was pretty far over my head. I realize what “outsiders” of Lutheranism must go through when they first hear the church’s alphabet soup of LCMS, ELCA, WELS, LWF, not to mention insider stuff like CEF, and CTCR. I heard several meaningless combinations of letters. I also heard the technical definition of a “recession,” and have a little better understanding about the confusing rhetoric in political circles as to when we are in one. The dictionary definition of a recession is that it is a business slump during a generally rising economy. The technical definition of the “experts” on the economy, however, is something else.

Without attempting to explain what I do not know — namely, how we arrive at a number which represents the Gross National Product (GNP) — let’s just say that a rising economy is measured by a positive number. When it is a negative number or a shrinking economy for six months, then we are in a recession. In the mind of the economist, this is specific. It is not a recession when we have one down quarter; it must be two in a row.

Let’s say that the economy averages growth over the years that is measured by the number “plus four.” When we have two quarters in a row with a negative number, minus one half, or one, or whatever, everybody agrees we are in a recession. On the other hand, what do you call it when the number stays much closer to zero than to four throughout the year? Tricky, ain’t it?

By now you may be asking yourself, what does all this have to do with the Sixth Sunday After Epiphany? I hope you are curious about that, because I am about to tell you. Sunday’s question is: “Are we in a spiritual recession?” Ultimately, there is no “we” to the Christian faith, so I ask, “Am I in a spiritual recession? Are you?”

The horrible thing about an economic recession is that it has an immediate impact on individuals, but no individual, including the President, can have an immediate impact on it! When people are out of work and out of money, they hurl curses at the economy, the government, the President, the Congress, foreign trade, corporations, unions, or whatever. They feel helpless and unhappy. The national economy is linked to national happiness or unhappiness. In the middle of all of this, some Upstart jumps up in Sunday’s Gospel and says, “Happy are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.”

Excuse me, Jesus, but everybody knows that prosperity and happiness go hand in hand. When the economy is on the down side, so is happiness. Surely, You have made a mistake. Or are You talking in mysteries?

There is no mystery to it. Thousands of years before Christ, the people of God measured prosperity with a different scale and a different point of view. It had to do with the realization of goals, the accomplishment of labor, living in peace and safety, the happiness and benefits of family and relationships. It had little to do with acquiring, producing or possessing the fruits of material goods. It had a great deal to do with producing the fruits of God.

Sunday’s Old Testament Lesson and Psalm both reveal this idea of prosperity. Jeremiah said, “Blessed (happy) are those who trust in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They shall be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Similarly, the Psalmist said, “Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful! Their delight is in the law of the Lord, and they meditate on His law day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper.”

Both lessons also discuss the downside — the opposite of prosperity and happiness — the spiritual recession. Jeremiah said, “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. They shall be like a shrub in the desert…” After discussing the happiness and prosperity of those who trust in the Lord, the Psalmist said, “It is not so with the wicked; they are like the chaff which the wind blows away.”

Jesus also makes negative comparisons. The poor, hungry and weeping are those He lists as “blessed” or “happy.” He adds “Alas for” or “Woe to” the rich, those who have plenty to eat now, and those who are laughing now. It is no mistake and no mystery. In a material recession, we have no trouble recognizing the fragility and dependence of the human being in the human situation. But the fat cat has no need of God and no desire to share with Him or with anyone else.

Do we have to have a financial recession in order to know that goodness and God and happiness are inseparable and not purchasable? Do we have to lose our jobs to find our callings? Do we have to starve our bodies in order to hunger after God and His righteousness? I believe that the answer is a resounding “No!” At the same time, we can easily understand Jesus’ meaning. Impoverished and pushed-over people realize the need for God’s support and strength in their lives, and they turn to Him. But trust in God and spiritual prosperity should not run in cycles like the economy — sometimes up, sometimes down. Just because we have reason to turn to Him when things go bad does not mean we have reason to turn away when things improve!

Missouri is blessed with many streams of water, from hundreds of crystal clear creeks and rivers to a couple of the world’s giants — the Missouri and Mississippi. The image of the tree that is green in the midst of a drought is familiar to everyone who lives here. In the Old Testament, God Himself is called the Fountain of Living Water. Jesus said, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” Unlike the economy individuals have control over spiritual recession. Unlike a tree, we can choose where we sink our roots. Unlike the poor shrub, stuck in the desert, we can come to the Fountain and drink.

Jesus invites us to tap into the flow of life and goodness and grace and mercy and hope and joy and happiness which He comes to give in abundance. We tap in at the level of the Word and Sacraments; He is in them, pouring out streams of living water. Are you in a spiritual recession? Is your GNP (God Nurtured Product) positive or negative? Are you growing in Christ, or are you shrinking in your Christian faith and life? Do you find yourself fighting any temptation away from the Word and Sacraments, or looking for excuses to stay away?

Psalm 1 sounds like it could have been authored by a Pharisee. Any honest person would be scared to death of God if Psalm 1 were the only thing we knew about Him. One of the most beautiful passages of Scripture is a simple description of physical facts, but its application is marvelous. It is the first part of the first verse in Sunday’s Gospel, “He went down with them and stood on a level place.” The all-holy, perfectly righteous God of the universe became a human being and stood on a level with us. But by His death on a cross, Jesus did not reduce God to our sinful level, He raised believers to His own righteousness. Blessed are those who trust in the Lord.

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Stewards of the Gospel

God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), and He gives us, His stewards, the privilege and responsibility to share that truth, the Gospel, with all people. We are His instruments through which others hear and learn about Jesus and His love, grace, and mercy.

Being stewards of the Gospel takes place in our homes, neighborhoods, at our places of work, and beyond. Being a steward of the Gospel means sharing the Gospel, so others will come to know Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

As stewards of the Gospel, we can tell others of the greatest miracle that has ever occurred. The Son of God condescended to come to earth to live as one of us, to be humiliated for the sake of those He loves, and then to rise victoriously, the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Don’t keep this miracle a secret.

Prayer: Lord, open my eyes and hearts for opportunities to share the Gospel. Help me to boldly proclaim the Good News of the Gospel to all people. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Blessings on your journey as a steward!

Lessons and Hymns for Epiphany 6 C

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Jeremiah 17:5-8
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Luke 6:17-26

Click here to read the above lessons and the propers for the day.

Christians Live by Faith in Christ and Rejoice in the Promise of His Resurrection

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man,” for all the strength of his flesh is like the grass that fades away (Jer. 17:5). The one who turns away from the Lord may have food and money and laugh for now, but he “shall mourn and weep” in the judgment (Luke 6:24–25). But “the man who trusts in the LORD” is blessed with all that he needs, “like a tree planted by water.” When heat comes, he survives (Jer. 17:7–8). For the Lord has come in the flesh to heal the people of all their diseases, to cleanse their spirits with forgiveness, and to preach the Gospel of the kingdom of God to the poor (Luke 6:18–20). As all of this is by way of His cross, it is solely by faith in the promise of His resurrection that Christians “rejoice” and “leap for joy” (Luke 6:21–23). “If Christ has not been raised,” our faith is in vain and we are most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15:14–19). But, in fact, just as “Christ died for our sins,” so has He also “been raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:3, 20).

These are the hymns we will sing:

O Christ, Our Hope, Our Hearts’ Desire (LSB 553)
Songs of Thankfulness and Praise (LSB 394)
We Praise You, O God (LSB 785)
Come Unto Me, Ye Weary (LSB 684)
On What Has Now Been Sown (LSB 921)

“A good fish story”

Our devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Isaiah 6:1-13
1 Corinthians 14:12-20
Luke 5:1-11

What is the “politically correct” way to say fishermen? Fisherpersons is terribly cumbersome. How about fisherfolk? How about missionary?

I love a good fish story. Did you hear the one about the commercial fishermen who were cleaning up one morning after a hard night’s work when some preacher came along and asked if he could use the boat as a kind of floating pulpit? They allowed it and after the sermon, he told them to take the boat out into deep water and put out the nets. One of them argued that the preacher didn’t know much fishing (they had fished all night, along the shore — when and where the fish gather and can be caught), but they did as he suggested anyway. Maybe they just had that much respect for him or maybe they thought it would teach him a lesson about fishing.

In any event, the next thing you know they had so many fish that their nets were about to tear, and they couldn’t get all the fish into the boat! Honest to Pete, it happened! They asked some friends in another boat to help them, and they still had so many fish that they almost sank both boats! I know you think that’s just a fish story or a tall tale, but it really happened. As a matter of fact, a lot more happened.

If you haven’t already guessed, the fishermen were Peter and Andrew, and their friends were James and John. The preacher was Jesus. Being a fisherman, I can imagine the thrill of that moment. I tell a few stories that astonish people and make them think I stretch the truth a bit.

One of my favorite stories began with a cast of a lure that imitates a wounded minnow. It was a large lure with three treble hooks on it. I had a strike and hooked a small bass. While I was retrieving it, there was a heavy surge on the line, far beyond the strength of that little fish. Suddenly, the surface of the water erupted as a huge bass jumped; it was also hooked on the same lure! The smaller fish looked like a minnow hanging alongside.

I have seen schooling blue fish in the ocean come up to a hooked fish and actually injure their comrade trying to take the lure from his mouth. Fishing in clear fresh water with live minnows, I have hooked one smallmouth, and watched another zip up and eat the minnow that was still hanging on the line. I don’t think that was the case with this monster of the deep; I think the small bass was his target for lunch, not the lure. To my knowledge, that was the biggest bass I have ever hooked. The rest of the story, as Paul Harvey says, is that when the big fish jumped a second time, it shook its head violently, and the little fish flew free. Sadly, my lure was still attached to the little one, not the big one. Some people think that is just a fish story, but I have a witness!

How does my story differ from the first? Well, the bass provided the kind of a thrill that keeps a fisherman’s adrenalin pumping all day. I think I have an idea how those fishermen felt, but there is one striking difference.

About the time Peter and his friends were literally sitting in fish, piled to the rim of the boats, Peter realized that something totally different from “fisherman’s luck” had just occurred. This was no accident of nature. Jesus had not said, “Take your boat out and try your luck.” His words were specific: “Let down your nets for a catch.” This wasn’t just a catch; this was impossible…but it happened!

Lightning once hit so close to our boat that my brother asked me to check and see if God and I were still on the same side. Peter knew God was in the boat with him — literally, visibly — and, for a moment, that prospect was more frightening to him than any lightning bolt. He fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

Jesus’ response to Peter was addressed to all of his companions as well. At least, they all took it personally. He said, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” Just as those words changed the lives of all four fishermen, so they touch every one of us. The words bear further examination.

The first words give us hope; the second words give us life. Peter had yet to learn how little he had to fear from God. The alienation that Peter recognized in his own sinfulness was just one of the problems in the human situation Jesus had come to relieve. Jesus would not destroy sinful humanity, nor would He, as Simon requested, depart from sin or from them. He would overcome sin and forgive the sinner. His confrontation with sin would not cost the lives of other people; it would cost His own, and His ultimate victory would also be our victory.

Jesus was not suggesting that the disciples dabble in fishing for people. It was not to be a pastime, but a permanent preoccupation. It would come before and, in their case, take the place of their present occupation. It would also not be a matter of trying their luck. As in the case of this miraculous catch of fish, they were not just going fishing — they were going catching.

Please remember that, as with all metaphors, this image shouldn’t be pushed too far. I occasionally go fishing just for fun. In other words, I release everything I catch. More often, as was the case with these commercial fishermen, the fish are a means to an end. Ultimately, the fish are used for my benefit and that of my family and friends; we literally feed on them. In the church, people are not to be used and their carcasses discarded. When fish get caught, it means their death. When people get “caught” for Christ, it means their life — life that is abundant, enriched, enabled, and ennobled.

One application of Jesus’ fishing metaphor is excellent. While not every person crazy about fishing does it for a living, they are all committed to it. Christ calls us all to that kind of a mission commitment. Christ’s mission is fishin’ — for people. He turns sinners into saints, lost into found, condemned into commended. And, in the biggest switch of all, He turns the “fish” into fisherfolk!

Sunday’s First Lesson contains a powerful image of a tree that is cut down, and its stump is burned. Yet, there remains in that stump a seed, a root, and eventually a sprig, and a hope. Cut, burned and seemingly destroyed, the stump still has God; it still has hope, and it still has life. Nikos Kazantzakis wrote in one of his novels, “I said to the almond tree: ‘Speak to me of God.’ And the almond tree blossomed.”

I’m not so sure that unredeemed nature is that ready for God. Peter’s recognition of his sinfulness struck terror into his heart to be in the presence of the holy God. The author to the Hebrews wrote (10:31), “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Isaiah cried: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

It got even more scary for Isaiah when an awesome, frightening creature flew right at him with a hot coal and touched his mouth with it! But then God said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Then the Lord asked, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And Isaiah said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Our guilt has been taken away and our sin atoned for by the Christ who gave His own life as the sacrifice. He is the one who now asks, “Whom shall I send?”

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Scripture Encourages Saving

It’s likely that we had parents who encouraged us to save our money. Now, as adults, we realize how wise they were. Scripture also encourages us to save. “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has” (Proverbs 21:20). This verse points out that only foolish people save nothing for the future. Saving money rather than borrowing makes economic sense, because we are earning money on our savings rather than paying it out on interest charges.

In our lifetimes, we will save money for many purposes. Saving may help us fund education for ourselves and/or our families and help us pay for emergencies. Saving may help us pay for cars and comfortable homes. Saving may enable us to retire comfortably. Saving may keep us from being burdens to others. Saving may enable us to give to those in need. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism wrote, “Christians should make as much as they can, save as much as they can, and give as much as they can.”

To save, we need to make a commitment to save, set saving goals, and develop discipline to make it happen. Start saving today; we can’t afford to procrastinate. Don’t allow yourself to say that you don’t have enough money to save. It is very important to put money aside for the future regardless of the amount. As Solomon wrote, “. . . he who gathers money little by little makes it grow” (Proverbs 13:11).

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, help me to manage faithfully the money that You entrust to me. Amen.

Blessings on your journey as a steward!