May 24 – Defining Moments – Jesus’ ascension

Read Acts 1:9-11

“…after he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from them. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’”

Wow!

Can you imagine standing there talking to Jesus and all of a sudden, He is floating up into the sky? 

Talk about a defining moment! 

What did the disciples do?  The Bible says that:

“First, they worshiped, then returned to tell others about it!”

That is the same thing the shepherds had done after they heard of Jesus birth from a choir of angels!

They couldn’t contain themselves!  They had to go tell about what they had seen and heard!

Can you imagine the conversation among themselves, reliving that moment over and over?  Then after they were filled with the Holy Spirit, with new strength, confidence and determination they went out into the world to share what they had been eye witnesses to. They  faced prison, persecution and death but they still continued to tell their story!

They couldn’t be quieted!  They had seen for themselves the power of God and HAD to share it!  Thank God they did, because here we are 2,000 years later and their eye witness testimonies are still being told!

If you are a follower of Christ, what was your defining moment? Was it at a church service, youth camp, at the bedside of a dying parent or friend?   Where was it? Have you told anyone or have you kept it to yourself?  Do your kids know when you met Jesus? How about your spouse, your neighbors, friends, or coworkers?   If not, what is holding you back?

The best part of this Scripture is that Jesus is coming back just like He and the angels said!

I get goosebumps just thinking about that glorious sight that the disciples saw so many years ago and is promised to us at His second coming:

“And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;

The trump shall resound

and the Lord shall descend,

Praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord!

Oh, my Soul!”

Are you looking forward to Christ’s return?

Will you welcome Him with open arms or will you want to run and hide your eyes? Can you proclaim….

“What a day that will be

When my Jesus I shall see

When I look upon His face

The one who saved me by His grace

When He takes me by the hand?

and leads me to the Promised Land

What a day, GLORIOUS day that will be!”

Pat Arnold

May 18 – Defining Moments – Paul

Read Acts 9:1-43

One of the things I enjoy the most about being a part of the body of believers at Grace Church is baptism.  It is so powerful to hear the stories of life transformation that has taken place in the lives of believers.  Everyone has a different story, but we all have one thing in common: 

Our lives have been eternally impacted by Jesus and we will never be the same.

Perhaps the most impactful conversion story I have ever read is that of the apostle Paul, which is recorded in our reading today of Acts 9.

The apostle Paul (then Saul) was a man bent on persecuting Christians. This chapter begins by telling us that Saul was “breathing threats and murder” against the followers of Jesus.  Just chapters before, we see Saul giving the consent to the murder of Stephen. This event was witnessed by and given the stamp of approval by Saul.

Saul was well versed in the Old Testament.  He was a Pharisee and was educated by Gamaliel, who was one of the most notable teachers of the Jewish Law.  But Saul wanted to stop the spread of this new religious sect known as “The Way”.  He wanted to devote himself to seeing those who were followers of Jesus persecuted, imprisoned, or even killed because of their faith.

While on a trip to Damascus to arrest the Christians there, he had a life changing moment.  An event that would not only change his life for eternity but also an impact so massive that we are still seeing its effect today.

During his journey, a light from heaven flashed around him and Saul heard a voice calling out to him “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  Jesus stopped Saul in his tracks and made certain that he would never be the same again.

Jesus was no longer physically on the earth.  If you persecute followers of Jesus, you are persecuting Him.

Given the history of the persecution of the early church by Saul, it would be safe to say that the believers there would not have been very likely to trust Saul.  It would be as if Osama Bin Laden, who spent decades of his life terrorizing the United States, showed up in our country and claimed to be a devout patriot of the United States. 

Crazy. Very unlikely.

Yet, this is precisely what God did.  There was no going back to the old way of life for Saul.  At that very moment, his life was changed forever.  The passion he once had for persecuting the followers of Jesus was replaced with a desire to see all people (Jews and Gentiles) come to know the Way, the Truth, and the Life that is available in Jesus alone.

The man who once sought to destroy the church would now be a church planter.  He would be shipwrecked, stoned, and left for dead, beaten, imprisoned, and whipped for his faith.  The one who sought to stop the growth of the Christian faith now became its most important missionary. Saul would become Paul and would author the majority of the New Testament, preach, and teach the gospel and ultimately give his life for this faith in the one he once persecuted, Jesus.

Just as Jesus did the miraculous in Paul’s life, He can do the same with you.

Are you holding onto anything that you should surrender to Him? Are you in a place where you are able to be used by God?

If you open yourself up to God and His plan for your life, it’s safe to say the world could very well never be the same.

Nate Mills

May 17 – Defining Moments – Stephen

Read Acts 6:8-7:60

Who do you look up to? 

A teacher, athlete, actor, friend? 

I have some friends who I greatly admire.  These friends, first and foremost, love the Lord and their families.  But, I’d have to say, the people I look up to most are my parents.  My mom was a Proverbs 31 woman.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Proverbs 31:30

She supported my dad, served in her church, cared for her family and had an inner beauty that was unmatched.  My dad is a disciplined man, who serves in his church and was extremely successful in the business world, working with a high standard of ethics for himself and those who worked under him.

“They chose Stephen a man full of faith and the Holy spirit…

Stephen, a man full of God’s grace …

they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke…

he had the face of an angel.” Acts 6:6,8,10,15

Stephen was a man to “look up” to.  He was a man of faith, grace and wisdom. He was chosen to help care for the widows and for distribution of food.  The Jews began to argue with Stephen, but could not stand up to his wisdom, given him by the Spirit.  So, in their anger, they seized him and brought him before the Sanhedrin where he was falsely accused of blasphemy.  Stephen spoke of their history –   Abraham to Moses, and to Jesus the “Righteous One”.  Stephen rebuked them for their unbelief. 

“…they killed those predicting the coming of the Righteous One. 

And now you have betrayed and murdered Him” Acts 7:52

At this they took Stephen outside and stoned him to death. 

“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit,

looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God,

and Jesus standing at the Right Hand of God”Acts 7:55

In his suffering, Stephen looked up and saw the heavens “rolled back like a scroll” (Rev 6:14).

Did you catch that? 

He saw Jesus, STANDING! 

Jesus who is “seated at the Right Hand of God” (Luke 22:69, Hebrews 12:2), is standing!  Jesus saw the suffering of Stephen and stood up for him.  When Jesus sees you suffering, know that He stands up for you!  Jesus took on our nature and took that nature-flesh back to Heaven, so that He could be seen by human eyes-Stephen’s eyes. Jesus, through His death on the cross, tore the veil that separated us from Heaven. Heaven is now opened up to man and Stephen is able to commune with God. Stephen was in the presence of the Omnipresent God.

This presence gave Stephen strength in the midst of his suffering.

It gave Stephen hope in the midst of a hopeless situation.

It gave Stephen peace in the midst of a violent scene.

Stephen chose to look Heavenward, physically with his eyes and spiritually with his heart. This defining moment in Stephens’ life, wasn’t the fact that he was stoned, or that he spoke truth, and was willing to die for the truth. 

The defining moment in Stephen’s life was looking up at the exalted and standing King.

Where do you look for strength? Do you look up to people in your life?  The people we choose to look up to should point us to Christ. Are others looking up to you? For those who may be looking up to you, do you point them to Christ?

“Look up” to the God who created the heavens and all their glory and is our strength. The God who gave His Son for our salvation and is our hope. The God who promises His constant presence, who is our peace.

Begin today, to define your moments, by “looking up.”

“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up…”  Acts 7:55

Janene Nagel

October 26 – I Will Remember: Don’t Let the Worship Die! 

The following is a YouVersion plan written by the Billy Graham Center. To participate with this plan on YouVersion, download the app, create an account and click on the link here to participate:

I Will Remember – YouVersion Plan

Don’t forget to share your comments and takeaways every day!

Read Acts of the Apostles 16:25

According to one “60 Minutes” interview, roughly 80 years ago, Jozef Kropinski was caught working for the Polish resistance during WWII and was imprisoned for four years until his death by the Nazis at Auschwitz. 

A composer, Kropinski served as violinist in the camp orchestra. At night, Kropinski would sneak into the “pathology lab” (where the bodies of those killed were dismembered) in order to write pieces of music that would “help raise the spirits of fellow prisoners.” His desire was to encourage fellow prisoners by using music to help them remember previous, more happy times. 

For many in the Nazi camps, music provided a relief from the reality. Several millennia ago, two prisoners modeled a similar idea. Imprisoned for removing powers of divination from a girl—and thus depriving her owners of income—Paul and Silas were attacked, stripped of their clothes, beaten, and bound in an inner chamber of the prison. We cannot know what this was like, but we can have an idea—it was lonely and gloomy, and appeared quite bleak. 

And yet faith and hope rose to heaven as the two prayed and sang songs to God. Oh, to listen in on this moment! In our modern times, we can imagine the two singing songs like “It is Well” or “Holy, Holy, Holy” or “Amazing Grace.” The a cappella heart cry of someone in need is a sound like no other. It’s a holy moment between God and his child, between Jesus and his brothers and sisters and friends. 

In times of tragedy and distress, where anxiety and depression seek to capsize us, we must turn to worship and to song. This could be us singing, or us simply listening to or watching others worship. 

As praise arises, our hearts do as well. One way to practice this is to sing through the Psalms. Instead of reading them, sing them, choosing whatever melody that comes to mind. As your heart is stirred to life, it gives you courage to keep going, praising God even in the darkest of times.

Oh, and one other thing may happen—you will be a witness to those around you. As Paul and Silas prayed and sang, “the prisoners were listening to them.” Your praise is for your benefit, but it is also for the benefit of those around you. As you find joy, you can share joy. So today, sing loud and sing boldly. God reigns over all the earth, and he dwells within our hearts. 

Questions for Reflection

What songs come to mind as a heart-cry during this time of distress?  

How can we use praise and song to minister and care for those around us?

August 25 – Missions Spotlight – Steve and Celeste Kern

Read Acts 17:22-33

Ministry: Reaching Germans and those migrating to Germany

Missionaries: Steve and Celeste Kern

Migration is a volatile topic these days. Political opinions about immigration policy are polarized. Indeed, there are no simple solutions to answering the difficult policy-related questions of “Who?” “How many?” and “Under what conditions?”

As we read Paul’s words spoken to the Greek philosophers gathered in the first century, however, we glean a divine perspective of the movements of people. Set aside your political convictions about immigration for a moment, as you read these words once again.

“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:26, 27)

Here are some observations from the text:

  1. The Lord made the nations. He instructed man to multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28), and, at Babel, He ensured that reality (Gen. 10:1-11:9). These nations are more than the roughly 200 entities recognized by the United Nations and marked by governments and geographical boundaries. They are thousands of people groups often defined by culture and language.
  2. The Lord determines the chronology and geography of the nations. In other words, God sovereignly orchestrates the movements of these people groups. Thus, migration is neither an accident nor a surprise to God.
  3. The Lord has a redemptive purpose in the movements of people groups. He formed them and orchestrates their times and locations so that they would seek Him. He uses migration for the purpose of salvation.

Last decade, more than 2 million people migrated to Germany as they fled from danger in their own countries of origin. While these people flee opposition to seek asylum, the Lord desires that they also find the Savior.

We will have the privilege of serving alongside of other followers of Christ as we ask God to draw the unreached to Himself.

Pray: Please pray that God prepares the way for our final deployment to Germany later this year. Ask Him to draw people from the nations to Himself!

Steve and Celeste Kern

August 2 – Foundation for Life Change – Get in a Group

Read Acts 2:42-47

As an introvert who is energized by time spent alone, I find it difficult to be proactive when it comes to getting involved in community. As time has passed, I’ve found that my growing understanding of the importance of being in community has allowed me to become more proactive. But there was certainly a time I avoided getting too involved with any type of group setting. Throughout middle school and high school, I remember going to youth groups every once in a while. I did not attend consistently and, when I did attend, I feared being lonely. Yet, I dreaded any sort of small group connection. I didn’t realize at the time how beneficial a Grace Group could have been for me and my relationship with Christ!

The Bible is clear that community among believers is a part of the full life God has for us. At the very start of the Christian church recorded in Acts 2:42, we learn that the believers were devoted to fellowship. They met together, prayed together, worshipped together, shared everything they had, and just enjoyed one another’s presence. Acts 2:47 says, “And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.” God moves in big ways when we are united as a group of believers. What an incredible example this is for us today!

In Grace Students, we encourage every student to be a part of a Grace Group because we believe life is better together! Getting involved in a group provides a student with a consistent, life-giving community centered around God’s Word. I believe this applies to all ages of people. In groups, we grow closer to God and to each other, all while taking our next steps with Jesus. Being involved allows us to experience community the way God intends for it to be.

If you aren’t yet part of a Grace Group, my encouragement to you is to take your next step and get plugged into one!

Student Grace Group Registration Form: https://gracechurch.ccbchurch.com/goto/forms/409/responses/new

Adult Grace Group Registration Form: 

Sidney Rupp

June 16 – Wait, who? – Ananias and Sapphira

Read Acts 5:1-11

At the time of this writing, Kelly and I’s son, Mattie, is a couple of months shy of turning 4. It’s crazy to see the development already taking place with him! He is an extremely busy not-so- little boy who loves to get into things and experience new adventures. Recently, we have been turned on to kinetic sand (check it out!) and have since purchased some for him to play with.

Well, one morning, I’m getting ready for work and, for just a couple of minutes, take my attention off of Mattie and come back into the room to see sand all over the carpet (we constantly tell him to keep his toys on the table). I must have said something like, “Oh my goodness” with some kind of shocked expression on my face because Mattie read it, got out of his chair, came over to me and hugged me, saying, “Aw, it’s okay, Daddy”.

To what extent do you go to get away with doing something?

Our reading today talks about a married couple who tried to pull a quick one on God and paid the price. Ananias and Sapphira sold some land and offered the money to the apostles. The only thing was that they kept a portion for themselves. Essentially, they were claiming to giving it all to the work of God when they actually weren’t.

The couple’s plan was to go in at different times and Ananias didn’t get too far before Peter sniffed out his lie, saying that he not only lied to them but to God and Ananias fell down dead on the spot. Sapphira came in, not knowing that her husband died for lying, and she meets a similar fate as a result of not being truthful.

Our reading ends with the verse:

“Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”

What are we supposed to do with this story?

Lying is something that God takes seriously, if you haven’t yet realized. A lying tongue is something that is even said to be hated by God (Proverbs 6:16-19) and has detrimental consequences to everyone.

In my eyes, the application is simple: strive to be truthful in all aspects of your life.

What are some areas in your life where you are most tempted to compromise the truth? When do you most stretch the truth or not tell the whole truth?

It is not my intention to tell you that God will strike you down the next time you lie, but I do want to communicate just how much God detests a lying spirit. My challenge goes out to all of us to take an honest inventory of our lives and repent of any lies that we have told or are living and move toward a more truthful life!

Jake Lawson

June 15 – Wait, who? – Dorcas

Read Acts 9:36-43

Years ago, I remember driving by a funeral home as someone was unloading a model airplane from their vehicle and carrying it inside. My guess is that airplane was placed on display as something a deceased loved one had made or at least enjoyed. It was likely something important to the one who had passed…perhaps even something, for which he/she was known.

What objects would your loved ones place on display at your funeral? What kinds of things would depict your values and priorities?

The eight verses from today’s reading seem to describe a similar scenario. A woman named Tabitha (also called Dorcas) had passed. As people assembled for what might have been the first-century equivalent of calling hours, women are there with articles of clothing that Dorcas had made by hand. But she was more than an accomplished seamstress. That clothing was apparently reflective of her reputation as one who did good and who helped the poor (v. 36). She probably made clothing and gave it to those in need…like the mourning widows in the upper room that day.

Still, that isn’t all that Dorcas is known for. She is also known as one raised from the dead by the power of Jesus. Even though we only read a few verses about her here, the story of her life spread beyond the widows gathered throughout the entire community there in Joppa. As a result, many people believed (v. 42).

Can we go back once again to where we began? What is it that you are known for? What will you one day be remembered for? Model airplanes? Your sports fanaticism? Your contribution to your work? Your commitment to Candy Crush?

Even if you are committed to doing things that help others, you must be careful. In the end, Tabitha’s good works stemmed from more than a humanitarian bent. Her help of the poor served a greater purpose than mere philanthropy. She was a follower of Jesus (v. 36). Ultimately, both her generosity and her resurrection brought fame to the name of Jesus.

What are you known for? Who gets the credit for it?

Steve Kern

June 13 – Wait, who? – Phillip

Read Acts 8:26-40

Life change is an invitation away.

This is one of my favorite values of Grace Church. If you really think about it, the Gospel message is all about invitation; Jesus inviting us to live in freedom and spend eternity with Him by accepting the free gift of salvation He offers to us by belief in His life, death, and resurrection from the grave. The passage we read today highlights for us the power of invitation, the power of God to use inconspicuous moments for eternal impact, and how saying “yes” to the nudging of the Spirit can help play a part in changing someone’s life.

I cannot help but put myself in the shoes of Phillip in this story. After all, he could have been anyone of us. Going about his normal day-to-day business and suddenly sensing God calling him to make a move or have a conversation. You know that thought or sense you get when you are prompted to “go talk with that person” or “go visit this place.” Rather than saying “no”, and writing the feeling off as something he had just cooked up in his head, Phillip said “yes”. That “yes” and the work of the Spirit in the Eunuch’s life had eternal significance. There is something so beautiful in the simplicity of this passage. God using His messengers to share His love, and witnessing the life change of the Gospel before our eyes.

As you are reading this devotional today, I am sure each of us can recall “the invitation” that helped play a part in our salvation story. For some, it might have been a friend inviting you to come to church one Sunday, or a colleague inviting you to a Christmas service, or, if you are like me, the enticement of a free lunch after service with your grandparents. No matter your invitation story, I think we can all agree it played a part in the most important decision of your life.

I wonder today who God might be calling you to invite. Whose story He wants you to be a part of. Would you join me in praying today that God would allow us to play a role in someone’s life like Phillip was to the Eunuch?

Friends, life change truly is an invitation away. The power of the Gospel never ceases to amaze me.

Taylor Bennington

May 11 – What Does the Bible Say About the Church?

Read Acts 2:42-47

When I think of church, I think of _________________.

-Vacation Bible School with Mr. Steve and Mr. Randy.

-My Grace Group, past and present. 

-Years of Kalahari and Mission Trips. 

-Serving.

-Life change.

Now it’s your turn to fill in the blank. When you think of church, you think of _________________.

Whether your initial memories and feelings about church are positive or negative, there is probably something that comes to your mind when presented with the topic. The Bible is so clear that church is more than a building, feeling or experience – rather it is actually a movement. It’s a body. It’s not just talking about a church, but THE Church. 

Here’s what we know… the Church is for God, for us, and for the world (Acts 2:42-47). 

For God (v47) – The Church was created by God to glorify Him and to make His name known to the multitudes. It is the Church which brings God the greatest glory and that happens through our worship to Him in everything we do. When we are faithful in serving Him, He is also faithful to the promises that He has made to us and uses our lives to bring more people to Himself. 

For Us (v42-46) – The Church is a movement of people who have been saved by grace, through faith. It is a body of believers who have many personalities, passions, and gifts (1 Corinthians 12) that all have ONE mission – to share the gospel in whatever way they have been designed. This body of believers exists to encourage one another, to work together, and to live in community with each other.

For the World (v47) – Finally the Church exists for the world. Jesus declared that the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). We are here to do the same, to serve and love others so that they might see the hope found in only Jesus and be saved! The Church did whatever they had to do to share the Good News of Jesus and because they were servant-minded, the Church grew! 

Now let’s step back and look at your life… 

Do you often remember that your life exists to glorify God? Does your circle of community include going to church, being involved with a Grace Group of other believers, and using the gifts you’ve been given to expand God’s Kingdom? Are you living servant-minded with the lost people around you? If the answer to any of those is ‘no’ then today is the day to make a change! Head to woostergrace.org to get plugged in and jump in to all that the Church was created to be!

Becca Harbaugh