Your Little Ones, Dear Lord, Are We – Week of December 5, 2016

Your Little Ones, Dear Lord, Are We – Week of December 5, 2016

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
Mark 10:14

ECME Devotion – December 5, 2016

Devotion based on Mark 10:14

See series: ECME Devotions

“Children should be seen and not heard!” This phrase, though readily accepted by many, is a sad commentary on how some view the presence of children, especially young ones. It is somewhat surprising to see this attitude in the twelve disciples. In their view, and in the view of some that we come into contact with today, the implication is this: Children are too immature to profit from the Lord’s attention.

Jesus’ words in our passage above are a comforting reminder of how highly Jesus, the ruler of creation, loves and treasures each of his children. How highly? So highly that he says, “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Why is it that our Savior holds these children in such high esteem? The key to answering that question comes from a different portion of Scripture. In Matthew 18:2, Jesus says, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Faith alone grants entrance into the kingdom of heaven. So why is it that all people must become like children in their faith? The faith of a believing child is unquestioning! It simply trusts what God has to say, never once doubting that God’s promises hold true.

As a worker in an early childhood ministry, you see that faith on display every day. When your children loudly sing the songs of Jesus’ love, they don’t care what others think about them. When they go home and tell their unbelieving parents–or even their believing ones–what they learned about Jesus that day, they teach us a lesson about going and telling. When they fold their hands at the lunch table, even when you don’t remind them, they serve as a good reminder to stop and say thanks for all that you have been given.

Hopefully, we haven’t ever hindered a little one from coming to the feet of Christ. Jesus’ words to us in this passage do serve as a gut check for us as we witness and reflect the love of Christ to our children, our co-workers, and our parents. Do we ever act like the disciples in one way or another by preventing others from seeing the love of Christ? Chances are, there are times when we have. But be assured, dear reader, that Christ’s blood covers up those times we have done just that. And we ourselves remain a child of Christ.

Your little ones, dear Lord, are we
And come your lowly bed to see;
Enlighten ev’ry soul and mind
That we the way to you may find.
(Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 46)

Creative Commons LicenseEarly Childhood Ministry Educator’s (ECME) Devotions are brought to you by WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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The power to love – Women’s Devotion

The power to love – Women’s Devotion

This is my command: Love each other.
John 15:17

Jesus spoke these words to his disciples just hours before his death on the cross. As he speaks them to me today, I am filled with eagerness to keep his command. Then discouragement washes over me. Jesus’ words convict me of my failures: impatience with my husband, anger toward my beautiful child, irritation with fellow believers, avoidance of others who need my love. How can I possibly show true love, Christ-like love, in every circumstance, to everyone whom God has placed in my life?

Yet Jesus did not give this command without also making it possible for me—and for you—to fulfill it. Jesus spoke these words during his last Passover meal with his disciples, the night before his crucifixion. After having loved perfectly everyone he encountered throughout his life, he was about to show the world the extent of his love. He would be taking on himself all our failures to love, and paying for those sins on the cross. Now, through faith in Jesus, God sees in us not the failures, but rather Jesus’ track record of perfect love. What a tremendous gift! Yet God gives us even more. We can love as Christ commanded, because we have the gift of God himself inside us, powerfully and wonderfully at work in our hearts.

Jesus’ last conversation with his disciples assured both them and us that God, the source of our power to love, lives and works inside each believer. Jesus taught the disciples about the believer’s intimate connection with all three Persons of the Trinity. Earlier in John 15, Jesus used the word picture of branches growing from a main vine to describe the connection of believers to himself. While the individual branch stays connected to the main vine, it naturally will bear fruit. We as branches will bear fruit—not by our own power, but by the power flowing to us from the main vine, Jesus. This includes the fruit of Christ-like love! In fact, we will bear “much fruit” (vs. 5). Sisters, let us remember our intimate connection with our Savior, draw in the nourishment of the Word and sacraments, and joyfully anticipate the fruit that we are promised will develop in time.

Jesus also assured the disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit—the Counselor and Encourager. He told the disciples that the Holy Spirit “lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). This promise was fulfilled for the disciples at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit transformed the disciples from loveless deserters of Christ into bold lovers of God, distinguished from the rest of the world by their sacrificial love for one another and for those who hated them. Jesus’ promise is fulfilled for us today, sisters in Christ. As we study the Word, the Holy Spirit comes to us and transforms us into bold lovers of Christ and of everyone God places in our lives.

Jesus’ words provide even more encouragement. Jesus promised that he and the Father “will come to [the believer] and make our home with him” (John 14:23). God does not stop by briefly to give us a little boost when he sees we are running on fumes. He has taken up permanent residence inside us! God’s power is ours, every day, in every situation we face. It never runs out. It never fails. As Paul told believers in Philippians 2:13: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Be encouraged, dear sisters! When we feel we have no strength and cannot manufacture a loving thought, let alone act accordingly, let us remember who resides in us. The almighty Creator of the universe even now is creating in us the desire to love others as Christ loved us. The Provider of everything necessary for the world’s welfare even now is producing through us the acts of love that serve the needs of those around us.

Yes, we can love as Christ loved us. We can fulfill Jesus’ final command before his death on the cross. The power for such constant, complete, and sacrificial love resides in us, because our God resides in us. Jesus assured his disciples of this truth in so many beautiful ways. Sisters, with boldness, with joy, with the power of our almighty, triune God working in us, let us love each other!

Prayer: Dear Jesus, I confess to you my failures to love. I thank and praise you for your work of paying for all those failures, and loving perfectly in my place. I trust your promise that the Father will give me anything I ask in your name. I now pray for greater and greater Christ-like love in all my relationships. Work in me to bear more and more fruit, to your glory. In your saving name, I confidently pray. Amen.

For Further Reading:
John 15:1-17

Written by Mollie Schairer
Reviewed by Professor Lyle Lange

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My Heart Leaps – Week of November 21, 2016

My Heart Leaps – Week of November 21, 2016

The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.
Psalm 28:7

ECME Devotion – November 21, 2016

Devotion based on Psalm 28:7

See series: ECME Devotions

There is nothing quite like the zeal and passion we see on a child’s face as they sing praises to Jesus. At times I have wished I could let go of inhibition and dance and sway during particularly moving hymns that accompany our service. What stops us from doing this? What stops us from demonstrating our thanks to God with our whole bodies? We tend to get more animated at sporting events or more emotional at the movie theater than we do in response to the message in church on Sunday. While customs and personality play a part, could it also be that sin has dulled our zeal? This is an area where we can appreciate the little children of our congregation, and even learn from them. Appreciating their joy is the first step. What follows is incorporating a child-like faith by putting our desire to praise God into action.

My heart leaps for joy—what an amazing proclamation! I doubt that David sat still as he sang about his heart leaping with pure delight. Just as we witness children’s ability to proclaim their love for Jesus while dancing or shouting praises to our God, likely so was David as he pondered Christ’s strength and goodness in his life. While we may not physically dance or sway, that overwhelming zeal comes from knowing God’s grace, that he is our strength, our shield, and we can trust in him. What a wonderful thing to be excited about! It is only right we declare with enthusiasm the love that Christ has shown to us and share that incredible message with the young children and families we serve, our own families, friends, and acquaintances.

Prayer: Dear Lord, my heart leaps with joy as David’s did when I think of your goodness in my life. Please help me demonstrate my zeal for you to all those around me in all that I do, reflecting you and your love. I pray in your name. Amen.

Creative Commons LicenseEarly Childhood Ministry Educator’s (ECME) Devotions are brought to you by WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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My Room – Week of November 14, 2016

My Room – Week of November 14, 2016

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
John 14:1-4

ECME Devotion – November 14, 2016

Devotion based on John 14:1-4

See series: ECME Devotions

My two 4-year-old sons have lots of questions, some of which I feel unprepared to answer. Recently the topic of Jesus being in heaven came up and one of them expressed fear over going to heaven stating, “I don’t want to go to heaven to be with Jesus. That is scary for me!” I could relate. I recall being nervous on several occasions when I was confronted with near death experiences. How could I blame my boy for feeling the same way?

Then I recalled the comforting passage in John about Jesus preparing a room for us in heaven. What a beautifully simple analogy! I read it to them and we talked about the coolest room they could possibly imagine. We pictured Jesus getting it ready for them and how he was taking great care to make sure it was welcoming, special, and far better than anything we could even dream of. And we talked about the best part of all-Jesus will be there! When we were done my son exclaimed, “I miss Jesus; I want to visit him now!”

That discussion really turned their thoughts towards death being something desirable for a Christian. Now when the topic of death comes up, we recall with anticipation the room that Jesus is preparing for us in heaven. Heaven is our home and our Father is waiting excitedly to greet us rather than a distant God who will usher us into the unknown. I am happy that my boys can share with me in the knowledge and reassurance of Jesus’ promises.

Prayer: Dear heavenly Father, thank you for the promises you have given me about my heavenly home. Please help me remember that heaven is my home and it is far greater than anything I have here on earth, especially knowing you will be there. I pray in your name. Amen.

Creative Commons LicenseEarly Childhood Ministry Educator’s (ECME) Devotions are brought to you by WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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He Will Be with You – Week of November 7, 2016

He Will Be with You – Week of November 7, 2016

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.
Deuteronomy 36:8

ECME Devotion – November 7, 2016

Devotion based on Deuteronomy 36:8

See series: ECME Devotions

It is fairly easy to grow discouraged in day-to-day life. Whether it be a co-worker complaining, a disturbing story on the news, or a family issue that is plaguing your heart, reasons to become disheartened or even afraid are plentiful. Our sinful nature latches onto these situations and our mind runs wild with anxiety.

We cannot change the sinful nature we were born with. However, we can rewire our thoughts and center our hearts on Jesus and his promises. Deuteronomy 36:8 tells us that we do not need to be afraid or discouraged because the Lord will never leave us. What a reassuring thought! No matter what challenges we are going through our Lord is standing by our side, waiting for us to turn to him for the strength and courage we need to continue. When we remember that we do not walk this path of life alone the journey becomes less daunting. When we fix our eyes on Jesus it becomes easier to put our day-to-day hardships into perspective. Our confidence comes from him, from what he has done and what he continues to do for us.

He is with us now as we experience this earthly life. He will stand by us as we leave this earth and he will greet us with open arms in heaven one day. What a comfort!

Prayer: Dear Jesus, thank you for the reassurance that you are always by my side. Help me to remember your protection when my heart is filled with anxiety. I pray in your name. Amen.

A question to consider: Are there any worries in life that you need to turn over to Jesus? If so, how can you do so?

Creative Commons LicenseEarly Childhood Ministry Educator’s (ECME) Devotions are brought to you by WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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A New Covenant – November 2, 2016

“The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Jeremiah 31:31-34

A New Covenant

Daily Devotion – November 2, 2016

Devotion based on Jeremiah 31:31-34

See series: Devotions

You get a new job. Before you go to work, you have to sit down with your employer and come to an agreement on your wage, benefits and the tasks you are expected to complete. When all of those details are ironed out, you and your employer put those details down on paper and sign it, stating that each of you will honor your end of the deal. You promise to work a certain amount of hours completing a certain task or tasks. Your employer promises certain compensation to you for your work. It’s a contract, a legally binding agreement between two parties which outlines what each party does for the other.

While it is not an exact parallel, the word “covenant” in the Bible is much like a contract. In Jeremiah chapter 31, God says, “The time is coming… when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers…because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them.” God speaks about two covenants, the new one and the one which had been broken but not by God.

God had made a covenant with Israel. It is summarized in Exodus chapter 19, verses 5 & 6, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations, you will be my treasured possession… you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Simply put, God would make Israel his special people for a special purpose, and on the other side Israel was to obey God fully. Sadly, the Israelites were just like all of us: sinful. They forsook God and broke his covenant. We’re no different. Daily we choose sin over righteousness, lies over the truth, hurtful words over kindness, grudges over forgiveness, anger over patience, selfishness over selflessness. The list could go on.

If our status before God depended upon holding up an agreement with God, eternity would not look good for us. But here is where God’s “new” covenant comes in. This is a one-sided covenant, where God does something for us and that’s it. He says, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” This sin-forgetting forgiveness is accomplished by the sinless life of Jesus, his death on the cross, and his victorious resurrection from the dead. Through faith in Jesus, God does not hold our sins against us because he held them against his Son. Through faith in Jesus, the God of heaven and earth is our God and we are his.

The only covenant, the only contract that matters for you is one-sided: God declares you his forgiven son or daughter and he signed it with the blood of his Son, your Savior, Jesus.

(Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal – 389):

Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee; Let the water and the blood from thy riven side which flowed be of sin the double cure: cleanse me from its guilt and power.

Not the labors of my hands can fulfill thy laws demands. Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone. Thou must save, and thou alone.

DailyCreative Commons License Devotions are brought to you by WELS and
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. ™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.
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A shaking faith turns to a mighty Lord – Womens Devotion

A shaking faith turns to a mighty Lord – Women’s Devotion

The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.
Exodus 14:14

The Israelites had just finished a terribly long sentence of slavery in Egypt—4 centuries worth! God allowed Pharaoh’s hardened heart to soften just enough to give the Israelites their long-awaited freedom. Pharaoh was stubborn, and as soon as he realized what he had really done, he ordered his huge fleet of chariots and officers to pursue the Israelites. Seeing his army close in on them, the Israelites resorted to complaining to the Lord and to Moses. Their impending doom at the hand of Pharaoh terrified them. So Moses, by divine inspiration, reminded them of God’s power over everything and gave them these words: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:13-14).

Then comes the rest of the story. Just after Moses told the Israelites to be still, the LORD told Moses to get the people going! God was ready to show his mighty power to the Israelites and the Egyptians once again, but he wanted the Israelites to move and do it quickly! Can you even imagine about a million people trying to escape this 600-plus chariot army? Nothing is impossible with God, and he held the deep waters of the Red Sea back as every last one of the Israelites passed through safely. As promised, he showed his glory and power by keeping the Israelites safe, while allowing those waters to sweep over the Egyptian army which was right on their heels.

The mighty torrents of a hurricane whip against our coasts. Mental illness knocks on our minds and hearts like an enemy trying to pummel us to the ground. Financial burdens bring frustration and we just can’t see a way to recover. Children wander away from their childhood faith, swallowed up by the evils of this world. All these circumstances may leave us feeling like the Israelites—worried and scared. Our faith shakes and we complain to our Lord—Why do you let me suffer so, Lord? God, how do you expect me to deal with the hardship and heartache?

Remember, dear sisters, the God you serve is the same God who created the entire universe. The God you serve is the same God who fought for his people by holding back an entire sea. The God you serve is the same God who brought his Son into the world and allowed him to go to the cross and sacrifice his life to give you salvation from all your sins that you may live forever with him in a glorious heaven. This same God will fight for you against whatever enemies are threatening your faith. He promises it! And even in the darkest of times, when your fears and wavering faith immobilize you, God helps you get going just like he did for the Israelites. Yes, he tells us to be still for he is God. Let him calm your worries; calm your heart with his forgiveness for your shaking and complaining. But then each day find in him your strength to continue to press on toward the goal, dear Christian. The LORD will fight for you and will continue to fight for you through all of life’s struggles until you finally reach your heavenly goal beside your Lord and Savior.

Lord Jesus, since you love me,
Oh, spread your wings above me
And shield me from alarm.
Though Satan would assail me,
Your mercy will not fail me;
I rest in your protecting arm.
Christian Worship 587:3

Written by Paula Sulzle
Reviewed by Pastor Joel Gerlach

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Grace – Week of October 31, 2016

Grace – Week of October 31, 2016

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

ECME Devotion – October 31, 2016

Devotion based on Esphesians 2:8-9

See series: ECME Devotions

One of my favorite things about early childhood is watching each child approach a task in their own way. I especially love it when they are given a blank piece of paper and crayons or paint. Some get right at it as if they’ve been planning for this all day. Some may sit and think about what to create and where to begin. Some may need some nudging. Then there’s the moment of completion. When are they done? For some, it’s a quick process and they are satisfied before some children have even put brush to paper. Some are methodical and will work step by step, carefully reviewing their work before determining they are finished. Still others will paint and paint until the paper is worn through.

Our reading today reminds us of the gift of grace. We are saved by that grace through faith. We know that. We know that God has done it all for us. We know that what Jesus did on the cross, in the grave, on Easter morning and at Ascension has completed everything for us. That is amazing! But as human beings, sinful human beings, this is so hard to grasp!

Sometimes we can be like the children in their work at creating their painting. We keep working and working, striving and striving, so often led by guilt or a feeling of not having done enough. We want to please God, and that’s a wonderful goal. But our works, our efforts, are not a means to draw us closer to God or heaven. All that we do should be a reflection of what God has done. It’s never about us. It’s always about him. We help the struggling child and use words of comfort to point them to Jesus’ comfort for them. We reach out to a family in need to reflect Jesus’ heart of love for all. We strive to provide excellence in our classrooms so that nothing gets in the way of the children hearing about their loving Savior. This side of heaven, it’s hard to grasp and understand this. But his grace is sufficient; his grace has done it all. We get to live a life of joy and peace because of what he has done. Put your paintbrush of good work down. Your painting of forgiveness has been completed by Jesus. Instead, live each day rejoicing in that gift of his grace and sharing it with others.

Prayer: Dear Father, you provide a peace that is beyond human understanding. That peace is in the grace you have given to us through faith. “Thank you” seems so inadequate but our gratitude is overwhelming when we consider all your grace has given us. Help us to live as a reflection of your grace, pointing to you. In your name we pray. Amen.

Creative Commons LicenseEarly Childhood Ministry Educator’s (ECME) Devotions are brought to you by WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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A father to the fatherless – Womens Devotion

A father to the fatherless – Women’s Devotion

I was just nine years old. I knew almost nothing about cancer. I didn’t know anyone who had cancer. It was only something I heard about when adults talked to each other, or I would catch glimpses of a public service announcement on television that told about the effects of cancer. Then it happened to my daddy. And just like that “cancer” became a word I despised.

It sounded bad. Really bad. Lung cancer. By that time I had already heard enough to know that smoking is bad for you—how it damages your lungs and how it can even kill you. I was old enough to put two and two together. My dad smoked, and now he had lung cancer. Deep down I think I knew he was nearing the end of his life.

Nine months later cancer claimed my dad’s earthly life, but death did not hold him. As Jesus told Martha at the death of her brother Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25,26). I wrote these words in the front of my school Bible and looked at them often. I believed the promises of Jesus; I knew my dad believed those words too. He was washed in the waters of baptism and lived his life as a redeemed child of God. Now he lived with Jesus in the glorious realms of heaven.

I heard God’s promises in my life daily and believed them, but in the upcoming days and years I would let doubt and anger creep in. My dad’s death occurred at a time in my life I really felt I needed him most. I needed my dad’s secure arms around me so I could feel his love for me. I needed his loving but firm voice to tell me words like, “I am disappointed in your decision. You used poor judgment and what you did was wrong. Now let’s talk about what you can do differently next time.” I needed his soft voice to tell me the words I needed to hear, like “I love you; I’m proud of you!”

“A father to the fatherless…is God in his holy dwelling” (Psalm 68:5).

I felt the need for loving guidance from my father, but God had different plans for my life. Instead, he gave me an earthly father for a short time—a time during which my dad continually pointed me to Jesus and his saving work. Then God placed other Christian family and friends in my life, not to replace my dad, but to continue his legacy of faith. These people were not in my life by chance. God used them to nurture and encourage me in his promises.

God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Did I ever cling to those promises! What else could have pulled me out of the deep, dark places that I allowed very few people to see? My heavenly Father knew how I struggled to cope, and he knew exactly how to rescue me from my heartache and sadness. His Word gave me the comfort and true guidance I needed. No matter how much I thought I needed my earthly father, this need could never compare to my need for my heavenly Father. God led me to see my need for him, at that time and in the many years to come.

“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).

In the coming years, there would be many times I would feel the need for a father in my life. I missed the special father-daughter relationship I saw so many of my friends experience. At those times I knew I should turn to my perfect heavenly Father, yet I didn’t always do this. I would turn to people who seemed to fill the void…until I realized I was idolizing those special people in my life. That’s not what God intended either. Thankfully, God used those same people I clung to so desperately to point me back to him.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

God allows us to go through difficult times to draw us closer to him. It might take months; it might take years to work through the pain and loss. Yet he promises to never let us go. No earthly father can ever give the perfect peace, stilling comfort and unending love we receive from our heavenly Father! He is the Father who will give me the gift of heaven—the gift of seeing my dad again! And for that I rejoice!

Prayer: O Lord, you are my only true Father. In Christ you redeemed me; through Baptism you made me your own dear child. Thank you, Father! In the times when I wander away from you, bring me back to your loving embrace. In the times when I am tempted to turn to loved ones before I turn to you, keep my eyes focused on your promises. Thank you for loving me. I love you, Father! Amen.

Written by Paula Sulzle
Reviewed by Professor-emeritus David Valleskey

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Why – Womens Devotion

Why? – Women’s Devotion

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.
Psalm 42:1

(A devotion for the Christian who is under great, long-lasting stress)

My heart is in pain and cries out for help. I know God has everything planned out and under his control. I know he has promised me that he will care for me, provide for me, never give me more than I can handle. I even know he loves me. I do believe his promises and can quote Scripture passages tucked away in my memory that reassure me of these truths. But then, why do I feel so distressed? Why do people seem to annoy me so? Why do I feel as if I just can’t make any progress? Why do I feel so unappreciated when I work so very hard to please? Why do I feel so alone? Why can’t I just get a break now and then?

I just want to sit in a corner and weep—no, not weep, but cry great big tears! But I’m God’s child. He calls me by name. He cares about me. He knows how I feel without my shedding even one tear. He doesn’t leave me alone! These are the days when the Holy Spirit hears my moans, and through the Word, he begins to guide my thoughts.

He tells me about Elijah who sat under a broom tree, quit eating, and asked God to just end his life. Elijah had just witnessed an amazing display of God’s power and sovereignty, but he allowed Satan to totally distract him with the real fear that Jezebel wanted to take his life. Then Satan kicked him while he was down with thoughts of isolation which made him feel as if there was no one in the whole world who cared.

What was God’s remedy? Get up, eat, and get to work! God didn’t come to Elijah in almighty power, but in a gentle whisper, with mercy and compassion and yet with a firmness that made Elijah see the world as a humble servant committed to doing God’s will. Maybe I should read 1 Kings 19 again and see how these verses might apply to me right now. Maybe I should listen for that gentle whisper.

Who is the Jezebel in my life? Is it someone in particular who just always seems to criticize, discourage, attack, gossip? Is it a situation that seems to take on a life of its own as it grows and overshadows everything I do? Is it something of my own making where I can’t seem to live up to my own expectations? Is it my own insecurities or fears, real or imagined? Jezebel takes on many different forms, but they are all Satan in disguise, getting me to take my eyes off Jesus and the purpose he has given me in life.

In 2 Corinthians 12, I read about Paul repeatedly begging that God would remove the thorn from his flesh. To Paul it was huge and sapped the joy out of every day. It just wouldn’t go away. If only that thorn was gone he knew he could do his ministry so much better. Let me see, why was that thorn there in the first place? It was to keep Paul from being conceited, to make Paul realize that God’s grace provides all that is needed to accomplish God’s plan for him in this world.

What’s my thorn? Do I feel as if I am so gifted that I’m irreplaceable? Do I feel that I know best and others just don’t get it? Do I try to be so perfect that I can never, ever be criticized? Do I focus on me and what people think of me instead of on humble service to God’s glory? Do I try too hard on the wrong things or try with a tainted attitude? On any given day I’m probably guilty of all of these things. Yet once again, God knows these things about me and reassures me that when I lean on him, my work and my life are acceptable to him. For when I am weak, then I am strong. I’m strong because God has me in his hand!

In is times like these the Spirit reminds me of Psalm 42 and I ask God to make my soul pant after him like a thirsty deer in the forest. What a picture! What a singular focus! How refreshing as that first gulp removes the intense thirst. Let my thirst for God, the hope and confidence he gives me, thunder louder than anything Satan has to offer.

I know the same situations will be here in the morning. However, my attitude can be different. My focus can be different. My confidence won’t be in me, but in God. My attitude will be one of submission to God, his chastening and his will. My God wipes away the tears and lets me shout with joy and thanksgiving in the most desperate of situations.

Prayer: Lord, lead me. Give me wisdom, give me patience. Set my priorities and change my heart. Remind me daily that when I am weak then I am strong. Amen.

For Further Reading:
Psalm 71:12, Psalm 118:24

Written by Marilyn Miller
Reviewed by Professor-emeritus David Valleskey

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The difference – Womens Devotion

The difference – Women’s Devotion

My life has been under some pretty major reconstruction lately. I could make an elaborate bulleted list for you with the dates and changes in my life in an effort to make your head spin the way that mine has been, but I’ll spare you.

During this time, there have been an unbelievable amount of unknowns. I have found myself repeating a few scripture verses and hymns to help refocus when I’m feeling especially stressed out. Plenty of “I Am Trusting You, Lord Jesus,” “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:11), and a whole, whole lot of “lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:1-3).

“Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.
I long to dwell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
For you, God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name” (Psalm 61:1-5).

As I’ve reflected on that picture of being led to that higher rock, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about those people who don’t see that refuge in their lives.

Even unbelievers know that life isn’t going to be perfect, that “in this world they will have trouble” (John 16:33). Try to imagine life with that alone. The idea that this life is all there is, and you have one shot at health, wealth, and happiness is harrowing for more than one reason. Not only are you missing the entirety of all the incredible joy and perfection that comes after death, but it makes this life a whole lot harder too!

It sure feels like the devil works harder on the lives of Christians, making it at least seemingly less pleasant than that of unbelievers. Even the lost, though, are wandering through life’s journey on a battle ground. The difference is that they don’t know. They aren’t holding the map that says, “This is (I am) the way”, so they’re trying to find it on their own. When bullets are flying and they feel under attack on this journey, it’s so often unexpected. Not only are they unsure of which way to run, but they haven’t put on the breastplate of righteousness, and they don’t even see the sword of the Spirit. Never mind knowing where to turn for true and lasting refuge.

Life in this world is hard. But take heart!

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33.)

Even on my most exhausted, defeated, despairing nights, I have the comfort that I’m just a stranger here. This is all temporary. There is so much more. Rather than feeling so disappointed and frustrated that I’m missing out on valuable time here in my one shot at health, wealth, and happiness, that I’m being robbed of peace in this life, I know that this life is never where I was supposed to look for peace in the first place.

“You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal” Isaiah 26:3-4.

Even in your darkest, hardest moments, you are so, so blessed. Not only were you warned about troubles you would face, clued in on your purpose here, and equipped for what was to come, you know where you’re going.

I’ll say it again: Life in this world is hard. It’s hard for us, and it’s hard for unbelievers. The difference in this life is great. The difference after this life, though, is the point of the matter. We will continue to face hardships, but at the end we rest in perfect, perfect joy and peace. Even those who seem to evade life’s onslaught are to be mourned if they aren’t heavenward bound.

You’ve heard the quote by Ian Maclaren (or Plato, depending who you ask) “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” but I believe our calling goes beyond kindness. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Imitate Christ. Dear sisters, we are in this war together, and not all people are heavenward bound. Becoming an ally in a battle may help determine where someone finds herself at the end of the war.

Prayer Suggestions:

  • Pray that God lead you to his Word and promises every day—whether busy or blessed or burdensome.
  • Pray that you can accept the good and the bad, knowing that God will use all things for your good.
  • Pray that God will help you see past your strife and to look to the cross where Jesus laid his life down for you.

Written by Jes Woller
Reviewed by Professor-emeritus David Valleskey

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Womens ministry—a gift – Womens Devotion

Women’s ministry—a gift! – Women’s Devotion

It’s always fun to get a gift isn’t it? It’s fun for both those giving and those receiving. This morning we’d like to take a few minutes to talk about gifts.

Have you ever thought of women’s ministry as a gift? Think of it this way: the service God provides his church and the world through us is a gift, and the privilege of using the individual gifts he gives each one of us is also a gift! God blesses his church when he calls his people into service to carry out his purpose—it’s everything we do to bring Christ to the world. And what a blessing it is to be a part of it.

The idea of service being a gift is not new. It was established way back in the Old Testament. Here’s what the Lord spoke to Aaron and his sons. This is from Numbers 18:7b: “I am giving you the service of the priesthood as a gift.” God said this when establishing the priesthood in the Old Testament.

The verses before this state the responsibility of the kind of service Aaron was called to do (to bear offenses, to perform the duties, to care for the whole Tent of Meeting) but all of it was a gift from God—the bearing, the performing, the caring—it was God’s grace at work for his people, and it was the only hope of deliverance for them. We also want to note that this was the LORD, the Covenant Savior/God who was speaking here.

God made a significant change in the New Testament. The priesthood was no longer limited to a special group, Aaron and his descendants, as in the Old Testament. It was given to all God’s people. The Bible calls this the priesthood of all believers. Women’s ministry is an integral part of this gift of God to his church—God serving his people through his representatives.

The Bible study Heirs Together of God’s Gracious Gift of Life by Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Professor Rich Gurgel and Kathie Wendland, a WELS publication, talks about it in this way: “God has given us grace upon grace to set before us the eternally important work of being his priests, his representatives, in this world. Our calling is to let his light shine, in all that we do, wherever we are. God’s grace gives meaning and purpose to every activity of life.” (p. 22)

In 1 Peter 2:4-5 we read: “As you come to him [Jesus], the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

We also read: “So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12).

When gifts are given, they oftentimes need to be unwrapped. That’s what we’re doing here today. We’re initiating and unwrapping a women’s ministry effort to discover how we might serve and offer ourselves in whatever way the Lord determines, in a God-pleasing way according to the callings and order established for us in Scripture.

As we unwrap, we discover that there are many responsibilities involved as noted in the verses we read, but even when it’s heavy and we get tangled up, it’s still a gift! It’s a gift when the church is built up, providing a way for individuals to respond to God’s gracious gift of a Savior, affirming that our faith is living, and giving unbelievers an opportunity to see the love of Christ at work among our own, and also in the world.

The Lord has equipped our women with gifts to serve in many ways here at [congregation]. We are eager to have all gifts put to use, and pray for even more to be discovered, unwrapped and used. The Lord gives us great assurance that each one of us is included!

Let us read two more sections from Scripture. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:4, 11-12, 27).

We thank God for each one of us gathered here today and for the many ways so many have served already in the past. What a gift to the church you are! Let’s close with prayer on this special occasion.

Prayer: Dear Father in heaven, creator of all things and Savior of all mankind, with this gathering of women, we ask you especially to open our eyes and hearts to know your Word of Life. Through this Word, you show us our sin and comfort us with the gospel promise of forgiveness and salvation. And then you also equip us to see that you have gifted all your people, and you give us specific callings and opportunities so that these gifts are not wasted. You want others to know the joy of being part of the body of Christ and you use us, unworthy servants that we are, to welcome and nurture them. Dear God, bless our efforts in the name of Jesus, your Son, our Savior and friend. Amen.

Written by Sally Valleskey and adapted from her presentation, “Reaching Women in the Church,” 2010 WELS Women’s Ministry Conference, Mequon, WI, Revised 2013.

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Trust in the Lord – Week of September 26, 2016

Trust in the Lord – Week of September 26, 2016

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6

ECME Devotion – September 26, 2016

Devotion based on Proverbs 3:5-6

See series: ECME Devotions

Two-year old Milly worked at it and worked at it. You could see the determination on her face with furrowed brow and pursed lips. Finally, her mom walked over and offered to help. “I do it myself”, Milly said with conviction. She was certainly working at it with all her heart. Don’t you love the tenacity? Don’t you love her “I can” attitude? But I wonder if her mom might have been able to give her an idea of how to get it done a little easier or provided the support she needed to accomplish her task?

How often are we just like little Milly? Do you sometimes find yourself struggling on a problem for days? Do you find yourself spending time stewing over the same thing day after day? Has a problem or issue ever woken you up in the middle of the night at a time when the problem seems to fill the room? And is it then that finally the lightbulb comes on and you find yourself with hands folded in prayer? Does your prayer begin with the heartfelt expression of your need for God’s help and an admission that your self-reliance is too often focused on you and what you can do rather than what he can do?

If you’re like me, that prayer most often begins with a penitential sigh that asks for God’s forgiveness. I too often think that I have the answers or the ability to solve everything that comes my way. Too often I neglect turning to him and the Word. Too often I rely on myself. It’s a challenge to balance leaning on God’s guidance and taking action. We don’t want to find ourselves sending up a prayer and then sitting passively waiting for God to fix things. But we also don’t want to take it all into our own hands and avoid reliance on him.

The solution? It’s the Word. As we continue to be in the Word we are reminder over and over of God’s incredible grace for us. We learn of the struggles of others in both the Old and New Testament and God’s guidance for them. He loves us so and wants to hear from us. He wants us to always be growing more and more in his grace. He wants us to come to him in prayer and lean on him. Like little Milly, we need to be working at it with all our heart as we prayerfully lean on him, acknowledging his love, his forgiveness, and his guidance for our path. You can trust in him with all your heart!

Prayer: Dear Father, I can so easily become overwhelmed by the tasks and challenges before me. Forgive me when I become self-reliant and help me to continually look to you for guidance and direction. Bless all that I do in your name. Amen.

Creative Commons LicenseEarly Childhood Ministry Educator’s (ECME) Devotions are brought to you by WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Our cup matters

Our cup matters – Women’s Devotion

I have a favorite cup. I drink out of it almost every day. I like it so much that I’ll sometimes even wash it when there are other clean cups available! I feel like the cup represents me in a way. It’s kind of goofy, a little bright and loud, has a weird sense of humor, and was made in the 80’s! It’s a unique cup, and I love it! Usually, though, if someone comes to my home, it is not the cup I would choose to serve them. This is especially true if we don’t know each other very well.

What is your cup like? Is the cup that best represents you the same cup you would choose to serve to someone else? What if someone were to pop over to your house unexpected? She sits down on the couch to chat and it feels appropriate to serve her a beverage. If your cup is anything like my cup, it’s perpetually dirty. Let’s say you’re a minimalist or in the middle of a move and this cup, your cup, is literally the only cup in your house! Maybe it’s even got banana chunks stuck to it from your grabby toddler, it may have been dropped and is chipped. Your cup is in pretty rough shape. And, for the sake of the analogy, you’re unable to wash it. So you have a guest and you have to decide whether you should serve her a dirty, maybe chipped cup or just let her sit and have a nice beverage-free conversation.

Maybe you would serve it to her. Probably not.

Well, what if she looked thirsty? Maybe she mentions that she was on a long run and turned onto your street and decided to just stop in. You know she would benefit from some water, but your cup is almost embarrassing, especially if you can’t even wash it!

What if she’s showing classic signs of dehydration?? She is complaining of a headache, seems to have a dry mouth, and her eyes look at least a little sunken. You’re probably less inclined to care about the condition of your cup when you see how badly she might need it to drink water!

What if she had crawled to your doorstep, and faintly knocked with the little strength she had left because she was literally dying of thirst? You open the door and all she can get out of her mouths is a dry, raspy “Water”!!

I don’t think any one of us would deny someone water that could save their life just because we had inhibitions about the cup we had to offer.

You are your cup. I am mine. We are dirty, at least a little broken, and less than perfect sinners. Christ is the life giving, thirst quenching, pristine water that everyone needs, but not everyone has.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. John 4:13-14

I have been guilty, too many times, of overthinking my cup when it comes to sharing that water. I have worried that someone would know the imperfections in my life, and that they’d see me as a hypocrite, noting only the smudges and cracks of my cup as I held it out to them. I’ve avoided using my cup to offer that life-giving water because I was too concerned what reaction I would get. I worried that I would damage relationships because I was coming off as judgmental, politically incorrect, or self-righteous. Sometimes I’m just too scared. I don’t know what to say or if I would have an appropriate response to questions or accusations. I’m more inclined to set my cup on a coffee table and subtly or casually mention that I am more than willing to share if they’d like a drink. Most people in my life know I’m a Christian, and that has too often been good enough for me. They can come if they have questions. They can approach me when they’re ready. I’m not doing much to help them realize their need for that water, and I’m certainly not doing justice to advocate for the true life-saving benefits of Christ. When I think of the reasons that I don’t share Christ more often, it always boils down the same way.

“The problem is that because of sin, each and every one of us has doubts and misgivings, fears and misconceptions that inhibit us, that diminish our resolve to act in certain situations. Each one of us may know (the above) things intellectually, but we have trouble putting all these things into practice spiritually.

“The apostle Paul wrestled with this problem. He writes about this in his letter to the Romans. ‘What I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do….For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing!’ (Romans 7:15, 18-19)” Educating the Congregation for Friendship Evangelism, Rev. Howard Festerling

It is sin in the world and sin in ourselves that stops us from sharing the saving Word of God. Scripture has so much to say to help us overcome this sin and refocus on the Great Commission.

When sharing our faith, it is important to remember the significance of creating relationships, coming from a place of genuine love and concern, and not just following an impersonal script. Know that you are a wonderful and beautiful creation of God, called for his purpose, and well equipped to offer that pristine and miraculous water that will make those who drink it never thirst again. Stop worrying about your cup. You are a vessel lovingly created by a powerful God. He wants to use you and your flaws can not detract from the benefits of that water of life.

For Further Reading: Read the following passages to help you refocus on the fact that we are called to share our faith and that Scripture continues to both remind and equip us to do so.

1 Peter 3:14-16
Philippians 4:13
1 Corinthians 2:4-5
Philippians 1:18
2 Timothy 1:7
Romans 10:17
1 Corinthians 1:26-29
1 Thessalonians 1:4-5
Matthew 28:19-20
1 Corinthians 6:19

Prayer: Dear Lord, forgive me for the times I have missed opportunities to share your Word with others. Remind me that I am your messenger and you are the Creator of faith. I trust you to not let your Word return to you empty. Amen.

Written by Jes Woller
Reviewed by Professor-emeritus David Valleskey

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Establish the Work of Our Hands – Week of August 29, 2016

Establish the Work of Our Hands – Week of August 29, 2016

May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us: establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands.
Psalm 90:16-17

ECME Devotion – August 29, 2016

Devotion based on Psalm 90:16-17

See series: ECME Devotions

As a new school year is upon us, this prayer from Psalm 90 becomes ours. The daily teaching, preparation, and cleanup fill our days. There is so much to be done and our active hands will accomplish many tasks before this school year ends.|

To establish that work, to make the accomplishments last, God must be involved. To be more precise – we are involved in God’s work, not God involved in ours. As we do his work, what deeds of God will be revealed to his servants in the coming months?

We’ll review the Bible history lessons and teach the little ones to praise and pray. God establishes that word as the Holy Spirit works and strengthens faith in those pint-size hearts through the gospel.

We’ll see God’s hand at work as he blesses the lives of his children. They will learn their letters, colors, numbers, and sounds. If we’re lucky, they might even learn to sit still for ten minutes at a time. Above all, God’s work of faith can show itself in the songs and prayers they take home to their families.

In the coming school year, we can expect to see challenges that make it feel like God no longer looks at us with favor. Kids get sick; maybe a serious illness or disability is diagnosed. Our church or school could hit a rough patch as well. Yet when we say, “May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us,” we are not offering a weak request or a flimsy hope. The Lord’s favor does rest upon us because of Christ Jesus. No sickness can change it. No ministry challenge can end our favorable status in Jesus. We know he will strengthen his people for the challenges that he sends their way. Yes, Lord, establish the work of our hands this year and always.

Prayer: Oh Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, show me your gracious deeds and establish the work of my hands. May it all be to your glory! Amen.

Creative Commons LicenseEarly Childhood Ministry Educator’s (ECME) Devotions are brought to you by WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Whatever You Do – Week of August 15, 2016

Whatever You Do – Week of August 15, 2016

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Colossians 3:23-24

ECME Devotion – August 15, 2016

Devotion based on Colossians 3:23-24

See series: ECME Devotions

Why do we do what we do? Our early childhood ministry is building a great reputation with the community so that everyone knows us as the church that cares for kids. But then again, we just had to deal with another parent who didn’t agree with the way we discipline. How great it is to be greeted every morning with numerous smiles from all the children! But that joyful feeling evaporates as quickly as it takes a smiling face to become a tearful mess when, “All the red gummy bears are gone and I don’t want a green one!” The paycheck is nice, but is it really worth all the effort and energy it takes to educate and care for little children for hours every day? There are many jobs that pay much better than being a preschool teacher or aide.

St. Paul’s words to the Colossians point us to the highest motivation. When we serve Christ, we can give it all for the one who gave it all for us. He gave his everything to stand up to the devil’s temptations without sin. Those are the very temptations that we fail to stand up to. Jesus not only gave all of his beating heart for us, he gave all of his dying heart so that we would not have to die eternally.

If the praise doesn’t come from the parents and the smiles just aren’t big enough to be contagious, we are still working for the Lord. The reward he gives is a reward of grace. That means we didn’t earn it. He earned it for us by paying for all our sins, removing the guilt of all our failures, and bringing us into a good relationship with God the Father.

Prayer: Almighty God, thank you for the inheritance of eternal life through Christ Jesus. Empower me to live in thankfulness so that all that I do today may be done in your service. Amen.

Creative Commons LicenseEarly Childhood Ministry Educator’s (ECME) Devotions are brought to you by WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Full Life – Week of August 8, 2016

Full Life – Week of August 8, 2016

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:10

ECME Devotion – August 8, 2016

Devotion based on John 10:10

See series: ECME Devotions

In the blink of an eye, it all came crashing to a halt – literally! A truck traveling at highway speed veered onto the shoulder and crashed into the trailer. Amy’s parents jumped to safety just before the collision. The rest of the family didn’t. Amy suffered broken legs and other serious injuries. The healing and return to the fullness of life would take some time. But her grandfather was killed. Amy would never forget that holiday weekend hayride!

It is a natural question to ask why. In so many ways, tragedies seem inconsistent with how we think our loving Lord should let us experience life. Yet Jesus’ words remain true, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Fullness of life does not consist of merely having fun, laughing, and enjoying quality time with the family. While such blessings come from God, they are incomplete if the knowledge of why Jesus has come is missing. True fullness of life includes knowing that Jesus came to rescue the world from sin and defeat death forever. He came to be the answer for every tragedy that crashes into life.

Four-year-olds like Amy aren’t exempt from needing to know where to find true fullness of life. Christian teachers, even preschool teachers, won’t dance around and avoid talking about death thinking it’s too deep a subject for our young students. The deep subject of death is answered by simple truths. God loved the world enough to send his Son into the world. God’s Son, Jesus, lived without ever sinning so that he could die to pay for all the bad things we have done. After he died, he came back to life to prove that all who believe in him will live with him forever in heaven.

What is fullness of life for Amy, in terms a four-year-old would use? “Grampa went to be with Jesus. And Jesus is with me while I get better, until I see Grampa again in heaven.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you are life. You give us life. Answer our tragedies by turning our eyes to you, your forgiveness, and life with you forever. In your name, we pray. Amen.

Creative Commons LicenseEarly Childhood Ministry Educator’s (ECME) Devotions are brought to you by WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Proclaim the Christian’s Freedom – Week of July 4, 2016

Proclaim the Christian’s Freedom – Week of July 4, 2016

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me.  He has sent me…to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.
Isaiah 61:1

ECME Devotion – July 4, 2016

Devotion based on Isaiah 61:1

See series: ECME Devotions

When the smoke cleared on the morning of September 14, 1814, the battered American flag still stood. This sight of victory caused Frances Scott Key to write what eventually became our national anthem, the “Star Spangled Banner”. That anthem is now proudly sung across the entire United States, a reminder of our freedoms.

When the smoke cleared on that first Easter morning, the once battered and crucified Savior stood victorious over sin, death, and the devil. Because of that victory, you are now dedicating your lives to telling others about that message. Your life is a religious “national anthem” of sorts.

There are many children and families in your care that don’t’ know what it’s like to be free. They still don’t yet know the message of the crucified and risen Savior. The message of the gospel is still hidden behind a veil of despair or pride for some of those we serve. The Sovereign LORD has called you to pull back that veil, so that they may see the victory is won. Those unbelievers whom we serve still strive and grasp about, blindly seeking the “meaning of life”. The LORD has sent you to provide for them THE meaning of life. Praise and thanks to God for giving you that opportunity.

That sounds like a tall order, doesn’t it? Thankfully, God our Savior does all of the work for us. We merely carry out our duties faithfully, and the LORD of all creation does the rest. That glorious gospel message has the power to work faith. Take heart, even your meager, stumbling efforts do not come back to the LORD empty. Trust the power of God’s Word!

On this Independence Day, take a moment to thank God for your freedoms. Thank him for the opportunity that he has afforded you to “proclaim freedom for the captives”. Especially thank him for the faith that he has already worked in your hearts—the faith with which you reach out and receive the gift of sins forgiven and eternal life.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the freedom that we have through Christ.  Help me to faithfully proclaim that freedom to those in my care. Amen.

Creative Commons LicenseEarly Childhood Ministry Educator’s (ECME) Devotions are brought to you by WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Reflect – Week of June 27, 2016

Reflect – Week of June 27, 2016

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Hebrews 10:23

ECME Devotion – June 27, 2016

Devotion based on Hebrews 10:23

See series: ECME Devotions

Reflecting on our year is not always easy. It can make us anxious as we remember interactions with parents or children that were difficult. It can make us sad as we think of the students who are moving on to a different classroom or school. It can make us joyful as we remember all the silly things that only young children will say. Reflecting is hard because it is looking backwards. Whatever emotions it brings to the surface, they can be hard to manage because those things are in the past. They cannot be changed and we cannot go back to them.

In our passage from Hebrews today, we are asked not to look back but to look forward. That word “hope” is a word used in anticipation. We are eagerly awaiting something that will happen in the future. And we are not hoping in the sense that we really want something to happen but are not sure that it will. We are hoping in the sense that we have complete trust in God that it will happen.

The hope we profess is that Jesus will come again and take us to our true home someday. Through Jesus’ blood on the cross he has won us a place in heaven, where we will spend eternity with him. Every promise that God made about heaven will come true, for he is faithful to his promises. There will be no more pain, crying, or death (Revelation 21:4); no hunger or thirst (Revelation 7:16-17); there will be nothing impure (Revelation 21:27); we will have our very own house built by God (John 14:2, 2 Corinthians 5:1); and best of all, we belong there with Jesus (Philippians 3:20.)

As we reflect on the past year and even look ahead to the next year, let us not lose sight of what is still to come for us, an eternal home in heaven.

Jesus, your Church, with longing eyes
for your expected coming waits.
When will the promised light arise
and glory beam from heaven’s gates?

Teach us in watchfulness and prayer
to wait for your appointed hour,
And fit us by your grace to share
the triumphs of your conqu’ring pow’r.
(Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal-9 v. 1 & 5)

Creative Commons LicenseEarly Childhood Ministry Educator’s (ECME) Devotions are brought to you by WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Review – Week of June 20, 2016

Review – Week of June 20, 2016

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
Isaiah 43:1b

ECME Devotion – June 20, 2016

Devotion based on Isaiah 43:1b

See series: ECME Devotions

The end of a school year often finds teachers reviewing their year. They look back on the things that went well and find satisfaction. They look back on the rough parts and decide what can change and improve for the upcoming year. As you do this, you may be tempted to fall into one of the following ditches:

1) You may look at all that went well during the year and think, “I am an awesome teacher. I have accomplished so much, and I am a professional that others should learn from. I will give myself a pat on the back.”
2) You may look at all that did not go well and fall into despair. You may say, “Why am I a teacher? There are so many things that I failed to handle with grace and professionalism. I can’t even begin to imagine doing this all over again next year.”

The problem with both of these scenarios is that we are trying to find our identity within ourselves. We are measuring our worth by our own outward accomplishments or failures, and this creates fear. We fixate on our mistakes because we fear that others will see us as failures. Even in our successes, we put more pressure on ourselves to repeat them and fear the ridicule if we don’t.

We need to look at ourselves as God looks at us. Isaiah says to FEAR NOT, because God has redeemed us. Christ went to the cross and erased all the pride and all the self-pity with which we fill our minds. When we were baptized, we became God’s very own child; he claimed us. We find our identity in Christ, and when we do, we see a God who loved us enough to die in our place. We see a God who calls each of us personally by our name. How special we are to him!

Go, my children, with my blessing,
Never alone.
Waking, sleeping, I am with you;
You are my own.
In my love’s baptismal river
I have made you mine forever.
Go, my children, with my blessing–
You are my own.
(Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal-332)

Creative Commons LicenseEarly Childhood Ministry Educator’s (ECME) Devotions are brought to you by WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Renew – Week of June 13, 2016

Renew – Week of June 13, 2016

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

ECME Devotion – June 13, 2016

Devotion based on Romans 15:13

See series: ECME Devotions

Americans are addicted to work. When meeting up with a friend for coffee, often the common question is, “How have you been?” The common answer is, “Busy.” We take pride in our busyness. We somehow feel that the busier we are, the more important we must be. Being a hard worker is a quality personality trait, but being a workaholic is not.

It is important during these quieter summer months to take time to renew your mind, body and faith. Your job of training young children to follow Jesus is so important. Being overworked, stressed and letting our faith grow weak is not being a faithful servant. There is only one solution to this: Jesus

We can find comfort in Jesus’ life. Jesus was a hard worker. He preached from dawn until dusk. He went from town to town healing, teaching, and training his disciples. His work was very important, but even Jesus took time away from his work. He would go somewhere secluded with his friends or even wander off alone to speak with his Father. He needed to renew his strength and faith so he could continue to serve others. That life is YOUR life. Jesus lived it perfectly for you and it became your life at your baptism when Jesus took his perfection and put it on you.

We can find comfort in Jesus’ death. There Jesus paid for all sins for all time, which also became yours at your baptism. He forgives us for the times we fail to trust in him. He forgives us for the times we forget to draw from God’s word.

The hope that we find in Jesus’ life and death fills us with peace and joy. Only when we are filled with those things will they overflow onto the children that we teach.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, continue to fill me with your love, joy, and peace. May I be a light to others as I go about my work of teaching little lambs. Amen.

Creative Commons LicenseEarly Childhood Ministry Educator’s (ECME) Devotions are brought to you by WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Relax – Week of June 6, 2016

Relax – Week of June 6, 2016

Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Colossians 3:1-2

ECME Devotion – June 6, 2016

Devotion based on Colossians 3:1-2

See series: ECME Devotions

Ahhh! It’s summer vacation! We’ve made it through another year…at times we thrived and at times we survived!

As we look back and reflect on our year, it is easy to say, “I deserve a break. I faithfully kept X number of kids alive, fed, shared Jesus with them, and maybe even taught them a few things. I am ready to take time away from it all, and RELAX. And that is perfectly fine. You should take some time with your family, get out of town for a while, and just stay away from 2 year olds for a few days (for your sanity’s sake).

Sometimes though, when we take a break from our jobs, we tend to take a break from everything. We set our hearts on beaches, time with family, camping, the lake cabin, etc. and we forget to continue to set our hearts on God. Throughout the school year we meet weekly with faculty around God’s word. We study Bible Stories daily to teach to our students. We pray for patience and wisdom. Then summer comes, and the temptation is to forget about God for a while. Weekends become filled with activities, and we might miss church. Our kids are out of school, so we don’t make time for those quiet morning devotions.

Paul tells us in the letter to the Colossians to set our hearts on things above. It is not wrong to dream about our summer getaway, but we need to remember what is most important. What is up above? Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Christ, our Savior, who pleads for us in front of the Father every time we lose our patience with a student. Christ, our Redeemer, who gives us peace and rest at the end of every stressful week when we doubt whether or not we are making an impact. Jesus forgives us for every mistake we make, and he forgets every time we put our summer plans before him.

So let’s not forget him this summer. Make time for Jesus and his Word in your summer vacation.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank you for guiding me through another school year. Be with me during the summer months, and help me to continue to seek you in your Word each and every day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Creative Commons LicenseEarly Childhood Ministry Educator’s (ECME) Devotions are brought to you by WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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I Thank God for You – Week of May 30, 2016

I Thank God for You – Week of May 30, 2016

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:3-6

ECME Devotion – May 30, 2016

Devotion based on Philippians 1:3-6

See series: ECME Devotions

Thank you notes. Such a simple gesture. You have likely gotten a variety of thank you notes. There are the ones from your students that are handmade and full of their love for you. You may get notes this time of year from parents that express their gratitude for your loving attention to their child. You might be working with your students on thank you notes to send to volunteers and others who have contributed in some way to their classroom this year. While it may be simple, a thank you note can encourage and touch the hearts of the recipient.

As the year draws to a close, we often reflect on the children and families we serve. We thank God for the opportunity and privilege to partner with parents and to share the gospel with the children and their families. We thank God for the blessings of relationships built and strengthened this year. Among those relationships may be those with whom we serve. Philippians 1 is a wonderful reminder for us to also take the time to stop and thank God for those with whom we serve. Those individuals may be in our classrooms and centers, at our own congregation, at a neighboring congregation, in our district, or in a congregation we don’t even know. You may serve in a center with just you or in a center with a number of staff members. You may have another center nearby or maybe the nearest center is hours away. But in each of those centers are people like you whose goal is to share the precious gospel with young children and their families. What a blessing! Today’s verses remind us of the fellowship we share with others who serve as teachers, directors, aides, and volunteers in early childhood ministries each day. The verses also provide the comfort and encouragement that we can be confident as this year draws to a close and each day that God is the one to carry our work on to completion. It is he who blesses all we do.

So today we send a thank you note of prayer. It is simple, it is sincere, and it is full of joy. We thank God for the privilege of serving, for those we are blessed to serve, and for those with whom we serve. Today I send a thank you note of prayer to God for each of you and pray that he continues to bless his work through you.

Prayer: Dearest Lord, I thank you for the privilege of sharing your gospel each day. I thank you also for all those who serve in the preaching and teaching ministry. Bless them, guide them, strengthen them, and give them the joy and confidence that it is you who blesses all that they do. In your name we pray, Amen.

Creative Commons LicenseEarly Childhood Ministry Educator’s (ECME) Devotions are brought to you by WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Goodbyes – Week of May 23, 2016

Goodbyes – Week of May 23, 2016

As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
Joshua 1:5b

ECME Devotion – May 23, 2016

Devotion based on Joshua 1:5b

See series: ECME Devotions

Our grandchildren (and their parents) live in different states from us. Sunday family dinners are not part of our tradition. Facetime is. Almost every Sunday, we find ourselves completely focused on the precious faces and voices on our phones. Once, maybe twice a year, we are all together. The days are filled with laughter, games, great food, noise-filled rooms, and lots of hugs and cuddle time. And then it comes-like an unwelcomed guest-the time to say good-bye. The hugs are still there but the laughter is replaced with attempts to hold back the tears. As the car pulls away or they walk off to check in at the airport, there’s a lump in the throat and attempts to hide how difficult this farewell continues to be each time. And with that moment comes a prayer: “Hold them always close to you, dear Lord.”

Goodbyes are seldom easy. Distance from ones we love is often hard. Goodbyes come for many reasons. Children are grown and return to their own homes. Children grow and are ready to move away to school. Our students move to another classroom or even school. Ones we love move to another city, state, or even another country. This weekend we also remember those who leave to serve our country. The goodbyes are hard. And yet, we are reminded in Joshua of the promises of God. This promise was made to those in the Old Testament and are true for us as well. We recall how Moses left his home filled with faith in God’s plan and promises for him. We may be the one leaving or the one saying goodbye as someone we love. The promise is the same for us and for those we love. As he promised Moses and kept that promise, God will be with us and those we love. He is with each of the children we serve and their families. He is with our own family, our colleagues, and our congregation members. He is with our friends and acquaintances. He promises to never leave us, never forsake us. And he is faithful. He keeps each and every promise.

So as goodbyes continue to be a part of our lives here on earth, we take comfort and encouragement from the promise of God that he will not ever leave us or those we love. He also promises us a time when there will be no more goodbyes when we are all home with him in heaven. So we dry our tears, continue to pray for those we love, and go forth with our confidence in God’s faithful promises.

Prayer: Dear Father. My prayer is that you continue to be with the children I serve, their families, my own family, colleagues, and friends. Each day bring them closer to you, confident in your promise of salvation. In your name I pray. Amen.

Creative Commons LicenseEarly Childhood Ministry Educator’s (ECME) Devotions are brought to you by WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Easter focus

Easter focus – Women’s Devotion

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance…Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

John 20:1, 11-18

“Just look straight ahead and keep pedaling.” These are words we told all our children at the beginning stages of riding a bike. We knew what would happen when they didn’t heed that advice. When they looked down or allowed something to distract them, they lost their focus.  Hands quivered.  Handle bars wavered until finally they fell.

One Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene lost her focus. She had been a follower of Jesus since the early part of his public ministry. She listened to his words, turned from her sin, and professed her faith. Mary certainly was eager to be a part of Jesus’ life, and more importantly, have him be a part of hers. But then one fateful day, he was taken from her as his broken, beaten body was taken from the cross and sealed shut in a dark tomb.

Imagine her grief. Mary’s world was being torn apart. Her friend, her Savior, was dead and buried. He was gone, but Mary showed she still cared for him and went to the tomb on the third day after Jesus’ death to put some spices on his body.

The Gospel of John tells us how the next minutes transpired…how Mary lost her focus.  Even after Jesus had told his followers repeatedly that he had to die and rise from the dead, she couldn’t see beyond her grief and despair.  John and Peter were different.  They ran to see what Mary saw – an empty tomb. But they saw and believed and went back home to tell the others. Not Mary. She stayed at the tomb, crying, even weeping. She was absolutely overcome with grief. Then she saw Jesus. Maybe her eyes were blurry from tears or maybe Jesus had prevented Mary from recognizing him initially. We don’t know why she doesn’t know it’s him, but she definitely lost her focus enough to momentarily forget that Jesus promised to rise from the dead.  She didn’t keep her eyes and her heart focused on Jesus and the words he had spoken to her many times over the past few years.

Oh, and how I lose focus too! I have my eyes and heart on Jesus when his blessings are vivid in my life. I hear and believe his promises spoken to me by faithful Christians and read with my own eyes. I profess my faith with my church family and when I encourage others. But then an unexpected illness comes, an unfulfilled desire or a financial hardship, and I lose my focus. I, like Mary, can’t see beyond my own grief and despair. And so I try to find my own cure, a new gratification, my own solution. I lose sight of Jesus and his good and perfect will and instead turn to self. I forget his promises.  I quiver. I shake. I waver. Just like a young child on a bike. Until finally, all on my own, I fall. I succumb to the tempter’s tactics to distract me and take my eyes and mind off of Jesus, my Savior.

But remember how Jesus gained Mary’s focus again.  He said her name, “Mary,” and immediately she knew this was her Savior Jesus in the flesh. Her eyes could now see Jesus and her heart was re-focused on his words to her. Jesus brought her focus back where it needed to be – on him and his promises. He told her to “Go and tell.” With renewed joy and a clear focus, she went back to tell the others what she had seen and heard.

And so it is with you. It is all too easy to allow the stresses and trials of this world to take your focus off Jesus. But then Jesus calls you to repentance for the unnecessary grief and despair, for doubting his promises, and gives us his full and free forgiveness. He calls out your name through his Word that you read privately or is spoken by your husband, a friend or your children, and once again you can see Jesus – the true focus of this life and the life eternal to come. Our Savior’s resurrection gives us the assurance of a life forever with him.

Prayer: Oh, Lord, my God, your promises are ever-sure! Keep my focus on you, no matter what tries to pull me away, until you call me to your side in heaven. Amen.

Written by Paula Sulzle

Reviewed by Professor-emeritus Joel Gerlach

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Unconditional forgiveness

Unconditional forgiveness – Women’s Devotion

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
Luke 15:20

It’s done and can no longer be changed. No matter how much you regret it, how much guilt you feel, or how many apologies you offer; it can’t be undone. At night, you lay awake replaying the moment and wishing you could reach your fingers back in time and have that moment to do again. All you can do now is brace yourself for the consequences which are sure to follow. You await the loss of your reputation, your job, a dear relationship, or worse. To varying degrees, all of us can identify with the feelings associated with committing a seemingly unforgivable sin.

Jesus knew his audience as he told the parable of the lost son. A crowd of tax collectors and sinners had gathered around to hear Jesus teach. Shunned by the upper echelons of Jewish society because of their sinfulness, they were familiar with guilt. To these lost sons and daughters, Jesus preached a beautiful parable about forgiveness. These “sinners” weren’t the only ones present in the audience that day, however. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law had also gathered to criticize Jesus’ association with such low-lives. Here too Jesus knew his audience. The illustration of the older son was intended to crush the self-righteous attitudes of these leaders and bring them to repentance.

As we hear Jesus teach us in this parable, we see ourselves in both sons. We identify with the rebellion of the younger son just as well as the pride of the older son. We lull ourselves into the false belief that our actions somehow merit good things from God. We wonder how people around us can be so evil, when our own sinfulness is capable of the same. Yet, this parable isn’t really about the sons. It’s about the father. Take a moment and read this familiar parable found in Luke 15:1-3, 11-32. Read it slowly and let Jesus’ words wash over your guilty conscience or your prideful unwillingness to admit sin. See a picture of our heavenly Father’s unending, unconditional, love for sinners. Listen as Jesus paints a picture of God’s love for you and me.

God’s love never ends. The younger son in the parable had basically told his father that he couldn’t wait for him to die. He valued only his father’s money and didn’t want to wait to inherit his share. He demanded his inheritance and then squandered it on sinful living. And yet, in spite of the son’s hateful actions, the father’s love never stopped. He continued to search the horizon, waiting for his lost son to return. We find the evidence of this in verse 20. While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. How often have we rejected our Father to pursue our own sinful interests! But God never stops searching the horizon for us. He loves us with an everlasting love that moved him to send his only Son Jesus to die for us while we were still in our sins. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).

God’s love demands nothing in return. Think of how the son planned his return journey to his Father. He approached it as human reason approaches a relationship with God. If I do this right, then God will love me. Listen to the words of verses 17-18. When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: ‘Father I have sinned against heaven and you.’” The son no longer expected to be treated as a son. Instead, he expected to work his way back into his father’s good graces as a servant. But, the father threw his arms around him and kissed him before the son had the chance to make his case. The father didn’t remind the son how he’d been hurt; scold him for wasting his money, or put conditions on his return. Instead, he brought his son a robe, sandals and a ring and restored his position as son, no strings attached. Our heavenly Father is no different. He offers us his forgiveness: free and in full. Now we can exclaim with John, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)

Finally, God’s love is enough. The devil tries so hard to dig up those skeletons in our closet and throw them in our face time and time again. He puts our failures before us and tells us we are not worthy of God’s grace. And yet, God’s love is enough. God’s love covers over every sin. Every single one. No matter how great it may seem to us or in the eyes of the world, God forgives it. Jesus promised us that himself as he proclaimed from the cross. “It is finished!” As soon as the father in the parable restored the son’s condition, he threw him a feast to celebrate. He didn’t wait to see if the son was really sorry, or how his son behaved. He threw the son a feast! We too, await the feast that our Father has prepared for us in heaven.

As we read this familiar story, may we humbly fall on our knees in repentance speaking the words with the lost son, Father, I have sinned against heaven and you. Then, may we rise and go in joy and peace, confident of the depth of the Father’s love for us and assured of our forgiveness.

Written by Katie Martin
Reviewed by Professor-emeritus David Valleskey

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More than conquerors

More than conquerors – Women’s Devotion

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble…Be still and know that I am God.
Psalm 46:1, 10

It was a night at home, not unlike many others. However, this particular night my husband was out of town on business. That would prove to be an interesting factor in what I would soon discover. The kids and I were getting ready for an evening activity.

Our chosen activity for the evening was to watch old family home movies. We had recently put them on my husband’s computer, which he had left at home, but I wasn’t entirely certain how to find them. I looked in various folders and finally clicked on the first video I found. What then showed on the screen shook me to the core. And two of my children also witnessed it. I quickly shut the computer, for what we had just seen was a pornographic video.

My heart raced; my body shook with confusion and fear. I managed to find the family home videos, but my mind was not focused on the hilarity of the joyful (and pure) images before us. No, all I could visualize was the sinful and gross image I had seen minutes earlier. My mind quickly filled with questions—“why?” would be the most obvious.

I was sure I had the possible answer. In my heart I didn’t want to believe it. After all, my husband is a God-fearing Christian man, a loving spouse and a wise father. He leads his family in devotion and prayer daily. He is respected by his peers and a natural-born leader in church and work. Certainly he would never fall prey to this sin—the sin of pornography addiction.

With my husband gone, I was alone with my thoughts all night and I heard God’s gentle whisper from His Word—“Be still and know that I am God.” That means I need to be quiet, try to allow my heartbeat to return to its normal rate and allow God to take control of the situation. I knew that if this in fact was a sin that my husband had committed, Jesus had already paid for it. For the night and most of the next day, I read and remembered God’s promises from Isaiah and King David:

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Isaiah 43:1b, 2). I definitely felt like I was walking through fire and didn’t know what I would look and feel like when I came out on the other end of it.

“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love…As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:8, 12). I prayed that if my husband had fallen prey to the sin of pornography, that he was repentant. God would cover him with his love and forgive his sins.

And over and over I remembered “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still, be still, be still. God would handle this. God stilled my heart that night, but in the days, weeks and months to follow I’ve needed to turn to him continuously to still my troubled mind and crushed heart. God is always faithful and hears our cries for help.

I confronted my husband after he came home, almost 24 hours from the time I discovered the video, after I had time to think, pray and pour over God’s Word without the presence of my husband. God’s timing was not an accident. He wanted me to find out at that time and in that way.

My husband confessed, slowly at first. Then shame and guilt were written all over his tear-stained face. It had been years of porn addiction—years that I had no idea. I felt betrayed. My husband was unfaithful to me. Through many heart-wrenching conversations we discovered something more than just porn addiction. We discovered an addiction to self. In other words, we discovered the sin of idolatry…in both of us. All those times my husband had impure sexual thoughts or clicked on pornographic images and videos, my husband loved himself more than he loved God. The times when I clung to my husband more and put him higher than God, I loved my husband more than I loved God. Our dark and dirty sins were brought into the light.

It is only by God’s grace that we are still (very!) happily married. God tells us to think on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable (Philippians 4:8.) The sins originate in our thoughts. We need God every day to guide us and remind us to love and serve him first!

In the moments following my husband’s confession, I prayed God would help me follow his will for our lives. Thanks be to him for his indescribable gift of Jesus. Without his perfect example of forgiveness, I’m not sure our marriage could have survived through pornography addiction. God helped me forgive my husband and God helped my husband turn from his sin. We now remind each other who our first love is—God!

James 5:16 proved to be true and was affirmation to us that healing is possible. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. But it’s an on-going struggle because of the consequence of sin. My husband is often faced with temptation as he sees images on raunchy commercials or billboards. Yet when he hears of another brother or sister in the faith who has also fallen prey to this sin, it reminds him to put on the full armor of God to resist the devils attacks. He spends more time in personal devotion and prayer with God, and that causes him to flee from this temptation when it arises. At times I have doubts; can I trust him? Or I might be tempted to hold this sin against him?

Pornography has tainted our marriage and our sex life. We will endure the consequences maybe until God calls us to heaven. But only with God’s assurance of forgiveness and his help are we able to forgive each other and put on the full armor of God to continue to resist the devil’s attacks. “God help us” is sometimes all my heart is able to muster. But I know that God will still my heart again, and through Jesus has made us conquerors of this sin too!

A note from Women’s Ministry editing team:

This sister in faith talks about how her husband turned to God during this time, but she does not mention any counseling that she or her husband participated in after the struggle with pornography was brought to light. Whether or not they sought counseling is between them and God; however, we strongly recommend that those struggling with pornography or any other addiction seek pastoral and/or professional counseling. We also know that our God is mighty and powerful and with him all things are possible. For more help on overcoming pornography addiction, turn to your pastor and/or go to the WELS ministry on this:

Prayer Suggestions: 

  • Ask God to forgive you or your loved one of the sin of pornography.
  • Ask God to cast these sins far from his presence and remember them no more and that he allow memories of sinful images in you/your loved one’s mind to be erased too.
  • Ask God to help you and your loved one put him first in your life.
  • Pray that God renew in you and your loved one a pure and clean heart.
  • Pray for the Conquerors through Christ ministry and all the people that struggle with the sin of pornography.
  • Boldly ask God that society recognizes the danger of pornography and gets these images off mainstream media.

This devotion was written by a WELS woman, but because of the sensitivity of this subject and out of respect for her husband, the author has asked to remain anonymous.

Reviewed by Professor-emeritus David Valleskey

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Fifth Sunday of Lent – March 7, 2016

Jesus Is the Cornerstone of Our Faith

These are the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent.

God’s Word for This Week

Jesus makes clear that he is the cornerstone of our faith. Those who believe in him will receive the blessings of which St. Paul speaks in the second lesson, telling us to put away the “former things” of this world. Sadly, those who continue to cling tightly to the rubbish of their own righteousness will be broken into pieces or have this “stone of Christ” fall on them and crush them. Let us instead look to the “new thing” of God, the deliverance won by our Savior Jesus, the cornerstone of our faith.

First Lesson – Isaiah 43:16-21

What famous event is God talking about when he says he made a way through the sea, drew out the chariots and army, and extinguished them?

God is referring to Israel’s miraculous escape through the sea from slavery in Egypt. God’s rescue through Moses was ancient history by Isaiah’s day, yet was the most vivid example to that point in history that the LORD saves!

What “new thing” is God foretelling that will make the people forget what their favorite story of rescue, the Exodus was?

God says he will make a way in the desert, leading his people back from their coming captivity in Babylon. Then God will trump that rescue. He will send the Messiah, who will bring the water of life. Today as we tell people how great a deliverer God is, we tell the story of Jesus delivering from sin, death, and the devil. The once-famous Exodus goes to the “back burner.”

People talk about finding purpose for their lives. For what purpose(s) does the LORD say he formed us? (v. 21)

The LORD formed his chosen people for himself. Our nature rebels at the thought that we do not exist to seek our own goals and interests. Also, we were formed to proclaim the LORD’s praise. Since we have pardon in Christ, our new self gladly adores God and tells others how marvelous he is.

Traditional Second Lesson – Philippians 3:8-14

How many great things did Paul gain in Christ that made him ready to consider his past honors as a Pharisee rubbish?

He gained righteousness from God by faith, knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection, and fellowship with Christ through suffering. Paul gained his own resurrection from the dead on the Last Day and the prize of eternal life!

Compare Lot’s wife as she left Sodom with Paul leaving behind his comforts and status to follow God’s call.

Both were called to leave behind earthly things that had filled their lives. Lot’s wife kept thinking about what was behind and looked back, to her loss. Paul made a point to forget what he gave up and focused on his heavenly goal.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Romans 11:11-21

Paul’s main analogy here is of an olive tree. Jewish people formed the root of the tree. Jewish unbelievers are like branches broken off from the tree. How do Gentile believers, wild olive shoots, become part of tree?

Gentile believers become part of the tree by being grafted into it. (Note: Wild olive shoots don’t graft themselves into trees.) Paul warns Gentile believers not to be arrogant. We might expect him to tell us, therefore, to be humble. What does he say, instead? (See 11:20‒21.)

Paul tells Gentile believers to be “afraid.” Why?

Because we could repeat the stupidity of Jews before us who lost their place in God’s olive tree. Like dead branches, they got broken off from the tree, due to their unbelief. We get grafted in by faith. But if God didn’t spare them, God will not spare us, either, if we follow their foolish example.

Gospel – Luke 20:9-19

What does this parable teach us about Christ?

Jesus is the son sent as the last opportunity for the evil tenants. He is the heir and holds a unique place as the son. The other messengers came as servants. Christ identifies himself in this parable as the unique Son of God.

What does this parable teach us about men?

God’s chosen people were given a good land, but they mistreated his messengers (prophets) and were about to kill his own Son! God rightfully expects “fruit” from the people he puts in his vineyard, also today!

What does this parable teach us about God?

God is patient and merciful, like the owner giving the tenants many chances. But God’s patience can be exhausted; in his wrath, God treats hard-hearted rebels severely.

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The righteous will live by faith

The righteous will live by faith – Women’s Devotion

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’
Galatians 3:10-11

Can we make God happy with us by trying to obey him? Do we need to strictly follow a set of rules in order to be forgiven? Like the Galatians, we may fall into the trap of trying to follow the law in order to please God. Maybe we start to think, “I have to do this or that so I will be right with God.”

Our salvation does not depend on how well we follow the law. If it did, we would be in big trouble. No one can follow the law perfectly. The Bible says in James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

We can’t become righteous by following the law. We will only drive ourselves to despair trying. God says that all our good works are like “filthy rags.” If we say we have to follow the law in order to be saved, we are telling Jesus that what he did is not good enough. Galatians 2:21 says, ‘I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!'”

It is impossible for us to follow God’s law perfectly, but Jesus did. He came to this earth and lived the perfect life for us in our place. He never sinned; not even once. He then suffered and died to pay the price for all the times we have not kept the law. Now God sees us as though we have kept the whole law. He did it all for us. There is nothing for us to do. It is finished.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, I cannot gain righteousness by following the law. Thank you for living the perfect life that is impossible for me to live. Thank you for dying to take away all of my sins. Please help me remember that my debt is paid in full and I can’t do anything to save myself. In your name I pray, Amen.

Written by Sarah Allerding
Reviewed by Professor Lyle Lange

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We Have Seen His Glory! – Week of December 21, 2015

We Have Seen His Glory! – Week of December 21, 2015

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
Matthew 1:21

ECME Devotion – December 21, 2015

Devotion based on Matthew 1:21

See series: ECME Devotions

Have you ever asked a group of young children what they think that first Christmas was like? Very likely they try to fill in some of the missing details. Perhaps they have extreme concern over the sheep that the shepherd likely left when they “hurried off” to see Jesus–they wonder if the angels stayed and looked after them, or, at the very least, scared off the wolves so that the sheep would be safe. Another child might envy the shepherds, the first visitors of Jesus, because “after everyone else found out about Jesus there was a very long line to hold that baby”.

God doesn’t give us every detail about that first Christmas, but we can be assured that everything we need to know is written down for us in his Word, the Bible. When we look in his Word, we see that he was more than just a baby. We needed Jesus to come! We fail to live as we should. We gossip or tell lies about people. We try to manipulate situations to work for our good and to someone else’s disadvantage. We live for ourselves.

And yet we see His glory. We see that God became a baby, a human, one of us. God sent his Son, who never did wrong, to be a part of our dirty, sinful world. Jesus was all God and all man. Jesus did all the things people do–he ate, slept, cried, felt emotional and physical pain. And he died.

The only “human” trait Jesus did not have was sin. He never lied, never gossiped, never disobeyed God. God’s glory was revealed to us through Jesus’ sinless life and his death on the cross. And now we have seen his glory! We share in his victory because he has taken our sins upon himself and has given us the crown of life. God’s glory is ours through Jesus!

Prayer: Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning! Jesus, to thee be all glory given, Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. Oh, come let us adore him! Oh, come let us adore him! Oh, come let us adore him, Christ the Lord! Amen

Christian Worship 55 v 4

Creative Commons LicenseEarly Childhood Ministry Educator’s (ECME) Devotions are brought to you by WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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