Thought Leadership in Ministry

peaple around computer pictureThought Leadership is the detailing of ideas and the sharing of knowledge around a particular field, area, or topic of expertise. While Wikipedia contains no entry for “thought leadership,” it does for “thought leader.” Here is the entry:

A thought leader has been described as an individual or firm recognized as an authority in a specific field[1] and also as business jargon.


Go-to expert

From the perspective of a thought leader as the ‘go-to expert’, being a thought leader means to consistently answer the biggest questions on the minds of the target audience on a particular topic. Thought leaders are commonly asked to speak at public events, conferences, or webinars to share their insight with a relevant audience. In a 1990 Wall Street Journal Marketing section article, Patrick Reilly used the term “thought leader publications” to refer to such magazines as Harper’s.[2]

In the previous decade, the term was revived and re-engineered by marketers.

Criticism of the phrase and concept

The phrase “thought leader” is identified by some writers as an annoying example of business jargon.[3] Kevin Money and Nuno Da Camara of the John Madejski Centre for Reputation at the University of Reading’s Henley Management College write that the nebulous nature of the phrase (the unclear nature of “what is and what is not thought leadership”) contributes to its reputation among cynics as “meaningless management speak.”[4] Some writers, such as Harvard Business Review contributor Dorie Clark, have defended the phrase while agreeing “that it is very icky when people call themselves thought leaders because that sounds a little bit egomaniacal.”[5] New York Times columnist David Brooks mocked the lifecycle of the role in a satirical column entitled “The Thought Leader,” published in December 2013.[6]

A parody on the term was published in 2016 by Pat Kelly on Canadian television’s This Is That program. In the process of the discussion, imitating TED talks, Kelly elicits responses from the audience that exemplify the effect he describes as the result of applying well-known marketing techniques to achieve the impression of being an erudite speaker.[7]

Thought leader. (2022, December 13). In Wikipedia.

As I read through this definition, I both see the need for thought leaders in the context of our synod, churches, and schools, but I also see why some would pause in aspiring to or seeing somebody else as one. After all, when a possible meaning includes the word “egomaniacal,” one should pause. Clearly, I think it is a worthy discussion. I’ve chosen to take up a few paragraphs to consider thought leadership in the context of ministry. It comes to mind as I’m working through the teaching of a graduate course for Martin Luther College entitled Enhancing Ministry through Technology. I am thinking about including an entire week on the topic. Let me explain why.

when a possible meaning includes the word “egomaniacal,” one should pause.

Leadership in the area of technology, especially as it relates to ministry, is a precious commodity within our midst. So as I write, I will primarily have technology leadership in mind. It is not that it doesn’t exist, but it is very much under the radar. Many pastors, teachers, and volunteers have the ability to consider the intersections of technology and ministry, discern its usefulness and then apply it thoughtfully. Many times the ministry greatly benefits. I see classroom innovations and superior use of digital communications tools and personal productivity gains, and the list goes on. It takes time and earned expertise to become such a wise steward of these gifts. For a worker to understand the best uses for a website or social media platform or master a classroom management system can take hundreds or thousands of hours out of an already stressed ministry workload. Some would consider such pursuits ancillary to the “true ministry” of gospel sharing. While arguments could be made, the real worth shouldn’t be measured by the first-degree impact but by the broader one.

This is where thought leadership steps up. To spend time becoming an expert without sharing that expertise seems to be poor stewardship. While sharing with and teaching others takes even more time, there are ways to prepare for the eventual thought leadership portion if you go into these pursuits with that end game in mind.

So what would a thought leader do? For a person in ministry, that might initially look like a concern that other team members would benefit from their learnings and a formal way to transfer that knowledge, coach, consult, and participate in the ministry of others. In the world of educational technology, this does not always equate to a title like “Technology Director.” In fact, there could be multiple thought leaders within one faculty sharing their technical expertise. As for pastors, I’ve seen expertise shared on tools like Logos, task and project management, and the like within the ministry team, one-on-one with other pastors, or at circuit meetings. Why? Because they are passionate about the topic and confident in their own understanding and use cases of the tool, process, etc.

Thought leaders are informed opinion leaders in their areas of expertise. They are influencers in the most positive form of that label. But when is the right time to take on that role, and how do you do it? Here are five steps in how I would suggest approaching it.

Number One: As you learn, write. It is very difficult to share expertise with someone else without giving them something in written (or some kind of lasting) form. Take the time, usually not a lot, to document your learnings. This can be rather unstructured at first, more of a journal. But good writing, with an eye toward your future self’s needs, can be made up of excellent building blocks to piece together insight and meaningful content for others. I would suggest using a notetaking app like Google Keep, Apple Notes, OneNote, or Evernote. Use tags or some kind of organization strategy if you like, but don’t go overboard. This is a step that can’t be distasteful. 

Let’s say you’ve figured out how to craft an annual report of some sort using infographics rather than boring headings and paragraphs. You use a tool like Visme or Canva to create engaging presentations. Document your journey. Why you selected that tool, its benefits over something else, templates you like, examples, and use cases. Perhaps at first, the documentation is more for yourself than anybody else so you can remember next year why and how you did it.

Number Two: Go deep, and don’t fill up your dance card. Once you have tools, techniques, and processes that work well for you, don’t succumb to the temptation of greener grass. Thought leaders do look for excellence both in themselves and their tools, but they aren’t quick to adopt every new shiny thing that crosses their path. They go deep. They know their area, their tools, and their chosen technologies. In the end, if it isn’t working, they know why and what the next thing should have…and they document that too.

Number Three: Maintain a list of learnings you’d like to publish. If you truly have insights to share, there should be no shortage of things you can write about. Create a note for yourself that lists all the things that occur to you that might be worth sharing. This list can also act as a script for future learnings you’d like to undertake or things you want to go deeper on.

Number Four: Publish stuff. Spend two hours a week writing or screencasting or whatever thing you are going to use to share your work. The discipline of setting time aside can’t be skirted. It needs to be intentional. Obviously, one of the staples of thought leaders is the blog. It is a place where you control everything. If you don’t want comments, then turn them off. You control the organization, the title, the length, the use of imagery, and what appears before, next to, and after your content – unlike things like Facebook and Twitter, where you have very little control. This is your narrative. This is you on the web. 

This is your narrative. This is you on the web.

Consider sites like WordPress, Squarespace, Edublogs, and Blogger. There are hundreds of others. If you want to share content like screencasts or you are comfortable in from of a camera sharing your expertise, one obvious choice is YouTube. It is so easy to publish. One benefit of self-publishing is you have a little more control over what the internet, or Google, thinks you are. When someone searches your name, the content you have written will likely appear, rather than what others might have written about you someplace else. 

Number Five: Promote your stuff. There is no sense in publishing if you don’t let your intended audiences know there is good stuff to be had. This doesn’t have to be marketing, but look for opportunities to share your experiences and expertise. In fact, you may discern many more opportunities to share because you have taken the time to document what you’ve taken the time to get smart on. You will even find a greater thirst to learn from the other thought leaders in areas you are interested in. Your network will grow, and you will too…to benefit the kingdom.

One place in my area of ministry where I see a number of budding thought leaders is the WELSTech Google Group. Rarely will a question be asked that isn’t responded to with a most thorough and thoughtful response. And usually spot on! Those who respond are experts in their fields. They’ve been bloodied and survived to tell the tale to the benefit of others. Their short step to broadening their reach and value to the community is to publish. That is a good way to identify if you are a potential thought leader. When asked, you share your expertise. The next step is obvious, I hope.

What God has gifted you with is worth sharing. Your insights, ups and downs, struggles, and successes can all contribute to a larger ecosystem of learning. From my observations, there is far too much wheel-inventing going on. That’s poor stewardship. That’s harmful and wasteful to ministry opportunities. With today’s tools, there really are few barriers to sharing your useful and wonderful and helpful thoughts.

Many years ago, I taught a Winterim course at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Winterim is a two-week session between semesters that gives students an opportunity to study in areas of personal interest not normally part of the seminary curriculum. The course I taught was on pastoral productivity. I had totally forgotten that I had even taught the course until a pastor approached me with thanks for the learnings that I had shared during that course. He said it had and still is making a positive impact on his ministry. It made a difference.

That is the thing. You don’t determine how God will use your gifts, experiences, or story. He does. Making yourself available for ministry opportunities is what stewardship is all about. Finding ways in true humbleness to share your giftedness is the point.

Finding ways in true humbleness to share your giftedness is the point.

Of course, thought leadership isn’t only for techie topics. As I write, there is an upcoming WELS Leadership Conference to be held in Chicago, IL. I’m excited to attend this year, as there will be many ministry thought leaders willing to stand in front of people and share what God has allowed them to learn and experience. What a blessing! But I also believe the influence and benefit of a “tech in ministry” thought leader can be and needs to be as broad as possible. Technology changes fast, and I see many frustrated by it rather than being enabled by it. What a waste. I look forward to many more taking on the joys of thought leadership, not in an egomaniacal fashion, but in true humility and a desire for true learning stewardship.

Getting Into Vlogging

Vlogging is the act of creating and adding content to a “vlog” or “video blog” (think YouTube). Vlogging a term often used by content creators on YouTube, or “YouTubers” when talking about their craft. The advent of good quality video cameras on phones, like the iPhone, has launched a generation of videographers eager to use the internet to get their message out there. At last count nearly 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube EVERY MINUTE!

Just for fun, here are few more fun facts about YouTube:

  • There are 2.3 billion YouTube users world-wide
  • 79% of all internet users say they have a YouTube account
  • YouTube viewers watch over 1 billion hours of video each day
  • 62% of US-based businesses use YouTube to post video content
  • 70% of YouTube views come on mobile devices
  • 90% of people say they discovered new products or brands on YouTube

It is a compelling platform that millions use either to consume video or the subject of this blog post — to create it.

Today it’s becoming very common to find those in ministry (pastors, teachers, staff ministers, lay leaders) using vlogs to deliver their content, whether that be a devotion, lesson or other ministry-related content. Pastors might want to “vlog” shorter devotions, mini Bible studies, congregational reports, sermon “extras”, topical counseling tips, flipped catechism lessons, and, well you get the idea. Teachers have just as many vlogging opportunities. The obvious application are flipped classroom lessons, but others include parent updates, educational or how-to videos for colleagues, individual instruction for virtual students or those with specific needs, and even recordings for assessments and personal growth.

There are many use cases for getting into vlogging. Just think of all the written content you produce and ask, “Would creating a video enhance this content in some way, or increase its likelihood of being “seen?” When it comes to communications, those are the two big questions: how to amplify it and how to increase its useful viewership.

For those of you who have decided to get started, you probably are starting with using your smart phone to capture audio and video, and then uploading to YouTube or your ministries web site. You try to find a pleasing background and a space without too much competing light or especially noise. Great. But this series of blog posts, and subsequent vlogs will outline how to up that game a little bit with techniques and equipment. Why? Mostly because we now are publishing content in a world full of high production quality video. We don’t want, nor could we match, them, but it is important to recognize the gap between what people watch on YouTube, and our stuff. So things we can reasonably do to improve quality will be worth it —  balancing cost, complexity and results of course.

Today I’ll start by sharing just a baseline camera setup for vlogging created by Brian Urbanek of GoldWing Productions LLC. This recommendation was created for WELS Special Ministries “Gospel Hands” — a video signing project for the deaf and hard of hearing. Here is part of the recommendation’s introduction:

Because the intent is for the equipment to be operated by volunteers, the highest consideration went into the ease of use for each piece of equipment, while still being able to achieve a certain level of quality. Ideally, all of the gear should be operable by a single person, should they need to carry this work out alone.

Camera Kit


To have a camera that can shoot 4K and have as professional of a look as possible, for the lowest cost possible. These cameras are all very popular among vloggers and YouTube content creators, as they have been created specifically for that demographic. They all feature a pop-out screen to be able to see yourself before and during filming.

Sony ZV-1 (my recommendation)

Cost: $778 @ Adorama

  • This kit comes with an included 64 GB SD card, extra battery, and battery charger
  • PRO: Digital bokeh (more of a mirrorless camera look)
  • PRO: 4K up to 30fps
  • PRO: f/1.8 lens
  • PRO: great out of focus background

Other options: Canon G7X II or III, Canon M50, Sony a6400

Note: If purchasing after August 31, 2021 you may want to consider the newer model (Sony ZV-E10)

Final camera recommendation

The Sony ZV-1 camera is a favorite among YouTube content creators. It shoots at 4K video and has great autofocus capabilities, allowing the subject to always be in focus. It’s capable of creating a slightly blurry background, mimicking a slightly more cinematic look compared to the other two Canons on the list.

– above recommendation by Brian Urbanek

If you are interested in this camera I recorded a brief review of it myself below using the actual unit.

As you can see it records clear and color accurate video. There is no distortion, and it truly is a dream to operate.

Next time we’ll address lighting and backdrop recommendations.

Live Web Streaming Guidance for Churches

livestream imageThe recent guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to limit public gatherings to no more than fifty people certainly has ramifications for our churches. For many it means that alternate worship strategies will need to be considered…most notably live streaming. Some churches do this already, so it is a relatively small step to make this the primary way our members can take part in worship. However, there are some considerations to keep in mind. More on that later. However, many of our churches do not currently stream their services at all. Here are some guidelines and resources for those looking at ways to get started:

  • Read through this excellent article by Phil Thompson entitled “How to Livestream Your Church Service: A Practical Guide.” There are great suggestions and links to more technical how-to articles.
  • A couple of things to keep in mind both from the article and my experiences… one includes a decision by your leadership if you want to try to livestream a typical worship service complete with a small group of people in attendance, or a shorter format worship or devotional experience provided by the pastor or worship leader in a more intimate setting? The article referenced above tends to lean more toward the latter, and I would agree with that. It is difficult to provide an engaging experience based on the traditional corporate worship experience. The viewer quickly becomes a passive spectator. Some of the suggestions in the article for “engaging” the audience are good ones including building in questions with time for reflection and responses, having a Q&A slot, or some other feedback mechanism once the stream has ended. Personally I would be more engaged by a video session streamed by my pastor from his office with chances for interaction.
  • Two suggestions for technologies to consider are Facebook Live and YouTube. While I have no preference for either technology, Facebook would require people to be on that platform, and there might be some reticent to join. I do think Facebook Live has better “personal interaction” options available however. YouTube, while a little more technically challenging to set up would not have the same issue with people needing to login or get an app to participate. Another option mentioned in the article is the use of a camera called Mevo. We’ve used this in the past and works rather well. It requires a Vimeo Livestream account, and the current camera costs about $400, but it allows multiple camera perspectives, records and streams at the same time, can be controlled via a smartphone, and can be viewed on YouTube and Facebook Live at the same time. With the rush for livestreaming solutions, I’m not sure about the availability of these cameras as of this writing.
  • Whatever platform you choose, put a premium on capturing good audio. People can live with substandard video, but if the audio isn’t clear, you will quickly lose their attention and ultimately, participation.
  • Practice. Practice. Practice. Take some time to both get yourself comfortable with delivery, but also use your leadership team as guinea pigs beforehand and take suggestions before you stream your first service “for real.”
  • You may also want to consider whether you want to offer a live experience or a more on-demand model. How important is it that your people “gather” at the same exact time. There are advantages to having people gather around God’s word at the same time, but there are also technical challenges that some congregations can’t quickly overcome. There is nothing wrong with posting a recorded sermon or devotion or worship experience of some kind for people to view when they can. Of course, try to make that as engaging as possible with some way to provide feedback or invite a “conversation” about the content asynchronously.
  • Once you’ve got the hang of streaming some kind of worship or devotional experience, it’s a short hop to doing the same for other things like Bible Class, which is many respects might lend itself even better to this format. You could have a small group gathered for some in-person interactivity, but then augmented with a larger online group. Be creative. Use the technology resources available to you.
  • Other considerations should be made for those who don’t have internet access or may need technical assistance to get online and gain access to your resources. It might be a nice gesture to make a staff person or tech-savvy member or two available willing to take phone calls and help people along. If people don’t have access to the internet, perhaps delivering a recorded DVD of some type might be your only option. Of course, don’t forget about your shut-ins, but keep in mind the guidance provided by health experts as well.
  • Be sure to consider copyright issues when streaming content. Many of you probably have OneLicense or CCLI licenses already but these licenses typically don’t cover livestreaming. Each also offers “podcasting” licenses that can be added that covers the streaming of any copyrighted content. Christian Copyright Solutions both offers licenses, but also excellent Fact Sheets on all things related to streaming copyrighted content over the internet. Of course remember about typical privacy concerns related to broadcasting members (adults or children). You will want to make sure they are both aware and comfortable with what you are doing. (Note: Until April 30, CCS is offering 10% off with the code STREAM10. OneLicense is offering a free license until April 15.)
  • As always, please feel free to reach out to me directly if you’d like to discuss any of the items in this post or general issues related to streaming. I can be reached at [email protected] or 414.256.3250.

May God bless our efforts to share His Gospel in all circumstances, regardless of any earthly barriers we encounter. Truly technology is a blessing God provides for our use to take His message of peace and comfort to our members and the world. The apostle Paul once shared “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Martin A. Spriggs
WELS Chief Technology Officer

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General Information Security Guidelines for WELS Organizations

A frequent request I receive from WELS congregations, schools and other organizations is for guidance on digital security and privacy. While this is a complex topic and varies by organization and even location, I have put together a document (available below) that attempts to give, at least at a high level, best practices and guidance for things like encryption, data storage, and privacy policies. If you are a WELS organization please feel free to reach out directly if you’d like more detailed information or have specific questions.

General Information Security Guidelines

This document provides guidance to WELS congregations, schools and other organizations for establishing best practices in handling user data and securing online resources. It is important to handle member information (personal and financial), as well as website visitor data, with care. Foreign, and now domestic legislation (depending on what state you operate in) may dictate what you can and can’t do, as well as the policies and procedures you need in place. Many of the new laws have to do with Personally Identifiable Information (PII).

Disclaimer: These guidelines are recommendations but may not consider all local, state, federal or international law. They are meant to call attention to certain important compliance and safety areas but should not be taken as official legal advice. We will attempt to keep this document up to date with general best practices and conventional guidance.

View Full Document: General Information Security Guidelines.pdf

Listen to WELS Through My Bible in Three Years with Siri Shortcuts

This past spring the audio version of Through My Bible in Three Years was added to Amazon Alexa’s “Flash Briefing” function. Today, we are pleased to announce that this audio series, along with the Daily Devotion is also available through a handy Siri Shortcut for iPhone and iPad users. Siri Shortcuts allow the user to either set up a custom button on their homescreen or simply say “Hey Siri” to invoke the shortcut. Shortcuts are simply actions that automate some kind of desired task. In this case, play the audio podcast for the Daily Devotion or Through My Bible in Three Years.

There are two ways to “install” these Siri Shortcuts on your phone or tablet. The first is to simply use the provided links below. You need to select these from your device and then follow the instructions for adding them to your Siri Shortcuts gallery. Note that you will need to make sure that Settings / Shortcuts / Allow Untrusted Shortcuts is set to On. Here are the links you’ll need:

If you are a little more technical and adventurous, you could build your own shortcuts. Just mimic the screenshots below in the Siri Shortcuts app…

Once installed you should be able to simply say “Hey Siri, play Through My Bible”. Give her a second to respond and you should be hearing the Bible reading. You can also go into Siri Shortcuts, find the Shortcut, open the shortcut, select the share link at the bottom and add to home screen. Now you have all you need to hear God’s Word “on command.”

In the Through My Bible in Three Years podcast, each day you are provided a narrated portion of Scripture, that over the course of three years, will navigate through the entire Bible. This is a wonderful way to be fed by the word over your morning cereal or driving the kids to school.


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Listen to WELS Through My Bible in Three Years on Alexa

Last month the audio version of WELS Daily Devotion was added to Amazon Alexa’s “Flash Briefing” function. Today, we are pleased to announce that the Through My Bible in Three Years series is also available. If you have an Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, etc. you can set up a “flash briefing” that plays through a list of available items, or “skills” of your choosing. You can hear news from NPR, the local weather forecast, a daily joke, and almost anything else you can imagine. Once you have it set up you can just ask Alexa to “play my flash briefing” or “what’s in the news?” There are other commands you can use as well. CNET put together a nice article on how to enable this feature.

You can now add WELS Through My Bible in Three Years to that lineup. Each day WELS provides a narrated portion of Scripture, that over the course of three years, will navigate its reader through the entire Bible. These passages are read by Pastor David Witte (now enjoying face-to-face conversations with his Lord in heaven). This is a wonderful way to be fed by the word over your morning cereal or driving the kids to school. In your Amazon Alexa app on your smartphone (or on your computer) go to settings, then Flash Briefing, then “add content.” You can then search for “WELS Through My Bible.”

If you decide to use this “skill,” be sure to leave a review in the app. This will increase the likelihood of it being found by others, who can then also hear the Good News!

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Listen to WELS Daily Devotion on Alexa

The audio version of WELS Daily Devotion can now be added to Amazon Alexa’s “Flash Briefing” function. If you have an Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, etc. you can set up a “flash briefing” that plays through a list of available items, or “skills” of your choosing. You can hear news from NPR, the local weather forecast, a daily joke, and almost anything else you can imagine. Once you have it set up you can just ask Alexa to “play my flash briefing” or “what’s in the news?” There are other commands you can use as well. CNET put together a nice article on how to enable this feature.

You can now add WELS Daily Devotion to that lineup. Each day WELS provides a three- to five-minute devotion based on a Bible passage. These devotions are written by WELS pastors across the country and globe. They are then “read” by a few individuals within the WELS Congregational Services team. What a great way to put technology to work for you as you sit over your morning coffee or get ready for work. In your Amazon Alexa app on your smartphone (or on your computer) go to settings, then Flash Briefing, then “add content.” You can then search for “WELS Daily Devotion.”

If you do have an Echo (perhaps there was one in your stocking) and decide to use this “skill,” be sure to leave a review in the app. This will increase the likelihood of it being found by others, who can then also hear the Good News! Look for more skills in the near future including our “Verse of the Day” and “Through The Bible” readings.

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Concordia’s Church 360 Product Price Increase

At the end of the year Concordia Technology Solutions will be increasing their price for their Church360 membership management solution. If you subscribe before the end of the year you will lock in the current WELS rate of $37.50/month or $450/year regardless of church size. This is a special rate worked out exclusively for WELS churches. Effective 2019 the price increases to $40/month or $475/year. Here is a link to the WELS Discount page for Church 360: and their finance package Ledger 360:

Many of our churches use the Church360 product and have found it to be a blessing to their membership, attendance and offering management activities. It is web-based, fairly straightforward to use and works the way many of our churches work. I’ve also found their customer service to be excellent, not just for addressing issues, but helping folks along with basic functions and reports.

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Technology Partners

Concordia Technology Solutions

Concordia Technology Solutions (CTS) offers web and Windows-based church management software options for churches. They provide the tools they need and the flexibility they want to manage membership and financial information.

CTS believes technology should not transform ministry but rather do the things people don’t have to do so church workers can focus on the things only they can and should do. They believe church management software should help churches be efficient in the office and effective in the mission field—being a “high-touch” ministry in a “high-tech, low-touch” world.

Three of Concordia Technology Solutions’ products recommended are Shepherd’s Staff, Church360° Members, and Church360° Ledger. Find more information about each of these solutions on their product page.


WELS has partnered with FinalWeb to provide a web hosting and content management solution. The relationship provides a low-cost service that allows your organization to quickly and easily produce a professional looking website. Perhaps the greatest advantage that this solution provides, however, is your ability to use the content management tools that come with your monthly subscription. These tools allow users of all levels to add, edit, and manage your website content all from a web browser. No programming experience or HTML knowledge is required. This concept will allow more people within your organization to get involved with keeping your website’s content fresh and relevant. For more information on web hosting and their other online solutions, visit their product page.

BDJ Tech

Founded in 2018, BDJ has grown to one of the top technology dealers in the country. BDJ partners with religious organizations and schools to understand your goals and meet your product needs.

BDJ Tech offers a wide range of products, including:

  • Interactive Flat Panels
  • Chromebooks and accessories
  • Google Chrome Education Licenses
  • Mobile Charging Carts
  • Audio systems
  • Peripherals (headphones, web cameras, etc.

For more information and contact info visit their product page.


WELS App Replaces WELS Mobile on July 17

On Tuesday, July 17 the WELS Mobile app installed from the iPhone/iPad App Store, Google Play Store, or Amazon will be removed. Any users with the app installed on their devices will find that many of the features will no longer function correctly. The reason for this change is that a new WELS App is now available at This new app provides all the same functionality as the old WELS Mobile app and more. Please read all about it in a recent blog posted entitled WELS App Launches.

If you have been using the old WELS Mobile app, you may want to uninstall it to avoid confusion. If you are confused as to which one you have, the old WELS Mobile app has a red header bar at the top of the screen, while the new WELS App has a blue header bar (pictured here).

Thanks for giving the WELS App a try. Tell others. Enjoy the experience and the beautiful messages it carries. And be sure to watch for new features coming soon.

Hey Siri, Play God’s Word!

The technology available through your smart phone can do amazing things. But perhaps the best thing it can do is to help you stay in God’s Word. WELS publishes daily devotions and Bible readings in audio format that your phone can easily retrieve and play for you. Today I’ll focus on how this is possible on an iPhone. Later I’ll do the same for those of you carrying Androids.

While Siri, the iPhone and iPad’s perky little digital assistant, doesn’t always do what you want her to do, I’ve had good luck getting her to play WELS Daily Devotion and WELS Through My Bible podcasts through Apple’s Podcast app. I’ve included a screencast of the rather simple process below, but here are the steps:

  1. On your iPhone or iPad, make sure you have the Podcasts app installed.
  2. Open it and tap the Search link at the bottom.
  3. Search for “WELS” and then find and tap “WELS – Daily Devotion” or “WELS – Through My Bible.” They should be on the second row of results.
  4. Once open, tap the purple “subscribe” button.
  5. Give it a minute or two for Siri to figure out that there is new content in the app.
  6. Now give it a try. Say “Hey Siri” (or otherwise use whatever method you prefer to wake her up), and then “Play WELS Daily Devotions”. She should find the latest episode and start to play it automatically. Nice! What a great way to put Siri to good use :-)

That’s it. Give it a try if you are an iPhone or iPad user.

WELS App Launches

Today we are announcing the launch of a brand new version of WELS Mobile! There are a number of changes, including the name. We’ve dropped the “mobile”, so now it’s just called the WELS App. It also no longer can be found in the Apple, Google or Amazon stores. The versions there are being retired in July. In their place, the WELS App is available at

The WELS App is of course mobile friendly but is technically called a “progressive web app” or PWA. Without getting too technical, PWAs give you all the features of a store app, but can be updated more frequently and offer similar experiences on any device. They get progressively better as your device (and it’s browser) gets more capabilities. We are excited about offering great new features in the WELS App like favoriting content, sharing, and more content.

Some have asked “why the change?” WELS Mobile seemed to work just fine for me. There were two major reasons to offer this new version:

  1. The synod has limited technical resources to maintain mobile applications that are offered in the traditional Apple/Google app stores. It requires deep technical knowledge of both platforms and testing on many, many different phones. We spent more time trying to insure the apps worked on all your devices, than offering new features. Maintaining only one app will allow us to push out new features much more quickly.
  2. A second benefit is that the new app can run safely and consistently on many more devices/platforms. Because it is simply a website, it can run on older and newer devices on many different systems (Amazon, Apple, Google, etc.). This will allow more people to take advantage of great Bible-based content.

In the very near future there will be many new features, including:

  • bookmarks,
  • notifications,
  • user configurable text size and color,
  • offline access to devotional and yearbook content, and
  • availability as an app on the Windows Store.

Thanks for giving the WELS App a try. Tell others. Enjoy the experience and the beautiful messages it carries.

GDPR Guidance

A question I’ve received quite a bit lately has to do with a church or schools need to comply with GDPR — the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations which will go into effect later this month. While there is a lot we don’t know and it is a complex topic, let me take a stab at providing guidance and what this means for you as a WELS church or school. Over the coming months, as things get a little clearer, I’ll revisit the topic and hopefully provide more definitive information.

First a little FAQ…

What us GDPR?

The General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR is a regulation by which the European Union and the European Commission intend to strengthen and unify data protection for all individuals within the European Union (EU). It also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU.

When Is Compliance Required?

The GPDR becomes enforceable on May 25th, 2018

What Users Does GDPR Apply to?

The GDPR applies to the personal data of all EU residents whether they are EU citizens or not.

What Data Does GDPR Apply to?

The scope of GDPR is really very broad and vague: it covers any entity collecting information that is “monitoring the behavior of Individuals”. Most of the security community agrees that this applies to all web stored personal data including tracking cookies, email lists, form data, etc.

Can the EU Enforce GDPR on US Organizations? What Could Happen?

They apparently can, but “how much” is still a question. Experts have suggested that having a plan in place may, at this point, shows good-faith effort toward compliance that may minimize the chance of litigation.

What does that mean for you as a WELS Church or School?

  1. Any database (church or school management system, spreadsheet, digital list, form data, etc.) must be encrypted and data transport to and from it also encrypted.
  2. If you have not secured permission from an EU resident to store their data, for whatever purpose, get permission and provide them with clear reasons for why you would like to store the data.
  3. When collecting data from EU residents (likely via online forms), the form must provide an active (vs passive) means for the user to consent to data storage. Again, the expressed purpose for the data collection must be clearly stated.
  4. EU resident data must be expunged when the “expressed purpose” has expired.
  5. Provide a mechanism for EU residents to request that their data be removed, and a means for either them to do it themselves (example, unsubscribe from a newsletter) or database owners to do it for them.
  6. Make sure that EU resident data in all systems and storage mechanisms is accounted for. This is important if you receive a request from an EU resident that their data be removed…you need to know where it is.
  7. Ensure that all 3rd party tools used to collect or maintain EU resident data are GDPR compliant. This could apply to your Church Membership Database, Student Information System, forms tool like JotForms or FinalWeb Forms, etc.
  8. Have a privacy policy on your website or linked to from forms that clearly states what you do and don’t do with data collected.

In summary, a lot of these regulations are just good practices anyway, but it is likely that you may not be in compliance today. Get started with these first steps, have a plan and reach out for help if you aren’t sure you are on the right track.

Good Digital Calendar Stewardship

Just a quick thought today on time stewardship. More and more the demands on our time stack up, almost to the point that we would struggle to function without our digital calendars. They are so handy, especially if you have a smartphone that can display your calendar and allow you manage it from the palm of your hand.

But just knowing where to be when and with who isn’t enough. Yes, your calendar can keep track of all that for you, and even remind you when to get going. Yet the tough stewardship challenge has to do with those meetings that sometimes fill it. I won’t dive into a list of all the meeting management or prep tips that are out there. Perhaps another day. Today I want to just offer up one little one that can make a world of difference in making your meetings more efficient — calendar attachments.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity…

Ephesians 5:15-16

Most digital calendar tools allow you to attach documents to individual events. For example, Google Calendar, under the “more options” button in the create event window, allows the upload of almost any kind of document or links to Google Docs right into the meeting entry. Where I’ve found this to be particularly useful is for meeting agendas, reports or other documents that I know I’ll want “at the ready” in prep for or actually during the meeting. I don’t want to have to hunt around different file folders, emails or cloud services for relevant meeting materials. Having to look in only one place, i.e. your calendar entry, is a huge time-saver and stress reliever. If you “invite” or “share” the meeting with other attendees, they too would have access to the same meeting materials. You can even update this over time as more materials become available, avoiding the dreaded string of emails that are sometimes necessary to get everybody all the stuff. If a document get’s updated, especially if it’s a Google Doc, then everybody is going to be able to grab the latest copy just by opening the meeting invite/entry. Sweet.

I recorded a quick 3 minute demo of how this is done in Google Calendar. If you aren’t into Google Calendar, just check whatever tool you use for similar functionality.

I’ll Pray For…

One of the great uses I’ve found for technology is creating to-do lists. Shopping lists. Honey-do lists. Grocery lists. Project lists. And perhaps most important…prayer lists. We’ve all experienced the challenge of a good prayer life. It’s not for lack of things to pray for, but time, discipline, and remembering everything you want to carry to the Lord in prayer when you are ready to pray.

I’ve found a good routine of praying in the car on the way to work. I have a 30 minute drive in which I listen through the Daily Devotion from the WELS Mobile app as well as the Through My Bible series. Following that I have some quiet time in prayer. What really helped me during that time was being able to have my prayer list available. Trying to keep things digital, as I am want to do, I went in search of a good system to have that list with me in an easy to use and maintainable format. My requirements were:

  1. The list tool had to be easy to use. It’s important to have quick entry as prayer items occur. If it’s hard to get them into your system you will put it off, and perhaps forget before you get it onto a list.
  2. Whatever tool I use needs to be on multiple platforms and operating systems (Windows, Mac, phone, tablet, etc.). So whatever computing device I’m using or will use in the future I won’t have any trouble sticking with the same tool.
  3. The tool needs to support recurring items that can be checked and unchecked like any good list tool. This would allow me to cycle through items.
  4. The tool should be easy to use in the car by simply opening an app and have it appear without multiple taps which would be potentially unsafe.

What I decided on was a simple checklist within the Trello project management tool. I have a “card” called “Pray” and on it two simple checklists called Weekly and Special. My weekly list has a rotation of items like family, co-workers, spouse, kids, etc. The special list has those items that come up that may not be regular items but certainly things I want to take to the Lord, like a friend’s illness, relationship issues, special tasks or projects, etc. As I pray through the list a simple tap on a check box marks it as done once I reach my destination. Be careful to obey prevailing traffic laws regarding interacting with electronic devices. I’m hoping that voice activated check lists are in the near future as well.

Other lists you might consider would be OneNote, Evernote, and Google Keep. These are all cross platform and would work well for simple checklists. The point is to find a system that will put those things you want to pray for in front of you at the time you want to pray. I’ve found that just having the list available and in a system I use everyday anyway is a nice reminder to pray. We all need that!

So I just wanted to share my experiences with a system that seems to work well for me as I try to remove as many barriers as possible for a consistent prayer life. If we talk at some point in the future and I commit to praying for you or something that comes up in our conversation, know that I have a spot ready for it on my digital list.

New WELS Locator joins Yearbook

locator imageRecently the WELS Locator application was rewritten and enveloped into the existing WELS Online Yearbook. The yearbook has slowly been updated with functions and data to make it a viable replacement for it’s paper sibling. You can search for a called workers name or city and receive a listing of those that match. Clicking on a called worker will reveal a profile that shows contact information, year graduated and what organization they work for.

Where things get even more interesting is on the organization tab. For some time you could search for a church or school by name and/or city. With the inclusion of locator functionality, you can now find a church or school by proximity to criteria you enter. You can enter an address, city, state or zip code and find all organizations within a radius of miles you determine. You may also select the option to find your current location as the search criteria…great if you are traveling and want to find nearby churches.

Also available within the locator is a function to filter your search results by special criteria including Church, Pre-School, Elementary School, High School, Counseling Center and Care Facility. You can get even more filters related specifically to worship like Signed Services, Hearing Loop, Personal Sound Equipment, Livestreaming, and Languages Offered.

There are a number of ways to find the Yearbook/Locator. You can simply visit the synod’s website at and click on the “Find a Church/School” (formerly “WELS Locator”) at the top of the page. This will take the visitor directly to the Organization tab of the yearbook app. You may also visit the Yearbook site directly at, or the Locator portion at Finally, if you use the WELS Mobile app you can find a link to the Locator in the side menu or the Yearbook itself under the Synod Reports area.

The Yearbook with locator functionality is a useful tool to get in touch with any called worker. Perhaps you have a friend or neighbor moving out of town and you want to contact the local pastor to get in touch. Simply search for a city in either the People or Organization tab and then reach out to that church or pastor directly to let them know that their might be a family to be in touch with. You could also share the information with your friend. Studies have shown that if a new resident doesn’t get “connected” with a church in the first 90 days, it is far less likely they will find a church home at all. With the locator functionality you could also pinpoint the nearest church or school to a specific address if you know it. Obviously if you are moving, this would be a great way to determine the proximity of the closest church or school.

If you or someone you know needs to take advantage of special services offered like signed services, or hearing equipment, those filters are available. You can even find the closest services offered in Spanish or whatever other language is needed. And of course with vacation season just around the corner the Yearbook’s locator function will be a great way to find a service close to wherever you are, plus directions with the click of a single button.

It is important to stay connected with a church family. The WELS Yearbook with Locator helps you, or those you know, do that.

Related resources

One related resource that was mentioned above is the WELS Mobile app. It has links to the Yearbook, but also great devotional content like Daily Devotions, Bible Readings, Worship Helps and a technology-in-ministry podcast called WELSTech. Just search for “WELS Mobile” in your favorite app store.

Here’s a brief demo of some of the Yearbook and Locator functionality.

Not Just Any Name!

Living in 2016, soon to be 2017 means that you’ve had to learn a whole new vocabulary…at least when it comes to technology. If you are going to try and find something on the internet, you must “google” it. If you need a ride, you might need to “uber” or “lyft” it. Things are in “the cloud.” You might be looking at a “retina” screen. There are new and sometimes very creative names for everything these days. Many with invented spellings so they can differentiate themselves from their more mundane counterparts. We have Flickr and Spotify and Rdio and… the list goes on. These names mean something to those who use their products and services. They aren’t in the dictionary, but they still having meaning.

As I was reading the verse of the day today, I was reminded of the power of a name.

Luke 1:31 – “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.”

This name Mary and Joseph were to call their newborn wasn’t a new name. It’s Old Testament predecessor, Joshua, had been around a long time. But the circumstances are different now. This name isn’t merely a “brand,” or even a vague hope of better things to come. This was a promise…made by God. Jesus means Savior. There has never been a more fitting name, right?

I suppose if Jesus’ life and mission would have been turned over to the marketing companies of today, they might have tried to drop a letter like “Jsus” or perhaps even just gone with a single letter “J”. Maybe even lowercase it to “j” to be different. They might have created a logo. A jingle. A Twitter hashtag. But I think God got it right the first time. Just Jesus. Just Savior. Nuff said. It was just what we needed, at just the right time.

Whatever name we use for Jesus it always will equal Savior. That is what he “represents.” Salvation. He lived up to his name didn’t he? So as you look into the manger this Christmas, remember the best name ever given. It’s the best because it is the most personal name ever given. It’s really not just “Savior,” but YOUR Savior. What a gift! A name. Sing it. Cherish it. Ponder it. Share it.

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Reflections on Verse of the Day – Romans 1:10

Romans 1:10
In my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

(Note: The Verse of the Day is available through WELS Mobile, the official WELS mobile application available in Apple, Google and Amazon app stores)

Paul had connections. In this verse he mentions just two. Of course, his connection to God, but also his desire to connect with the Christians in Rome. Both are part of a Christian life. There are many times where Paul references his trip to the throne of glory through prayer alongside a request that another trip be made to connect with others who need to hear about their Savior.

I can’t help but wonder how the social media tools of today might have excited Paul. We have just a few of the letters that he wrote and then sent on their way in hopes that they would reach their destination, little lone be read. A tool like Facebook or email would have been gold in the hands of somebody like Paul — a thirsty ambassador who couldn’t make enough connections.

What is our excuse? We have that “gold,” but do we have the thirst to use whatever is at our disposal to make those connections to expand the kingdom? I know I’m guilty of reducing my social media posts to simple snapshots of a recent vacation, or other benign status updates that really only I care about…and of course revolve around ME.

Our desire to connect with others in a spiritual way, as Paul did, is very much intertwined with the strength of our connection with Jesus. If you aren’t talking to Jesus much, you probably aren’t talking much to other people about Jesus. If you aren’t listening to Jesus much through his Word, you probably aren’t listening to others with an ear toward sharing some of that Word as opportunities arise. It really is a package deal.

Two challenges for today:

  1. Start healthy spiritual habits that allow you to connect with your Savior frequently (prayer, Bible study, etc.)
  2. View your social media interactions as chances to “connect” like Paul was thirsty to do — for the sake of the Gospel.

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Reflections on Verse of the Day: Acts 11:26

The verse of the day from the WELS Mobile app is Acts 11:26.

And when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. -Acts 11:26

At first glance one wonders why this might be a verse of the day. It seems like just a little bit of history. Educational? Maybe. Inspirational? Perhaps not so much.

AdoptionWhat I do find interesting however is the name given to followers of Jesus first here in Antioch. “Christians.” Followers of Jesus (that’s us) were given the name of our Savior.

There is a lot in a name. Parents take time and great care in naming their children…and often there is something very special and unique about that name and why it was chosen. We don’t know how this name was chosen, but we do know that it stuck. We have it today. God allowed the application of a name that is so fitting for us. We have our Savior’s name.

Yes, we could also say that about the term Lutheran, but Luther would be the first to say it’s not about me, but Christ. Don’t take my name, but His. We hold to Lutheran beliefs…but we ARE Christ’s! He adopted us when he walked among us, took our sins, went to the cross and paid for us. He bought us and gave us his name! Appreciate that name today, and also such good news can come from seemingly uninspiring

Christ, thank you for the name you have given us, the Word you recorded for us, and the salvation you won for us. Amen.

Note: Just a quick word about the image I used in the blog post today. It is from a free collection of images contributed to the WELSTech Photo Challenge. While the challenge is over, you can still use these royalty free images however you like…or if you are a photographer, contribute to the collection.

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Reflections with Verse of the Day: Mark 12:30

One of my morning habits is to open the WELS Mobile app on my smartphone to listen to the Daily Devotion and Through My Bible readings. However, I particularly like the Verse Of The Day that appears on the home screen. It gives me rich food for reflection and journaling. If you read today’s verse from Mark 12:30, I’m sure you were struck with the simplicity of Jesus’ words, but also their overwhelming message. Here is what I journaled this morning:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Love is a word that is tossed around pretty freely these days. Sometimes its “in love,” but then over half of all marriages between people who were once “in love” end in “out of love.” Sometimes love equals obsession or idolatry. We would give up all else if we could just be hunting right now, or fishing, or shopping, or using a new smart phone. What is my definition of love?

Jesus used the “love” word when talking about a relationship between me and God. He also knew that his hearers, including me, would need some help with that word. So he gives me a little peek into what kind of love and relationship I need to have. One that is “all in.” With all my heart. With all my soul. With all my mind. With all my strength. Sounds exhausting, but that’s exactly it. Exhaust myself. Spend everything I’ve got loving God. Spend all my time. Spend all my talents. Spend all my resources. Jesus also called this the greatest commandment. I also remember the second one he gave. Love your neighbor…with that same kind of love.

God is demanding, but he is also giving. He loved me first with an “all in” love. He gave his very son over to death on a cross…for me. That’s all in.

Lord, help me go “all in” today for you. May my whole heart, soul, mind, and all my strength be dedicated to loving you, and those you bring into my life today! Amen.

The verse is three lines long on the screen of my phone. But spending just a few minutes thinking, writing, and praying over it allow it to fill me up, and hopefully my day too. Getting into a routine of reflecting on God’s Word can be such a blessing. It takes discipline and dedication, but after a while if you don’t do it, something just isn’t right. The Holy Spirit has you then.

If you are interested, I journal using digital tools. No big surprise there right? Two that I can recommend are DayOne and Diaro. DayOne is an app only available on the Mac and iOS, while Diaro is available on the web and both iOS and Android. I find I like having tools like these available wherever I am as I can capture thoughts, but also images, location and other things that will allow me to reflect on God’s grace, and also remember it.

If you use other tools or methods, I’d love to hear about them. Leave a comment below. Blessings on your reflections and walk with God.

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God’s Word Awaits

I have a morning devotional routine that I enjoy that relies on the Verse of the Day displayed in our WELS Mobile app. This morning I was struck, as I often am, how powerful and useful a single passage of God’s word can be. Today was no different.

Part of my morning “verse of the day” routine is journaling. (Note: If you are interested in what I use, visit There are plenty of good digital journaling apps out there, this one is the one I like best for the Apple platforms — OSX and iOS). As I spent time this morning with today’s verse and my journal it reinforced to me again that I am so blessed to be able to enjoy God’s word whenever I want, and what power it brings to me. A daily routine that puts God’s word in the center of it is so important. It’s not hard. It’s not really even that time consuming. But it is powerful.

Anyway, today’s verse is just what I needed, as it always is…Philippians 4:19:

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

What a beautiful sentence to be able to write! Can you imagine writing that to your brother who has neglected his church attendance, or your friend who has “given up on God” as she looks at all the terrible things God permits to go on in the world. Yes. Yes I can. Each of us can say EXACTLY those words.

First of all, I love the possessive in Paul’s first phrase — my God. It isn’t “the” God, or even “our” God. It’s “my” God. As if to say this very personal God has not only taken interest in me and my life, but he has made it entirely possible through his son that I can call him “mine”.

Not only is he mine, and I am his, but he is such a good and powerful and personal God that he is going to meet all my needs. All of them. Whether I know they are needs or not. And not just “meet” those needs, but meet them according to the riches of his glory! This big, glorious God watches over me, anticipates my needs, and then delivers…richly!

Of course the best part of this passage is the end. This is all made possible through Christ Jesus. The biggest need I have is the one that determines whether I spend eternity with “my” God or not. Fortunately for me because of my God’s son, that greatest need is also taken care of. I’m going to heaven. When God says “all” my needs, he means it!

So don’t hesitate to quote God today. These words can flow freely from your lips, your fingers, your heart. So I say to you, my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. Amen.

God’s word awaits you too. Enjoy!

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What Do You Want On Your Tombstone?

What do you want on your tombstone? A curious question perhaps, at least until later in life. A very weighty question however as you ponder your life and what you have to show for it. Perhaps to rephrase the question you could ask “What is your legacy?” That is one of those questions for which an answer isn’t just living on the tip of your tongue. It’s deep. Very deep.

This question is fresh in my mind as my father-in-law, Pastor David Witte, was called home to be with his Lord the week before Thanksgiving this year. While I never asked him about his legacy or his tombstone, I have been reminded each morning since his death about a possible answer. Each morning I listen to the Synod’s Through My Bible in Three Years narration from the WELS Mobile app. It’s also available from It’s a simple series that allows you to read, or listen, through your Bible over three years. If you’ve ever listened yourself, you’ve heard Dave’s rich voice sharing God’s Word with you. He read all 1095 entries, leaving behind a three year legacy which began about 2005 where he read for us every word in the Bible.

Those of you who knew Dave wouldn’t be surprised to hear that he was passionate about this responsibility. He didn’t just pick up the Bible, turn on the microphone and start reading. He rehearsed. He reviewed previous recordings to make sure he was consistent in his pronunciation of some of those challenging Old Testament names. He even called up Seminary professors to get advice on pronunciations. He treated God’s word with the respect that it deserved and wanted to provide you with as faithful and passionate a reading as possible. He is gone, but this remains. I’d call that a legacy.

Of course, throughout Dave’s ministry he did many other things and touched many lives. I’ve talked to scores who benefited greatly from knowing him. I certainly was one of them. He was truly the Lord’s servant. But as I sit at the kitchen table over breakfast listening to him read God’s Word to me, I think he’d be happy with that simple legacy. “I read and shared God’s Word.” Not bad. I’ll take that. Wouldn’t you? Reading God’s Word to a spouse, friend, your children, your grandchildren.

If I had asked Dave what he wanted on his tombstone, I’m pretty sure it would have been some of the very words he spoke into that microphone. Perhaps “I know that my redeemer lives,” or “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Fitting. Right?

It’s clear that his life and legacy was not about him, but what was done for him. That understanding, that faith, is what empowers us to make something of our lives, because we know that it isn’t so much our legacy we should care about, but His!

You can hear God’s Word each day at: or by installing WELS Mobile on your smartphone or tablet by searching for “WELS Mobile” in the app store.

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My God…And My Ring

ringMy phone rang last Tuesday. It was the police…from Folsom, CA. I live in Wisconsin. Hmmm. “This is Officer Wells, and I was wondering if you are missing a high school class ring?”

After stuttering a bit I said, “Yeah, I vaguely remember losing my ring in my senior year of high school about 37 years ago.” “Well, we found it.”

So there I was, living 2000 miles away 37 years later and a ring I hadn’t even thought about for 36 years was back in my life. Apparently stolen property all these years was going to return to it’s rightful owner. I can’t say I missed it. I remember losing it in a locker room my senior year, just months after I received it. So I didn’t have an overly emotional attachment to it. Nor was I ever big on wearing jewelry. So besides the $250 I lost, not too many tears were shed. But it feels different now though. It seems like a long lost friend… with an unknown history. Who had it? Whose finger or around whose neck had it hung? I’ll never know.

What was amazing was that this ring, which had been on my finger for such a short time 37 years ago, found me again. My thanks to Officer Wells who took the time to figure out the initials in the ring were mine, matched that to a graduation year, and then found me through an online search. To me, that was above and beyond, and good detective work.

As I was reflecting on what was lost, and now is found, I of course was reminded of the familiar Bible passage as the prodigal son “was found” by his father in Luke 15:32. I was also reminded of my relationship to my God.ring2

I did not go looking for God. In fact, left to myself I’d not have given him another thought. Colossians 1:21 says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” Even though I was alienated from God, he was not from me. He had put my initials in his heavenly book, sent his Son to die for me, and then tracked me down. He went above and beyond. I was not lovable, but he loved me. His diligence was nothing short of amazing.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:6 Our savior died, yes. But his death was not for lovable people, but unlovable. Ungodly. It should be a comfort to us that our diligent, passionate, loving and gracious God will not lose track of us. He will find us and do whatever it takes. Our part is easy. Be found.

Thank you God for not giving up on me. For finding me. For saving me. I look forward to an eternity with you!

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Christians Under Construction – Week 23

Galatians 3:27 “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.”

Mary and her mother Marilyn were walking past the many clothing stores at the local mall. Marilyn, now a middle-aged mother, could remember the days of bell bottoms and platform shoes, long hair and enormous hoop earrings. She had been in high school at the time and almost felt like she was again, as those same styles were draped over the lifeless manikins in the store windows. She was both intrigued and amused by the rebirth of that generation’s fashions. She had worn them once, but thought better of trying to do it again. She remembered sage advise from her mother who said, “If you can remember when they were in style the first time, you’re too old to wear them now.”

As Marilyn tried to explain to her daughter how these clothes had been very popular when she was a girl, Mary couldn’t quite understand it all, but nodded and said, “They look pretty cool mom.” Mom responded with a smile, “You mean groovy?”

For many, clothes make a “statement.” Sometimes that statement is anti-establishment, like it was in the 60’s and 70’s. The fashion industry is adept at providing clothes that allow people to make statements. Clothes are a personal thing. They say something about you.

Our Bible reading today is also talking about clothes – spiritual clothes. Like clothes made of fabric, our spiritual clothes say a lot about us. They make a statement. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he wanted to make sure they understood that there was a very specific dress code they needed to follow as Christians. They needed to be “clothed with Christ.”

The beginning of chapter three finds Paul calling the Galatian congregation, “foolish Galatians!” They had been trying to put on spiritual clothing that were making the wrong statement. The clothing they were trying to wear was human made. Paul warns, “After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” It’s easy to do. Satan makes those kinds of clothes readily available and very popular. He tells us we can make ourselves better by trying harder or comparing ourselves to others.

You can feel good about yourself and your spiritual condition if you believe that it’s really not your fault and God certainly can’t deny you a place in heaven for a few minor sins. The Bible has a name for those kinds of clothes – “filthy rags.” Take a closer look at Isaiah 64:6 for a good description of the clothes in our spiritual closets.

All is not lost however. Even though the Christian’s dress code is strict, God has provided us with the wardrobe we need. In fact, most of us have already received these spiritual clothes, through baptism. Paul said, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.” Talk about one stop shopping! We didn’t even have to go looking for God. He came to us with water and in His Word. In fact, Father, Son and Holy Spirit were present, and clothed us with Christ and the wonderful saving faith that comes with it. Being baptized is more than just getting wet. It’s getting dressed! Before we were naked and exposed to sin. Now we are clothed with righteousness won for us on the cross.

As we look to the cross, we see our Savior who not only clothed us at baptism, but will come back some day soon with an even better set of clothes that only those in heaven get to wear. Clothes are a personal thing. They do say something about you! Be a good steward of the clothes you have been given. Wear them proudly. Make a statement.

Discussion Questions: Think of some of the clothes you have. What statement do they make about you? How does our use of time make a statement about what spiritual clothes we wear? How about use of talents? And treasures?

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: Galatians 3

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the clothes. We know they were bought with your blood. Help us to remember our baptisms as the day we got dressed. Amen.

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Christians Under Construction – Week 22

Christians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. It was originally developed for a congregation stewardship series and intended as a weekly resource. I thought I’d republish here for those interested in using them. Here is week twenty-two:

Matthew 7:24–27 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Little Mary Gentry was thoroughly enjoying herself as she played in her room. She loved to build imaginary houses with blankets, sheets, clothespins, chairs and broomsticks. She had everything propped up just like she liked it. Of course, she had to be careful because one slip could bring it all crashing down. She’d done that many times before. In fact, she couldn’t even open her windows for fear that a breeze coming through would send her delicate structure to the floor.

Her brother Bill Jr. enjoyed doing the same thing, except his “house” was up in a tree and cobbled together with old wooden planks and bent nails. He had to be equally cautious. One false step and not only would his construction project come crashing down, but so would he.

Both Bill and Mary’s houses remind us of Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builders. One builder built his on rock and the other on sand. One could withstand wind and rain. The other could not. One took the time, planned and did it right. The other did not.

What kind of builder are you? If you believe your house is in good shape then Jesus is referring to you when he says, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” If that is the case, we need not worry about the winds of earthly problems that howl at our door. If that is the case, we aren’t bothered by the rains of depression, sorrow, pain and suffering that beat down on our roofs.

What’s that you say? Some of those things do bother you? You occasionally are worried by those pesky earthly problems? You are not alone. All Christians are in the same boat. It’s not that our foundation isn’t solid. It is. It is Jesus Christ. His suffering, death and resurrection have created a rock solid base for our faith and life.

What is the problem then? It is simply the fact that we are still “Christians Under Construction.” We’ve started to build on a firm foundation, but we aren’t done yet. The roof may not be on yet, windows may be missing, tile may need to be laid. That’s a problem isn’t it? Yes and no. It’s a problem if we simply leave things in the state they are – unfinished. However, if we commit ourselves to completing the project, those winds and rains will cause fewer and fewer problems. As our construction projects move forward our faith grows. God has promised that.

God tells us that by listening to his word and putting it into practice, we will grow! It will require our time — make no mistake. But God has already done the hard part by giving up his son for our salvation. If we listen to his word regularly, our spiritual house becomes stronger. We need not worry about “taking a false step.” Even if we do, we have forgiveness and the promise from God to help us learn how to take “true steps.” Take every opportunity to listen to God’s Word. Use the time that you have to “build” in church, in Sunday School, in Bible Class, in at-home study and devotion. Build, build, build! It’s raining out!

Discussion Questions: In what ways can rain be like the problems of this world? Are you ever frustrated by how slow your building project is going? If so, how could you speed things up?

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: Matthew 7

Prayer: Lord, it’s raining and we are getting wet. Inspire us to listen to your words and put them into practice. With your foundation and your salvation we can build and withstand the wind and the rain of sin. Amen.

Christians Under Construction – Week 21

Christians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. It was originally developed for a congregation stewardship series and intended as a weekly resource. I thought I’d republish here for those interested in using them. Here is week twenty-one:

Joshua 24:15 “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Marilyn and Bill were pulling out of the driveway for their regular “Friday Night Date.” Early on in their marriage they had decided that they needed to have at least one night together each week. Sometimes they would go out to eat then catch a movie, or a play, or some other kind of activity.

Each Friday was a bit different. One thing, however, was always the same — the debate, or perhaps a better word, “indecision” about where to go to eat. Each Friday evening, without fail, the two would back down the driveway, look at each other and trade the same question, “Where do you want to go to eat?” The answers were also the same, “I don’t know, it’s up to you.” This would go on for a few minutes or sometimes miles down the road, until somebody would decide. Marilyn would say, “Well you are the leader of this family, make a decision.” Bill would say, “but that’s your department. You make the decision.” It’s a wonder they ever ate on Friday nights at all!

Sometimes it is difficult to make decisions, especially if those involved aren’t sure or convinced who’s in charge. Sometimes no decisions are reached, and that can be as bad as making the wrong decision. Leadership is important – in our families, our workplaces, our own personal lives and our church. Without it, decisions don’t get made. Things don’t happen, or worse, bad things happen.

In our reading today, Joshua boldly makes a decision for his family. He doesn’t debate it, or ask anybody about it. He simply fulfills his responsibility to lead by saying, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Period! End of sentence!

Joshua had observed the Marilyns and Bills of God’s people being indecisive about what god they would worship. Would it be the God that rescued them out of Egypt, the God of grace, the author of our salvation, or would it be the wooden and golden idols that some had latched on to as they passed through godless countries on their way to the promised land? They weren’t sure.

As they rode their donkeys and pulled their wagons down the road to Canaan, they debated. No one was taking a stand. No one was leading and making a decision. Joshua did. The Holy Spirit-led Joshua saw the importance of making a stand for God.

How about you and your family? Have you ever taken this stand? You may not have stood out in your front yard and shouted those words, although nothing would be wrong with that. But you speak loudly and clearly by bringing your family to church each Sunday. By resisting the temptation to “skip” you have proclaimed that your household is about serving God. Every one of them.

God calls each one of us to spiritual leadership. Sometimes he entrusts a family to us to lead — sometimes it is only ourselves. Regardless of our situation, God wants us to serve him and be decisive about it. Many people have decided not to do so. That is a sad thing and ought to motivate us to speak to them in love. Many more people have chosen to be indecisive. They don’t know who to follow or serve. We need to be concerned about them as well, for God says we are either for him or against him. There is no middle ground.

How about you and your household? Will you serve the Lord? Will you come and hear God’s word and enjoy the blessings of the Lord’s Supper, Baptism and the wonderful fellowship offered with your church family? Can you, will you, say what Joshua did?

Discussion Questions: What is the toughest decision you ever had to make? Why was it difficult? Does God make it easy or hard to be a part of his family? How can you be a better spiritual leader?

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: Joshua 24

Prayer: Lord, we praise you for the privilege of being a part of your family. We are honored. Help us to always serve you. Amen.

Christians Under Construction – Week 20

Christians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. It was originally developed for a congregation stewardship series and intended as a weekly resource. I thought I’d republish here for those interested in using them. Here is week twenty:

Hebrews 10:25 “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the day approaching.”

Billy and his little sister Mary were busily going over their memory work in the back seat of the car as they pulled up to the train station to drop dad off for his commute to work. This was their typical morning ritual as Marilyn would often drop her husband Bill off at the station on her way to dropping the kids at school.

On this particular morning little Mary noticed the sign by the drive in to the station. It said, “Kiss n’ Ride.” She turned to her mother and asked, “Mom, what does that sign mean?” pointing to the blue and white marker. “Mary, that just tells us where we can drop off daddy.”

Mary clearly not satisfied with the answer responded, “But I meant why the word ‘kiss’? I understand the part about riding.” “Well, when a husband and wife are separated for the day, they will want to give each other a kiss goodbye before one of them rides on the train.”

Mary continued her questioning, “Do you kiss because it makes you a little sad that you will be apart?” “That’s part of it, yes” said Marilyn. “It also is a way to say I love you, and have a good day and I’m looking forward to giving you another kiss when you get home.”

“I get it,” said Mary. “It’s like the most enjoyable time is when you are together. That’s why you give me a kiss when you drop me off at school.” “That’s right Mary,” said Marilyn. I want to be with the people I love as much as possible.”

In our verse for today, the writer to the Hebrews has observed that some people were no longer looking forward to being with each other. They had given up meeting together, especially at church. What a sad thing.

Almost all of us can remember kissing somebody we loved for the last time. Perhaps they left and we never saw them again. Perhaps they went to heaven ahead of us and we are separated for the rest of our lives. It hurts. We long to be together again.

It is also a sad thing when Christians “give up meeting together.” They come to church infrequently, or they have chosen not to go to Bible Class or Sunday School. God says it’s sad because they can no longer encourage or be encouraged. It’s sad because they don’t enjoy the benefits of God’s Word or Sacraments. God also tells us why those things are important – “and all the more as you see the day approaching.”

There may come a day, very soon, when there will be no more earth. At this time there will also be a separation, the sheep from the goats. It is important to meet together. Watch yourself and the importance you put on this. Watch others as well.

When we joined the congregation either through confirmation, baptism, transfer or other means, we more than likely made a commitment to “stay together.” The congregation also made a commitment to watch over you and encourage you if you slip into the “habit” of not meeting together. As Christians Under Construction we need to make good on those commitments. Help each other stay committed. Or as God said, “encourage one another.”

Each time we meet together the holy kiss of Christ is waiting for us. Long for that time together with Jesus and his children. Yes, we need to do some “riding” during our lives, but the “kissing” is the important part. Jesus never runs out. He looks forward to our return home.

Discussion Questions: Evaluate the statement, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” What does stewardship have to do with “meeting together?” Do you know anybody you should be “encouraging” right now who you haven’t seen for some time?

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: Hebrews 10

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the spiritual family you have given me. Help me to look forward with eagerness to our time together. May I encourage and be encouraged. Amen

Christians Under Construction – Week 19

Christians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. It was originally developed for a congregation stewardship series and intended as a weekly resource. I thought I’d republish here for those interested in using them. Here is week nineteen:

1 Peter 2:2 “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”

Marilyn Gentry seemed unusually giddy as she went about the task of making dinner. Her husband Bill, son Bill Jr., and daughter Mary sat quietly at the dinner table waiting for the main course to come out of the oven. Bill was reading his paper, while the kids were busy paging through the toy store ads. As Marilyn sat down to the table with the last tray, she cast a knowing glance at her husband, cleared her throat and got the children’s attention.

“Kids, I have something to tell you. We are no longer going to be a family of four!” Bill Jr., as expected offered the first “smart” remark. “You mean we are finally going to put Mary up for adoption?” Marilyn shot back a quick cold stare, but couldn’t hold it long as the excitement of a new baby was too much to hold her back.

Mary jumped up, “Mom, you mean we are going to have a new baby?” “That’s right sweetheart! God has decided to bless us with another child.“ “Oh goodie,” Mary cried, “I won’t be the youngest anymore!” At that point, Bill Sr. suggested that they all bow their heads and say a prayer of thanks. He started and thanked God that he saw fit to entrust another precious soul to them. Bill Jr. thanked God for the news and asked that “he make it a boy.” Mary thanked God for the upcoming addition and requested that God help her grow up faster so she could hold and take care of the baby. Mom concluded the prayer by thanking God for the chance to watch another child of God grow up and serve him.

Babies help us remember how wonderful God’s gifts truly are. To use our Christians Under Construction theme, how wonderful the Builder’s Blessings truly are. We enter the third and final sub-theme of our stewardship emphasis by looking at the wonderful blessings God has given to us, specifically his Word and Sacraments. What makes The Builder’s Blessings an appropriate conclusion to our series is the importance of those blessings to our Christian lives. They are truly things that we can’t live without.

We must think of ourselves as babies who have a lot of growing up to do, and we can’t grow an inch without God’s help and blessings. Our verse for today reminds us of that fact. “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” Babies can be beautiful and a joyous event, but they are helpless. Christians Under Construction are helpless too. But the difference between a Christian and a person who doesn’t know Jesus is what they desire, what they “crave.”

People who don’t know that Jesus died for their sins crave the world’s offerings – self-service, lust, greed (insert your own list). But Christians crave something different – pure spiritual milk! In short, they crave God’s Word. The Holy Spirit works that in us. The Holy Spirit knows we need to “grow up in our salvation.” If we don’t drink that pure spiritual milk, we won’t grow, and if we don’t grow we stay vulnerable to sin, Satan and our world.

Like an expectant parent, the Holy Spirit looks forward to watching us grow in the Word and our faith. He provides means for us to do so – means of grace we call them. The Word of God and his sacraments, Baptism and The Lord’s Supper allow us to grow. Let’s use them and grow together!

Discussion Questions: How quickly would you say you are growing: a) a snail’s pace, b) slow but steady, c) just under the speed limit, d) full throttle. List the ways you use to “grow up in your salvation.” List and then evaluate the reasons why you may not be growing as fast as you would like. Pick another person who you might be able to help grow.

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: 1 Peter 1 & 2

Prayer: Lord, help us to crave pure spiritual milk. We are utterly helpless without your Word. May we cling to it, learn it, share it and rejoice in its good news – the good news of our salvation through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Christians Under Construction – Week 18

Christians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. It was originally developed for a congregation stewardship series and intended as a weekly resource. I thought I’d republish here for those interested in using them. Here is week eighteen:

1 Timothy 6:6 – 8 “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing we will be content with that.”

Billy was eyeing up the latest game systems at the local Toys R Us. As he stood in front of the display his mouth hung wide open and he was oblivious to anything else going on around him. On the other side of the store, Mary was doing that same thing in front of the Barbie display. The sea of pink was almost overwhelming to her. Mom and Dad stood by, casting knowing glances at each other about the certain conversation in the car on the way home. Sure enough, each took their turn trying to convince mom or dad why they needed a new game system or Barbie. Usually they tried Dad first, since he was the easier mark of the two. Once rebuffed, they would turn their attention to Mom.

Mom and Dad used the typical responses, which seldom satisfied their begging children. “You already have plenty of toys.” “Your birthday is just around the corner.” “We’ll put it on your Christmas list.”

It’s hard being children. Patience and contentment are difficult to come by. That really doesn’t change much as we grow older. Satisfaction with what we have goes against the grain of this materialistic world. Our world preaches “the one with the most toys wins,” and “you can never have enough, why settle?”

Even Christians fall victim to this attitude. In 1 Timothy 6 Paul warns young Timothy of this fact. In verse 10 he writes, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” We want more money so we can buy more toys. We are driven by it. Young men and women choose specific careers because of it. If you want to be “successful” you must “do well for yourself.”

Apparently that was a problem in Timothy’s time. Even so called “men of God” were driven by money and thought “godliness is a means to financial gain.” “Disgusting” we say. Jim Bakkers and Jerry Falwells lived back then too. Yet don’t we struggle with similar things?

We look with longing eyes at things that we think will satisfy us. Sometimes they are innocent things, sometimes not. Let’s play a little game. Make a list of all the things you value and absolutely couldn’t live without. Then make another list of all the things you absolutely need, but don’t currently have. Which list is longer? Which list has salvation on it? Which list has the faith that the Holy Spirit provides on it? Which list has forgiveness of sins on it? Which list has a loving, caring, gracious heavenly Father on it? Which list has items that you can take with you when you die?

God’s message is rather simple. Be content. Put your money, your time and your talents into things that last – for an eternity. That is what Jesus did. He spent his life working at something that had staying power. He gave up his life for something that a materialistic world could never understand. He was a mystery to the world. However it was “great gain” for us. Rejoice. Give thanks. Godliness with contentment is great gain!

Discussion Questions: Describe a time in your life when you have felt totally content? What made you feel that way? Do you think Jesus was content during his life? Why or why not? Agree or disagree? Wanting a job that pays you more money is not being content.

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: 1 Timothy 6

Prayer: Father, how easy it is to fall into the “money trap.” The world in which we live encourages us to desire it. Please forgive us for sometimes listening. Please forgive us for letting our eyes wander from all the things that matter for eternity – the things your Son won for us. Keep our eyes and our lives focused on you, your grace, and our salvation. Amen

Christians Under Construction – Week 17

Christians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. It was originally developed for a congregation stewardship series and intended as a weekly resource. I thought I’d republish here for those interested in using them. Here is week seventeen:

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

Marilyn had just started her new job at a local clothing store. It was important for her to make a good first impression, so one of the things she decided to do on her first day was to seek out the most experienced and respected sales clerk at the store and ask, “What is the single most important thing I need to remember while working here?”

So that is exactly what Marilyn did. It took her only a few short hours on the job to determine whom to ask, and on her lunch break she sat next to the clerk and asked her question. The answer she received was somewhat predictable, but also caused Marilyn to think a little differently about her job as well. The answer was, “You must remember at all times that you are at your customer’s service. You don’t answer to the store manager, or your co- workers, or anybody else but the customer. All the rest will take care of itself.”

“Hmm”, thought Marilyn, “she’s right.” “If my only master is the customer, and I please that master, I’ve done my job. Happy customers make happy store managers and happy company owners.” This scenario is being repeated in stores and companies around the world today. The singular focus on customer service is many companies’ sole strategy.

The popular book “Raving Fans” highlights the fact that if you serve the customer, and only the customer, you are going to wind up with sound, successful business practices. Jesus also speaks about a singular focus. He asks each Christian to determine who, or what, is the single most important thing he or she must do. He also talks about service – service to one and only one person or thing.

Many times the Bible reinforces the importance of a singular focus for our servanthood. All other things will take care of themselves. However, Jesus does caution us about a potential conflict in priorities that we might face – money. The issue of having God as the object of our service, or money, was apparently a problem during the time that Jesus lived.

Interestingly, nothing has changed! Just as a sales clerk must fight the battle of a larger commission check versus doing what’s best for the customer, so too Christian must resist the temptation that the love of money brings with it. It is very easy for us today to see how many decisions we make are based on money. Jesus says if you make me your sole focus and serve me only, the rest will take care of itself…including money.

The experienced store clerk and Jesus said very similar things, “You must remember at all times that you are at God’s service. You don’t answer to anybody else but God. All the rest will take care of itself.” There can be one and only one master. The choice is ours: A loving God who provides salvation through faith in his Son, or money which is an unforgiving master, ever so difficult to please. Love God. Serve God.

Discussion Questions: Can you think of ways that God has taken care of “those other things” for his servants? How is God like “the customer?” Is being a servant the same thing as being a slave? What kinds of things do we do when money is our master? What kinds of things do we do when God is our master?

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: Matthew 6

Prayer: Lord, many times we struggle with who to serve. We want to serve you, but other things sometimes take your place, especially money. Help us to have a singular focus when it comes to service – that we serve you and only you. One Master. One Lord. One Savior. Amen.