December 27 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 1

Read Matthew 1:1-25, Ephesians 1:13-14 and 2:13

I couldn’t pass up writing this devotional. Speaking of passing up, did you pass through that list of names in Matthew 1, or did you savor some of them, at least?

No shame here. I realize that I’m writing to a group of readers in various stages of their lives with Jesus. It’s only recently that I’ve come to recognize a lot of those names and have grown to appreciate the stories that accompany them. Keep reading! You’re doing great!

As important as that list of names is, I’m fast forwarding to my favorite part of this chapter… “they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

I can’t get enough of this truth. I need God to be with me every moment.

Jesus told His disciples in John 16:7 that He would be leaving them. This had to be devastating news from the One they had come to love. But He also told them He was leaving them with something better, His Spirit. Not only do we receive forgiveness and a place of belonging when we put our faith in Jesus, His Spirit also comes to dwell in us.

I’ve been reading through the New Testament and just read Acts 13 this morning. This is an account of Barnabas and Paul’s first adventure of traveling to share the gospel. In this single chapter we learn of the ‘high’ they experienced as almost the whole city gathered to hear them share the word of the Lord. A few sentences later we feel the weight of their ‘low’ as they endure rejection and persecution for their obedience. Then we read this humbling verse…” And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52)

If Barnabas and Paul only rode on the surface of their experiences, they would have found joy impossible to embrace.

It’s not that hard to find ourselves skimming along on the ups and downs of life ourselves. My family has gone through some lows being caught up in the mix of an illness of a loved one and the restrictions put on us by a world with COVID.

It feels impossible and sad.

And I’m not alone.

Now, if I’m stuck with someone I find annoying, if I have a companion I can’t trust, if I’m bound to someone who constantly reminds me how much they don’t know me, it’s torture.

But Jesus is trustworthy. He does know me. He loves me. He understands grief and suffering. He walks in joy and victory. He is my perfect companion and friend.

And He has the power to change my highs and lows. He has the wisdom to work everything for my good. He not only walks with me, He carries all of my luggage (even uphill).

What luggage are you carrying around? In what way do you need to entrust it to the Lord? How has He showed up for you in the past?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (Ps. 139:8-10)

God gets us.

He is behind, ahead, and with us.

And He’s someone I love being ‘stuck’ with.

Shelly Eberly

December 10 – Family Christmas – Introduction

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Family Christmas

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

Introduction

Read Ephesians 2:19

“You are members of God’s family.”  – Ephesians 2:19 (NLT)

Imagine if God were to have a family reunion. What would that look like? There would probably be some very interesting and unexpected people there. I think it’s safe to say that the lineage and family tree of Jesus Christ is as colorful as a Christmas tree. 

You may look at it and say, “That person doesn’t look like they belong in the family tree of the Savior of the world.” But that’s the beauty of the gospel: no one belongs; yet everyone belongs. This tree is full of imperfect and unique characters—ordinary people God used in extraordinary ways to carry out His ultimate plan of salvation. 

We can learn so much from Jesus’ relatives. But the best lesson we learn is that, through Christ, we have been adopted into the family of God. That means that you and I, and everyone who has made the decision to follow Jesus, has been grafted into His family tree, made sons and daughters of God, and we have a part to play in this epic story.

Over the next 12 days, we’re going to take a journey through history . . . your history! We’ll explore our family heritage, see how the Old Testament brings us to Christmas through the lives and stories of different people in Jesus’ line, learn some unique aspects of their characters, and see where we belong in God’s bigger story of redemption. 

As you read and reflect on these devotionals, my prayer is that you’ll learn where the roots of your identity come from and the great lengths that God went to so you can belong to Him and His family of faith! I also pray that, just like the people we’ll be studying, you’ll be able to leave a legacy of faith that will continue to impact people long after you’re gone.

October 1 – Living Courageously – Let Go (Let God)

Read Ephesians 4:31-32 and Jeremiah 29:11

In 1519 Hernan Cortes landed in Veracruz, Mexico to conquer the Aztecs and take possession of their vast treasure. Cortes landed with only 600 men. They were outnumbered by the Aztecs who had far superior weaponry and armor. So, what did Cortes do?  He ordered the unthinkable and ordered all the ships that brought them to fight the Aztecs be burnt.  

Why in the world would he do such a thing? 

He did this so his army would have no possible way of retreat.  There was no way for them to get home.  For Cortes and his army, it was either victory or death.  Going back was not an option.  There was no turning back. 

So why do I share all of this with you?  Because you and I need to BURN OUR SHIPS!

There have been way too many times in my life (and perhaps you can relate) when I have said that I have “handed over things to the Lord” or when I claim to have let go of it and put it in the Lord’s hands.  However, too many times I pick it back up.  It could be a time you were wronged that haunts you, a worry, a fear, a habit, a struggle, a hurt, an unhealthy relationship, or countless other things.  I say I have given it to the Lord in faith, only to go back to it and carry it myself. 

We need to take a “victory or death” approach when it comes to the mission that Christ has given us. We spend our lives growing as disciples who make disciples for the glory of Christ.  We can’t go back to our former way of life.  The days of us being bitter, angry and malicious are over.  The days of self-reliance are over. When we become a follow of Jesus, we immediately become a new creation. We are called to love one another and be compassionate and forgiving, just as God forgives us. How can we do that if we are still going back to our ships that are filled with our former way of living? 

I have found that one of the most freeing moments in my life are when I have taken my cares to the foot of the cross and left them there. When I have temporarily taken them there, only to come back later and pick them back up and carry them around myself, I have found pain and further heartache and hurt. 

Can you think of a relationship where someone has wronged you or hurt you and you can’t let go of the pain, no matter how hard you try?  We are commanded by the God of heaven to forgive JUST AS HE FORGAVE US!  We can’t move forward without forgiveness.  And we can’t move forward if we keep going back to our ships. 

No retreat! 

Let’s burn our ships!

Nate Mills

September 17 – A Changing Culture – Parenting

Read Proverbs 22:6 and Ephesians 6:4

“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

That is sometimes easier said than done.  Just what is “the way he should go?”  This little “bundle of joy” didn’t come with an owner’s manual. . . or did they?

Nothing is more precious than to hold a newborn baby in your arms for the first time.  They stretch and squirm, maybe let out a few little purrs and squeals.  They might blink their eyes as they adjust to this strange new world of light.  Soon they start looking around and may even focus on your face.

They stare at you mystified at what they are seeing.  Eventually they start to imitate you.  You smile, they smile, you frown, they frown – so fasten your seatbelts, your job of parenting has begun.  

It can be scary. There are plenty of books and even YouTube videos on how to take care of your baby physically, but parenting involves more than physical needs.  And, in our changing culture, you might think this is just too complicated. 

But is it? 

God has given each of us an instruction book of life, the Bible.  It doesn’t just apply to adults but to raising children as well.   You might think, “That’s a pretty thick book.  How could I ever find what I need?” You can start with the ten commandments. They pretty much cover everything that our culture is trying to turn upside down! Jesus even made it easier for us when He narrowed it down to just two.  Love the Lord God with all your heart, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.  If you think about it, no matter how crazy the world or culture changes, those two commandments never change and they apply to everything.

From day one this little “bundle of joy” has had you under surveillance.  Watching your every move, your expressions, your reactions, your speech patterns and words.  They have been imitating you because you, to them, are their guide through this jungle called life.  You yell, they will yell, you get frustrated easily, they will do the same. But if you are kind and generous, and love others, guess what they will do?  You love the Lord, not just in words but in actions, they will do the same.

Let’s face it, life is rough! Kids don’t need parents who are “saints”, ones who never make mistakes, know all the right answers. They need GENUINE parents who make mistakes, have problems but, most of all, confess those mistakes and seek God’s help to correct them!

What kind of example are you setting for your kids, and the kids around you, through your actions and words?

Be genuine!

Kids can detect a fake in a second!

Teach them to love God and His ways (not the world’s) and, when they are old, they will not depart from it.  

That’s a promise!

Pat Arnold

September 15 – A Changing Culture – Opportunities

Read Ephesians 5:15-16; Colossians 4:5; 1 Peter 3:15

We are followers of Jesus Christ. We are the light that once was darkness. The ones who used to live asleep until Jesus showed up and made us His light. We are light in the dark where evil prevails and pointless moments abound.  

So “make the most of every opportunity.”

Paul wrote these words, not just to Christians in Ephesus, but to those in Colosse as well. When Christ-followers walk with eyes wide open, looking for ways to redeem a moment, the fruitless becomes fruitful; the light of Jesus Christ and His truth become visible to those who don’t yet know the hope of eternity and real life. Culture changes one moment at a time when you and I intentionally look for opportunities to let the truth of Jesus Christ be seen.

It might start with a smile, a nod, a mere acknowledgement of a person who might not otherwise feel seen. Make the most of an opportunity like that, because our God is the God who sees.

Or maybe you’ll be driving to work and someone will cut you off in traffic. Make the most of the opportunity to bless and not curse them. Pray for them instead of showing your irritation. Maybe pray for your own heart, too.

There are so many opportunities to redeem the moments.

Maybe you’ll be walking your dog and you’ll pass by a neighbor you’ve never met. Pause and think of a way to make the most of that walk. 

It starts with following Jesus into every next step.

If you’re not walking with Him, then the less-than-fruitful moments remain as they are and the culture you and I live in stays fruitless. “(L)ive not as unwise (foolish, rejecting God’s leading) but as wise.” The way to walk fully into each moment is to humbly let God be the Lord of your whole life, asking God how to redeem each moment and claim it for Him.

Are you standing by, ready to redeem the moments in your day? Start by looking for just one. Then look for ways to let Jesus shine through you and go for it! Let God change the culture, one redeemed moment at a time.

Bria Wasson

August 17 – 5 – Take Advantage of Opportunities

Read Ephesians 6:19

If you are a mild or diehard sports fan, you’ve probably watched some of the Olympics games that took place in Tokyo recently. Athletes from all over the world, who had trained for 5 years, finally got their chance to compete to be the best in their sport. Some competitors might have trained multiple hours a day, only to have 1 minute to ‘take advantage of their opportunity’. 

Two of the great stories were Suni Lee in gymnastics and Matt Ludwig in pole vault. Suni Lee was pushed into the spotlight very abruptly as Simone Biles decided to pull out of the all-around gymnastics competition. What a way to take advantage and earn a gold medal!

Matt Ludwig was sitting in his apartment in Chardon, OH, just missing the Olympics narrowly, when he got the call from his team that he needed to get to Tokyo to compete in pole value due to another teammate’s injury. Now Matt didn’t fare as well as his gymnast teammate, but what a story about being prepared to answer the call! 

So how does this relate to our scripture for today, you ask?

“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.”Ephesians 6:19

We, as believers, like the athletes above, have to be ready to “jump” at the opportunity to share the hope of Jesus whenever we have the chance. It could be at work over a cup of coffee, in the dairy aisle at the grocery store, or on a walk in the park. Sometimes these opportunities come out of the blue so we need to be prepared for the Holy Spirit to speak through us. Here are a few tips to be prepared for those openings: 

1. Pray for the right words to speak. It’s not you and I speaking, He’s giving us the opportunity and right words that each person needs to hear. 

2. Prepare by studying daily. Spend time in the Word so you are equipped to handle those tough questions. 

3. Put yourself out there. This one I’m pointing the finger right back at myself. It’s tough to be vulnerable, share your faith with an unbelieving friend, and risk them saying ‘no’ or affecting your friendship. 

 It doesn’t take years of training to qualify to be able to share the hope of Christ with others, just the courage that, when the opportunity comes up, each of us will jump in.

Will you look for that opening today?

Drew Hilty

August 1 – Foundation for Life Change – Get in a Ministry

Read Ephesians 2:8-10

As a follower of Christ, it’s important to live out the full life God has for you by getting involved in a ministry. You may be asking, why is it important to get involved? The answer is quite simple, it’s important because God wants you to serve!

In our reading today, Paul says in verses 8-9 that our salvation is not earned by anything that we can do, but rather what God has already done for us. God gives us a gift of eternal life if we choose to receive it. When you receive a gift on Christmas or on your birthday, do you say, “Thank you for the gift! Now how much do I owe you?” As Christians, sometimes we can feel obligated to try and work our way to God even if we have already received him as our Savior. But the reality is that it’s not like that, instead of basing it on what we’ve done, the grace of God is the only thing that can save us. When we accept the gift of God, our response should be to show gratitude, praise, and joy to our Lord.

So, the question is, how do we do that? An excellent way that we can show gratitude to God is by serving and getting involved in a ministry. Once I started to realize the gifts and strengths that God personally gave me, I started to get involved at Grace by serving on Sunday mornings with Merge. Jesus gave me a passion for the upcoming generation, at first, I was a little nervous about going. I didn’t know if the kids would like me or even if my leadership skills were as strong as they needed to be. But once I started to serve, I forgot about those insecurities I had and didn’t want to miss a Sunday! I created stronger friendships with the students and while the message was crafted for them, I was learning right along with them!

In verse 10 it teaches us that God uses us to bless other people, one of the best ways to do that is by serving and getting involved in a ministry!

Throughout Merge and Grace Students, we challenge our students to get plugged into serving opportunities and I would like to extend a similar challenge to you!

You can text “FWC” to 3302649459 to get #forwaynecounty updates and serving opportunities in our community as they arise.

If you are interested in getting plugged into a ministry here at Grace Church, fill out this form: https://gracechurch.ccbchurch.com/goto/forms/130/responses/new

Nick Muro

July 15 – Leadership – Equip

Read Ephesians 4:11-14

“We’re following the leader, the leader, the leader.  We’re following the leader, wherever he may go!”

Playing “Follow the Leader” at recess was always one of my favorite things. Everyone would get in a line and we would walk behind each other, imitating any actions the first person did. We would wave our arms when they did. Walk in circles or tap our heads.  Anything they did, we would do it too, until it was our turn to be the leader. It was a mindless game where no one needed to have any training to become the leader, you just did it.  That is ok for the playground, when you are a child but not in the game of life.  

Leaders lead but they also equip. 

You wouldn’t just toss your car keys to your child on his/her 16th birthday and say, “Good luck!”  In the same way, you wouldn’t want to discover that, once your plane was on the runway, the pilot had never flown before!  “But hold it!” you might say.  “Those situations are a matter of life and death!” Exactly, and so is the relationship you and the people around you have with Christ.

As a teacher, I have often marveled at how Jesus taught/equipped His disciples and got them ready for service. There is a kind of “golden rule of teaching” that says, “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.”  The disciples lived it, saw it and participated in all that Jesus needed them to know.  They heard the words, saw the miracles of healing, multiplying bread, calming storms, walking on water!  Using everyday objects like birds, sheep, lilies, and soil, Jesus cemented in their hearts and minds the lessons He was trying to impart.  So later, every time they saw one of these objects, His lesson would pop into their heads.  Once He was gone, all they needed to do was tell about their own first-hand experiences which they did in their books of the Bible.

All that is expected of you today to be able to lead others to Him is to go TELL your own story of what He has done personally for you.   

“Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

What is your story?  Are you ready and willing to share it?  No one can dispute it because it happened to you, not anyone else.  Maybe take some time just to reflect on your life or make a list of all the times God has been there for you.  You might surprise yourself, once you stop to think about it and write it down.  

To be a leader, you need to first equip yourself for service and then go and equip others.

Pat Arnold

May 31 – Secret Sin – Bring it into the light!

Read Ephesians 5:6-14

It was a true sign of summer.

My bare feet in the cool grass at dusk as the sun turned in for the night. Chasing an illusion that could only be seen for a second when it lit. Grabbing the little critter, I cupped it in my mind, as a captive. Between the cracks of my hand I could see the glow of its light. My laughter and joy as I darted in an attempt to capture each twinkle delighted my parents and I’m sure it delighted my Heavenly Father as well. Perhaps God had children in mind when He created the lightning bug.

As adults we lose the wonder of this childhood game. We grow accustomed to the light as well as the darkness. This is Paul’s warning in today’s reading. Although he is writing to believers, he understands that we can be deceived and stray from God’s path. Psalm 119:105 says, “Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.” In the words of the old hymn, we are prone to wander, prone to leave the lit path and journey in the darkness. Paul reminds us that we are children of light. We are the children of the light of the world and we are to walk as children of that Light.

At the time of creation, God separated the light from the darkness. At the time of our new creation, our salvation, God separated us from darkness and made us children of light. Jesus said in John 8:12 “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” Are you walking as a child of the light? Have you strayed from the light of God’s word? Just as cobwebs in a dark attic are not visible until a flashlight exposes them, so our sin is revealed when brought into His light. Paul says that the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth. (v. 9) Allow Jesus, The Truth to expose the darkness, the falsehood, and the disobedience. Ask Jesus, The Word, to light your path and keep you from wandering into the darkness.

As a joyful child runs toward the light of a lightning bug on a dark summer evening, we should daily chase after the Light in the midst of living in this dark world. Capture the light, let it shine and set the light free so that others will find the joy of the Light.

Is there anything in your life that you need to bring to the light? Who should you tell about it?

Charline Engle

May 16 – What Does the Bible Say About Our Words?

Read Colossians 3:8, Ephesians 4:29 and James 3:1-12

Tugging on the reins as hard as six-year old muscles could, I was no match for our new horse, Ginger. Moments before, I couldn’t wait to be lifted onto the back of this mahogany, black mane and tailed, beauty. I was in awe. Now, as we rocketed through the pasture, back to the barn, I hated her. I thought I was going to die. She was in control and I had none.

Our tongues tend to run away with us, don’t they? Words can come out of our mouths that surprise us. Words come out that hurt, yet we say them anyway. We put people in their places. We make sure everyone knows we’re upset and offended. We ‘toot our own horns.’ We ‘set the record straight.’ We withhold words when we should speak and we mow people down with them when we’d all be better off if we’d keep our mouths shut.

God has a lot to say about our words…

“The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”(Luke 6:45)

“The tongue has the power of life and death.”(Proverbs 18:21)

“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.”(James 3:10)

We’re a mess, aren’t we?

We’re not going to get this perfectly.

And we can do better.

I love how The Message interprets James 1:19, telling us to lead with our ears. It pairs well with our verse from Ephesians…” [speak] only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

We’d do well to take a deep breath before speaking. If we would listen, better yet, love people enough to hear them out…If we would pause to pray before we open our mouths, we might just get this better.

Jesus left us with His Spirit to guide us into all truth. We have the power of God to overcome the power of our tongues. We have His guidance to steer us to better words. We have His Spirit to convict us when we’ve barreled ahead without Him.

Have your words been serving your needs or the needs of others?

Do you need to check in on a relationship and make sure all is well between you? Have you mowed someone down? Used some pretty filthy language that sounds more like the world than a follower of Jesus? Are you building people up or tearing them down?

“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”(Ps. 19:14)

This beautiful confession from David’s lips reminds us of a God who is passionate about the way we communicate with Him and each other. He has been so generous with us to give us His words. Let’s make every effort to honor Him with ours and let’s not expect the world to apply the same standard to theirs.

Shelly Eberly