"Resolutions for a New Year"
“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” - Philippians 3:13-14
Standing on the threshold of a New Year affords us the opportunity to reflect on the year just ended. Was it a “good” year for us? Was it a prosperous year? Was it a year that saw a lot of changes in our families, our relationships, or our jobs? Or, perhaps, was it a difficult year for us? Did we feel as if we had more than our share of setbacks, illnesses, and heartaches?
In a spiritual vein, what kind of year was 2011 in connection with our faith-lives? Was it a year in which we gained some new insights into our relationship with God? Did the past year find us growing in the exercise of our faith, and did we strive to let the fruits of the Spirit be evident in our lives? Did we let our faith show to others around us? Was it a year in which we were frequently conscious of the use of our time, talents, and treasures for the furtherance of God’s kingdom?
Perhaps we can look over the past year and answer some—maybe many—of the above questions with a “yes”. If so, for such growth in faith and evidences of the Spirit’s work in us we thank and praise God, for “it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). Perhaps, as we consider the questions above, we become aware of many failings and faults, which are due to our own spiritual laxity: lack of attention to God’s Word, or a lack of desire to practically apply God’s Word in our lives. Sinful lifestyles and attitudes may have crept into our lives as well, which get in the way of the Spirit’s work.
Whatever the past year has been for us, this great and irrevocable truth remains: we have forgiveness with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus’ blood wipes away all of our sins and gives us a clean slate. That truth enabled the Apostle Paul—and it enables us as well—to “forget what is behind.” That means that we do not let guilt over past sins hinder the present exercise of our faith or our present relationship with Christ. Those sins are completely gone, having been confessed and forgiven. We are the restored and reformed children of God, and with this new life we move confidently into the New Year. We “strain toward what is ahead”—in the confidence that our salvation and God’s abiding presence are assured, we look forward in joy and hope to another year of God’s blessing. We look forward to the opportunities that God will provide for us to serve him. And all the while, we press on toward our ultimate goal of heaven.
So often people look back on the way they have come and say, “If only I had another chance to do things differently.” Such a chance is given to us in the New Year. Every New Year presents the Christian with a challenge—and an opportunity—for unprecedented growth in faith and exercise of faith. In the forgiveness of Christ and through his guidance and blessing, may we go confidently and joyfully forward in this New Year, to write a good chapter in our book of life.
"Your Daily Walk With God — Keeping it “Real”
I’d like to share with you a dissertation written by a WELS seminary professor entitled “The True Reconstruction of the Church”, delivered at a past Synod Convention. I’d like to share with you some quotes from his paper:
“It is unmistakable, that spiritual life among us is in the process of diminishing...we often do not regard God’s Word as something extraordinary... We have already begun to make our entire church life and Christianity a matter of effortlessly transmitted tradition, inheritance, and custom.”
“Few families actually have devotions in the home—the Bible is seldom opened. This proves faith is dying! How powerfully the worldly spirit has seized hold of our Christian people! More and more we see our young people living for the world, while the elderly cling to Christian traditions.”
Would you agree with his words? We might agree that we see some of those among the members of our own congregations—even in our own households. We might even say, “Yes, I long for the good old days, when I was young, when people generally practiced their faith in a more genuine way, and were more in tune with their Bibles. When people weren’t so caught up in the ways of the world, but valued their faith more highly.”
OK. Now I will confess something to you. The words printed above were delivered by Professor August Pieper at a Synodical Conference, and the year was...not 2009, not 1969...but rather, 1919!
What’s the point of my little ruse? Just this...the danger of letting one’s faith shrink to a mere hollow and ritualistic exercise is present in every age—so we need to be on guard! Old Testament people had allowed the exercise of their faith to become mere ritualistic ceremony, even thought they were God’s chosen people. The congregations at Sardis (Rev. 3:1-3) and Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-18) were verbally chastised by God for their apathy and “dead orthodoxy”. Martin Luther complained about similar things in his day. It was obviously an area of concern in the Lutheran church of the early 20th century. And we can see it today as well. Just because we belong to a church body which possesses purity of doctrine and many cherished traditions does not automatically make us people of God. Each individual needs to make sure his or her faith-life is genuine!
Christians of EVERY age need to guard themselves against hollow and “pretend” faith-lives. They need to make sure that they are not just “going through the motions”, but that their walk with God is real, their relationship with God active, and the exercise of their faith characterized by genuine love. And only to the degree that people return to the Word of God and genuinely and liberally apply Law and Gospel to their lives will this come about. I will again borrow from Professor Pieper’s dissertation in this regard. He encourages every Christian to ponder these three questions, as a “litmus test” to the sincerity of their present walk with God. May we take these questions to heart, and take corrective measures if we see some things lacking!
1) Is my Christianity and my faith still “power and life”, or merely outward form and habit?
2) Is Christ and his grace really still the greatest desire of my heart, or is it the things of this world?
3) How frequent and sincere are our prayers and expressions of gratitude to God?
"Blessings at the Foot of the Cross”
“Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom. 15:4)
We have entered another Lenten season and are following our Savior to the cross. For some of you that may be a new experience, but others have been attending midweek Lenten services for many decades. The devil may suggest that we know all of this stuff about Jesus’ passion already, that it’s the same old message, that we’re not going to miss anything if we don’t attend. That’s all the nudging our sinful, lazy flesh needs to justify skipping a few of those services—or skipping them altogether. I submit to you that’s not the case.
There is that joke about the wife who asked her husband if he loved her and his answer was, “Of course I do. I told you the day we were married that I loved you. If I ever change my mind, I’ll let you know.” I doubt that anyone would seriously find that attitude reassuring, especially when our actions often don’t express love and consideration. We like to be told we are loved. We like to be shown that we are loved. The sufferings and death of Jesus tell us of his love, and show us that love. Although it is a sad path He followed, and our minds are filled with repentance and somber reflection in this season, we also find comfort and joy in seeing again and again how much He loved us.
We also need the frequent reassurance of His love and forgiveness, since we sin daily. Only if we were perfect could we say we have no need for such reassurance. And the devil never takes a break from trying to convince us with his lies that God cannot keep loving us and cannot keep forgiving us when we’ve sinned so much. If he doesn’t take a break, can you and I afford to “take a break” from God’s reassuring Word and promises? The verse above reminds us that the message of God’s Word carries a wonderful benefit. It encourages us and gives us hope. Our hope is the future joy of heaven with our Lord.
May this Lenten season find us at the foot of the cross as often as possible. As we are rotating pulpits again this year, we will be encouraged by various area WELS pastors to “See His Cross!” (this year’s Lenten theme). And as we sit at the foot of the cross and witness again our Savior’s sufferings, may you and I find peace and comfort in hearing again just how much Jesus loves you.
Joining you at the cross,
Pastor Jim Weiland
"Money Can't Buy the Greatest Thing”
The big question has been all over the news lately. “Who will win the 640 million dollar Mega Millions Lottery?” Well, now we know that three people have won it, and will share all of that money (after Uncle Sam takes his cut). It would seem that now, for these three people, there wouldn’t be anything that they couldn’t have, given that they will each be more than 100 million dollars richer.
That kind of money can buy LOTS of things. But when you think about it, there are quite a few things money can’t buy. While it can buy real estate and luxurious vacations, it can’t really make my marriage better—there are many wealthy people who get divorced. It can’t really improve my relationship with my kids. It can pay for surgeries and medicines, but there are some illnesses that surgery and medicine can’t heal. It can make me very popular, but it can’t buy me true friendship, and, like the Beatles once sang, “Money can’t buy me love.”
And then, there are things of far greater importance than these, that money can’t buy. Money can’t buy a clear conscience or provide peace with God. It can’t purchase the certainty of life in heaven after I die. No amount of money can buy me one ounce of freedom from a guilty conscience or from the fear of dying.
For these crucial things that money can’t buy, there is Jesus.
In a popular movie that is now out, The Hunger Games, a young girl is selected to compete in a duel-to-the-death contest with several other young people. There is no way this young girl can win against older, tougher kids. But her older sister, who is skilled in battle, volunteers to take her place and fight for her. The older sister is willing to lay down her life to save her sister’s life.
While all this makes for a good Hollywood movie plot, it is also similar to what our Savior Jesus did for us. We were born into this world to fight a battle against sin that we couldn’t possibly win. But Jesus became our brother and our substitute to fight for us. He bore the punishment our sins had earned so that we could be free from guilt, fear, and eternal death. Now, unlike the “Hunger Games” movie, our Hero actually does die. But it is precisely through his death, through his blood, that our debt to God is paid. The Bible teaches: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed…but with the precious blood of Christ”. And then our Hero rose again! And when he rose again, he guaranteed that we also would rise one day to take our place at his side in eternal glory.
Perhaps many of us secretly wish that we could have been one of the Mega Millions Lottery winners. But money can’t buy the most important things, such as a relationship with God and the promise of his forgiveness and his heaven. This is a free gift of God’s love, paid for with the precious blood of Jesus. That is why both Lent and Easter are so precious and meaningful to the Christian. In fact, they are priceless!
There are many things that money can buy. But for eternal life, there is Jesus—and only Jesus!
"A Life Without Fear—Really?”
What is there to be afraid of? Some fears that we have are real, but irrational. Experiencing a fear of heights when looking out the window on the top floor of a skyscraper is not reasonable, because you’re not in any danger of falling. It’s really no different than looking out your living room window. The fear is real--the danger is not. Many of us occasionally wrestle with these sorts of fears. The hypochondriac is afraid of unseen germs and lurking sickness. The claustrophobe imagines there is no air to breath in a closed space. The nervous child imagines a boogey man under his bed. Such fears are common among us, even if there really is nothing to fear! “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!” said President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first inaugural address of 1933. He was trying to allay the fears of people facing financial ruin during the Great Depression. The implication of his statement is that most fears don’t grow out of real danger but rather from imagined danger.
This is true of many of our fears. In fact, Jesus said that we need to be careful that we should not become “weighed down” by the fears and anxieties of daily life. Such overemphasis on the fears of this life can cost us everything when the Day of Judgment arrives! (cf. Luke 21:34)
Jesus does not, however, tell us that there is nothing at all to fear! So what is there to be afraid of? Listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 10 (v.28), “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Pain and death are not pleasant subjects to discuss, much less to endure. But the reality of a hell, the place of eternal punishment—THAT’S TERRIFYING! The sinner in each of us stands in horror as we hear the simple proclamation that the soul that sins is the one that will die. “That’s you!” says our accusing conscience, and we cannot deny it. The world suggests that maybe God wouldn’t really send people to hell, and therefore, the fear of hell is irrational and unreal. But Jesus makes it very clear that the punishment that God threatens for sin is real--and something to be feared. The sinner is right to tremble today and to dread falling into the hands of the living God on Judgment Day.
That’s why the words of Jesus above are so precious. “Do not be afraid,” says the victorious Savior, just back from the grave. He’s not talking about heights, sickness, or financial ruin here. No--here the Savior is telling us that we do not need to be afraid of the Holy God who demands the wages of sin. “Do not be afraid,” because full payment for sin has been made and accepted by God. Those who believe this will not perish but have eternal life!
Life without fear because of the Savior--what an amazing gift! The promise of that gift brought peace to the fearful hearts of Adam and Eve as they hid in the bushes, condemned by their disobedience and ashamed of their exposed sinfulness. That promise restored peace and joy to the heart of king David, who had heard the haunting words “you are the man.” The Easter message turned bitter tears of regret into bold confession of faith spoken by Simon Peter, the Rock. The Easter victory continues to speak to us when we are frustrated by our own sin and by an existence rife with sin’s vile effects. “Do not be afraid,” says Jesus. “I’ve conquered sin. I’ve paid the debt. I’ve destroyed death. I’ve adopted you to be mine--forever. I’ll be with you to the end of the age. AND…I’ll be back. Fear not, trust in God. Trust also in me.” Christian, welcome each new day with this simple thought which trumps all others: Jesus has conquered! There is nothing to fear! Ever!
"Glorifying God with Our Wealth”
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” -- 1 Timothy 6:17
“Now this is the life!” Lying in his hammock with refreshment in hand, Gary was completely relaxed. He looked out over the lake where his kids were riding jet skis and his wife was reading a book on the bow of his new ski boat. They were all having so much fun! The Lord had certainly been good to them. In a time when so many people were in danger of losing their job, Gary had been promoted. A timely inheritance meant that they could pay off their “investment property” much sooner than they had planned. And now, Gary could simply relax in the soft breeze and enjoy the sounds of his family enjoying themselves. What a blessed life!
As we search the Scriptures for guidance on stewardship issues, we often focus on combating worry; or trusting when funds are short; or bringing offerings in thankfulness. That’s good. Those are issues that the Bible speaks about in great detail. It’s important that Christians have a proper view of what earthly wealth is and is not.
But is it wrong to have an abundance of earthly wealth? Some would suggest it is, but they don’t get that from the Bible. The Bible makes it clear that it is “the love of money” that is “a root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Tim 6:10) Poor people show a love for money when they harbor bitter envy toward the rich or shake their fist at God for not blessing them with more money. People living in wealth show a love for money when they flaunt it as if it were an accomplishment of their own doing or entertain cravings for more and more. Many people selfishly store it up as if it offered unshakable security for the future. The love of money is not unique to a specific class of society.
In the passage above, Paul is telling Timothy to teach those with earthly wealth that they should not be arrogant (“Look what I’ve done and how much I have!”) nor should they put their hope in their wealth (“Now I’m secure and need nothing from anyone--even God.”) Every gift God gives comes with the joyful responsibility for its steward to put that gift into the purpose-filled action of praising the Giver. Christians with abundant material goods will strive to use them--and enjoy them--to God’s glory as guided by His written word.
If the Father of the heavenly lights has blessed you with financial prosperity, enjoy it. (cf. “… for our enjoyment.”) Enjoying our wealth is not only about getaway cabins and ski boats however. Let Scripture guide you in the way that your wealth can be celebrated. First comes a thank-you offering to the Lord, acknowledging that everything we have is a gift from God and that we do not have anything that we have not received as a gift from him. This “acknowledging” is more than just lying back in a hammock and saying, “God has been good to me.” A Christian who recognizes that his wealth comes from God will want to declare it with offerings of praise. A proportionate offering of thanks for God’s Kingdom work makes a statement to God that says, “Lord, I understand and acknowledge that all I have comes from you and would be without any value if I did not have you! I trust in you above all things.”
Scripture then teaches us to support others who do not have as much material wealth--especially family members! (1 Tim. 5:8) Providing children with the necessary goods, and teaching proper stewardship of them, is part of parenting. Christian grandparents may offer financial assistance to the families of their grown children to help them through the difficult years of child raising. Christians can enjoy being the tool that God uses to bless loved ones in need. We may see others in need, beyond our families. Faith expresses itself through acts of love, like bringing a gift to struggling family or individual. The joy of giving to help others is a way of celebrating all that God has granted!
And what about those cabins and getaways? Enjoy them before the moths and rust destroy them. To God be the glory! There is no guilt in giving thanks to God for his good gifts by enjoying them to the fullest.
"Lessons From a Fig Tree”
Jesus told this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” (Lk. 21:29-31).
The newspapers report a lot of bad news: war, robbery, murder, corruption, domestic abuse, even the abandoning of little babies. Life just seems to be one bad thing after another. Will there ever be an end to all this?
“Yes,” Jesus says. In a short story that speaks volumes about life, Jesus teaches us about his coming on the last day.
Our loving God has put a schedule in place for this earth. Only God knows exactly when these things will take place. In his divine wisdom, though, God sometimes lets us know when things are about to change. Jesus said when trees sprout leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, Jesus tells us when we see things such as wars, talks about wars, and earthquakes, we know his kingdom is near.
We can’t just ignore the bad news, and we shouldn’t. God doesn’t want us to be afraid of these sad events. Rather, he wants us to look past them and see that they are signs that tell us Jesus is coming again. Just as the trees welcome the summer months, so believers will welcome their time with Jesus in heaven.
The second coming of Jesus will bring an end to all that is wrong with the world. It will be a day of final judgment. For those who reject Jesus, there will not be another chance to believe. There will be no escape. Christ is coming back once more and that will be the last day.
Those who trust in Jesus don’t fear that day. Believers know that Jesus has forgiven them and promised them eternal life. They simply wait for him to come and take them to the paradise he has promised. They wait patiently and put up with the world’s troubles, knowing that Jesus will change things forever someday.
The lessons from a fig tree tell us that Jesus is coming again and that life will be far better. Until that time, we make it our mission to remain strong in our faith so that we do not lose hold of the life Jesus has given us, and eagerly seek to share the Gospel message with everyone.
"A Love That Shines Through”
I wish I could take it all away,” Mom whispered to her suffering five-year-old son. He had the flu for a couple of days now, and Mom’s heart was broken. As he lay in his bed suffering from the chills and a fever, there wasn’t much Mom could do except give him some children’s flu medicine and just be there for him. Mom felt helpless and wished she could take it all away from him. She even wished she could have the flu in-stead of her son.
When children are sick, the love of Mom and Dad really starts to shine through. In a heartbeat, parents go to extra lengths to make sure their kids are feeling as comfortable as possible. If you’re a parent, you’ve been there. You make sure their pillow is extra fluffy. You bring their favorite juice box. You provide their favorite movie to watch. And any time you hear them call, you quickly respond with, “What can I do for you?” The love of Mom and Dad goes so far that if they could take the sickness away, even become sick instead of their child, they would.
Has there ever been a time when you wished you could take it all away? Not just a sickness of a child, but something you did that you really regret? Maybe it was something you did to end a close relationship with a friend. Maybe you said something to a family member that you wish you could take back. Maybe it was something that only you know about, but it often comes back to haunt you.
It’s at moments like those that God’s love really starts to shine through. He knows your sin, your guilt, your regrets. But he doesn’t just wish he could take them away. He did take them away. He forgave them all! He took your sin and guilt away when he put them on his only Son. He loves you so much that he had his only Son, Jesus, die for your sin so that you wouldn’t have to. God forgave your guilt and now considers you right with him because of what Jesus did for you.
Wish your guilt and regrets could be taken away? They were! In their place he gives you forgiveness and eternal life. Now that’s a love that shines through!
"Jesus Calms the Storms of Life"
Jesus saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed. (Mark 6:48-51)
It’s not that hard to put ourselves in the disciples’ place as they strained at the oars fighting against the wind, is it? They had been rowing hard since evening, and now it was in the morning hours just before sunrise. Their muscles were aching. They must have been exhausted, but they still hadn’t managed to get across the lake. All that work with so little to show for it.
Here we are at the end of summer. For many of us, summers bring a little bit of rest and relaxation. It’s a time for vacations and family, home projects, and summer fun. But now that’s over. Back to school and back to deadlines. How often doesn’t it feel like we too are just straining against the oars, getting nowhere because the wind is against us? We finish our daily lists of things to do, only to discover a whole new list for tomorrow. We finish one assignment and the teacher gives us another. We strain at the oars with the wind against us. Day after day. Year after year.
Now, we’ll never know how long the disciples in that boat could have kept rowing or if they would have reached their destination on their own. They didn’t have to. Jesus saw them hopelessly working and getting nowhere. He walked right across the water, comforted their fears, stepped into the boat, and the wind completely faded away. Jesus’ power and presence comforted his disciples.
As we struggle with life’s pressures and disappointments, knowing that Jesus’ power and presence attend us is a great comfort. He will guide us, bless us, and make everything work out together for our good. We can be certain that, as we rely on him, everything is going to be alright.
Similarly, in the middle of our stormy lives, we try so hard to “get things right”, but always seem to get knocked back by sin and temptation. Our guilt and shame over past sins makes us wonder if heaven will ever really be ours. Then Jesus comes into our lives with his Word, and announces his forgiveness. Our sins just fade away. Our righteousness before God is restored through Jesus’ work and Jesus’ sacrifice.
What an incredibly comforting and invigorating truth is the Gospel! We may fight against the wind every day at work or at school, we may fight the storms of guilt and doubt, but we know that with Jesus, we’ve got smooth sailing. Smooth because Jesus has the miraculous power not just to control the wind or walk on water, but also to strengthen, bless, and especially—to save my soul.
"Chief of Sinners Though I Be..."
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (I Timothy 1:15-16)
"What chance do I have of getting into heaven?"
"How could God love someone like me?"
"What I've done in my life is too big...too bad...too horrible for Jesus to forgive."
How easy it is to beat ourselves up with thoughts of despair like these! The apostle Paul understood these feelings. The man who ended his life as one of the greatest Christian missionaries did not start out that way. Opposed to Christ in his early life, he tried desperately to stop Christianity from growing. He described himself at that time as a "blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man" (1 Timothy 1:13). Can you imagine standing before God and admitting that you did everything possible to stop the growth of his kingdom, including killing those who believed and preached in Jesus' name?
If we would deem anyone unworthy of being part of God's kingdom, it would be Paul?
However, Paul's story culminates in God's grace, his undeserved love. Paul himself set the amazing truth of God before us: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the worst." Jesus came into this world to forgive and save even this violent, blaspheming persecutor. Why did God do this? First, because he loved Paul and wanted Paul to live with him eternally in heaven. But God also did this to give us an example of the depth of his love for all people. In demonstrating his patient love to Paul, God wants us to be confident that no matter what we've done, all of our sin is fully and freely forgiven in Jesus our Savior.
Jesus came into this world to save sinners-not just some sinners, but all sinners-and that's exactly what he did with his life, death and resurrection. Like Paul, God wants us to be in his family. He wants us to know his love and to live eternally with him in heaven. We can put to rest our thoughts and feelings about all the things we do and say and think that offend God. In Jesus, all our sins have been forgiven and removed from God's sight forever. God's amazing love is for sinners-like you and me!
"Thankful for God’s Gifts, Which He Gave “For Our Cause"
Later in this month of November we will celebrate Thanksgiving. Just the mention of that word no doubt conjures up pleasant mental images in our minds: a table set with tasty foods like turkey, dressing, mashed or sweet potatoes, cranberries, corn, and pumpkin pie...the family sitting around that table enjoying each other’s company...falling asleep on a chair during the 10+ hours of NFL football televised on that day...family traditions, which may include indoor or outdoor games. And of course, those moments spent in earnest and thankful reflection on the blessings that God has given to us.
Now, were we to “earnestly and thankfully reflect” on all of the blessings—let’s call them “gifts”—that God has given to us, and try hard to bring as many to mind as possible, that reflection might rival the 10+ hours of NFL football. How countless and wonderful are those gifts God gives to us! For a moment, let’s not even reflect on any material gifts—let’s just consider a few of the spiritual gifts that God gives us, which the Bible lists:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”(Ephesians 2:8)
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” (James 1:17)
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Romans 12:6)
God’s Holy Spirit...faith...salvation...eternal life...talents and abilities—all gifts from our Lord. God gave us those gifts for the cause of our salvation, so that we could spend eternity with him in perfect joy. Yes, God gave his gifts “for OUR cause”. In response, will we give our gifts for HIS cause, for the furthering of his kingdom here on earth—the strengthening of our faith-lives and for the proclaiming of his life-giving Gospel? Now, we already do that through general Christian stewardship practices, in the giving of our time, talents, and treasures.
But more specifically, I’d like to draw your attention to the building program which we have entered into. This building addition is very much needed for a variety of reasons. This addition will address many pressing current needs of our congregation, as well as help facilitate future ministry plans. We are in the capital fund-raising phase, and this phase is entitled “Gifts For Growth”. We need to raise a total of $100,000 by March 1, 2013 in order to start the bidding process. That’s 4 months from now. We already have $60,000 in received and pledged monies—so we need $40,000 more. Ultimately, we’ll need to raise $150,000 by September.
It is certainly a challenge that lies before us. But we have the motivation we need to strive to meet that challenge. That motivation comes as we in thankfulness consider our loving God who gave us wonderful gifts for our eternal cause. Will you offer your “Gifts For Growth”—gifts for GOD’S cause?
"A Great Gift Received, a Great Gift to Share"
What is the greatest Christmas gift you ever received? And what made that gift so wonderful for you? Was it because it was expensive? Was it because it was a practical gift, and just what you needed? Was it because it was something that would continue to bring you joy for a long time, and not soon wear out? Was it because that gift clearly and in a special way expressed the love of the giver toward you?
If we use one or more of the aforementioned standards to determine the “greatness” of a gift, then there is absolutely no greater gift than the one given to us by our Father in heaven—the gift of his Son Jesus.
After all, no gift was more expensive than Jesus. He was God’s only Son. The blood that Son shed was innocent, and valuable enough to pay for the sins of the whole world for all time. That gift was practical, and just what we needed, for who does not have sin that needs to be forgiven? Who does not need God’s gift of heaven that comes only through this gift? God’s Son and the salvation he brings—they give us joy every day of our lives, and even on into eternity! And what special gift could God give us that would show us his love more clearly than being both the One who would sacrificing and punishing his own Son on our behalf?
Jesus is the greatest gift because his coming resulted in other gifts. Consider these passages from Scripture, and see what additional gift is “given” to us through Jesus:
Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
John 10:27-28: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me.”
1 John 5:11: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”
God gives us the gift of eternal life through his Son. We, in turn, rejoice in that gift, strive to strengthen our faith-lives so that we do not lose that gift, and seek always to share that gift. This last sentence sums up the reasons why Christ Ev. Lutheran Church exists. All of our efforts as a congregation must serve these purposes.
And in seeking to carry out the Great Commission as effectively and efficiently as possible, our congregation has embarked on a building program. While practical and pressing building needs are addressed in this plan, we understand that worship, growth in faith, and mission-mindedness are all at the heart of this program. Our current stage, “Gifts for Growth”, asks us to give from the gifts that God has given us to make this much-needed building addition a reality.
Consider the Gift God gives you in his Son. Consider what that Gift means to you, in time and for eternity. Consider your role personally and the role of our congregation collectively in sharing that Gift. Consider how our building addition will assist us in that mission. And then, respond with YOUR gifts. Your “Gifts for Growth” that will make this building addition happen, for the saving of people’s souls and to the glory of God’s saving name.
Pastor Jim Weiland