August 27 – Missions Spotlight – R and Y

Read 1 Peter 2:9-25

What does the Bible say about how we are to live among unbelieving neighbors and co-workers?

Peter’s words in verses 11 and 12 hit the nail on the head. Having just described us as chosen people belonging to a holy nation, he uses the word “foreigners and exiles.” I found the words here extremely helpful in understanding how to live in a Muslim country. The passage describes being accused of doing wrong. My wife and I live in a country where the Christian presence is below 1%. In fact, in the school where I teach, I am the only Christian.  In our neighborhood, we are the only Christians. The people in my work place and around us have grown up in a culture where they have been told many false things about Christians and what evil people we are. How can we be a presence in a community like this and make an eternal impact? Peter gives clear instructions where his readers were in a situation similar to ours.

Whether we live in a Christian community where we are surrounded by unbelievers or living in a Muslim country where we may be the only Christian a person may ever meet, the principle Peter lays out is clear: our actions and conduct speak louder than our words. By living above reproach and doing my job with excellence, I have been able to rise to a level of leadership at the school where I work. My wife has been the assistant to the president of the kickboxing association and traveled in a leadership position to a number of countries with the national team. Through these opportunities we have been given a platform for many to see the difference Christ makes in our lives. Would these opportunities have ever arisen if we were not careful to walk in a manner that was pleasing to God?

What about you? Are you living such a “good life” among unbelievers that they see your good deeds and glorify God?

Paul tells the Ephesian church in Ephesians 5:15-16: “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” If we seek to be used by Him, we must take stock of how we are living our lives. May we live in such a way that those who don’t know Christ will glorify God on the day He visits us!

R&Y

Pray: We are in a time of transition, pray for Y as she is seeking to begin a new work among the elderly.

August 8 – 5 – Relationships

Read Colossians 1:16, Romans 3:23, 1 Peter 3:18 and Romans 10:9

It was inspirational being on the staff of a Christian summer camp for high school kids. The camp would start on a Sunday. It would end on Saturday morning, where everyone would get in a big circle and hold hands and sing a song called “Friends”, written by Michael W Smith. Most came on Sunday as strangers and some relationships would continue after the camp ended while others probably would not. The high school kids were from all over Ohio. The song is about relationships and friendships and it is a reminder of the hope of Christ and that we can pray for each other when we are apart:

“And friends are friends forever

If the Lord’s the Lord of them.colo

And a friend will not say never

‘Cause the welcome will not end.

Though it’s hard to let you go

In the Father’s hands we know.

That a lifetime’s not too long

To live as friends.”

Two Christian friends will be friends in this present life and the life to come. To be an influential Christian, the relationship must have trust and honesty. Do you have 5 relationships in your sphere of influence who you can encourage, intentionally try to bring closer to Jesus and ultimately share the gospel with them?

Having people in our lives who we have developed a relationship with makes it easier to talk about spiritual things. If they know that you are trying to live with integrity and to live in a way that honors God, then they may be more likely to listen to what you say.

In his bestselling book “The 5 Love Languages”, Gary Chapman explains that there are 5 key ways that we all feel loved, and most of us feel loved in 1 or 2 of them. The 5 ways are spending quality time, hearing loving or affirming words, receiving thoughtful gifts, gentle loving touch or having things done for us. As we develop new relationships, learning the other person’s language and showing love in meaningful ways is an action that can bring meaningful results.

Romans 10:9 a verse that can be easily shared with other people. It is a good one to memorize.

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

If you are living as an excellent Christian example, then you are already making a difference for His kingdom.  To have a relationship with 5 people is a way to influence others and evangelize. Who are your “5”? If you don’t know, who are those that can make up your “5”?

Being a good role model is also extremely important. Keep working at it. It is truly “the good life.”

Tom Weckesser

August 6 – “5”

Read 1 Peter 3:15

I was 4 years old when an invitation to follow Christ was given to me. I was in pre-school and my teacher, Roxanne Fetterhoff, talked to the class about following Jesus. I don’t remember what all was said but what I do remember is going to the doors to get picked up and sitting down on the mat, all the while thinking about what I had just heard.

“Dear Jesus, please come into my life.”

That decision didn’t become real for me until much later but that was when I first made a conscious decision for Christ. From that moment on, my life would never be the same.

If you are a Christ-follower, you have responded to an invitation. A friend, family member, teacher, coach or any number of people may have shared with you the greatest news anyone can hear. The decision to follow Christ, as you know, is the most important one anyone could ever make.

Here at Grace Church, we have a saying that “Life change is an invitation away”. The keys to eternal life come through a personal relationship with Jesus. It involves people turning from their sinful ways and committing their life to Him.

Years ago, our church launched an emphasis simply called “5” where we were all challenged to pick 5 people in our realm of influence to influence for the gospel over the next 5 years, whether that’s sharing your faith, praying the prayer with them or talking about spiritual things. Over the last several years, we have heard stories of somebody’s “5” coming to a service, accepting Christ, serving or any number of incredible things.

Heaven is going to be more populated as a result of the “5” emphasis.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the best at evangelism. I like to use the excuse that I’m in a bubble where I don’t interact with non-believers or don’t have the time to put myself out there in that way. As I once heard from a basketball coach, “Excuses are like armpits. Everyone has one and they stink.”

Our reading today tells us that we need to always be prepared to share the reason for the hope that we have. This hope that we have experienced through Christ is one that we should be quick to share with others.

Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to be learning about personal evangelism and how we can best prepare ourselves to share the hope that we have from Jesus with others.

As we kick off this devotional series, I challenge you to identify your “5”. Who are a handful of people that you are going to commit to share with the reason for the hope that you have?

Don’t use excuses. People’s eternal destination could very well hinge on our willingness to share the gospel with them.

Identify your “5” and prepare yourselves to grow in your personal evangelism and in your heart for those who don’t know Jesus.

Jake Lawson

May 17 – What Does the Bible Say About Anxiety?

Read Philippians 4:6-7 & 1 Peter 5:7

Just the other day, a friend asked me what causes me to have anxiety. After years of struggling with anxiety, it was a question I have answered a million times, but never actually answered with the issue behind it. 

For me, my anxiety creeps up when a situation arises and I have no outcomes at play. Scenarios and the “What if’s” circle around in my head without slowing down and cause me to panic. The answer to what causes my anxiety is that I am not in control of my life or what happens within it and I struggle with that. 

You know what is amazing though? God wants to hear all about the worry we are going through. He welcomes us to come before Him, to be raw and real and just give it all over so that He can carry the weight and we can just follow after Him in faith and surrender. The entire reason He wants to carry the weight of this world for you is because He is for you and cares for you. I can victoriously say that, as I have learned to surrender the fear of the “What ifs” and hand over the answers to the questions, I have been able to learn more of who Jesus is. 

Peter reminds us that Jesus is there and cares, ready to take on what our heart is hurting from, and Paul challenges us to change our perspective as we take it to Jesus. 

For the longest time in my life as a Jesus follower, I always thought that verses, like above, meant I was not supposed to have thoughts of fear and anxiety and that, if I had even one anxiety attack, I was not surrendering my life to Him. However, after many years of studying God’s word and getting to know the character of Christ, I can confidently say He doesn’t tell me to be perfect and stop having anxiety, He just tells me that, WHEN I experience anxiety, to bring it to Him time and time again. It’s in those times that He works miraculously in my mind and heart. We live in a broken world, operating in redemption and the Lord knows of our struggles and shows us a way out of our anxiety to give us joy. 

Joy can be described as “The resolute assurance that God not only knows about my problems, but He cares about them.”

So here we are: Peter reminding us of Christ’s care for us and that He wants us to come to Him raw and real and lay it all out, no matter the messiness it might be, but it doesn’t stop there. He then challenges us through Paul to the church of Philippi, that we are to “go before the Lord with thanksgiving”. That no matter what we go through, we approach our anxiety with “the holy but”’. 

We may worry BUT God has us. We may struggle BUT God is there! 

As you go before the Lord, surrendering the anxiety, the unanswered questions, the “What if” scenarios; remember WHO He is. Remember HIS Truth; this will make it easier to surrender all that is weighing you down. 

Kelly Lawson

April 23 – Be Ready – Be Ready to Share the Hope of Jesus

Read 1 Peter 3:13-18

“…and if you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.”

Do you remember the little boy in the movie “The Polar Express” – the one who tries to impress the other children with his knowledge about trains? He is such a know-it-all! This type of person usually can’t be told anything because they already know everything there is to know! They have an answer before you even ask!

I’d like to be like that, at certain times, wouldn’t you? When someone asks me to recall the name of the place I stayed on vacation three years ago, I hope I can recall the details. Or when asked about a sibling of a student in my class…their face pops up but I draw a blank on the name. Or when my kids ask me questions of which I wish I had the answers.

Where are my shoes? Where is my mask? What’s for supper today?  Are we ever going to get a dog?  These aren’t such serious questions that I need to ponder an answer; however, they can and do ask more thought-provoking questions such as:

Why do we have to move? Why did our pet die? Are God and Jesus the same? Why do we have to go to church?

While some of these questions can be exhausting to respond to daily, the deeper questions deserve a thought-out response. As Christ-followers, Peter tells us to each be prepared to respond to people who question our faith.

“And if you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.”

In other words, be ready to respond to the questions you might get from people who observe you. They may notice how you conduct yourself with kindness, gentleness, self-control, and joy when others around you do not. They may notice you have hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. These onlookers may desire to know how you do it. We don’t have to be a know-it-all, but we should be ready with an answer.

One way I have prepared myself to explain the hope I have because of Jesus in my life is to mark these verses in my Bible: Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, John 3:3, John 14:6, Romans 10:9-11 and Revelation 3:20.

If a person is open to hearing what the Bible teaches about becoming a follower of Christ, these verses will help you lead that discussion. To help myself, I just remember Romans 3:23 as the beginning. This verse levels the playing field and reminds us that we all sin, we all mess up and need God’s forgiveness. On this page in my Bible, I wrote the next Scripture reference, so I know where to go next in my conversation with my friend. Where Romans 6:23 is found, I wrote the Scripture reference for the next verse and so on. This is a handy tool to use if you get a chance to share from the Bible why you have hope in Christ.

So often though, people are inspired by our own personal stories. They may have noticed your joy despite pain in your life, humility in the midst of acclaimed success, or gentleness in the face of adversity. Your personal story about how God has met you in the crossroads of life can help others find God in their crossroads. They will be able to relate to your story.

So be prepared.

Write it out.

Share your story with a spouse or trusted friend so you are prepared to share the hope you have in Christ!

Tammy Finney

April 17 – Church and State – Fight for Unity

Read 1 Peter 3:8-18

My oldest grandchildren are 9 and 11. A few days ago, a picture popped up on my Facebook page of memories from 6 years ago. It is still one of my favorites with the two of them crouched down on the kitchen floor as the older brother was conveying a very important point to his younger sister. When the picture came up, my first thought was, “Who are these little ones?” Just a few years but they have grown up so much!

When I was a fairly new Christian, the small group I attended went through a study called Experiencing God. Now many years later, our current small group just started the same study. Right from the first lesson, I am seeing and learning things like I had never seen the book before. That’s just one of the wonderful things I love about God’s Word – it never grows old – it can always speak to us, no matter where we are on our faith journey. Lesson 1 served as a reminder that Jesus called to His disciples and has called to us to follow Him. When we ask, “What is God’s will for my life?” what we really need to ask is, “God, where are You working?” and then “How can I join You in that work?”

What does this have to do with unity in the Church?

Everything!

Jesus called fishermen, doctors, tax collectors, the least educated and influential. He called people from every part of society. This was because He wanted followers from every tribe and every nation in His kingdom. He wasn’t seeking uniformity. He wants the whole world to be saved so that none should perish.

He did come, however, to call us into a relationship with Him to be part of a church, unified by love and driven by grace to share the Good News. A church solely focused on making disciples of every nation.

It is saddening to see folks deceived into allowing other things to steal their focus. Be aware that includes really good endeavors or causes. You and I must constantly resist the pull of current events that would become preeminent in our lives. We must not become immersed in politics, the pandemic, and all the ways that the evil one would use to drive a wedge between us. In this time of turmoil and unrest, we have the opportunity to rise above differences of opinion to show the world that God’s true Church –  in its diversity – can be truly unified in our purpose together. That’s a unity worth fighting for – striving together for the cause of Christ by turning our individual hearts and minds to the work that God is calling us to do.

Your challenge today?

Open your heart and ask God to invite you into His work. Ask Him to reveal those things that currently are taking your time and energy. Are they an avenue God is using you to follow Him?

Then join me individually and collectively in raising high the banner of Christ and sharing His love together in a unity that comes only from Jesus.

Wade Karhan

April 13 – Church and State – Submit to Authority

Read 1 Peter 2:13-17

Having been through a very unique previous 12 months where all of us looked to leadership positions like the President and health officials for direction, your perception of these elected officials and various government agencies might have shifted. Based on your religious or political beliefs, you likely thought there were some really good things our leaders did and also some decisions that didn’t line up with your personal beliefs.

Today’s reading is a very direct, non-gray area explanation on how we, as believers, should respect those leading our country, states, and cities. Peter writes that we should “submit ourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority” (v.13), not because Peter was Republican or Democrat, but because God had determined that those in leadership positions were permitted to be in these roles according to His plan and deserve our respect. Does this mean we have to become un-opinionated and agree with whatever elected officials believe? Absolutely not! Our moral and belief standards are always held up against the Bible…which includes 1 Peter 2:13 in today’s reading, making this verse challenging for many followers of Christ, including myself. 

Further on in the passage Peter says:

“…live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover up for evil; live as God’s slaves”.

Pretty strong wording here, considering our culture today where certain terms can be offensive. What is Peter providing us guidance for in this verse? One of the great freedoms we have in this country is the right to free speech…the sharing of our opinion through social media, in public, or in a written editorial. The “human authority” leaders established this as the 1st Amendment in the Constitution which should tell us how important they felt free speech was to all people. Even with this freedom, we, as Christians, need to pass our free speech through the filter of the Bible before we post, speak, or write that article about how a government leader is an unqualified individual or doing a horrible job, even if we think that internally! In the second part of that verse, we should be as “God’s slaves” submitting to Him as the ultimate authority above and beyond any human leader on this Earth. 

What can we, as followers of Jesus, do to influence others around us about the respect for authority positions? It starts with prayer in each of us, myself included. It’s very easy to disagree and complain about government leaders, but, when you are tempted to post that rant about a certain president or governor, keep in mind that our God allowed him or her to be in that position of leadership over us. Instead of attacking their policy or leadership style, let’s pray for them to have God’s influence in their life and decision making.

Only God has the power to change the hearts and minds of our country and leaders!

Drew Hilty

February 3 – Faithfulness – He Heals Us : One Person’s Story

Read Psalm 34:17-19, Isaiah 41:10 and 1 Peter 5:10

In February of 2016 I was diagnosed with MDS, sometimes referred to as pre-leukemia. Let’s just call it cancer. In 2003 my sister, my only sibling, died of cancer and, after a few months of watching cell levels go lower and lower, I have to say I was afraid. I was confident that, when I died, I would be in Heaven with Jesus but I was afraid of the process of dying. I just plain didn’t want to die.

A good friend heard about my situation and came over to encourage me. He took my Bible and marked Psalm 34:17 – 19. This meant so much to me because I was “crushed in spirit”. This caused me to start writing and reading encouraging verses every day, memorizing many of them. This, in conjunction with so many people praying for me, started making a positive difference.

I needed a bone marrow transplant but the doctors couldn’t find an appropriate donor. They finally decided to use my youngest daughter and set a transplant date.

I had been battling depression through this process and knew I needed to hand it all over to Jesus, trusting Him completely. November of 2017, 3 months before the transplant, I was listening to a message on fully trusting Jesus. He said the first step was to have a pure heart. This caused me to literally get on my knees and start taking responsibility for things in my past, confessing and asking for forgiveness in a way I had never done before. It was literally as though a tremendous weight was lifted from my shoulders. I was no longer so down and I had much more hope. I since have prayed hundreds of times that He would lift me up and He always does (Isaiah 41:10).

This is really just the beginning of the story. I would love to spend hours giving much more detail of God’s faithfulness during my healing but here is the abbreviated version.

February 2018, I had the transplant, which requires a lengthy recovery period and a lot of faith as they wipe out your immune system and your body’s ability to produce blood cells. God brought me through the transplant and recovery amazingly well with few side effects. I was able to start working some about the middle of May.

All was well until early July when I contracted pneumonia and spent several weeks in the hospital. I found out later that all of the doctors but one had given up on me when I was in the ICU. But God healed me so quickly that they were amazed and couldn’t explain it. We knew it was God.

Another bout of pneumonia came in Jan of 2020 that had me back on quite a bit of oxygen. I left the hospital and came home, still needing oxygen. God did it again and I’ve experienced a complete 180 over the past year in spite of COVID. Praise God!

So, my advice, when you’re in trouble, is to turn to our Heavenly Father and trust Him completely. You may have to turn to Him every hour of every day but that’s OK. He will never leave you or forsake you (1 Peter 5:10).

I don’t know God’s timing on this for you, maybe not even in this life. But, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, I know He will fulfill this promise for you!

Mike Molter

December 1 – The Songs We Sing – “Build My Life”

Read 1 Peter 2:4-10 and Ephesians 3:16-21

When I sing this song, my mind dives into the depths of my memories of God’s words. I see a house being built of living stones. I see Jesus, The Capstone, reigning over this house.

This is where I get to live. By God’s grace, there are many living bricks in my house. Some have cracks that have been mudded back together by my forgiving Savior. Some are rock solid, built on faith and surrender. Then there’s a yard full of scattered, broken bricks that were full of myself, my plans, my people, my reliance’s on things, rather than on my God.

He is generous, isn’t He? He is worthy of our full assurance and trust. We can count on Him. We can build on Him, the Rock. Even in the darkest of times we can remember His faithfulness and cling to His promises.

It seems God likes this building process or maybe it’s more that He expects it from His children. He knows our weaknesses, the pull of our flesh, and the deception of our enemy. Through faith we become His in an instant. But becoming like Him takes surrender and time. Sometimes we fall flat on our faces. What I love the most is that the offer to admit my sin and get back up is always on the table. He never removes the invitation to follow him.

How can we get back up? How can we let go of the shame and believe this offer is for us?

His love.

Does it seem firm to you or a bit squishy? Maybe your life has been full of fickle ‘love.’ It’s hard to imagine a firm love that we can rely on. We aren’t all that lovable. I know I’m not.

But this love doesn’t rely on our lovableness, it relies on the grace of God. We can’t shake it, ruin it, or shove it away. It hovers over us and invites us to believe it’s not too good to be true.

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us (1 John 4:15-16).

That word ‘rely’ boils it all down in a hurry, doesn’t it? Are we relying on the love of God or our own ability to get it right?

I will build my life upon your love

It is a firm foundation

I will put my trust in you alone

And I will not be shaken

I love the ‘I will not be shaken’ phrase. I long for stability. For strength. For consistency. And God offers it through a life rooted and established in His love.

Father, help us grasp the width, the length, the height and depth of your love. May we know your love that surpasses knowledge. May we be filled to the measure of all of your fullness, for your glory, now and forever! Amen.

Shelly Eberly

November 29 – The Songs We Sing – “You Keep Hope Alive”

Read 1 Peter 1:3-9

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a LIVING HOPE through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” 1 Peter 1:3

Watch or listen:

https://open.spotify.com/track/6zEwcLzdIHpsJVzOhVLpVC?si=pBY1jhblRL2eWIAwQPGeEA

As one of the worship leaders on staff at Grace Church, I tend to get a lot of songs shared with me. While I can’t always get to all of them and many might not make it into our services, I’m encouraged by how God is using music to inspire our people! Recently, one of our newer team members texted me a link to this song and promised that I’d be sold on it because of “tasty guitar licks” (a phrase that probably sounds odd to everyone except guitar players). After a few listens, I was drawn in to this song, and it wasn’t because of guitar licks! This song came at just the right time. Weekend of Hope was quickly approaching. I realized that our set didn’t include a single song that clearly mentioned HOPE!

This was the one!

You know, we throw around the verb “hope” pretty easily.

“I hope I get this job.”
“I hope that she’s not mad when she finds out.”
“I hope my kids turn out ok.”

The phrase “fingers crossed” comes to mind when I think about these statements. There’s not much confidence in what we are saying, just a statement of desire.

This is not the “hope” we see in our passage today. This is not the hope that Jon Reddick sings about in this song. Peter tells us that God has given us a “living hope” because Jesus rose from the grave! This hope is the confident expectation of what God has promised. We confidently look forward to eternal life with Jesus because we know with certainty that He already defeated death. He proved that whatever He promises is a done deal. When we know for certain that eternal life in glory with Jesus is waiting for us, the troubles and trials of today don’t have to defeat us. Why would we let something temporary tear us down when we have HOPE in the One who already won the greatest battle of all?

You keep hope alive, you keep hope alive

From beginning to end your word never fails

You keep hope alive, because you are alive

Jesus you are alive

No matter what this world and this life (or simply 2020) may throw at us. Jesus keeps hope alive because He is alive. As long as we continue to place our faith in the resurrection of Jesus, our hope can’t be killed by the trials we face.

There’s hope in the breaking

Hope in the sorry

Hope in this moment

My hope for tomorrow!

Are you in need of hope like this today? Have you ever found true hope by placing your faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus? If the answer is no, you don’t have to go one more second without hope! Confess your sin and need for a savior to Jesus! Choose to believe in His resurrection and surrender your life to Him!

Experience real hope right now!

Or perhaps you need to reaffirm the hope you have in Jesus. Pray and ask God to strengthen your faith and renew your hope. Walk confidently in that living hope we have because HE IS ALIVE!

Matt Carter

PS- If you can watch the video, pay close attention to the passion that the band is displaying. Their hope is on full display! I was especially struck by the drummer! She’s leading worship…she believes what she’s singing and playing!