Bible Class Books Can Be A Waste of the Lord’s Money

I have attended many church business meetings considering purchases for furnishings, the outdoors, classroom supplies, material for edification, gospel meetings or special services (with associated advertising efforts), and a host of worthy matters. Inevitably some decision arises where members express the concern that it is a waste of the Lord’s money (money contributed to the local church on the first day of the week). I contend that Bible Class books are a waste of this money that is to be used for benevolence, edification, and evangelism.

From Free for Commercial Use

Looking at an online bookstore I found some very educational material by Robert Harkrider for about $6.95 per book. Bob and Sandra Waldron published excellent books on the history and geography of the Bible that will take you on an insightful journey through the Bible for about $9.95-14.95 per book. These books reflect extensive study, organization, and writing by true Bible scholars. Even question books at the low cost of $3-4 per book would still fall into this category of wasted money.

Why is this a waste of the Lord’s Money?

Growing up, my mom’s greatest frustration was when we would “throw our money away.” Buying candy and playing coin-operated video games seemed like a wise investment of funds to my ten year-old mind but fell into her “thrown away money” category along with unnecessary fees for late library books or movies, gas used on wasted trips, and food purchased but not eaten. As a father I have adopted her view. We hate to see hard earned money wasted. It is frustrating to see Christians contribute hard earned funds and see it wasted. But you say Bible class books are useful material and provide direction for the class, how could it be a waste of the Lord’s money?

Lost Books: Few things frustrate me more than students–adults and kids–losing their class books by the second or third class period. By the middle and end of the quarter some are using replacement books or the visitor copy. The average class quarter is three months! Some students are costing $15-30 per quarter (serial offenders then are wasting $45-120 per year). Anyone who is responsible for ordering class material has known the frustration of counting the members and adding copies for visitors then reordering books after the first month because some brethren need a book. It is especially frustrating for those who have to copy, collate, and assemble class books (a boring  job) to hear a teacher say “we need you to print some more books for our class.” Several years ago I spent hours making a class book (not counting the many hours writing it) and told the class that I would email them an Adobe Acrobat or Microsoft Word copy of the material if they lost their book and they could reprint copies to their heart’s desire. Some chose to share a book with their neighbor instead.

Unused Books: The often unspoken disappointment of teachers (and I am speaking it here) is walking around an empty classroom or auditorium seeing Bibles and class books left behind for retrieval at the next class period. You know that lesson will not be read and those questions will not be answered in preparation for the next class. Once I asked an adult class to turn to the question page, close their eyes, and hold their pages up and out so that only I could see them. Sadly, a large percentage of the lessons were blank. I wonder if their children had completed lessons?

If many in the congregation will leave their class books in the church building or car or lose them quickly, then it is wasteful for the church to continue to spend money purchasing the material. If 90 class books are ordered (for members, visitors, and replacement copies) and 60% will be unused or lost, then $540 will be wasted that quarter, $2,160 for the year.

Fantasy Solutions

I have some fantasy solutions to address the problem. They are fantasy solutions because I doubt anyone would actually do it; but a man can dream.

Solution 1: At the end of  the last class for the quarter  announce the topic for the next quarter and direct the students to a bookstore to purchase the material. After the shock and silent outrage sets in, tell the class that if they will bring a completed class book to the teacher immediately after class, the church will purchase the next quarter class book for them. After students purchase at least one quarter of material themselves to turn in (completed) at the end of the quarter, they might realize the cost involved and the educational value of completing the material.

Solution 2: There are two classrooms. Someone is posted at the door to the first classroom and those who show a completed lesson (or are visiting) are allowed to enter. Those who have lost books or have not completed their lessons go to the second classroom. In the first classroom the students have an engaging class on the topic because they know the material and perhaps have brought questions developed in the preparation of the lesson. The teacher doesn’t have to teach what was supposed to be prepared ahead of time so the class can get into the material at a greater depth. In the second classroom there is no teacher but a facilitator and the class can discuss whatever jumps in their head. Brother “I Think”, Sister “Preacher So-and-So used to say”, and Brother Internet, who does a quick commentary reference and concordance search and spouts off what the search returned, can opine to their hearts content. It won’t really matter what they discuss since there is no prepared material to know whether the discussion is on track or not, or even scriptural for that matter. It will be full of discussion though, and that can’t be a bad thing!

How Bible Class Books Can Be A Wise Purchase

Keep them: Bible class books are not cheap either in finished product cost or the labor of someone to print and assemble. Keep up with your class book. Kids in public school are given several books and are expected to keep them for a whole school year–nine months! Generally we just have to keep books for a third of that time. Great books like the ones mentioned above are great resources to keep permanently and one can build a useful library with good class books (especially with completed questions and notations of lessons learned).

Use them: A class is enhanced when students come prepared, having read the texts, answered the questions to reinforce their understanding of the subject, and developed their own questions or observations to share with the class. Consider that preparing such a lesson in this way will take longer to complete than the time it takes to ride to the church building.

If we keep the books, the church will not have to purchase more material than necessary, exhibiting wise stewardship of the Lord’s money. If we use the books, then the money will be expended for edification, not an illusion of it, and a wise use of the Lord’s money.

The Widow and the Hypocrites

It sounds like the beginning of a joke, “a widow and some hypocritical scribes went to the temple…” but it describes a contrast of characters that Jesus addressed in Mark 12:38-44. He warned his disciples about the hypocritical scribes and commended the simple actions of an impoverished widow. Consider the sharp contrast between the widow and the scribes

Seeking Society’s Attention vs. Ignored by Society

The scribes loved to hear the sound of their names and the prestige accorded them by the multitudes. They loved to walk through the marketplace and receive greetings that indicated that they were on a higher spiritual level. It was this same condemnation Jesus leveled against those who love to be called by spiritual titles: reverend, rabbi, father, and teacher (Matthew 23:1-12). Even today men covet such titles and wear them as badges of honor and pride instead of being content with the name Christian that all saints wear. The scribes also loved the seats of prominence in the worship and social gatherings. They loved to have the attention of society and played the part of a righteous person though they were corrupt within.

Contrasted to these hypocrites who were praised by society, the simple act of giving a couple of small coins in the treasury was almost unnoticed. Jesus had to draw the attention of the apostles to her act of generosity. While the rich are drawing the eyes of the people in the temple, the widow appears to be moving as a shadow among them, giving a small amount, and disappearing into the mass of worshipers. Yet the Lord noticed her gift and praised her service to his apostles.

Oppressor vs. the Oppressed

Jesus charged the hypocritical scribes with devouring widow’s houses. They used the prominence they enjoyed in society, and perhaps their knowledge of the law, to take advantage of the widows. They should have pleaded the widow’s cause (Isaiah 1:17) and not oppressed them (Zechariah 7:10). These who were weak needed the protection of the scribes but they were victims to their schemes.

It may be, since these stories appear so close in context, that this widow was a victim of the scribes. If so, what great faith of this woman who though “men of God” took advantage of her she did not lose faith in God and continued to serve Him with the little she possessed. It reminds us that the hypocrisy of others, even people esteemed as great people of faith, does not allow us to be unfaithful. God knows the heart of every man and woman. If Jesus could see and judge the scribes as hypocrites on earth, how much more when all are gathered to his throne and every thought, intent, and action is laid open before him. Never let another’s hypocrisy stop your obedience.

Self-Seeking vs. Generosity

As mentioned before, the scribes craved attention instead of giving glory to God. The rich gave to the treasury from their abundance (the extra) but held onto their wealth for their own pleasure. The poor widow gave out of her necessity because she esteemed spiritual treasures of greater value than physical treasures.

Important Lessons For Us

  1. Do we want people to praise us for who we are or what we do for them or are we happy if only God knows who we are?
  2. Are we giving from our abundance or are we sacrificing in order to give to God? This would include money, time, and our selves.
  3. Would we continue serving God even if others were esteeming hypocritical people as godly men and women?
  4. Can we be happy with only God knowing what we do in service to Him?  Remember, the widow’s generous gift would have gone unnoticed by men except Jesus brought their attention to it while the scribes and the rich were the objects of the attention of others.

Let us do all things to God’s glory and seek no glory for ourselves.

How I Was Wrong About A “Dead” Church

When I came back from college one year, I was on a spiritual high having learned much in my college Bible classes, the church where I was attending, and many studies with Christian friends. I was wise beyond my years and eager to share my insightful observations with others. Sitting around the kitchen table one day, I remarked to my mom how our church seemed so dead and that we needed to be “more active.”

My mom kindly told me to sit down and said, “Let me tell you about this ‘dead’ church.” She then began to name person after person, from the oldest to the youngest and the many acts of service they were doing to the glory of God.

She told me of the older mother and daughter who allowed the church to meet in their house, at great inconvenience, when it started. She told me the numerous specific acts of service that the men did for the brethren and those in the community. She told me of the ladies who cleaned numerous houses, provided babysitting without cost, and other humble service to their brethren and others on a continual basis. She told me of the Bible classes with the lost and the encouragement of the weak and unfaithful.

She pointed out that she knew these things because of what she overheard, work she had done with them, or hearing the recipients praise the name of these brethren. She said that I would not know these things otherwise because the brethren were being humble and just going about doing good without fanfare or expectation of earthly praise or reward.

In her wise way, she then asked what I had been doing. At that time much of my effort was selfishly spent on myself. How many cards had I sent or calls had I made to the sick? Oh, I would come when called and work willingly and enthusiastically; but what work was I seeking to remedy the needs of my brethren? It seemed my incorrect and unfair characterization of the local church was only a reflection of what I was failing to do in God’s service. I reacted as Job did when rebuked by God: I put my hand over my mouth and said I would not speak of such again.

When you are quick to condemn brethren worldwide because they have no concern for the poor, ask yourself what you have done for others. I know brethren who have opened their homes to house those in need, made numerous meals and bought groceries for needy families, provided for starving brethren in foreign places, and provided home and car repair services for free to needy brethren.

When you are quick to condemn brethren for not spreading the gospel, ask yourself what you have done to teach others. I know brethren who have a calendar filled with studies or provide a location or babbitting to help the teacher and student. I know businesspeople who take time from work to go to foreign lands to spread the gospel, provide support to preachers, and use their company resources (copiers, computers, etc.) to encourage the spread of the gospel. I know people from all walks of life who are constantly looking for opportunities to teach others.

Reminds me of a visual description our Lord used: we must first get the log out of our own eye so we can help with the grain lodged in the eye of our brother. I was glad my mother helped me dislodge that log so I could see the beauty of God working through the lives of so many in my local church and join with them to offer service to the glory of God.

The Doctor or the Waitress: Who Will Tell You What You Need To Hear?

The Doctor

I am grateful to have such a good doctor. In addition to his extensive medical knowledge, he has an excellent bedside manner and is enthusiastic about his work. I really think that he likes me as a person and wants the best for me. Recently, however, he has not been such a fun person to visit.

It all started after my last physical. I expected him to look at me quickly and tell me that I was in good health. Instead, he ran some tests. Some, like the blood test, actually hurt! I did not see why his examination should be painful.

After the tests, he came in to talk with me. I expected this nice doctor, whom I am sure would like to keep my business, to compliment me on my good health. Instead, he told me that I needed to change my diet, removing bad foods that would raise my cholesterol. I agreed completely until he started to list the bad food—and it was food that I liked. He also prescribed some medicines, which cost me money, and I have to remember to take daily. He even told me to exercise more though it requires additional time and effort. When I was sick recently I expected him to tell me that I would just get better. Instead, I had to take more medicine and avoid some fun activities for a few days. As you can see, he is not much fun to visit anymore.

Sometimes I wonder if he still cares anything about me.

The Waitress

A couple of weeks ago I ate out at a popular steak restaurant. I immediately liked our waitress; she was not sullen or rude but very friendly to me and my family. She took care of us very well. Our drink glasses stayed full and she got our orders correct the first time.

I think what I liked most about her was that she was not judgmental. When she took our drink order, I asked for a Coke. She gave me no lecture on caffeine and its affect on my heart but brought me a full glass and plenty of refills. When we ordered the food, it soon became apparent that I could order anything on the menu, even some of the “bad” foods my doctor warned me about, and she would bring them out with a smile. I would guess that I could have even ordered a large quantity of food and she would never have told me that it was too much or that I might get indigestion.

After the meal, she asked if we wanted dessert. Nearly everything on the doctor’s “banned” list was on the dessert menu. I summoned my courage and asked for the brownie with ice cream and fudge topping. I expected rebuke but instead received a very large (and delicious) dessert.

After I forced down the last spoonful of ice cream, the waitress brought the check. It began to dawn on me that for every thing that I ordered, I was expected to leave at least a 15% tip. It was in her financial interest for me to order a lot of food, whether it was good for my physical health or not. However, she did not seem to be motivated by the money but just wanted to do her job well.

It was not her concern, of course, whether the food that I ordered was good for me or not. I think she expected me to know what food was good and bad and to order accordingly.

Replace your doctor with your server?

None of us would like our doctor to be our food server at a restaurant. He would tell us that we could not order certain foods because of health concerns, would probably limit the size of our portions, and not bring us any dessert. Likewise, though we might joke about it, we would not want our server to be our doctor. He would tell us what we want to hear, not bring any bad news or hurt us, and would tell us to eat anything we want. Of course, our health would suffer greatly under such treatment for he would not correct poor health habits nor cure our ailments.

Who do you want for a preacher?

A certain preacher often preached on things the congregation needed to hear but would require them to change some bad behaviors. It would cause them some inner pain to realize that they were disobeying God and would have to change their lives to please God. Some thought he was mad at them or did not want them to enjoy themselves.

Another preacher would tell the congregation the things that they wanted to hear. He preached about entertaining things and avoided issues that would require effort to understand. He was careful not to preach on anything that would cause his audience discomfort, make them question cherished beliefs, or change bad habits (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Which preacher do you need?

Does God Wish You Wouldn’t Bother Him?

Could you imagine coming to worship God and Him telling you He wishes you would just go home and lock the doors of the place of worship so you didn’t waste His time or yours? What if He told you that your sacrifices were insulting and you wasted your time giving to Him? Someone might think that God was being cold and unfeeling since you were taking the time to serve Him. You might think He was ungrateful for not accepting what you were offering in sacrifice. What could drive such a loving and merciful God to wish you wouldn’t come into His presence? The answer is in Malachi 1:6-14.

In the first chapter of Malachi God is bringing charges against His people and answers the defense they might present. He describes how He detests their assembly and sacrifices. Their worship was so foul to Him that He wished that they would just stay home and lock the doors of the temple. Consider the case against God’s people:

They didn’t offer their best worship

The Old Law specified the animals to be brought for various sacrifices but all were to be of the best quality. The Creator deserves the best of His creation. Instead of bringing the best animals for sacrifice they brought the animals that were blind, lame, and sick animals that were useless or ready to die. Some even brought stolen animals. God considered such a sacrifice insulting. Such sacrifices reflected a lack of honor for serving God. He challenged them to take these animals as a gift to the governor to see if he would appreciate them. If an earthly leader would be insulted how much more the God of heaven! Perhaps they thought that God would have to accept whatever they offered. They were wrong.

They considered worship a burden

God who knows the hearts revealed their secret thoughts. They said worshiping God was a weariness. Such an attitude was disrespectful to God who is “a great king” and “the Lord of hosts.” Do we think the host of angels in heaven consider adoration of God to be tiresome? How sad it is when someone cannot be bothered to worship God or must go complaining of the inconvenience.

Because of these attitudes God wished that there was someone who recognized the foolishness of thinking God would accept such empty worship and close the doors of the temple to prevent such abominations from continuing. Spiritual emptiness and half-hearted gestures dishonor and insult the name of God.

What about your worship?

Hebrews 13:15: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”

  • When you worship God do you offer Him your best in offering the sacrifice of praise through singing or do you mumble the words, singing without thinking about what you are doing, or not sing at all?
  • Do you give prayers and Bible study your focus and attention or do you use the time to whisper with friends, text, or sleep?
  • You do not bring animal sacrifices but you are a living sacrifice to God, Romans 12:1. Do you indulge in sinful pleasures and practices during the week and present yourself to God spiritually lame and blind and expect Him to accept your defiled offering? Some people think that they can live an immoral lifestyle and be acceptable to God as long as they go to some worship services and put some money in the collection plate. God is not pleased with such offerings.
  • Do you give God the best of your time, money, and service or do you pray, study, and serve others only when it is convenient for you?
  • Will you quickly sacrifice attending a worship service to attend to your own pleasures?
  • Do you prepare your Bible lesson for class and meditate on the message or show up unprepared and uninterested?
  • Do you give money willingly, cheerfully, and liberally to the work of the Lord or do you bring a meager offering of what is left after you have spent money on your own pleasures?
  • Are you giving yourself in worship to God or just showing up, putting in your time, and getting back to the earthly things that really bring you joy in life.
  • If everyone worshiped as you do would God wish that you would just stay home because it does not honor Him?

If you feel your worship is empty, boring, and uninspiring look carefully at what you are bringing to God. The problem is not the order of worship, the quality of the preacher or singing, or the number of people assembled together. Those who do not give their best in worship will not leave spiritually nourished and refreshed or encouraged.

Let your attitude in worship be that of David:

  • Psalm 122:1 “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD’!”
  • Psalm 42:1-2, 4 “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? …These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.”
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