WELS App Launches

Today we are announcing the launch of a brand new version of WELS Mobile! There are a number of changes, including the name. We’ve dropped the “mobile”, so now it’s just called the WELS App. It also no longer can be found in the Apple, Google or Amazon stores. The versions there are being retired in July. In their place, the WELS App is available at https://wels.app.

The WELS App is of course mobile friendly but is technically called a “progressive web app” or PWA. Without getting too technical, PWAs give you all the features of a store app, but can be updated more frequently and offer similar experiences on any device. They get progressively better as your device (and it’s browser) gets more capabilities. We are excited about offering great new features in the WELS App like favoriting content, sharing, and more content.

Some have asked “why the change?” WELS Mobile seemed to work just fine for me. There were two major reasons to offer this new version:

  1. The synod has limited technical resources to maintain mobile applications that are offered in the traditional Apple/Google app stores. It requires deep technical knowledge of both platforms and testing on many, many different phones. We spent more time trying to insure the apps worked on all your devices, than offering new features. Maintaining only one app will allow us to push out new features much more quickly.
  2. A second benefit is that the new app can run safely and consistently on many more devices/platforms. Because it is simply a website, it can run on older and newer devices on many different systems (Amazon, Apple, Google, etc.). This will allow more people to take advantage of great Bible-based content.

In the very near future there will be many new features, including:

  • bookmarks,
  • notifications,
  • user configurable text size and color,
  • offline access to devotional and yearbook content, and
  • availability as an app on the Windows Store.

Thanks for giving the WELS App a try. Tell others. Enjoy the experience and the beautiful messages it carries.

GDPR Guidance

A question I’ve received quite a bit lately has to do with a church or schools need to comply with GDPR — the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations which will go into effect later this month. While there is a lot we don’t know and it is a complex topic, let me take a stab at providing guidance and what this means for you as a WELS church or school. Over the coming months, as things get a little clearer, I’ll revisit the topic and hopefully provide more definitive information.

First a little FAQ…

What us GDPR?

The General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR is a regulation by which the European Union and the European Commission intend to strengthen and unify data protection for all individuals within the European Union (EU). It also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU.

When Is Compliance Required?

The GPDR becomes enforceable on May 25th, 2018

What Users Does GDPR Apply to?

The GDPR applies to the personal data of all EU residents whether they are EU citizens or not.

What Data Does GDPR Apply to?

The scope of GDPR is really very broad and vague: it covers any entity collecting information that is “monitoring the behavior of Individuals”. Most of the security community agrees that this applies to all web stored personal data including tracking cookies, email lists, form data, etc.

Can the EU Enforce GDPR on US Organizations? What Could Happen?

They apparently can, but “how much” is still a question. Experts have suggested that having a plan in place may, at this point, shows good-faith effort toward compliance that may minimize the chance of litigation.

What does that mean for you as a WELS Church or School?

  1. Any database (church or school management system, spreadsheet, digital list, form data, etc.) must be encrypted and data transport to and from it also encrypted.
  2. If you have not secured permission from an EU resident to store their data, for whatever purpose, get permission and provide them with clear reasons for why you would like to store the data.
  3. When collecting data from EU residents (likely via online forms), the form must provide an active (vs passive) means for the user to consent to data storage. Again, the expressed purpose for the data collection must be clearly stated.
  4. EU resident data must be expunged when the “expressed purpose” has expired.
  5. Provide a mechanism for EU residents to request that their data be removed, and a means for either them to do it themselves (example, unsubscribe from a newsletter) or database owners to do it for them.
  6. Make sure that EU resident data in all systems and storage mechanisms is accounted for. This is important if you receive a request from an EU resident that their data be removed…you need to know where it is.
  7. Ensure that all 3rd party tools used to collect or maintain EU resident data are GDPR compliant. This could apply to your Church Membership Database, Student Information System, forms tool like JotForms or FinalWeb Forms, etc.
  8. Have a privacy policy on your website or linked to from forms that clearly states what you do and don’t do with data collected.

In summary, a lot of these regulations are just good practices anyway, but it is likely that you may not be in compliance today. Get started with these first steps, have a plan and reach out for help if you aren’t sure you are on the right track.

Good Digital Calendar Stewardship

Just a quick thought today on time stewardship. More and more the demands on our time stack up, almost to the point that we would struggle to function without our digital calendars. They are so handy, especially if you have a smartphone that can display your calendar and allow you manage it from the palm of your hand.

But just knowing where to be when and with who isn’t enough. Yes, your calendar can keep track of all that for you, and even remind you when to get going. Yet the tough stewardship challenge has to do with those meetings that sometimes fill it. I won’t dive into a list of all the meeting management or prep tips that are out there. Perhaps another day. Today I want to just offer up one little one that can make a world of difference in making your meetings more efficient — calendar attachments.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity…

Ephesians 5:15-16

Most digital calendar tools allow you to attach documents to individual events. For example, Google Calendar, under the “more options” button in the create event window, allows the upload of almost any kind of document or links to Google Docs right into the meeting entry. Where I’ve found this to be particularly useful is for meeting agendas, reports or other documents that I know I’ll want “at the ready” in prep for or actually during the meeting. I don’t want to have to hunt around different file folders, emails or cloud services for relevant meeting materials. Having to look in only one place, i.e. your calendar entry, is a huge time-saver and stress reliever. If you “invite” or “share” the meeting with other attendees, they too would have access to the same meeting materials. You can even update this over time as more materials become available, avoiding the dreaded string of emails that are sometimes necessary to get everybody all the stuff. If a document get’s updated, especially if it’s a Google Doc, then everybody is going to be able to grab the latest copy just by opening the meeting invite/entry. Sweet.

I recorded a quick 3 minute demo of how this is done in Google Calendar. If you aren’t into Google Calendar, just check whatever tool you use for similar functionality.

I’ll Pray For…

One of the great uses I’ve found for technology is creating to-do lists. Shopping lists. Honey-do lists. Grocery lists. Project lists. And perhaps most important…prayer lists. We’ve all experienced the challenge of a good prayer life. It’s not for lack of things to pray for, but time, discipline, and remembering everything you want to carry to the Lord in prayer when you are ready to pray.

I’ve found a good routine of praying in the car on the way to work. I have a 30 minute drive in which I listen through the Daily Devotion from the WELS Mobile app as well as the Through My Bible series. Following that I have some quiet time in prayer. What really helped me during that time was being able to have my prayer list available. Trying to keep things digital, as I am want to do, I went in search of a good system to have that list with me in an easy to use and maintainable format. My requirements were:

  1. The list tool had to be easy to use. It’s important to have quick entry as prayer items occur. If it’s hard to get them into your system you will put it off, and perhaps forget before you get it onto a list.
  2. Whatever tool I use needs to be on multiple platforms and operating systems (Windows, Mac, phone, tablet, etc.). So whatever computing device I’m using or will use in the future I won’t have any trouble sticking with the same tool.
  3. The tool needs to support recurring items that can be checked and unchecked like any good list tool. This would allow me to cycle through items.
  4. The tool should be easy to use in the car by simply opening an app and have it appear without multiple taps which would be potentially unsafe.

What I decided on was a simple checklist within the Trello project management tool. I have a “card” called “Pray” and on it two simple checklists called Weekly and Special. My weekly list has a rotation of items like family, co-workers, spouse, kids, etc. The special list has those items that come up that may not be regular items but certainly things I want to take to the Lord, like a friend’s illness, relationship issues, special tasks or projects, etc. As I pray through the list a simple tap on a check box marks it as done once I reach my destination. Be careful to obey prevailing traffic laws regarding interacting with electronic devices. I’m hoping that voice activated check lists are in the near future as well.

Other lists you might consider would be OneNote, Evernote, and Google Keep. These are all cross platform and would work well for simple checklists. The point is to find a system that will put those things you want to pray for in front of you at the time you want to pray. I’ve found that just having the list available and in a system I use everyday anyway is a nice reminder to pray. We all need that!

So I just wanted to share my experiences with a system that seems to work well for me as I try to remove as many barriers as possible for a consistent prayer life. If we talk at some point in the future and I commit to praying for you or something that comes up in our conversation, know that I have a spot ready for it on my digital list.

New WELS Locator joins Yearbook

locator imageRecently the WELS Locator application was rewritten and enveloped into the existing WELS Online Yearbook. The yearbook has slowly been updated with functions and data to make it a viable replacement for it’s paper sibling. You can search for a called workers name or city and receive a listing of those that match. Clicking on a called worker will reveal a profile that shows contact information, year graduated and what organization they work for.

Where things get even more interesting is on the organization tab. For some time you could search for a church or school by name and/or city. With the inclusion of locator functionality, you can now find a church or school by proximity to criteria you enter. You can enter an address, city, state or zip code and find all organizations within a radius of miles you determine. You may also select the option to find your current location as the search criteria…great if you are traveling and want to find nearby churches.

Also available within the locator is a function to filter your search results by special criteria including Church, Pre-School, Elementary School, High School, Counseling Center and Care Facility. You can get even more filters related specifically to worship like Signed Services, Hearing Loop, Personal Sound Equipment, Livestreaming, and Languages Offered.

There are a number of ways to find the Yearbook/Locator. You can simply visit the synod’s website at www.wels.net and click on the “Find a Church/School” (formerly “WELS Locator”) at the top of the page. This will take the visitor directly to the Organization tab of the yearbook app. You may also visit the Yearbook site directly at https://yearbook.wels.net, or the Locator portion at https://locator.wels.net. Finally, if you use the WELS Mobile app you can find a link to the Locator in the side menu or the Yearbook itself under the Synod Reports area.

The Yearbook with locator functionality is a useful tool to get in touch with any called worker. Perhaps you have a friend or neighbor moving out of town and you want to contact the local pastor to get in touch. Simply search for a city in either the People or Organization tab and then reach out to that church or pastor directly to let them know that their might be a family to be in touch with. You could also share the information with your friend. Studies have shown that if a new resident doesn’t get “connected” with a church in the first 90 days, it is far less likely they will find a church home at all. With the locator functionality you could also pinpoint the nearest church or school to a specific address if you know it. Obviously if you are moving, this would be a great way to determine the proximity of the closest church or school.

If you or someone you know needs to take advantage of special services offered like signed services, or hearing equipment, those filters are available. You can even find the closest services offered in Spanish or whatever other language is needed. And of course with vacation season just around the corner the Yearbook’s locator function will be a great way to find a service close to wherever you are, plus directions with the click of a single button.

It is important to stay connected with a church family. The WELS Yearbook with Locator helps you, or those you know, do that.

Related resources

One related resource that was mentioned above is the WELS Mobile app. It has links to the Yearbook, but also great devotional content like Daily Devotions, Bible Readings, Worship Helps and a technology-in-ministry podcast called WELSTech. Just search for “WELS Mobile” in your favorite app store.

Here’s a brief demo of some of the Yearbook and Locator functionality.

Not Just Any Name!

Living in 2016, soon to be 2017 means that you’ve had to learn a whole new vocabulary…at least when it comes to technology. If you are going to try and find something on the internet, you must “google” it. If you need a ride, you might need to “uber” or “lyft” it. Things are in “the cloud.” You might be looking at a “retina” screen. There are new and sometimes very creative names for everything these days. Many with invented spellings so they can differentiate themselves from their more mundane counterparts. We have Flickr and Spotify and Rdio and… the list goes on. These names mean something to those who use their products and services. They aren’t in the dictionary, but they still having meaning.

As I was reading the verse of the day today, I was reminded of the power of a name.

Luke 1:31 – “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.”

This name Mary and Joseph were to call their newborn wasn’t a new name. It’s Old Testament predecessor, Joshua, had been around a long time. But the circumstances are different now. This name isn’t merely a “brand,” or even a vague hope of better things to come. This was a promise…made by God. Jesus means Savior. There has never been a more fitting name, right?

I suppose if Jesus’ life and mission would have been turned over to the marketing companies of today, they might have tried to drop a letter like “Jsus” or perhaps even just gone with a single letter “J”. Maybe even lowercase it to “j” to be different. They might have created a logo. A jingle. A Twitter hashtag. But I think God got it right the first time. Just Jesus. Just Savior. Nuff said. It was just what we needed, at just the right time.

Whatever name we use for Jesus it always will equal Savior. That is what he “represents.” Salvation. He lived up to his name didn’t he? So as you look into the manger this Christmas, remember the best name ever given. It’s the best because it is the most personal name ever given. It’s really not just “Savior,” but YOUR Savior. What a gift! A name. Sing it. Cherish it. Ponder it. Share it.

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Reflections on Verse of the Day – Romans 1:10

Romans 1:10
In my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

(Note: The Verse of the Day is available through WELS Mobile, the official WELS mobile application available in Apple, Google and Amazon app stores)

Paul had connections. In this verse he mentions just two. Of course, his connection to God, but also his desire to connect with the Christians in Rome. Both are part of a Christian life. There are many times where Paul references his trip to the throne of glory through prayer alongside a request that another trip be made to connect with others who need to hear about their Savior.

I can’t help but wonder how the social media tools of today might have excited Paul. We have just a few of the letters that he wrote and then sent on their way in hopes that they would reach their destination, little lone be read. A tool like Facebook or email would have been gold in the hands of somebody like Paul — a thirsty ambassador who couldn’t make enough connections.

What is our excuse? We have that “gold,” but do we have the thirst to use whatever is at our disposal to make those connections to expand the kingdom? I know I’m guilty of reducing my social media posts to simple snapshots of a recent vacation, or other benign status updates that really only I care about…and of course revolve around ME.

Our desire to connect with others in a spiritual way, as Paul did, is very much intertwined with the strength of our connection with Jesus. If you aren’t talking to Jesus much, you probably aren’t talking much to other people about Jesus. If you aren’t listening to Jesus much through his Word, you probably aren’t listening to others with an ear toward sharing some of that Word as opportunities arise. It really is a package deal.

Two challenges for today:

  1. Start healthy spiritual habits that allow you to connect with your Savior frequently (prayer, Bible study, etc.)
  2. View your social media interactions as chances to “connect” like Paul was thirsty to do — for the sake of the Gospel.

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Reflections on Verse of the Day: Acts 11:26

The verse of the day from the WELS Mobile app is Acts 11:26.

And when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. -Acts 11:26

At first glance one wonders why this might be a verse of the day. It seems like just a little bit of history. Educational? Maybe. Inspirational? Perhaps not so much.

AdoptionWhat I do find interesting however is the name given to followers of Jesus first here in Antioch. “Christians.” Followers of Jesus (that’s us) were given the name of our Savior.

There is a lot in a name. Parents take time and great care in naming their children…and often there is something very special and unique about that name and why it was chosen. We don’t know how this name was chosen, but we do know that it stuck. We have it today. God allowed the application of a name that is so fitting for us. We have our Savior’s name.

Yes, we could also say that about the term Lutheran, but Luther would be the first to say it’s not about me, but Christ. Don’t take my name, but His. We hold to Lutheran beliefs…but we ARE Christ’s! He adopted us when he walked among us, took our sins, went to the cross and paid for us. He bought us and gave us his name! Appreciate that name today, and also such good news can come from seemingly uninspiring
passages.

Christ, thank you for the name you have given us, the Word you recorded for us, and the salvation you won for us. Amen.

Note: Just a quick word about the image I used in the blog post today. It is from a free collection of images contributed to the WELSTech Photo Challenge. While the challenge is over, you can still use these royalty free images however you like…or if you are a photographer, contribute to the collection.

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Reflections with Verse of the Day: Mark 12:30

One of my morning habits is to open the WELS Mobile app on my smartphone to listen to the Daily Devotion and Through My Bible readings. However, I particularly like the Verse Of The Day that appears on the home screen. It gives me rich food for reflection and journaling. If you read today’s verse from Mark 12:30, I’m sure you were struck with the simplicity of Jesus’ words, but also their overwhelming message. Here is what I journaled this morning:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Love is a word that is tossed around pretty freely these days. Sometimes its “in love,” but then over half of all marriages between people who were once “in love” end in “out of love.” Sometimes love equals obsession or idolatry. We would give up all else if we could just be hunting right now, or fishing, or shopping, or using a new smart phone. What is my definition of love?

Jesus used the “love” word when talking about a relationship between me and God. He also knew that his hearers, including me, would need some help with that word. So he gives me a little peek into what kind of love and relationship I need to have. One that is “all in.” With all my heart. With all my soul. With all my mind. With all my strength. Sounds exhausting, but that’s exactly it. Exhaust myself. Spend everything I’ve got loving God. Spend all my time. Spend all my talents. Spend all my resources. Jesus also called this the greatest commandment. I also remember the second one he gave. Love your neighbor…with that same kind of love.

God is demanding, but he is also giving. He loved me first with an “all in” love. He gave his very son over to death on a cross…for me. That’s all in.

Lord, help me go “all in” today for you. May my whole heart, soul, mind, and all my strength be dedicated to loving you, and those you bring into my life today! Amen.

The verse is three lines long on the screen of my phone. But spending just a few minutes thinking, writing, and praying over it allow it to fill me up, and hopefully my day too. Getting into a routine of reflecting on God’s Word can be such a blessing. It takes discipline and dedication, but after a while if you don’t do it, something just isn’t right. The Holy Spirit has you then.

If you are interested, I journal using digital tools. No big surprise there right? Two that I can recommend are DayOne and Diaro. DayOne is an app only available on the Mac and iOS, while Diaro is available on the web and both iOS and Android. I find I like having tools like these available wherever I am as I can capture thoughts, but also images, location and other things that will allow me to reflect on God’s grace, and also remember it.

If you use other tools or methods, I’d love to hear about them. Leave a comment below. Blessings on your reflections and walk with God.

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God’s Word Awaits

I have a morning devotional routine that I enjoy that relies on the Verse of the Day displayed in our WELS Mobile app. This morning I was struck, as I often am, how powerful and useful a single passage of God’s word can be. Today was no different.

Part of my morning “verse of the day” routine is journaling. (Note: If you are interested in what I use, visit www.dayoneapp.com. There are plenty of good digital journaling apps out there, this one is the one I like best for the Apple platforms — OSX and iOS). As I spent time this morning with today’s verse and my journal it reinforced to me again that I am so blessed to be able to enjoy God’s word whenever I want, and what power it brings to me. A daily routine that puts God’s word in the center of it is so important. It’s not hard. It’s not really even that time consuming. But it is powerful.

Anyway, today’s verse is just what I needed, as it always is…Philippians 4:19:

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

What a beautiful sentence to be able to write! Can you imagine writing that to your brother who has neglected his church attendance, or your friend who has “given up on God” as she looks at all the terrible things God permits to go on in the world. Yes. Yes I can. Each of us can say EXACTLY those words.

First of all, I love the possessive in Paul’s first phrase — my God. It isn’t “the” God, or even “our” God. It’s “my” God. As if to say this very personal God has not only taken interest in me and my life, but he has made it entirely possible through his son that I can call him “mine”.

Not only is he mine, and I am his, but he is such a good and powerful and personal God that he is going to meet all my needs. All of them. Whether I know they are needs or not. And not just “meet” those needs, but meet them according to the riches of his glory! This big, glorious God watches over me, anticipates my needs, and then delivers…richly!

Of course the best part of this passage is the end. This is all made possible through Christ Jesus. The biggest need I have is the one that determines whether I spend eternity with “my” God or not. Fortunately for me because of my God’s son, that greatest need is also taken care of. I’m going to heaven. When God says “all” my needs, he means it!

So don’t hesitate to quote God today. These words can flow freely from your lips, your fingers, your heart. So I say to you, my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. Amen.

God’s word awaits you too. Enjoy!

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What Do You Want On Your Tombstone?

What do you want on your tombstone? A curious question perhaps, at least until later in life. A very weighty question however as you ponder your life and what you have to show for it. Perhaps to rephrase the question you could ask “What is your legacy?” That is one of those questions for which an answer isn’t just living on the tip of your tongue. It’s deep. Very deep.

This question is fresh in my mind as my father-in-law, Pastor David Witte, was called home to be with his Lord the week before Thanksgiving this year. While I never asked him about his legacy or his tombstone, I have been reminded each morning since his death about a possible answer. Each morning I listen to the Synod’s Through My Bible in Three Years narration from the WELS Mobile app. It’s also available from WELS.net. It’s a simple series that allows you to read, or listen, through your Bible over three years. If you’ve ever listened yourself, you’ve heard Dave’s rich voice sharing God’s Word with you. He read all 1095 entries, leaving behind a three year legacy which began about 2005 where he read for us every word in the Bible.

Those of you who knew Dave wouldn’t be surprised to hear that he was passionate about this responsibility. He didn’t just pick up the Bible, turn on the microphone and start reading. He rehearsed. He reviewed previous recordings to make sure he was consistent in his pronunciation of some of those challenging Old Testament names. He even called up Seminary professors to get advice on pronunciations. He treated God’s word with the respect that it deserved and wanted to provide you with as faithful and passionate a reading as possible. He is gone, but this remains. I’d call that a legacy.

Of course, throughout Dave’s ministry he did many other things and touched many lives. I’ve talked to scores who benefited greatly from knowing him. I certainly was one of them. He was truly the Lord’s servant. But as I sit at the kitchen table over breakfast listening to him read God’s Word to me, I think he’d be happy with that simple legacy. “I read and shared God’s Word.” Not bad. I’ll take that. Wouldn’t you? Reading God’s Word to a spouse, friend, your children, your grandchildren.

If I had asked Dave what he wanted on his tombstone, I’m pretty sure it would have been some of the very words he spoke into that microphone. Perhaps “I know that my redeemer lives,” or “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Fitting. Right?

It’s clear that his life and legacy was not about him, but what was done for him. That understanding, that faith, is what empowers us to make something of our lives, because we know that it isn’t so much our legacy we should care about, but His!

You can hear God’s Word each day at: https://wels.net/serving-you/bible/ or by installing WELS Mobile on your smartphone or tablet by searching for “WELS Mobile” in the app store.

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My God…And My Ring

ringMy phone rang last Tuesday. It was the police…from Folsom, CA. I live in Wisconsin. Hmmm. “This is Officer Wells, and I was wondering if you are missing a high school class ring?”

After stuttering a bit I said, “Yeah, I vaguely remember losing my ring in my senior year of high school about 37 years ago.” “Well, we found it.”

So there I was, living 2000 miles away 37 years later and a ring I hadn’t even thought about for 36 years was back in my life. Apparently stolen property all these years was going to return to it’s rightful owner. I can’t say I missed it. I remember losing it in a locker room my senior year, just months after I received it. So I didn’t have an overly emotional attachment to it. Nor was I ever big on wearing jewelry. So besides the $250 I lost, not too many tears were shed. But it feels different now though. It seems like a long lost friend… with an unknown history. Who had it? Whose finger or around whose neck had it hung? I’ll never know.

What was amazing was that this ring, which had been on my finger for such a short time 37 years ago, found me again. My thanks to Officer Wells who took the time to figure out the initials in the ring were mine, matched that to a graduation year, and then found me through an online search. To me, that was above and beyond, and good detective work.

As I was reflecting on what was lost, and now is found, I of course was reminded of the familiar Bible passage as the prodigal son “was found” by his father in Luke 15:32. I was also reminded of my relationship to my God.ring2

I did not go looking for God. In fact, left to myself I’d not have given him another thought. Colossians 1:21 says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” Even though I was alienated from God, he was not from me. He had put my initials in his heavenly book, sent his Son to die for me, and then tracked me down. He went above and beyond. I was not lovable, but he loved me. His diligence was nothing short of amazing.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:6 Our savior died, yes. But his death was not for lovable people, but unlovable. Ungodly. It should be a comfort to us that our diligent, passionate, loving and gracious God will not lose track of us. He will find us and do whatever it takes. Our part is easy. Be found.

Thank you God for not giving up on me. For finding me. For saving me. I look forward to an eternity with you!

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Christians Under Construction – Week 23

Galatians 3:27 “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.”

Mary and her mother Marilyn were walking past the many clothing stores at the local mall. Marilyn, now a middle-aged mother, could remember the days of bell bottoms and platform shoes, long hair and enormous hoop earrings. She had been in high school at the time and almost felt like she was again, as those same styles were draped over the lifeless manikins in the store windows. She was both intrigued and amused by the rebirth of that generation’s fashions. She had worn them once, but thought better of trying to do it again. She remembered sage advise from her mother who said, “If you can remember when they were in style the first time, you’re too old to wear them now.”

As Marilyn tried to explain to her daughter how these clothes had been very popular when she was a girl, Mary couldn’t quite understand it all, but nodded and said, “They look pretty cool mom.” Mom responded with a smile, “You mean groovy?”

For many, clothes make a “statement.” Sometimes that statement is anti-establishment, like it was in the 60’s and 70’s. The fashion industry is adept at providing clothes that allow people to make statements. Clothes are a personal thing. They say something about you.

Our Bible reading today is also talking about clothes – spiritual clothes. Like clothes made of fabric, our spiritual clothes say a lot about us. They make a statement. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he wanted to make sure they understood that there was a very specific dress code they needed to follow as Christians. They needed to be “clothed with Christ.”

The beginning of chapter three finds Paul calling the Galatian congregation, “foolish Galatians!” They had been trying to put on spiritual clothing that were making the wrong statement. The clothing they were trying to wear was human made. Paul warns, “After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” It’s easy to do. Satan makes those kinds of clothes readily available and very popular. He tells us we can make ourselves better by trying harder or comparing ourselves to others.

You can feel good about yourself and your spiritual condition if you believe that it’s really not your fault and God certainly can’t deny you a place in heaven for a few minor sins. The Bible has a name for those kinds of clothes – “filthy rags.” Take a closer look at Isaiah 64:6 for a good description of the clothes in our spiritual closets.

All is not lost however. Even though the Christian’s dress code is strict, God has provided us with the wardrobe we need. In fact, most of us have already received these spiritual clothes, through baptism. Paul said, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.” Talk about one stop shopping! We didn’t even have to go looking for God. He came to us with water and in His Word. In fact, Father, Son and Holy Spirit were present, and clothed us with Christ and the wonderful saving faith that comes with it. Being baptized is more than just getting wet. It’s getting dressed! Before we were naked and exposed to sin. Now we are clothed with righteousness won for us on the cross.

As we look to the cross, we see our Savior who not only clothed us at baptism, but will come back some day soon with an even better set of clothes that only those in heaven get to wear. Clothes are a personal thing. They do say something about you! Be a good steward of the clothes you have been given. Wear them proudly. Make a statement.

Discussion Questions: Think of some of the clothes you have. What statement do they make about you? How does our use of time make a statement about what spiritual clothes we wear? How about use of talents? And treasures?

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: Galatians 3

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the clothes. We know they were bought with your blood. Help us to remember our baptisms as the day we got dressed. Amen.

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Christians Under Construction – Week 22

Christians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. It was originally developed for a congregation stewardship series and intended as a weekly resource. I thought I’d republish here for those interested in using them. Here is week twenty-two:

Matthew 7:24–27 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Little Mary Gentry was thoroughly enjoying herself as she played in her room. She loved to build imaginary houses with blankets, sheets, clothespins, chairs and broomsticks. She had everything propped up just like she liked it. Of course, she had to be careful because one slip could bring it all crashing down. She’d done that many times before. In fact, she couldn’t even open her windows for fear that a breeze coming through would send her delicate structure to the floor.

Her brother Bill Jr. enjoyed doing the same thing, except his “house” was up in a tree and cobbled together with old wooden planks and bent nails. He had to be equally cautious. One false step and not only would his construction project come crashing down, but so would he.

Both Bill and Mary’s houses remind us of Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builders. One builder built his on rock and the other on sand. One could withstand wind and rain. The other could not. One took the time, planned and did it right. The other did not.

What kind of builder are you? If you believe your house is in good shape then Jesus is referring to you when he says, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” If that is the case, we need not worry about the winds of earthly problems that howl at our door. If that is the case, we aren’t bothered by the rains of depression, sorrow, pain and suffering that beat down on our roofs.

What’s that you say? Some of those things do bother you? You occasionally are worried by those pesky earthly problems? You are not alone. All Christians are in the same boat. It’s not that our foundation isn’t solid. It is. It is Jesus Christ. His suffering, death and resurrection have created a rock solid base for our faith and life.

What is the problem then? It is simply the fact that we are still “Christians Under Construction.” We’ve started to build on a firm foundation, but we aren’t done yet. The roof may not be on yet, windows may be missing, tile may need to be laid. That’s a problem isn’t it? Yes and no. It’s a problem if we simply leave things in the state they are – unfinished. However, if we commit ourselves to completing the project, those winds and rains will cause fewer and fewer problems. As our construction projects move forward our faith grows. God has promised that.

God tells us that by listening to his word and putting it into practice, we will grow! It will require our time — make no mistake. But God has already done the hard part by giving up his son for our salvation. If we listen to his word regularly, our spiritual house becomes stronger. We need not worry about “taking a false step.” Even if we do, we have forgiveness and the promise from God to help us learn how to take “true steps.” Take every opportunity to listen to God’s Word. Use the time that you have to “build” in church, in Sunday School, in Bible Class, in at-home study and devotion. Build, build, build! It’s raining out!

Discussion Questions: In what ways can rain be like the problems of this world? Are you ever frustrated by how slow your building project is going? If so, how could you speed things up?

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: Matthew 7

Prayer: Lord, it’s raining and we are getting wet. Inspire us to listen to your words and put them into practice. With your foundation and your salvation we can build and withstand the wind and the rain of sin. Amen.

Christians Under Construction – Week 21

Christians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. It was originally developed for a congregation stewardship series and intended as a weekly resource. I thought I’d republish here for those interested in using them. Here is week twenty-one:

Joshua 24:15 “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Marilyn and Bill were pulling out of the driveway for their regular “Friday Night Date.” Early on in their marriage they had decided that they needed to have at least one night together each week. Sometimes they would go out to eat then catch a movie, or a play, or some other kind of activity.

Each Friday was a bit different. One thing, however, was always the same — the debate, or perhaps a better word, “indecision” about where to go to eat. Each Friday evening, without fail, the two would back down the driveway, look at each other and trade the same question, “Where do you want to go to eat?” The answers were also the same, “I don’t know, it’s up to you.” This would go on for a few minutes or sometimes miles down the road, until somebody would decide. Marilyn would say, “Well you are the leader of this family, make a decision.” Bill would say, “but that’s your department. You make the decision.” It’s a wonder they ever ate on Friday nights at all!

Sometimes it is difficult to make decisions, especially if those involved aren’t sure or convinced who’s in charge. Sometimes no decisions are reached, and that can be as bad as making the wrong decision. Leadership is important – in our families, our workplaces, our own personal lives and our church. Without it, decisions don’t get made. Things don’t happen, or worse, bad things happen.

In our reading today, Joshua boldly makes a decision for his family. He doesn’t debate it, or ask anybody about it. He simply fulfills his responsibility to lead by saying, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Period! End of sentence!

Joshua had observed the Marilyns and Bills of God’s people being indecisive about what god they would worship. Would it be the God that rescued them out of Egypt, the God of grace, the author of our salvation, or would it be the wooden and golden idols that some had latched on to as they passed through godless countries on their way to the promised land? They weren’t sure.

As they rode their donkeys and pulled their wagons down the road to Canaan, they debated. No one was taking a stand. No one was leading and making a decision. Joshua did. The Holy Spirit-led Joshua saw the importance of making a stand for God.

How about you and your family? Have you ever taken this stand? You may not have stood out in your front yard and shouted those words, although nothing would be wrong with that. But you speak loudly and clearly by bringing your family to church each Sunday. By resisting the temptation to “skip” you have proclaimed that your household is about serving God. Every one of them.

God calls each one of us to spiritual leadership. Sometimes he entrusts a family to us to lead — sometimes it is only ourselves. Regardless of our situation, God wants us to serve him and be decisive about it. Many people have decided not to do so. That is a sad thing and ought to motivate us to speak to them in love. Many more people have chosen to be indecisive. They don’t know who to follow or serve. We need to be concerned about them as well, for God says we are either for him or against him. There is no middle ground.

How about you and your household? Will you serve the Lord? Will you come and hear God’s word and enjoy the blessings of the Lord’s Supper, Baptism and the wonderful fellowship offered with your church family? Can you, will you, say what Joshua did?

Discussion Questions: What is the toughest decision you ever had to make? Why was it difficult? Does God make it easy or hard to be a part of his family? How can you be a better spiritual leader?

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: Joshua 24

Prayer: Lord, we praise you for the privilege of being a part of your family. We are honored. Help us to always serve you. Amen.

Christians Under Construction – Week 20

Christians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. It was originally developed for a congregation stewardship series and intended as a weekly resource. I thought I’d republish here for those interested in using them. Here is week twenty:

Hebrews 10:25 “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the day approaching.”

Billy and his little sister Mary were busily going over their memory work in the back seat of the car as they pulled up to the train station to drop dad off for his commute to work. This was their typical morning ritual as Marilyn would often drop her husband Bill off at the station on her way to dropping the kids at school.

On this particular morning little Mary noticed the sign by the drive in to the station. It said, “Kiss n’ Ride.” She turned to her mother and asked, “Mom, what does that sign mean?” pointing to the blue and white marker. “Mary, that just tells us where we can drop off daddy.”

Mary clearly not satisfied with the answer responded, “But I meant why the word ‘kiss’? I understand the part about riding.” “Well, when a husband and wife are separated for the day, they will want to give each other a kiss goodbye before one of them rides on the train.”

Mary continued her questioning, “Do you kiss because it makes you a little sad that you will be apart?” “That’s part of it, yes” said Marilyn. “It also is a way to say I love you, and have a good day and I’m looking forward to giving you another kiss when you get home.”

“I get it,” said Mary. “It’s like the most enjoyable time is when you are together. That’s why you give me a kiss when you drop me off at school.” “That’s right Mary,” said Marilyn. I want to be with the people I love as much as possible.”

In our verse for today, the writer to the Hebrews has observed that some people were no longer looking forward to being with each other. They had given up meeting together, especially at church. What a sad thing.

Almost all of us can remember kissing somebody we loved for the last time. Perhaps they left and we never saw them again. Perhaps they went to heaven ahead of us and we are separated for the rest of our lives. It hurts. We long to be together again.

It is also a sad thing when Christians “give up meeting together.” They come to church infrequently, or they have chosen not to go to Bible Class or Sunday School. God says it’s sad because they can no longer encourage or be encouraged. It’s sad because they don’t enjoy the benefits of God’s Word or Sacraments. God also tells us why those things are important – “and all the more as you see the day approaching.”

There may come a day, very soon, when there will be no more earth. At this time there will also be a separation, the sheep from the goats. It is important to meet together. Watch yourself and the importance you put on this. Watch others as well.

When we joined the congregation either through confirmation, baptism, transfer or other means, we more than likely made a commitment to “stay together.” The congregation also made a commitment to watch over you and encourage you if you slip into the “habit” of not meeting together. As Christians Under Construction we need to make good on those commitments. Help each other stay committed. Or as God said, “encourage one another.”

Each time we meet together the holy kiss of Christ is waiting for us. Long for that time together with Jesus and his children. Yes, we need to do some “riding” during our lives, but the “kissing” is the important part. Jesus never runs out. He looks forward to our return home.

Discussion Questions: Evaluate the statement, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” What does stewardship have to do with “meeting together?” Do you know anybody you should be “encouraging” right now who you haven’t seen for some time?

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: Hebrews 10

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the spiritual family you have given me. Help me to look forward with eagerness to our time together. May I encourage and be encouraged. Amen

Christians Under Construction – Week 19

Christians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. It was originally developed for a congregation stewardship series and intended as a weekly resource. I thought I’d republish here for those interested in using them. Here is week nineteen:

1 Peter 2:2 “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”

Marilyn Gentry seemed unusually giddy as she went about the task of making dinner. Her husband Bill, son Bill Jr., and daughter Mary sat quietly at the dinner table waiting for the main course to come out of the oven. Bill was reading his paper, while the kids were busy paging through the toy store ads. As Marilyn sat down to the table with the last tray, she cast a knowing glance at her husband, cleared her throat and got the children’s attention.

“Kids, I have something to tell you. We are no longer going to be a family of four!” Bill Jr., as expected offered the first “smart” remark. “You mean we are finally going to put Mary up for adoption?” Marilyn shot back a quick cold stare, but couldn’t hold it long as the excitement of a new baby was too much to hold her back.

Mary jumped up, “Mom, you mean we are going to have a new baby?” “That’s right sweetheart! God has decided to bless us with another child.“ “Oh goodie,” Mary cried, “I won’t be the youngest anymore!” At that point, Bill Sr. suggested that they all bow their heads and say a prayer of thanks. He started and thanked God that he saw fit to entrust another precious soul to them. Bill Jr. thanked God for the news and asked that “he make it a boy.” Mary thanked God for the upcoming addition and requested that God help her grow up faster so she could hold and take care of the baby. Mom concluded the prayer by thanking God for the chance to watch another child of God grow up and serve him.

Babies help us remember how wonderful God’s gifts truly are. To use our Christians Under Construction theme, how wonderful the Builder’s Blessings truly are. We enter the third and final sub-theme of our stewardship emphasis by looking at the wonderful blessings God has given to us, specifically his Word and Sacraments. What makes The Builder’s Blessings an appropriate conclusion to our series is the importance of those blessings to our Christian lives. They are truly things that we can’t live without.

We must think of ourselves as babies who have a lot of growing up to do, and we can’t grow an inch without God’s help and blessings. Our verse for today reminds us of that fact. “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” Babies can be beautiful and a joyous event, but they are helpless. Christians Under Construction are helpless too. But the difference between a Christian and a person who doesn’t know Jesus is what they desire, what they “crave.”

People who don’t know that Jesus died for their sins crave the world’s offerings – self-service, lust, greed (insert your own list). But Christians crave something different – pure spiritual milk! In short, they crave God’s Word. The Holy Spirit works that in us. The Holy Spirit knows we need to “grow up in our salvation.” If we don’t drink that pure spiritual milk, we won’t grow, and if we don’t grow we stay vulnerable to sin, Satan and our world.

Like an expectant parent, the Holy Spirit looks forward to watching us grow in the Word and our faith. He provides means for us to do so – means of grace we call them. The Word of God and his sacraments, Baptism and The Lord’s Supper allow us to grow. Let’s use them and grow together!

Discussion Questions: How quickly would you say you are growing: a) a snail’s pace, b) slow but steady, c) just under the speed limit, d) full throttle. List the ways you use to “grow up in your salvation.” List and then evaluate the reasons why you may not be growing as fast as you would like. Pick another person who you might be able to help grow.

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: 1 Peter 1 & 2

Prayer: Lord, help us to crave pure spiritual milk. We are utterly helpless without your Word. May we cling to it, learn it, share it and rejoice in its good news – the good news of our salvation through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Christians Under Construction – Week 18

Christians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. It was originally developed for a congregation stewardship series and intended as a weekly resource. I thought I’d republish here for those interested in using them. Here is week eighteen:

1 Timothy 6:6 – 8 “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing we will be content with that.”

Billy was eyeing up the latest game systems at the local Toys R Us. As he stood in front of the display his mouth hung wide open and he was oblivious to anything else going on around him. On the other side of the store, Mary was doing that same thing in front of the Barbie display. The sea of pink was almost overwhelming to her. Mom and Dad stood by, casting knowing glances at each other about the certain conversation in the car on the way home. Sure enough, each took their turn trying to convince mom or dad why they needed a new game system or Barbie. Usually they tried Dad first, since he was the easier mark of the two. Once rebuffed, they would turn their attention to Mom.

Mom and Dad used the typical responses, which seldom satisfied their begging children. “You already have plenty of toys.” “Your birthday is just around the corner.” “We’ll put it on your Christmas list.”

It’s hard being children. Patience and contentment are difficult to come by. That really doesn’t change much as we grow older. Satisfaction with what we have goes against the grain of this materialistic world. Our world preaches “the one with the most toys wins,” and “you can never have enough, why settle?”

Even Christians fall victim to this attitude. In 1 Timothy 6 Paul warns young Timothy of this fact. In verse 10 he writes, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” We want more money so we can buy more toys. We are driven by it. Young men and women choose specific careers because of it. If you want to be “successful” you must “do well for yourself.”

Apparently that was a problem in Timothy’s time. Even so called “men of God” were driven by money and thought “godliness is a means to financial gain.” “Disgusting” we say. Jim Bakkers and Jerry Falwells lived back then too. Yet don’t we struggle with similar things?

We look with longing eyes at things that we think will satisfy us. Sometimes they are innocent things, sometimes not. Let’s play a little game. Make a list of all the things you value and absolutely couldn’t live without. Then make another list of all the things you absolutely need, but don’t currently have. Which list is longer? Which list has salvation on it? Which list has the faith that the Holy Spirit provides on it? Which list has forgiveness of sins on it? Which list has a loving, caring, gracious heavenly Father on it? Which list has items that you can take with you when you die?

God’s message is rather simple. Be content. Put your money, your time and your talents into things that last – for an eternity. That is what Jesus did. He spent his life working at something that had staying power. He gave up his life for something that a materialistic world could never understand. He was a mystery to the world. However it was “great gain” for us. Rejoice. Give thanks. Godliness with contentment is great gain!

Discussion Questions: Describe a time in your life when you have felt totally content? What made you feel that way? Do you think Jesus was content during his life? Why or why not? Agree or disagree? Wanting a job that pays you more money is not being content.

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: 1 Timothy 6

Prayer: Father, how easy it is to fall into the “money trap.” The world in which we live encourages us to desire it. Please forgive us for sometimes listening. Please forgive us for letting our eyes wander from all the things that matter for eternity – the things your Son won for us. Keep our eyes and our lives focused on you, your grace, and our salvation. Amen

Christians Under Construction – Week 17

Christians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. It was originally developed for a congregation stewardship series and intended as a weekly resource. I thought I’d republish here for those interested in using them. Here is week seventeen:

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

Marilyn had just started her new job at a local clothing store. It was important for her to make a good first impression, so one of the things she decided to do on her first day was to seek out the most experienced and respected sales clerk at the store and ask, “What is the single most important thing I need to remember while working here?”

So that is exactly what Marilyn did. It took her only a few short hours on the job to determine whom to ask, and on her lunch break she sat next to the clerk and asked her question. The answer she received was somewhat predictable, but also caused Marilyn to think a little differently about her job as well. The answer was, “You must remember at all times that you are at your customer’s service. You don’t answer to the store manager, or your co- workers, or anybody else but the customer. All the rest will take care of itself.”

“Hmm”, thought Marilyn, “she’s right.” “If my only master is the customer, and I please that master, I’ve done my job. Happy customers make happy store managers and happy company owners.” This scenario is being repeated in stores and companies around the world today. The singular focus on customer service is many companies’ sole strategy.

The popular book “Raving Fans” highlights the fact that if you serve the customer, and only the customer, you are going to wind up with sound, successful business practices. Jesus also speaks about a singular focus. He asks each Christian to determine who, or what, is the single most important thing he or she must do. He also talks about service – service to one and only one person or thing.

Many times the Bible reinforces the importance of a singular focus for our servanthood. All other things will take care of themselves. However, Jesus does caution us about a potential conflict in priorities that we might face – money. The issue of having God as the object of our service, or money, was apparently a problem during the time that Jesus lived.

Interestingly, nothing has changed! Just as a sales clerk must fight the battle of a larger commission check versus doing what’s best for the customer, so too Christian must resist the temptation that the love of money brings with it. It is very easy for us today to see how many decisions we make are based on money. Jesus says if you make me your sole focus and serve me only, the rest will take care of itself…including money.

The experienced store clerk and Jesus said very similar things, “You must remember at all times that you are at God’s service. You don’t answer to anybody else but God. All the rest will take care of itself.” There can be one and only one master. The choice is ours: A loving God who provides salvation through faith in his Son, or money which is an unforgiving master, ever so difficult to please. Love God. Serve God.

Discussion Questions: Can you think of ways that God has taken care of “those other things” for his servants? How is God like “the customer?” Is being a servant the same thing as being a slave? What kinds of things do we do when money is our master? What kinds of things do we do when God is our master?

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: Matthew 6

Prayer: Lord, many times we struggle with who to serve. We want to serve you, but other things sometimes take your place, especially money. Help us to have a singular focus when it comes to service – that we serve you and only you. One Master. One Lord. One Savior. Amen.

Christians Under Construction – Week 16

Christians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. It was originally developed for a congregation stewardship series and intended as a weekly resource. I thought I’d republish here for those interested in using them. Here is week sixteen:

2 Corinthians 9:7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Billy and his little sister Mary were both tugging at the same toy. It was as much a matter of wills as it was possession. Billy had given it to Mary some time ago, but now he wanted it back. He had changed his mind.

“Give it to me” shouted Billy. “No” shot back Mary, “you gave it to me!” This went on for some time until the toy finally broke in two. Then the shouting got louder and tears started to flow. As mom entered the room, Billy had a hold of his sister’s hair, and Mary was exacting revenge with short, but firm, kicks to her brother’s shins.

“What happened here?” mother shouted as she separated her two warring offspring. After both went on for some time with their versions of the story, mom sat them both down for a chat. “Bill it looks like you were insincere. Do you know what that is?” Bill shook his head. “Well, somebody who is insincere doesn’t really want to do what they are doing, like you did when you wanted your gift back.”

“That’s him alright” Mary interjected. Mom snatched Billy’s hand away from Mary’s head as he was attempting to grab another wad of hair. “You didn’t handle things very well either Mary,” not allowing Mary to put the entire blame on her brother. “’God loves a cheerful giver ’ the Bible says”, said Marilyn. That means that you decide in your heart that you want to give something, you give it, and then you are happy about the gift. Gift giving and receiving should be a very happy thing. Not something to fight over.”

Is gift giving always a happy experience? This past Christmas did you truly enjoy the pressure of getting all the gifts purchased, wrapped, given and / or sent? Would you consider the experience one of great cheer? How “happy” are you when you give to God? That is the subject of our verse for today. He is asking us about our attitude as we fund the Builder’s Budget. Is it the highlight of your day when sitting down to fill your offering envelope? Do you look forward to it? God suggests that sometimes we feel under compulsion – that we “must” do it. Questions of attitude are always tough to answer. Only you – and God – know what is in your heart.

The gifts of Cain and Abel were equally pleasing to the eye, weren’t they? However they were not equal when examining the heart. Being a cheerful giver is more than pasting a smile on your face before licking your offering envelope. It is more than not expecting anything back in return. It is more than telling yourself that God did this for me, namely provide me eternal life through Jesus Christ, therefore I have to do this for him. Cheerful giving comes only through a closer walk with the recipient of your gift. As you spend more time in God’s word, you become even more convinced of God’s love for you. As you enjoy the blessings of the forgiveness of sins through the Lord’s Supper, you return to your pew even more convinced that God IS love, that God is a gracious God and deserves only the best of gifts, cheerfully given.

So the next time you are fighting with your attitude about giving, don’t try to convince yourself that “this is what a Christian does.” Sit down with God’s word, both by yourself and with others, and let him show you all over again what you truly have to be cheerful about.

Discussion Questions: Make a list for yourself with reasons you can be cheerful. Why do you think God “loves” a cheerful giver? What do you think God does with gifts that aren’t cheerfully given?

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: Genesis 4

Prayer: Father, forgive my cheerless gifts. I have much to be happy about. Use your word to remind me of those each day. Amen.

Christians Under Construction – Week 15

Christians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. It was originally developed for a congregation stewardship series and intended as a weekly resource. I thought I’d republish here for those interested in using them. Here is week fifteen:

Proverbs 3:9-10 “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”

Little Mary had just finished her very first piano recital piece. Mom and dad could tell she was very nervous. What she previously played without a flaw at home, now had a number of bobbles in it. Somehow she made it through. She kept her head up and plowed through the rest of the piece. As she walked back to her seat, some of the other more accomplished girls were snickering at her. Mary politely nodded to them and wished them good luck on their pieces.

Her parents couldn’t have been more proud. “Wonderful job Mary,” said her mother. “I’m so proud of you.” Dad chimed in as well, “Great composure sweetheart. I loved the way you handled yourself up there, and with those other girls. You did a very honorable thing.” “What do you mean honorable dad?” asked Mary. “Well, when you act honorably you do things that would make others proud. Tonight you made us proud. You showed those other girls how we taught you to act and treat people. You ‘honored’ us.”

In our Bible verse today, God asks us to “honor” him. God is worthy of our continual respect, recognition and honor. The way we do that is by doing things that make him proud of us. Here in Proverbs, he is specifically asking us to honor him with our wealth, by bring our firstfruits to him rather than the leftovers.

To act “honorably” in the eyes of God is not easy. Our sinful natures would prefer to do dishonorable things – things that wouldn’t make God proud. Adam and Eve dishonored God in the Garden of Eden, and every person born since then has dishonored God from birth. We are people, who by nature, would love to snarl at those who snicker at our bobbles. By nature we are even tempted to snarl at God! However, God has provided us with a Savior, who paid for our sins by dying on the cross.

Now as all those dishonorable things are washed away in the blood of Jesus, we are free to do things that honor God. We can spend our money wisely with a spirited-led heart that puts God in a position of honor – in first place. With Christ at the center of our lives we can display Christian composure, regardless of how the world treats us. With faith in our hearts, we can make our Father proud – we can honor him. We can honor him with our wealth, with our use of time, with the use of our talents. We can honor him with our very lives.

Discussion Questions: Our verse for today is in the midst of a couple of chapters in Proverbs dealing with wisdom. How does wisdom play a part in honoring God? Medals of honor were given to soldiers who did things that made their country proud. Have we done anything that would make God proud? Have we done anything that would merit the reward of eternal life? If not, who has? A Christian song of a number of years ago used the lyrics when singing of Jesus: “You are my hero, we are his medals.” In what way(s) could we be called Jesus’ medals?

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: Proverbs 3 & 4

Prayer: Lord, we want to praise and honor you in all things. Forgive us for all the dishonorable things we have done. Please lead us by your Holy Spirit to do things that make you proud. Amen.

Christians Under Construction – Week 14

Christians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. It was originally developed for a congregation stewardship series and intended as a weekly resource. I thought I’d republish here for those interested in using them. Here is week fourteen:

1 Corinthians 16:2 “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up.”

Bill Jr. and Mary were running wildly from game to game in the local Chuck E. Cheese pizza restaurant. They were attending a friend’s birthday party, but the real attraction was not the birthday cake, or the present opening, or even the large mouse that was going from table to table greeting the children. The real attraction was collecting enough tickets to trade in for a prize before they left.

Bill especially prided himself on selecting a particular toy he wanted, and then working hard at winning enough tickets to buy it. On they went, from the bowling game to “whacka-mole” to video games. The machines kept spitting out tickets and the kids kept stuffing them in their pockets. The only time either one of them came up for air was to ask mom or dad for more money to buy more game tokens.

When it was almost time to go and both of them had spent all their allotted tokens, they arrived at the table, stuffed down a piece of cold pizza and headed over to the prize counter. Mary had but a few tickets left, as she had used them up as soon as she won them. As a result, she had her pockets stuffed with small plastic trinkets – bracelets, necklaces, and toy rings.

“Hey Mary,” shouted Bill, “Why’d you do that? You’ve got only a few left! I decided to save mine up for something special.” As it turned out, Bill only had enough tickets for something slightly larger and a little less plastic than Mary. It could also be purchased at the local Wal-Mart for about half of the money mom and dad forked over for tokens, but Bill was happy.

God asks us to “save our tickets” as well. He said, “set aside a sum of money … saving it up.” It was hard for Bill to do that. Mary couldn’t. We find it hard sometimes too. There are just so many “prizes” we would like to buy. There are days we would like to just stuff our pockets full of them.

As usual, God’s command is best for us. We could ignore it and not save for Him, but in the end we will see how fruitless that is. We will have many things, but they are all temporary, not eternal. They are all made of cheap “plastic.”

God wants us to spend his money on the eternal. As the Bible says, “what moths and dust can’t destroy, and thieves can’t break in and steal.” We do that by setting aside our tickets and putting them in the offering plate. Remember what those tickets do. They buy things that will last into eternity. They fund the Builder’s Budget, and in that budget are things like the preaching and teaching of his word, the education of our children, and the promotion of the Gospel message to our community. In short it is used to give life, eternal life.

As you are thinking about what to do with your tickets – you know, the ones your heavenly father gave you money to buy – determine what you would like to purchase with them, plastic toys or perpetual joy. A joy that God gives through faith in Jesus Christ, spread with the help of the Builder’s Budget.

Discussion Questions: What was your favorite toy as a little boy or girl? If you were to try to sell it on Ebay today, what would it be worth? How much does eternal life cost? Can you afford it?

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: 1 Corinthians 16

Prayer: Father, thank you for all the tickets. You have been so gracious to us. Help us spend them wisely. Help us to keep our eye on eternal prizes, not worldly ones. Thank you for your grace, made most evident by the sacrifice of your son. We look forward to spending eternity with you. Amen.

Christians Under Construction – Week 13

Christians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. It was originally developed for a congregation stewardship series and intended as a weekly resource. I thought I’d republish here for those interested in using them. Here is week thirteen:

2 Corinthians 8:14 – “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.”

The entire Gentry family decided to enjoy a movie at the theater. Bill, Marilyn, Bill Jr. and Mary had arrived early for the show and were wandering around the lobby. As usual, Bill Jr. and Mary were begging for candy from the snack bar. “Mom, Dad, can we get some, please?”

As they were standing in line to buy some candy, they noticed traditional theater candies in a display high above the cashier. There were classic Milk Dud boxes and black licorice whips among other things. They scanned the display until they both eyed a candy they hadn’t seen before – Good ‘n Plenty.

“Mom, what’s that?” said Mary, pointing at the colorful box that looked like it contained cold medicine capsules. “Oh,” Marilyn said with a smile, “that’s Good ‘n Plenty. I haven’t seen those for ages. They were one of my favorites because they were very good, and there were always so many in the box.”

Bill Jr. smartly responded, “Yea Mom, I suppose that’s why they called them Good n’ Plenty.” Bill Sr. chimed in at that point, “Boy, they sure don’t make candy like that any more!”

Good and plenty – our Christians Under Construction verse for this week uses similar language. Reread it now. You may remember that in past week’s devotions we talked about how “good” God’s gifts are. This week we will discuss about how plentiful they are.

“Good and plenty” are God’s gifts. When the Apostle Paul was traveling around making a collection for the needy Christians in Jerusalem, he noted that not only had God provided good gifts to the people in Corinth, but they had them in great supply. He said, “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need.”

At times, God chooses to work this way. He gives out his good gifts and asks us to distribute them appropriately. He may provide us with more than we need, therefore he reminds us, through passages like 2 Corinthians 8, to share our plenty. There may be other times that we may be in want. At those times God will provide for us in the same way – by using others who can share their plenty.

God’s family works no different than our family. God provides all that we need in many ways and through different means, but to be sure, he does provide good and plentiful gifts. A wonderful mechanism that God has created is the church. Through it he provides a means by which we can share not only with people in our congregation who are in physical or spiritual need, but with people all over the world.

Our offerings support missions, both home and world, institutions, schools that train our pastors and teachers, and the list goes on and on. Your plenty can do much. When we put all of our plenty together it funds the Builder’s Budget.

Discussion Questions: Why is it sometimes hard to share our “plenty?” Does your idea of plenty and God’s idea of plenty match up? Why or why not? Plenty need not only refer to money. What else might you have plenty of that you could share?

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: 2 Corinthians 8

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the good and plentiful gifts you have given us. Motivate us to share the plenty and praise you daily for the good. You have given us all we need in many different ways. Thanks for making us a part of your family. It feels good to know we are not alone. Amen.

Christians Under Construction – Week 12

Christians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. It was originally developed for a congregation stewardship series and intended as a weekly resource. I thought I’d republish here for those interested in using them. Here is week twelve:

Psalm 24:1 – “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.”

There was a battle of wills going on in the Gentry home. Bill Jr. and his little sister Mary were struggling over which show to watch. Bill Jr. had the TV remote control and was furiously clicking at the TV to change channels. Mary wildly jumped in front of the TV trying to block him. “Stop that!” shouted Bill. “No,” Mary yelled, “it’s my turn to pick the show! You’ve been watching for the last two hours.” Bill wouldn’t relent. “Yes, but I have the remote! Haven’t you heard? Possession is 9/10ths of the law?”

As Mary was about to pull the plug on the TV, mom walked in and settled things once and for all. “Both of you go out and play. It’s silly to argue about things like that. The television and all that we have belong to God…no matter who holds the remote control.”

Now that explanation caused both Bill and Mary to stop dead in their tracks. Bill spun around and shot back, “What does God need with a television?”

Bill asked an interesting question. Our Bible verse for today simply says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” What does the Lord need with a television, or a car, or a cell phone, or a child’s toy?

The Psalmist captured something very important to our understanding of stewardship. It isn’t that the Lord “needs” anything. Yes, he “owns” it all, but in His grace he has entrusted it to us. God has said, “Here, take care of my things and only do with them as I would.” Of course, that is easier said than done.

As Christian stewards it is our responsibility, and sometimes a difficult challenge, to figure out how God wants us to use what he has given us. Because we are still “under construction” we don’t always hear God’s directives clearly. Even when we do, we sometimes ignore them.

Stewardship is all about listening – listening to God. Listening and then asking ourselves, “What does God want me to do with this?” Listening to God can be particularly challenging when it comes to our money, or should we say God’s money? In our current sub-theme, The Builder’s Budget, we have learned that God has a budget and he asks us to fund it with the money he has entrusted to us.

What to do? What to do? How should we spend God’s money? The answer to that question only comes through listening. We must listen to God’s Word on Sunday morning in church and Bible Class. We must listen to God’s Word in our daily devotions. Throughout our lives we must listen to God’s Word for clues about how to spend His money. We can also pray about it, asking God how he would like us to use what he has given us.

Possession is not 9/10ths of the law. God owns it all. In a way that makes it easier. We have only one person to ask how to use our possessions – God. Now we simply need to listen for the answer.

Discussion Questions: Why does God give us things like televisions and cars and toys? What would life be like without any possessions? (Try to list both bad and good things about life without possessions.) Contrast God’s will for how to use our possessions with the devil’s. Think about or discuss ways in the coming week to listen more closely to God’s direction regarding your use of His money.

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: Psalm 24

Prayer: Heavenly Father, everything we have comes from you. Thank you! May we use our things and spend our money wisely on your behalf. Continue to be gracious toward your Christian stewards. Amen.

Christians Under Construction – Week 11

Christians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. It was originally developed for a congregation stewardship series and intended as a weekly resource. I thought I’d republish here for those interested in using them. Here is week eleven:

Hebrews 13:5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.

Bill Gentry Jr. couldn’t contain himself. With the allowance he was about to receive from his father, he had now saved enough to buy the skateboard he had had his eye on for almost 4 months. He had been exceptionally disciplined in his spending over that time period, not buying the little things that had caught his eye every now and then. In short, he had a plan, and he stuck to it!

This was very unusual for Bill, as money seemed to burn a hole in his pocket. So much so that on occasion he had little or nothing left for his Sunday School offering. He felt bad about it, but he couldn’t help himself. However, this time was a different story.

“How did you do it Bill?”, asked his little sister Mary. “You’ve never saved up for anything before, no matter how hard you tried.”

“I don’t know Mary”, Bill responded. “I guess I just wanted this more than anything else before.”

The object of our desire is all important. The same holds true in Christian stewardship. So what is our desire when it comes to money? Is it a big house, nice car, unforgettable vacations? None of those are bad things. Some of us have them. However they should not be the “object of our desire.”

Well, what about providing for our families, or saving up for our children’s education? Are those the “object of our desire?” Worthy causes, yes, but still not the object of our desire.

Our Bible verse for this week helps us understand the answer. It states both what should and shouldn’t be the object of our desire. Reread it now. The object of our desire is not money itself, or even the things it buys. Rather, the object of our desire is God himself because, as the verse says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” We saw that promise kept in living color when Jesus was born. We saw it again when Jesus was crucified for our sins. We saw it once again when Jesus rose from the dead so that we too might rise — the object of our desire, our Savior.

Bill Jr. had a plan that he put in place because he really wanted something. His desire for it was greater than anything he had felt before. If our desire is for our Lord, then that desire should influence all that we do, including our budgeting.

Our current sub-theme for our Christians Under Construction series is, “The Builder’s Budget.” Yes, God has a budget that he has asked us to fund. How do we go about doing that? We make a plan. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up.” It’s a simple plan, but effective. And the only way any plan that we make can be successful is if the object of our desire is our Savior.

Discussion Questions: What kinds of things have you saved up to buy? Was it hard to resist spending that money on other things along the way? Why? If Jesus is the object of our desire, how should that affect our decision-making and planning? Does God ask us to neglect ourselves or our families to fund His budget? Will God provide for all of your needs? If so, what Bible verse tells us so?

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: Hebrews 13

Prayer: Dear Lord, you are the object of our desire. May our lives revolve around you and only you. For we know that we were the object of your desire simply by observing your life, death and resurrection. Your grace amazes us. Amen.