Monthly Archives: August 2015

Some Stories on My Father’s 83rd Birthday

My father, Marvin L. Juhl, turns 83 years old today. He has never been a big birthday guy. It reminds him that he’s another year closer to the grave. At any rate, when you hit 83, you celebrate whether you want to or not. They are having Dairy Queen Ice Cream Cake back home tonight. Good choice.

My dad is bull-headed, but that what makes him a wonderful man. I often joke with family and friends about the “Marv Juhl Lecture Series”, wherein my father will give you a long-winded monologue on his thoughts about anything and everything, especially when you ask his advice concerning a big decision that needs to be made. I received a number of front row seats to my father’s lecture series when I was growing up. When I had a fender bender in the high school parking lot, I heard a 30 minute lecture on being more careful. When I made a mistake in life, there was dad with another installment of the lecture series. He’s always right, you know. Just ask him! 😉

Then there are those times when he made a sacrifice for something he thought right. In the summer of 1988 the high school golf team was defunded by the school board. Money was tight and it was a cost-cutting move. There would have been one senior and six juniors, not to mention a handful of freshmen and sophomores, ready to play golf. We would have been a strong second in the conference behind perennial powerhouse Nashville. My golf coach went to a school board meeting to plead for the team. My dad wanted to be there too, and he told me I was coming with him. This was unprecedented.

We go to the meeting. Coach valiantly tries to get the team reinstated to no avail. Then my dad stood up and said a sentence that brought audible gasps from the gathering, including from the school board and my golf coach.

“Would you accept a personal check?”

Right there my father wrote a check for ~$1,600, knowing full well it never would be cashed. He worked for two summers to put together a benefit golf scramble to fund the high school golf program. After my class graduated, coach decided he didn’t want to coach anymore. Six seniors graduated. I remember my dad ripping up his personal check as a marker in case the money wouldn’t be there. He did it with a smile on his face.

My best high school memories were those men I was privileged to play with on the golf course. Friendships were formed. We were more than friends. We were brothers. Long bus trips bonded lifetime memories. Scores? Wins and losses? They are gone in the mist of time. Relationships? Still there, though not as close as the years go by. But now and again, every few years, and this weekend is one of those times, we get together, play some golf, and make some more memories.

My dad had much to do with it. I’ll never be able to thank him enough for it. After all, he taught me the game.

One more thing. My mom and dad drove with me to Fort Wayne, IN on September 9, 1998 when I moved into Dorm Q and began seminary formation for the Ministry. They stayed the night to make sure I got moved in and settled. When they left the next day, it was not my mother who cried when they left.

It was dad. He bawled like a baby. I had only seen that once before in my life: when he escorted my sister down the aisle at her wedding. Later he told me it was at that moment that he finally knew why I had come along when I did. I was meant to be given back to the Lord, as the Lord had given me to them as a gift in their late 30’s after my siblings were almost all grown and gone. Like Samuel, I was lent to the Lord as I was lent to my parents. I have always found that comforting, especially as my parents grow in years and as I grow in years and have children of my own.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you.

Dad

Tagged

Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 10:23-37

The lawyer is caught in a trap and he can’t walk out. The thing about it is that the lawyer was trying to trap Jesus. Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? That’s a softball question. A lay-up. It’s also a set-up for the attempt to set the trap.

Jesus answers the lawyer’s question with a question of His own. What is written in the Law? How do you read it? The lawyer doesn’t know it yet, but Jesus has already won the rhetorical battle by answering a question with another question. He throws the whole matter back into the lap of the lawyer, who gives the correct answer straight out of Scripture. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus responds with do this, and you will live.

How are you doing with that love thing? Love is a tricky word. You say you love God. You say you love your neighbor. You say you love everyone. You say you try not to hate people. There is no try in love. Either you love or you hate. There is no trying here. The love that is expected by the Law is a perfect love. Perfect love casts out fear says Holy Scripture. Your love is not perfect. Your love is not even close to perfect. Your trying to love doesn’t measure up to the love that God expects from His creation.

You can answer the question right all you want, but you have to deal with the big question that the lawyer asks Jesus: And who is my neighbor? Either he really doesn’t know the answer to the question or he knows the answer, but is looking for a way out. The way of man when dealing with the Law of God is to look for a way out. We do the same thing with the law of man. We hire a brilliant lawyer and tell him or her to find a loophole or two or three so we can get out of something we did wrong. When confronted with the Law we qualify our response with our favorite conjunction: BUT. “Yes, Officer, I was speeding, BUT I live two blocks away and….” “Yes, Lord, I love You, BUT I’m not so sure You will keep Your promise to me. So I have a backstop. I have this idol here that I’m going to cling to for a while. You’ll understand, won’t You, Lord?”

No, there’s no understanding here. Either the Lord has ALL your attention or NONE of your attention. Either your neighbor receives ALL your love or NONE of your love. Either you see ALL people as your neighbor or you see NO ONE as your neighbor. There are no shades of gray here.

Who is your neighbor? It’s quite a trap. If you want to be selective about who is your neighbor, what do you do with Jesus’ parable of the Samaritan? That’s you lying half-dead in the ditch, having been stripped and beaten. Should you look to your old pal the Law to help you out of this one, you’ll be disappointed. They can’t help you out of the trap. They can only expect you to go and do likewise. No one has ever been loved out of a ditch while lying there half-dead. That is why the priest and the Levite go out of their walk to walk on the other side. They are exposed to another attack by the same robbers. The love they have for the man is to exhort him to help himself by doing as he is told. When you’re half-dead in a ditch on the road to Jericho, you’re not going to be concerned with trying to be more obedient in order to live.

That’s the Law for you. It says “do” when you can’t do it. You can make a beginning to do it, you can try to keep it, for God’s Law is good and wise and holy, but you, at some point, will fall short of keeping it the way you should. Again, there are no gray areas in the Law. Do it and you live. Don’t do it and you die.

A Neighbor comes along Who exposes Himself to falling into the same trap as the half-dead man did. He came to where he was, and when He saw him, He had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then He set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day He took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.”

And this man was a Samaritan.

This man was an arch-heretic. This man was a half-breed Jew who must be despised. This man has no business doing what he did. If anything, the Samaritan should finish him off and leave him for the wolves and vultures. Instead he takes pity on the man and helps him, showing incredible generosity to the innkeeper as well. You don’t just drop a half-dead man off at an inn and take off, entrusting all expenses to someone who could take advantage of you. The Samaritan did.

The Samaritan exposed himself to another possible attack. He could have fallen into a trap like the man he tried to rescue. There could have been another attempt on his life on the way to the inn. The innkeeper could still take advantage of his generosity. There are so many “what ifs” here. Isn’t that how you treat the Gospel, though? “What if I am not good enough for God? What about that sin? Is that one really forgiven? What if I sin again in five minutes or five seconds? What if Jesus will pass me by someday and give up on me? What if He is no longer my neighbor?”

Jesus never forgets a sinner, especially the rankest sinners. It’s not that He remembers you because you’re such a horrible sinner, and you are. He remembers you and takes care of you because He knows you can’t do it. That is why our heavenly Father sent Him to be born of a woman for you. Jesus comes to fulfill the mandate of love for you. As He fulfills the mandate of love, so He gives the mandate to love one another. This is done by believing in the Son of God Who falls into the trap of the lawyers and Pharisees. They condemn Him to die because He said He was the Son of God. They didn’t believe it, but their words were true.

Jesus allows Himself to be caught in the trap in order to free you from the trap of sin and death. All your sin, all your death, all of hell’s slings and arrows fall on Jesus. You walk away free and forgiven. When you fall into traps set by the devil, your sinful nature, and the world, Jesus is there not to encourage you to try a little harder. Jesus is there to take away your sin and guilt and give you His forgiveness and innocence. His compassion never ceases.

The lawyer ultimately falls into the trap when Jesus tells him, You go, and do likewise. You go and show mercy like a Samaritan would show mercy. That’s not the answer he wanted to hear. Saint Luke leaves us hanging on how, or if, the lawyer responded. The ultimate response is Jesus’ death and resurrection after He was condemned. But when you ask a Law question, you get a Law answer. You also learn that you can’t help yourself. Jesus, the Good Samaritan, is your only help from death to life.

Tagged

How Do We Begin to Fulfill the Law?

For where the great unfathomable love and favor of Christ are known and believed, thence flows forth also love both to God and to our neighbor. For by means of such knowledge and consolation the Holy Spirit moves the heart to love God, and gladly does what it should to his praise and thanks, guards against sin and disobedience and willingly offers itself to serve and help everybody, and where it still feels its weakness it battles against the flesh and Satan by calling upon God, etc. And thus while ever rising in faith it holds to Christ, where it does not do enough in keeping the law, its comfort is that Christ fulfills the law and bestows and imparts his fullness and strength, and thus he remains always our righteousness, salvation, sanctification, etc.

This is the right way to secure the observance of the law, of which our blind critics know nothing; but Christ beautifully shows by this, that one must hear the Gospel and believe in Christ before he can fulfill the law; otherwise there is nothing but hypocrisy and nothing but pure boasting and talking about the law without any heart and life in it all.

Martin Luther, Second House Postil for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Luke 10:23-37)

Tagged , , ,

Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Preaching

The preacher should never ascend the pulpit without honest preparation.

The ability truly to preach in accordance with the divine will and with fruit for souls is not the work of human diligence or the result of regulations of any science. It is a gift of God and primarily has its foundation in Him, as Philipp Melanchthon has correctly opined…. Nevertheless God also demands from us diligence. For it would not only be a sign of negligence on the part of the Christian speaker, but also of audacity, when he will make so very serious and divine things into the object of his words and nevertheless would not be prepared to speak and give his address without proper meditation. St. Paul instructs the latter in 1 Timothy 4:15, where he says, ταῦτα μελέτα, “Practice these things.” (Vulgate: Haec meditare.) Μελέτη τὸ πᾶν, “Take care of everything”, says Periander of Corinth.[1] It is said that the Athenian orator Pericles had not complied with the repeated request of the people since he, as he said, was not prepared (λέγων ἀσύντακτον εἶναι). And as Demosthenes was invited by the Athenians to give them some advice, he there refused them with the words: οὐ συντέταγμαι, he had not deliberated the matter with himself.[2] Even Tullius (Cicero) writes about himself that he had not ascended the rostrum without preparation. How much more should those who want to take on or already have taken on the office to instruct Christian people take great pains that they do not presumptuously and inconsiderately jabber out [herausschwatzen] everything that comes into their mind and on their tongue when they preach a sermon and thus shamefully dishonor this exalted office in the sight of God, the holy angels, and the Church.

[1] Trans. note: This has sometimes been mistranslated as “Practice makes perfect.” One may also translate it as “Preparation is everything” or “Study everything”.

[2] Trans. note: A translation of the Greek phrase could be “I have not prepared myself”.

– From J.A. Quenstedt’s “Ethica Pastoralis”, translated from the Latin by E.W. Kähler, translated from German by DMJ from Volume One of “Magazin für Ev-Luth. Homiletik und Pastoraltheologie” Note: A work in progress.

Tagged , ,

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity – Mark 7:31-37

There’s a little prayer I learned as a seminary student that I pray upon entering church. “Grant, O Lord, that what we say with our lips we may believe in our hearts and practice in our lives; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.” But what if you can’t say anything with your lips because you can’t hear anything with your ears? You could learn sign language and be able to communicate that way. There are sign language interpreters in some churches who are trained to communicate the Gospel. Even some pastors who are fluent in sign language sign their sermon while speaking it.

Today’s Gospel shows us a man who neither can hear nor speak. His friends bring him to Jesus with the hope He can do something about it. Jesus does something about it and the man uses his God-given abilities against Jesus’ strict order not to tell anyone what has happened. The man and his friends couldn’t help it, and for good reason.

The deaf-mute man in Mark chapter seven is a picture of who you are outside of Jesus Christ. Without Jesus you are spiritually deaf and spiritually mute. The familiar words of Luther’s explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed tell how it is: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” This is why his friends brought him to Jesus. They believed Jesus was able to open his ears and loosen his tongue.

The man’s friends show they believe Jesus is more than a prophet or a rabbi. He is the Son of God Who is willing and ready to help all men in body and soul. Jesus says in Matthew chapter eleven: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden. Asaph the Psalmist writes about the Lord in Psalm 50, Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. The deaf-mute’s friends show both faith toward God and love toward men. They believed that Christ could save this poor deaf-mute man. They were moved by faith to works of love and mercy. They brought him to Christ and begged Him to lay His hand on him. Christ saw this faith, had mercy, and helped him.

Jesus is never too busy to help. That’s where we so often fall short. We neglect to ask the Lord for help, even when we believe He stands ready to help. So we send out a brain wave, a quick thought to the Man Upstairs. Then we’ve done our good deed. We’ve followed through, if we even get that far. What is more, we play piggyback on other Christians. A Christian must have a personal faith in order to be saved. Yet how often do we see faith in other people’s faith? It’s as if someone will ride into eternal life on the back of Grandma or Grandpa, or even their spouse, or a loved one. Yes, the prayers of a righteous man availeth much, but a righteous man’s prayers mentioning your name aren’t enough for you to ride into eternity on his back.

These people believed Jesus could help the man hear and speak for himself. They wanted him to have the gift that they were given. Taking him aside from the crowd privately, Jesus put His fingers into His ears, and after spitting touched His tongue. And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, “Ephahatha,” that is “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

Notice that Jesus uses means to heal the deaf-mute man. He touches his tongue. He puts His fingers in the man’s ears. He speaks a word. A real Jesus, a real man Who is God, uses real things to heal a real man from a real sickness.

Jesus’ healing the deaf-mute man is a direct shot against Satan, who brought misery and sin into Paradise and still works sorrow and distress in the world. Jesus regards this man as a picture of fallen humanity. This man cannot hear His Word. He cannot speak praise to God for bringing the Savior into the world as a man. It is as Satan wants it. Yet Jesus brings the man from sickness to health. Now he is able to hear the Word as well as speak it.

This is what Jesus does to a fallen creation. He heals it in His innocent suffering and death. He recreates it in His glorious resurrection. This is our gift right now. It is yours by God’s grace through believing Jesus Christ has overcome death and the grave for you. It will be yours in its fullness when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead. As we confessed a while ago in the Nicene Creed, Jesus’ kingdom has no end. His kingdom has come among us, just as it came to the deaf-mute man.

His kingdom brings peace and joy. The peace of God means an end to the war that goes on for your soul. Though a rest remains for the faithful when you fall asleep in Jesus, your falling asleep in Him is not a permanent end. It is merely saying, “See you at the next meeting.” There is a next time for a Christian: the next time of everlasting life that never ends.

The joy of God cannot help but speak of what has been heard. That is why the people who saw this miracle, perhaps even the man once deaf and mute, zealously proclaimed it. A faithful Christian who has realized and is aware of god’s goodness and benefits cannot hold their peace. He has done all things well, even for the worst of sinners. He gives you life. He puts the Word of reconciliation in your ears. He loosens your tongue to speak words of praise and thanks that you hear in His Word. The most dangerous muscle in the body, the tongue, becomes the most glorious muscle of the body as it proclaims the greatness of the Lord.

He has done all things well. What you say with your lips you believe in your hearts and practice in your lives. Your body is a testimony of a merciful God Who provides palliative care now and brings ultimate healing in the resurrection. You may not be able to jump, hop, skip, speak, hear, or see well now, but in Christ you are just fine, for He has done all things well for your eternal welfare. Believe it for His sake.

Tagged

The Piece of Flesh that Flaps Behind the Teeth

Why did [Jesus] sigh over the man’s tongue [in Mark chapter seven]?

He saw what harm wicked tongues would do in the church, namely, more than all tyrants and persecutors of Christians. When Christians are persecuted, faith increases, love grows more ardent, and God’s Word more powerful, and Satan, the spirit of lies, grows weaker, as do his lies. For the blood of Christians is the seed from which Christians grow. Therefore the persecution of tyrants is not the greatest harm. Rather, the greatest harm is done by that piece of flesh that flaps behind the teeth. It may seem as though great harm is done when a Christians is slain and his head cut off, but a false sermon delivered in the name of Christ is so sharp that in an hour it cuts off a whole land or city of souls. The Turk did great harm to Christendom with sword and armor, but that is a trifle compared with the harm that the papists’ crowd does with their false doctrine. A good Christian might well sigh, indeed, weep tears of blood, at such poisonous, wicked, deceitful tongues – not those which lie or beguile in the marketplace or at home, but those which speak lies or bring to light false doctrine from the pulpit.

– Johann Spangenberg, “The Christian Year of Grace”, translated by Matthew Carver, page 293

Tagged ,

Tenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 19:41-48

Saint Paul said in last week’s Epistle reading from First Corinthians chapter ten: Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction. The Holy Spirit working through the thoughts and words of the writers of Sacred Scripture gave ample testimony of what happens when God’s chosen people did not recognize the time of the visitation of God’s grace. This is why Jesus weeps over Jerusalem in Luke chapter 19. The city set on a hill will, in two generations from that moment, be laid to waste. Jesus says they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.

Today is as good a day as any to take a quick trip through the Old Testament and remind ourselves of several occasions when God’s people did not recognize the time of visitation. This is done not to make ourselves feel better, but to see what happens when we follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before us in the faith who took matters into their own hands.

There’s no better place to start than Cain murdering Abel. The sins of envy and hatred continue in the book of Second Samuel, where Joab murders Abner, Amasa is murdered on the altar of God, and King David’s own son Absalom, in the midst of trying to take the crown from his father, was clotheslined on an oak tree while riding his horse. And let’s not forget King Saul at the end of First Samuel, who falls on his sword after losing his kingdom.

In the book of Joshua we read of Achan’s theft after the Israelites were told not to take anything in a military campaign. Achan and his entire family were stoned to death. Then there’s Nabal in First Samuel, whose greed leads to his sudden death. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction.

Not only individual people are punished, but also entire cities and states and nations. Sodom, Gomorrah, and the Benjaminites in Judges chapter 19 are all punished for their immorality. The seven mighty nations of Canaan and their children are completely eradicated. The Babylonian, Medean, and Assyrian Empires are destroyed. Yet at the top of the list are Jerusalem and the Jews which, in terms of the size of divine grace and the dreadfulness of His final judgment, stand alone in history. Even Jesus Himself cries tears of compassion for what happens in the year of our Lord 70.

God placed His promises on Abraham’s family. He made a great nation from them. He gave them the land where they lived. He gave them His only-begotten Son through their lineage. The Lord God kept every promise He made to Abraham. Abraham’s family, however, were not as faithful to Him as He was to them. The highest thing God gave them was knowledge of the true God and His ministry among them, while other nations were in darkness and the shadow of death. Consider Moses’ words in Deuteronomy chapter four: For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?

The highest visitation of grace happens when Messiah appeared, announced by John the Baptist, revealing Himself through glorious miracles and heart-stirring preaching. While He comes for all people, still only Jerusalem and its people were counted worthy to behold the glory of the Son of God in the flesh. A great prophet has arisen among us. No man has ever spoken this way. No wonder Jesus is welcomed triumphantly into Jerusalem. Yet that time of triumph quickly became a time of tragedy for the Jewish people as many turned their backs on Jesus and declared Caesar to be their true king, wanting Jesus to be crucified. His blood be on us and on our children!

The time of visitation continues today, as it has for centuries. We still walk in its radiance some 21 centuries later. Here in the United States of America we are blessed with a visitation of grace that has not been seen on earth, if ever seen anywhere else. The Lord has given us His Word preached without fear of being persecuted for preaching it. We have the Lord’s Supper as Jesus instituted it. We have freedom of conscience, even when Caesar wants to stifle it. For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?

Yet hard-heartedness abounds, just as it did in the Old Testament when God Himself complains that His people have an iron neck and a brazen brow. The Israelites want the fleshpots of Egypt over freedom in the wilderness as they walk by faith to the Promised Land. As soon as God gives them His Law, they make a golden calf and dance around it. They fall into idolatry and harlotry. They rebel and do not want to enter the Promised Land. When they do get there, the entire history of the people is almost nothing else than the continuing account of the revelation of apostasy from God in the most horrible idolatry, murder of the prophets of God, bloodshed, and other horrors. God finally has enough and lets His people be taken into exile in Babylon.

After 70 years of Babylonian captivity, He lets them return home, rebuild the temple, rebuild Jerusalem, and brings them again to glory. Still they persist in idolatry and fall into spiritual pride and self-righteousness. God laments in vain in Micah chapter six: O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery. Jerusalem has neither ears to hear nor eyes to see. They fall into ultimate obduracy, as revealed in the New Testament.

The Word of the Lord came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. For three years He satisfied Jerusalem and its people with the wonders of divine love and omnipotence. He preaches sermons that call them to repentance and faith. For a moment they cling to Him, yet they let Him be crucified. Now you see why Jesus laments with tears the irretrievable fall of Jerusalem.

We see the same thing happening through history, but in different ways. Germany, the land of the Reformation, largely has turned away from the blessed preaching of the Gospel, once her great heritage, and has fallen into obduracy and indifference about Jesus. How are things among us here in the United States? Things are largely the same as they have been. There remains great contempt for God’s Word, even among so-called Christians. Everyone is out for themselves. Pleasure in earthly matters and hatred of the forgiveness of sins is rampant. This is not just a recent development. This has been happening among us for centuries. This is the reality of the situation, just as it was in Biblical times.

A judgment awaits the world, and it will not be pleasant for many. For those who cling to Jesus Christ above all things, for you who treasure the Word of reconciliation and redemption proclaimed from this pulpit and delivered from this altar, you have been judged worthy of eternal life because of Jesus Christ. His righteousness is enough for your salvation. We live in the last days of sore distress. The world continues to crumble around us. Here, in this house, in your home, Jesus remains to declare to you that you have a future, just as His holy Church has a future. Your future is eternity because Jesus Christ bled and died and rose from the dead to give eternity to you as a gift. Now is His visitation of grace among us in Word, water, body, and blood, even when steeples are falling.

Tagged

Ninth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 16:1-9

Reading Psalm 73 is a good way to prepare for Jesus’ parable of the shrewd steward. Asaph, the psalm writer, says, Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

The shrewd steward in Luke chapter 16 is both arrogant and wicked. All he seems to think about is himself. He was wasting [the rich man’s] possessions. This reminds us of the parable of the lost son in Luke chapter 15, who wasted his share of his father’s inheritance in prodigal living. The lost son came to his senses. The shrewd steward is full of nonsense.

What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? He doesn’t want to go to work. He doesn’t want to beg. He shuns the so-called American Dream on the one hand and refuses a handout on the other hand. Not a great position in which to find yourself. Then the light bulb appears. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.

Thus begins Crazy Dollar Days at the rich man’s house. Fifty percent off here, twenty percent off there, and who knows how much off to how many others. The bills are paid, at a steep discount, and favor is curried by the shrewd steward. He might end up with a new position in a new home before too long. Jesus never tells us if that’s the case because his well-being is not the issue.

The issue is this right here: For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. Those who know the art of the deal get the deal done, by hook or by crook. They might work hard to try to follow sound, ethical business principles. When the time comes to make the deal, the deal is made. Not everyone will be happy with everything but, hey, everyone gets a little something out of it. That’s using your noggin. That’s being shrewd.

How shrewd is our heavenly Father? From your viewpoint, God is, on the one hand, no dummy. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. On the other hand, He provides you with His only-begotten Son, Who does everything to provide you with eternal life and the forgiveness of sins, suffering death upon a cross, and rising from the dead with wounds still fresh on His body. Jesus suffers, dies, and rises, taking the full punishment for your sin, giving you everything that He is, and charges you nothing for it. He even makes a way for you to believe He has done all this for your sake by sending the Holy Spirit with the preached Word to convince you of sin, righteousness, and judgment. All this is yours for free. He gives it away. Recklessly. Shrewdly.

When someone gives you something, even when that person insists what is given is complimentary, you feel a twinge of guilt. Somehow, someway, you have to pay him back for his generosity. Maybe you’ll buy him lunch one of these days. Maybe you’ll offer him some cash for his kindness just to be sure. At least you’ll show how dear this sacrifice means to you by making an offering, even if it’s not much of an offering.

The Lord won’t play that game. He doesn’t need your folding money. He doesn’t want a free lunch. He willingly suffers all this for you. He gives, you receive. That’s how salvation works with God Almighty. The scary part of this whole thing is what happens next. Receiving a shrewd deal usually means, as it were, taking the money or the stuff and leaving the scene as fast as possible. When I bought a different car earlier this year I paid the previous owner cash money. As soon as he had the money he almost ran away from me. That made me worried, especially after I found out he wasn’t up front about a couple of things with the car.

You get your deal and run. One side of the party might change their mind, so you get your end of the bargain and hope the other party isn’t an Indian giver. You cling so tight to what you have that when it comes to being shrewd with the forgiveness of sins you’d rather hold onto it than watch it go to work.

That’s a common fear among Christians. Perhaps it’s one reason why people love, yet hate, to be scolded in sermons for not getting busy and putting what’s been given to them to work. Jesus is not out to humiliate you when He says the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. If anything, the joy of forgiveness and salvation is set free in you. You can’t wait to put your freedom in Jesus Christ to work. You do it not for greed or gain. You do it not to make sure everyone, especially God, knows you are a Christian. You do it because a baptized child of God shrewdly puts their talents to work for their neighbor.

Jesus says, lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. Saint Paul says in Galatians chapter six, let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. The trick is not to get caught believing doing good or laying up treasures in heaven is the reason for the hope that is in you. That is not shrewd at all. That is foolishness, for it robs our Lord Jesus Christ of His glorious passion and resurrection. Your life in hidden in God through Christ Jesus.

When you are shrewd with what you have, practically giving it away for the sake of your neighbor, you show Christ in you, the hope of glory. The grave can’t hold your stuff. There’s no room in our heavenly Father’s house for it. So you have a fire sale with your inheritance. You do what is given you to do where God puts you to do it. That’s being a shrewd steward. It’s almost too easy, yet it’s quite hard because we fight to want to take sole credit for it. You can’t. Jesus has taken care of it for you.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. That’s how Asaph comes to terms with how things are among sinful people. You might take the money and run in a good deal, but here you get to savor the deal Jesus fulfills for you. Rest in it for a bit. Soak it all up. Rejoice with Him. Eternity for nothing is the best deal you’ll ever receive.

Tagged