Devotions

This page has devotions from the Great Plains District. It is written by laity, clergy, and many others. If you have any comments or questions, email me, Pastor Bianca, at belliott @ greatplainsumc.org. Enjoy!

Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 11:19-30

Read slowly and prayerfully.  What words or phrases stand out for you?

Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius. The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Today’s Devotional

Do you really think “they will know we are Christians by our love, by our love?”  What if they do?  Will that mean we are accepted, appreciated, or even welcome?

There are no guarantees.  In a hostile environment, facing persecution, aware of the brutality one could suffer as a witness, many of Christ followers fled in fear.  They chose to speak only in hushed tones, only to the familiar, only to people who would not pose a threat.  Do not be a witness; you saw what happened to Stephen.

But the Spirit of boldness took hold of a few of them.  They were able to proclaim Christ.  To new people in unfamiliar places, the word Christ was spoken again and again.  When people who have nothing are generous, when people who are scared stand, when people who are victimized can claim personhood, when people who are ashamed lift their heads, when people who persecute drop their swords, when people who are brutal embrace their victims—we ask why.

The fellowship at Antioch answered, “Christ.”  When our hopes are in Christ and our value comes from Christ, when our prayers are to Christ and our joy in in Christ.  We pay attention to Christ in our lives, we give Christ credit, and we seek Christ’s deliverance.  Is it any wonder people called them Christians?

Boldness is rare in every generation.  People don’t want advice; we can get that anywhere.  People want to know why you are so amazing.  We want to know YOUR secret.  How did you make it through that tragedy in your life?  How did you have the strength to raise those children on your own?  How did you keep hope alive in the face of death? How did you forgive the person that victimized you so brutally?  How is that you have the nerve to be so happy?

Can we give credit where credit is due?  Are we afraid of what they will call us?  The story of the church is your story.  Should it be a secret?

Be bold.
George Bennett

Prayer for Reflection

Holy God, we pray that You would show us who might have a prophetic word in our congregation; a word that would rekindle or fan the flames so that your faith community would become a stronger witness and further the mission of God in the world.  Amen.

“Excerpted from the book “Catch Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World” by Blake Busick and Christie Latona.”

Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 11:1-18 Read slowly and prayerfully.  What words or phrases stand out for you?

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

Today’s Devotional
Today I am totally focused on verse 18.  I am thinking about what was happening during the silence.  Peter delivered his message, which God gave them—the same gift that he gave us when we believed the Lord Jesus Christ.
 
What was going on in the minds and hearts of the crowd listening to Peter?  Did they become concerned that they were no longer in control?  Did they being to think of ways to teach these new folks how to act, now that they are a part of us?  Were there some who had feelings of resentment because new people, different people, might not appreciate all the hard work and sacrifice that had been made thus far?

We don’t know how long the silence lasted on that day. Something pretty powerful must have been going on.  People were being told that the movement was taking a different turn.  That new and different people would be included in this new reign of God.  The reaction out of the silence was not that of fear, but of praise.  The people praised God with a new appreciation for the power of God’s Holy Spirit to bring salvation to all.
 
I pray that out of the silent moments of reflection from our shared study we, too, would respond with praise for all that is being made new.          
 – Linda Caldwell

Prayer for Reflection
Eternal God, we pray for congregations and gatherings of Christians everywhere, that all will be filled with the Holy Spirit, “catch fire” and contribute to the movement of God’s mission in the world.  Amen.
 
“Excerpted from the book “Catch Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World” by Blake Busick and Christie Latona.”
Today’s Lectionary Text
1 Peter 3

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.  Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.


Suffering for Doing Good

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.  They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”  Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

Today’s Devotional

Reflect:  How would you apply the example of Christ’s suffering to your life?  Where does it have practical application? 

When was the last time you repaid evil with a blessing?  Are you prepared to do so in the future? 

How would you describe the hope which is within you? 

Encouragement: Spirit
Currently, this “Catch Fire in 50 days” study encourages us towards being a part of the huge cosmic/internal “movement of grace transforming the world.”

However, often there the “hugeness” of this mission seems, well … Just so/too huge!

Ah, but just in good time, the scripture calls out; “Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind…. Let [those who desire love and desire to see good days in quotation bar turn away from evil and do good; Let them seek peace and pursue it …. In your heart sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.] (1 Peter 3). 

With this scripture, the hugeness of our mission becomes more individualized and accessible. It seems to become “way” less dramatic. But is this, also, way less effective?

Have you seen those ads on television where one good person strike that where one person’s good – often lifesaving – act, becomes a chain reaction of goodness?

It seems to happen as one person, a carrier of goodness, lives out the action of goodness. When “others” see that action, they are impressed one can almost hear the “others” say, “Wow!” or “That is so great!” or even just give approving signs. The “others”- and perhaps we, two – are infected. We are exposed to the virus of goodness.

The “others”, (perhaps we) become a part of the chain reaction of goodness that continues. The goodness, as they say, “goes viral”.

Imagine the fire of the Holy Spirit, the message of the gospel, “going viral” every time any one of us might testify to the hope that is within us. Such individual word or action would be huge. Such would certainly be in the realm of what is cosmic and eternal! And, such would be, and is, in the realm of what we can and are called to do.

When I see that television ad, I generally start humming the hum song that sings out:

“It only takes a spark to get the fire going.  And soon all those around, warm up to its glowing.
That’s how it is with God’s love, once you experience it.  You spread his love to everyone.
You want to pass it on.”  

We certainly can – and must – be a must this “movement of grace transforming the world in”.By Mariellen Yoshino 

Prayer for Reflection

For all who will be gathering for worship tomorrow that they would expect and encounter the living Christ in a way which sets them on fire to join the movement of God’s mission for the world.   

“Excerpted from the book “Catch Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World” by Blake Busick and Christie Latona.”

Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 9:32-42As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time, she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so, when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” Peter went with them, and when he arrived, he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.

 Today’s Devotional
Reflect:  This is yet another story of healing as a means of spreading the gospel. What healing – or other sign and wonder – is happening in your community of faith which, if it were known, would draw more people to Christ?
Peter’s reputation was as a healer. Tabatha’s reputation was as one who was devoted to good works and acts of charity. What kind of reputation is God creating and you?

Encouragement: Best Kept Secrets
As I read today’s reading the phase “best kept secret” comes to mind. Is often used when describing a destination or eating establishment, which has great offerings that not many people know about. Sound familiar? As I travel throughout the Conference and in and out of many communities, the reputation of our churches and their ministries do not match what is really happening in those faith communities.
 
We have such amazing things happening that if more people knew about them, they would be drawn to Christ and to be part of these faith communities. We have outreach for the poor, the sick, the lonely, and the oppressed. We have opened doors, hearts, and minds for all to have a place and be welcome. We are creative and passionate and care deeply for the communities in which we live and for the world at large. I am often in awe of how many ways we live out “Gods moments” to transform lives. However, the key is to great beyond being a “best kept secret” and get the word out about quotation what “God’s up to” in your ministry setting.
 
This made me think of many community “tables” I sit around, and how almost never is the faith community represented and bringing to the table what “God is up to” as it relates to the purpose or work of those around the table. I often find myself saying, “well , I know of a church that …” and more times than not, I get the response, “Really?”…
 
We need to “make a plan” to change our reputation from being an aging, declining faith community, and find opportunities to get the word out about what “God is up to” in our ministry settings. By Kelly Newell 

Prayer for Reflection
For a rhythm in your daily life that allows for godly interruptions. Pray for God’s continued transformation of lives and communities in ways that allows the word of God’s hope, love, and grace to spread wildly.
 
“Excerpted from the book “Catch Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World” by Blake Busick and Christie Latona.”
Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 8:26-40 An angel from the Lord spoke to Philip, “At noon, take the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) So he did. Meanwhile, an Ethiopian man was on his way home from Jerusalem, where he had come to worship. He was a eunuch and an official responsible for the entire treasury of Candace. (Candace is the title given to the Ethiopian queen.) He was reading the prophet Isaiah while sitting in his carriage. The Spirit told Philip, “Approach this carriage and stay with it.”Running up to the carriage, Philip heard the man reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you really understand what you are reading?”The man replied, “Without someone to guide me, how could I?” Then he invited Philip to climb up and sit with him. This was the passage of scripture he was reading:Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
    and like a lamb before its shearer is silent
    so he didn’t open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was taken away from him.
    Who can tell the story of his descendants
        because his life was taken from the earth?
The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, about whom does the prophet say this? Is he talking about himself or someone else?” Starting with that passage, Philip proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him. As they went down the road, they came to some water.The eunuch said, “Look! Water! What would keep me from being baptized?” He ordered that the carriage halt. Both Philip and the eunuch went down to the water, where Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Lord’s Spirit suddenly took Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. Philip found himself in Azotus. He traveled through that area, preaching the good news in all the cities until he reached Caesarea.

Today’s Devotional
Running up the carriage, Philip heard the man reading the prophet Isiah.  He asked, Do you really understand what you are reading? The man (Eunuch) replied, Without someone to guide me, how can I? Then he invited Philip to climb up and sit with him. vv. 30-31  Don’t you love it when the Holy Spirit moves and opportunities are opened right before our eyes? 

The man continued to read the passage out loud to Philip.  Then the invitation, the eunuch asked Philip, tell me about whom does the prophet say this? That was all it took for Philip to seize the moment and share God’s grace and the gift of new life.  And the eunuch was baptized when they saw a body of water.

As we continue our journey through the book Catch Fire in 50 Days, this passage reminds us that all people everywhere have a hunger from God’s Word.  This passage also reminds us that when the opportunity comes, we need to fan the flame and share God’s grace.  If we are living the heart and eyes of Christ, then it’s time to seize the moment and take the opportunity to share.

Philip teaches us a great lesson about evangelism. We have the greatest gift in the world, the gift of God’s grace, and that is good news to share! There are no boundaries that should hold us back.  There is no recognition that someone is different than we are.  Let’s seize the moment, knock down the boundaries, and see all people with the eyes of Jesus! 
-Rev. Hollie Tapley Disaster Response Coordinator
htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Creator God, give us the opportunity that causes us to run to others to share Your grace with them.  We are available, give us the ability.  Help us to live with your heart and eyes so that it burns within us to share the good news.  Amen. 

Devotion and prayer inspired by Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World   by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, For sermon outlines and worship helps for the season of Easter, go to www.greatplainsumc.org/catchfire.   
 
Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 8:4-25 Those who had been scattered moved on, preaching the good news along the way. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and began to preach Christ to them. The crowds were united by what they heard Philip say and the signs they saw him perform, and they gave him their undivided attention. With loud shrieks, unclean spirits came out of many people, and many who were paralyzed or crippled were healed. There was great rejoicing in that city.Before Philip’s arrival, a certain man named Simon had practiced sorcery in that city and baffled the people of Samaria. He claimed to be a great person. Everyone, from the least to the greatest, gave him their undivided attention and referred to him as “the power of God called Great.” He had their attention because he had baffled them with sorcery for a long time. After they came to believe Philip, who preached the good news about God’s kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. Even Simon himself came to believe and was baptized. Afterward, he became one of Philip’s supporters. As he saw firsthand the signs and great miracles that were happening, he was astonished.When word reached the apostles in Jerusalem that Samaria had accepted God’s word, they commissioned Peter and John to go to Samaria. Peter and John went down to Samaria where they prayed that the new believers would receive the Holy Spirit. (This was because the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) So Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.When Simon perceived that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money. He said, “Give me this authority too so that anyone on whom I lay my hands will receive the Holy Spirit.”Peter responded, “May your money be condemned to hell along with you because you believed you could buy God’s gift with money! You can have no part or share in God’s word because your heart isn’t right with God. Therefore, change your heart and life! Turn from your wickedness! Plead with the Lord in the hope that your wicked intent can be forgiven, for I see that your bitterness has poisoned you and evil has you in chains.”Simon replied, “All of you, please, plead to the Lord for me so that nothing of what you have said will happen to me!” After the apostles had testified and proclaimed the Lord’s word, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the good news to many Samaritan villages along the way.

Today’s Devotional
Simon had an art about him, he is what we would call a mesmerizer, and he had an audience that gave him their attention. Our Scripture says that He had their attention because he had baffled them with sorcery for a long time. v. 11 I’m guessing there was something appealing about Philip as he made his way into the crowd because even Simon joined in with the others who were listening to Philip’s preaching.  Was it a Holy Spirit moment that caused people to listen to Philip?  Could they hear the difference in the presentation of the message? Were they just using Simon to make them feel good, yet knew Philip was the real thing?

Even the trickster came to believe and was baptized.  He began to watch God at work through Philip.  Then enter Peter and John into the scene, as they had received word that the people of Samaria had accepted God’s word.  Simon watched them as they prayed and laid hands on the new believers praying for them to receive the Holy Spirit.  My mind pictures Simon at that moment, he used his hands for sorcery, surely it can’t be that hard.  He may have been thinking, I can do that – just laying my hands on someone.  Simon offered them money to receive the authority to lay on hands and give someone the Holy Spirit. 

Huge mistake!!! Peter didn’t waste any time you can have no part or share in God’s word because your heart isn’t right with God. v. 21  He also didn’t waste time telling Simon that he needed to get his life and heart straightened out.  Peter was fanning that flame!  We can’t buy God’s gift either, He doesn’t want our money, He just wants us! 

The scripture brings up a question for us to reflect on: How pure are your motives when it comes to advancing the Gospel and communicating the gift of the Holy Spirit?  (Catch Fire in 50 Days, page 124. Reflection).-Rev. Hollie Tapley
Disaster Response Coordinator
htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for ReflectionPray for pure motives and a clean heart so that everything you do and say fans the flame of God’s mission in the world.  Amen.  (Catch Fire in 50 Days, page 125)

Devotion and prayer inspired by Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World   by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, For sermon outlines and worship helps for the season of Easter, go to www.greatplainsumc.org/catchfire.   
 
Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 8:1-3 Saul was in full agreement with Stephen’s murder.At that time, the church in Jerusalem began to be subjected to vicious harassment. Everyone except the apostles was scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Some pious men buried Stephen and deeply grieved over him. Saul began to wreak havoc against the church. Entering one house after another, he would drag off both men and women and throw them into prison.

Today’s Devotional
These two verses took my mind on a different journey, please allow the liberties with this devotion.  The Stay-at-Home Orders have forced us into a different kind of prison.  A prison that we never expected.  In order to flatten the curve of COVID-19, that was a necessary move from our Governors.  Be thankful we had some liberty, as there were some essential places left open for us to escape prison for a short time.  Yet, even then we have not been completely free as we are wearing masks to help keep us safe.  At this writing for our time together, no one really knows when we will be set free.  We do know it will not be just opening the door and everyone is back to life.  It will be in stages with some restrictions, so even whenever liberty happens, we will still be somewhat in prison. 

I’m convinced that this time in prison is beneficial for us for several reasons.  Our health is the major reason.  Secondly, it’s an opportunity for us to slow down and to reconnect with families while offering open time for quality bonding.  Thirdly, this prison time has enhanced our creativity in how we connect with others and how we worship together.  I find myself staying in the Word longer, savoring the Scriptures in the moment. 

There will be a day, when we are out of prison, all restrictions are lifted, and we begin to move out of prison and into our new normal.  My prayer during our prison days is for a turning point in our faith journey.  My prayer is that when we step out and begin to scatter like our Scripture references, that it will be in a different way.  My prayer is that we will be people who will fan the flame of God’s grace, people who are changed people, set free and ready to be part of a movement to reach others for Christ.  That’s a kind of scattering that God approves of! -Rev. Hollie Tapley Disaster Response Coordinator
htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Father, we look for the day when we are free from all kinds of  prisons that hinder our walk with You.  May our new lives be full of movement in new ways, ways of transforming our community, state, nation, and world for Jesus Christ.  Amen
 
Devotion and prayer inspired by Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World   by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, For sermon outlines and worship helps for the season of Easter, go to www.greatplainsumc.org/catchfire.  
Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 7:54-60 

Once the council members heard these words, they were enraged and began to grind their teeth at Stephen. But Stephen, enabled by the Holy Spirit, stared into heaven and saw God’s majesty and Jesus standing at God’s right side. He exclaimed, “Look! I can see heaven on display and the Human One standing at God’s right side!” At this, they shrieked and covered their ears. Together, they charged at him, threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul. As they battered him with stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, accept my life!” Falling to his knees, he shouted, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them!” Then he died.

Today’s Devotional

During the early 1990’s, there was a youth ministry program circling around which provided scripts for a court program for defending your faith.  My youth council wanted to do it, so I finally said ok to them.  They took the script, divided up the parts, and begin to work in groups to add to each side of the arguments.  Since they were going all out in planning and were excited about this, I spoke to a Judge in our congregation about obtaining the courthouse for our MYF program.  He secured it and got lawyers to play either the defense or plaintiff. Those kids had a ball!  Some were convicted for their faith sentenced to a “stoning”, some didn’t have enough evidence for conviction, so they were set free, and some just didn’t care where they stood so the judge had them carried away.  The lawyers and the judge were great in playing their roles, they had done their homework too. 

At the end of the program, we looked at Stephen’s story in Acts 7. Our time of meditation was focused on Acts 7:60, Falling to his knees, he shouted, Lord, don’t hold this sin against them! After that, the judge had those convicted to come up to the desk in front of him.  He asked them, based on our scripture we just studied, how does it make you feel knowing Stephen really was stoned for believing? There were some heads hanging low. I brought the entire group together and said to them, “while we have been playing here tonight, I just want us to think about how we are all persecuted daily because of our faith.  I told them that while we cannot change others, it is up to us to on how we will behave in times of being persecuted for believing in Christ.”  Then the big question to them, “Instead of getting angry at the person confronting us, can we this week, extend forgiveness to them?”

Let’s try it this week, when we are persecuted for our faith, let’s offer forgiveness.-Rev. Hollie Tapley
Disaster Response Coordinator

htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Empower us God, to offer forgiveness instead of anger when we are persecuted because of our faith in You.  May our response be the salt and light to those who are against us and may we fan the flame so that others will see our relationship with You.  Amen.

Devotion and prayer inspired by Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World   by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, For sermon outlines and worship helps for the season of Easter, go to www.greatplainsumc.org/catchfire.

Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 7:1-53 The high priest asked, “Are these accusations true?”Stephen responded, “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he settled in Haran. God told him, ‘Leave your homeland and kin, and go to the land that I will show you.’ So Abraham left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After Abraham’s father died, God had him resettle in this land where you now live. God didn’t give him an inheritance here, not even a square foot of land. However, God did promise to give the land as his possession to him and to his descendants, even though Abraham had no child. God put it this way: His descendants will be strangers in a land that belongs to others, who will enslave them and abuse them for four hundred years. And I will condemn the nation they serve as slaves, God said, and afterward they will leave that land and serve me in this place. God gave him the covenant confirmed through circumcision. Accordingly, eight days after Isaac’s birth, Abraham circumcised him. Isaac did the same with Jacob, and Jacob with the twelve patriarchs.“Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him into slavery in Egypt. God was with him, however, and rescued him from all his troubles. The grace and wisdom he gave Joseph were recognized by Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him ruler over Egypt and over his whole palace. A famine came upon all Egypt and Canaan, and great hardship came with it. Our ancestors had nothing to eat. When Jacob heard there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors there for the first time. During their second visit, Joseph told his brothers who he was, and Pharaoh learned about Joseph’s family. Joseph sent for his father Jacob and all his relatives—seventy-five in all—and invited them to live with him. So Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our ancestors died. Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had purchased for a certain sum of money from Hamor’s children, who lived in Shechem.“When it was time for God to keep the promise he made to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt had greatly expanded. But then another king rose to power over Egypt who didn’t know anything about Joseph. He exploited our people and abused our ancestors. He even forced them to abandon their newly born babies so they would die. That’s when Moses was born. He was highly favored by God, and for three months his parents cared for him in their home. After he was abandoned, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted and cared for him as though he were her own son. Moses learned everything Egyptian wisdom had to offer, and he was a man of powerful words and deeds.“When Moses was 40 years old, he decided to visit his family, the Israelites. He saw one of them being wronged so he came to his rescue and evened the score by killing the Egyptian. He expected his own kin to understand that God was using him to rescue them, but they didn’t. The next day he came upon some Israelites who were caught up in an argument. He tried to make peace between them by saying, ‘You are brothers! Why are you harming each other?’ The one who started the fight against his neighbor pushed Moses aside and said, ‘Who appointed you as our leader and judge? Are you planning to kill me like you killed that Egyptian yesterday?’ When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he lived as an immigrant and had two sons.“Forty years later, an angel appeared to Moses in the flame of a burning bush in the wilderness near Mount Sinai. Enthralled by the sight, Moses approached to get a closer look and he heard the Lord’s voice: ‘I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Trembling with fear, Moses didn’t dare to investigate any further. The Lord continued, ‘Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have clearly seen the oppression my people have experienced in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning. I have come down to rescue them. Come! I am sending you to Egypt.’“This is the same Moses whom they rejected when they asked, ‘Who appointed you as our leader and judge?’ This is the Moses whom God sent as leader and deliverer. God did this with the help of the angel who appeared before him in the bush. This man led them out after he performed wonders and signs in Egypt at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness. This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’ This is the one who was in the assembly in the wilderness with our ancestors and with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai. He is the one who received life-giving words to give to us. He’s also the one whom our ancestors refused to obey. Instead, they pushed him aside and, in their thoughts and desires, returned to Egypt. They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods that will lead us. As for this Moses who led us out of Egypt, we don’t know what’s happened to him!’ That’s when they made an idol in the shape of a calf, offered a sacrifice to it, and began to celebrate what they had made with their own hands. So God turned away from them and handed them over to worship the stars in the sky, just as it is written in the scroll of the Prophets:Did you bring sacrifices and offerings to me
    for forty years in the wilderness, house of Israel?
No! Instead, you took the tent of Moloch with you,
    and the star of your god Rephan,
    the images that you made in order to worship them.
        Therefore, I will send you far away, farther than Babylon.“The tent of testimony was with our ancestors in the wilderness. Moses built it just as he had been instructed by the one who spoke to him and according to the pattern he had seen. In time, when they had received the tent, our ancestors carried it with them when, under Joshua’s leadership, they took possession of the land from the nations whom God expelled. This tent remained in the land until the time of David. God approved of David, who asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who actually built a house for God. However, the Most High doesn’t live in houses built by human hands. As the prophet says,Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
‘What kind of house will you build for me,’ says the Lord,
    ‘or where is my resting place?
Didn’t I make all these things with my own hand?’“You stubborn people! In your thoughts and hearing, you are like those who have had no part in God’s covenant! You continuously set yourself against the Holy Spirit, just like your ancestors did. Was there a single prophet your ancestors didn’t harass? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the righteous one, and you’ve betrayed and murdered him! You received the Law given by angels, but you haven’t kept it.

”Today’s Devotional
In today’s devotion based on the Book “Catch Fire in 50 Days”, the writer of the devotion, Kelly Newell, asks the question, Can We Be the Church of the Future? I want to push her question with my own, Can We Be the Church of the Present?  With the focus being “present”, “in this very moment”. 

It is so easy to fall back on what we know, the way we’ve always done it (all our lives), it’s comfortable and we can “do it” with our eyes closed.  Did you catch that?  Does that hit the nail on the head?  Comments like “we’ve always done it that way”, “the Chrismon tree always stands in the right corner”, “we always sing Christmas Hymns during Advent” (sorry, that’s a personal ouch for me, we have Advent Hymns – enough said, you get my point), and one of my all time favorites “you do it, that’s what we pay you for”.  Disciples, have you claimed that name for yourself? Disciples – it’s a new day dawning, and the way we’ve always “done it” will not cut it from this day forward.  Those are hard words for hard times. 

Church of the Present – the COVID-19 has actually placed us in the “present” for church.  It has caused us to do things creatively.  I like it!  I hope the Church of the present and of the future, continues to look like the church during April, May, possibly June of 2020. -Rev. Hollie Tapley
Disaster Response Coordinator
htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Holy Spirit, may the fanning of the flame cause us to not turn back and look at how we “did it”.  It’s a new day, encourage us to stay open with creative eyes for the church of the present and future.  Amen. 

Devotion and prayer inspired by Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World   by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, For sermon outlines and worship helps for the season of Easter, go to www.greatplainsumc.org/catchfire.   
Today’s Lectionary Text
John 14:1-14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

Today’s Devotional
This passage, and particularly this verse is a reminder for us to demonstrate the love of Jesus by our actions, and only use words when necessary.  John Wesley called for a holiness of heart and life.  He saw the possibility of having a heart so all-flaming with the love of God that it would be continually offering up every thought, word, and work as spiritual sacrifice, acceptable to God through Christ.  I think it is exciting to think that in this season of our lives, we can fan the flame about the unconditional love of God, expand the flame to BE the church, shine brighter with the actions of Christ, and share our flame with those around us daily. 

Greater works!  That excites me to know that Jesus has given you and me that authority!-Rev. Hollie Tapley Disaster Response Coordinator
htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Holy Spirit, excite us so that we will join the movement to Your works in a world that is searching and hurting.  May we be the flame that sows the seed of Your grace.  Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
1 Peter 2:1-10 Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the very head of the corner,”and“A stone that makes them stumble,
    and a rock that makes them fall.”They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.Once you were not a people,
    but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
    but now you have received mercy.

Today’s Devotional
What does it mean that you are a hold (or royal) priesthood? For me, this is a reminder that an overarching theme is encouragement to Christians who are suffering or are about the suffer persecution, reminding us all of the source of our identity as God’s people and a responsibility to live out that identity in the midst of pain and suffering. Faithfulness in actions and union as a community then are to be the mark of God’s people. Even when we feel alienated from much in our life journey, we have been reborn as child of God, and are therefore members of God’s household. – Reflection from Jerry Smith

Prayer for Reflection
That God would shine brightly in the world through God’s holy priesthood and that more living stones would be added to spiritual houses throughout our nation.

All excerpts from “Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World”  by Blake Busick and Christie Latona.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 6:8-15 Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Today’s Devotional
What does the “face of an angel” look like? Curly har, chubby cheeks? Does the angel aim an arrow on Valentine’s Day? Is it the hardened warrior of God? Is it the wondering and worried look of a Gabriel telling a girl what she cannot understand, and hearing her consent to what she cannot know? I was told an angel is a messenger. I hear the message from one who know and loves me. Grace and power come from compassion, I think (and hope!). Perhaps the face of an angel is the face of friend who tells the truth. I pray that, from time to time, it is my face for others. – Reflection from Ted Virts

Prayer for Reflection
For those who are facing tough opposition or persecution because of their faith – that the power and grace of the Spirit might shine brightly.

All excerpts from “Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World”  by Blake Busick and Christie Latona.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 6:1-7 Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Today’s Devotional
With grace flowing, we might remember how the Gospel is growing our church, perhaps, in spite of our complaining…just as in the church described in our passage. With grace, we would realize that our serving at tables was a way of serving the Word, of praying with our hands. With grace at the table, we see God’s work of possibility, even in difficult times. In the end on that day in the ancient church, grace did its grace-full work, and seven men of faith were chosen for the holy work of service to the widows. And the disciples offered a blessing. May we receive and share the grace with abundance as we live in these in-between times of possibility in our lives and our congregations.
– Reflection from Kristie Olah

Prayer for Reflection
To be so full of faith and the Holy Spirit that you can’t help but shine brightly. In that Spirit, pray that you would gracefully provide spiritual leadership to your congregation and the world.

All excerpts from “Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World”  by Blake Busick and Christie Latona.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 5:17-42 

Then the high priest took action; he and all who were with him (that is, the sect of the Sadducees), being filled with jealousy, arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, “Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.” When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching.

When the high priest and those with him arrived, they called together the council and the whole body of the elders of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the temple police went there, they did not find them in the prison; so they returned and reported, “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were perplexed about them, wondering what might be going on. Then someone arrived and announced, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” Then the captain went with the temple police and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”

They were convinced by him, and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.

Today’s Devotional

This story seems so authentic and refreshing. First, the apostles were so brave and straightforward in telling the authorities their experience of Jesus. Then the authorities had a person in their midst who was respected by all people. And that person was wise and not afraid to acknowledge the possibility that God was really at work. And the people listened to him. They, they showed some mercy toward the apostles when they could’ve gotten very defensive and killed them on the spot. This drama replays all the time in human affairs. Sooner of later we all have the opportunity to play the part of Gamaliel, to remind the angry crowd that maybe we should step back and consider the possibility that God is up to something here. And God is always up to something.
– Reflection from Diane Knudsen

Prayer for Reflection

For the boldness to shine brightly as a witness for Christ through your words and deeds. Give thanks no matter what reaction your testimony sparks. 

All excerpts from “Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World”  by Blake Busick and Christie Latona.

Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 5:1-11 But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him.After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.

Today’s Devotional
Why is this story included in the story of the early church? As Disciples of Jesus Christ there is no holding back, no plan B, and no room for turning your back on those with whom you journey in faith. Every time we hold back and pretend to participate in the full mission of the church a piece of us dies. This is true for individuals and for entire congregations. It is very hard to fully live an abundant life in Christ when your hands are full of things you will not share. This holding on limits your capacity to take in the Holy Spirit and it limits your capacity to reach out in love to others.
– Reflection from Linda Caldwell

Prayer for Reflection
For the Spirit to guide your every action so that you might shine forth God’s truths more brightly.

All excerpts from “Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World”  by Blake Busick and Christie Latona.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 5:12-16 Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem. Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.

Today’s Devotional
What is the last sign and wonder you have witnessed? I’ve been noticing the connection between “signs and wonders” and people being “added to the Lord.” These wonders are signs that the Holy Spirit is working through the believers. One day it is the ability to communicate the Gospel in different languages, another day it is healing. What is shining brightly through the followers of Jesus is the light (or fire) of the Holy Spirit?

If we are to add great numbers to the Lord, there must be evidence that the Holy Spirit is working through our lives. We can see these not only in acts of communication and healing but also in acts of forgiveness, extravagant generosity, love of enemies and other ways we bear witness that we are living in a new creation. These acts can’t be explained by the old order. They can only be explained by a proclamation that Christ is risen, and we are filled with the light of the Holy Spirit shining brightly through us. What sign or wonder might the Holy Spirit shine through us today?

– Reflection from Blake Busick

Prayer for Reflection
That God might bring someone into your life today who needs some kind of healing or relief from suffering. Pray for the courage and insight to respond so that the healing power of the Holy Spirit shines more brightly.

All excerpts from “Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World”  by Blake Busick and Christie Latona.
Today’s Lectionary Text
John 10:1-10 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Today’s Devotional
How abundant is your life right now? I might answer, “that depends”. That depends on if I compare myself to my highly gifted, talented neighbor to my right, or if I compare myself to my needy neighbor to my left. Looking to my right, I could realize what I don’t have and feel slighted. Looking to my left, I could realize how bad others have it and feel elevated, better than and more blessed than my neighbor. The answer is dependent on if I find that I must compare and contrast myself to others in order to realize my abundance, my blessings. My answer is dependent on if I must put myself down or put another person, community, or nation down to realize who has abundant life. My answer is dependent of if, instead, I might be one who depends on the Give or abundance life for that very greatest of blessings. If this is where my dependence is found, then, my answer to today’s question is, Yes!
– Reflection from Mariellen Yoshino

Prayer for Reflection
For discernment about how God might want to use you to shine more brightly on the Gatekeeper of Abundance Life. To shine in ways which will lead more people – your family, friends, coworkers, colleagues, acquaintances – to Jesus.

All excerpts from “Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World”  by Blake Busick and Christie Latona.
Today’s Lectionary Text
1 Peter 1:13-15, 22-23
Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct;

Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

Today’s Devotional
It’s debatable whether or not the Apostle Peter wrote the Petrine letters. Regardless of where one stands on this debate, it’s fair to say that these letters were inspired by the Apostle Peter and emerged out of a circle of believers who followed his teachings. Remember Peter’s story? He’s the one who was called out of his former lucrative fishing profession to become a fisher of people. He’s the rash one, the one who says the first thing that comes to his mind and the first to jump out of the boat onto the water. The one who denied Jesus three times. He’s also the one who was forgiven three times. New birth.
 
After Jesus resurrected, he appeared to Peter while he was fishing. He jumped out of the boat and swam to shore to greet Jesus, where they sat around a campfire, cooking fish. That fire probably brought back memories of the night when he denied knowing Jesus. Imagine sitting there, eating, with the one you betrayed – flooded with painful memories of past mistakes. Would there ever be any way that Jesus could forgive him?

Jesus looks straight at Peter and asks him, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” He asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
 
Three times Jesus asks, ‘Do you love me.’  Like a crescendo it grows – this call not just to forgiveness, but to restore Peter to the relationship that he and Jesus had before. Jesus invites Peter back into this relationship with him three times to mirror the three denials of Peter.  Jesus looks right at the worst that Peter has ever done – and he says, yeah…I can forgive that.  
 
Peter made a mess. He abandoned Jesus at the time he needed him the most, then he denied ever even knowing him after three years of ministry together. He lied to protect himself, while his teacher was crucified on a cross and died a painful death. And then he ran and hid. But Jesus didn’t stay dead. And he didn’t let Peter stay in his mess. Grace meets us where we are – no matter what – and grace calls us to be better.
 
What mess have you made?  There is grace for even you.
And I wonder – what might happen if we extend that grace to others?
Who has made a mess in your life? Is there grace for them, too?
 -Rev. Melissa Gepford Intergenerational Discipleship Coordinator
mgepford@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
God of forgiveness, you have called us to be holy, displaying the love and grace you’ve so freely offered us to others. You have given us new life – may we share that with others. Amen.

-Devotion inspired by Catch Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, devotional from Jerry D. Smith 
Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 4:32-37 

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Today’s Devotional

Over the past seven years that Bill and I have been married, we’ve lived with other people five times. Friends have needed a place to stay in between selling and building homes; we’ve hosted nannies in our basement and coworkers in a guest room during transitional stages in their lives. My friend Kelley and I have plans to live on the same land in a commune with shared living spaces, complete with a kitchen and community garden (it’s a joke – kind of). The thought of living together – perhaps a more idealized version in my head than reality – is just so compelling to me. It’s difficult, no doubt, but it’s always been worth it.

The irony of it all is, I actually feared the “lifelong roommate” aspect of marriage the most. I’m an introvert and really do prefer to have my own space. But over the years, I’ve learned to be a better roommate and to appreciate other people’s quirks that come out only in spaces they’re most comfortable and safe.

Our friends Kevan and Carissa and their two-year-old shared a home with us for almost three months. Their house sold quicker than expected, so they moved in with us while their new home became available. We played games and watched movies together; cooked meals family-style and shared the household chores. We engaged in deeply spiritual conversations that really changed the way we saw the world and how we did ministry with the people in our lives. We fumbled our way through figuring out a laundry schedule and engaged in spirit-filled and constructive conflict when necessary. Some of my favorite memories with them take place during our time as housemates. We were of one heart and one mind.

Sharing life with others as intimately as if you’re living together – all the while, having concern for the others’ well-being – is transformative. The early church embodied this so beautifully. Imperfectly? Of course, which is why it’s so beautiful to me. The impact their love for each other had on the world for centuries is breathtaking. I wonder – what does this type of community look like in your context? Maybe it’s not living with someone outside of your family. Perhaps it’s just starting with whoever is already in your home. Then let Spirit do what She does best.-Rev. Melissa Gepford
Intergenerational Discipleship Coordinator

mgepford@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Loving Trinity, three-in-one: you call us to be of one heart and mind. May you, Spirit, lead the way as we seek to belong to one another. Amen.

-Devotion inspired by Catch Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, devotional from Jerry D. Smith 

Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 4:23-24, 29-31 

After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them,

And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

Today’s Devotional

Prayer, at its simplest, is talking to God.  There is nothing magic in prayer – but there is power.

Sometimes, I wish prayer worked like magic – we say the words, and it happens. But God’s no genie, and we’ve seen the hilarity that could come from a god like that in the movie Bruce Almighty.

Sometimes we do pray to change God’s mind – we ask God for miracles, and sometimes they do happen. Other times, we pray…and we hear silence. But we find that even when God doesn’t answer how we want, God’s presence begins to strengthen and center us. 

Rabbi Ferdinand Isserman said, “Prayer invites God’s presence to suffuse our spirits; God’s will to prevail in our lives. Prayer might not bring water to parched fields, nor mend a broken bridge, nor rebuild a ruined city. But prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, rebuild a weakened will.
And when souls are refreshed, hearts are broken, and wills are fortified…just think of all that God does in and through us!
Today, I invite you to spend time in prayer. Choose a different method than your preferred method, and explore how getting out of your “routine” prayer time helps you connect differently with the Divine. -Rev. Melissa Gepford
Intergenerational Discipleship Coordinator

mgepford@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Try your own.

-Devotion inspired by Catch Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, devotional from Jerry D. Smith 

Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 4:1-4, 15-20 

While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.

So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. They said, “What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Today’s Devotional

We’ve come a long way since first century Christianity. While we are seeing a decline in church attendance and adherence to Christianity in America today, we still enjoy many privileges as Christians in society. Yet, Christianity was considered an illegal and illegitimate religion until 380 CE, when it became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Today’s devotion in Catch Fire in 50 Days asks the provocative question of the early church: “Why did the rulers, elders, and teachers resist so much?”

By the first century, various factions of Jewish traditions, specifically the High Priests, not only accepted, but became entangled in Roman politics. Their own authority was legitimated by the Roman Empire, and they therefore mimicked the oppressive actions of the very powers that oppressed them. Throughout his ministry, Jesus explicitly opposed both religious and political authorities (if those could even be separated).

Jesus also directly confronts social issues throughout the gospels. He heals the sick, drives out demons from the possessed, associates with Gentiles, women, and tax collectors. His universal message broke down ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic boundaries, which upset the status quo.

The message of Jesus is a message of radical overthrow of oppressive powers, justice for the lowly, and forgiveness of sins for all despite socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and gender. This message of universal love was embodied during the time of the oppressive Roman Empire, where the Emperor was hailed as a god, “peace” was enforced by the military, power dynamics permeated every sector of life, and human rights were relativized based on various distinctions. It is absolutely impossible to separate Jesus’ message from the political and social arena, which is why the leaders were (and still are) so upset with his message.

Our participation in the upside-down Kin-dom, in which the first is last and the last is first, challenges and disrupts our own power dynamics. How might you become more disruptive today?-Rev. Melissa Gepford
Intergenerational Discipleship Coordinator

mgepford@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

God of holy disruption, you have called us into the way of life that challenges our assumptions, breaks down our human-made boundaries, and divests from power dynamics. Help us to fully live and continue to disrupt. Amen.

-Devotion inspired by Catch Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, devotional from Jerry D. Smith 

Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 3:11-13, 16 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished. When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him.

And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

Today’s Devotional
I’ve never been healed like the man at Solomon’s Porch was. I’ve always been able to walk, and I’ve never experienced that kind of miracle before. But I have been saved from my own anger and bitterness. I have been healed from long-term grudges.

Perhaps you’ve experienced a miracle similar to the ones in Acts; maybe not. But I bet you’ve experienced wholeness and healing somehow – physical, mental, relational, or spiritual. I invite you to reflect on that today – where have you experienced healing? What scars do you have that tell a story of healing?

May your scars remind you that God was present and got you through – that God will never abandon you in turbulent times; that hope is never truly extinguished.  
 
May they be a reminder to you to push through on the wounds that you aren’t sure can be healed.  In the places where the pain just seems too deep. May your scars – physical, mental, relational, or spiritual – remind you that the power of God’s healing is stronger than any force of hurting.
 
We live in a world that is desperate to know if healing can happen.  People are longing to believe that what is broken can be mended.  Scars define us – may we proudly bear our scars, and with them proclaim the hope of our faith – there is a healing stronger than the world’s hurting, and that the pains which threatened to break us…are behind us.  -Rev. Melissa Gepford
Intergenerational Discipleship Coordinator
mgepford@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Great Physician, thank you for your healing touch, and thank you for the times in my life that you remained with me in pain. May I continue to be a healing balm to others. Amen.

-Devotion inspired by Catch Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, devotional from Jerry D. Smith 
 
Today’s Lectionary Text
Luke 24:13-16, 28-32

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Today’s Devotional

I heard the familiar “ding” as I entered the Zoom chat with my spiritual director. She greeted me warmly, and we began our conversation. “Is there anything in particular you want to talk about today?” To be honest, I hadn’t really done any of the prep work I needed to do to fully engage in that session, but I decided to speak aloud the first thing that conjured up in my mind and heart.

My brother Brandon died from a drug overdose less than a year ago, and I’ve learned that the stages of grief  are so very not linear. Earlier that week, I’d had a distressing dream that felt so real I couldn’t shake it.

I shared the dream in detail with my spiritual director. She sat in pregnant silence for awhile, leaving space for my tears and uncertainty, just like Jesus had done on the road to Emmaus as he held space for the disciples’ grief.

Then she asked the question I’d been longing to hear deep within my soul. “Is there anything that you need forgiveness for?”

That was it. The veil lifted, and my heart was strangely warmed. I’d been struggling with regret over our last conversation and all the times I felt like I could have helped him more. I had been thinking that perhaps Brandon would still be alive today if I’d done more. I confessed. And I received the forgiveness I didn’t even realize I needed.

My spiritual direction session felt a lot like I suspect the disciples on the road to Emmaus felt when they realized they’d been in the presence of the resurrected Christ. It was an apocalyptic moment, revealing mystery and grace in such mundane and unexpected places and people. For the disciples, it was a meal. For me, it was a Zoom call. What about for you?-Rev. Melissa Gepford
Intergenerational Discipleship Coordinator
mgepford@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Christ, you are risen indeed! May our hearts continue to burn as we encounter you in all people and experiences around us. Amen.

-Devotion inspired by Catch Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, devotional from Jerry D. Smith 

Today’s Lectionary Text
1 Peter 1:1-12 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood:May grace and peace be yours in abundance.Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look!

Today’s Devotional
One thing that we Christians do not engage in with enthusiasm is human suffering. Often, when we experience times of trials we want to find someone to blame for the unfortunate circumstances that happen to us. In Peter’s story, which is filled with several instances of hardships, we are invited to revisit our theology of suffering. Peter experienced persecution firsthand through imprisonment and constant intimidation at the hands of the authorities of his day. One of the lessons we learn from his life experience and dealing with trials and tribulations is that through such difficulties, though not caused by God, God is with us. God sustains and refines our faith. Peter writes to God’s people who live as foreigners. This message speaks to us in this time where the concept of “foreigner” has taken a negative connotation. While most of us think of foreigners simply as those who come from other nations, one can also think of foreigners as those experiencing trials and tribulations in their own communities because they have a different body shape, skin color, speak a different language or have a name that is hard for some to pronounce.  

How would you describe your moments of trials? Are these trials as a result of human reasons? How do you see God through such challenges? How do you encourage others in their moment of trials while attending to your own life challenges?
-Rev. Kalaba Chali Mercy and Justice Coordinator kchali@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Dear God, grant us your hope and enough peace to comfort us in our time of trials; but not too much peace lest we forget about the sufferings of our neighbors, especially those different than us. Amen.

-Devotion and prayer inspired by Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World   by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, For sermon outlines and worship helps for the season of Easter, go to www.greatplainsumc.org/catchfire.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 2:37-47 

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Today’s Devotional

This piece of scripture gives us an idea of how the early Christian believers formed and experienced community. The Christian faith is a communal and dynamic reality. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, diverse followers of Christ join together to break bread, fellowship with one another and study scripture in community. In such communal experience and sacred space, some encounter God’s amazing grace of forgiveness and receive baptism. Others receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit who gives them various gifts to fulfill the mission of the kingdom.

How might you, and your church family, form community during this pandemic season where all people can experience God’s amazing grace of forgiveness and redemption?-Rev. Kalaba Chali Mercy and Justice Coordinator
kchali@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Gracious God, we pray for your Spirit to descend upon us afresh and empower us to unleash collectively the power of the gospel that offers grace, love, and forgiveness for all. Amen.

-Devotion and prayer inspired by Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World   by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, For sermon outlines and worship helps for the season of Easter, go to www.greatplainsumc.org/catchfire.

Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 2:14-36 

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,

‘I saw the Lord always before me,
    for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
    moreover my flesh will live in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
    or let your Holy One experience corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
    you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,

‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
    nor did his flesh experience corruption.’

This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Today’s Devotional

Peter stands and delivers a message to crowd, which does not seem a reality during our time of physical distancing. But, thinking about a crowd, in August of 2014 during the Ebenezer convention in Zimbabwe, a young lady, Chelsea probably aged 12, stood in front of a 40,000 plus crowd, without notes to deliver a 40 minute sermon. As a guest along several other guests from the US and other African countries, we were all in awe. The words Peter reads in Acts 2:17-21, became tangible as this young preacher moved around interrupting her message with a short sung chorus on and off, switching between Shona (a native language of Zimbabwe) and English, to allow non-Shona speakers to grasp a glimpse of her message. Indeed, when God pours upon us the Holy Spirit, our sons and daughters will prophesy…

How have you experienced God’s Spirit working in children, youth or other younger persons in your faith community? What could you do to unleash the gifts and graces of children in your life and faith community?-Rev. Kalaba Chali
Mercy and Justice Coordinator
kchali@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Oh Lord our God and redeemer, you who come to us as vulnerable baby, give us a humble spirit to receive the gifts of leadership from

-Devotion and prayer inspired by Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World   by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, For sermon outlines and worship helps for the season of Easter, go to www.greatplainsumc.org/catchfire. children as they proclaim the message of the risen Christ in their own tongues. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 2:1-13 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Today’s Devotional
Each year during the Festival of First Harvest, Jews from many nations gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate together. While attending the World Methodist Conference in Durban, South Africa in 2011 I heard Archbishop Elias Chacour speak from the Acts 2. Some of you would remember him from the time when he came to speak at our Annual Conference Session in 2016. He asked what came upon the disciples during Pentecost. Many of us shouted, the Holy Spirit. He responded in surprising way. “No. I thought you Methodists knew the Bible,” he teased the crowd! He then went on to share that it was the wind, which came to cleanse their hearts from all prejudices and any evil intents. From Archbishop Chacour, the significance of Acts 2 is not the coming of the Holy Spirit rather what the Holy Spirit does in the lives of those gathered. The Spirit gave each one the ability (power) to speak, to proclaim the good news. While the resurrection conquers our fear and situations of hopelessness, the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to proclaim the gospel in various languages. The Holy Spirit empowers followers of Christ to take the gospel to all the nations. Through the movements of people from many nations to the US, we witness a variety of Christian communities worshiping in various tongues even in places like Grand Island, NE where a group of migrants worship the risen Christ in Arabic. In this case, migration can be viewed as a Pentecostal motif because it empowers many immigrants to take the gospel beyond their borders.

One can also think of the way we are using technology in this season of covid-19 to reach people as another Pentecostal wave. When you navigate through Facebook, you cannot spend 2 minutes without encountering a pastor leading a live devotion. One may ask, is this an electronic Pentecostal movement? Is this the new tongue many pastors are speaking since the pandemic spread in our communities?-Rev. Kalaba Chali Mercy and Justice Coordinator
kchali@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
God of all languages, nations and peoples, we thank you that in Jesus Christ you have come to redeem the whole of creation, and by the empowerment of your Spirit you have called us to use our tongues to proclaim the good news of the risen Lord. Amen.

-Devotion and prayer inspired by Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, For sermon outlines and worship helps for the season of Easter, go to www.greatplainsumc.org/catchfire.   
Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 1:12-26 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) “For it is written in the book of Psalms,‘Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’;and‘Let another take his position of overseer.’So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Today’s Devotional
The story of choosing Judas’ replacement is complex one. It deals with the grief of losing one of the disciples’ friends, Judas. However, it also points to the need for partnership in ministry. God’s ministry flourishes when we work in collaboration within teams, putting to use the variety of gifts each disciple brings to the work of ministry. Recently during our Congregational Excellence meeting, Rev. Nathan Stanton led us in a devotion time. He invited us to name each team member’s gifts and lift them up in prayer. The exercise reaffirmed Paul’s exhortation of harnessing all the gifts among the body of Christ to further the transformative mission of God. This story is also about discernment in forming ministry teams and in identifying ministry partners.

In this pandemic season, as the Great Plains Conference focuses on seeking justice, who might God be calling you to partner with in seeking justice?

As Susan Beaumont writes, “Discernment relies on vulnerability, humility and unknowing. It opens up creativity and compassion. It requires patience, perseverance and fluidity in practices of dialogue and prayer. It works on God’s timing and not in accordance with human time frames.”-Rev. Kalaba Chali Mercy and Justice Coordinator kchali@greatplainsumc.org
 
Prayer for Reflection
Generous God and giver of all gifts, open our eyes to see the gifts and graces people around us bring to your work and in our communities. Grant that we may discern how to form ministry teams for the purpose of your mission and your kingdom. Amen.

-Devotion and prayer inspired by Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World   by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, For sermon outlines and worship helps for the season of Easter, go to www.greatplainsumc.org/catchfire.   
Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 1:1-11 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Today’s Devotional
The Book of Acts offers insights about how the Church, in different socio-cultural contexts, has ministered to the mission field where she has been planted. While the needs and the realities present themselves in different ways, the source of the church’s power has continued to be the Holy Spirit. Jesus reminds his disciples about God’s promise for the Spirit. Throughout history God bestows upon believers the Holy Spirit for the purpose of fulfilling the mission. In our United Methodist baptism vows we reiterate the importance of the Holy Spirit who enables us to resist all evils. Hunger and poverty, for example, should not exist in a world where there is sufficient food to feed everyone.  But, they do, and many other evils exist in the world. When we baptize a person, we ask them three important questions, I want to name the second question as it underscores God’s promise of the Spirit:

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

The sending of the Holy Spirit in Acts points us to the reason why God gives the  Holy Spirit. Like the prophets, messengers and apostles, God pours the Holy Spirit anew upon us to fulfill the mission of ushering God’s redemptive and restorative works in our communities. In this season of trials and destruction at the spread of the Covid-19, this pandemic is exposing our healthcare systems and how they disproportionately affect persons with less economic resources. How is the spirit of God empowering you to transform our human systems that affect the most vulnerable members of our society?-Rev. Kalaba Chali Mercy and Justice Coordinator kchali@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Gracious God, may your Spirit fall afresh upon us to enable us to fulfill your Kingdom’s purpose here on earth as it is in heaven, we pray. Amen.

-Excerpts from Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World   by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, For sermon outlines and worship helps for the season of Easter, go to www.greatplainsumc.org/catchfire.   
Today’s Lectionary Text
John 20:19-29

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Today’s Devotional

In the old days John 20: 21-22 was always quoted when discussing mission experiences. Yet, the idea that Jesus sends us just as God has sent him, is much more than a call to go on a mission trip. This piece of scripture unveils the manifestation of the incarnation, Jesus embodies the hope, love and peace of God in tangible ways. Just like Jesus incarnates God’s disclosure in human fashion, we too are called to exemplify the life, ministry, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ to the world. As you ponder the question of where Jesus is sending you during this pandemic season, I suggest we all think about how Jesus is inviting us to represent his resurrection message of hope and peace in a season of despair and fear.

In these times of uncertainty, we are called to echo the resurrection message to all people. May we be the voices of hope for those experiencing despair. May we be the presence of peace and assurance of the Holy Spirit for those overwhelmed with messages of fear. May we bear a hopeful, grace-filled and peace-filled resurrection message to our neighbors.-Rev. Kalaba Chali
Mercy and Justice Coordinator

kchali@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Loving God, infuse in us a bold spirit to proclaim a message of hope in times of despair.
Risen Christ, transform our hearts to be agents of peaceful and redemptive communities.
Spirit of the living God, ignite within us a spirit of wisdom to offer guidance in times of confusion.

-Excerpts from Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World   by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, For sermon outlines and worship helps for the season of Easter, go to www.greatplainsumc.org/catchfire.   

Today’s Lectionary Text
Colossians 3:1-4
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

 Today’s Devotional
This week I did the program of a United Methodist Women’s meeting that met via Zoom.  It had been a while since I had brought a program to a UMW meeting, so I began to ask, “What is the theme for this month?”

Sure enough, the title was “This Little Light of Mine.” I began my research, having the song lyrics begin to sing in my head.  Sometimes the song lyrics were in a child’s voice, a children’s choir or looking up on YouTube the version by Odetta – This Little Light of Mine (best version).

I began to think about how we can set our hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  On a typical day, what do you seek?  How often do you ‘seek the things that are above?’

For me, it is not just this time in prayer and devotion. It is the funny times or a John Krasinski episode on Facebook of “Some Good News” that he promotes good news. I’d interpret it as the ways that our world is rising to ways of loving our neighbors. 

More seriously, it is also seeing the healthcare workers on the front lines of fighting this virus, the teachers who are connecting with students in new ways, the leadership in our churches and communities – you — who point us to faith, connection and guidance with Christ’s news that the worst thing is never the last, that there is light amid darkness.  Giving hope and life is what we do as Easter people. 

Intentionally today, reset your mind on things that are above three times (perhaps around meals).  Then reflect on ‘things above’ between those times.  Find ways to name keep the light going day after day, even it if it singing  “This Little Light of Mine” no matter what it sounds like and however we may see it today.— Rev. Nicole Conard Young Adult Ministry Coordinator
nconard@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Christ, we are raised with you. Help us to know what that means with our heads, experience that with our hearts, and be your hands and feet in this time of setting our hearts on things above.

-Excerpts from Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World   by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, For sermon outlines and worship helps for the season of Easter, go to www.greatplainsumc.org/catchfire.   
Today’s Lectionary Text
1 Corinthians 15:1-8 
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

Today’s Devotional
In today’s Scripture Paul recounts the resurrection story. He captures the life, death and resurrection of Christ with the experiences of Jesus after the resurrection. In Paul’s succinct fashion, he does this all in 8 sentences, concluding with his personal testimony alluding to his personal experience of Christ.

How has the grace of God shaped your life and your identity of who you are? John Wesley shared grace goes before us, justifies us, and sanctifies us, creating us to be a new creation in Christ. God’s grace is always available, always surrounding us and calling us to Christ. God’s grace continues to work on us to love God and neighbor perfectly.

Today pause to acknowledge God’s grace around, through and in us and all the world. In this time of great uncertainty, give testimony to the grace of God and the assurance of God’s grace. Spend time in prayer today. 
— Rev. Nicole Conard Young Adult Ministry Coordinator
nconard@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
O God, you have the whole world in your hands.  Guide us to give testimony to your grace.  Help us settle in the grace that you give to us and have us root our identity on your saving, amazing grace.  We pray this prayer written by someone we do not know for such a time as this:

Loving God, Your desire is for our wholeness and well being.
We hold in tenderness and prayer the collective suffering of our world at this time.
We grieve precious lives lost and vulnerable lives threatened.
We ache for ourselves and our neighbors, standing before an uncertain future. 
We pray: may love, not fear, go viral. 
Inspire our leaders to discern and choose wisely, aligned with the common good.
Help us to practice social distancing and reveal to us new and creative ways to come together in spirit and in solidarity.  Call us to profound trust in your faithful presence, You, the God who does not abandon.
In Jesus Name We Pray, Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 10:34-43

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.  You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—  how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Today’s Devotional

God’s message is for everybody. That’s what Peter said. The Message puts these words in his mouth: “Nothing could be plainer: God plans no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you are from…” How we embrace that word! Our proclamation comes in many languages and expressions that we know are pleasing to God. What a joy when we see Christ in one another.  

And what sorrow when we fail to see fully, what God sees in each of us, what God has forgiven in every one of God’s beloved children – the young ones, the older ones, the ones who look like me and the ones who don’t, the ones who pray without ceasing in their simple homes or shelters, the ones whose politics or perspectives are different from mine, those whose mistakes in life are written in bad decisions that fill the news. 

It’s the most basic of our faith claims: Christ died for each of these, lives for in everyone. It’s still the same Easter promise. Only when I truly claim the Gospel hope for myself in its fullness, can I see the Christ in you and in them and in us. 
Even though Peter is a witness to Christ, he has a kind of conversion of thinking through his encounter with Gentile Cornelius.  What was the last encounter you had which caused you to rethink the implications of your faith?

Be open to the fact that people you encounter today are potential instruments of the Holy Spirit, leading you to new understandings about God and your resurrection faith.— Rev. Nicole Conard
Young Adult Ministry Coordinator

nconard@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Lord, bless us into receiving Easter deeply into our very beings, that we might live it out into the world.

-Excerpts from Catch Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World   by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, devotional from Kristie Olah. Yesterday’s devotional was from the same book, with devotional adapted from Sungho Lee. If you would like to receive sermon notes, song suggestions, and prayers for Sundays during Easter from “Catch Fire in 50 Days” to help with worship planning each week, go to www.greatplainsumc.org/catchfire.

Today’s Lectionary Text 
Luke 24:1-10
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ”  Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.  It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 

Today’s Devotional
The women became witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus when they remembered what Jesus had said. We need to remember the words of God to be the agents of God’s Kingdom.  What did God say?  God did not guarantee a trouble-filled life. God did say that we would face troubles. God did say that we would have challenges.  However, God also said that if we would follow God’s words God would be with us! To be the agencies of the movement that God is making, we have to remember what God has said! Let us go back to the words of God! Otherwise, even when you see the empty tomb, you will just go home, amazed with what has happened!
As you ponder this Scripture and God’s words today, what adjustments if any do you want to make in your thinking or acting which would make God’s words and the resurrection of Jesus more central in your life? 
— Rev. Nicole Conard Young Adult Ministry Coordinator
nconard@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
O God, we remember the words of you.  Help your words come to mind to help calm our fears, to focus on you and to hear your voice in our lives. Revive in us a heart ‘strangely warmed’ by the risen Christ. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Mark 16:1-8

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.  Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Today’s Devotional

We are living in the first Easter week. Today we hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Mark version of the resurrection story. 

I love the gospel of Mark as the first gospel written about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  His use of the word “immediately” often in the text makes it an action-packed story. I imagine of all the gospels, this gospel of Mark could be translated to a 45 minute action-adventure episode. The Adventure of Mark even has an alternate ending!  

This story of the resurrection shapes us into the people we are today.  It is through this lens of the resurrection that we understand the rest of the story of God’s son on earth.  How did you respond the first time you heard the proclamation that Jesus had risen? For me, it was the time that my parents’ faith became my own voice and understanding. I had come to know the resurrection story meant that Christ was a source of hope and gave meaning to life.  Believing in the resurrection gave me life and an overwhelming unconditional love and grace. Now I come to know it as God giving life after death, hope amid despair, light in darkness and that love always wins.

Today take a few minutes to think about a one-minute testimony from your experience that might cause a person to consider the possibility of the resurrection so that more might understand that we are raised with Christ. — Rev. Nicole Conard
Young Adult Ministry Coordinator

rconard@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

O God, remind us that we are raised with Christ. Thank you for the life, death and resurrection of your son, Jesus Christ. Guide us to hear your story in new ways and how you continue to speak to us about resurrection. Amen.

-Excerpts from Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World   by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, Devotional by Rev. Nicole Conard, Congregational Excellence

Today’s Lectionary Text
Matthew 28:1-10 

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Today’s Devotional

It’s the day after Easter Sunday. Where are you looking for Jesus today?

This week we will immerse ourselves in the stories of Christ’s resurrection and significance.  What would we have to let go of in order to allow for an unexpected in-breaking of Christ in our lives today?  Fear. One small four-letter word that seems to be so powerful.  In today’s Scripture the guards “for fear of him” the angel to the woman “do not be afraid” the disciples “for they left the tomb with fear and great joy.” Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.”

Fear permeates our world today, as well.  Have you thought of where our Christian faith might have gone had the disciples been afraid to tell the story? Or what about countless generations of witnesses who have told and lived out the story, often in fear, until it reached our ears for the first time? Christ is risen! God is with us in this time and this place and calling us to rise about the doubts and even the fears and then to dare to be followers of Jesus Christ. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid, go and tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Experience anew what it means to be raised with Christ (Colossians 3:1). Reengage in daily practices that will rekindle our spiritual intensity.

-Excerpts from Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World   by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, devotional from Jerry D. Smith 

Prayer for Reflection

O God, remind us that we are raised with Christ. Guide us by your Holy Spirit to fall anew on us.  Help us to not be afraid and to share good news to all we see. In Christ’s Name We Pray. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text
John 20:1-10 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

 Today’s Devotional
Happy Easter!   With whom do you identify most in the story of the resurrection? Peter? The other disciple? Mary?  One of the disciples who received Mary’s witness?
 
We immerse ourselves in the story of the church becoming a movement of grace transforming the world.  At its core, it is a love story. It reveals to us that we live in a world that God so loves, and that God will stop at nothing to express the Creator’s grace, mercy, compassion and justice to that world.
 
You are a part of that story. You belong to a church and an extended family of believers.  Together we give expression to this love story by making disciples of Jesus Christ who transform the world by their new life in Christ.   
 
After witnessing the resurrected Christ, the apostles were sent to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the first disciples of Jesus became a movement that transformed the world. The Gospel readings offer an opportunity to have a fresh encounter with Jesus. It is this encounter which can reignite a Holy Spirit fire within you. It is this fire that is the energy of the movement we seek to become.  
 
We are an Easter people. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the spark for everything else. Pray that we might have a fresh encounter with Jesus; that the power of Christ’s resurrection might again be set loose in the world through the fire of the Holy Spirit within us. Pray that this season of prayer and reflection might have a lasting impact on our congregations and communities.

The next 50 Days of the Easter season is an opportunity for us to pray and prepare for that new day when we as a Church become a movement again. Let’s turn toward God’s vision and God’s world and the call of Christ to get about God’s mission. Let’s open ourselves to God through these daily Scripture readings. Let’s pray that God would make us a movement again.   
 
Pray that you and all who participate in these 50 days of reading, reflecting and response will hear their name called by Christ and encounter Christ in powerful and transforming ways so that we all might acknowledge that we are raised with  Christ.— Rev. Nicole Conard
Young Adult Ministry Coordinator rconard@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
O Risen Christ, it is up from the grave you arose. You conquered death and we now live with you.  Help us to continue to acknowledge that you and the whole world is raised with you.  Ignite in us a passion and prayer to prepare ourselves for 50 days of Easter to proclaim your good news to all the world. Amen. 
— Adapted from “Catch the Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World” by Blake Busick and Christie Latona, for more information
on this series in your congregation go to www.greatplainsumc.org/holy-week
Today’s Lectionary Text
Ephesians 2:14-16 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.

Today’s Devotional
Peace.  During the Christmas season thoughts often turn to Jesus as the “Prince of Peace.”  But once we are beyond Christmas, we seem to leave behind that idea, as well.  Paul writes of Jesus as “our peace” as he made both Jews and Gentiles into a single body.

It is easy to forget that Jesus made us into “one” when we live in a world that is so divided against itself that we cannot even agree to disagree.  Politically, we see more antagonism than peace among people here in the United States and around the world with battling factions in many countries.  The church is also divided in thought in many denominations.  Our own United Methodist Church is anything but united and hasn’t been for many years. 

One of my favorite Communion hymns is “One Bread, One Body” (UMH #620).  Every time I sing just the chorus, I am reminded that we are offered the opportunity to be one body, with Christ, in partaking of the Loaf and the Cup. 

One bread, one body, one Lord of all,   
one cup of blessing, that we bless.
And we, though many throughout the earth,
we are one body in this one Lord.

This is where I find peace in the midst of turmoil in the world around me.  It’s also where I find strength to go out into the world and do whatever I can to bring peace to my little piece of the world.  I’m not always successful, mind you, but every effort to bring the peace of Christ into a world at odds with itself is a step closer to our becoming the one body of Christ.
 -Rev. Robbie Fall, retired Elder, Hutchinson, KS                                                                           
Prayer for Reflection
Draw me closer to you, Jesus, that I may draw others closer to your peace this day.  Amen.
 
Today’s Lectionary Text
Isaiah 65:17 For I am about to create new heavens
    and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
    or come to mind.

Today’s Devotional
The neighborhood I grew up in was full of older two-story houses that had been built in the 19-teens and early ’20s. The house I grew up in was built in 1912 by my grandparents. Almost all of the houses had front porches that stretched the width of the house and they sat on 50-foot-wide lots. When the weather was nice, people sat out on their front porches. We knew who lived in every house on the block — who was kid friendly and whose lawn to stay off of. In summertime, we would play until late in the evening, only coming in when it was time to get ready for bed.

I believe there will be good things that will come out of our forced isolation this spring. I hope we will be tired of trying to stay connected through our electronic devices and find the joy in face-to-face interaction. I hope we will have learned to appreciate all of the people who have kept our world from coming apart at the seams — from medical personnel to truck drivers to grocery store clerks to gas station attendants. I hope we will have learned to be less wasteful with our resources. I hope we regain some skills that seemed on their way to being lost — cooking a meal from basic ingredients, how to bake bread, how to make do with what we have and be thankful for what we have. I hope we will have learned what the church really means — how good it is to come together as a body to worship and the new ways we have learned to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the community.

The choice is ours. We can go back to our old ways when this pandemic is over, or we can hit the reset button and choose to create a better world for our children and grandchildren. We can create a world that looks a little more like the Kingdom of God.
 –Mary L. Brooks Five Rivers LSM Director and Lay Leader
Marylbrooks6401@msn.com

Prayer for Reflection
God of Creation, you are making all things new. Thank you for the opportunity each day to start anew to work toward your vision of creation. Help us see things through your eyes and make the best of the opportunities you give us. Through Jesus, our example and redeemer. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
John 13:3-5 

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

Today’s Devotional

“Blessed Assurance” verse 1, no chorus — 21 seconds; “Mary Had a Little Lamb” verses 1 and 2 — 22 seconds; “Froggie Went a Courtin’” 2 verses — 33 seconds. In the midst of our current situation we are told to wash our hands, wash our hands, wash our hands. We should be lathering for 20 seconds. I find it helpful to sing a little ditty in order to keep track of the 20 seconds. These are some of the ones I use.

In John’s Gospel Jesus washes the Disciples’ feet. He probably did not time 20 seconds for each one. Per foot it maybe took longer, or maybe less time. And the time required was surely not the same for each one.
In the culture of his day such foot washing was an act of hospitality, of showing caring. Usually done by a servant, Jesus the Master was acting here as a servant. It does not matter how long it took for each one. Caring is what was important.
Then Jesus tells the group to do the same, to wash one another’s feet. He commands them to show care about and for each other. Washing one another’s feet would be a way of demonstrating love for each other and of spreading the Good News in the world.

We don’t wash the feet of our guests in this century. However, in our current situation washing our own hands is an act of caring. We protect ourselves through such washing from what we might have picked up on our hands. Also, we protect others by not sharing any germs we may have on those hands. I have witnessed (from afar) an incredible number of acts of caring and concern in this last month. As the people of God we are called to be leaders and guides in sharing such caring and concern, and thus in loving the world. On this Holy Thursday, let’s be sure we answer that call. Figure out what you can do to care for the world and to give the love of Christ to it. Then, go do it!

By the way, a verse and a chorus of “Jesu, Jesu” takes 23 seconds. Our prayer today is from that song.
-Dianne Tombaugh Retired Deacon dtombaugh@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

“Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.” Amen (UMH #432)

Today’s Lectionary Text
Isaiah 55:1-9 Ho, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
    a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
    and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has glorified you.Seek the Lord while he may be found,
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
    and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Today’s Devotional
Today’s text comes from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is warning the nation of Israel that they must repent of their sins and salvation is at hand. As I read the passage out loud, my heart resonated with a few specific verses. The first few verses in our passage Isaiah are calling those who do not have what they physically need, that even they are entitled to the God’s blessings and favor. Today, many of us can directly relate to not having what we need. When one goes to the grocery store and they see rations on everyday supplies such as meat, hand sanitizer and toilet tissue it can be disheartening to say the least.
 
As one who is healthy and has the means to go to the grocery store, I am privileged that I have more than others among me. Isaiah is sharing to the Israelites that God’s grace is open to all, especially the least, last, and the forgotten. When one does not have their basic human needs met, Isaiah can relate to them that Christ is coming for them. That we must hunger for more than what feeds the body (see Matthew 4:4). Christ is our Bread of life.
 
 As we pray that all will have their physical needs met, we rejoice knowing that Christ lived, died and resurrected for all. The Good News is that Christ is returning for all who believe in him and repent of their sins. I also resonate with verse six in that our time on Earth is limited. This seems very real right now. We must encourage our family and friends to seek the Lord before we no longer can.  Look to the skies, Christ is near! 
-Spenser M Johnson spenser.johnson@garrett.edu

Prayer for Reflection
Holy and loving God, thank you for providing us with more than we need. During this time of trials and tribulations we pray for the least among us. We pray that we may all share the blessings you have given us and help each other to survive. We pray for those who are spiritually malnourished. May we continue to preach your Word during this time.
In the name of the Triune God.
 
Today’s Lectionary Text
Mark 11:27-33 Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” They argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?”—they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Today’s Devotional
In reading this passage, we are once again surprised at how Jesus handled this situation.  Time and time again, he challenged us to question the status quo, usually using parables to make his point.  This time, when the religious leaders weren’t brave or insightful enough to give an answer either way, Jesus refused to give them the satisfaction of telling them who gave him the authority.  He had demonstrated his position repeatedly already, so there was no point in telling them this time.  “Make them stew on that for a while” I can almost hear him say.
 
These pious scribes and elders knew what stand they took (they did not believe Jesus was the Messiah, nor that John was a prophet with any merit), but they did not voice it out loud knowing that Jesus’ and John’s “fan club” as it were, wouldn’t take kindly to this public stance.  They were afraid of the crowd.
 
This brings to mind another situation that we often find ourselves in:  what public stance do we take, when it comes to our faith?  In this day and age, people are made to feel that any public proclamation of faith should be kept under wraps, so as not to offend or push upon others who don’t believe.  If nothing else, one stands the chance of being ridiculed with rolling eyes.
 
Is this what Jesus wants?  He was not shy about voicing the truth and neither should we be.  Of course, we don’t want to be offensive toward others.  But we can be a gentle, living example of what faith can do.  If someone asks why we have a serene confidence, we needn’t be afraid to say why.  Let’s not allow the small percentage of people who might criticize us discourage us from being a witness of God’s amazing grace.  After all, do we ultimately answer to the authority of man . . . or of a higher power?
 -Melanie Good Wellsville UMC 2014 Lenten Devotionals 

 Prayer for Reflection
Dear God, help us be brave enough to proclaim our faith and be a living witness to your word.  Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Matthew 18:12-14 

What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.

Today’s Devotional

The scene is an accident ward in a city hospital.  A young boy has been brought in who has been injured.

The record discloses that he was one of seven children, three younger than himself.   Their mother, alone, was their sole support.  The boys wounds were dressed and the lad was taken to a room.  A nurse brought him a glass of milk. 

The boy took a few sips from the glass and asked quite seriously, “How deep shall I drink?”  He had always been taught at home to save a part of his milk for the younger children. 

 As persons, as a church, and as a nation, we need to ask ourselves just how deep we should drink of the world’s privileges before we stop to share with others.

 Jesus’ one thought was of others.  He healed the sick, He fed the hungry, He prayed for others and also taught them to pray.  He didn’t leave anyone out.  His love was for all people.  And we must follow Him. -Glen Failor
Lyndon UMC
(From 1967 Lenten Devotion)

Prayer for Reflection

Our Heavenly Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus who taught us to share with one another. We pray that the love he has for us will strengthen our concern for others.  We pray that through sharing our talents with others, the door to Christ may be opened for those who have not yet found the way.  Amen.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY:
How deep shall we drink before we think to share.

Today’s Lectionary Text
Mark 11:8-10 Many people spread out their clothes on the road while others spread branches cut from the fields. Those in front of him and those following were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!”

Today’s Devotional
This, to say the least, has not been the usual Lenten season. Holy Week and Easter will not be quite what we are used to experiencing, either. On this Palm Sunday we won’t be waving palm fronds in sanctuaries or listening to cantatas sung by the church choir. But we can still shout “Hosanna” as we worship in our own homes. We can still cut small branches from whatever trees are available and display them on our doors or windows.

Most of all, we can, in the altered reality in which we now exist, live the faith we claim in the One who came in the name of the Lord. Even in this time of social distancing and self-quarantine, there are things we can do in the name of Jesus that can ease the discomfort of others. Have you checked on that neighbor you barely know? Does s/he need someone to pick up groceries – or just be a listening ear for a few minutes (from six feet away)? Maybe your neighborhood needs someone to organize a driveway dance party or a sing-along to boost morale – all from safe distances, of course. Or maybe you can provide food and sanitizing supplies for those who have lost their jobs and currently are without income, or lunches for children or the elderly. Whatever you can do to help ease the fears of others and bring a little joy and hope into the world shines the light of Christ into the world.

The people who lined the street that long-ago day, shouting their praise and waving branches had no idea what was going to happen within the following week. We cannot know when COVID-19 will cease to be a present fear in our lives. But we DO know that Holy Week was not the beginning of the end. It was, simply, the beginning.

 –Rev. Robbie Fall, retired Elder Hutchinson Kansas
rfall@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Holy God, this week, as we recall Jesus’ Passion, let us not forget that even in the darkness of fear, you are with us, and that at the end of it there is light, hope, and celebration. Amen.