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The Joy of Generosity: Service Plans for a Three-Week Series on Stewardship

The story goes that Erasmus, a Renaissance scholar, was watching with the pope as wagonloads of wealth were brought through the gates of the Vatican. Turning to Erasmus, the pope observed. "No longer can the church say with Peter, 'Silver or gold have I none.'" Erasmus replied, "True. And neither can the church say to the lame man, 'Take up your bed and walk.'"

Mantaining spiritual vigor in the midst of great wealth was a challenge for the church of past centuries-and still is for the church today. We have been entrusted with incredible resources. How do we prevent that wealth form sapping our spiritual strength and making us simply a congregation of consumers? By seeing ourselves as stewards of the Lord's riches.

But if stewardship is so important to spiritual development, why does the topic remain so intimidating for pastors? Perhaps it's because pastors fear that stewardship is only a fancy word for budget. A pastor's ministerial integrity is compromised when a sermon is nothing but a fund-raising pitch.

The three service plans that follow explode that warped perception of stewardship by exploring stewardship from a biblical perspective. The first service outline includes four "T"s, with a suggested division into four short mediations based on God's comprehensive call that we become stewards of trees, time, talents and treasures. In the second service, "Dainties and Discipleship," we examine the "danties" of our consumer culture. The third service, "Generous Giving," challenges us to be cheerful, generous givers. Corresponding to these service plans are devotions for home use and lesson plans for five levels of church education classes (from preschool through adult); see inside back cover for ordering information.

Scripture offers a wealth of material on money and material possessions. In fact, over two thousand verses speak to the issue of stewardship. It is our hope that this service planning series will encourage you as pastors and worship leaders to set before your congregation an expanded vision for stewardship. Thanks to Mary Westmas, a curch organist, bell chor director, and worship coordinator, for the suggested liturgical elements.

Week One
Trees, Time, Talents, Treasures

In place of one sermon, this service calls for four separate sections in the center of the service. Each section follows the structure of Scripture, meditation, confession, and song (perhaps only one or two stanzas). The confessions are taken from Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in 1986 (see p. 1019 in the Psalter Hymnal worship edition).

You may wish to separate these four sections into a complete four-part service series at another time. However, the accompanying HomeLink devotions for home worship (see p. 24) presume that you are following the three-week series as outlined here.

We Gather as Stewards…

Call to Worship (from Psalm 24)

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;

for he has founded it on the seas,
and established it on the rivers.

Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!

that the King of glory may come in.

Who is this King of glory?

The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory.

Song

To Affirm Our Stewardship of Trees

Scripture (see box)

Meditation

Picking up the message of the creation story told in Genesis 1, Psalm 8 introduces us to the grand themes of biblical stewardship. Stewardship is rooted in who God is (the Creator) and who we are (God’s creatures ruling over God’s creation).

Psalm 8 recognizes the sense of insignificance that the cosmos creates within human hearts. “What are human beings?” asks the psalmist. In the face of the immensity of the universe, the answer seems obvious: Nothing! But we discover our place in this world not from the pages of creation but through the special revelation of divine truth. “What are human beings?” In a sense, masters of the universe! We are created stewards, rulers over the works of God’s hands. Psalm 8 reaffirms the cultural mandate given in Genesis 1:28.

Stewards of trees? It’s simply a catchy phrase for our stewardship of all of creation. As we exercise that stewardship, we exalt God’s name and give honor to the divine excellence.

Confession

As God’s creatures, we are made in his image
to represent him on earth,
and to live in loving communion with him.
By sovereign appointment we are
earthkeepers and caretakers:
loving our neighbor,
tending the creation,
and meeting our needs.
God uses our skills
in the unfolding and well-being of his world

—Our World Belongs to God, stanza 10

Song

To Affirm Our Stewardship of Time

Scripture

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

Meditation

Although we don’t often think of it, we are stewards of time. Sometimes we feel imprisoned in time, at the mercy of events over which we have no control. Yet Ecclesiastes tells us, “For everything there is a time.”

But the writer of Ecclesiastes isn’t announcing a pessimistic fatalism. Implicit in the first eight verses of the chapter is a sense of God’s control over the times of our lives. Time is God’s gift. That gift needs to be employed with a sense of the eternity that God has placed in human hearts. And while in ourselves we cannot understand things from beginning to end, yet in humility we can use the gift of time to find joy and fulfillment in our daily activities. Because God is the Lord of time, we, as stewards, can make the most of every opportunity God entrusts to our care.

Confession

God directs and bends to his will
all that happens in his world.
As history unfolds in ways we only know in part,
all things—
from crops to grades,
from jobs to laws—
are under his control.
God is present in our world
by his Word and Spirit.
The faithfulness of our great Provider
gives sense to our days
and hope to our years.
The future is secure,
for our world belongs to God.

—Our World Belongs to God, stanza 13

Song

To Affirm our Stewardship of Talents

Scripture

1 Peter 4:7-11

Meditation

In this passage, Peter reminds us of the nature of the times in which we live. “The end of all things is near” in our place in the flow of redemptive history (v. 7). For Peter, this was not a chronological but an eschatological nearness, growing out of the coming of the kingdom of God in the person and work of Christ (1 Cor. 10:11).

Because we live in the time when the end of all things is near, some activities are critical—including the exercise of our spiritual gifts. The Greek word for gift is charis or grace. Thus Peter links our stewardship of gifts with the nature of God’s gracious and Spirit-directed kingdom.

Spiritual gifts are actually the ways in which God graces our lives with the ability to serve others. Gifts, then, are more than mere talents. Spiritual gifts refract God’s grace into a rainbow of ministries that center around two poles: word gifts and service gifts (v. 11). As we exercise stewardship over our gifts, we become stewards of one another.

Confession

The Spirit’s gifts are here to stay
in rich variety—
fitting responses to timely needs.
We thankfully see each other
as gifted members of the fellowship
which delights in the creative Spirit’s work.
He gives more than enough to each believer
for God’s praise and our neighbor’s welfare.

—Our World Belongs to God, stanza 33

Song

To Affirm our Stewardship of Treasures

Scripture

Deuteronomy 8:10-18

Meditation

Among the talents God entrusts to us is the ability to make money. But that phrase contributes to the misconception that we have somehow made our money ourselves. Deuteronomy warns the Israelites against making the claim “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me” (v. 17). This same danger threatens any established and prosperous society—including our own!

What is the antidote? Again, it’s a vision of ourselves as stewards—this time of treasures. Since God gives us the ability to produce wealth, it follows that what we have is a trust from our Lord and Maker. Deuteronomy connects forgetting our stewardship of treasures with forgetting God. Where the one happens, the other is sure to follow. But the reverse is also true. When we remember who we are as God’s stewards, we remember that our wealth is a trust—on loan—from the Lord.

Confession

Our world belongs to God—
not to us or earthly powers,
not to demons, fate, or chance.
The earth is the Lord’s!

In our work, even in dull routine,
we hear the call to serve our Lord.
We must work for more than wages,
and manage for more than profit,
so that mutual respect
and the just use of goods and skills
may shape the work place,
and so that, while we earn or profit,
useful products or services may result.

—Our World Belongs to God, stanzas 7, 51

Song

To Give Back to God

Offering Invitation

Christ has taught us that we cannot love both God and wealth.
Our hearts will always be focused first on our riches.
Let us be faithful stewards
of our time, our talents, and our money
so that our treasure is in heaven
and our giving pleases God.
—Words for Worship, Arlene Mark, ed. © 1996, Harald Press. Used by permission. All rights reserved

Excerpt
Psalm 8 (NRSV)

Refrain: Sing “O Lord, Our Lord, How Majestic Is Your Name” before and after the reading of Psalm 8.

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants you
have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful
of them, mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Refrain

Song Suggestions

“Come, All Christians, Be Committed” (TWC 578)
“For the Fruit of All Creation” (PH 553, PsH 455, WOV 760, TWC 379)
“Forest Trees” (SFL 92)
“Glorious Is Thy Name Most Holy” (CH 677)
“God Whose Giving Knows No Ending” (PH 422, TWC 644)
“O Lord, Our Lord, How Majestic” (MPCB 217, TWC 61)
“Take My Life That It May Be” (CH 597, PsH 289, Renew 150, SFL 74, TWC 568)
“The Wise May Bring Their Learning” (SFL 70)
“This Is My Father’s World” (CH 143, PsH 436, SFL 95, TWC 384)

Songs Led by Children

Of the many song suggestions in this series, several lend themselves well to having children serve as worship leaders during the service. If plans are made in advance, have the children learn at least one song for each week in the series. Here are some ideas from the children’s hymnal Songs for LiFE. (CRC Publications; to order call 1-800-333-8300.)

  • “Forest Trees” (SFL 92)
    Have different age levels each learn a stanza, and have all the children sing the refrain together.
  • “Many and Great” (SFL 94)
    Before and/or after the reading of Psalm 8, have the young children sing stanza 1 of this Native American song with motions and hand drum accompaniment. (You may wish to keep the drum pattern (see below) going during the reading of the psalm). The children could teach the motions to the congregation:

Many and great, O God, are your works,
Look at hands throughout the entire stanza. Moving every two beats, first spread right arm out to the side, then the left to the left side, then right arm up, then left arm forward.

Maker of earth and sky;
On “earth” bring both arms down; up on “sky.”

your hands have set the heavens with stars;
Lift both hands high, wave and wiggle fingers like twinkling stars.

your fingers spread the mountains and plains.
Trace hills and then plains with hands.

You merely spoke and waters were formed;
Cup hands to mouth; then extend hands in front as if spreading over a flat ocean.

deep seas obey your voice.
Reach hands low and bend from shoulders.

  • “The Wise May Bring Their Learning” (SFL 70)
    A fitting text to a traditional tune; the text asks: What treasures shall we bring?
  • “Dare to Be a Daniel” (SFL 104)
    Have the children sing at the conclusion of the Scripture reading in week 2.
Week Two
Dainties and Discipleship

Scripture

Daniel 1

Call to Worship (from Psalm 95)

Come, let us make a joyful sound to the rock of our salvation!

For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all the earth.

Let us worship and bow down before the Lord, our Maker!

For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture.

Confession

Note: Invite five children or young people to serve as readers for these five statements (Scripture passages from the New International Reader’s Version):

The world says, “Buy and accumulate things.”

God’s Word says, “Life is not made up of how much a person has.” (Luke 12:15)

The world says, “Wealth is our security.”

God’s Word says, “I will say about the Lord,
‘He is my place of safety.’” (Ps. 91:2)

The world says, “We deserve the best.”

God’s Word says, “The Lord blesses us with favor and honor. He doesn’t hold back anything good from those whose lives are without blame.” (Ps. 84:11)

The world says, “Give so that you may obtain favors and praise from others.”

God’s Word says, “Lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then you will receive a lot in return.” (Luke 6:35)

The world says, “Gratify your self in every way.”

God’s Word says, “Let Christ’s word live in
you like a rich treasure. … Do everything
you say or do in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Always give thanks to God the Father through Christ.”

—Adapted from “Preparation for Giving” by Bryan Jeffery Leech,
The Worshiping Church, © 1990 by Bryan Jeffery Leech, Walnut Creek, CA 94595.
Used by permission.

Song Suggestions

“Dare to Be a Daniel” (SFL 104)
“Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart” (CH 170, MPCB 7, Renew 266, TFF 292, TWC 496)
“Have Thine Own Way, Lord” (CH 591, PsH 287, TFF 152, TWC 584)
“I Am Crucified with Christ (CH 558)
“I Offer My Life” (CH 663)
“I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” (Renew 152, WOV 649, TWC 539)
“Praise You” (CH 559)
“Lord, I Want to Be a Christian” (PH 372, PsH 264, Renew 145, SFL 40, TFF 234, TWC 563)
“Some Folk Would Rather Have Houses” (TFF 236)
Note: A soloist may sing the first stanza with the congregation joining in on the rest.
“Spirit of the Living God” (CH 389, MPCB 277, PH 322, PsH 424, Renew 90, SFL 184, TFF 101, TWC 297)
“We Are an Offering” (CH 678)
“What Does the Lord Require” (PH 405, PsH 293, TWC 571)

Meditation

At first glance, Daniel’s story might seem to be merely an endorsement for vegetarianism. It’s not. This passage introduces us afresh to the battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. In verse 2, Babylon is literally, in the Hebrew, Shinar, the name for the plain where the Tower of Babel stood. Babylon, then, is Babel revisited—a society characterized by human defiance against God’s reign.

One way in which the spirit of Babel demonstrates itself is in the attempt to engulf God’s covenant people in a godless culture. Daniel and his three friends are in a training program to prepare for government service. That was not itself a problem. The problem was the way in which that training demanded the embrace of pagan gods. Names that reflected a commitment to Yahweh were exchanged for names that honored Babylonian deities. The program demanded that Daniel and his friends leave behind their past life of commitment to Yahweh.

The battle became focused at the dinner table—not because it is wrong to enjoy good food, but because for Old Testament believers, dietary rules were very much an expression of their obedience to the Lord. In violation of those rules, the food set before Daniel was food that had been sacrificed previously to Babylonian gods.

God’s people continually find themselves in cultures that offer the temptation to sell out their commitment to Yahweh and his Son, Jesus Christ. Daniel 1 reminds us that demonic pressure doesn’t necessarily come with the brute threat of a lion’s den. Satan prowls about in many disguises, seeking whom he can devour. Even the “dainties” of a dinner table can become a way to turn from discipleship.

The “dainties” of our culture are not so much the dishes on the dinner table. Rather they are the temptations of a consumer society that define us not by who we are but by what we have. Those “dainties” trap many, as they did in Daniel’s day. It would not be unreasonable to suppose that many more Jewish youths were involved in this training program than just the four who refused to cave into pagan pressure.

Daniel 1 reminds us that when God’s people refuse to cave in to cultural pressures and choose instead ways of obedience, God’s blessing results. At the end of their time of testing, Daniel and his friends were not only physically healthy, but they also possessed a knowledge and insight that the secular culture could not give (v. 17). Daniel remained in Babylon until the first year of King Cyrus, when the first exiles returned home. What vindication of Daniel’s refusal to cave in to pagan pressures! God’s saving ways and kingdom rule are unstoppable.

Offering Invitation

Jesus told the story of a man
who had a rich return on his investment.
He said to himself, “Lucky man!
You have all you need for many years.
Enjoy the security of your years of labor.”
That man lost his barns, his profits, and his soul.
Let us be careful that our riches do not cost us our salvation.
—Words for Worship, Arlene Mark, ed., Herald Press © 1996. Used by permission. All rights reserved

Week Three
Generous Giving

Scripture

2 Corinthians 9

Call to Worship from Psalm 96

Sing to God—worship God!

For God is great, and worth a thousand
Hallelujahs.

God made the heavens—
royal splendor radiates from him,
a powerful beauty sets him apart.

Bravo, God, Bravo!
Everyone join in the great shout: Encore!
In awe before the beauty, in awe before the might.

Bring gifts and celebrate,
bow before the beauty of God,
then to your knees—everyone worship!

Confession (from Isaiah 1:18; Jeremiah 31:34)

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord.

We confess that we envy others. We do not live like Christ who calls us to be content with what we have. Forgive us, Lord.

“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

We covet what belongs to our neighbor. Our lives are driven by our wants.
Forgive us, Lord.

“Though your sins are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

We begrudge the invitation to give generously and joyfully. We turn away from the needs of others and do not see the difference our caring can make.
Forgive us, Lord.

“I will forgive…and will remember their sins no more.”

—This Scripture quotation is from “The Message” © 1993, 1994, 1995. Used by permission
of NavPress Publishing Group.

Song Suggestions

“As Saints of Old Their Firstfruits Brought” (PsH 294)
“As Stewards of a Vineyard” (PsH 611)
“I Offer My Life” (CH 663)
“Lord of All Good” (PH 375, PsH 295, TWC 645)
“The City Is Alive, O God” (PsH 597, Renew 89)
“We Are an Offering” (CH 678)
“We Give You But Your Own” (CH 816, PH 428, PsH 296, TWC 649)

Meditation

This remarkable passage is a rich mine of material on Christian giving. Paul’s instructions about giving are set against the backdrop of the “great collection,” Paul’s gathering of resources from the Gentiles for the church in Jerusalem. In the previous chapter, Paul introduced the church in Macedonia as a model of healthy, gracious giving. Paul detects an eagerness to give among the Corinthians, but good intentions do not always translate into action. The Macedonians have given generously; now it is time for the Corinthians to do likewise.

As Paul invites the Corinthians to give, he highlights several important truths.

First, Paul is very concerned about their attitude toward giving. To Paul, grudging generosity is a contradiction (2 Cor. 9:5). Indeed, Paul wants his churches to give cheerfully. In place of the compulsive, guilt-ridden giving that takes place in many churches, Paul demands that we give as Christ, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2).

Second, Paul wants the church to understand the effect their giving creates. The Greek expression for “generous gift” (eulogia) commonly refers to an act of blessing (v. 5). Paul picks up this theme at the end of the chapter. Not only does giving have practical effects; it also results in praise and thanksgiving to God and builds up the unity of the church. Corinthian giving, says Paul, will testify to the Jewish believers that Gentile faith is real (v. 13). And the hearts of the Jewish people “will go out to” the Corinthians (v. 14), demonstrating the unity in diversity that marks the church of God.

Third, Paul wants the church to understand the divine action that works through their giving (vv. 6-11). The sowing/reaping metaphor is used extensively in Scripture (see Prov. 11:24-25, 19:17; Luke 6:38; Gal. 6:7). It is tempting, of course, to twist this metaphor into a simplistic health-and-wealth gospel, where financial giving to some kingdom cause assures our own material success. The abuse of this principle by some, however, should not blind us to the reality Paul is teaching here. “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (v. 8). Paul makes no distinction between spiritual and material blessings. He expects that, in a holistic sense, believers will be blessed by God the Giver, even as they bless others through their generous gifts (eulogia). It is not difficult, of course, to find Christians in every congregation today who have experienced precisely this dynamic in their own lives.

Offering Invitation

Truly God is good to us in ways beyond our understanding.
We ponder not how much we shall give, but how much we shall withhold.
Our God says, “The world and all that is in it is mine.”
Our God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, yet
those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice,
bring honor to God.
In humble gratitude, let us present our thanks to God.

—Words for Worship, Arlene Mark, ed., Herald Press © 1996. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

“God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending”

God, whose giving knows no ending,
from your rich and endless store,
nature’s wonder, Jesus’ wisdom,
costly cross, grave’s shattered door:
Gifted by you, we turn to you
offering up ourselves in praise;
thankful song shall raise forever,
gracious donor of our days.

Skills and time are ours for pressing
toward the goals of Christ, your Son:
All at peace in health and freedom,
races joined, the church made one.
Now direct our daily labor,
lest we strive for self alone;
born with talents, make us servants
fit to answer at your throne.

Treasure too you have entrusted,
gain through powers your grace conferred;
ours to use for home and kindred,
and to spread the gospel Word.
Open wide our hands, in sharing
as we heed Christ’s ageless call,
healing, teaching, and reclaiming,
serving you by loving all.

Text: Robert L. Edwards, 1961
© 1961, 1989 by the Hymn Society; admin. Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188. Permission to reproduce this text must be obtained from Hope Publishing Co., 800-323-1029. Suggested tunes: hyfrydol or beech spring

The hymns in these service plans were selected from the most recent editions of

CH Celebration Hymnal
MPCB Maranatha! Praise Chorus Book 3
PH Presbyterian Hymnal
PsH Psalter Hymnal
SFL Renew, Songs for LiFE
TFF This Far by Faith
WOV With One Voice
TWC The Worshiping Church