Christians Under Construction – Week 7

Family-DevotionsChristians 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 seven:

Acts 9:31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in fear of the Lord.

Bill Jr. pounced on his mother Marilyn as she came home from shopping one Saturday morning, “Mom, mom, I grew an inch so far this year!” In the Gentry family, it was a tradition to mark all the children’s heights on the back of the laundry room door to track their growth.

“That’s great Bill, it must have been those nutritious meals I’ve been feeding you,” his mother replied. “Well I don’t know what it was but I hope I keep going!”

“Bill, there are many ways to grow. Sooner or later you will stop physically growing, and may actually shrink a bit.”

“Shrink?” Bill interrupted, “I don’t want to shrink. How come?”

Marilyn paused and said, “Life just tends to wear people down as they get older. Our bodies get tired. It is really because of sin. If we weren’t sinners our bodies would stay strong and healthy. In fact, we would never die. But because we are sinners we get weaker, until we die.”

Bill thought for a minute, and then said, “You mean like Grandma? I’ve seen some of her pictures when she was a lot younger and she looks so different now.”

“Yes, like grandma. But the good news is that even though we get weaker and weaker on the outside, we can get stronger and stronger on the inside. You could say, while our outside shrinks, our insides grow.”

Now Bill was really confused. He said, “Wouldn’t you just explode after a while?”

Bill’s mom could see the perplexed look on her son’s face. “What I’m talking about is growing spiritually. That takes place on the inside. And it does have a lot to do with what you eat. Not only do our bodies need food to grow, our faith does too.”

The light bulb finally went on in Bill’s head, “I remember. We learned about this in Sunday School. Mrs. Morse was talking about the early Christian church when we were studying Acts. She said that the Holy Spirit strengthened that church and it grew by leaps and bounds. She explained that the way the church did all that growing was by reading, studying and believing the Bible, and by sharing it with each other.”

“Yes, our church exists for the same reason,” Marilyn responded. “We hear God’s word, we study it, we share it and we all grow stronger together. Even though we all get older and our bodies get weaker, we get stronger on the inside. God does that through His Word. And when we grow in number, that is the reason. We share God’s Word. So in a way we do explode. We explode as we get filled up with God’s Word and the more it fills us up, the more we have to share it –the more people we want to share it with.”

Bill, somewhat satisfied with the conversation said, “I guess I don’t care if I stop getting taller, but I never want to stop growing on the inside. It’s a good thing there is Sunday School tomorrow. I can tell everybody I am growing this year, inside and out!”

Discussion Questions: What happens to our bodies when we eat food that is bad for us? How is sin like bad food? List ways that you can “eat spiritual food?” Is it possible to eat too much spiritual food? How does the spiritual food that we eat affect the spiritual gifts that God has given us to use? How have you helped someone else grow “on the inside?”

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

Family Reading: Acts 9

Prayer: Dear Father, increase our appetite for your Word. We need to eat. We need to grow. Thank you for the food and the faith. Amen.

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Christians Under Construction – Week 6

Family-DevotionsChristians 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 six:

Ephesians 4:15-16 “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Jesus Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Marilyn and Mary strolled down the hall at the local mall on Saturday in search of the perfect gift for Bill. Mother and daughter loved this time together, since not only was it “just the girls,” but it was shopping!

As they left one store, Mary noticed a rather small man walking with a noticeable limp. “Mommy, that man walks funny.” Marilyn had noticed the man too. “Mary, it looks like one of his legs didn’t grow as fast as the other one. So when he walks he dips and rises depending on which foot is hitting the ground.”

Mary quickly responded, “I’m glad my legs are the same length. He must be very sad that he can’t walk like everybody else.”

“Mary, did you see his face? He didn’t look sad at all did he? In fact, he was smiling from ear to ear.”

“But mom, why would he be happy?” asked Mary. They walked behind the man for a bit, until he walked into the Robert Mitchell art gallery. “Those paintings are beautiful” both Marilyn and Mary thought to themselves. As they walked past the entrance, they heard the person at the cash register call out to the limping man, “Good morning, Mr. Mitchell.”

Mom turned to Mary and nodded, “He’s happy because he is able to use other things that God has given him.”

Mr. Mitchell, Marilyn and Mary all were quite different people. One couldn’t walk very well the others could. Some couldn’t paint very well, one of them could.

This is also the way it works among God’s children. He created us different physically and emotionally. He gave each of us talents, sometimes very unique ones. And as the Bible reading for today explains, we are all growing. In other words, we are all under construction.

We may all be very different in many regards, but we are all the same in one very important way. We are all a part of the same “body,” and the head of that body is Jesus Christ. Yes, some of us walk with limps. Some of us paint well. Whatever we do, whatever talents God has given us, we are all connected by one central nervous system — Christ. He is the head. He directs our lives. He gives us ways to “grow” our gifts. He gives us ways to use our gifts. And he provides his church with all the talent needed to function.

Paul said, “as each part does its work.” If some of us aren’t very good at preaching or teaching, others of us are. If some of us aren’t very good at encouraging each other, others of us are. Appreciate the diversity God has given you and His church. Just as your legs do something very different than your arms, so we each can provide very different services to God. The church needs legs AND arms. Both are important. YOU are important. Jesus Christ made it so by dying for you on the cross. God the Father made it so by creating you just the way you are. The Holy Spirit made it so by giving you spiritual gifts, and enabling you to use them.

Discussion Questions: Blind people typically have exceptional hearing. Why? What talent would you like to “grow?” How might you go about helping others to grow their gifts? Explain why the church needs to use the talents of ALL of its members. Does using your spiritual gifts make you smile “ear to ear?” Why or why not?

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

Family Reading: Ephesians 4

Prayer: Lord, you are the head of the body. Thank you for making us members of that body. You have made each of us unique and called each one of us to use our gifts. We want to answer that call. Help us to do so. Amen.

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Christians Under Construction – Week 5

Family-DevotionsChristians 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 five:

2 Thessalonians 1:3 – “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.”

Marilyn Gentry was putting her daughter Mary to bed. The evening ritual was for mom to read daughter a bedtime story after prayers and then lights out.

As Marilyn left the room and closed the door, Mary shouted “I love you.” “I love you too sweetheart,” replied Marilyn, “very much.” “How much mommy?” asked Mary. Marilyn paused, “That’s hard to say Mary, but it’s a lot. More and more each day.”

Now Mary’s curiosity was peaked. “You mean you love me more today than you did yesterday?” “I guess so,” said mom. “I don’t know why, but I just do.” “I love you more too mommy.”

Marilyn went to bed that night with a smile on her face, knowing her little girl really loved her, and she really loved her little girl. In her prayers that night, she thanked God for that love, and asked that both her love and her daughter’s love would continue to grow.

The apostle Paul expressed similar thoughts when he wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica. He wrote, “We ought always to thank God for you.” Paul saw that there was a growing love among those people, and that’s a wonderful thing to watch! He wanted to offer that prayer of thanks to God, because it was God’s doing that their love for each other was growing, just as it was God’s doing that mother and daughter loved each other so much.

The reason that the Thessalonians love for each other was growing was that their faith was growing. That was also God’s doing. He is behind our spiritual growth. He puts faith and love in our hearts. What wonderful gifts!

He does the same for us. He grows our faith and love with His word. He grows our faith and love through each other.

Discussion Questions: List things we do that make it tough for people to love us. How do we grow our faith? How do we grow the faith of others? What might cause us to love somebody “less” each day? Are those valid reasons? How does the use of our spiritual gifts increase our love or faith? Why does God love us so much?

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

Family Reading: 2 Thessalonians 1

Prayer: Father in heaven, thank you for those who love me and those I love. Continue to grow that love. Continue to grow my faith. I love you Lord. Thank you for loving me. Amen.

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Christians Under Construction Week 4

Family-DevotionsChristians 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 four:

2 Timothy 3:16- 17 All Scripture is Godbreathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Bill Jr. had finally saved up enough allowance to buy the model airplane he had his eye on for months. He had done odd jobs around the house, saved every penny of his allowance and always reminded himself how wonderful it would be to possess this new toy. On the Saturday afternoon after he had made the big purchase, his father, Bill Gentry, found his 12 year old son on the floor of his room crying.

“Bill, what’s wrong?” asked Bill Sr., bending down to lift his son’s chin. “I can’t make it work,” balled the distressed boy. “None of the pieces fit together right, and I think I broke one, and, and…” he let out another howl.

“Now, now, Bill, don’t cry. We’ll figure it out. Did it come with directions?” “I don’t know, I never thought to look. It looked so easy at first.” Bill Sr. responded half compassionately and half trying to hide his smile, “Well, don’t you think that might be a good place to start?”

He knew in the back of his mind that if his wife, Marilyn had been there, she would have fired off a comment like, “typical man!” He was thankful she was not.

So far this month we have been taking a look at how God has given each of us spiritual gifts to use in His service and the service of others. We talked a little about how special those gifts are and what some of those gifts might be. One thing needs to be made clear. Just because we may know what those gifts are, doesn’t necessarily mean we know how to use them. In other words, we need directions.

The obvious next question is, where can we find those directions? That is clarified for us in today’s Bible verse. It says that one of the reasons that God gave us the Bible is so that “the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Bible is our instruction manual for teaching us what our gifts are and how to use them. God provides better directions than any manual we have ever read, and he teaches us in many different ways. The Bible is very straightforward and addresses real questions with real answers. Funny, it almost knows the questions we need answered before we ask them. That’s because God knows what we need to know.

The Bible also provides excellent illustrations about how to use our gifts. Think of some of the parables Jesus used. Recall stories of people like David, Abraham, Moses, and Paul who could teach us a few things about how they used their spiritual gifts. What a wonderful guide to living life! And nobody should be afraid to ask for directions –men, women or children.

On occasion you will find instruction manuals that aren’t very clear, or complete. The Bible isn’t that way. In fact, not only is the Bible clear and complete, it’s compelling. It tells us how to use our gifts, and gives us motivation to do so. It tells us of Jesus, his death, his resurrection and his love for us. After reading that Good News, we want to use what God has given us “for every good work.”

Discussion Questions: Describe a time when you read directions and were even more confused than when you started. What can happen if you don’t read directions? How can that be dangerous when learning about spiritual gifts? In the verse for the day, what part of Scripture does it say is “useful”? Put together a plan to read “all Scripture.”

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

Family Reading:2 Timothy 3

Prayer: Father in heaven, thank you for the Bible. Each piece of it is so valuable in helping us learn about you, your love and our Savior. Help us to use your word as a tool to instruct us and equip us for every good work. Amen.

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Christians Under Construction Week 3

Family-DevotionsChristians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. Here is week three:

Romans 12:6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.

Today was Mary Gentry’s birthday. She had waited 364 days in eager anticipation of turning six, as this meant it wouldn’t be long until she could be in kindergarten.

“Mom,” Mary shouted, running into her mother’s bedroom first thing in the morning, “is it really today? Has my birthday FINALLY come?” Marilyn Gentry, still trying to wake the sleep from her eyes responded, “Yes, Mary. It is today. But what time is it?”

Mary, now jumping up and down on her mother’s bed, screamed, “5 o’clock.” Mom replied, “Oh Mary, it’s Saturday. Mommy needs a bit more sleep if we are going to have that big party later this afternoon.”

Mary, totally ignoring her mother’s request, said, “Can I open some of my presents now? Can I? I can’t wait to see what I got!”

The afternoon finally arrived, and none to soon for Mary. She tore into her presents. Wrapping paper was flying everywhere. Before long she was done. She had no time for cake or conversation with the relatives who had arrived. She grabbed her gifts and was later found asleep with each one spread around her – totally exhausted from playing with her new toys.

Christians, in a way, have experienced the same excitement that Mary did on her 6th birthday. When we were born, or rather, reborn on our baptism day, we were given gifts. No, not the kind that our relatives or Godparents might give us, but gifts from God. And these gifts came in two varieties — the gift of faith and the gift of spiritual gifts. When we had that first birthday we were given the gift of faith by God. That faith, put into us by the Holy Spirit, knows Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. He is the one who paid the price for our sins. The gift of faith is much like a birthday gift from loving parents. It is usually the best gift we receive and the most appropriate for us. Our heavenly Father knows exactly what we need, and through Jesus’ death and resurrection, he gives it to us – eternal life.

Faith in Jesus however was not the only thing we received at that first birthday of ours. God tells us that he has also given us different spiritual gifts. These gifts are only given to his children. They include things like the ability to serve, teach, encourage, contributing to the needs of others, giving, leadership, showing mercy and many others.

If we were baptized as babies, we probably didn’t know what to make of these gifts God had given us. We may not even know we have them. But two things are certain. Like Mary we should be very excited about receiving them and even more excited to use them.

Read Romans 12 again and determine for yourself what spiritual gifts you have been given. Ask others what they think your spiritual gifts may be. And then plan on using them until you lay exhausted on the floor from enjoying their use. What a blessing they are from God.

Discussion Questions: What makes your baptism so special? Can you think of ways that you can celebrate your spiritual birthday? Which spiritual gifts do you think you have? How about those around you? How are these spiritual gifts different than other gifts you receive?

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

Family Reading: Romans 12

Prayer: Father in heaven, you have given each of us very special and precious gifts. We thank and praise you for the best gift of all, the gift of eternal life through faith in Christ Jesus. But you didn’t stop with that gift. You kept on giving. Now help us to use the gifts you have given us. May we use them to your glory. Amen.

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Christians Under Construction Week 2

Family-DevotionsChristians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. Here is week two:

(Please set aside an evening this week to use this devotion as your personal devotion or family devotion.)

Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Bill Gentry loved his job. He worked as an advertising executive in one of the city’s largest agencies. He spent his days working with companies trying to help them create advertising campaigns, commercials and billboards. Much of what he did was to observe large companies and try to learn from their approach to advertising. One of his favorite companies to watch was Nike. “What creative campaigns they come up with!” he told a number of his associates. He especially liked their “just do it” campaign. It was simple and to the point, but you remembered it and you remembered who told you to do it – Nike. It meant that with those shoes you could do it…jump high, run fast, be like Mike, whatever. Bill was so impressed by the concept that he told others to “just do it”, he told himself to “just do it.” It was motivational for him.

Then on one Sunday morning he heard his pastor say the same thing. His pastor was talking about Ephesians 2:10, and in it he described one of God’s very own creative campaigns – God’s “just do it” campaign.

He listened intently and learned that God tells each and every one of us to “just do it” too — to do good works, God wasn’t trying to sell shoes however. He didn’t make a shoe that he claimed could make us run faster or jump higher. He didn’t stamp a swoosh on anything to identify it as something cool and hope we’d buy it. What God did do was make us. He calls us his “workmanship.” And rather than stamp us with a logo, he put faith in our hearts, a faith in Jesus our Savior.

What’s even more amazing is that he didn’t roll each of us off the same assembly line. God made each one of us by hand, gave us each faith, and determined ahead of time the “features” our model had. Wow! Each of us is unique with our own feature set.

God is so much more creative than we can even imagine! It is those God-given features that identify us as God’s workmanship–that we are made by Him and for Him. And it is those features, those spiritual gifts, that determine exactly what God wants us to do.

We don’t have a swoosh. We don’t even have to wear a cross, Christ already wore one. We simply need to “do it.” That shows the world who made us and to whom we belong. It shows God that we love him and are grateful for his craftsmanship.

God too says “just do it.” “Do what I’ve enabled you specifically to do. Do those good works I’ve prepared in advance for you to do.”

Be sure to read next week’s devotion to find out some of those “features” that God has built into us. For a sneak peak, you’ll want to read the “Family Reading” verses for today.

Discussion Questions: What have you ever been compelled to “just do?” Do you have other mottos that you live by? List some of the “features” you think God has given to you. Discuss why everybody has different spiritual gifts.

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

Family Reading: Romans 12

Prayer: Father in heaven, you have made each of us with different gifts, but you crafted each one of us with love. Please help us be like Christ, who did it for us, who paid for our sins on the cross. Help us to do good works, those which you have prepared for us to do. Amen.

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Christians Under Construction Week 1

Family-DevotionsA number of years back I developed a series of Stewardship devotions called Christians Under Construction that could be used in family devotional settings.  Their focus is on how we can best use our Time, Talent and Treasure resources. I plan to re-release these this fall as our children head back to school and help us all think about our service to the Lord. Here is the first one:

1 Corinthians 12:1 Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.

Bill Gentry was startled to hear screams coming from the upstairs bathroom. As he entered to see what was happening, he observed his son, Bill Jr., angrily scolding his 5 year old sister Mary. “You’ve ruined it! You’ve ruined it! What were you thinking? You’re so stupid.”

“Who’s stupid?” dad asked.

“Dad, she was using my GameBoy as a life raft for her Barbies. Now it’s ruined. She’s such a dummy!”

Bill Sr., in the most fatherly voice he could muster replied, “Now Billy, let’s just settle down for a minute. It’s clear that Mary didn’t know any better. She is only 5 years old. There are still many things she is ignorant about.”

Both Mary and Bill Jr. cocked their heads, and almost in unison sputtered, “what’s ignorant?” Billy added, “and why does that give her the right to ruin my video games?”

The family patriarch paused for a minute, sat them both down at the kitchen table and explained, “Being ignorant means not knowing those things that you haven’t learned yet. Billy, you are in 7th grade, so you haven’t learned the things that are taught in the 8th grade yet. So you are ignorant about all those things. You don’t know them. You can’t use that knowledge, because you don’t have it in your head yet. Mary doesn’t have it in her head yet that she can’t use your GameBoy as a flotation device for her Barbies, regardless of how desperate their situation might be.” Bill Sr. mustered a wry smile, just so the two of them knew he was trying to inject a bit of humor. Sometimes his kids weren’t all too sure.

He continued, “There are worse things to be ignorant about you know.” Billy responded, “like what?” “Well,” said the father, “in the Bible it says, ‘Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant’. Spiritual gifts are some of the special talents and abilities that God has given each of us to use. This Bible verse says that we should learn about those gifts so we can use them to please God.” Mary injected, “Oh I want to please God! But daddy, how do we do that?” “Good question Mary,” dad continued, “first you have to know what pleases God. The only way to learn what pleases God is to read and study the Bible. You know, like we do in our family devotions, and at church and Sunday School. There we learn about those special talents God has given us and how to use them.”

Billy’s head perked up as if he had an idea that would impress the two of them, “Dad, why don’t we use our family devotion time to talk more about those spiritual gift things the Bible mentioned? If the Bible says we should get smart about those, I think we should. I don’t want anybody calling me ignorant, especially God.”

Discussion Questions: Describe, in your own words, the word “ignorant.” Can you think of things about which you are ignorant? Why would it be bad to be ignorant about spiritual gifts? How can we become “smarter” about them? What would be the absolute worst thing to be ignorant about? Why?

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

Family Reading: 1 Corinthians 12

Prayer: Father in heaven, please help us to learn more and more about you and those wonderful gifts you give us. Teach us not to be ignorant about the lessons in your word. Especially help us never to forget what your son Jesus did for us. We thank and praise you for that gift, and the wonderful news that our sins are forgiven through faith in Him. Over the coming weeks help us to live lives of thanks by learning more about what you have given us. Amen.

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Moto X Review

The latest smartphone from Motorola, fresh off their acquisition by Google, is the Moto X. While the raw specs are a bit behind the likes of the HTC One and the Galaxy S4, this phone has done a lot right. The highest praise you can give a phone is that it simply does everything you want it to do! The Moto X does this, with one minor exception. More on that later.

The Screen

Let’s start with the screen. At a 720 x 1280 screen some would say that is an inferior resolution compared with the “modern” smart phones of today. If you were just looking at the numbers, yes. But in the real world 720 or 1080 makes no difference on a smart phone screen. It’s a beautiful screen and more than adequate for every kind of application (video, email, pictures, etc.). The benefit of the lesser resolution is improved battery life. Let’s go there next.

The Battery

The 2200 mAh battery, again is not the largest capacity on the market today, but it is a nice compromise between performance and battery size. Larger batteries mean larger phones. Moto X doesn’t need the extra capacity due to some of the other “concessions” they have made to make this a complete phone and associated experience. One of those concessions and benefits, at the same time, is the processor technology the phone uses. Motorola has pioneers the “X8″ processor technology that takes less power and provides one of the best functions on the phone…it is always listening to you. The X8 processor has “just” two cores, but it is redesigned from the ground up to make the always-on speech awareness of the phone possible without the extra cores that other phones have. In laymen’s terms, one of the processors does only a few things while consuming almost no battery — I can get a day and half of regular use on one charge. I haven’t owned another Android phone that comes even close.

I’m Listening

One of the most useful and admittedly “coolest” features of the Moto X is it’s handsfree operation. All other phones require you to “wake” it before it can respond to your voice. Even the almighty Siri on the iPhone peacefully rests until you physically wake it by long pressing the home button. Not so the Moto X. You simply say “OK Google Now” within earshot of the phone, can it now is ready to respond to your vocal commands. This is a wonderful feature, especially if you are in the car. A simple “OK Google Now, call Debbie on cell” wakes the phone, searches my address book and makes the call. The same works for navigation, general questions like weather, sports, etc. Competitors call it a gimmick. I just call it plain useful.

Apps, Check

The Apple versus Google apps argument is pretty much mute now. The iTunes app store and Google Play stores are on equal footing, at least for the apps I need/use. The Moto X comes with the stock Android user interface which Google users will appreciate. The Google apps like Gmail, Google Plus and Hangouts are nicely designed and very useable on the phone. Just a word about Google Hangouts. If you haven’t tried it, you should. It basically beats Skype in almost every category — reliability, multi-video conference (for free), screen sharing, add ons, recording, live streaming. The list goes on. It is the tool I use for our WELSTech Podcast, for connecting with family members when on the road, and for meetings in general.

In The Hand

The final positive impression I’d like to provide is simply the physical phone itself. It feels well made. BTW, made in the USA is one of their selling points. The speaker is very good if you prefer not to use headphones (not provided). The build quality is much better, in my opinion, than my last phone, the Samsung Galaxy S3. While you don’t get a removable battery, you really don’t need to given the great battery life of the enclosed one. Call quality is excellent, and you can get it in many different colors and color combos.

The Uh…Camera

While this is the best phone I’ve owned to date, it does have one rather major shortcoming. The camera. In a word, it’s “terrible.” If you are wanton to take a lot of pictures in various lighting situation, this may not be the phone for you. I have been unable to take a picture that even rivals the rather marginal camera on the Galaxy S3. Sad. The camera is fast, and the controls are easy to use, but those are irrelevant kudos if the picture itself is dull, grainy, blurry, etc. This is not a showstopper for me since I don’t take many pictures with my phone. I leave those I care about to my Canon. The news, however, may not be all bad on this front. Motorola has begun to roll out a “fix” for the camera that for some has significantly improved the 10 megapixel camera. I don’t have that update yet, as it is being rolled out by carrier. I will provide an update once the update is in place and I’ve been able to run a few comparison tests.

In The End

As you can tell my impressions of the Moto X are very positive (sans camera). But the true test of any phone is not it’s features or screen or camera on their own merits. It’s the package. Does the phone do everything you want it to do? Is it the productivity and communications tool you need it to be? In the case of the Moto X, it does everything I need it to do.

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The Home Page

Screenshot_6_12_13_6_50_PMSome of you I’m sure are aware of a weekly technology/ministry podcast I do with co-worker Sallie Draper. This summer we are taking a show each week to “write” an ebook. So I thought I’d share that content here. The book is all about content for your website. Whether you maintain and church or school website, content creation is hard. Hopefully these morsels will provide some nourishment to you webmasters. Follow along at http://welstech.wels.net.

Here is Chapter One entitled The Home Page.

Your site Home Page is the most visited page of the site and often users make a split second determination to either stay on the site or “move on” based on their inital reaction to your Home Page. Attention to the page layout and content is critical to creating a good first impression of your organization.

Here are a few design components to keep in mind as you decide on your Home Page content:

Clean up your act – Consider a first-time visit you’ve made to a church or school, and think about the impression that you formed, even before you walked through the doors of the building. What does the external maintenance of the grounds and building say about a congregation? A LOT! I’m sure you remember some locations where grounds were maintained meticulously and, in contrast, some that were in need of some TLC. And I’m sure you remember how this external appearance caused you to form an opinion about those who worship at a location. In the same way, your Home Page causes people to form opinions about your congregation or school. Does it say you are … Christ-driven, member-focused or cheap?

Dynamic – Give your site visitor something new each time they visit to keep them coming back. Don’t bore them with the same content that was added to the site 5 years ago when it was created. Keep it fresh. Respond to events in the world and promote events in your congregation.

Less is more – Keep it short and to the point on the home page. Sub-pages are fine for lengthy content, but the home page should be sparse in content and draw visitors to explore the site further.

Simple navigation and few links – Just because your site is home to 100 or 1,000+ great pages, links to every one of them do NOT have to be on the home page or in the navigation.

Give ‘em what they are looking for – Audience is key. What do they want? Read more on churchm.ag

The User’s Eye

Websites are not newspapers…however some of the same principles do apply. Headlines are great! Big bold titles on articles or sections will help your visitor do a quick assessment of what’s there and what’s changed since they last visited. More on that “what’s changed” part later. Subheads can also be good, just like newspapers to give a summary of the content, if it’s written, or even audio/video content. A headline might not allow you enough space to provide a description that will be meaningful, especially to the first time visitor unfamiliar with your ministry.

Much research has been done about how users typically react with web pages. Like a newspaper, the first thing people will look at are the pictures. So use pictures for important sections of the page and make them appropriate and visualy appealing. After the “picture scan” then the user will move to the upper left hand side of the page. Or at least those who speak languages that read left to right. So consider where you put your navigation, feature stories, videos, etc. based on what you want them to interact with first. Finally the user will scan top to bottom. Never force your users to scroll horizontally. They won’t. Chances are, depending on your content, that stuff you put on the upper right hand quadrant of your screen will be seen less than any other part of the screen.

What’s Changed?

Your home page will be the most visited page on your site. People interested in your ministry or activity will go there, perhaps bookmark it, and return fairly frequently to see if there is any new content there that might interest them. So guess what will happen if the site visitor comes to your site each Sunday evening for three weeks and there is no perceptible change to the website? Correct! The third time will probably be the last time. Obviously not what you want.

So the challenge is to keep fresh content on your site EVERY WEEK in the case of most ministries. The good news is that in most cases there is enough stuff going on each week to at least make users aware of that, plus the wealth of content available from others sites that could be included on the site via RSS (Really Simple Syndication) Feeds. We’ll address the approach and technology behind that in a later chapter. The point is to keep things fresh. This can take a lot of work and will ultimately not be possible if the site is maintained by one person. Websites worth anything are team efforts…even just maintaining one page like the home page.

The Great Eight

There are many ways to divy up content for that all important home page for your church or school website, but in general there are eight key areas of content you should consider reserving a spot on your home page. So here we go…

1. The Welcome – Too many this may be a little obvious, but your webpage is a greeting card, so you should…well…greet the visitor. Take care in writing this important piece of content, perhaps along with a friendly image. The welcome message should be no more than two or three short paragraphs. No more. Your mission statement probably is not the best candidate to include here, but something in the message should clearly state what your church/school is all about. Don’t be too gushy, just geniune.

2. God’s Word – Another no brainer and there are easy ways to bring this into your site on a daily basis through the power of RSS. This really is why we exist…to share this precious and powerful gift. Look for ways to provide relevant texts and insights based on those texts. The Sunday sermon is not always the best opening message, if you are trying to engage a visitor who has no Christian background or other organizational context. But short devotions are excellent. They stand a better chance of being read and provide an opportunity to tailor a message for your visitor.

3. About Us – This would include a little more about your organization, directions to your location, links to related organizations like WELS.net if you are a WELS organization, and how to contact you.

4. What To Expect – As one of the main purposes of your website might be to encourage someone to visit your church or school, you want to give them a good idea of what that visit might be like. Write up some content that talks about what your worship is like, what to do with the kids, what about the offering, the singing, communion, etc. Put yourself in their shoes and answer the questions they might have BEFORE they visit. Remove some of the apprehension. All the same applies for schools. What’s it like for my son or daughter to go to school there. Use pictures, video, audio, whatever it takes.

5. Calendar – Statistics show that the most popular item on most church and school websites is the calendar. Make it easy to find and keep it up-to-date. The minute it gets out of date you have removed one of the main reasons why your own members or parents come to your website.

6. Social Connections – Today it is odd to find an organization that doesn’t at least have a Facebook page. We’ll be going into more detail about Facebook later in this book. For now just make sure that whatever social network your active on, either link to it, or embed it’s content on your home page. It shows that you are interested in a dialog and also that they are invited to peek into the conversations that might be happening.

7. Media – This might be technically the hardest of the eight, but might be the most important. Expectations of website visitors of today is that you have media in the form of audio and video files. Engage the visitor with quality video and audio of sermons, Bible classes, events, etc. Again, more on this later.

8. Images – Visually appealing and engaging website have pictures. Make sure yours are of high quality, relevant and integrated with your textual content. Articles should all have pictures as well as blog posts, welcome messages, about us, what to expect and so on.

So that’s it for the great eight things that you should have on your home page. There are more of course depending on need, but these serve as a good starting point.

Series Details

The Summer 2013 WELSTech Church and School Website Content Series kicks off with Episode 292 on June 11, 2013 and runs through Episode 306 on September 10, 2013. New chapters of this book will be finalized each week to coincide with each episode.

This topic is scheduled for Episode 292 – June 11, 2013.

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Social Networks and The Church (Twitter)

twitter This is the fourth post in a series of articles on Social Networks and their usefulness in the church. I’ve spent a couple posts just on Facebook, not it’s Twitters turn. The two are very different, even though both can be considered "social networks" in their own right. Twitter is less about building relationships and more about building audiences. That may sound bad at face value, but the church that can leverage that effectively has a powerful communications tool.

Recently an ebook was published entitled "The Reason YOUR CHURCH Must Twitter," and on the cover of that book is the tagline "Making Your Ministry Contagious." An interesting way to think of ministry and its relationship to social networks, but I believe valid. The point of ministry is not to cloister the saints and the message of Jesus Christ, but to "infect" as many as possible — the Great Commission. It is a going out process. It is a constant proclamation, a telling, if you will, of the love and grace of God. Interestingly Twitter’s tagline is "What are you doing?" Perhaps Twitter in the hands of the church would vary that moniker to "What is Jesus doing?" Both for us and for you.
So how can a church use Twitter? Here are a few ideas:

  • Set up multiple Twitter accounts to reach different segments of the church and ask that people in those groups "follow" that Twitter account.
  • Create one related to spiritual topics and broadcast short follow ups on sermon concepts, Bible class questions, short devotional thoughts or Bible verses. There are tools to automate some of the content that can be "pushed" to Twitter, especially if your church regularly posts sermons or devotions on the website. A potentially powerful side benefit of this is that followers of that Twitter account can "retweet" or share that with their followers, thus "spreading the word" in a very seamless way. An organization that does this well is Time Of Grace (@ToGministry). They have a "GraceMoment" that is a quick thought or Bible verse that people can both enjoy and share. On a recent episode of the WELSTech Podcast, we interviewed their Creative Marketing Manager, Katy Klinnert-Ellison, about their use of Social Networks. She shared that social networks play an important role in their organization, both in staying connected with their followers, but also building relationships.
  • Create a Twitter account for general announcements for the church/school to share schedule changes, weather-related news, special guests, event reminders, etc.
  • There have been several creative uses of Twitter by churches to highlight a particular season of the church year…specifically Christmas and Easter. I’ve seen Twitter accounts set up that tweet Jesus’ words during Holy Week which try to simulate the actual time of day and sequence of events. The words from the cross are particularly powerful. I’ve seen the same done for Christmas with thoughts from Mary, or the shepherds or magi. Tweeting through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, or a series of Proverbs would also lend itself well to 140 character sound bites.

Of course, there are many more ideas out there, but the key is to be consistent, have a plan and then promote what you are doing. Building an audience and then "going dark" with few tweets will kill the effort put in. Make sure people are aware of this new communication channel via emails, newsletter, bulletin, announcements, brochures, business cards and the like. Then set a time frame to evaluate how things are going. Don’t attempt to try anything less than a year. That gives you all seasons of the church year and chance for the word to spread.

If your church has used Twitter and has insights to share, please comment below. We are all trying to figure out how these social networks can be used by the church and their ministry endeavors.

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