September 21 – Anxiety – Birds and lillies

Read Matthew 6:25-34

As you look back over your life, can you identify moments where you thought your circumstances were much bigger than they actually turned out to be? Can you recall thinking that you were sinking when God, in turn, had no such plans to allow that to happen?

I was changing our 18-month old son’s diaper when I got a call from Kelly telling me that she had just lost her job.

“Uh, what?” I question as I fasten the straps of Mattie’s diaper and place him on the floor.

God has this habit of blessing me with peace in crazy moments. I encouraged Kelly and told her that we would talk when she got home. Once I hung up and sat down in Mattie’s rocker, the tears started to come. As Mattie is crawling around the room, I think to myself:

“How on earth are we going to make it?”

“The budget is already tight. Is this even possible?”

“How am I going to stay strong for Kelly and lead my family?”

Through the blurriness of my tears, I call my dad and tell him the news. Looking back, I guess I was reaching out for hope and the slightest hint of light that things would be okay.

Dad told me that God wasn’t surprised by this and would help us through this trial. He assured me that not only was God for them but they were to.

Simple but effective.

Our reading today provides such a perspective to our trials. When we really stop to think that God cares for and provides for animals and flowers…things that don’t further the Kingdom of Heaven in the slightest…it brings us hope.

“Are you not much more valuable than they?”

These aren’t Matthew’s words or any other disciple. These words are straight from the lips of Jesus.

Our reading tells us that if God cares for and provides for material things, how much more does He care for us?

When we are struggling with anxiety, it is very easy to think that our situation is unique. While it is unique for us individually, there are people all around us struggling. Some of the battles are known while many more are not.

In what way are you going to, first of all, live in God’s provision? What circumstances in your life to do you need to give over to God and allow His will to be done? Who do you know who is struggling that you need to show them this hope that we learned about today?

Three years have passed since I got that phone call from Kelly. I can confidently tell you that God took such good care of us. The best was yet in front of us and it still is today.

God is for you. He loves you. He will take care of you.

Jake Lawson

September 10 – A Changing Culture – Hypocrisy

Read Matthew 23:23-32

There is a big difference between solid wood and veneer furniture. Certainly, there is a difference in price as a piece made of oak through and through is more expensive than a thin oak sheet glued on to something cheap underneath. There is a difference in quality as, under the veneer, you often find some kind of particle board that is subject to swelling if it gets wet and to crumbling if it is hit.

In today’s reading, Jesus speaks pointedly to those in His day, who were merely veneered followers. Externally, one could see their attention to the smallest detail of giving, but internally they lacked a genuine heart of care and concern for others. Outside, they seemed clean and appealing, but inside they were all about selfish pursuits and pleasures. They were like beautiful tombs filled with the remains of the dead. Seven times in this chapter, Jesus expressed “Woe” to these veneered hypocrites.

You have probably noticed, but Jesus reserved some of His most critical words for those characterized by hypocrisy…this inconsistency between appearances and reality. But hypocrisy is not a problem unique to the first century. In fact, it is something that captures the attention of God and of our culture today when it is uncovered. Unfortunately, news reports go viral when prominent Christian leaders are exposed as money-hungry managers, substance abusing shepherds, power-hungry pastors, or adulterous elders.

Leaders aren’t the only ones who run those risks and face these pitfalls. The Father desires integrity and authenticity from every one of His children. And even though many unbelievers in our changing culture don’t embrace the person of Jesus, they often have an internal expectation that, as a Jesus-follower, you will demonstrate those two ingredients: integrity and authenticity.

So, if others were to cut below the superficial, the external, the visible aspects of your life, what would they find? Would it be solid oak through and through? Or would they discover something far different than what the surface seems to indicate? For God’s glory and for the sake of His gospel, be the same sincere Christ-follower in the recesses of your heart and life that is portrayed to others.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

(Ps. 139:23, 24)

Steve Kern

September 9 – A Changing Culture – Managing Money

Read Ecclesiastes 5:10 and Matthew 6:24

The subject of “money” is a tough one, especially for the Church. The Bible mentions several warnings of its temptations. Yet, we also know that money is a significant resource to help those in need and a natural effect of hard work and biblical perseverance.

So… to want money or to not want money?

My personal thought is that money in itself is not the problem; it is our desire toward it that gets us into trouble. Most people whose primary drive is financial gain lead themselves to their own suffering: arrogance, selfishness, elitism, loneliness, regrets of corrupted character, broken relationships from the sake of the pursuit. With a list like that, you’d think we would learn to stop our foolish desires toward money.

Ask a wealthy person and they will agree that “Money creates more problems than it solves.” Ask a financially strapped person and they will reply, “I will freely take those problems off your hands and not complain about it.”

I try to manage my outlook on money within two guidelines:

Never trade your calling or integrity for monetary gain. God will never ask this of you. Ever. In fact, you may be tested in very grey, minimal moments before given greater opportunity. I believe every success story of a Christian in business includes a moment where they had to say “no” when worldly logic would say “yes”. They must rise up and deny themselves an easy pass when even colleagues around them say “Don’t worry, no one will ever know” Make no mistake, there is no greater worship for those called into business than this moment. We are nothing different without our integrity. Stay strong.

Always remember that money does not buy happiness. No matter what I feel I want, God is all I will ever need. Happiness comes from being content. And, luckily, contentment costs us nothing. Rather, it is a hard-fought mindset that shouts to the world, “I do not need to need more!” There is something so freeing in that statement. Fight to find holy contentment.

If you are truly in need – be it food, shelter, clothing or medication – please reach out to us. That is what our church is here for.

If you do not need any of the above, take a moment to be thankful to God for all you do have, it’s more than most. If you live in plenty, pray about where you may be willing to deny yourself the next time you find yourself spending. There is nothing you can buy that feels better than giving!

Nate Torrence

September 8 – A Changing Culture – Handling Success

Read Matthew 6:33, Proverbs 16:3 and Psalm 101:5b

“Just bought a book on narcissism. It’s great. It’s all about me.”

Have you ever watched the old video segments of The Beatles in 1963 from The Ed Sullivan show? You would see that these guys were hungry for success and had worked hard to produce pleasant music. They were young and ready to make some money. They were enthusiastic, excited and singing love songs such as THIS BOY (my favorite), SHE LOVES YOU and I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND.

Then, as I watched old video segments from 1965 through 1969, their attitudes changed. A lot of my friends say that their music got even better but what I saw were guys who weren’t as hungry and excited. They were burnt out. How could they not have been burnt out with the fame they experienced?

As they approached 1970 when the band broke up, they became drug addicts. Their music changed from love songs to drug songs such as LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS, WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS and DAY TRIPPER. Many people liked the music better. I didn’t. What changed?

Then on March 4, 1966 The Beatles’ John Lennon said, “We are more popular than Jesus.”

Reactions included radio stations banning Beatles music and rallies of boys and girls stomping on their records and bonfires of Beatles material.

Audio Adrenaline, a band of 5 Christian men aged twentysomething, sang a song titled NEVER GONNA BE AS BIG AS JESUS in 1996. This song was a response to The Beatles’ claim that they were bigger than Jesus.

“Never gonna be as big as Jesus

Never gonna hold the world in my hands

Never gonna be as big as Jesus

Never gonna build the promise land

But that, that’s all right, O.K. with me.

I could build a tower to heaven

Get on top and touch the sky

I could write a million songs

All designed to glorify

I could be about as good

Good as any human could

But that won’t get me by.”

How do you handle success? Do you work to avoid arrogance? When you become successful, it is natural to become arrogant and not realize it – too much pride, personal superiority and thinking you are more important than others.

But Jesus said to seek Him first:

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”Matthew 6:33

That is how to avoid arrogance and handle success in a modest way.

In 2021, we have a culture that has changed. Arrogance and narcissism seem to be common. Jesus said to seek Him first.

Pray for humility!

As Christians, many parts of our life are UPSIDE DOWN from the rest of the world.

Avoid arrogance.

Do you seek Him first in all that you do?

Tom Weckesser

August 26 – Missions Spotlight – Southeast Asia

Read Matthew 22:36-40

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Our family has been serving as missionaries in SE Asia for six years, and, while our day to day jobs or activities have changed, and, while even our location and context has changed, our desire and calling to love God completely and to love our neighbors as ourselves has been constant.

We are firm believers that the whole of a person is important and loved and redeemable by God. Jesus was the incarnate God. God loved us so much that He sent His Son as a human! He touched this earth and those around Him physically as well as spiritually. This perspective, alongside the greatest commandments, has been a constant for us in the ever changing realities of life. Life is messy, relationships are messy, the economy is messy, work is hard, politics etc. etc. Nevertheless, these are real and important aspects of our lives. If we, as followers and imitators of Christ, are to love our neighbors well, we must be attentive to these, all of their realities. We hope in Christ and ground ourselves by loving Him with our all. We love our neighbors by opening up our home, sharing meals, culture, tears, and laughter. And, we love them as ourselves by sharing the hope we have in Jesus, that He loves us so much that He came and trampled down sin and death with His own sacrificial death and resurrection.

We can’t tell you a whole lot about who we are because of security risks in our country, but what we can say is that we love God, we love people, and we love where we live and know that God has made us for this purpose.

Our prayer request is for you, in your place of life (ministry), as much as it is for us!  That we would all continue to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind and that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves… and I would say to love our neighbors like Jesus loves us, in the nitty gritty hard realities of life. And, by making His name known.

August 20 – Missions Spotlight – Tracey Price

Read Matthew 19:13-15, 9: 35-38, 1 Timothy 2:4-6

Ministry: Christian Education in the Northwestern and Norwayne Public Schools

Missionaries: Tracey Price, Beth Terwilliger, Chad Palmer, Josh Chaffin

We have a unique opportunity to share the gospel with public school students K-8th grade during their school day each week. There is, no doubt, a decline in church attendance, so our mission focus is to share the life changing message of Jesus with children and give them an opportunity to respond.

Released Time programs represent a powerful way to reach children whose parents are not believers or active in church. Parents find it a good way to give their children some “religious training.”

The book of Matthew, chapter 19, makes it clear that children are loved and valued by Jesus, and not to be overlooked. While children may not fully understand repentance and faith, the Holy Spirit does not limit His activity to adults. The seeds of faith can take root in children very young, even if it takes many years to actually see the fruit. We must be praying for the hearts of these children to be open to the gospel and to choose to follow Jesus. We also must build relationships with these little ones so we can let the light of Jesus shine through us. 

In Matthew 9 and 1Timothy 2, we are reminded of the ripe harvest and of God’s desire for everyone to be saved and know truth. Statistically, just over 30% of children ages 5-13 accept Christ. For those 14-18 years old, 14% respond and 6% of those 19 and up. There is simply no better time than right now to reach the children for Jesus.

Meeting the spiritual needs of children today by presenting the gospel and building relationships is critical. Released time programs are a wonderful and effective way to point children to Jesus. 

The Northwestern campus has an 87% participation rate in elementary school and the Norwayne campus 95%.  The middle schools at both campuses have much lower participation numbers due to scheduling and other opportunities offered during the school day. 

Our program relies heavily on the participation of our MANY volunteers (over 80) and the prayers and financial support of area churches and individuals.

Please be in prayer for the hearts of our teachers to be like the heart of Jesus toward the children, for boldness to share the gospel, and for our eyes to be open to the various spiritual and physical needs of the students, and that the children would respond to the gospel.

August 14 – 5 – Opportunities to Minister

Read Matthew 5:16

I’ve found myself in some pretty secular settings. I think all too often, we, as Christians, bubble ourselves and don’t put ourselves in positions to talk with people who need Jesus. On one hand, you have church where you are one of several hundred believers, and the other, you are the outcast because you are a person of faith.

Such a setting was when I worked at a local restaurant which, at least during my employment, was known for being a sketchy place to be, much less work. Because my mindset was just to put in hours to pay for my online schooling, I had tunnel vision when I first started.

However, our reading today talks about the value, and command even, for believers to let their light shine so that people may see Jesus through your actions. Here I was, going to Bible school and finding myself in the midst of homosexuals, adulterers, blasphemers, idolaters and the mix.

I had a choice to make.

I could remain tunnel visioned or I could open up and allow my actions to reveal the God to whom I have surrendered my life.

The more I was around my coworkers, the more I found that they were simply … people. Sure, they had (very) different priorities in life but they were still created in the image of God.

Just as light illuminates a dark room, you have great power, because of Jesus in you, to shine a great light into the lives of the lost.

What does “letting your light shine” look like? Well, I can tell you what it doesn’t look like. It absolutely doesn’t look like Bible-thumping people into submission. If I were to walk up to the gay guy and unleash a fury of Bible verses and condemn his lifestyle and demand he repent on the spot, how do you think that would go?

When I was at a co-worker’s house and someone pulled out marijuana and asked who wanted to smoke, what value would it be if I sprinted out of the house, screaming, “Lord, deliver me from evil!”

Let me be very clear: This isn’t saying that we need to participate in sin. However, if you want to reach the lost, go where they are. Live like a surrendered follower of Christ. Live by a different set of standards. Communicate love and care to those around you and take advantage of moments to share the reason for the hope that you have.

You’ll be surprised what doors open up as a result of your God-like example.

Knowing that I was going into ministry, a couple of co-workers said that they would go to a church that I was pastoring. By the way, one of the guys had a visible tattoo of a burning Bible. What about the guy that I was able to share the gospel with who was living with his girlfriend? What about the outspoken atheist I was able to get breakfast with and boldly talk about my beliefs?

Light is only effective if it is in the midst of darkness.

Are you staying in a bubble? While not giving in to sin, what can you do to surround yourself with people who need Jesus?

You may be the only light someone ever experiences.

Jake Lawson

August 11 – 5 – Sower

Read Matthew 13:1-23 and 2 Timothy 2:23-26

Sandwiched between a zealous-spiritual-retreat-attender named, Augusta, and a forced-to-retire-too-young Marine named, Michael, I was in for a memorable flight. As we dove deep into conversation, it seemed ‘Gussy’ was more devoted to her retreat leader and his ‘hole up and prepare for the end of the world’ message than she was to Jesus. Michael looked the picture of health on the outside but was all pins and screws on the inside. Under enemy fire, he had suffered traumatic injuries and the loss of several comrades. This led to more pain in the loss of his marriage, full-time fatherhood, the ability to sleep, and any hope for inner peace.

As we chatted I began to share my hope in Jesus and Michael and Gussy began to form an alliance of attack. My words were met with laughter and condescension. They called me a ‘parrot’ that didn’t really understand what I was saying…that I didn’t know the first thing about Got. That the Bible was flawed and couldn’t be trusted. As the pride of proving myself welled up in me the Spirit popped it with some sharp truth:

“Have nothing to do with foolish arguments. The Lord’s servant must be kind. Shelly, they’re not listening to you anyway.”

So, I listened to them…for four hours. I only spoke during the few gaps of silence uttering, “Jesus, can we just get back to Jesus?”

We never did.

In the respite of my silent car on the drive home I had the strength similar to someone who had just climbed a mountain. Or maybe scaled some really rocky soil.

But, by God’s grace, I have a different soil story about a different Michael. He grew up across the road from our home and was raised on religious rules. I started hauling this kid around with my kids around age 10. He was in my house daily becoming like family. There were many times I’d talk to Michael about a relationship with Jesus. His lack of response made me walk away wondering if I was too preachy or if I Bible thumped the poor kid. But one day when he was seventeen he showed up at my kitchen door and told me he was ready. This precious young man was ready to surrender his life to Jesus. My feet floated across the grass as we made our way to the garage so my husband, Keith, could be in on this momentous occasion.

Talk about some good soil. Spirit fertilized, plowed, and ready.

I still wonder about Gussy and Michael, the Marine. I wonder if some tiny nugget of truth took root in their hearts that day. It was a rough exchange. But I’m still glad I sowed. I don’t have to wonder about my other Michael as he is faithfully following Jesus today.

Who is the Spirit prompting you to listen to or talk to today? We just never know, so let’s continue to sow!

Shelly Eberly

August 10 – 5 – We are harvesters

Read Matthew 9:35-10:1

If you pause from your driven, task orientation long enough to do a little people watching, what do you see? What adjectives would you use to describe those scrambling around Walmart, seated at a restaurant, outside in your neighborhood, or gathered at a sporting event? Angry? Happy? Opinionated? Fed up? Comical? Lonely? Misguided? Hurting?

As Jesus went about His ministry, He was people focused. He recognized their need for the good news of the kingdom and shared it. He saw the pain they experienced in their bodies and healed it. Still, the adjectives and word pictures He used to summarize what He observed in people were “harassed, helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Is that an accurate description of those in your people watching experience? I will let you decide. Certainly, we must say that anyone without Jesus is helpless in that they do not recognize their source of real help and shepherdless in that they are not following the only Good Shepherd.

Christ’s observation of the condition of people led Him to two responses. First of all, it created in Him a longing in the deepest recesses of His life. This compassion was a yearning within that they might experience peace and help in Him as their shepherd.

But the second response was the sharing of a prayer request. He recognized that the spiritual harvest was larger than the harvesters at that time could possibly bring in. So, He invited His followers to pray. He asked them to invite God to release more workers so that the harvest could be brought in.

Let’s pose some pressing questions to help us to process the present-day implications of this account.

  1. Do you attempt to see people through the eyes of God, recognizing their desperate spiritual need?
  2. Does the reality of the lostness of those around you move you with a deep longing to see them come to faith in Christ?
  3. Are you praying that God would raise up people to join in the harvest?

There is one final interesting twist to the story here. Jesus ended up calling and sending the very ones He had asked to pray. The ones who pray for more people to share the Good News of Jesus must be sharing themselves. We all are harvesters. Who are you sharing with?

Steve Kern

August 5 – Foundation for Life Change – Fun

Read Matthew 19:14

I’ve been at Grace since I was five years old and grew up in Grace Kids. Every summer came with the anticipation of Mr. Steve and Mr. Randy’s VBS-the highlight of the summer for my friends and me!

Then, there were Sunday morning services. I vividly remember memorizing verses throughout the whole week so I could get cool prizes from Ms. Cathy; I had so much fun!

These memories are so vivid because I had so much FUN! Fun is such an important value at Grace Kids because fun, over time, builds trust.

The trust I had in my leaders throughout my years in Grace Kids carried over to my years in Grace Students, which changed my life for the better. Trusting them brought me closer to Jesus!

In Matthew 19:14, Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” What better way to point kids to Jesus than by making sure they have fun, and therefore building trust, on their way?

It might come as a surprise, but kids love having fun! If you have any kids in your life, you know that they don’t need fancy toys or giant games to have fun-they have fun wherever they are!

So, I have a question for you. Who can you invite to have a fun time in order to build the bridge for spiritual conversations? Think about the families around you, whether neighbors, colleagues, or friends. Now, think about how God could use you in their lives-simply by creating a FUN environment!

What are you waiting for? Go have some fun and build the bridge for spiritual conversations while doing so!

Grace Wasson