Wisdom Is Wealth

wisdom

You hold in your hand a blank check.1 The check isn’t from your bank; it doesn’t connect to your account. But the check has been given to you. It’s for you to fill out the “To” line, and for you to fill out the “amount” line. It’s all up to you.

Wouldn’t it be a powerful feeling to have a blank check? You can use it for anything you want, you can give it to anyone you want. The possibilities would be exciting, but they’d also be kind of overwhelming.

I mean, obviously, you could make the check out to yourself. There’d be lots of good reasons for doing that. You could pay some pesky bills, fix a few things around the house, make sure that everyone has all the clothes and food they need. You could pay for whatever you need, and maybe you’d even have enough left to help some others!

Of course, you could just write the check directly to someone else. You could give it to the church; you could write it to some other charity for people in need; you could directly help out someone you knew who needed it. It would be pretty incredible to have a blank check. What would you use it for?

In our text today, we get to see how someone else responded in a similar situation. No, God didn’t hand King Solomon a check; he gave him something way better. After all, a check is bound by how much money is in the bank. God’s offer was even better. He said, “Solomon, ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (1 Ki. 3:5) Whatever! Just name it and claim it! It’s all yours!

Can you imagine that? Can you even begin to imagine the possibilities? Forget paying a few bills and finishing the car payments. You can just ask for the bank. You can just ask to be in control. You can just make sure you get whatever you want. I mean, this is the kind of stuff usually reserved for stories about genies in lamps. But for Solomon, this was no story! It happened.

But we already read the text before; you know how it turned out. You know that Solomon, when he could’ve gotten anything, asked for wisdom. Wisdom! How boring is that? How could he have blown his chance like that?

But you know that’s not right! You know Solomon didn’t blow it. You know he made the best possible choice. So, would you make the same choice? Would you choose wisdom from God if he offered you anything? You know it’s the right choice. But it probably doesn’t feel like the best choice.

There are a few reasons for that. You might argue that God offered Solomon the chance to ask for anything, and he’s never offered that to us. You might think that Solomon was in a much different situation and he had better reasons to ask for wisdom than we would. You might even think that wealth, today, is just way more important than it used to be, and it’s just plain more important than God’s wisdom.

But here’s what I want us to realize today: wisdom is wealth. God’s wisdom, the wisdom he gives to us is worth literally more than all the treasures of this world put together. Continue reading

His Yoke’s on You

His Yoke

“You look tired. Everything all right?” Ever heard that?1 I have. And you know, I probably did look tired. And you have probably looked tired a few times yourselves. We all get tired, every day. And every day, we do something to correct it: we go to sleep.

But that doesn’t always seem to take care of the problem. We wake up in the morning, or we’re woken up by an alarm clock or a voice and suddenly our time for sleeping might be over, but we’re still tired. Sometimes we snap out of it, but sometimes it just drags with us for the rest of the day. And even when we’re not thinking about it, we can feel it, in our face, in our bones. That tiredness is there, just under the surface.

So it’s not surprising people would try things to help them rest. There are medicines designed to gently help us sleep. There is certain kinds of music or “white-noise” makers that are made to help that sleep come faster. There are even special beds that are supposed to help. I remember watching adjustable bed commercials years ago and thinking that it sounded pretty interesting to be able to sit up and recline your whole bed.

But none of those things works perfectly. We still get tired, and even if we wake up rested one morning we’ll be tired again later, eventually.

That’s why it’s interesting to me to think of Jesus in our text. To picture Jesus in our text, calling out like some kind of salesman: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matt 11:28) Here Jesus claimed to have the cure for tiredness, for being weary and burdened. But what was that cure?

It was a yoke. A yoke. And no, that’s not on the inside of an egg, a yoke is a wooden bar that would be used for two oxen, to connect them together by the neck. The yoke would keep the oxen together, plowing in the same direction at the same time. Yokes might also be used by servants or slaves. Someone might have a yoke that’s a bar of wood laid across their upper back so they could carry something on either end, like buckets of water.

Yokes are made for work. They are made when someone has to carry something heavy. Sometimes “yoke” can be short for slavery or bondage or any kind of cruel, back-breaking work.

So what does Jesus say? He says, if you want rest, real rest, take my yoke. It doesn’t make sense. It seems like a cruel joke to think a yoke would ever bring anyone rest.

But Jesus’ yoke is different. Jesus brings us spiritual rest. And he doesn’t do it by forcing us to work or making us his slaves. He does it by doing the work for us. He does it by bearing the burdens, the spiritual burdens and the burdens of sin and grief and shame in our place. Jesus gives us rest by connecting himself to us in his Word, and then giving rest to our souls now and forever.

So today, I want you to feel rested, spiritually. I don’t want you to be tired or bogged down or burdened in your spiritual life. I want you to feel the rest only your Savior can give you. Because his yoke’s on you. Continue reading

Balance in the Work

I wanted to follow up on yesterday’s post about whether certain tasks were up to me or up to God. When it comes to eternal salvation, this question is pretty easy: God does it all. There is absolutely no effort on my part that earns or secures my place in heaven. That is done in Christ alone.

But other tasks get more tricky to pin down. The classic example for a pastor would be preaching. How much of what goes on in any given sermon depends on my effort and how much depends on what God himself is doing.

The best answer to this that I’ve heard comes from a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Professor Rich Gurgel. Here’s his explanation: In a sermon I use my first article gifts to proclaim second article truths with third article confidence.

This saying refers to the three parts of the Apostles’ Creed, and I actually mentioned it in a blog post here nearly four years ago (which you can read in full here.) Here’s my explanation of the saying from that post:

My first article gifts are the gifts God my Creator has given me. He’s given me skill in writing, speaking, and teaching his Word. The 2nd article truths are the heart of what I want to preach: that God sent his one and only Son to save sinners through his life, death, and resurrection. The 3rd article confidence is knowing that the Holy Spirit will use that Gospel message to work in hearts. It gives me confidence.

Sometimes I need to remember that it’s not me who converts people or directly strengthens people’s faith. But sometimes I also need to remember that I need to use the gifts Gid had given me in the best way possible to carry out the work he has given.

This leads to a balance and a tension in preaching that might seem like a problem, but is actually just a chance for me to let God be God. and let me use my God-given abilities to serve him.

It’s Not Up to Me

Sometimes I get myself into the mindset of It’s up to me. That mindset isn’t all bad. It can get me moving when my lazy self just wants to do nothing. It can remind me of my own problem-solving skills when I want to rely on someone else to swoop down and fix whatever situation I’m in. It even helps me to make an honest choice when my all-too-easygoing attitude wants me to just shrug my shoulders.

But more often, as a pastor who is both a saint and a sinner at the same time, I need to remember that it’s not up to me.

It’s not up to me, at the end of the day, whether someone actually believes what I’m preaching to them. I can only put it out there, the Holy Spirit is the one who brings faith.

It’s not up to me to get the members of my congregation to heaven. I bring the Word — in law and gospel. I comfort them when they’re pressed down and without hope. I afflict them when they’re comfortable with their sins. I encourage them to make use of God’s gifts in Word and Sacrament. But I don’t strengthen them through these things; God does. I just get the privilege of his using me to do it.

And finally, it’s not up to me to somehow perform up to God’s standards. It’s not up to me to do everything right as a husband, father, and pastor. It’s not up to me that everything I want to do and accomplish is what actually happens. If it were up to me, I’d have failed it all miserably long, long ago.

No, those things are up to my Savior. And it’s not like I’m waiting for him to get these things done. Already from the cross he has proclaimed it to me: “It is finished.”

So when I get caught up in my to-do list, I rejoice that my life (with all my failures and shortcomings) is on Jesus’ done list.

Thankful for Vacations

I just got back from vacation. Vacations are strangely tough for pastors to take. There’s always a temptation to feel guilty for taking the time off.

But it’s worth it. My vacation has helped me recharge in many different ways. I was able to spend time with just my wife, with all my kids, and with other family. These are gifts from God that my vacation helps me to be faithful to in a better way.

And now, I’m back to work. Not dreading it and worn out, but ready to go. I’m ready to keep at the work I was called to do.

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Here I Stand

Today is a big day. Today is one of the reasons why I’m a pastor; it’s definitely the reason I’m a pastor in a Lutheran church. That’s because 484 years ago today, a group of princes in the area we know today as Germany presented their confession to Emperor Charles V in a city called Augsburg. Their confession, which we know as the Augsburg Confession, marks the start of the Lutheran church.

This might seem like minutiae of history, something that only pastors and church history buffs would care anything at all about. But it’s not like that. Today I’m reminded that my spiritual forefathers in the Lutheran church, including Martin Luther himself (who wasn’t at Augsburg because of a price on his head!) — I’m reminded that they stood for something. It wasn’t, “we want our own church” or “we want to do things our way.” It was, “let’s get back to what God actually says in his Word.”

That’s really what the Augsburg Confession does: it points back to the Bible as the true source of everything we need to know about God. For me, I don’t agree with the Augsburg Confession because it’s Lutheran or I’m Lutheran; I agree with it because it is true to God’s Word. And like those people 484 years ago today, I want my church to stand for something, to stand on what God says, on his Word alone.

If you haven’t read it before (and even if you have), today would be a great day to take a look at the Augsburg Confession. There’s a free, online version available to read here. Enjoy!

I got to baptize a little baby yesterday. It’s a privilege I’m always thankful for. The difference yesterday is that we were having our service in our school gym instead of at church. So I had to improvise a bit for a baptismal font.

Thankfully, though, we still had all we needed. Water connected with God’s Word. We had a little child who became God’s child, connected to her Savior, born again by the Holy Spirit.

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Not Just Plain Water

Preaching for a wedding today. I won’t share the whole sermon, but I will share a central thought.

“I want you to remember that the three most important words in marriage might not be “I love you;” they might just be “I forgive you.” Forgiveness is the center of our relationship with God. He is the God who loved us and forgave us in Christ alone. So forgive each other. … Love each other, not for what it does for you, but for what you do for each other.”

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Three Little Words

This nest is in a bush outside my garage. A robin is raising her second nest-full of eggs since this spring. Somehow, despite all the rain, despite my dog, despite all the dangers, this bird and her eggs have survived.

Jesus told us this. God takes care of birds. He knows where this bird has placed her eggs. He knows when they will hatch. But He cares even more about you.

“You are worth more than many sparrows” — or robins. He proved it, not in a backyard bush, but on the cross.

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You Are Worth More

Treading Water

I remember taking swimming lessons as a kid and learning how to tread water. It was kind of exciting to be able stay in one place in the water without sinking. But the novelty wore off quickly; soon I realized that treading water was a way to use a lot of energy to go nowhere.

There have been times I felt I was treading water in life. I was doing my work, I was spending time with my family, I was doing everything I would normally do. The problem was I didn’t feel like I was going anywhere. I felt stuck, flailing around and wasting energy without actually accomplishing anything. There wasn’t so much anything going wrong as much as just an absence of things being right.

There are plenty of possible explanations for this, of course. But just last night in Bible class we discussed a verse that I think gives a valuable perspective on our lives and how to live them without just treading water. The verse is Ephesians 2:10: We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Continue reading