30 June 2010

Helpful Quote on Preaching?

The following quote comes from Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) in his Yale Lectures on Preaching of 1872. It was today's Reading IV in For All the Saints, vol. IV, p. 173. Just out of curiosity, I'd like to know what you, the readers of this blog--especially the clergy though also welcoming responses and insights from lay readers--think about the content of this quote:

There are, also, some specialties in this true Christian love and sympathy that bear upon the pulpit. In the first place, the whole cast of your thought and the subjects with which you deal are to bear the impress of this good news,--that God is Love, and that God so loved the world, that, having died for it, he now sits at the right hand of God, a risen Saviour, to live for it.

If you preach justice alone, you will murder the gospel. If you preach conscientiously, as it is called; if you sympathize with law and with righteousness as interpreted by the narrow rule of a straight line; if you preach, especially, with a sense of vindictive retribution,--I do not care who the criminals are,--you will fail of your whole duty. There must be justice, and punitive justice, of course; but, after all, "Vengeance is mine," saith the Lord. It is a quality so dangerous to handle that only Infinite Love is safe in administering it. No mortal man should dare to touch it, for it is a terrible instrument. You are to administer all the great truths, the most rugged truths, in the spirit of the truest sympathy, benevolence, and love.

So, what say you? Is the content of this quote helpful for the preaching task or not? If so, how so? If not, why not? How does it help, or not, the preacher diagnose our sin and then give us the healing medicine of Jesus the Physician of the soul? Pros? Cons? What's helpful? What's not?

Now it's your turn. Comments, questions, or "smart remarks"?

29 June 2010

Homily for Trinity 4

My homily for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity this year focused on Jesus' familiar image of a speck in your brother's eye and a log (plank) in your eye. With the title "Seeing Specks and Pondering Planks" I tried to focus on the differences between the verbs that Jesus uses in Luke 6:41. "Seeing" the specks of sins in our neighbor's eye is almost matter of fact. However, Jesus summons us to "intensely ponder" the large plank of our own sins. How does God's mercy in Christ Jesus rescue us from focusing too much on our neighbor's sins? Listen and find out.

To listen to this past Sunday's homily, click this link, download the audio file, and listen. May our Lord bless you as you hear His word of mercy and life.

22 June 2010

Moving toward Glad Giving

This article is a follow-up to my previous article on tithing. After some feedback on that article, first published in the April edition of my congregation's newsletter, I decided to step back and try to give a more "Gospel-way" of moving toward the salutary practice of tithing. Yes, tithing can seem like a burdensome law, but it need not. Rather, we can view and approach it as a God-given goal for living the Christian life, trusting God to provide for us and loving our neighbor in need. This article first appeared in the June-July 2010 issue of "The Hope Lutheran."
Back in April I used this column to introduce and teach the topic of tithing—giving 10% of your income to your congregation. God clearly teaches tithing in the Bible, both by example and by challenge. Yes, God actually challenges His people to tithe and see how He will bless! See Malachi 3:8-10. April’s article also ended with this interesting and, I think, inspiring quote from Lutheran pastor John H. C. Fritz: “If the Christians of our day would give ten per cent. of their income,…the treasuries of the churches would always be filled to overflowing, and there would no longer be the proverbial church deficit.” (Pastoral Theology, 259-260)

Now I can almost hear the voice in your head wanting to cry out: “Pastor, that’s all well and good. But we have light and phone bills to pay. We have to buy clothes for the kids and put food on the table. We have to pay the credit card bills, the doctor bills, and the mortgage or rent. We can barely get by and make ends meet as it is! How can we possibly tithe, or give 10 percent of our income?”

Bear with me. April’s article is not the only piece of the puzzle. It certainly was not meant to be a club to make you feel guilty. Not at all! Let’s look at God’s teaching on tithing as the destination (goal) where God wants us to live our life. Yes, God teaches it. Yes, He wants us to learn to give. And, yes, as His redeemed people, we do want to live life as He teaches and grow in His ways. After all, we do trust that our heavenly Father knows what’s best for us.

But we also have to deal with our real life challenges, where we find ourselves right now—budgets stretched as tight as a drum, perhaps debt up to our eyeballs, maybe learning to live with lower family incomes, etc. Real life is where we are now.

So let’s ask ourselves: How can we go from point A to point B? How can we move from where we are now to the destination God has for us in managing our finances? How can we move from our stress-filled financial pictures to the joyous and peaceful goal of living and giving as God teaches? How can we move from money worries to glad giving?

A Matter of Grace
The first thing to remember about the Biblical teaching on tithing is that it is a matter of grace. Yes, God teaches it in the Bible. Yes, I devoted my April article to it. But it’s not intended as a club, or a law, or a guilt trip – in any way.

If you cannot possibly give 10% of your income in the church offering at this time, God is not mad at you, and neither am I. Your salvation does not depend on whether you tithe or not. You are not a better Christian if you do tithe, nor are you a worse Christian if you don’t.

Your heavenly Father loves you, saves you and provides for you completely by His grace and mercy as revealed in His Son Jesus Christ. He does not teach you to tithe in order to burden you. Not at all! Remember St. Paul’s words: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Now that’s grace.

Also take a look at Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34. There our Lord Jesus exhorts you not to be anxious – not to worry – about your physical needs. God knows that you need food, drink, clothing, shoes and other bodily and daily needs. And God graciously provides for them purely out of His grace and goodness—because He already loves you.

So let’s always remember that tithing is a matter of God’s grace and learning to live in that grace He gives through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

A Matter of Growth
Since tithing is one goal that God gives us, it also makes sense that God wants us to grow into that way of life, that is, move in that direction. It’s part of what St. Peter says, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

Back in April I mentioned that God is the greatest Giver. He has created us and redeemed us to grow in His image, that is, grow into being better and better givers. This, of course, applies to all areas of life, including when we manage His gift of money.

So the question for each of us becomes: “How can I grow into tithing? How can I move toward being a glad giver?”

One practical step is to work at getting out of debt. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Debt is just plain dumb! I know, that’s not how our government acts or what our society says these days. Radio ads routinely advertise taking out another loan (more debt) in order to get out of debt. Sorry, but you cannot dig your way out of a hole!

The Bible actually does teach us about the folly of being in debt. Proverbs 22:7 says, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” Also look up Proverbs 6:1-5. Think about it this way. When you are in debt – any debt, no matter how big or how small – the money you must use to pay the credit card bill or the student loan bill, well, it does not belong to you. It belongs to the creditor. And since that money belongs to the creditor, you really do become “slave of the lender” until you completely pay off those debts! (Think fees and interest rates!)

Then consider this: what better things could you do with that money if you had the say so over where it goes? How would it make you feel to use your money for purposes other than paying creditors? Instead of playing endless “catch up” with VISA, MasterCard, or Sallie Mae, you could actually use the money God gives you for more productive purposes, such as saving for a rainy day, preparing for college for your children, or even giving to help those in need. Yes, when you get out of debt – when you have the real say in how to manage the money God gives you – then you can give more freely and more gladly.

A second practical step in moving toward being a glad giver is to plan and work at increasing the percentage that you give. (And if you are used to giving a certain dollar amount, then simply figure what percentage that amount is. Take that amount, either by month or by pay period, and divide by the amount of income per month or pay period. Presto, you have your percentage. :))

Let’s illustrate. Let’s say right now you can only give 5% of your income in the offering. Thank the Lord for that! That’s a good gift and accomplishment. As you more carefully plan how to use the money God gives you, and as you pay off those unnecessary debts (everything except the house payment), then challenge yourself by raising that percentage figure. Perhaps in a couple of months you can increase it to 6% or 7%. Maybe by in a year you can bump it up to 8% or so. As you keep taking the steps to manage your money (instead of letting it dictate to you!), you can plan to increase your percentage for giving, and you will rejoice in being able to do it.

Giving with Gladness
So, tithing is a matter of God’s grace—we are saved by His grace and we grow into being better givers by that same grace. It’s also good to remember that everything we have in life, including money, really belongs to God, not to us. Check out Psalm 24:1. As someone once said, “It’s very easy to give away someone else’s money.” That’s how we can learn to give with gladness: we realize that the money does not belong to us in the first place; we are simply “asset managers” for God.

In 2 Corinthians 9 St. Paul gives good instruction and sage advice on how to live as Christians who are also glad givers. In verse 6 he says, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Gladly giving has great benefits. Since God has freely given everything to us, especially forgiveness of sins and eternal life, we can also “sow bountifully,” that is gladly give – in all areas of life.

St. Paul continues: “Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (v. 7). No, God does not want grumpy givers, people who give only because they have to or because they think somebody else is forcing them to give. Remember God’s grace! Instead, God “loves a cheerful giver.” The Greek word translated “cheerful” is the word from which we get “hilarious.” So, “God loves an hilarious giver” – a giver who laughs when he/she gives, a giver who finds great joy in giving to help other people. (Hmm. Can you imagine everyone joyfully laughing as they put their offering in the basket? :))

Finally, St. Paul gives a glorious promise. It’s a promise intended to comfort and inspire us as we spend our whole lives learning to trust our Lord and move toward glad giving: “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…. 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.” (vv. 8-11)

21 June 2010

Homily for Trinity 3

Yesterday's homily for the Third Sunday after Trinity probed the question of just how willing we are to be "lost," that is, to live life in repentance, confessing our sins, and being found by our merciful Lord, and Shepherd, Jesus. Based on Luke 15:1-10 this homily is titled, "Willing to be Lost."

To listen to this homily, just click this link and download the audio file.

Funeral Homily: "Resting with Good Shepherd Jesus"

Last Friday presented me with a first in my time in the Pastoral Office and a very unique avenue for pastoral care: a "double funeral." I've done multiple baptisms before. I've heard of, though not personally seen or officiated at, "double weddings." But a "double funeral"? It has to be one for a history book somewhere.

Robert and Geraldine Pinkney were long-time members at Hope. They both had been battling various health problems for many years. They moved to Laclede Groves a year or so ago. They both have been in and out of the hospital quite frequently in recent years. On Friday June 11 I  had the privilege of praying with both of them together, and then the Lord took Robert home to be with Him early on Saturday June 12. Funeral plans proceeded as normal.

But then the unexpected happened: Geraldine, Bob's wife, went home to be with the Lord early on Wednesday June 16. Wow! I've heard of and witnessed one spouse "following" his/her beloved into eternity within a few months. But just four days later?! What an incredible situation and what an opportunity to care for the flock of God in this place.

Since the family was in from out of town, and since funeral plans had already been made, we simply included "Gerry" beside her life's companion, Bob. Hence my first (and historic?) "double funeral." We rejoice that our resurrected Lord has taken Robert and Geraldine home to be with Him, and we especially thank Him for His answer to the many, many prayers for healing that have gone up to Him for many years. Robert and Geraldine now have the full and complete healing that only the Good Shepherd, Christ Jesus, our resurrected Lord can give.

A "double funeral" also opens up some pretty great ways to proclaim the Gospel for the comfort of family and friends. As Bob and Gerry lay on either side of the Baptism font in the Laclede Chapel, not only did we get to hear about being baptized into Christ's death and resurrection, but we also got to think of a wedding, especially the wedding of Christ the Bridegroom and His Bride the Church. Even as they lay in their caskets in the chapel, Bob and Gerry provided a picture of the eternal communion of Christ and His Bride! What great comfort!

Here's the homily that I delivered at Laclede Groves Chapel last Friday, June 18. Click on this link, download the audio file, and listen.

14 June 2010

Disturbing Video!

Here's a disturbing video of a congressman, an elected official who is supposed to serve the people, assaulting a college student as the student evidently was trying to get his attention to interview him. No doubt there are more details than the video shows, but the image of a congressman bullying a citizen is very disturbing!

Yes, our country and our leaders desperately need our prayers:
For the government and all who have been set into positions of leadership, that they may use the authority entrusted to them honorably and for the good of the people, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

Disturbing Video!

13 June 2010

Amazing and Inspiring

Check out this video at thegolfchannel.com of Butch Lumpkin, a man with no arms who can play golf and tennis ... and probably whip most who play in those sports. Pretty much puts things in perspective when we think we're having a "bad day" for whatever reason.

(Sadly, no embed code is given at thegolfchannel.com)

Homily for Trinity 2

Today's homily for the Second Sunday after Trinity came from Luke 14:15-24 and is titled "Where IS Everyone?" How truly amazing that our Lord nails it regarding the excuses people make for missing out on the great banquet of His Gospel and Sacraments. It's also amazing how this reading is so well suited for this time of year, when so many of those invited to the Eucharistic banquet make so many excuses for why they just cannot attend (sports events aplenty, weekends away at the lake, sleeping in after traveling, etc.).

To listen to the audio file of today's homily, just click here and download the file.

10 June 2010


So, you want to take Treasury of Daily Prayer with you in your pocket? There's an app for that!
You want the Psalms, Scripture readings, and orders of prayer at your finger tips on your iPhone (or iPod or iPad) at all times? There's an app for that!

Concordia Publishing House has put out a great app called "PrayNow." Just call it the wealth of Treasury of Daily Prayer meets the ease and usability of iPhone. For a mere $8.99 you can have a great resource for your prayer life with you at all times. Check it out here.

TITHING: God’s Way of Managing Church Budgets

Here's an article that first appeared in the April edition of my congregation's newsletter, The Hope Lutheran. I hope it will be beneficial, instructive, and edifying for others as well.
People like to dream of possibilities. Here are two questions to help us dream of possibilities when it comes to our congregational work and finances:
  • What could we at Hope do to proclaim the Gospel, do works of mercy, and teach our children if we had no budget deficit? 
  • What could we at Hope do to proclaim the Gospel, do works of mercy, and teach our children if we actually had a budget surplus?
“But, Pastor, how on earth could that be possible?” you ask. I’m glad you asked. :)

Believe it or not, we don’t have to wring our hands over the church’s finances. We don’t have to fret that our offerings won’t be sufficient to pay for church staff salaries or the heating and light bills or needed maintenance and repairs on the building. We don’t have to live in continual anxiety that tuition income won’t be able to cover teachers’ salaries and benefits or buy textbooks. There is a simple and Biblical solution to our so-called money problems. But it does involve some sanctified sacrifice.

   That solution is called tithing. What is tithing? Where does it come from in the Bible? How can we possibly do it?

Defining Terms
   Before we can understand what the Bible teaches on tithing, we need to define some terms. Tithing is not just any old offering or pledge of giving money in the offering. Here are the key terms:
  • Tithe = a tenth (10% or 1/10) of one’s income, off the top (“first fruits”).
  • Offering = a gift of any other amount, a gift above and beyond the tithe.
  • Pledge = a promise to give a certain amount to a certain cause or purpose.
Based on these definitions, “tithing” is the practice of giving 10% (or 1/10) of one’s income—for Christians, usually to their local congregation.

Biblical Examples of Tithing
The Bible teaches tithing more as an example than a command. Yes, God did command His Old Testament people to tithe, but we do not see the same kind of command in the New Testament. In fact, as Christians we can view tithing not only as an example, but also as a minimum for God’s New Testament people.

We find the first Scriptural example of tithing with the patriarch Abram (later named Abraham) in Genesis 14. After Abram conquered some kings and rescued his nephew Lot, he “gave [Melchizedek, priest of God Most High,] a tenth of everything.” What was that “everything”? All of the spoils, or income, from his battle against the kings.

We next see tithing when God commands His redeemed people—rescued from slavery in Egypt—to tithe from their crops in the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 14:22 says, “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year.” The seed of their field was their increase, or income.

In Deuteronomy we discover more details attached to tithing. In chapter 26:2 God instructs His people: “take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there.” God instructed His people 1) to give their offerings off the top (“first of all the fruit”), that is, before doing anything else with their income, and 2) to bring them to the place where God dwelt, that is, His house.

Later in Deuteronomy 26 the story of God rescuing His people from Egypt is recounted (verses 5-11), and then God gives more instruction:
When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be fulfilled, then you shall say before the Lord your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me.’ (Deut. 26:12-13)
Notice three things about the tithe. First, it is called “the sacred portion.” That means it is set apart and devoted to God and His purposes. Second, God wants the tithe to be used to support two kinds of people: workers in His house (“the Levites”) and people in need (“the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow”). Third, the tithe is given so that these people “may eat within your towns.” That is, the tithes that come into the Lord’s house provide for the physical needs of those called into His service and those who have specific physical needs.

Malachi 3:8-10 rounds out our look at Biblical tithing. In this passage God catches His people in the sin of their stinginess, and then He challenges them to trust Him for His blessings:
Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 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. 3:8-10)
According to this passage, people were robbing God by not tithing! Perhaps they were giving “a little something,” or perhaps they only gave what was left after all other expenses were paid, or perhaps many just weren’t giving at all.  Whatever happened, they were robbing God … and God confronted them.

But God also gives a pretty bold dare. He says, “Put me to the test…if I will not pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” God promises to bless those who tithe. It may not necessarily be a monetary blessing; it could be the blessing of giving to help the needy, or the joy of helping a fellow Christian and becoming better friends with him or her, or the blessing of not having “more need” (Can you say, “No more money crunch”?)

Basically, then, for Christians tithing means giving 10% (1/10) of one’s income off the top (also intentional, planned) to the local church (God’s house; storehouse).
How Can We Do That?
God does not teach us to tithe in order that we make Him love us. He already loves us! (See Eph. 2:8-9) We don’t tithe because God somehow needs it. He already owns it all! (See Ps. 24:1) No, we tithe – and give in general – because God has already given to us. “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9)

The reason God teaches us to tithe is so that we may become more and more like Him, that is, so that by His grace we may become givers. God Himself is the supreme Giver. (See John 3:16 & James 1:17) God has made us in His image (Genesis 1:26-27), and He has also re-created us in His likeness (Ephesians 4:24). That means that God makes us GIVERS, people who, like our heavenly Father, give and give and give, and thus help other people.

More specifically and practically, how do we tithe? It’s quite simple. Whether you are married or single, write down the amount of income you take in each month or each pay period. Figure out 10% (one tenth) of that amount. Then make out the first check for that budget period for that 10% figure and give it in the offering. It’s that simple! It comes off the top (“first fruits”) and it’s intentional as you set apart and give that amount to provide for the needs of others, namely, God’s workers, God’s house, and those in need.

Here’s some good “food for thought” for how tithing can help us manage the church’s finances:
It is self-evident that the Church needs money, this convenient means of exchange, to carry on its work. The financial needs of the Church do not exceed the financial possibilities of its members; the Lord does not expect that Christians give more than they are able to give. If the Christians of our day would give ten per cent. of their income, as the Jews did in the Old Testament (in the New Testament this is not obligatory), or if the Christians of our day would support the Church to the extent of their power and even beyond their power, as did the poor Macedonian Christians, 2 Cor. 8, 3, the treasuries of the churches would always be filled to overflowing, and there would no longer be the proverbial church deficit. (John H. C. Fritz, Pastoral Theology, 259-260, emphasis added)

06 June 2010

Homily for Trinity 1

Jesus' story of the Rich Man and Lazarus seems to hold in tension the primacy of faith in God and the necessity of love for neighbor. This homily aims to bring out this tension with the title "The Intersection of Faith and Love."

To listen to the audio file of today's homily for the First Sunday after Trinity, just click this link, download the audio file, and let your ears do their thing.