September 4 – Missions Spotlight – Ely and Nikki Ducatel

Read Mark 1:10-11

Ministry: We serve multiple campuses within the East Ohio area. We provide spiritual support, missional training, and developmental programs to students, staff, and faculty that are advancing the kingdom of God on their campuses.

Missionaries: Ely & Nikki Ducatel

“Jesus was seen before sent out.”

In today’s reading, John the Baptist fulfilled prophecy by preparing the way for Jesus to go on mission with God to create disciples and to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Before all of this takes place, God affirms Jesus through the Spirit, Sonship, and Love. In this devotion, we’ll explore what it is like to be seen before sent on a mission with God.

“Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with You, I am well pleased.’” Mark 1:10-11

Here are 4 God affirmations in this text:

1.“The Spirit descending like a dove.” The Spirit descended on Jesus as a sign that He was the chosen one and that ministry would only be done through the Spirit of God.

2.“You are my Son.” God established His relationship with Jesus before He was sent out. Jesus knew who He was beforehand.

3.“Whom I love.” God told Jesus, ” I love you!” Jesus knew that He was loved.

4.“I am well pleased.” Jesus had not yet started His ministry but the Father was already pleased with Him.

Although college students are sent to college, they may not feel seen. We want college students who come across InterVarsity on campuses in East Ohio to know that God sees them! When students hear that, they are surprised because they don’t think God has time for them. We follow that up by saying that, not only does God see them, but, more importantly, He loves them! God loved them before they were even born (Psalms 139). Lastly, God can only be pleased with them through Jesus. It is true of you too. God is pleased with you when you accept Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. I believe these God affirmations are game-changers for college students. This creates a safe space and a soft heart for college students to hear the Gospel message.

We have the privilege of creating spaces for many college students to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ!

Please pray that God would prepare the hearts of thousands of college students, staff, and faculty to return to college campuses all over East Ohio. May they know this year that God sees, loves and desires deeper intimacy with them.

Ely & Nikki Ducatel

July 10 – Leadership – Service

Read Mark 10:35-45

Since making the decision to go into full time ministry and getting the opportunity to do so at Grace Church in Wooster, I have been in a season of observing and learning. Coming into an internship in the summer of 2015, I knew little of what it took to actually be a pastor. Sure, I knew in a general sense from my dad being a pastor the majority of my life but, then stepping into the mix, I needed some guidance.

There were two people who really helped me learn the ropes and that was Randy Moomaw and Steve Kern. From taking me on hospital visits, to funerals and coaching me through tough situations, Steve and Randy have been incredible for my professional growth.

However, one thing stands out from all of the rest and has become a core motto in my own leadership:

Don’t ask someone to do something that you aren’t willing to do yourself!

Leadership is not telling someone to go clean out a closet, organize a bunch of files or do other tasks that you have neglected up until this point. Leadership is leading the way and showing people that nothing is beneath you.

In our reading today, Jesus had to have a tough conversation with His disciples after a couple of them got caught up in being the greatest of the bunch. Jesus turned their thinking upside down by saying:

“…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave to all.”

A huge part of leadership is actually serving and leading people through your actions. There is no better example of this than Jesus. Did He enter into Jerusalem on a white horse with sword drawn and ready for war?

No.

He came into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.

Did He demand that His disciples care for His every need?

No.

He washed their feet.

In your circle of influence, how can you best lead through your actions? How can you take the next step of serving? Do you communicate, audibly or not, that something is beneath you as a leader? Do you cast vision so that people know the “why” behind their responsibilities or do you pass off tasks that you have neglected?

You would be surprised how much of an impact you would make through your leadership if you were committed to serve!

Jake Lawson

April 18 – Church & State – Love Your Neighbor

Read Mark 12: 30-31

Love God. Love People.

You know, Jesus could have picked anything. He could have said,” Don’t steal. Don’t put other gods before me. Don’t murder or commit adultery.” He could have gone on and on about the sacrifices, about things that were wrong with society at the time, but He kept it simple: “Love God. Love People.”

You want to know what the greatest commandment is?

“…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all of your mind.”

Did you catch that? He didn’t say to love your country more or your party or a law or your convictions; He said to “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul and mind!”

Love God.

How are we doing with loving God? Is knowing and understanding God a priority for us? Are we taking time to fall more and more in love with the Creator of the universe who created US in unique and wonderful ways? Are we taking time to be grateful to Him for the love He showed us on the cross by sacrificing Himself?  WOW!  I’m convicted! I long to focus more on WHO God is and what He wants me to do and how He wants me to love!

Which leads us to the 2nd part of Jesus’ statement. The teacher hears Jesus talking and he only asks for the greatest commandment, but of course, our Savior gives him a little bit more!  He gives him the 2nd commandment too: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

And again, we need to ask ourselves some questions. Are we only loving the people who agree with us or are we loving ALL of our neighbors, whether they see eye to eye with us or not? Are we sharing love in the way that Jesus would or are we only pushing our agenda on people? Convicting again!

What are some ways that you can grow in your love of God? What are some ways that you need to better at loving those around you, regardless of whether they agree with you on everything?

May we be known as people who deeply love God, who long to know Him more!  And then may we also be known as people who show love and kindness to everyone!

Tim Boucher

November 19 – Red Letters – “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”

Read Mark 12:17

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching we start to think about the things we are thankful for. You might have even joined a Thanksgiving challenge on social media where each day in November you post one thing that you are thankful for. Your list might include names of friends, family members, maybe even your crazy Uncle Joe who you only see once a year at Thanksgiving.  Your extended list might include your pets, your school, your job, your home, and your health.

The Pilgrims on that first Thanksgiving were thankful just to be alive.  They had come through a really rough year of uncertainty when many of their friends and family had died through sickness.

Sound familiar?

Why don’t you take a minute and make your own list of things you are thankful for, if you haven’t done so already. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Now, go back over your list and put a check mark beside all the things on your list that were given to you by God.  There might be things on there that you obtained through hard work, but who gave you the ability to know what to do or the strength to get up each day to go to work?

Does your list include unseen things like your talents and abilities? How many of those talents are you giving back to God? Are you really good at explaining things?  So, are you using that to tell people about the love of God?  Are you good at talking to new people and making them feel welcome?  So, are you inviting people to church or serving as a greeter?  Are you good at music? Do you sing God’s praises in the choir or praise team?  The list of your talents could go on and on, but the question is:” What are you doing with them?”

Are you giving them back to God?

One thing that I am pretty sure is NOT on your list is paying taxes.  Nobody likes to pay taxes.  That was true back in Jesus’ time and is pretty much true today too.  Jesus looked at a coin and asked whose face was on it.  When the religious leaders replied “Caesar,” that is when He said, “Give onto Caesar what is Caesars!” In other words, pay your taxes.

Our money is similar in that on it there are pictures of Presidents and important people, but there is one thing different about our currency.  On the back is our country’s motto, “In God We Trust.” How often have you noticed it?  How much do you believe it?  Do you trust God with your life, your money and with all of the things on your list?  If not, why not?  Why not take a few minutes right now to give all of the people and things on your list back to God?  Ask Him to show you how you can start to trust Him fully with all you have including your money, your time, your talents and your life!

Then you will truly be giving unto God what is God’s!

Pat Arnold

November 16 – Red Letters – “…deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow Me.”

Read Mark 8:34-37

Large crowds were following Jesus.  He was healing the sick, bringing life to the dead.  Even at the touch of His clothes, a woman had been healed.  He had fed over 5,000 men miraculously and shortly after had miraculously fed over 4,000 men.  I’m sure it would have been amazing to witness these miracles or to have food in your stomach and be part of this crowd.  But Jesus was about to separate those who were fans from those who were His followers.  The fans wanted to witness and experience.  If you wanted to be a disciple, a true follower of Jesus, there was a cost involved.

In today’s reading, Jesus calls the crowd, along with the disciples, to Himself and drops a total game changer on everyone.  In Mark 8:34, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

It was more than being part of the crowd of spectators.  It was more than partaking in His miraculous feast.  It was more than simply hearing His amazing sermons.  It was total and complete life transformation.  First, He says to deny yourself.  Cease to put yourself as the object of your life and your actions and make following Him your priority.  And that is not all.  “Take up your cross”.  The Romans made the condemned criminals carry their own cross piece, on which they would be nailed, to the place in which they would be put to death.

Taking up your cross included being willing to suffer and possibly die for the sake of following Jesus.  Here in the United States, we do not face much, if any, persecution for our faith. However, all over the world, people have faced beatings and martyrdom since the very beginning of Christianity.  Following Jesus may result in costing us our very lives.  And there is one more thing:  Jesus says, “Follow me.”

Think for a moment about being somewhere you have never been.  There is just one guide, one person who can lead you where you need to go.  You cannot take your eyes off of them as they lead you on the path to where you are going.  You have no idea what you may pass on your journey to where you are headed, but, if you don’t follow closely, you can easily get distracted or even lost along the way.  Follow Jesus in such a manner that you don’t let Him out of your sight.

The great pastor Billy Graham once said, “Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you everything.”  German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed right before the end of World War II, wrote in his powerful book, The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die”.  These things may seem harsh but, as Jesus tells us in today’s reading, “whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it (their life)”.

Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him.

Nate Mills

November 11 – Red Letters – “Whoever Wants to be First Must Be a Slave”

Read Mark 10:41-45

I’ve only been in full-time ministry for 5 years. In many respects, I am still very much learning “the ropes”, the “how to’s” and the “ins and outs” of leading people to become more fully devoted followers of Christ. Along the way, there have been a few incredible mentors for me that have taught me so much about what it takes to pastor well. From Dad (Dave Lawson), Nick Cleveland, and Randy Moomaw to Tim Boucher and Steve Kern, I have learned encyclopedias worth of information and have gotten incredible ministerial experience. Many leaders have said that you can learn from absolutely anyone. I personally believe that, the moment you stop listening to other trusted leaders, is the moment you should quit because you falsely believe that you know everything there is to know.

One of the principles that I have learned over the years is this: never ask anyone to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself. Never EVER think that you are somehow above anyone else and are somehow too important to do certain things. Never think that you are above taking out the trash, setting up tables and chairs and setting up for an event that you even may be speaking at. Validate people and let them know that you appreciate them and what they bring to the team. After all, we’re all in this life change thing together.

I believe this is similar to the truth Jesus was trying to communicate to His disciples in our reading today. If you read a little bit earlier than verse 41, you’ll see the disciples are in an uproar because two, let’s say “confident”, brothers ask Jesus to be seated on each of Jesus’ sides in Heaven. To the other disciples, this was interpreted as a slap in the face as they apparently thought they were much more important than the other ten.

Jesus, knowing the tense emotions that were developing, decided to curb these thoughts of “who is better” by telling them they have it all wrong. Instead of trying to be the best and greatest, you must exemplify humility to be favored in the Kingdom of Heaven.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

If Jesus, of all people, the One who has the power to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, calm the storms and has the authority to forgive sins, came to this world to serve, why can’t we? Why do we always seem to think more highly of ourselves than we should? What makes us “above” anyone else?

I have taken it upon myself to constantly be thinking of ways that I can serve and encourage other people.

What about you?

Would you be so bold as to admit that you often think too highly of yourself? What are some ways that, instead, you can fight to serve and encourage others?

Jake Lawson

September 19 – Heaven FAQ’s – What will life be like for those who don’t go to heaven?

Read Luke 16:19-31 and Mark 9:42-49

I don’t remember a lot of firsts in my life like learning to read, walk, sing, ride a bike or swim.  To me, I have always been able to do those things. Likewise, I don’t remember not being able to talk to God. I’ve prayed for friends who were hurting or for God to give me strength to get through tough times since I was little. As a young child, I remember talking to God many times while riding my bike up and down a side street in our neighborhood.

Through the years, our conversations have gotten more complex, along with my professional, financial and parental worries.

Talking to Him and feeling His presence with me has always brought me comfort and assurance that, no matter what, He would be right beside me.

Sometimes He would ask me to do things. Sometimes I would question the reason or my abilities, but He always came through and equipped me for whatever I needed to complete the task.

One time, however, was different.  I can’t remember what it was that God was urging me to do, but I do remember I was not eager to do it.  Everywhere I turned He was reminding me of the task I did not want to do.  If I turned on the TV, there it was.  If I read a book, it would appear in the text.  If I was talking to a friend, there it was again. I felt like I was in a bad Jim Carrey movie!

As I was driving to work one day, I turned on the radio and there it was again!  I had had it! And without thinking I shouted, “God, just leave me alone!” Just that fast I shouted, ” NO!”  Because right there on Oak Hill Road in Wooster, Ohio all alone in my car, I truly believe that God gave me a glimpse of what it would be like totally without God!

Oh, there weren’t any little men running around with pitch forks and with horns on their heads.  I didn’t stick around long enough to feel the fire, but it was real!

It was just a total absence of God, and I couldn’t stand it for even a millisecond!   There was total emptiness, total despair, total isolation rolled all into one.

How sad it is for people around us who don’t know God, who feel that emptiness, despair, and isolation every day here on Earth.  Their financial condition has nothing to do with their “Heart for God” condition. I know some very financially poor people who are millionaires spiritually!

All the money in the world can’t buy you a ticket into heaven and spare you from hell’s fire.  Like with the rich man in the passage, once you die, it is too late to change courses.

It is up to us to introduce people we meet to our God and His Son Jesus before it is too late!

Hell is more than a cuss word.  It is a real place and you definitely don’t want to live there eternally!

Pat Arnold

December 14 – GIVE JOY – Serve others

Read Mark 10:32-45

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Have you ever answered a question and your answer wasn’t even close to being right? Now, there’s a difference between a wrong answer and an answer that isn’t even close. In Mark 10, two of Jesus’ disciples totally ruined a Jesus moment by thinking only of what would benefit them rather than what Jesus was trying to tell them. Jesus was in the middle of telling His disciples that He was soon going to suffer and die and all James and John could think about was asking Jesus if they could sit in important seats in Heaven. That’s not even close to what Jesus was talking about!

During this time of year, a lot of people can lose sight of the reason WHY Jesus was born. Christianity is so much more than celebrating His birth. We must not forget that His birth was only the beginning! Mark tells us that Jesus came to earth not to be served but to serve and sacrifice His life for the many. I challenge you to not lose your perspective during this holiday season. The birth of Jesus was just the beginning of a life that would change the world forever! Take a moment and thank God for His gift to us! Challenge yourself to not lose perspective but sacrificially serve other people!

Give Joy Idea:

Make a meal for a first responder who sacrificially cares for others every day.

September 29 – Demonic Plot – A Divine Must and Desperate Need

Read Mark 8:27-38

“He then began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and after three days rise again.” (Mk. 8:31)

To this point in our current series, we have given much attention to Satan’s demonic plot to destroy Jesus. Starting in His infancy and continuing through His ministry, hatred towards Christ was an evil reality. People became so exasperated that they sought to kill Him. But, whether it was an attempt to be rid of Him through mass infanticide or an attempt to push exclusively Him from a cliff, Jesus miraculously managed to live another day.

But, don’t forget, Christ’s execution was more than a demonic plot. Simultaneously, it was also part of God’s divine plan. In fact, the above verse from today’s reading underscores a “divine must.” Jesus said that the Son of Man must:

  • Suffer many things
  • Be rejected
  • Be killed
  • Rise again

This “must” was not one of reluctant surrender to the demonic plot which would overpower or outwit God’s sovereign control. It was not some unfortunate recognition that Jesus could only dodge the bullet so many times. No, the mandatory suffering of which Jesus spoke had been part of the eternal plan of God. Even before the world was called into existence, the Father had planned for the suffering of His Son (1 Pet. 1:17-21). Prophets like Isaiah had predicted His suffering and death with words like these:

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  (Is. 53:4-6)

The “divine must” of the cross was essential because of our desperate need.

Steve Kern

September 27 – Demonic Plot – Animosity Over His Divinity

Read John 5:1-18

God’s divine plan for rescuing people from the devastating effects of sin was executed in the sending of His Son (Jn. 3:16). His sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection from the dead were to provide the means by which believers could be reconciled to the Father. But God’s plan included more than just means. Repeatedly in the gospel of John, Jesus spoke of His “time” or “hour.” You see, the Father had both a specific method and time for the accomplishment of His plan.

Satan’s demonic plot, on the other hand, was the destruction of the Son of God. He was committed to eliminating Jesus. And He sought to use people to bring that to pass.

In today’s reading, John refers to the opponents of Jesus with the generic reference of “Jews.” They were already up in arms about the fact that he did good on the Sabbath. In their narrow way of thinking, His healing of men and women on that sacred day broke the fourth of the Ten Commandments.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…” (Ex. 20:8-10a)

On this particular Sabbath, their inner alarms sounded as they saw a man carrying a mat and then learned that Jesus had healed the man that very day. This led to the confrontation and persecution of Jesus (v. 16).

But as they began to speak to Jesus, there was another alarm that sounded. This one was louder yet. This one seemed to point to a violation that was even more severe. In their conversation, Jesus spoke of God with an intimacy that betrayed not only His relationship to the Creator but also His own identity.

“My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working,” He said (v. 17).

He called God His own Father. He was saying that He was equal with God. In their minds, this raised the stakes. Not only was Jesus to be persecuted; He was to be killed (v. 18).

Though “the Jews” sought to kill Him for His claim, don’t lose sight of the fact that it is the divinity of Jesus that places Him in a position to help you in your deepest need!

Steve Kern