Stewards in all seasons? Yes!
Moment by moment, day by day, season by season, life by life, we’re called to be generous, for Jesus’ sake, with our time, talent, treasure and testimony.
Stewards In All Seasons offers monthly devotions to encourage and equip faithful stewards — throughout the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). Here are just a few ideas for how you can participate:
- Publish these monthly devotions in your newsletters and on your websites.
- Use these devotions to begin your council and committee meetings.
- Make Stewards In All Seasons devotions the topic for adult and youth. Consider using it for confirmation or Sunday school sessions. Use the devotion’s Bible text and content as fodder for small group discussion, prayer and encouragement in building stewardship into overall discipleship.
Even better, let the NALC Living and Giving Stewardship Team know about the creative approaches you and your congregation have used to raise up stewards in your homes and congregations. Some of our best ideas — like this devotional series — come from pastors, lay leaders and congregations.
We’re the North American Lutheran Church’s Living and Giving Stewardship Team, and we pray that you and your congregations will use these devotions in your year-round stewardship ministries. Visit us at thenalc.org/stewardship.
September 2020: WHOSE IS IT?, Rev. Dona Johnson
Based on Matthew 20:1-16
Shaping a vision for generosity and giving is always grounded in this one simple yet profound truth — God who created everything, owns everything. Living a life of generosity is especially difficult because even though we may be more than willing to intellectually acknowledge God owns everything, on a daily basis we do not functionally live this way. As long as we live in the flesh, we have to daily wrestle with the lingering ghosts of our own selfishness. St. Augustine said it well, “God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.”
In the Parable of the Workers. After a few disgruntled employees complain that they worked more hours than a new hire and yet all received the same pay, the owner of the business goes on to say, “What’s it to you. It’s my business. It’s my money to spend and invest anyway I see fit. Are you going to be envious and resentful because I chose to be generous? So, the last will be first and the first last.”
Jesus’ words “the last will be first” (Matthew 20:16),“whoever saves his life will lose it”(Matthew 16:25) and “if you want to be truly free, you must be a slave to all” (Matthew 20:26-27), echo the same trajectory. The human heart, our flesh truly struggles to let go. Jesus’ words require of us a self-emptying and a self-sacrifice. And yet our hearts cry unfair and unjust. I earned it all. It is mine.
Think about it for a moment, we are consumed with “this is mine” — my life, my career, my home, my vision, my church, my pastorate, my ministry, my investment portfolio and my rights. Do you see how this mindset, “this is mine,” is so embedded in our thinking that at times we don’t even recognize we’re saying such a thing — it is our default?
Shaping a vision for stewardship begins and ends with the generosity of God. God is Giver. Although he owes us nothing, God gives us everything and His giving is flawless. When we look at the parable of the workers, entry into God’s kingdom is not gained by how many hours we work, or how hard we strive to perfect and acquire more fame, fortune or power, entry into the Kingdom is solely by God’s generosity.
If you would like to learn more about building a culture of generosity in your community, watch for our new 2020 offering RESET: The Freedom of Living Generously. To be released soon!
Written by Rev. Dona Johnson, chair of the Living & Giving Stewardship Team.
August 2020: ONLY FIVE LOAVES AND TWO FISH — TWELVE BASKETS LEFT OVER, Rev. Dr. David M. Wendel
Based on Matthew 14:13-21
The most challenging time for congregations financially is often the end of summer. June, July and August usually find parishioners away from Sunday worship — away from the gathered community, which unfortunately means a drop in offerings. And what about this year, when in most places the gathered worshiping communities have not been “gathered —” at least, not gathered in the church nave for worship? And for those congregations who have been able to gather for worship for a few weeks, it generally means not passing the offering plates. It remains to be seen whether COVID-19, the summer months, social distancing and the lack of normal worship services causes congregational offerings to drop more than usual as the summer draws to a close. Some have been predicting a potential 20% drop in congregational giving since the pandemic began. Some have suggested giving to the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) will reflect a similar downturn. Some have taken measures to address fears of a serious loss of income from giving.
What are we hearing from our congregations in this regard? Surprisingly, and one might say miraculously, what we are hearing is that congregational offerings in some places seem to be up by 20%! How can this be?
As with the disciples gathered with Jesus and more than 5,000 people on the seashore, it seems that some of our members are responding to the need created by the pandemic by placing their resources in the Lord’s hands, that mission and ministry may continue and, indeed, be multiplied. This is the great miracle and message of the feeding of more than 5,000. In the Lord’s hands, as He takes our humble loaves and fish and blesses them, they satisfy human need yet still provide sufficient remains for the Church — a hint, manifested by the 12 baskets full left over — 12 being the number of the Church, founded upon the 12 apostles. What an encouraging message for us as disciples and followers of Jesus, for our congregations and the NALC!
By all indicators, we are not yet through the COVID-19 pandemic and there may indeed be financial stresses and strains within congregations and the NALC as a whole. And yet, let us be faithful stewards, as we are able, in this season of trial, uncertainty and challenge. In a time of great need and stress, the disciples of Jesus respond generously and sacrificially. Thanks be to God!
Written by Rev. Dr. David M. Wendel, assistant to the bishop for ministry & ecumenism.
July 2020: THE LORD WILL PROVIDE, Beverly Wright Miller
Based on Genesis 22:1-14
“So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide” (NIV).
Can you even IMAGINE being in Abraham’s shoes? I can feel terror welling up in me just reading about it. “Please, God, don’t make me do this! Anything but this! Anything!” I have no doubt Abraham thought something similar. But, he felt the fear and acted anyway to obey God’s clear directive.
But the angel said, “Now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (ESV, emphasis added).
It’s one thing to SAY we fear and trust God, but quite another to act in accordance with that statement when faced with the loss of all we hold dear. But, if we truly acknowledge that everything we have comes from Him, who are we to hold anything back?
My own personal awakening in this regard came a number of years ago in the loss of a career that I had placed my identity and security in (something far less important than a beloved son). I learned that I can hold onto God’s blessings with a clenched fist to keep from losing them, or I can hold them with an open hand. With an open hand, it’s easy to take something away from me, but with a clenched fist, it’s impossible to give more blessings to me.
And I learned the hard way that God will rip open that clenched fist if he has to, and it will hurt! Better to open it willingly, to allow His blessings to flow freely not just into my hand but back out again to others. When I did, He replaced what I lost with a much better calling that allows me to serve others like never before.
I write this as we are coming out of a near total economic shutdown due to COVID-19. The worse epidemic, though, has been the widespread panic at the thought of losing either our lives or our livelihoods, which is ripping our relationships apart.
But rather than being overcome by fear, ask yourself … what are you really being asked to offer up? Certainly not your only son. No, God already did that for you. How great a love to actually carry that out! Can’t even imagine. Everything else pales in comparison. So, find a way to serve others, even in the midst of your fear. The Lord Will Provide for you, and for others through you.
Written by Beverly Wright Miller, a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Sarver, Pennsylvania. Ms. Miller works as a Financial Coach and serves on the NALC Living & Giving Stewardship Team.
June 2020: NOW THANK WE ALL OUR GOD, Pr. Ronald Voss
Based on Psalm 136:1
Now thank we all our God with hearts and hands and voices;
Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices.
Who, from our mother’s arms, has blessed us on our way,
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
Perhaps you know the story that led to the writing of this beloved hymn. German pastor, Martin Rinkart served in the walled town of Eilenburg during the horrors of the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648. Eilenburg became an overcrowded refuge for the surrounding area. The fugitives suffered from epidemic and famine. Rinkart, as the only surviving pastor, conducted 4,480 funerals in these years, including the funeral for his wife. In the face of overwhelming pressure, constant risk and horrendous conditions, Rinkart never stopped ministering to the people of his city. He gave away nearly everything he owned to the poor and needy, though he could barely clothe and feed his own children.
After nearly thirty years of ceaseless struggles, it began to look like peace was within grasp. Wanting to give his children a song to sing to God in thanks at the dinner table, Rinkart sat down and composed what would become one of the most well-known Thanksgiving hymns of all time: “Now Thank We All Our God.” In fact, it’s been said that, aside from Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress,” no other song is sung more often in Lutheran churches today than Rinkart’s simple tune.
Whether you are able to gather as a congregation in a sanctuary or you are still sheltering at home, I would encourage to you look at this hymn and be reminded under what conditions this song of praise and gratitude was written. In a few short months, the United States has confronted health challenges few Americans have seen before. The economy is only beginning to reveal the long-term devastation that is ahead. Our society has been locked down with no access to education, employment, shopping, travel…and worship. As for Pastor Rinkart 400 years ago, everything is in seeming chaos, yet Christians today are still able to proclaim, “Now thank we all our God…who wondrous things has done.” Like Pastor Rinkart, in the coming weeks and months, we can praise God with good stewardship of our time and abilities to serve our families, our communities and our churches. Like Pastor Rinkart, we can be faithful in worship, prayer and study. And like Pastor Rinkart, we need to be faithful stewards of our treasures. Our local congregations and the NALC need everyone’s financial tithes and offerings to maintain and expand ministry and provide assistance to the many in need due to loss of health and employment.
Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in his grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all harm in this world and the next.
Written by Pr. Ronald Voss. Pr. Voss is a member of the NALC’s Living and Giving Stewardship Team.
May 2020: PRAYERS FOR ``GREATNESS``, Ms. Polly Lamkin
Based on John 14:12-14
Heavenly Father, we pray to You today for our nation and the world. Darkness looms. I ask for the Great Counselor, the Spirit of Truth, to re-enter the hearts and minds of all peoples. John 14:14 says, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (NIV). Jesus, Son of God, we pray in this time of great need on bended knees to You. You know the outcome. Help us to teach the world to trust in You. Amen.
We say we are the hands and feet of Jesus. Now, more than ever in this world consumed by fake news and media overload, may those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ be ashamed of their slander. Thanks be to God for all those fighting COVID-19. Thanks be to God for all those heeding the call to use their God-given time, talent, treasure and testimony according to His will. Let the Light of Christ so shine within us for the world to see.
As you pray, pray for family and friends, leaders and teachers, our government and authority, the weak and the sick and lastly yourself. Pray that through this pandemic, the Great Commission and the Great Commandment will be fulfilled like no other time in history. This is our great challenge. This is our great battle. Let us win victoriously, through Jesus Christ, the Father and the Holy Spirit. From Malachi 3:10, “‘Bring the whole tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me on this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it’” (NIV). “Test me on this,” says the Lord. Go ahead, He’s asking you test Him! Take this challenge. May our storehouses be filled for those in great need in the days ahead. May our Bibles be our constant guide in the days ahead. May God bless you and keep you in His grace.
Written by Ms. Polly Lamkin. Ms. Lamkin is a member of the NALC’s Living and Giving Stewardship Team.
April 2020: MORE SILVER, Mr. Mike Johnson
Based on Matthew 26:14-16
We do not know for certain what Judas was thinking when he sought an opportunity to hand Jesus over to the Jewish rulers. Irrespective of his thinking, Judas accepted the bribe.
Money is the one thing we all want and would like more of, hence so many of Jesus’ teachings were about money’s effect on our lives. What is it about the force of money that can cause such destructive behavior if left unchecked? I believe it is temptation. In order to have more money, without honestly earning it, people resort to all sorts of questionable behaviors for its acquisition. Steal it, lie for it, kill for it, sacrifice one’s integrity or reputation, to name just a few.
Have you ever been tempted to take from another what is not yours? What was the outcome and how did you feel about yourself? We might also be tempted to buy what we cannot afford or hoard our money instead of being generous. These behaviors are forms of coveting which Scripture commands us not to do.
However, thanks be to God for His great love and mercy toward us, He provided a wonderful solution to the predicament. God sent us a glorious Savior to give us a new nature. Our new nature in Christ enables us to view our wealth as a gift from God to be used in holy stewardship as He directs! In Christ we have enough. We can trust Him to supply our needs, without resorting to sinful acts to meet those needs. We can become generous and serve others instead of wanting to be served or noticed.
This holy season may the love of God in Christ help us to have pure and right motives in the acquisition and use of silver.
Written by Mr. Mike Johnson. Mr. Johnson is a member of the NALC’s Living and Giving Stewardship Team.
March 2020: LET THAT WATER FLOW, Rev. Eugene Grimm
In the third week in Lent, the Gospel text is the very long story of the woman at the well (John 4:5-42). Perhaps better said, it’s the story of Living Water. It’s also the story of how, once we receive this Living Water, it flows from us into others.
Do you remember a time when you were so excited about the Gospel, you couldn’t wait to tell everyone about it? Yes? No? Was there ever such a time for you? There certainly was for this woman at the well. Jesus only told her to go get her husband, but after the exchange that followed, she went and got the whole town. Two thoughts about this: First, no past sins can bar our access to Jesus Christ, and second, we are called to love and reach out to those who are different, and perhaps even marginalized. The Great Commission applies to us all.
She wasted no time. She didn’t even draw the water to take with her. She left the water for later (she had better water) and rushed back into town. She didn’t just fetch her lover; she spoke to the whole town. “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ” (ESV)? A bit of an over-statement, but I’m sure she realized he did know everything about her there was to know.
And what do you think the townspeople thought of this promiscuous woman? She was obviously excited enough not to care what they thought of her. She wanted them to think of the Christ. “They went out of the town and [came] to him” (ESV).
“Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ … ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world’” (ESV).
Lord, grant that we may be such wonderful witnesses. Amen.
Written by the Rev. Dr. Eugene Grimm. Rev. Dr. Grimm is a member of the NALC’s Living and Giving Stewardship Team.
February 2020: YOU ARE THE LIGHT, Rev. Dona Johnson
You are the light of the world! Jesus says to His disciples, you are the light of the world. He doesn’t say you are to be light. And He doesn’t say you have the light. You are the light of the world! In Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “The light is not some instrument put in their hands, such as their preaching. It is the disciples themselves. The same Jesus who, speaking of himself, says, ‘I am the light,’ says to his followers: ‘You are the light in your whole existence, provided you remain faithful to your calling’” (Bonhoeffer, 117).
If one small flickering candle can light up an entire room, what impact does one generous act of kindness do to light up the human heart?
On Christmas Eve, our new house church community purchased beautifully wrapped boxes of chocolates and gave them to many of the retailers in our village. One of our visits was to a young couple who had just opened a small hotel. They are also expecting their first child. We had no idea if they were people of faith and we had no idea how we would be received. We wished them Merry Christmas and, in addition to the chocolates, we also offered a prayer of blessing for their business. You should have seen their faces. They lit up with huge smiles, saying repeatedly, “Wow, I can’t believe you did this — this is great!”
In being Christ’s light, we are also given a remarkable responsibility. Stewards of the light are not to keep this light hidden away within the walls of the church, but they are to carry it out, protecting it, cupping its flame in their hands (holding fast to the Word) in a world that wants to so often extinguish it. In Luther’s commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, he writes, “Those who are called to be the light are called to instruct souls and point them to the eternal life … he who wants to be light must see to it that he does not creep into a corner, but stand forth publicly and be not afraid.”
How are you being the light of Christ to others in your neighborhoods and community? Stewards of the light use “all” the available resources to push back the darkness in our world — time, talents, treasure and testimony. The light of Christ shines brightest when generosity is our first response. When we give without calculus and beyond measure from our wealth and possessions, our ministries and congregations are strengthened, and our witness is intensified.
You are the light of the world! From Genesis to Revelation, the light of Jesus Christ (God’s love for and His covenant with creation) peppers the whole biblical landscape. As the light of God’s love never fails to illuminate, let us rejoice in the incarnation of God in Jesus who continues to call us to shine!
Written by the Rev. Dona Johnson. Rev. Johnson is chair of the NALC’s Living and Giving Stewardship Team and and is pastor of a mission start in Sedona, Arizona.
January 2020 – THE GREAT REVEAL, Rev. Dr. Cathi Braasch, STS
Welcome to Epiphany, the Great Reveal.
“Epiphany” comes from a Greek word that means “appearing” or “revealing.” The Gospel for Epiphany tells of the Magi, wise men from far away who followed a star to find the newborn King of the Jews. Find Him they did, just as prophets promised. The Great Reveal of Immanuel, God-With-Us in the flesh, was truly underway.
Each church year, Epiphany points us to the rest of the story about the Messiah in the manger. Gospel readings for Epiphany and the remaining Sundays in January move us quickly, over the decades, from the visit of adoring Magi to our Lord’s Baptism and the beginning of His public ministry. The Little One adored by shepherds is recognized as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The newborn King, once announced by angel choirs, now issues His own compelling invitation: Drop everything! Follow Me.
To celebrate this Great Reveal over the years, some of my congregations have observed an old custom, the Epiphany house blessing. As pastor, I’d visit residences to chalk the following on entry door sills: 20 C+M+B 20. The letters CMB denotes this blessing: Christus mansionem benedicat (Christ bless this house), while the numbers represent the millennium and century. CMB also recalls traditional names given to the wise men (Casper, Melchior and Balthasar). Prayers are offered for the house and all who reside therein. Some households gather other family and friends, including the blessing as part of their end-of-Christmas festivities.
Whether it’s a single-family dwelling, an apartment, a room in a skilled nursing facility, or another place, these chalk-marked doors bear witness to the world that Christ is Lord of this home. The blessing also reminds us, coming and going, to put Christ and His Church first in all of our discipleship, including our stewardship of all God’s gifts — time, talent, treasure and testimony. So, may it be for us as we celebrate Epiphany, the Great Reveal, and look forward to the year ahead. Amen.
Written by the Rev. Dr. Cathi Braasch, STS. Rev. Dr. Braasch represents the North American Lutheran Seminary Board of Regents and the NALC Living and Giving Stewardship Team. She is a member of St. John Lutheran Church – Lake Township, Fort Wayne, Ind.
December 2019 – Called and Claimed for Life, Rev. Dr. Dan Selbo
Based on Matthew 3:1-12
As we begin this new monthly devotional series, designed to be a year-round reminder of the calling we have in Jesus and how we are to use our lives and our gifts for Him, it is appropriate that we are beginning in the season of Advent. Advent is a time when we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It is a time when we remember that our Lord will return and, until He does, our calling is to follow Him.
It is also appropriate that we hear, each year, a message from the one who was called to prepare the way for the coming of Christ. There was nothing superficial about John the Baptist or about the things he shared. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Eight words is all it took. As simple and straightforward as it was, it was a message that changed lives. And it is a message that will change your life, if you listen to and apply what he said.
John’s message of repentance, of changing our paths and our patterns and turning our lives toward Jesus, was more than a call for a simple course adjustment in life to make things better. It was a call for a complete life change that would make things new, and one that was and is only possible in Christ.
In the same way, stewardship is all about using our lives for a purpose far greater than our lives. It is about returning our lives to the One who first gave them to us. In that sense, it is not a consideration in life we are being asked to make, but a calling for life we have been given. It is not a cause in life we are being asked to support, but a claim on our lives that has been laid upon us.
Too many people make the mistake, when it comes to stewardship, of thinking about it as a series of tasks we are called to do, rather than the people we are called to be. Give your money. Offer your time. Use your talents for service to God and others. They jump straight to the tasks of being good stewards, without fully considering the claim Jesus has made on their lives and the calling they have in Him.
As we move into this season of Advent, preparing to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus, and as we look forward to that day when He will return, be careful not to mistake the stewardship tasks with the Christian calling and claim. God is not interested in receiving simply your time and talent and treasure. He sent His Son into the world for something far greater. He was born for you. He came into this world for you. On the cross and in the resurrection, He laid an eternal calling and claim on your life. And one day, He will return to take you to Himself. Until then, you are called and claimed to live for Him. Amen.
Written by the Rev. Dr. Dan Selbo, bishop of the North American Lutheran Church.