31 October 2010

Homily for Reformation Day

On Reformation Day we hear the great news that the Son of God sets us free from sin, death, and hell. Today's homily was based on John 8:31-36 and titled "Free from What? Free for What?"

To listen to the audio file, click on this link, download the file and listen away.

27 October 2010

Another Reason to Pay Off Debt

In his most recent blog post Steve Stewart over at MoneyPlanSOS asks, "Is there a reason to pay off debt?" Then he answers his question with with some responses that he has heard:

Admit it, we all know that debt is bad.  For those who don’t mind carrying balances on credit cards or believe student loans are “good debt” know that it would probably be a good thing to pay it off.  For some, paying it ALL off has become a priority – but why?  Paying off debt is a pain in the butt, so there has to be REASON.  A couple with $112,000 in debt asked during our first session “Are we going to be miserable in order for this to work?”, I replied “Aren’t you already miserable?” 
I have never heard anyone say they wanted to pay off debt because it was the right thing to do.  Here is a short list for some reasons I have heard:
  1. Reduce Stress / Save Marriage
  2. Save for retirement
  3. Save for kid’s education
  4. Save for daughter’s wedding
  5. Start a small business
  6. Buy a hobby farm
  7. Buy a second home
PS – Notice that Reason #1 is the ONLY one you can’t pay for, but it does have a cost.  
What is your reason?  What would you do in order to WIN with money?  What is holding you back?  Think about your answer carefully, make sure it is a reason and not an excuse.
Those reasons listed are certainly good and salutary, but allow me to add a reason, this one more philosophical, if you will, and one that largely explains why "we all know that debt is bad." This reason actually comes from God Himself in Holy Writ and adds more weight to the dilemma of debt, showing why it's more than just a bad idea or an inconvenience or just a "pain in the butt." This reason just might help people to articulate that they want to pay off debt because it's "the right thing to do."

The "right" reason, among so many other good reasons, to pay off debt is this. Proverbs 22:7 says, "The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is slave of the lender." (Thanks, Dave Ramsey, for pointing this one out!) Why pay off debt? To be free from the slavery of the lender--free indeed from ever-fluctuating interest rates and costly fees, but especially free from being obligated to send my money to other people who have other purposes and designs for it.

As a recovering "debt-aholic" I can tell you that the simple liberty of being completely "debt-free" is quite refreshing and so relaxing (Can you say cut back on the stress big time?). Now my wife and I can manage the money that God gives us both for His glory and for the benefit of our neighbors.

Sorry, lender-task-masters, you don't dictate how my money gets used anymore! And now I'm free to plan for some of those other reasons listed.

25 October 2010

Reformation Text Study

If you're looking for a text study to aid in preparations for celebrating Reformation Day (October 31), please consider this humble offering. It was presented last year (2009) at our weekly Pericope Study group, and I offer it here for wider consideration and use.

"Almighty and gracious Lord, pour out Your Holy Spirit on Your faithful people. Keep us steadfast in Your grace and truth, protect and deliver us in times of temptation, defends us against all enemies, and grant to Your Church Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever." (Collect for Reformation Day, Lutheran Service Book)

24 October 2010

Homily for Trinity 21 & Stewardship Sunday

Never would I consider myself a "stewardship expert," but it was an honor and a joy to preach this morning for Zion Lutheran Church, Edwardsville, IL, and Trinity Lutheran Church, Worden, IL, on the topic of stewardship. Pr. Heath Curtis graciously invited me to preach the Word of God on stewardship and tithing on the occasion of his congregations' "Consecration Sunday" - and using the lectionary readings for Trinity 21.

So utilizing today's readings - Genesis 1:1-2:3; Ephesians 6:11-17; and John 4:46-54 - the homily was titled "Enlivened to Live as Givers," and focused on our gracious God creating us in and restoring us to His image so that we may live all of life as givers.

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

And on a related note, I am very intrigued by the program that Pr. Curtis uses, "Consecration Sunday," written by Herb Miller. I want to examine it myself. (Check it out here at the Cokesbury website or here at Amazon.com. The Southern District of the LCMS offers a PDF file adapting the use of Miller's education program.)

It's quite encouraging to hear lay leaders sing its praises and tell how it has turned their congregation around. One gentleman said it's "just so positive," as opposed to the stewardship programs that seem to beat folks over the head with the Bible's teaching on tithing and giving. The financial secretary rejoiced that it's made her job "much easier" because they can actually pay the bills without having to worry or borrow. Now that's high praise!

18 October 2010

Homily for Trinity 20

"The Lord loves a banquet. He is happiest when His people are gathered at the table with Him." That's how Dr. Norman Nagel began his 1996 sermon on Luke 14:15-24 at Zion Academy. It's also a line I was happy to adopt for my 2010 homily for Trinity 20 based on Matthew 22:1-14. Under the title and theme of "R.S.V.P." we heard how God loves a banquet, invites the bad and the good, and wants our R.S.V.P. for attending His feast of forgiveness, life, and salvation given through His Son.

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

11 October 2010

Homily for Trinity 19

Yesterday's homily focused on the Gospel reading from Matthew 9:1-8, when Jesus heals the paralyzed man first by forgiving his sins and then by healing his physical malady. It's the "Absolute Healing" that comes from Jesus' Absolution.

To listen to the audio file, click on this link, download the audio file, and listen away.

Milton Friedman on Capitalism & Greed

Here's a classic defense of Capitalism by Milton Friedman as he defends it against the typical yet trumped up charges of greed, here leveled by Phil Donahue. Not only do I really want to learn more from Friedman and his writings, but this is great to see Friedman leave Phil Donahue speechless.

HT: New Zeal

04 October 2010

Circle of Spiritual Care for Pastors

Here's a great quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the circle of things that make up spiritual care for pastors:

The life of the pastor completes itself in reading, meditation, prayer, and struggle. The means is the word of Scripture with which everything begins and to which everything returns. We read Scripture in order that our hearts may be moved. It will lead us into prayer for the church, for brothers and sisters in the faith, for our work, and for our own soul. Prayer leads us into the world in which we must keep the faith. Where Scripture, prayer, and keeping the faith exist, temptation will always find its way in. Temptation is the sign that our hearing, prayer, and faith have touched down in reality. There is no escape from temptation except by giving ourselves to renewed reading and meditation. So the circle is complete. We will not often be permitted to see the fruits of our labors; but through the joy of community with brothers and sisters who offer us spiritual care, we become certain of the proclamation and the ministry.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Spiritual Care (Fortress Press, 1985), p. 69.

03 October 2010

The Truth about Tax Returns

Okay, I'll admit it. I used to think that that tax refund check that came in the spring of the year was pretty sweet. After all, it did seem like "free money" or a "big bonus." But then I learned the truth: it was always my money. I had just "given" too much to the federal government in the form of withholding from my paycheck! Not a wise way to manage the money that God Himself gives.

I know many people think that the tax refund check is pretty sweet. After all, they can use it to pay a bill (We see this quite a bit with our day school and back tuition payments.), to spring for something special (like a new TV or computer?), or just plain to think that they got lucky and won some kind of lottery.

Actually, the truth still remains: that money has always been yours. If you're getting a sizable "refund" from Uncle Sam's IRS, then you're loaning too much to Uncle Sam in the first place, and not getting any interest back for your "generosity." Wouldn't you rather use your money yourself, rather than let government bureaucrats and politicians decide how "best" (Do I hear pork calls and sounds of earmarks?) to use the money that God gives you to manage?

Here's a series of helpful articles over at MoneyPlan SOS - Financial Coach that helps understand the problem with withholding too much, receiving too big a tax refund, and how to correct the problem:

Tax Refunds: Part 1 (Tax Liability)
Tax Refunds: Part 2 (Withholding)
Tax Refunds: Part 3 (Tax Returns)
Tax Refunds: Part 4 (The REFUND)

Be sure to check back with the financial coach for future articles. I'm sure they will be just as helpful as these first installments.

And now...

...for something truly frightening! As New Zeal reports, a recent rally in Washington D.C., obviously meant to counter-balance, counter-act, etc. the Glenn Beck rally held back on 8-28-10, is dominated by Socialists and reveals just who supports our current President and his obviously Socialist policies and direction for our nation. Lord, have mercy!

Check it out at New Zeal.

Homily for Anniversary of the Congregation

Hope Sanctuary - January 6, 2008
Since Lutheran Service Book offers propers for observing the Anniversary of a Congregation, we decided a while back to set aside the first Sunday in October each year to thank God for His blessings given to Hope through her history. And we did just that today. October 8 is the official anniversary date - the date in 1916 when Hope congregation held its first worship service in what was called "The Portable Chapel." As mentioned in the homily we really can thank a mailman - humanly speaking, of course - for the beginning of this congregation when this part of St. Louis City was still farmland transitioning into city outskirts.

Hope Lutheran Church, built 1930
The homily, "Hope in St. Louis," gives a good bit of Hope's history because many who are newer to the congregation have never learned it. To listen, just click this link and then download the audio file.