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“I just feel like I have no purpose in my life. I’m not accomplishing anything, and I feel guilty.” Those words were spoken by a wife and mother of three as we sat together in my office. So I asked her, “Take me through a typical day.” She thought for a moment and said, “I wake up with our baby, feed her, and put her back down. Then I get my other two kids fed, pack their lunches, and get them ready for school. I take them to school and come home to laundry, cleaning, and taking care of the baby. Truthfully, I also try to catch a quick nap while the baby is taking her late morning nap! I run to the store to buy some things for dinner, pick up the kids, make dinner for my family while trying to help the kids with their homework. My husband helps with the dishes while I give my kids baths. Then I read the kids a couple of books, read a devotion, pray and sing a hymn with them, and get them down to bed. I try to spend a little time with my husband, but then it’s cleaning everything up and getting ready to do it all again tomorrow. You see what I mean when I say that I don’t feel like I have a purpose in my life, right?”

Can you see the problem? And it’s not just mothers. The more-mature-than-his-age high schooler knocked my socks off after we chatted about what he wants to do after high school when he said, “I just want to make a difference in life. I can’t wait to get through college so that I can help people.” A factory worker lamented what little he felt he had done with his life when he said, “I’m not important. I just work in a factory all day.” I sat in the room of a wonderful Christian man in his nursing home. We had just finished having a devotion and prayer when I noticed that tears were forming in his eyes. I gently asked, “What’s on your mind?” He explained, “Pastor, I’ve spent my life helping people at church and in the community. Now, I’m worthless. I can’t help anyone here. Instead, I’m a burden to my family and the workers here. You shouldn’t have to come here to visit me. I should be able to make it to church… but I can’t anymore.” My heart broke and a tear formed in my eye. All these people were wrestling with a very important question in life, “What am I here for?” All of them came to their own conclusions. Maybe you can relate as you reflect on your life. I ask you, what are they missing? What are we missing?

We have a problem. We look at the lives of other people “making a difference” and we think need to be more like them instead of seeing what God is doing through us right now. Search the Scriptures all you want, and you will never find a passage that talks about the “best way to serve God” or needing to divine the Divine as to what he specifically wants you to do. I’ve looked. It’s not there. Instead:

  • Pastors and teachers are encouraged to “hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught.” (Titus 1:9)
  • Citizens are told to pay their taxes. (Matthew 22:21)
  • Husbands need to love their wives as Christ loved the church (1 Peter 3:7), and wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22)
  • Parents are to bring their children up in the training and instruction of the Lord and children are to honor their parents. (Ephesians 6:1-4)
  • Workers should obey their bosses and bosses should treat them fairly. (Ephesians 6:5-8)And:
  • Every Christian is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:9)

Can you find yourself in that listing? Perhaps multiple times?

Martin Luther referred to our vocations as the “masks” that God wears. On the surface, you see an ordinary human face—a mother or pastor or doctor or teacher or waitress—but, beneath the outward appearance, God is serving us through them. God is hidden in human vocations. In his exposition on Psalm 147, Luther wrote:

What else is all our work to God—whether in the fields, in the garden, in the city, in the house, in war, or in government—but just such a child’s performance, by which he wants to give his gifts in the fields, at home, and everywhere else? These are the masks of God (A common term in Luther for the means employed by God to perform his work and to make himself known while remaining hidden), behind which he wants to remain concealed and do all things. Had Gideon done nothing but take the field against Midian, the Midianites would not have been beaten; and God could certainly have beaten them without Gideon. He could give children without using men and women. But he does not want to do this. Instead, he joins man and woman so that it appears to be the work of man and woman, and yet he does it under the cover of such masks…

Labor, and let him give the fruits. Govern, and let him give his blessing. Fight, and let him give the victory. Preach, and let him win hearts. Take a husband or a wife, and let him produce the children. Eat and drink, and let him nourish and strengthen you. And so on. In all our doings he is to work through us, and he alone shall have the glory from it, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:7: “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (LW, vol. 14, p. 114-115)

God has not called us to do those things he has not given us the opportunity to do. Instead, God calls us to make the most of every opportunity he places in front of us. In a sense, whatever my neighbor needs is the call that Jesus gives me. Love for Jesus and my neighbor fulfills the call. So, mom, who needs you today? So, construction worker, who needs you today? So, student, who needs you today? You get the idea. What am I here for? To fill the needs of those around me. Martin Luther answered this question by quoting 1 Samuel 10:7, “Do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.” What your hand finds to do has not sprung up by accident. God is giving you a chance to serve him by serving your neighbor. A quote that has been attributed to Luther sums the point up nicely: “The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays—not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

Does that seem inglorious to us? So often, serving our neighbor seems mundane. But do you remember the type of works Jesus will mention about you on the Last Day? “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:34b-36).

Don’t miss the kinds of things Jesus will list. He doesn’t say, “For you gave millions of dollars to the poor and you started a charity and you volunteered 40 hours a week at church…” No, he points to giving food, giving drink, helping the sick, etc. He points to what we so often think is mundane. There is no mundane in the service of a Christian. Our Christian lives do not go unnoticed by our Savior. When I care for my sick daughter in the middle of the night, you will likely not read about it in tomorrow’s New York Times, but that doesn’t make it unimportant. All that matters is that it is written in the heavenly times and Jesus showing the angels the headline, “Dad cares for sick child!” And they all think it’s marvelous because it was done out of love for Jesus. Whatever you do as a Christian, it matters!

And notice what is not there in Jesus’ list on the Last Day: your sin. Why not? Because for the believer, all the imperfections in those actions have been washed away! All that remains is a good work done out of love for Jesus. Here’s the truth of every good work I do: there is at least some sin in every one of them. Isaiah the prophet said, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). In other words, even the good things I do are not perfect on their own, but because Jesus has removed the sin, your works done out of love for Jesus are beautiful to him. My daughter loves to draw and color. I love this early stage of drawing when they will draw people with a head and the arms and legs come out of the head. It’s precious. But frankly, how good is it, really? So when she draws a picture of mom and me and proudly presents it to me, what do I say? “Oh, that’s terrible! You colored outside the lines and that looks nothing like me!” No! I say, “Nika, that is so beautiful! I love it! Thank you!” Am I lying? Not at all. Because she drew that picture out of love for me. If I take it to an art gallery it might not sell, but who cares? The only gallery that matters to her is my office bulletin board or the front of the refrigerator. The same is true for our Father in heaven. He’s made you his child through the work of his Son. I wish you could see all of the pictures you’ve drawn for him on the refrigerator in his kitchen! And when we ask on the Last Day, “When did we do all of those things for you?” You will hear Jesus respond, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these…you did for me” (Matthew 26:40).

You might ask, “Why does God even need me?” Because he chooses to make you his mask in whatever callings you find yourself to do his great work. Philippians 1:6 says, “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” There is a story about the great Renaissance painter, Rembrandt. It’s thought that he wasn’t the primary painter of some of the works attributed to him. Instead, his apprentices would paint them. Then Rembrandt would come with his genius and add this and tweak that and turn it into a great work. One of his assistants asked, “Why do you even need me?” He apparently answered, “Because I treasure your work and I can make it great.” Know that your Savior treasures your work and he can make it great!

How can I be Jesus for my neighbor? A God-Lived Life stewardship program gives tangible examples of what it could look like. These examples can be applied to every mask God wears in our lives.

Prof. David Scharf
Martin Luther College, New Ulm MN

 

This blog anticipates the May release of A God-Lived Life congregational stewardship challenge.

 

 

“I triple dog dare ya.”

“I triple dog dare ya.”

Doubtless, you’re familiar with the scene from the classic movie “A Christmas Story.”

Ralphie explained: “Now, Schwartz created a slight breach of etiquette by skipping the triple dare and going right for the throat…. Flick’s spine stiffened. His lips curled in a defiant sneer. There was no going back now.”

The scene closes with a boy stuck by his tongue to a frozen pole crying for help.

There’s something about dares, isn’t there? We might pretend we’ve outgrown it. But, let’s be honest, a good challenge has some pull.

That’s why A God-Lived Life stewardship challenge is designed the way it is. It is designed to challenge God’s people to live the life to which he has called them. The hope is that being challenged in specific ways will urge them on to a closer walk with God and a life of love toward others.

A God-lived Life lasts for four months. Each month is kicked off by a special “God-Lived Life” Sunday with a sample sermon, worship helps, and a Bible study which are followed by a month’s worth of devotions for weekly emails or meetings. On that special “God-Lived Life” Sunday, members get a chance to commit to challenges they want to take on for the next four weeks. For example, the first month is understanding that a “God-Lived Life” is a life lived as a disciple, so people can choose to challenge themselves to do things a disciple does. Some of the challenges connect people to the community of believers, like “attending Sunday morning Bible Study every Sunday this month,” or “connecting on Zoom to four midweek Bible Studies.” Some of the challenges are fulfilled personally, like “having family devotion at least three times a week this month” or “reading my Bible for 15 minutes each day.” Since they are only committing to one month of activity, these things we all want to do and know we should be doing become a little more doable. Lord willing, as he works in people’s hearts and they experience the blessings of these activities, they will continue in them. As my congregation piloted A God-Lived Life this past year, we saw it do that. We saw people excited for opportunities to use who they were in God’s service. We saw people appreciative of the variety of ways to live out their callings. That’s what the monthly challenges gave them.

One interesting aspect of the program is the opportunity for the leaders of the congregation to come up with their own challenges. The program provides a list of ideas, but you’ll be challenged to come up with your own as well. The discussions and brainstorming among leaders can produce a broader congregational buy-in as they come up with some great opportunities for people to do the kinds of things they want to do because Christ’s love lives in them. For our congregation, a food drive for the homeless shelter made sense because there was a real need right in our backyard and we could demonstrate that a God-lived life was a “Life lived for Others.” With people struggling for connectedness through Covid, “A Life of Hospitality” showed as members committed to connecting with those who were shut-in to encourage them each week that month. With the purchase of new hymnals right around the corner, we could exercise “A Life Lived Shrewdly” by sacrificing something to participate in our “Christmas Gift for God’s House” which went toward our pre-order. When given the opportunity, God’s people stepped up to the challenges.

Will you? Or, as Schwartz asked in the movie, “Are you chicken?” Seriously though, I challenge you to take advantage of all the free resources designed to bless you and your congregation. Challenge your people to be what God has made them, to be more of what they want to be. Do it. I triple dog dare ya.

Rev. Jonathan Scharf
Abiding Grace, Covington GA

This blog anticipates the May release of A God-Lived Life congregational stewardship challenge.

 

 

Giving God Glory and Going All In

Everything we have is a gift from God. If you think through the gifts God gives, the most important ones fit nicely into five categories. They can be called the 5 “T”s. God gives us everything we have, and he wants us to put him first when it comes to our time, talents, treasures, temple, and his truth. Ask the average Christian what “stewardship” is, and they will tell you it’s when the church talks about money. That’s only part of it. A steward is another word for “manager.” So, stewardship is managing God’s resources God’s way because of God’s love—not just 10% of our money but managing 100% of everything God gives us. A God-Lived Life stewardship challenge seeks to stress the “whole life” approach to stewardship.

Going all in and giving God glory by managing my talents…

I love how God describes our relationship to him and to one another. The apostle Paul says, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). You are the body of Christ. What’s Paul’s point? First, in the body, there is nothing I want to sacrifice. Do you think you are unimportant to the Jesus’ body? Think again! Every part is useful! Do you think your toenails are unimportant? Well, I once golfed with someone who needed to wear flip-flops because of an accident where he lost his big toenail. He would tell you just how important it is! Second, in the body, you are unique. There is no one with the exact same set of gifts as you. The body needs you! And because you are part of a body, there is no need for jealousy inside of the church. Because your gift is mine and mine is yours—we are part of one body! When a pitcher throws a no hitter, the headline does not read, “Pitcher’s right arm won the game!” No, the whole body gets credit.

Going all in and giving God glory by managing my time…

How much time in an average day would you say you waste? Probably more than we’d like to admit. Prime suspects? TV, devices, internet, Facebook… it’s ironic that so many of the things that are meant to save us time are the very things we waste time on. Not that those aren’t great things. Is watching a 21-minute Netflix episode at night to wind down a bad thing? No. But what if hours of binge watching begins to take priority over time with family or friends? Or worse, God? You see my point!

Jesus says, “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4). Jesus says that the fact that our earthly lives don’t last forever means time is limited. So make the most of every opportunity in the time God has given you on earth. We are using this time to “get ready” and “get other people ready” for the paradise that is waiting for us. Managing our time well is something that gives God glory!

Going all in and giving God glory by managing my temple…

God wants us to be managers of the body or the temple he has given to us. The apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. That puts how I treat my body into perspective. How do you treat temples?

He says, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” We were once penniless and alone, destined for the fire of hell and an eternity of suffering. Then someone saw us, took pity on us, and simply put… loved us. Jesus went to the Father in heaven and said, “How much will it take to buy them?” And the Father said, “Only the most priceless offering will do.” So Jesus offered himself on a cross. You were bought at price. That’s almost an understatement. What is the only thing we can think to do? Honor God with the body he has given you—it brings him glory!

Going all in and giving God glory by managing his truth…

God wants us to manage his truth. He has entrusted it to us. 1 Corinthians 4:1 says, “People ought to regard us servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.” Okay, so how do you manage God’s truth? Think about what you have in the Bible. You have a love letter from your Father in heaven signed in the blood of Jesus that tells you all the answers to life’s biggest questions, provides you with counsel for every situation, comforts you in every tragedy, and promises you the riches of heaven because of Jesus’ life and death for you. This is the truth you have been entrusted—what does it mean to manage it? Read it every day. Keep it pure by not trying to explain away plain truth or let other’s attack the truth without a response. Read it every day. Share it with everyone in your life. Read it every day. Let it alone guide your life. Did I mention, read it every day?

Going all in and giving God glory by managing my treasures…

1 Corinthians 16:2, “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up.” Let’s break down what this teaches us about how we want to give. “On the first day” – This is what we were just talking about with priority. What would you rather have, contentment or a billion dollars? The right answer is “contentment.” You can’t have contentment unless God is the priority. “Of each week” – We will want to give an offering regularly or whenever we have been blessed. Do you get paid once per month? Then regular can be once per month. As we are blessed, so we give. At my previous congregation, looking at the records from 100 years ago, it looked like every October the church was woefully behind budget, but then come December, budget was always met. Were they not regular in their offerings? They were because they were farmers and farmers get paid when the crops come in! “Each one of you” – Everyone who has received can give—even kids! This is remarkable training both for the child and you. When Grandpa and grandma gives my 4-year-old $5 for her birthday and I ask her how much she wants to give to Jesus, do you know what they say at that age? “All of it.” And then I’m in the awkward position of saying, “Well, you don’t have to give all of it.” But there’s a lesson in that. Why is she willing to give it all? Because she implicitly trusts me to provide for her needs. We should, too! “Set aside…in keeping with your income” – In other words, God wants us to plan our offerings and make them a proportionate amount of what we make. Is $10,000 a generous offering? Yes, if you make $50,000… but not if you make $1 billion. Managing our treasures is one way we say “Thank you, Jesus” and give God glory.

The great church musician, Johann Sebastian Bach, inscribed many of his music manuscripts with the initials “INJ” (In nomine Jesu—In Jesus’ Name) and “SDG” (Soli Deo Gloria—To God Alone be the Glory). Isn’t that a beautiful summary of our lives? This is how we wake up and live each day. We awake with the name of Jesus imprinted on us in our baptisms. And with the name of Jesus on our hearts we live the day to God’s glory alone. We carry out the everyday callings of father, mother, worker, employer, child, Christian for an extraordinary audience. An audience of One. At the end of the day, having washed you clean of every imperfection, he looks at you and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23). You do this each day until the best day of all when God will say to you personally at the gate of heaven, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). And for all eternity, you will serve him, seeing him face to face.

The apostle Paul says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1). In view of God’s mercy with the cross of Christ before their eyes, I see Christians going all in and giving God glory. I see a mother feeding her child and showing that child how to love a husband. I see a father having a devotion with his son and wife. I see a factory worker making his quota and a high school boy studying hard for a test. I see an elderly man in a nursing home alone in his room with his hands folded and eyes closed in prayer. I see you, dear reader, reading of God’s love and how to serve him right now. There may be no else who sees them giving glory to God with their lives. But that’s okay. They all do it for an audience of One. And he’s smiling. To God alone be the glory!

Prof. David Scharf
Martin Luther College, New Ulm MN

This blog anticipates the May release of A God-Lived Life congregational stewardship challenge.

 

 

10 for 10 is a comprehensive stewardship program including a three-Sunday emphasis that teaches and preaches Biblical principles followed by a ten-week commitment that puts giving into action.

Downloads

Due to the large size of certain files, it may be necessary to download the files individually.

Includes a sample pastoral introduction letter and program follow-up letters.

The weekly videos for the 10 weeks of giving are also available for download at the links below.

 

*Video files are only available for individual download due to restrictions by the external hosting provider.

Due to the large size of certain files, it may be necessary to download the files individually.