Isaiah 53:3-4

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

This prophecy hundreds of years earlier by Isaiah is incredibly accurate. For those who suggest the bible is simple a book of loosely connected stories made up by man, this should cause them to at least pause as these words of the prophet describe our suffering savior so precisely. Amazing.

What is even more amazing is the love of Jesus for us who “hide our faces” from him each and every day. Yes even though in our sins we despise him, he took up our pain and bore our suffering. Suffering that we deserved, not him. Yet he did so willingly. Amazing!

Lord, amaze me again this Holy Week with your love and grace, with your silent suffering and sin removing sacrifice. Amaze me again with your words from the cross and the emptiness of the tomb!

The Verse of the Day is delivered by Bible Gateway and shared each day through WELS Mobile (http://m.wels.net).

 

Philippians 1:29

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.

A strange thought shared by God here through Paul. If you look at the first and last part of this sentence by itself it says we have been “granted” the right to “suffer.” I talked about this concept of suffering for one's faith the other day. But here we are told that this is something we are given, along with our faith. It's a package deal. Some would say “bitter sweet.”

The life of a Christian is bitter sweet. We have been given this wonderful gift of faith and to know Jesus–truly a gracious gift because we in no way deserve it. But we have also been planted on this earth, seemingly so different and far away from life in heaven…the ultimate prize. The earthly objective then is twofold. One, to keep the faith so to speak. In spite of all that this sinful world and our own sinful natures throw at us, we must remain faithful to our Savior. Two, to share the faith. If we don't, then the suffering every person endures on this earth will ultimately turn into eternal suffering. We need to let everybody know that this suffering is only temporary. The best is yet to come!

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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.

1 John 1:9

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

God doesn’t make deals as we think of them. But he does make promises. Many of them. This is one of them. This is a hard one though. I know at least for me it’s hard. Confession means that we need to look inside ourselves, shake our heads and say “I’m a screw up!” And it isn’t just an occasional screw up. It’s pretty much a full time job for us. That’s hard for anybody to admit day after day after day…but it’s true.

Yet the Lord makes this wonderful promise. That if we admit that we are the disgusting disappointments we must be to him, he will forgive us and make us whole in his sight. He will make us as “white as snow.” That is of course the purpose of Lent — to recognize our pitiful condition and then know with all our heart that our just God accepted the penalty of Jesus’ death on our behalf…enabling him to keep his promise of free and full forgiveness. Awesome!

The Verse of the Day is delivered by Bible Gateway and shared each day through WELS Mobile (http://m.wels.net).

 

Romans 6:23

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The concept of wages is an interesting one. It implies something is worked at, earned, and awarded. In this case however it is death! Not much of a wage is it?  In fact, who would desire such a thing? Yet that is what we all deserve. That is what we have all earned. We had done enough even in our mothers womb to be “awarded” that.

In contrast is “the gift”. There is probably no clearer picture in all of the Bible that illustrates where our salvation comes from. It can’t come from within, regardless of how hard we try…how good we are…how sincere we are. It comes from God. This Lenten season we see again and again our helplessness through many different examples. Judas, Peter, and the clueless disciples to name a few. We are also clearly shown this gift hanging on the cross — a cross we put him on. Those wages again. Thank God for the gift. Thank God our eternal disposition is not up to us, but up to him and in his loving hands.

The Verse of the Day is delivered by Bible Gateway and shared each day through WELS Mobile (http://m.wels.net).

 

James 1:12

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

Often I will read this and think that I must be doing something wrong in my Christian walk because it doesn’t seem like I’ve had much to perservere. Not many trials. At least not compared to Iraqi or Pakistani chrisitians. Yes Christianity is under attack everywhere. But I seem somewhat insulated tucked away in rural America.

However the trials come from within and without. The things that can harm our souls,  our faith,  our grip on eternal joy in heaven,  are more at risk from our own sins that we can commit in thought,  word and deed. In short,  we are our own worst enemy. That is a test as well. Many have failed. It is through this eye of a needle we must pass.  Perfection is what God demands.  We are found lacking.

The good news however in this Lenten season is that we have a savior who withstood every trial on our behalf. He never gave into sin…like we do daily. He had a perfect relationship to the Father. All on our behalf. That makes this passage on of good news this morning!

This post is based on the “verse of the day” available from Bible Gateway and shared through the WELS Mobile app – http://m.wels.net.

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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.

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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

Family-DevotionsChristians 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

Family-DevotionsChristians 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.