Posts

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.

Comments

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.

Christians Under Construction – Week 10

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 ten:

Deuteronomy 8:17,18 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.

Marilyn Gentry and her daughter Mary were browsing through a local bookstore looking for that perfect gift for a relative. They went from section to section hoping that a particular title would jump out at them and scream “I’m the perfect gift!” They went from travel to biographies to computers and so on. Most sections were of equal size, until they came to a section called “self-help.”

“Mom,” Mary asked, “what is ’self-help’ and why are there so many books about it?” She had noticed titles like, “Be All You Can Be,” “The Perfect You,” and “I Don’t Need Nothin’ From You.” Marilyn had noticed the same thing. The only thing missing was the familiar yellow covered book titled, “Self-Help For Dummies.” But as she turned the corner, there it was!

“Mary, that’s an excellent question. I guess a lot of people want to know how to make themselves better and without anyone else’s help. Maybe they want to feel better, or be richer, or fix all their own problems.”

Mary, remembering back to her Sunday School lesson the day before, responded, “Why do you need so many books about that? The simple answer is God! When God spoke to Moses he told him to remember that no matter how strong you get or how much money you make, God gives you the ability to do those things.”

“You are absolutely right Mary. God is the answer. If you think about it, he gave us the clothes we are wearing. He gave us the car that we drive, because he gave us the ability to earn money to buy it. In fact, all the money that we have is really his.”

Mary quickly responded, “Yeah, and it’s too bad all of the people who buy these books are spending that money trying to find an answer that’s in that section over there.” She was pointing to the Bible section.

Mary was indeed right. Our ability to increase our wealth or better ourselves does not rest in selecting the right book or method or uncovering the “secret.” Our ability comes from God and is tied up in one not-so-secret secret — Jesus. Because of Jesus, God has been so generous to us. He has given us all that we need and more. He has given us the ability to work. He has given us possessions. He has given us eternal life.

So as God says in our passage, “remember.” Remember God when we work. Remember God when we decide how to spend what he has given us. Remember God when we think about what we deserve – death, and what we will get – eternal life. Wonderful things to “think” about. Wonderful things to “live” about.

Discussion Questions: List ways that you have tried to “make yourself better.” What has God given you the ability to do? Does the Bible teach that we should not “help ourselves”? If not, how does it tell us to do so? Is it wrong to work hard to earn more money? Why or why not?

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

Family Reading: Deuteronomy 8

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for the ability to work, to earn a living, to support ourselves. We owe it all to you. May the works of our hands always give glory to you. Amen.

 

 

Christians Under Construction – Week 9

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 nine:

James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.

Bill Gentry and his son Bill Jr. were enjoying a fall afternoon together in a small fishing boat, as they liked to do on occasion. Bill was an avid fisherman and had been trying to pass on his enthusiasm for the sport to his 12 year old son. Bill Jr. had come to enjoy the activity as well, especially the “worm part.”

Their favorite spot on the pond was very close to a small waterfall that dropped about 4 feet and fed a small stream that went south for about 2 miles until it simply became nothing more than a muddy patch of ground. Bill Jr. turned to his father, just before he was about to throw his line into the water, “Dad, why does that stream eventually dry up into a mud hole?”

“Well Bill, that’s because its source, this pond we’re fishing in now, is so small. It simply doesn’t have enough water in it to support a very big stream that goes very far. Now a river like the Mississippi has any number of sources, all of which are rather large lakes. That is why it can go from the top of our country to the bottom and spill into the Gulf of Mexico.”

Bill Jr. thought for a minute and then said, “So the size and strength of the stream depends on how good the source is?”

“Exactly right Billy,” replied his father.

This week, we begin the second phase of our three part Stewardship emphasis, “Christians Under Construction,” with a new focus on “The Builder’s Budget.” In this series of devotions, we will look at the treasures God has given us to care for.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when talking about any kind of stewardship is the source of the thing we are asked to take care of. Over the past two months we looked at spiritual gifts. It is important for us to remember that those gifts were given to us by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is “the source” of those gifts. Remembering that teaches us how to treat those gifts and underlines their purpose.

Now as we focus on the treasures that we have, especially the fiscal ones, we will also want to be mindful of their source. James put it very well, “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” These gifts are from God, who has entrusted their care to us. He has given us the money we have. He has given us the ability to work for it and now wants us to be smart about its use — in other words, stewardship.

We will all be in good shape if we simply remember the source — a powerful and gracious God who has not only given us fiscal treasures, but eternal ones. He gave us His son, the source of our eternal hope, and object of our faith. Remember that the source of all the good things that we have is not ourselves, but our God. That will, in turn, help us determine how to be good stewards. As Bill Jr. said, “The size and the strength of the stream depends on how good the source is.” Our source is God, and our streams can be mighty powerful.

Discussion Questions: How powerful can large rivers be? How can they hurt or harm things? How might a lake or pond dry up? Compare that to what might happen to us if our source of blessings were to “dry up.” Respond to the statement, “Everything I have I earned with my own hard work.” Should we ever be proud of our own accomplishments? Why is the source of our strength, gifts and treasures so important to remember?

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

Family Reading: James 1

Prayer: Dear Father, you are the source of all good and perfect gifts. We praise and thank you. You have looked down on your children and blessed us so richly. Please help us to always remember that you have entrusted us with all that we have. May we be wise stewards to your glory. Amen.

 

Christians Under Construction – Week 8

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 eight:

I Corinthians 12:11 All these (gifts) are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

It was fall cleaning and everybody in the Gentry family was expected to be outside either working in the yard or cleaning up the garage. It was a family tradition. The last Saturday in October was the time to make a final attempt at getting everything ready for the winter. All the leaves needed to be raked, flower beds weeded and groomed, garage straighten and swept, snow shovels taken out of the shed and snow blower given a tune up. Nobody escaped the rather lengthy work list. Little Mary Gentry had raking responsibilities, while her older brother Bill Jr. was asked to tidy up the garage. Mom Gentry was busy grooming the flower beds, and Dad orchestrated the entire work effort. The tradition continued into the evening when they all went out for pizza and felt a sense of accomplishment over what they did together – as a family.

Over the past two months we’ve been talking about spiritual gifts in these devotions. We’ve covered many aspects of them. Where they come from. What they are. How to use and develop them. How varied they are. Today, like the Gentry family over pizza, we’d like to reflect on what we’ve done together in the past and what we can do together in the future.

The Gentry family used their skills, talents and gifts to accomplish something. Our church family does the same thing. One need look no further than our own grounds to see evidence of that. One need look no further than all the other groups that meet for Bible study, fellowship, service, church leadership, etc. to see evidence that a coordinated activity is going on.

Does our congregation president or pastors deserve all the credit for orchestrating our gift use and activities? They’d be the first to tell you, “NO.” Our Bible verse today says there is only one responsible for giving gifts and orchestrating their use. Paul said, “All these (gifts) are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” This is one of those wonderfully comforting Scripture passages that doesn’t really sink in until you think through it a bit. The Holy Spirit is in charge of our day to day activities. Not us. Not the pastors or president, and most certainly not the devil. It’s the Holy Spirit. He gives. He determines. Wow.

He has taken a personal interest not only in our activities, but in each and every one of us. The Holy Spirit determines that spiritual work needs to take place and gives people the appropriate tools to do the work. He gives them the motivation to do the work and finally orchestrates the work. The result is a family that works hard together — a family that can then enjoy a slice of pizza together or a soup supper and praise God for the opportunity to serve Him.

It’s nice to be part of family, isn’t it? Work together, play together. For eternity!

Discussion Questions: What kinds of “work days” does your family have? Can you think of more benefits to these works days than just “getting the work done?” If so, what? What “tools” can you bring to work days?

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

Family Reading: 1 Corinthians 12

 

Prayer: Lord, you have provided us with many gifts. You have provided us with others with whom we can work. We celebrate both. But above all we rejoice over the eternal life we each have because of your Son’s death and resurrection. We work for him. Amen.

Christians Under Construction – Week 7

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 seven:

Acts 9:31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in fear of the Lord.

Bill Jr. pounced on his mother Marilyn as she came home from shopping one Saturday morning, “Mom, mom, I grew an inch so far this year!” In the Gentry family, it was a tradition to mark all the children’s heights on the back of the laundry room door to track their growth.

“That’s great Bill, it must have been those nutritious meals I’ve been feeding you,” his mother replied. “Well I don’t know what it was but I hope I keep going!”

“Bill, there are many ways to grow. Sooner or later you will stop physically growing, and may actually shrink a bit.”

“Shrink?” Bill interrupted, “I don’t want to shrink. How come?”

Marilyn paused and said, “Life just tends to wear people down as they get older. Our bodies get tired. It is really because of sin. If we weren’t sinners our bodies would stay strong and healthy. In fact, we would never die. But because we are sinners we get weaker, until we die.”

Bill thought for a minute, and then said, “You mean like Grandma? I’ve seen some of her pictures when she was a lot younger and she looks so different now.”

“Yes, like grandma. But the good news is that even though we get weaker and weaker on the outside, we can get stronger and stronger on the inside. You could say, while our outside shrinks, our insides grow.”

Now Bill was really confused. He said, “Wouldn’t you just explode after a while?”

Bill’s mom could see the perplexed look on her son’s face. “What I’m talking about is growing spiritually. That takes place on the inside. And it does have a lot to do with what you eat. Not only do our bodies need food to grow, our faith does too.”

The light bulb finally went on in Bill’s head, “I remember. We learned about this in Sunday School. Mrs. Morse was talking about the early Christian church when we were studying Acts. She said that the Holy Spirit strengthened that church and it grew by leaps and bounds. She explained that the way the church did all that growing was by reading, studying and believing the Bible, and by sharing it with each other.”

“Yes, our church exists for the same reason,” Marilyn responded. “We hear God’s word, we study it, we share it and we all grow stronger together. Even though we all get older and our bodies get weaker, we get stronger on the inside. God does that through His Word. And when we grow in number, that is the reason. We share God’s Word. So in a way we do explode. We explode as we get filled up with God’s Word and the more it fills us up, the more we have to share it –the more people we want to share it with.”

Bill, somewhat satisfied with the conversation said, “I guess I don’t care if I stop getting taller, but I never want to stop growing on the inside. It’s a good thing there is Sunday School tomorrow. I can tell everybody I am growing this year, inside and out!”

Discussion Questions: What happens to our bodies when we eat food that is bad for us? How is sin like bad food? List ways that you can “eat spiritual food?” Is it possible to eat too much spiritual food? How does the spiritual food that we eat affect the spiritual gifts that God has given us to use? How have you helped someone else grow “on the inside?”

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

Family Reading: Acts 9

 

Prayer: Dear Father, increase our appetite for your Word. We need to eat. We need to grow. Thank you for the food and the faith. Amen.

Christians Under Construction – Week 6

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 six:

Ephesians 4:15-16 “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Jesus Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Marilyn and Mary strolled down the hall at the local mall on Saturday in search of the perfect gift for Bill. Mother and daughter loved this time together, since not only was it “just the girls,” but it was shopping!

As they left one store, Mary noticed a rather small man walking with a noticeable limp. “Mommy, that man walks funny.” Marilyn had noticed the man too. “Mary, it looks like one of his legs didn’t grow as fast as the other one. So when he walks he dips and rises depending on which foot is hitting the ground.”

Mary quickly responded, “I’m glad my legs are the same length. He must be very sad that he can’t walk like everybody else.”

“Mary, did you see his face? He didn’t look sad at all did he? In fact, he was smiling from ear to ear.”

“But mom, why would he be happy?” asked Mary. They walked behind the man for a bit, until he walked into the Robert Mitchell art gallery. “Those paintings are beautiful” both Marilyn and Mary thought to themselves. As they walked past the entrance, they heard the person at the cash register call out to the limping man, “Good morning, Mr. Mitchell.”

Mom turned to Mary and nodded, “He’s happy because he is able to use other things that God has given him.”

Mr. Mitchell, Marilyn and Mary all were quite different people. One couldn’t walk very well the others could. Some couldn’t paint very well, one of them could.

This is also the way it works among God’s children. He created us different physically and emotionally. He gave each of us talents, sometimes very unique ones. And as the Bible reading for today explains, we are all growing. In other words, we are all under construction.

We may all be very different in many regards, but we are all the same in one very important way. We are all a part of the same “body,” and the head of that body is Jesus Christ. Yes, some of us walk with limps. Some of us paint well. Whatever we do, whatever talents God has given us, we are all connected by one central nervous system — Christ. He is the head. He directs our lives. He gives us ways to “grow” our gifts. He gives us ways to use our gifts. And he provides his church with all the talent needed to function.

Paul said, “as each part does its work.” If some of us aren’t very good at preaching or teaching, others of us are. If some of us aren’t very good at encouraging each other, others of us are. Appreciate the diversity God has given you and His church. Just as your legs do something very different than your arms, so we each can provide very different services to God. The church needs legs AND arms. Both are important. YOU are important. Jesus Christ made it so by dying for you on the cross. God the Father made it so by creating you just the way you are. The Holy Spirit made it so by giving you spiritual gifts, and enabling you to use them.

Discussion Questions: Blind people typically have exceptional hearing. Why? What talent would you like to “grow?” How might you go about helping others to grow their gifts? Explain why the church needs to use the talents of ALL of its members. Does using your spiritual gifts make you smile “ear to ear?” Why or why not?

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

Family Reading: Ephesians 4

 

Prayer: Lord, you are the head of the body. Thank you for making us members of that body. You have made each of us unique and called each one of us to use our gifts. We want to answer that call. Help us to do so. Amen.

Christians Under Construction – Week 5

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 five:

2 Thessalonians 1:3 – “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.”

Marilyn Gentry was putting her daughter Mary to bed. The evening ritual was for mom to read daughter a bedtime story after prayers and then lights out.

As Marilyn left the room and closed the door, Mary shouted “I love you.” “I love you too sweetheart,” replied Marilyn, “very much.” “How much mommy?” asked Mary. Marilyn paused, “That’s hard to say Mary, but it’s a lot. More and more each day.”

Now Mary’s curiosity was peaked. “You mean you love me more today than you did yesterday?” “I guess so,” said mom. “I don’t know why, but I just do.” “I love you more too mommy.”

Marilyn went to bed that night with a smile on her face, knowing her little girl really loved her, and she really loved her little girl. In her prayers that night, she thanked God for that love, and asked that both her love and her daughter’s love would continue to grow.

The apostle Paul expressed similar thoughts when he wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica. He wrote, “We ought always to thank God for you.” Paul saw that there was a growing love among those people, and that’s a wonderful thing to watch! He wanted to offer that prayer of thanks to God, because it was God’s doing that their love for each other was growing, just as it was God’s doing that mother and daughter loved each other so much.

The reason that the Thessalonians love for each other was growing was that their faith was growing. That was also God’s doing. He is behind our spiritual growth. He puts faith and love in our hearts. What wonderful gifts!

He does the same for us. He grows our faith and love with His word. He grows our faith and love through each other.

Discussion Questions: List things we do that make it tough for people to love us. How do we grow our faith? How do we grow the faith of others? What might cause us to love somebody “less” each day? Are those valid reasons? How does the use of our spiritual gifts increase our love or faith? Why does God love us so much?

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

Family Reading: 2 Thessalonians 1

 

Prayer: Father in heaven, thank you for those who love me and those I love. Continue to grow that love. Continue to grow my faith. I love you Lord. Thank you for loving me. Amen.

Christians Under Construction Week 3

Christians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. Here is week three:

Romans 12:6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.

Today was Mary Gentry’s birthday. She had waited 364 days in eager anticipation of turning six, as this meant it wouldn’t be long until she could be in kindergarten.

“Mom,” Mary shouted, running into her mother’s bedroom first thing in the morning, “is it really today? Has my birthday FINALLY come?” Marilyn Gentry, still trying to wake the sleep from her eyes responded, “Yes, Mary. It is today. But what time is it?”

Mary, now jumping up and down on her mother’s bed, screamed, “5 o’clock.” Mom replied, “Oh Mary, it’s Saturday. Mommy needs a bit more sleep if we are going to have that big party later this afternoon.”

Mary, totally ignoring her mother’s request, said, “Can I open some of my presents now? Can I? I can’t wait to see what I got!”

The afternoon finally arrived, and none to soon for Mary. She tore into her presents. Wrapping paper was flying everywhere. Before long she was done. She had no time for cake or conversation with the relatives who had arrived. She grabbed her gifts and was later found asleep with each one spread around her – totally exhausted from playing with her new toys.

Christians, in a way, have experienced the same excitement that Mary did on her 6th birthday. When we were born, or rather, reborn on our baptism day, we were given gifts. No, not the kind that our relatives or Godparents might give us, but gifts from God. And these gifts came in two varieties — the gift of faith and the gift of spiritual gifts. When we had that first birthday we were given the gift of faith by God. That faith, put into us by the Holy Spirit, knows Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. He is the one who paid the price for our sins. The gift of faith is much like a birthday gift from loving parents. It is usually the best gift we receive and the most appropriate for us. Our heavenly Father knows exactly what we need, and through Jesus’ death and resurrection, he gives it to us – eternal life.

Faith in Jesus however was not the only thing we received at that first birthday of ours. God tells us that he has also given us different spiritual gifts. These gifts are only given to his children. They include things like the ability to serve, teach, encourage, contributing to the needs of others, giving, leadership, showing mercy and many others.

If we were baptized as babies, we probably didn’t know what to make of these gifts God had given us. We may not even know we have them. But two things are certain. Like Mary we should be very excited about receiving them and even more excited to use them.

Read Romans 12 again and determine for yourself what spiritual gifts you have been given. Ask others what they think your spiritual gifts may be. And then plan on using them until you lay exhausted on the floor from enjoying their use. What a blessing they are from God.

Discussion Questions: What makes your baptism so special? Can you think of ways that you can celebrate your spiritual birthday? Which spiritual gifts do you think you have? How about those around you? How are these spiritual gifts different than other gifts you receive?

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

Family Reading: Romans 12

 

Prayer: Father in heaven, you have given each of us very special and precious gifts. We thank and praise you for the best gift of all, the gift of eternal life through faith in Christ Jesus. But you didn’t stop with that gift. You kept on giving. Now help us to use the gifts you have given us. May we use them to your glory. Amen.

Christians Under Construction Week 2

Christians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. Here is week two:

(Please set aside an evening this week to use this devotion as your personal devotion or family devotion.)

Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Bill Gentry loved his job. He worked as an advertising executive in one of the city’s largest agencies. He spent his days working with companies trying to help them create advertising campaigns, commercials and billboards. Much of what he did was to observe large companies and try to learn from their approach to advertising. One of his favorite companies to watch was Nike. “What creative campaigns they come up with!” he told a number of his associates. He especially liked their “just do it” campaign. It was simple and to the point, but you remembered it and you remembered who told you to do it – Nike. It meant that with those shoes you could do it…jump high, run fast, be like Mike, whatever. Bill was so impressed by the concept that he told others to “just do it”, he told himself to “just do it.” It was motivational for him.

Then on one Sunday morning he heard his pastor say the same thing. His pastor was talking about Ephesians 2:10, and in it he described one of God’s very own creative campaigns – God’s “just do it” campaign.

He listened intently and learned that God tells each and every one of us to “just do it” too — to do good works, God wasn’t trying to sell shoes however. He didn’t make a shoe that he claimed could make us run faster or jump higher. He didn’t stamp a swoosh on anything to identify it as something cool and hope we’d buy it. What God did do was make us. He calls us his “workmanship.” And rather than stamp us with a logo, he put faith in our hearts, a faith in Jesus our Savior.

What’s even more amazing is that he didn’t roll each of us off the same assembly line. God made each one of us by hand, gave us each faith, and determined ahead of time the “features” our model had. Wow! Each of us is unique with our own feature set.

God is so much more creative than we can even imagine! It is those God-given features that identify us as God’s workmanship–that we are made by Him and for Him. And it is those features, those spiritual gifts, that determine exactly what God wants us to do.

We don’t have a swoosh. We don’t even have to wear a cross, Christ already wore one. We simply need to “do it.” That shows the world who made us and to whom we belong. It shows God that we love him and are grateful for his craftsmanship.

God too says “just do it.” “Do what I’ve enabled you specifically to do. Do those good works I’ve prepared in advance for you to do.”

Be sure to read next week’s devotion to find out some of those “features” that God has built into us. For a sneak peak, you’ll want to read the “Family Reading” verses for today.

Discussion Questions: What have you ever been compelled to “just do?” Do you have other mottos that you live by? List some of the “features” you think God has given to you. Discuss why everybody has different spiritual gifts.

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

Family Reading: Romans 12

Prayer: Father in heaven, you have made each of us with different gifts, but you crafted each one of us with love. Please help us be like Christ, who did it for us, who paid for our sins on the cross. Help us to do good works, those which you have prepared for us to do. Amen.

Christians Under Construction Week 1

A number of years back I developed a series of Stewardship devotions called Christians Under Construction that could be used in family devotional settings.  Their focus is on how we can best use our Time, Talent and Treasure resources. I plan to re-release these this fall as our children head back to school and help us all think about our service to the Lord. Here is the first one:

1 Corinthians 12:1 Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.

Bill Gentry was startled to hear screams coming from the upstairs bathroom. As he entered to see what was happening, he observed his son, Bill Jr., angrily scolding his 5 year old sister Mary. “You’ve ruined it! You’ve ruined it! What were you thinking? You’re so stupid.”

“Who’s stupid?” dad asked.

“Dad, she was using my GameBoy as a life raft for her Barbies. Now it’s ruined. She’s such a dummy!”

Bill Sr., in the most fatherly voice he could muster replied, “Now Billy, let’s just settle down for a minute. It’s clear that Mary didn’t know any better. She is only 5 years old. There are still many things she is ignorant about.”

Both Mary and Bill Jr. cocked their heads, and almost in unison sputtered, “what’s ignorant?” Billy added, “and why does that give her the right to ruin my video games?”

The family patriarch paused for a minute, sat them both down at the kitchen table and explained, “Being ignorant means not knowing those things that you haven’t learned yet. Billy, you are in 7th grade, so you haven’t learned the things that are taught in the 8th grade yet. So you are ignorant about all those things. You don’t know them. You can’t use that knowledge, because you don’t have it in your head yet. Mary doesn’t have it in her head yet that she can’t use your GameBoy as a flotation device for her Barbies, regardless of how desperate their situation might be.” Bill Sr. mustered a wry smile, just so the two of them knew he was trying to inject a bit of humor. Sometimes his kids weren’t all too sure.

He continued, “There are worse things to be ignorant about you know.” Billy responded, “like what?” “Well,” said the father, “in the Bible it says, ‘Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant’. Spiritual gifts are some of the special talents and abilities that God has given each of us to use. This Bible verse says that we should learn about those gifts so we can use them to please God.” Mary injected, “Oh I want to please God! But daddy, how do we do that?” “Good question Mary,” dad continued, “first you have to know what pleases God. The only way to learn what pleases God is to read and study the Bible. You know, like we do in our family devotions, and at church and Sunday School. There we learn about those special talents God has given us and how to use them.”

Billy’s head perked up as if he had an idea that would impress the two of them, “Dad, why don’t we use our family devotion time to talk more about those spiritual gift things the Bible mentioned? If the Bible says we should get smart about those, I think we should. I don’t want anybody calling me ignorant, especially God.”

Discussion Questions: Describe, in your own words, the word “ignorant.” Can you think of things about which you are ignorant? Why would it be bad to be ignorant about spiritual gifts? How can we become “smarter” about them? What would be the absolute worst thing to be ignorant about? Why?

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

Family Reading: 1 Corinthians 12

Prayer: Father in heaven, please help us to learn more and more about you and those wonderful gifts you give us. Teach us not to be ignorant about the lessons in your word. Especially help us never to forget what your son Jesus did for us. We thank and praise you for that gift, and the wonderful news that our sins are forgiven through faith in Him. Over the coming weeks help us to live lives of thanks by learning more about what you have given us. Amen.