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Coming Soon

Responsibility, Week 1

Greatest Commandment

Matthew 22:36-47

Love God. Love others.

Mr. Standoffish was Boss at the biggest marshmallow factory in the state. Every day he marched the factory floor to make sure the workers churned out enough candy.

“Move it . . . move it!” he would shout. “Stay sharp. Don’t go all soft on me now!”

Though Mr. Standoffish liked to be in charge, he still had to answer to the Big Boss. The Big Boss had only two factory rules:

1. Love God.
2. Love others.

But for the life of him, Mr. Standoffish simply couldn’t see what those rules had to do with making marshmallows.

One day, the Big Boss left to travel the world and discover the best marshmallow recipes in every country. Mr. Standoffish was delighted. He called the workers together and proclaimed, “While the Big Boss is gone, I’m in charge. And I say there’s only one rule: Create great marshmallows!”

The employees shifted uneasily. Finally, a grandmotherly woman with hair like marshmallow fluff spoke up. “But what about the two rules—”

“Silence!” Mr. Standoffish boomed. “I don’t want to hear a peep from any of you peeps!”

An awkward young man with freckles raised his hand. “Could we still—”

“Just do your job. Unless you want to be toasted!” Mr. Standoffish cut in once more.

Still, the workers stood staring at him wide-eyed. “What are you waiting for? Back to work!” he barked.

The employees returned to their positions on the marshmallow line. No one spoke or asked anyone else for help. Everyone kept their heads down. Mr. Standoffish grinned gleefully as he surveyed the workers through his office window.

“We’ll create more great marshmallows than ever now!” he thought greedily to himself.

But something strange began to happen. When Mr. Standoffish reviewed the company records at the end of the month, his jaw dropped.

“Clams and corn syrup!” he exclaimed, pounding his fist on his desk. “This is impossible.”

The factory had produced fewer marshmallows than ever before. Furious, Mr. Standoffish burst through his office door and snapped at the workers, “No vacation for anyone. And mandatory overtime!”

But the following month, the numbers were even worse. “Gerbils and gelatin!” Mr. Standoffish kicked the trashcan beside his desk. “This is unacceptable.”

To top it off, the Big Boss sent a message to say he would be returning the next day. That whole afternoon, Mr. Standoffish paced the factory floor, desperate to create more great marshmallows before the Big Boss arrived. He glowered at the young man with freckles.

“You! You were 90 seconds late today.”

“But my little girl was sick,” the young man began to explain nervously, “and I needed to—”

“You’ll put in three extra hours after work with no pay to make up for it!” Mr. Standoffish turned abruptly, before he could see the young man wilt, and stalked over to the grandmotherly lady.

“What are those?” he demanded, scrunching his nose and pointing to a pile of perfectly stacked marshmallows.

“M-marshmallows, Sir,” she stammered.

“Do you call that end round?” Mr. Standoffish yanked a marshmallow from the center of her stack and examined it closely. “Why, it’s practically square!”

The older woman desperately juggled marshmallows to keep them from hitting the floor as she explained, “My . . . my fingers get so tired. If I could have a short break—”

“What does that sign say?” Mr. Standoffish glowered at her and jabbed his finger toward a sign hanging just above the door to his office.

“Create great marshmallows,” the grandmotherly lady read in a near whisper.

“Then do it!” Mr. Standoffish shouted, causing every worker to jump. Pinching his lips together, he stomped back to his office. But as Mr. Standoffish glanced through his office window, he stopped cold. There, in the office at the back of the factory, stood a familiar figure. The Big Boss had returned early! And he was watching

Mr. Standoffish and the workers with sad eyes through his office window. Mr. Standoffish hurried to him.

“But . . . you’re not supposed to be here yet!” he said, trying to hide the panic in his voice with a broad smile.

The Big Boss only pointed to the new sign hanging on the wall and asked, “What is that?”

Mr. Standoffish beamed, proud of the improvement he had made. “The One Rule, of course! ‘Create great marshmallows.’”

The Big Boss furrowed his brow and tilted his head to the side. “What happened to the two rules I gave you? ‘Love God. Love others.’”

Seeing that the Big Boss wasn’t impressed, Mr. Standoffish began twisting his hands anxiously. “Oh, those. They seemed . . . outdated,” he tried to explain.

“But they come straight from the Good Book.” The Big Boss motioned to a Bible sitting on top of his briefcase. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your mind.’ And ‘love your neighbor as you love yourself,’” he quoted from memory.

Mr. Standoffish shifted from one foot to the other. He hadn’t known those rules came from the Bible.

“How has your new rule worked out?” the Big Boss asked.

Mr. Standoffish cast a nervous glance at the open factory record books. Clearly, the Big Boss had looked over them and knew things weren’t going so well. “Not . . . exactly . . . great,” he admitted slowly.

“I’d like you to give my two rules a try again,” the Big Boss suggested. “I need to test my new recipes. So I’ll leave you to it.” With that, he smiled warmly at Mr. Standoffish and the workers and left the factory.

Mr. Standoffish could feel all the workers’ eyes on him through the big window, but he didn’t dare look up from the floor.

“Love God. Love others . . . ?” he murmured. He glanced around. He swallowed hard. And then . . . he started to pray.

“Um…God? I’m not sure I know how to do this…I mean, how do I loveYou? And what does that have to do with marshmallows? I guess . . . maybe . . . I have to start with the second rule?”

Mr. Standoffish listened, hard. He didn’t quite hear a voice. But he had a certain feeling. He knew what he needed to do next.

He walked back out onto the factory floor and approached the freckle-faced man. “I’m sorry I snapped at you for being late. Please, go home and take care of your little girl. We’ll pay you for sick leave.”

The man’s freckles sprung up in a giddy grin, “Oh, thank you! I’ll work twice as hard when I’m back.”

Next, Mr. Standoffish approached the grandmotherly woman. “You create the very tastiest marshmallows we sell! Please, take a rest. You’ve earned it.”

“Thank you, Sir!” the woman exclaimed and sank into a chair nearby.

Mr. Standoffish whistled for everyone’s attention. “Tomorrow, I want each of you to tell me how I can make your jobs better so that we can all reach our goals together. But right now . . . we’re having a party to celebrate all your hard work!”

No more marshmallows were churned out that afternoon. But Mr. Standoffish felt his heart lighten as he watched the joy on the workers’ faces. And just as he promised, he began listening to the workers’ ideas. At the end of the month, he reviewed the factory records.

“Leaping lollipops!” he cried out as he leapt into the air. The factory had produced more and tastier marshmallows than ever before! Clearly, the changes in Mr. Standoffish himself were changing the atmosphere in the factory for everyone.

Grinning, Mr. Standoffish removed his old sign from the factory wall. He replaced it with a new one, which simply read:

Love God. Love others

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Did you know that the Jewish religious leaders required people to follow 613 different rules?

That’s almost impossible! But Jesus made it simple. He didn’t say the other 613 rules were wrong—He simply explained that if you make every choice through the lens of loving God and loving others, you can’t go wrong. Focus on those two things, and the rest will take care of itself. Even more amazing, one of the best ways we can show love to God is to show love to the people He created. What are some ways that you could show love to God by loving others this week? Pray for each other, that God will help you stay focused on the two main things as you move through your days.

Coming Soon

Responsibility, Week 2

Bigger Barns

Luke 12:16-21

Share what you have.

Everywhere Jesus went, great crowds of people followed Him. Some truly wanted to learn and change. Some were just curious. Others, like the religious leaders, wanted to study what Jesus said so they could trap Him in tricky questions.

But there were some people who wanted Jesus to back them up and tell them that their way was the right way.

One of these was a man we’ll call Ezra.

“Teacher. Hey, Teacher!” Ezra demanded, loudly enough the people around Jesus stopped talking to stare.

“Are you gonna let me through, or what?” Ezra complained. He shoved his way through the crowd, dragging another man with him—his brother.

“Teacher!” said Ezra. “You’ve gotta tell my brother here that he has to divide the family property with me!”

Ezra’s brother looked like he wanted to sink straight into the ground. Jesus turned to Ezra. “Friend, who made me judge or umpire between you?” asked Jesus.

“People listen to You,” said Ezra. “I thought You could, You know, just settle this. Tell my brother I’m right.”

“Watch out!” Jesus responded. “Be on your guard against wanting to have more and more things. Life is not made up of how much a person has.”

Ezra frowned. “That isn’t what I asked.”

Jesus didn’t try to argue with the man. Instead, He told a story—a parable. If He shared this story with us, today, it might sound something like this.

******

There was once a rich man whose lands grew a fantastic crop of grain. Perhaps it was corn.

His manager brought the good news: “Sir, we’re set to bring in a bumper harvest of cobs and kernels.”

“Yes!” said the rich man with a fist pump. “Go me!”

“Well, your employees did an excellent job of preparing the fields,” pointed out the manager.

“Go me!” said the rich man.

“And there was a lot of sunshine,” added the manager.

“Go me!” exclaimed the rich man.

“And just the right amount of rain.”

“Go me!”

“Er, yes,” agreed the manager. “Go you.”

“Harvest the crop at once!” commanded the rich man.

“We’re working on that,” said the manager. “There’s, uh, just a little problem.”

“Problem?” exploded the rich man. “Who messed up?! Fire them at once!”

“No no no. It’s a good problem,” assured the manager. “You don’t have enough barn space to store all of your grain.”

“Ah. I’m just too successful,” nodded the rich man. “Go me.”

“I was thinking . . .” said the manager, “you could share some of the grain.” “Share it?” asked the rich man, confused.

“Well, yes,” said the manager. “Some extra bushels for your employees. Maybe give some of it away. Popcorn for all the kids in town. Hold a cornbread festival for everyone.”

The rich man frowned. “But . . . it’s all mine.” “Yes,” agreed the manager. “Yes, it is.”

The rich man sat deep in thought for a few moments. “I know!” he exclaimed. “I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I can store up all the extra grain for myself! See to it! I want those new barns up by the time the corn harvest is in!”

“Yessir,” said the manager with a sigh.

So the old barns were torn down. Brand-new, bigger barns were built.

“Perfection!” said the rich man as he surveyed the new construction. “Is the corn harvest complete?”

His exhausted manager nodded. “Yessir. All finished.”

“Excellent. Have the men store it all in these new barns immediately,” commanded the rich man.

“But they’re so tired—” protested the manager. “IMMEDIATELY!” thundered the rich man.

At last, the rich man’s entire corn crop was stored in his shiny new barns. He settled into a comfy deck chair to survey his property as the sun set.

“Go ME!” he said with a grin. “Self, you’ve done pretty well for yourself. You’ve got grain stored away for a lot of years to come.”

He popped a gourmet corn chip into his mouth and crunched as he continued, “Self, take it easy! Eat, drink, and live it up.”

“You foolish man!” said a voice.

The rich man nearly choked on his chip. “Excuse me?!” he sputtered, and looked

around. He could see no one. He was entirely alone.

“Oh great,” he muttered. “Is this supposed to be some God moment when I discover what I’ve been doing wrong?”

That’s exactly what it was.

“You foolish man!” said God. “Tonight I will take your life away from you. Then who

will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

“Um . . . could we come up with a different ending to this story?” asked the rich man. But there was no way out. He had chosen to focus only on what he could keep for himself.

*****

Jesus wrapped up His parable by explaining, “That is how it will be for whoever

stores things away for themselves but is not rich in the sight of God.”

We don’t know how Ezra responded. But maybe—just maybe—he stopped worrying less about getting more of his family’s stuff. Maybe he started caring more about sharing what he did have with his brother.

+++++++++++++++++++++++

Most of us don’t feel like we have a lot.

At least, we don’t have private jets and money to do and buy everything we want. But God has given each of us things that we can share—even if it’s not “stuff.” What do you have that you could share? Take a few minutes and brainstorm ideas. Even if you don’t have a lot of material things, you have time. You have the ability to help or encourage someone. You could share your lunch or a smile or a “way to go!” during PE. Pray for each other, that God will help you see the things that He has given you, and that you will find creative ways to share them.

Coming Soon

Responsibility, Week 3

The Ant & the Sluggard

Proverbs 6:6-8

Work hard.

King Solomon was young when he became ruler of Israel after his father, David. One night, God spoke to him in a dream and said, “Ask for anything you want me to give you.”

Solomon had just been handed the greatest golden ticket of all time! He could have requested anything—unlimited money, power to defeat all his enemies, or even to be the best-loved, longest-living king of all time.

Instead, though, Solomon made a different ask. “Lord my God, you have now made me king. ...But I’m only a little child. I don’t know how to carry out my duties….So give me a heart that understands. Then I can rule over your people. I can tell the difference between what is right and what is wrong.”

Solomon asked for wisdom. And God gave it to him! In fact, Solomon became known as one of the wisest men to ever live.

Over the course of his life, Solomon shared many wise sayings that were later collected in a book called Proverbs. The first chapter of Proverbs says, “Proverbs . . . help you live wisely. They lead to what is right and honest and fair. . . . They give knowledge and good sense to those who are young. Let wise people listen and add to what they have learned.. . . But foolish people hate wisdom and instruction.”

The wisdom recorded in Proverbs gives godly advice about nearly everything—from using words wisely to staying away from trouble. But some of the most famous passages talk about the value of hard work, like Proverbs 6:6-8.

You people who don’t want to work, think about the ant!
Consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander.
It has no leader or ruler.
But it stores up its food in summer.
It gathers its food at harvest time.

When was the last time you paid attention to an ant—other than to squash one on the kitchen floor?

To better understand what Solomon means about work, we can take a closer look at what ants are like.

Did you know that there are about one million ants on earth for every single human? Every single one of them works hard and fast. Like Solomon said, nobody lays out a set of rules for them. Nobody offers them an allowance or more screen time if they finish their work.

God made them in such an incredible way that they stick with it and get the job done! In fact, some ants can lift up to fifty times their own weight. If you were that strong, you could lift an entire car! And ants use that super strength to store up their food, just like we see in Proverbs.

Ants also work smart. They leave a special trail of chemicals, called pheromones, that tells them where they’ve been, so they don’t get lost or repeat themselves.

Ants are also incredibly creative. They actually farm aphids in order to have a constant supply of the honeydew aphids release. And the ants’ creativity doesn’t stop there. In times of flooding, ants will even protect the queen by forming a lifeboat with their own bodies!

Just like Solomon reminds us, ants do whatever it takes to gather the food they need and to keep their colony safe. They know how to get the job done—and they do it with only about 250 thousand brain cells.

But God made you with about ten million brain cells! He’s given you everything you need to work strong, smart, and creatively. And because God has given us so much, there’s so much more that we can do.

In the New Testament, Luke records some of Jesus’ words: “Much will be required of everyone who has been given much.”

You are creative and strong.
You have a brain that works like no one else’s.
You are determined.
And most of all, you’re made in God’s image.

That means that you can work hard at whatever it takes to show love to God and to the people He’s made. Sometimes that might look like raising funds to provide clean water for kids on the other side of the world. But sometimes that might look like cleaning your room without your mom reminding you five times. Or working hard to help your little sister build an epic LEGO® palace.

Whatever your work, remember Solomon’s wisdom:

You people who don’t want to work, think about the ant!
Consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander.
It has no leader or ruler.
But it stores up its food in summer.
It gathers its food at harvest time.

Be wise.
Work hard.
God will give you everything you need to follow through.

+++++++++++++++++++++++

Share with each other what you think that your “work” is.

Work can mean a lot of things. For grown ups, it might be a job, being a parent, or taking care of the house. For kids, it can be school, learning a new musical instrument or sport, doing chores at home, or even hanging in there to finish an epic LEGO building project. Solomon says that a wise person doesn’t need a lot of reminders to work hard and throw all their effort into a project. Instead, they get the reward of a job well done. For the ants, that means they get to eat in the winter! What do you think is your reward when you put good effort into your work and finish well? Pray for each other, that you would find joy in putting your heart and soul into your work.

Coming Soon

Responsibility, Week 4

Parable of the Talents

Matthew 25:14-30

Make the most of what you've been given.

When Jesus wanted to share a truth with the people who followed Him, He often told a parable—a story. These parables used everyday situations to help people think and understand God’s truth for themselves.

One day in Jerusalem, Jesus told a story to His followers. If He shared it with us today, it might sound something like this.

*****

There was once a man who created the world’s most amazing energy bar. The man did such a good job of selling his energy bars that he soon became wealthy.

One day he got on a Zoom call with three of his top employees. “Zane! Wren! Murray!” he exclaimed as they signed on.

“Yessir!” replied Zane.

“Right here,” added Wren.

But it was quite some time before Murray finally showed up. “Oh . . . hey,” he mumbled. “Just, you know, finishing a movie.”

“I’ve called you together for an important purpose,” explained the wealthy man. “I’m going offline. Completely screen-free. I’m going to travel the world for a while.

Hike Everest. Cross the Sahara. Dive down to the Mariana Trench miles beneath the surface of the ocean. All fueled by my energy bar, of course.”

The rich man had carefully studied his employees, and knew what they could handle in his absence.

“While I’m gone,” the rich man continued, “I’m leaving you in charge of my money. Zane, I’m sending you an encrypted key to access my gold account, with five thousand credits. Wren, here’s an encrypted key to access my silver account, with two thousand credits. Murray, check your inbox for an encrypted key to my bronze account with one thousand credits.”

“That’s it!” he finished. “I’m going off the grid!”

Immediately, Zane accessed the gold account and put the money to work. He hired scientists and designers to create suction shoes that could keep a rock climber from falling. The Fly Shoe, as he called it, sold nearly as fast as energy bars. Zane soon made back the money . . . and more.

Wren, meanwhile, was making excellent use of the money in the silver account. “What does every adventurer need besides fuel and shoes?” she considered. “A friend!”

So Wren invented a robotic hamster that could travel anywhere an explorer could go—from the highest mountain to the deepest ocean trench. Soon robotic adventure hamsters were selling even faster than toilet paper.

That left only Murray. He sat staring at the bronze account on his computer screen.

“Only one thousand?” he muttered. “It’s like he expects me to mess it up. Well, I’ll show him. Ha!”

Murray took out his money in coins and stashed them in a giant bag. Then late at night, he dug a hole in his backyard, dumped the money inside, and covered it right back up.

“Great!” he exclaimed. “Now all I have to do is go back inside and watch Netflix!”

After a very long time, the rich man returned from the wild. He immediately sat down at his computer and sent a message to his employees: “I have returned to the grid. Please accept my meeting invite.”

Zane and Wren hopped on the call immediately.

Murray took a little longer.

“I’m excited to see how you’ve handled my money,” said the rich man. “Zane?”

“Through sales of the Fly Shoe, I’ve added five thousand more credits to your gold account!” Zane explained.

“Well done, good and faithful [employee]!” announced the rich man. “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share [my] happiness!”

Next, Wren presented her work. “My adorable traveling robotic hamsters have earned two thousand more credits for your silver account,” she told the rich man.

“Well done, good and faithful [employee]!” the rich man declared. “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share [my] happiness!”At last, it was Murray’s turn. “Uh…hold on…”

Murray reached down and held up a muddy sack. He spilled out coins across his desk.

“How much is that?” asked the rich man with a frown. “One thousand credits,” Murray announced.

“That’s what I gave you,” pointed out the rich man.

Murray squirmed in his seat. “Yeah, well I knew you’re a tough business man. You make money even where you haven’t worked for it! I didn’t want you getting mad. So I just buried the money. See? All safe.”

Murray offered a weak smile, but instead of smiling back, the rich man went red in the face. “You lazy man!” he thundered. “If you knew I can make money even when I haven’t worked for it, you should at least have kept my money in the bank where it would have earned a little bit!”

The rich man turned to his personal assistant and ordered, “Take Murray’s credits and give them to Zane, who already has ten thousand credits! Oh, and take Murray off my payroll immediately!”

The message of Jesus’ story was clear. Those who are responsible with what they’re given will be given more. But those who waste it . . . will end up with nothing.

+++++++++++++++++++++++

What are the things God has given to you? Take a few minutes and make a list.

Think about more than just your stuff. Parents can share first to help you brainstorm. Whether or not you have a lot of clothes or toys or electronics, each of us has been given unique things by God! We have 24 hours each day. We have our words. We have God’s love, which can be shared in kindness and encouragement. We have family relationships and friendships. We even have money, whether it’s a few cents or much more. Each of those things can be wasted—or used wisely. Look at your list again. What is one wise way that you could use each of the things you listed? Pray for each other, that God will help you make good use of the things He has given you this week.

Coming Soon

Responsibility, Week 5

Use Words Wisely

Ephesians 4:29

Use your words wisely.

There’s an old saying you might’ve heard before: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!”

On the surface, that makes sense. If someone drops a heavy rock on your leg, you might end up with a big cast. But if they were to yell at you, you don’t even get a scratch, right?

It’s a little more complicated than that, as we discover in a letter from the apostle Paul to the church in Ephesus.

Paul had spent years teaching the church in Ephesus. But now he was in prison. He wanted to remind the Ephesians what God had done for them, and how it should change the way they treated each other, especially when it came to their words!

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Don’t let any evil talk come out of your mouths. Say only what will help to build others up and meet their needs. Then what you say will help those who listen.”

Your words are strong and powerful! They can make an incredible impact on the people around you, whether that’s for good . . . or not.

Imagine what it might look like if you could see the words you spoke.

On the soccer field, you could call out to a friend, “You totally rocked it on the field today!”

That might look, and feel, like a giant pat on the back.

Your words can be incredibly comforting too. You might tell a friend, “Hey, I know you’ve been feeling kind of sad. I’m always here if you need someone to listen.”

Those words could warm up them up, just like a cozy blanket and a mug of warm cocoa.

But the truth is, we don’t always use our wordy superpowers for good.

What would it feel like if a kid in your class glanced your way and said, “Wow. Did you even look in the mirror this morning?”

Ouch! That might burn, like getting splashed with a boiling hot drink.

And have you ever been super angry? So angry that you said something like, “You’re so mean! I wish you weren’t my brother!”

Those words are sharp! They cut deep, maybe even hurting a relationship.

We all make mistakes with our words sometimes. We all end up hurting others with the things we say. But when that happens, sometimes we get a second chance to use our words wisely.

“I’m really, really sorry. That was an awful thing to say. Can you forgive me?”

Just like your words can hurt people and break relationships, words can also be the glue that puts them back together. Your words can actually bring healing.

Every single one of us has the power to make or break someone else’s day ...with just a few words.

Whether you write it,
speak it,
type it,
or even shape speech with your hands—
your words are an incredible tool.

You may not have the money to buy someone an expensive gift, but the note you write or the encouraging thing you say in the hall may mean even more to them.

So think about your words—each one.
Weigh them carefully.
Picture just what they might look like when they come out of your mouth:

A knife that cuts deep?
Or an encouraging pat on the back.

Remember that Paul believed our words are so important to God that he wrote about it from prison:

Don’t let any evil talk come out of your mouths. Say only what will help to build others up and meet their needs. Then what you say will help those who listen.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Think of three things you said to someone else today. Share them with each other.

How do you think those words made the other person feel? Encouraged? Sad? Angry? (Or maybe you just said, “Hey, can you pass the salt?”) Your words have so much power. Any time you open your mouth, you can change the way someone else feels—for better or for worse. Even how they see themselves in the moment. Now think of three things you could say to someone tomorrow to encourage, comfort, or help. Share them with each other. Pray for each other, that God will remind you throughout the day how powerful your words are and help you choose them wisely.