The story of one family gives us an example and an encouragement.
John A. Braun
Father, mother, and five children lived in Kansas almost 80 years ago. God in his wisdom drew them together as his dear children and nourished their faith through their worship and study of his Word. They became faithful contributors to the work of the church, and the lessons they learned remain a part of two sisters, Thelma and Velma Carlson, members at Our Savior, Longmont, Colo., to this day.
The lessons are important for us all as we think of our own giving. The apostle Paul encouraged the Christians in Corinth to “excel in the grace of giving” (2 Corinthians 8:7) as they considered sharing in the collection for the needy in Jerusalem. He reminded them of the Christians in the Macedonian churches who “gave themselves first of all to the Lord” (8:5), then gave generously in spite of their own poverty.
Like the Corinthians, we can be challenged to excel in the grace of giving. Of course, giving should come freely from Christians who know the love of God in Christ. Paul also reminded the Corinthians that “Christ’s love compels us” (5:14). His love is the motivation for all we do as believers. But we are also plagued by our sinful nature. That often causes us to turn selfish and choose a course that will lead us away from excelling in our giving. The good we desire to do sometimes is overcome by the evil we do not want to do.
Here is one family’s positive example of Christ’s love compelling them to live for their Lord and to give generously to his work.
Oscar Carlson was one of three boys and four girls raised by Swedish immigrant parents in a strong Lutheran farming community. He was remembered as one who had a “quiet but firm faith” that was evident “in regular reading and studying the Scripture.” He had two important goals. First, “giving to the work of spreading the gospel was a vital part of his worship.” Second, “his burning desire was to nurture the children entrusted to him” and “keep them in baptismal grace and forgiveness.”
His faith and life were a contrast to that of his wife, Ferne. Before her marriage to Oscar, her life was difficult. She was the oldest of five children and had to assume the care of her youngest brother because her mother died at his birth. She described her father as “irresponsible . . . a woman chaser (married seven times) a gambler (moved the family frequently to escape debts), and a drunkard.” He left one night to escape the law with one daughter and a son “to live and die under an assumed name.”
Oscar and Ferne married and started their own family—four girls and one boy. Ferne and the children were baptized at a Methodist revival meeting. Six months later a group of Swedish and German Lutherans began church services in an abandoned school building. Oscar and Ferne became charter members of the newly organized Lutheran church.
Serving a congregation in western Kansas was not easy. Vicars came to serve the small congregation. Oscar and Ferne provided housing for the students, some of them for only three months but others for a year or two. To help the vicars serve the group, an elder pastor came across the state once or twice a year to administer communion and confirm members.
Later, preseminary students would arrive by train at 4 P.M. on Saturday or early Sunday morning to conduct services and then return on the 9 P.M. evening train. Oscar or Ferne would be standing at the train stop to welcome them and to bid them good-bye after services.
The little family, so active in the work of the small congregation, did what the Macedonian Christians did. They gave themselves first to the Lord. Even without the gift of consistent pastoral care, they were faithful in attending worship together. Oscar also insisted on reading Scripture after both morning and evening meals. He did not forget to help his family memorize the doctrine of the Small Catechism. The Scripture and the catechism “became the lasting bedrock for faith.”
Faith was an active force that showed itself not only in a commitment to the Scriptures and the Lutheran teachings but also in a generosity to the work of the Lord. Thelma and Velma remember, “The Depression brought a complex mentality for giving. A generous spirit for sharing conflicted with a tight grasping on to what was needed for survival. God graciously provided parental guidance to strengthen faith for his children to give in trying times.”
Those words are a contemporary American expression of Paul’s words about the Macedonians, “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability” (2 Corinthians 8:2,3). They are also an encouragement for us all to grow in the grace of giving.
The parents planted the lesson in generosity to the Lord’s work in their children. The girls remembered watching five children on Saturday evening. They received 25 cents for staying with the children—the oldest six and the youngest in diapers. On Sunday morning, they placed a nickel in the Sunday morning offering. The lesson on giving has not been lost over the years but persists in their hearts to this day.
One story underscores the generosity they learned from their father and mother. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) questioned the gifts Oscar gave to his church. During the Depression and the Dust Bowl years the IRS sent an auditor to the house questioning the amount Oscar claimed on his tax form. It seemed unusually high for such difficult times. But Oscar had a record of all his gifts. “He reached for and opened his little black book to show to an auditor. The older children were impressed and surprised to see how readily the precise record was accepted,” says Thelma and Velma.
The work of the small mission church had an important effect on the people in the community. One family with six boys heard the witness of one of those part-time pastors while he helped them riding the tractors during harvest time. One of the boys was killed in action during World War II. Three became ministers of the Word, one of them spending time in Africa as a missionary.
Thelma and Velma offer their own words of encouragement to Christians today: “People feel the need to give at times. However, God’s redeemed children give as he has given. In love God the Father gave and sent his Son Jesus. In love Jesus gave his life and sent the Holy Spirit. In love the Holy Spirit gives faith and sends the Word into all nations. Love prompts thankful believers to give faithfully in times of health, in times of sickness, even in times of death.”
John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.
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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 102, Number 2
Issue: February 2015
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