June 17, 2012
Giving Because of Love
by Clyde Andrew Walter, Director of Stewardship
I started my first “real” job when I was 15 years old. I was an academic coach at Score Educational Center. I think my starting wage was a whopping $6/hour. Other than the occasional milkshake at Oberweis Dairy, which was inconveniently located right next to the educational center, and eventually buying gas after I turned 16 and got my license, I saved most of my earnings. I was so excited that next Christmas to purchase real gifts for my family and friends with my own hard-earned money. My parents got a new camera, my sister a stereo, and to friends meaningful gifts were also given. Ater Christmas shopping was done, I think I had spent more than half of my savings – but it felt good, I had spent that money on the people dearest to me.
Mark Allen Powell, a New Testament theologian, writes in his book "Giving to God" that “there is a strong connection between love and giving.” He continues, “Most of us know what it is like to love someone so much that we want to give them things.”
I imagine many of you will celebrate Father’s Day by sending cards, giving gifts, and spending time with those who provide fathering energy in your life. In my family, we are taking my father to Arlington Race Track and I am bringing lunch, which I prepared early this morning.
While occasionally we feel obligated to come up with a gift for a family event or work party, we take a certain excitement in providing gifts for those we love, and sometimes we may give them things for no reason at all.
Church giving can feel like a duty and obligation to us. Caring for our congregation is, after all, a responsibility. But if we reflect on the ways we love our congregation, we love our church, we love God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we might experience our giving differently. As Powell hopes for us, "Giving as an act of worship can take us beyond duty to delight.”
I have had the great opportunity to meet with many of you and experience your love for the Grace community and the love of your faith in Christ Jesus.
Just like a family, a community of faith is not perfect and is not without disagreement. Our temptation can be to let our giving serve as a reaction to our contentment with a particular issue – positively or negatively. But even when I’m upset with my sister, I’m still going to give her a Christmas gift to let her know I still care about her. And the stories I’ve heard from you are stories of abiding love for the church. I would encourage you to give as a response to that abiding love, just as you would a parent or child. Give with excitement, and sometimes maybe give a gift for no reason at all.
I will close with these words from Mark Allen Powell:
God gives because God loves. God gives to us because God loves us. And when we give our offerings to God as an act of worship we reflect that love. We love God back.
June 3, 2012
"Commend them to do good, to be rich in good deeds"
by Neal Armstrong
My name is Neal Armstrong and I am the church treasurer and an accountant by trade. Some of you might have heard the mission moment I gave about this time two years ago in which I touched on my personal journey as it relates to stewardship, which included my struggle with looking to and relying on God for direction in this area rather than myself.
This morning I want to focus on perceptions. With the first perception, which I might have addressed at a recent congregational meeting, but feel it appropriate to revisit, being that accountants are boring people. We are not boring, we just happen to get very excited about boring things!
Now let’s talk about Grace. If one looks around, we have a beautiful church, outstanding preaching and programming, the highest of quality music, a thriving school, significant lay person involvement, we are located in a wealthy suburb, the parking garage and lot are filled with nice cars, and the pews are filled with well dressed individuals. From that perspective one might perceive this congregation to be rich, and therefore not conceive that we would have any issues with meeting our annual budget let alone covering operating expenses in a given month. However, if you have attended some of the congregational meetings or read some of the correspondence sent out on the matter over the past couple years, you know we are challenged like many other congregations in this area. For instance; 70% of the operating budget contributions are donated by 20% of the congregation; on average we operate at a deficit 7 months out of the year; just this past year we put a credit facility in place and came close to borrowing on it in order to fund operations; and we are again dealing with a yearend budget deficit as we move into June.
While acknowledging and not losing sight of the fact that many of us deal with financial stress and that there are members of our community dealing with joblessness and uncertainty, brought on by the struggling economy, I would like to stick with this perception of Grace being a rich congregation. I would like to ask you a question. Do you consider yourself rich? With your answer in mind, let us consider the following:
Do you need to worry about where your next meal will come from or where you will sleep tonight? 75% of the world won't eat every day or sleep under a roof.
Do you have a bank account or any savings? 92% of the world don't deal in currency but rather barter for or gather for food and goods.
Are you or do you expect to live past the age of 50? Most people born in Africa never reach the age of 55.
Can you get a drink of water pretty much whenever and wherever you want? 20% of the world’s population doesn’t have access to clean water.
Do you have access to a computer? 6.9 Billion people in the world do not.Do you have one car or maybe two cars? Only 7 out of every 100 people worldwide have access to motorized transportation.
Can you read? 20% of the world cannot read.
Were you afforded the opportunity to go to college or even take one college course? Only 1% of the world gets such an opportunity.
Our lifestyle is a gross distortion compared to the rest of the world. I now would like to ask my initial question again, but slightly rephrased. Do you consider yourself richly blessed?
In his first letter to Timothy Chapter 6, verses 17-19, Paul writes “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. Commend them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life”.
As we wrap up another fiscal year and we meet this afternoon to discuss and approve next year’s budget, I ask you again to pray for Grace and its financial well being and that each of us look to God for direction in this area of our lives rather than ourselves.
April 29, 2012
The Stewardship of My Life
Grace member, seminary student
Good morning and thank you for inviting me to speak to you today about the stewardship of my life. For those that don’t know me, my name is Amy Gillespie and I was born and raised here at Grace Lutheran Church. I attended grade school here as well. I come back to worship here at Grace any chance I can get because Grace is home to me. I was baptized right over there when I was a baby and have been told that I cried so much I had to be taken out of my own baptism. I confirmed my faith in the risen Christ right here a number of years ago too and I continue to confess my faith in the Lord as I strive to live my life in service to God and God’s people. Grace church is a people and place where I can orient myself, find my footing. As the mission states, I was brought in, built up and sent out by Grace.
When Clyde asked me to come and speak today I was flattered and excited to come back, but a little unsure of what to say. I say unsure because I am still learning what stewardship means and what it looks like in my life. However, once I started digging into the word stewardship and found that it means “offering our time, talents and treasure to glorify God,” I found stewardship all around me.
At this point in my life I don’t have a lot of treasure stored up to give back but I plan to give back as the Lord provides in the future. However, I have been in the midst of rigorously discerning my talents and gifts for ministry and giving my time to this calling in the past two years. Last year I started my studies at seminary at the Lutheran School of Theology, answering God’s call for me to explore my call to social ministry. This year I have been taking classes at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago and looking forward to getting back to taking classes at the Lutheran School of Theology in the fall of next year. For those that don’t know, I am pursuing a dual degree in ministry and social work and I am in my second year of training in a five year program. I am also in the process of becoming ordained in the ELCA and have been endorsed to go on internship in the coming years-which is a year of training for pastors in a congregation. When that time comes, I will be excited to venture out wherever the Lord sends me. Now, I am constantly trusting in the Lord that this two-fold path of ministry and social work is the path that God has laid out for me and I am right where I need to be.
During this first year at University of Chicago I have been placed as a case manager intern in an interim housing shelter for adult men and women in Lincoln Park. The people there have taught me so much about patience, personal strength and perseverance against the odds. One component about the program at the Lincoln Park Community Shelter that I admire is that all the people that stay at the shelter no matter their circumstances, are asked to give back to the community with their time and talents through volunteering a number of hours a week while they work to get themselves back on their feet. That opportunity is usually life changing for the guests at the shelter because many of them have been without a job for a long time and volunteering is a way to show community involvement on their resume. It is also an opportunity to broaden their social network and try something they are interested in. The volunteer work also helps them to feel that despite the rough patch they are going through in their daily life, they are still able to give something back, to help another person in need. That is powerful stewardship.
During this quarter of classes I have had the privilege of learning more about the practice of mindfulness and the benefits of meditation. One of the teachings of mindfulness is to close your eyes, center yourself and relax and focus on your breathing. Thoughts inevitably come into your head and it is ok. The training asks you to notice and acknowledge those thoughts and not to judge yourself but to accept the thoughts and move back to focusing on your breath. This is something I would like to incorporate into my work and into my own daily routine. The reason I bring this up is that to be stewards of ourselves, our time and our treasure, we need to be mindful that we are all one in the body of Christ, interwoven by the Holy Spirit. My time, is your time, my talents can be used to compliment your talents. God asks us to use our talents, to grow them and not to hide them under a bushel. We are truly the body of Christ when we come together to help one another. As the reading from John stated, “We know love by this; that Jesus Christ laid down his life for us-and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
In order to realize the true calling that God has for us, we need to be mindful and seek that calling out; whether it be bringing flowers to an elderly neighbor, making sandwiches for people on the street, or calling a friend that is going through a rough time. The practice of mindfulness is a powerful tool for being stewards of God’s gifts. Providing service to one another is the message that Jesus gave when he washed the feet of the disciples, when he healed the sick.
It may be preaching to the choir at Grace here since I know so many of you are mindful of your gifts and give them freely to those in need, but it is important to remind ourselves of the opportunities that arise to give back. They may not seem like places or times to be stewards of what God has first given us, but if we are mindful of what we bring to the table, great or small, God will use us to be witnesses in ways we may have never imagined.
I want to take the opportunity to thank everyone at Grace for the many gifts you have given me as I continue to venture on the path that God has laid before me. Thank you for your support and encouragement and to the Church Vocations Committee for bringing in, building up and sending out stewards of God’s great gifts in order that we may give back to one another for the glory of God. As we end our worship today, take a moment to think of ways that you can carry the message of the Gospel to those people in your life that need it the most. As the worship ends, think of how the service can begin.
March 4, 2012
Lyle Mortensen, Interim Principal
Last Sunday in his mission moment Jeff Woods asked "What brings you to Grace?" What brought me to Grace was a word in my fatherʼs ear highly recommending Grace school. That word changed my life.
In those days River Forest was a world away from my home in Chicago where my parents owned a small neighborhood restaurant. I didnʼt realize until I was older the sacrifice my parents made to send me to Grace. I also realized that only through Graceʼs unique sense of our school as mission - and the Congregationʼs support of that mission - was I able to benefit from an excellent and Christ centered education.
My memories of Grace as a safe and nurturing place are inextricably linked to the teachers who modeled the Christian life and who faithfully shared the Word in story and worship. That experience led me to choose a vocation as a Lutheran school teacher and then back to Grace 38 years ago.
Grace Church and School remains a community with a strong sense of partnership in mission. Stories similar to mine can be told and I would expect that some current students might be standing here - or somewhere half way around the world - years from now sharing their mission moments.
Iʼd like to leave you with two thoughts. First, your support is invaluable and appreciated. That support goes beyond contributions as Grace school offers unique opportunities to share in mission in your own back yard. Lutheran Schools Week starts today. Here are 2 events during the week that celebrate our school. Choral Fest is coming up this Tuesday Evening, and on Wednesday the archives room will host a display of historic Grace school artifacts, including our own living artifact - Margaret Kruse. Youʼre invited to come up for a visit after morning or evening Lenten service. And Graceful Evening on March 31 promises to be a fun evening that also benefits school programs. Scrip cards and Box Tops for education are ongoing, and painless ways, to support the school. Also, the time and talents of member volunteers offer many stewardship opportunities.
Secondly, I encourage you not only to support mission, but to be missionaries. The first question I ask in my interviews with new prospective school parents is “how did you hear about Grace?” The overwhelming response has been that a member or school parent told them about Grace. Along with worship and the numerous programs Grace provides, our school offers an excellent opportunity for you to put that word in someoneʼs ear. This is one way you can “bring in, build up, and send out disciples for Christ.”
February 25, 2012
What brings you to Grace?
What brings you here? What does Grace mean to you?
I come to Grace because of the many opportunities to serve, such as teaching Sunday school and participating in Stephen Ministers. I come here for Christian fellowship. Together we worship and serve Christ. As we grow and learn together, we grow closer to Christ.
What brings you to Grace? We are here for many different reasons. For some it’s because you were born and baptized in this community. Some of you first came, like me, when your children enrolled in Grace Lutheran School. Some of you are drawn to worship and to music that is in your heart and soul. Some of you are here because of opportunities to serve God in mission, teaching, singing, fellowship, or caring for others.
This is stewardship too. Stewardship is not just about placing a gift in the collection plate. It’s about a gift of time and talent. It’s also about your presence in church, which just by itself encourages each and every one of us to be here with you, so that together we can be part of the Body of Christ.
There are many different ways for you to serve and to get involved at Grace. If you are looking for a way to get more involved, talk to me, or to the pastors, or to one of the members of our new Volunteers Committee, which was formed to ensure that church members have an outlet for their interests in ministry. We’ll publicize the committee members as they get organized in the next several weeks.
What does Grace mean to you? As you think about what Grace means to you, think about what you mean to Grace. Especially as we approach Faith Promise Sunday on March 11, when you can make a pledge of regular giving to Grace, please think prayerfully about making that commitment, so that our ministries can continue, thrive, and grow. For as Jesus says in today’s Gospel, the Kingdom of God is near. Think about how you can be a part of the Kingdom of God. As you think about what Grace means to you, think about ways that you can contribute to our mission to bring in, build up, and send out disciples for Jesus Christ.
Thank you so much for your gifts in ministry.
Read additional Mission Moments from Julie Christopher, Roberta Gillespie, Pierce McClanahan and Beth Smoots McClanahan, Greg Rohlfing, Eric and Andrea Schlichting, David Heim, Pastor Michael Costello, Neal Armstrong, Daniel Lehmann, Andrew Massmann, Jill Koski, Philip Jimenez.
June 5, 2011
10 Things About Grace I Can't Live Without
Over the Memorial Day Holiday, I was flipping through an issue of Elle Décor, a monthly decorating magazine, and came across one of my favorite regular features, a page called “Shortlist” which includes “12 Things I Can’t Live Without,” a collection of must-have favorite things, a la raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, selected by a tastemaker of the month, usually a fashion designer, interior decorator or aesthetically intuitive celebrity of some sort.
The selected items are sometimes as simple as a must-read novel or author, a particular shade of nail polish or lipstick, or favorite vacation spot. Oftentimes, the list includes something more personal, like a favorite family recipe, a drawing made by one of the tastemaker’s children or a go-to article of clothing that makes the writer feel confident, stylish or comfortable.
I like to play along with this game every so often, jotting down a personal list of the “12 Things I Can’t Live Without” at that particular moment. So when it came time to pull together today’s Mission Moment, I decided to borrow the “Shortlist” concept from Elle Décor.
In the interest of time on this summer day, I’ve shortened my list to 10 items, but if you catch me after the service, I’d be happy to share a few others!
Without further ado, "10 Things About Grace Lutheran Church I Can’t Live Without."
1. Our pastors – past and present, who so faithfully serve God, and share His word with us through preaching, teaching, comforting and encouraging.
2. The sacrament of Holy Communion – a regular reminder of God’s sacrifice, and of his grace.
3. The opportunity to participate—for most of my life, especially the past 20 yeas, I’ve enjoyed volunteering at or through Grace. I’m encouraged when I see other congregation members give of their time and talent in so many meaningful ways.
4. Sense of belonging – my affiliation with Grace allows me to feel part of a larger “faith family.”
5. Music –from the pew, the altar or the choir loft, Grace’s music legacy has had a hold on me since I was a young child.
6. Grace School – how fortunate I am to have been educated, guided and coached by extraordinary teachers and pastors in such a faith-filled place.
7. Food and fellowship –in my family, food and fellowship go hand in hand, and I believe that’s also the case at Grace. Over the years, scores of talented members have extended hospitality and a meal made with care, even to “the least of these.”
8. Grace’s annual tithe – leading by example, Grace supports dozens of charities in its own backyard and beyond, by donating 10 percent of its annual contributions.
9. The Memorial Garden – Each time I pass by and read the names of those laid to rest there, whether I personally knew them or not, I’m reminded of God’s promise of everlasting life.
10. The confirmation program – I’m grateful for the opportunity to interact, through teaching and mentoring, with Grace’s youth, which all at once takes me back to my own confirmation here at Grace and allows me a glimpse into the future of our congregation and the world at large.
Perhaps some of my selections will resonate with you; I’m sure you’ve already thought of others. Please remember, this isn’t intended to be a complete list.
Maybe your current list includes different entries than the list—mental or otherwise—that you made when you first came to Grace. Perhaps some old standby favorites will always occupy a spot on your list, but others will ebb and flow as your age and life stage—and those of the church—progress.
I encourage you to take some time this week to commit your “Shortlist” to writing; include 10, 12 or more things about Grace you can’t live without. Have others in your family do the same. The beauty of this exercise is that everyone can participate. It’s personal, intergenerational and, you can compile a list no matter how long you’ve attended Grace.
Now, let’s turn things around for a minute and think about the fact that Grace Lutheran Church has a Shortlist, too.
And that the collection of things that we so cherish about Grace—our “must-haves,” or “can’t-live-withouts”—require that we contribute three things to help ensure our favorite things remain intact and viable, and that new activities, opportunities and experiences are able to occur within and for our congregation.
I’ll focus briefly on three of Grace’s “Shortlist” items, two of which I touched on earlier:
1. Time – We all have it, though most of us feel we don’t have enough of it. But consider a valuable gift of time in support of Grace’s many ministries, activities and outreach programs. It’s a do-good that feels good, too. I promise.
2. Talent – God has given every one of us special talents and interests, and charges us to use them to his glory and for the benefit of others. There are so many opportunities to utilize your talents and skills here at Grace. Sometimes all it takes is a little self-assessment and some research. If you’re a loss as to how, what, where, and “who, me?” start by talking to the pastors. They’ll help guide you in the right direction.
3. Resources – Prayerfully consider the monetary contribution you can make to Grace Church. God encourages us to give generously, and with a cheerful heart. He promises bountiful rewards for those who give abundantly. Keep in mind the notion of equal sacrifice, not equal gifts. Simply…give what you are able.
In closing, I encourage you to “shortlist,” the things you find most wonderful about Grace Lutheran Church, give thanks to God for them, and nurture and support them through the God-given gifts of time, talent and resources.
May 15, 2011
The Puzzle Is Coming Together
One of my fondest family vacation memories and still favorite pastimes is working jigsaw puzzles; one measured piece at a time, at a card table, over breakfast coffee or in a flurry of competitive relatives, each staking out a color scheme, profile, repeated pattern or picture to connect; a quiet social opportunity for chatting or a driven race to find and fit the last piece! Looking at the box lid was considered cheating! Even if it was a familiar old friend of a puzzle, there were still those “aha” moments of fitting satisfaction.
About four years ago I began helping with the Congregational Discovery project, intentionally identifying strengths in our faith community at Grace and areas in need of growth or tending. This was a gazillion-piece puzzle challenge, and we didn’t know how the big picture would emerge. We asked then, as we ask each day, for God’s guidance and insight into what it is God would have us be about in his kingdom through Grace. Piece by piece, in a steady, quietly bubbling, building surge, members have identified patterns of need and service, pulled together and put into action pictures of successful outreach; the CAFÉ program, New Members Committee, Faith Perspectives, an overflow of young students at our school. And that momentum is still growing!
In the last several months there has been a rapidly developing flurry of opportunities being presented to us at Grace. Last week, you heard Beth and Pierce McClanahan talk about the well crafted plan from the Youth and Family Ministry Development Committee. This Christ-centered ministry position would shape and nurture youth from the grass roots of childhood through the young adult years, within the congregation and from the surrounding communities. We have also been granted funding from the Christopher Foundation for a dedicated, trained director of stewardship who will help reinforce and broaden our financial capabilities for the church and school. We are redesigning the constitution and bylaws to be more efficient, transparent and inclusive for volunteers. Principal Kendall Grigg is applying for a grant to fund a wellness instructor for the school to assist in achieving a high standard of whole health and well-being for students. We are renewing ties with local Lutheran schools and universities and forming connections with schools from diverse areas of the United States to enrich our shared Christian educational communities.
This outreach to diverse schools is an opportunity for me to reconnect a large, life-changing piece of my own personal puzzle. The last time I spoke from this lectern, almost 45 years ago, I presented a summary of a two-month summer service project at the Rock Point Navajo Lutheran Mission and School in Arizona. I was one of three Walther league members from Grace, that summer, including Pam Froehlig Brucker, June’s daughter, who were sent to Rock Point to serve in whatever way we could help with the mission, teaching Sunday School (through an interpreter), building and repairing the dorms, setting up a shop for donated clothing. A life-inspiring experience! Today the schoolchildren of Grace are collecting pennies to help with the cost of repair from broken water pipes at Rock Point and will soon begin to share classroom and instructional programs with them, learning to appreciate the diversity of fellow Lutheran school children. An old familiar puzzle with a new serendipitous “aha” fit!
These are emerging and merging pictures of God’s plan for Grace. Exciting, challenging and forward thinking, this puzzle has some life to it! We are building on what we do well, what is beautiful, cherished and successful at Grace. We are not static. We confidently face our financial responsibilities to meet the current budget and boldly follow the Spirit’s lead as we swing our elbows, vying for a place at the table, claiming a corner piece to extend our segment of the vision for Grace in God’s kingdom in the years to come.
We don’t know the big picture in the mind of God; we don’t have the box lid to peek at. Yet Jeremiah 29:10 tells us “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” We each have a part to play. We each have a piece of the puzzle, a place to fit our time talents and treasures. Turn to your pew neighbor you just passed the peace with. (Aha! Pun intended!) Turn to your pew neighbor you just shared a piece of yourself with, and know we are in this together. We are here in ministry to each other and in loving service to all God’s people. In this family of faith, we can pull this puzzle picture a little closer together.
With thanksgiving and praise we look ahead. With prayer we commit our resources. In faith and trust in God’s abundance we fit ourselves together as fellow members of the body of Christ, to bring about God’s will for us at Grace; to bring in, build up and send out disciples for Jesus Christ.
If you would like to know more about some of these plans for the upcoming year at Grace or have questions, please come to the Congregation Meeting June 5th, 2011, after the 11:00 am service or attend the informational meeting on the Constitution and Bylaws revision on May 22, 2011 between services.
Pull up a chair, bring your puzzles pieces. Let’s get to work! For earthly good, to the Glory of God! Thank you!
May 8, 2011
Talent, Time and Treasure
Pierce McClanahan and Beth Smoots McClanahan
I agreed to do this Mission Moment about six months ago. At that time I thought, “Why not? I have 6 months to figure out what to say.” Besides, my Mom agreed to do it with me and she always has something to say. Well, five months, three weeks and four days passed. Now I was in familiar but uncomfortable territory.
Maybe my Mom would bail me out. She suggested I do what we all do when we have a question -- Google it. You would be surprised at how much you can learn if you just type in “Stewardship for life.”
Stewardship for life happens when you are so grateful for God’s blessings that you can’t help but want to give back. That made sense to me. It made me think of a lot of things for which I am thankful that I have also had the privilege of paying forward. It makes me think of:
• GraceCare meals, both received and delivered,
• Sunday School lessons, both heard and taught,
• Confirmation mentoring, both received and offered,
• Being led in worship and reading in worship.
At this point in my life, I don’t have a load of treasure, but God has given me time and talent that I can share.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes about how we all have different gifts: “If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” So, a Christian steward is one who receives God’s gifts gratefully and returns them with increase to the Lord.
In Ecclesiastes, we read: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” There are seasons in life when God calls on us for different purposes. When my husband and I were establishing our household, God called on us for treasure. When I took some time out from the work force a few years ago, God called on me for more time. As long as we are listening and willing, God will guide us to the opportunities that utilize our talents.
At Grace, we are entering a new season for youth and family ministry, something near and dear to all the mothers and families who are here today. For the last six months, a committee has been at work to reshape this ministry. The results of our analysis have been compiled in a report that can be accessed on the Grace web site. We are recommending that appropriate staff be put in place to build a robust youth and family ministry program that will foster stronger faith connections for all ages, starting with the youth.
The goal is to involve and empower our youth so that they will continue their faith journey no matter where life takes them. That’s strong stuff – especially in a world that really isn’t thrilled with Christian values. But remember our mission: to bring in, build up and send out disciples for Jesus Christ. What a powerful witness to that mission it will be to have our kids move on so connected to their faith that they will literally be hungry for Christian community and opportunities to serve.
But it won’t happen on a wish and a prayer. Yes, we will continue praying, but instead of wishes, it will take the stewardship of every member. While we will have professionals to guide the programming, it will take the time, talent and treasure of the whole congregation to build a dynamic program that will springboard our youth to places we cannot yet imagine. And we aren’t just talking about the involvement of families with kids, but every household in the Grace community.
Pierce and Beth
So, we need everyone to do their part whether you are young or young at heart, married or single, a boy or a girl, a mom or not yet a dad, tall or still the Mom no matter how big they think they are. We will need your talent. We will need your time. We will need your treasure as well. As Paul wrote to the Romans, we each have different gifts. We just have to be willing to offer ourselves. You can be sure God will ask us to stretch for the need at hand. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work as God leads us into a new season of ministry.
February 27, 2011
Investing in Young Lives
My name is Greg Rohlfing and I am the President of Grace Lutheran Church and School. I have said before that I owe much of who I am to Grace. I guess, I am going to keep on saying it. I was baptized here, went to school here and continue to call this place home. Many important events that transformed me into who I am today occurred right here.
I am not alone in this regard and know that there are many others who would say the same about themselves.
Grace’s mission is to bring in, build up and send out for Jesus Christ. We work to accomplish this mission in many ways. This morning, however, I would like to focus on the Christian education we provide to children in our school.
At Grace School, I developed my talents, learned history, math, English, German and science. I learned to sing and play trumpet. I even survived a state notebook. More importantly, I developed the ability to think and learn on my own. Grace’s influence on my life runs even deeper when you overlay faithful teachings of Christ and an environment that values achievement simply because it is right to fully develop one’s God-given talents. I have attained many of my resources as a result of my education here at Grace.
Today, Grace School comparably equips many young people to succeed in an increasingly troubled world. These young people are like missionaries, who, through their actions and works, minister daily to their friends and their friends’ friends. Someday these young people will be influential adults, running corporations, influencing government policies, writing books. The influence that Grace thus has through these young people will extend well beyond these walls and even our local community.
My daughter Amy, also a graduate of Grace School, understood this as well. In a sermon she wrote for a youth-led service, she likened each graduate of Grace School to a drop of water in a larger pond. Each drop creates ripples that continue to propagate outward. As each graduate leaves Grace and continues on in their lives, as ripples in the water, they continue to various places throughout the country and carry with them the foundation built right here.
These blessings nurtured here at Grace and their consequence have long inspired me to give of my resources--my time, talents and assets. Here I invest in the development of many young lives and the proliferation of Christian living and teaching.
Yesterday we had our annual leadership workshop. At the workshop, Scott Krueger, chair of the Board of Elementary Education, asked for a show of hands of all those who currently have children in the school. Several hands went up. Then he asked to add to that group those who had had children in the school at one time. Many more hands went up. When he asked to add those who also had attended Grace, pretty much the whole group had hands in the air.
You know, it is an important thing we do here. Can you think of a better place to invest your self?
If we are to continue this mission we need your ongoing help and participation. We have many challenges before us but one of our more significant challenges continues to be our giving pattern. At our last voter’s meeting, we discussed the likely need to borrow money to meet cash flow needs. Did you know that we actually budget to be in the red for certain months of the year? We make this up in June when we close our fiscal year, but our aggregate giving is not consistent over the year. Giving from our members is also a bit down from last year.
Yesterday, I challenged our leadership to do their part in helping to meet our financial needs. I asked for our leaders to participate in the Faith Promise process - Faith Promise Sunday is next week on March 6th and each of you should have received your Faith Promise cards in the mail.
In the same way, I ask each of you to do your part; pray for Grace and consider prayerfully your own giving to Grace. Consider increasing your giving. It sure would be a wonderful thing to have 100% participation from all of Grace’s members in making a Faith Promise this year. Grace’s mission and its many ministries are worthy of your support.
Thank you and blessings to all of you.
February 20, 2011
A Foundation for Ministry
Andrea and Eric Schlichting
Good morning. Just a little while ago, we heard from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church. He spoke of the life of the Christian community in terms of putting up a building. The first step is laying the foundation – everything we do rests on our foundation.
The thing about foundations, though, is that they take a lot to build. Think of any construction site you’ve ever seen, from a house to a skyscraper, from an alley to an interstate. Building the foundation involves steam shovels, dump trucks and lots of concrete, and none of these things come cheap.
Eric really likes building things and working with tools and using heavy equipment, but we aren’t here on behalf of the building committee. What he’s trying to say is that right now Eric and I are at a point in our lives when we’re laying the foundation for serving God in different ministries. And just like the foundation of a building, a lot goes in to laying the foundation for following the call to ministry. There’s a lot of hard work, a lot of studying and writing papers, and a whole lot of meetings. But there is also a very real need for financing this foundation. We are both so grateful to this community for your support in prayer and in being such an encouraging home to us and your generosity with financial help along the way.
The support we have been blessed with through your generosity really makes a difference, especially as we are just building the foundation of our life together. A lot of people I’ve gone to school with are facing tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt before they interview with a single call committee, and there’s no telling how long it will be before they are on any kind of foundation in terms of their finances.
Thanks to your support, we will already be building on a firm foundation. It’s been a great source of support when I’ve faced challenging times to know that this community believes in me and is willing to show its support in such a real and meaningful way.
When you’re considering your giving, please know that your offerings really are helping people in this community to build foundations for lives of service. Thank you.
The Joy of Helping the Church Grow
The following essay on stewardship, authored by Grace member David Heim, appeared in the June 2010 issue of “The Dove,” a publication of Faith Lutheran Church, Glen Ellyn, where David currently serves. David’s wife, Barbara Hofmaier, shared David’s thoughts in a recent Mission Moment at Grace.
Every year, the government issues a report on how much it costs to raise a child from birth through college graduation day. It estimates the extra amount of money needed to cover food, transportation, clothing, housing, furnishings, health care, and education. To raise a child born in 2010 in an upper-middle-class Midwest suburb, including the price of four years at a public university, will cost $322,000.
The amount is certainly sobering—a stark reminder that parenting entails a huge financial commitment.
But I suspect few people actually make a calculation: “Gee, if we didn’t have a child, I would have another $322,000 to put in my IRA.”
We don’t think about raising a child simply as a financial transaction. That approach misses the deep web of love, hope, and meaning that pervades and defines the entire relationship and that makes providing for one’s child not so much something one has to do as something one gets to do.
It’s a joy—most days!—to provide one’s child with food and shelter. And it’s a delight to buy a baseball glove or a prom dress or to pay for soccer camp or trumpet lessons. If one has the money to do these things, the expense feels more like a privilege than a burden. For what else would parents rather spend money on than on helping their child grow?
The financial side of life in the church family is no different. We can view financial support of the church as a burden, or we can see it as something we get to do. We get to be part of the mission of Jesus Christ. We get to offer hope in the living God to people in crisis or grief. We get to help children learn the stories of the Bible and to see youth led deeper into faith. We get to be part of the church’s song of praise. We get to be the hands and feet of Christ in our community. We get to pass on the gospel to a new generation. What else would we rather spend our money on?
A church that is dead or dying won’t demand much of us. But a growing church, like a growing child, does ask something of us. And a deep joy is found in helping it grow.
The season of Pentecost is traditionally a season focused on evangelism and outreach, in which Christians celebrate the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church. On the Day of Pentecost, the disciples learned that Jesus’ resurrection was not a bare fact—something that miraculously happened at one time, in one place—but an ongoing reality. Through the Spirit, the power of the risen Christ lives on in his followers. Jesus even says that through the Spirit, his disciples will do “even greater works” than he did (John 14:12).
This Pentecost season is a good time to be mindful of the ways that we get to invest our time and treasure in doing Christ’s work in this place. The promise of the Spirit is that we will find our deep joy in helping that mission grow.
June 13, 2010
Pastor Michael Costello
I am honored that the Stewardship Committee asked me to offer this mission moment. I am horrified, however, at the prospect of actually giving it, because it is always difficult for a pastor to talk with his or her congregation about money.
You already know that we have a challenge before us. We must raise a little over half a million dollars before the end of our fiscal year on June 30. That is 17 days away, which means that gifts need to average $25,000 a day in order for us to balance the budget. And while I am tempted to go on at length about what we each need to do in order to meet this goal, I don’t think that I need to do so; you know what we need to do.
Rather, I would like to focus on what I believe is a more systemic challenge before us: tithing.
It wasn’t until Rebekah and I were in seminary and entering our internship year that we decided we needed to tithe. We felt we couldn’t expect members of our congregation to give faithfully if we didn’t do so ourselves. It hasn’t always been easy, but we have continued to tithe our income to the congregations we have served since that time, including here at Grace.
After we were settled in River Forest for about six months, we realized, like many of you, that living on one income isn’t easy. The credit card debt was rising and we had to take a serious look at our budget. Do we give less to the church or change some of our other spending habits? Among other things, we dropped our home phone line, downgraded our Internet and television expenses, eliminated OnStar navigation in our car, and started to keep an eye on how often we went out to eat.
The result was surprising. We are not wealthy people, to be sure. (Church musicians never are!) In fact, we live month-to-month like a majority of you gathered here. But we have enough. We live comfortably. We have a roof over our heads and plenty to eat. But most importantly, our giving to Christ’s Church did not have to change in order for those things to continue. And, to be honest with you, we don’t really miss those things that we decided to drop.
The reason I am sharing this with you is not to give ourselves a pat on the back for a job well done. Tithing, after all, is only the starting point: the minimum that we are called to give. And so, our family has a long way to go.
Rather, I share this with you to encourage you to reflect on the abundance that God has given you and the ways in which you are stewards of those gifts. If you already tithe, are you in a place where you can do more? If you don’t tithe, can you work toward that goal, maybe by one or two percent a year?
Indeed, the immediate challenge before us is to bring this fiscal year to a close with a balanced budget and, to that end, Rebekah and I are dropping an extra check in the plate this week. I urge you to do the same, no matter how large or small the gift may be.
More importantly, go online to our website at www.graceriverforest.org and set up weekly or monthly giving to establish a tithe in your household. We use this tool in our family because, frankly, it keeps us honest. Our offering comes out of our checking account twice a month, whether we want it to or not!
Tithing is a practice of faith, indeed, and doing so will only strengthen your dependence on God and equip the ministries of Grace Lutheran Church as we strive to bring in, build up, and send out for Jesus Christ.
Today I have the opportunity to talk with you about a current challenge facing the congregation. I also happen to be the church treasurer, so one might say it is fitting that I am discussing this matter with you. With approximately one and a half months left until the end of our fiscal year, we face a significant budget shortfall.
Before I talk further on that matter I would like to digress to a stewardship moment from my life. Very shortly after my wife Esther and I were married, a subject came up that we had never previously discussed: how much we would give to church on a weekly basis. I threw out a number I thought to be reasonable and she said, “That does not appear to be a tithe.” To which I replied, “You tithe?” To which she replied, “You don’t? Doesn’t God call us to tithe?”
I dwelled on her comment for a moment, as well as some very wise advice I had once heard, which was “A Happy Wife = A Happy Life.” So I immediately concurred with her and we began tithing.
All right, my reply might not have gone down exactly in that fashion. While I do believe there’s wisdom in the philosophy “A Happy Wife = A Happy Life,” that is not what drove this decision for us.
When I really thought about Esther’s words—that we are called to tithe—I realized something. Although I had always given to my church, I had allowed the amount of my giving to be influenced by many unimportant things. I had never fully looked to God for direction in this area nor completely trusted in him. After some further discussion and prayer, Esther and I made the decision that, for us, tithing was the appropriate thing to do.
Today Grace Church faces a significant budget shortfall and needs to address it before our fiscal year ends on June 30. I imagine many of you expect me to ask you for money today. I am not going to do that. Instead, I am going to ask you to do something very easy—something that will have a huge impact on our ability to meet our goal for the fiscal year and eliminate the deficit.
What I ask of each of you is to pray. Pray that God’s will be done for this church and congregation. Pray that we meet the budget deficit challenge before us. Pray that God will use you as he sees fit and pray for the strength and ability to answer his call.
Some of you probably already incorporate these petitions into your prayer life. If all of us sincerely do this and put our trust in the Lord, I have no doubt that we will meet the challenge before us. The power of prayer is an amazing thing. For those of you who have experienced it, you know exactly what I am talking about. For those who have not, you have something wonderful to look forward to.
I would like you to commit these petitions to memory and pray them often during the next month and a half:
Pray that God’s will be done for this church and congregation.
Pray that we meet the budget deficit challenge before us.
Pray that God will use you as he sees fit and pray for the strength and ability to answer his call.
I said I was not going to ask you for money today, and that is true. However, if you get a call from me on Thursday night, May 20, I cannot make that same promise.
This week, several volunteers from the congregation will be making calls to members on behalf of the Stewardship Committee, asking for help, either financially or through prayer, in addressing the deficit. So, if you see “Grace” come up on your caller ID, please answer your phone and take a few moments to talk with the volunteer.
Good morning. I want to share some thoughts about stewardship and this year’s theme, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3). I’ve borrowed generously from Mark Allen Powell, professor of New Testament at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, and author of Giving to God: The Bible’s Good News about Living a Generous Life.
Jesus tells us, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be” (Matthew 6). Many people seem to hear what Jesus said backward. They think he said, “Where your heart is, that’s where your treasure will end up.”
Sermons about that go something like this: People spend their money on the things they truly care about. If you look back over your check register, you will see what is most important to you.
That may be true, but it isn’t what Jesus said. He didn’t say: “Where your heart is, there your treasure will be.” Listen, he said it the other way around: "Where you put your treasure, that is where your heart will go."
Most people know there is a close connection between generous giving and spiritual devotion. People who are spiritually mature often give generously of their time and talents and money.
But the good news is that Jesus said it can work the other way around: Generous giving affects us spiritually. When we give more generously of our time and talents and money, we become more spiritually mature people. This is one reason that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20). Generous giving is the pathway to a deeper, more meaningful spiritual life.
The point, then, is not that how we spend our money reveals what sort of people we are but that how we spend our money determines what sort of people we become. This sounds kind of threatening, but actually it’s very good news.
We can become the sort of people we want to be. We can decide what sort of people we would like to be and then give generously of our treasure—our time, our money and our talents—to those things that will change us within.
So, give to things that you should care about, and your generosity will awaken the caring in your heart that you hope to find there.
This has proven true in my life. Since joining Grace Lutheran Church and School nearly three decades ago, Julie and I worked at becoming tithers, following our parents’ examples. It took a while but we got there. That act BOUND us to this place. This is our HOME, where we’ve also tried to give equally of our time and talents over the years.
And when we’ve stretched ourselves financially to help with capital campaigns, debt reduction efforts and the like, we’ve never been disappointed. Without fail, something occurred that helped us spiritually, emotionally or financially to meet the funding challenge.
What we did changed us inside and helped us become more the people WE want to be, the people we think God wants us to be. Sinners still, but hopefully better.
Saints throughout the ages have said much about spiritual growth and personal transformation.
They encourage prayer, Bible reading and regular worship. They also encourage generous giving. Martin Luther is quoted as saying that everyone needs to experience three conversions: “of heart, and mind and purse.”
Billy Graham said, “When people get their attitude toward money right, it seems to straighten out every other area of their lives.”
Neither Luther nor Graham said these things to get people to donate more money to their cause. They spoke as pastors who knew what Jesus said to be true.
Generous giving affects us. It transforms us. It facilitates spiritual growth. And brings us closer to God.
Where our treasure is, there our heart will be—good news, indeed. So “trust in the Lord with all your heart,” and return this Faith Promise card next Sunday.
“Q1 – I know what is expected of me.”
I am asked this question at work each year along with eleven others as part of the Q12 Gallup poll intended to measure employee engagement. What is our “stewardship Q1”? What is expected of us as Christian stewards?
We don’t need the folks at Gallup to answer these questions. Our answers can all be found in God’s word. And what does the Bible say about stewardship and giving?
Short answer: a lot.
Nineteen of Christ’s thirty-eight major parables are about our relationship to money and possessions. God expects that we will be good stewards of all that he has entrusted to us, and that we will give back at least a tithe—ten percent of our income.
Faith Promise Sunday is our annual opportunity to come together as a community of faith and pledge our financial support to do God’s work here at Grace and beyond. Our theme verse this year is 2 Corinthians 9:8-9:
Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.
This verse sets the expectation that each of us must give, and also reminds us that God is able to provide for us, so that by always having enough of everything we may share abundantly.
I recognize that we are living in trying economic times. At the company I work for, we have had two significant layoffs in the last six months, shrinking the department I am in by nearly 30%. I own stock in this company that was worth more than $50 a share not too long ago, but which is now trading at less than $1 a share, and I have a number of stock options that are not worth the paper they are printed on. Along with many of you, I also see retirement and college savings account balances shrinking. But I am blessed to still have enough, and enough to continue to share abundantly.
Before I became a consistent tither, these monetary losses and job insecurity would have deeply troubled me, even kept me up at night worrying. While I am not happy about these events, by tithing my faith continues to strengthen and I trust that God will provide what my family and I need.
God promises that if we tithe we will be blessed, but note: these blessings will not necessarily be financial. One of the blessings of tithing is that it forces you to look beyond your own needs to the needs of others. Grace Church provides a powerful example of this blessing by tithing 10 percent of the money the church receives and sending it out to support a number of ministries. A sampling of these ministries will be with us next Sunday as part of the Benevolence Fair. These ministries, with Grace’s modest support, are making a positive impact in the lives of those less fortunate. And a little giving goes a long way:
• $300 ensures a Lutheran education for a student in Martin, Slovakia
• $6,000 pays the annual salary of an English-speaking teacher in Martin, Slovakia
• $8,000 supports the work of our Refugee Outreach Ministry in resettling—right here in Chicago—a refugee family that fled persecution.
Imagine how many more people we could help if each of us tithed 10 percent of our income.
We should not have to focus so much effort internally on barely making the budget every year. We must break the cycle of having to raise twenty percent of the budget each June, and of having to rely on the generosity of eight percent of the members providing fifty percent of the giving. The only way we can do this is if everyone gets serious about tithing. Tithing is God’s plan for giving. It is proportional. It is fair. The same proportion is expected of everyone. Not equal gifts, but equal sacrifice.
I realize that some of you are already tithing and thank you for your faithful example. As I have shared with you how tithing has strengthened my faith and trust that God will provide what I need—even in troubling economic times—I encourage you to share with other members how God has blessed you. We need everyone’s participation to become a membership that tithes, not just a church that tithes.
This is my vision and prayer for our stewardship ministry. It is not about fundraising and barely making the budget. It is about growing and expanding our mission to "Bring in, build up, and send out for Jesus Christ."
A pledge on Faith Promise Sunday and a tithe.
Q1 – “I know what is expected of me.”
"Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work." (2 Corinthians 9:8-9)
This is where the conversation begins at each Stewardship Committee meeting, and it’s a fortunate beginning. We are blessed with a built-in opportunity each month to tell our stories about what Grace means to us and how God is using our hands to do His work. We reflect on the changing meaning of the word abundance in what is decidedly a difficult economic environment. We reflect on God’s expectation that we will all be good stewards, and that He will provide for us so that we always have enough of everything and we may share abundantly.
Perhaps what is most striking about our conversations is that although the work of the committee centers on the fiscal well-being of the church through the financial support of our members, the conversations are less about money and more about faith, gratitude, and generosity.
This is why stewardship is not just the work of the six individuals serving on the Stewardship Committee. It is the work of all members who benefit from the community of Grace Church. Each of us may have a particular passion or calling that brought us to this community of faith. It may be the music program; it may be the education your child receives as a student at Grace School; it may be the work of the Social Ministry committee that extends our faith to the community by serving those less fortunate; or it may simply be your connection to those who share a pew with you each Sunday.
The work of every committee is the work of stewardship. Without the generous financial support of the congregation, we would be able to dedicate far fewer resources to “bringing in, building up, and sending out for Jesus Christ” in these many and various ways.
When I consider my decision about how much to give and my ability, it is not made to support a balanced budget. My decision comes from thoughtful prayer and reflection of all that I have received from God and through Grace Church. I consider the moments that have most meaning, such as my first visit to Grace for an Easter service nearly seventeen years ago; the women who have helped me as I manage the joys and challenges of parenthood; and the prayers offered up for my family and me in times of need. If stewardship is approached from this perspective, of blessings received, it is a truly remarkable conversation.
I can think of many reasons why this year—more than any other—I could give less. My salary has been frozen, our house needs new siding, and the price of groceries seems to go up each week. I admit that at times I spend too much time worrying about how to best support my family. I picked up a Care Notes brochure a couple weeks ago on worry. The author has one simple phrase to help lessen his unnecessary worry. It is simply, “I can’t; God can; I think I’ll let God.”
It strikes me that this also applies to the decision on giving and the decision to tithe. The best way to support my family is to trust that God will provide. I will continue to work hard to provide for my family and to give back to Grace. But I also understand that above all I must put my trust in God. He will take care of me and my family in ways that cannot be measured.
How much should I give? That is a question each of us must answer for ourselves. The amount will be different for each of us, but I am hopeful that we will all meet God’s expectation that we be good stewards of the gifts he has entrusted to us.
We are fortunate that in a challenging economic time, with uncertainty on many fronts, we have a community of faith that binds us together. Our blessings as a congregation are great. Please pray and reflect on the abundance in your life as you complete your Faith Promise card.
On Faith Promise Sunday, we can walk together to the altar with our Faith Promise cards in gratitude for the abundance of blessings we receive from God, and in our ability to share abundantly to “Bring in, build up, and send out for Jesus Christ.”
Good morning, fellow Grace members, and Happy Fathers Day to all the fathers. Being here with you at this very spot reminds me of the last time I was invited to speak to the congregation: it was during my confirmation just a little over 24 years ago.
Although I am just as nervous as I was then, I believe this time I am more excited to share with you how God has been generous in my life because of my connection to Grace, the congregation, and, most importantly, to you.
Also, I am excited to invite you to consider helping Grace meet its budget through your financial support, ensuring that we raise the remaining 20% of the budget in June. As we have for the past nine years, we can respond to this challenge.
But let me get back to how God has expressed His boundless generosity in my life through and because of my connection to Grace and to you.
God first expressed His generosity to me when my mother was told of a great school close to where we lived in Forest Park. This person leaned forward and said to my mom, “Grace Lutheran Church and School,” and as my mother recalls, it was as if the person was telling her a wonderful secret. Without the financial support that Grace provided me—and to this very day provides others—I would have gone without the excellent education and, most importantly, the values I was exposed to by the extremely dedicated teachers and staff.
Another way in which God expressed His generosity was during my six years as a student at Grace. You see, my mom was a single parent and on Thursdays she worked late. This meant on Thursdays I would be alone after school. Pastor and Mrs. Lueking generously stepped forward and said, “Sophie, we would be happy to have Phillip come to our home after school on Thursdays and we can watch him for you until you can pick him up”—sometimes not until 8 or 9 p.m. And let me tell you, I was not an angel. I guess, like the book Tuesdays with Morey, this was my “Thursdays with the Luekings.”
Later, when I was struggling with the decision of making a career change—leaving a corporate position as International Sales Director for what Inland Steel and going to the nonprofit sector—I asked what God wants for me and how I could best serve Him. Again, it was Grace that responded with guidance.
I was fortunate to have Pastor Lueking and Martin Marty as mentors. Pastor Lueking helped me understand what the word ministry could be in my life and Marty helped me understand how I could direct my vocation towards my ministry. Largely because of their guidance, for the past five years I have been serving others through Lutheran Child & Family Services.
From my vantage point, Grace and its members have a tradition of reaching out and expressing their “faith active in love.”
Because of these influences in my life, I have found my ministry and vocation. Because of Grace Church and School, I am on a journey of living a life of service, expressing my gratefulness for God’s generosity in my life.
I would like to thank you for your faithful commitment to ensuring that Grace is in a position to reach out to me, to others in need and, in many cases, to each other. Thank you for your time and please accept this invitation to express your gratefulness for God’s generosity in your life.