Devotions

This page has devotions from the Great Plains District. It is written by laity, clergy, and many others. Enjoy!

Today’s Lectionary Text
Isaiah 58:1-12 (CEB)
58 Shout loudly; don’t hold back;
    raise your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their crime,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
They seek me day after day,
    desiring knowledge of my ways
    like a nation that acted righteously,
    that didn’t abandon their God.
They ask me for righteous judgments,
    wanting to be close to God.
“Why do we fast and you don’t see;
    why afflict ourselves and you don’t notice?”
Yet on your fast day you do whatever you want,
    and oppress all your workers.
You quarrel and brawl, and then you fast;
    you hit each other violently with your fists.
You shouldn’t fast as you are doing today
    if you want to make your voice heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I choose,
    a day of self-affliction,
    of bending one’s head like a reed
    and of lying down in mourning clothing and ashes?
    Is this what you call a fast,
        a day acceptable to the Lord?Isn’t this the fast I choose:
    releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,
    setting free the mistreated,
    and breaking every yoke?
Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
    and bringing the homeless poor into your house,
    covering the naked when you see them,
    and not hiding from your own family?
Then your light will break out like the dawn,
    and you will be healed quickly.
Your own righteousness will walk before you,
    and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and God will say, “I’m here.”
If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the finger-pointing, the wicked speech;
10     if you open your heart to the hungry,
    and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted,
    your light will shine in the darkness,
    and your gloom will be like the noon.
11 The Lord will guide you continually
    and provide for you, even in parched places.
    He will rescue your bones.
You will be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water that won’t run dry.
12 They will rebuild ancient ruins on your account;
    the foundations of generations past you will restore.
You will be called Mender of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Livable Streets.

Today’s Devotional
Isaiah’s text feels convicting.  I mean, how appropriate that the first text of the Lenten season, a season widely associated with fasting, should chastise us for attending to the wrong kind of fast. Lent is a season where pastors and churches kick into overdrive, where we have extra weekly services, and sometimes daily prayer services. It is a season that includes Holy Week where we can practically live at church for seven days if we are not careful. And the first text of this jam-packed season lifts up a people thinking they are doing right while actually forsaking the ordinances of God.  Now, I believe the Holy Spirit moves powerfully during many of those extra services and I do not think God is calling us to throw Good Friday, Maundy Thursday and Palm Sunday out the window. But I do believe God calls us to a balance of personal and social holiness. I hear the Holy Spirit ask us through the text, During this season of Lent, if you are not loving your neighbor with intention and if you are not helping loosen bonds of injustice, then from what do you need to fast to make those things a priority? And that question feels extra convicting because I have spent hours planning my Lenten sermon series, discerning a new Ash Wednesday service, and crafting a Lenten Commitment Card for spiritual disciplines, but I have not intentionally thought about how I will participate in and support God’s liberating movement in my town, my state, and our conference.  So today, as we remember that we are but dust and to dust we shall return, may we know God calls us to use our time between dusts with intention. May reflecting on our own mortality help us to see this Lenten season with fresh eyes. May we read the text of Isaiah and adjust our calendar or do something differently. And may we know God walks with us through it all. 
— Pastor Stefanie Hayes Ord First and Sargent First UMCs, Nebraska shayes@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Dear God, never let us forget that you walk with us, and you are there to help us live our lives with intention. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
1 Corinthians 3 (CEB)
3 Brothers and sisters, I couldn’t talk to you like spiritual people but like unspiritual people, like babies in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink instead of solid food, because you weren’t up to it yet. 3 Now you are still not up to it because you are still unspiritual. When jealousy and fighting exist between you, aren’t you unspiritual and living by human standards? 4 When someone says, “I belong to Paul,” and someone else says, “I belong to Apollos,” aren’t you acting like people without the Spirit? 5 After all, what is Apollos? What is Paul? They are servants who helped you to believe. Each one had a role given to them by the Lord: 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow. 7 Because of this, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but the only one who is anything is God who makes it grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters work together, but each one will receive their own reward for their own labor. 9 We are God’s coworkers, and you are God’s field, God’s building.

Today’s Devotional
Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!” “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.  – Emo Philips, The Guardian, 29 Sept 2005 

We may or may not chuckle at the joke, but we know at a deeper level that this human division is more often true than not. It seems that lines to divide are drawn often at our work, at our church, and in our homes and relationships. There seems to be a very real “us versus them” mentality. The us and the them is vague at times which complicates everything.  Whatever is in the future regarding divisions at any level, Paul encourages us to keep the main things the plain things. We need to not spend major time on minor things in our lives, work or church. We do not need to lose our First Love. This is not to say that divisions do not need to happen. But may they be seldom and only when necessary. A quote attributed to St. Augustine helps us out during times of division. “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” May we work together and guard each person’s dignity and save each one’s pride so they will know we are Christians by our love as we co-labor. Amen. 
— Pastor Bianca Elliott Linwood UMC, Kansas belliott@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
I’m (Jesus) not praying only for them but also for those who believe in me because of their word. I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. (John 17:20-21) Amen. 
Today’s Lectionary Text
Luke 6:27-38 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

Today’s Devotional
Perhaps you’ve never encountered some of the people I’ve encountered in my life. I’m talking about the people where I find myself saying (sometimes even during the encounter): “Lord, I’m glad you love this person because I’m having a tough time with her/him/them.”
 
There are people I am confident whose sole purpose in life is to try my patience, get on my last nerve or simply aggravate me to no end. These are the people who never use their turn signal, who use the drive-through when placing an order for 10 different people (who seem to keep changing their minds), or who use the 15 items and under line at the grocery store when they have 30-plus separate (no duplicate) items in their basket.
 
It is in these moments – that don’t happen that often – that I remember Jesus’ admonition to his first disciples to “love your enemy, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” as it reads in today’s passage. My real issue with any of this, if I’m honest, is a lack of control.. Something isn’t happening the way I want or expect it to happen; I’m not in control and I’m not happy.
   
Even when it seems that I have a complete lack of control, I need to remember that can still control myself. I can control my reaction(s) and my words. I can remember that the person making the turn without signaling – and putting others in traffic at higher risk – has been and will one day again be ME! I can remember that the person who absentmindedly got in the 15 items or less line — has been and will one day again be ME! I’m thinking you’re getting the picture by now.
   
I can remember … and I can be thankful for the people who have graciously extended grace to me when I have tried someone else’s patience, gotten on someone else’s last nerve or aggravated someone else to no end (no need to email me a reminder of any of those times).
   
I can remember, I can be thankful, and I can be the person who extends God’s grace in a moment when I have no other apparent control. I may start my “Lord, love ‘em” prayer with a bit of not-so-helpful attitude, but I can finish it with complete honesty, adding a prayer for God to help me be with this person, these people or in this situation in a grace-filled way.
 
As the 2019 Special Session of General Conference officially starts today, I am confident that there are quite a few people (including me) who have been and continue to lift some version of a “Lord, love ‘em” prayer in the midst of encountering someone who is “different.” My hope is that each of these prayers includes a remembrance of God’s love for all of creation and an openness to how God might use the speaker as an avenue of grace in a challenging moment.
— Rev. Karen Jeffcoat Registrar, Great Plains Board of Ordained Ministry
kjeffcoat@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Lord, thank you for the love and grace I have received. May I be an avenue of your grace, especially in the situations and with the people I find most challenging. Amen.

Editor’s note: This devotion was originally published on Feb. 24, 2019.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40 Don’t get upset over evildoers;
    don’t be jealous of those who do wrong,
    because they will fade fast, like grass;
    they will wither like green vegetables.
Trust the Lord and do good;
    live in the land, and farm faithfulness.
Enjoy the Lord,
    and he will give what your heart asks.
Commit your way to the Lord!
    Trust him! He will act
    and will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
    your justice like high noon.
Be still before the Lord,
    and wait for him.
Don’t get upset when someone gets ahead—
    someone who invents evil schemes.Let go of anger and leave rage behind!
    Don’t get upset—it will only lead to evil.
Because evildoers will be eliminated,
    but those who hope in the Lord—
    they will possess the land.
In just a little while the wicked won’t exist!
    If you go looking around their place,
    they won’t be there.
But the weak will inherit the land;
    they will enjoy a surplus of peace.

The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
    he is their refuge in times of trouble.
The Lord will help them and rescue them—
    rescue them from the wicked—and he will save them
    because they have taken refuge in him.Today’s DevotionalTrust the Lord and do good; live in the land, and farm faithfulness. Enjoy the Lord, and he will give you what your heart asks.

Psalm 37:4 is a very common verse. You may know it in a different translation: Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. It is often quoted as a word of hope and encouragement. However, as I’m reading these two verses in a different translation, the Common English Bible (CEB), I am especially struck by Verse 3: Trust in the Lord and do good; live in the land, and farm faithfulness. Remember, this is one of the psalms of David. He knew how important the land was to the people of God. He was the quintessential king of the United Monarchy, when Israel was establishing firm borders of the promised land for which generations had been longing. So, when David said in this psalm to “live in the land” and “farm faithfulness,” he’s inviting them to get comfortable … breathe deeply … stay a while.

Living in the land has a beautiful imagery to me. For the Israelites, it meant to put down roots (figuratively and literally), to cultivate the land, to trust God’s provision. For me, today, it means that I need to “live in the land” of my life now! It is often tempting to live for a time in the future, in the past, in one’s hopes and dreams, or even in one’s fears. But for me, living in the land means that I will embrace the kingdom of God that Jesus spoke about right here and now. I will embrace the promised abundance (especially of God’s grace), and the call to bring heaven to earth through living out God’s kingdom. I’ll live in the land as one who has inherited God’s blessing and not mourn what the locusts have eaten, or what I think I deserve to be given.

The second half of the sentence includes the admonition to “farm faithfulness.” I love the powerful imagery in this phrase in the CEB. Instead of farming animals or crops, one is told to farm faithfulness. It’s as if I hear the instruction: grow your ability to be true, diligent and obedient. Cultivate habits that enable you to trust God and be faithful in your relationships with God and others. When the weeds creep in, and they will creep in, do the hard work of love, forgiveness, perseverance, and giving and receiving grace. I’ve learned that certain practices help me in this pursuit. Prayer, study, meeting regularly with other Christians who seek the same things, intentionally seeking to engage with those most in need, and worship. These practices are my tools, my sustenance, and that which helps me to grow in faithfulness.

While it’s tempting to skip the farming part for the blessing part in 37:4, we just can’t. Our hearts must trust that God has our best interest at heart, that what we have is enough, that the suffering that we endure is not going to destroy us. And this trust is built only through farming faithfulness. Yes, I pray that that I would enjoy the Lord and that God will give me what my heart asks, but for today, farming faithfulness is enough.
 — Rev. Ashlee Alley Crawford Clergy Recruitment and Development Coordinator aacrawford@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
God, help me to show that I trust you by “living in the land” where you’ve got me now. Help me to “farm faithfulness” through my daily practices of love, acceptance, prayer, and building community. I want to truly delight in you all the days of my life. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Editor’s note: This devotion was originally published on Feb. 23, 2019.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 37 Do not fret because of the wicked;
    do not be envious of wrongdoers,
for they will soon fade like the grass,
    and wither like the green herb.Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.
He will make your vindication shine like the light,
    and the justice of your cause like the noonday.Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
    do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
    over those who carry out evil devices.Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
    Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For the wicked shall be cut off,
    but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more;
    though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.
But the meek shall inherit the land,
    and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.The wicked plot against the righteous,
    and gnash their teeth at them;
but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
    for he sees that their day is coming.The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
    to bring down the poor and needy,
    to kill those who walk uprightly;
their sword shall enter their own heart,
    and their bows shall be broken.Better is a little that the righteous person has
    than the abundance of many wicked.
For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
    but the Lord upholds the righteous.The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
    and their heritage will abide forever;
they are not put to shame in evil times,
    in the days of famine they have abundance.But the wicked perish,
    and the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures;
    they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.The wicked borrow, and do not pay back,
    but the righteous are generous and keep giving;
for those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land,
    but those cursed by him shall be cut off.Our steps are made firm by the Lord,
    when he delights in our way;
though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong,
    for the Lord holds us by the hand.I have been young, and now am old,
    yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
    or their children begging bread.
They are ever giving liberally and lending,
    and their children become a blessing.Depart from evil, and do good;
    so you shall abide forever.
For the Lord loves justice;
    he will not forsake his faithful ones.The righteous shall be kept safe forever,
    but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
The righteous shall inherit the land,
    and live in it forever.The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,
    and their tongues speak justice.
The law of their God is in their hearts;
    their steps do not slip.The wicked watch for the righteous,
    and seek to kill them.
The Lord will not abandon them to their power,
    or let them be condemned when they are brought to trial.Wait for the Lord, and keep to his way,
    and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
    you will look on the destruction of the wicked.I have seen the wicked oppressing,
    and towering like a cedar of Lebanon.
Again I passed by, and they were no more;
    though I sought them, they could not be found.Mark the blameless, and behold the upright,
    for there is posterity for the peaceable.
But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
    the posterity of the wicked shall be cut off.The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
    he is their refuge in the time of trouble.
The Lord helps them and rescues them;
    he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him.

Today’s Devotional
The German language has some wonderful words. One is “schadenfreude,” pleasure derived by another person’s misfortune. Today’s passage from Psalm 37 begins, I think, with a sort of reverse schadenfreude. Rather than pleasure derived from an enemy’s misfortune, it speaks of misery from an enemy’s success.In our hyper-partisan world, we seem to so often see each other as enemies. Major controversial decisions are treated like a zero-sum game where there must be a winner (hopefully our side), and loser (hopefully them).You could take today’s reading as a justification for such a mindset with its talk in verse 9 of the wicked being “cut off” while the “righteous inherit the land.” But I think that’s missing the point. We are called to trust in God and to know that when we trust, we can have confidence in a hopeful future. “Do not fret,” the scripture says in verse 8, “it leads only to evil.”In the coming days, as we witness a great deal of debate, as we are filled with anxious moments and thoughts or anger or fear, I hope we have the presence and courage to be patient and trust that God will indeed find a way.–Scott Brewer Treasurer/Director of Administrative Services sbrewer@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Gracious God, bless us. Bless our friends. Bless especially our enemies. Help us to remember that we are all your children. May we speak and act in the ways you call us to be. Amen.

Editor’s note: This devotion was originally published on Feb. 22, 2019.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Romans 8:1-11 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Today’s Devotional
Romans 8:1-11 is for me one of the greatest scriptures in the Bible. This scripture starts out by immediately doing the one thing that in my mind matters the most. It puts to rest the perceived burden of how we as Christian may perceive ourselves.

It is so easy if we are honest to be lulled into the trap of thinking that with all that we fail to do right and that which we fall short of in our daily walk that we are doomed for failure. But praise be to God that He puts our minds and most importantly our spirits at ease by telling us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

A burden has been removed from our lives not just for today or even tomorrow, but for all eternity. I don’t know about you but as for me what better news could anyone ever receive as one in Christ.

The very act of God sending Christ to be our ransom from sin proves beyond the shadow of doubt how much he loves us. How many of us would say yes I will send my very own son to pay the price for everyone? Look at what love did.

So then how do we as the beneficiaries of Christ’s sacrifice respond in kind? How then do we become the reflection of what Christ calls us to be?

It is I would surmise in the spirit intended. We are called to live according to the spirit and not to the flesh. We do so by virtue of our thoughts, words and deeds. Our thoughts are in synch with those of our heavenly Father and are called to be of the highest nature. The words of our mouths are a verbalization of what we think. And our deeds are an endorsement and verification of just what it means to be free indeed and to have our living and being in the spirit intended. 
— Alan Black, Omaha Clair Memorial UMC alantblack.com

Prayer for Reflection
In the spirit intended. May we continue to live not to ourselves but to the very one whose spirit is that of truth and love. Lord we ask that our lives be a mirrored reflection of you and that we share the good news that we are victorious because of you.  Amen.   

Editor’s note: This devotion was originally published on Feb. 21, 2019.
Today’s Lectionary Text
1 Corinthians 15:20-23 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

Today’s Devotional
One of the hymns I grew up loving and still do love it is, “Up from the Grave He Arose.” Robert Lowry wrote the words and music in 1874. (United Methodist Hymnal 1989)
Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior, waiting the coming of the day, Jesus my Lord! Up from the grave he arose, (he arose) with a mighty triumph o’er his (o’er his foes) he arose q victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever, with his saints to reign. He arose! (he arose) He arose! (he arose) Hallelujah! Christ arose!
Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my Savior, vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord!  Up from the grave he arose, (he arose) with a mighty triumph o’er his (o’er his foes) he arose q victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever, with his saints to reign. He arose! (he arose) He arose! (he arose) Hallelujah! Christ arose!
Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior, he tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!    Up from the grave he arose, (he arose) with a mighty triumph o’er his (o’er his foes) he arose q victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever, with his saints to reign. He arose! (he arose) He arose! (he arose) Hallelujah! Christ arose!     
                   
Yes, I know it is a few weeks before Easter but these are the scriptures in the lectionary for this time of the year. Yes, I know this coming Sunday is the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany. So, I asked myself, self why should I think of the resurrection of Jesus only during the seven weeks of Easter? To be perfectly honest with you my friends, I cannot come with a reason not to think about and honor our Savior for his coming back to life at any time of the year.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15: 20-23 (NRSV) 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 

The resurrection of Christ Jesus our Lord is a down-payment on our resurrection yet to come. I love this 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians because it is a treatise on the fact of the resurrection. He sees the resurrection as the impervious verification of our life after death.
Jesus came to earth as human being, teaching that the Kingdom of God was at hand. His message was one of love. His example has been the guiding light for the Church of Jesus Christ. There have been times, when we have failed to live-up to his example, but that doesn’t mean we are to stop trying to live-up to his calling.

We should never forget the words of Paul form 1 Corinthians 13: 13, So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (RSV) Resurrection and love, what better gifts for the Church to bring to a dyeing world and a hate motivated people. Thank you, Jesus, for bring these gifts to us a sinful people in need of your grace and healing.                — Rev. Dennis “Buck” Linton-Hendrick Harvard-Inland-Trumbull (Nebraska) UMCs

Prayer for Reflection
God of Love and Mercy, create within us new and loving hearts. As Saint John wrote in 1 John 1: 8 & 9 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (RSV)  In the name of our loving Savior we pray. Amen.

Editor’s note: This devotion originally appeared on Feb. 18, 2019.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Proverbs 2:1-15 My son, accept my words and store up my commands.
Turn your ear toward wisdom, and stretch your mind toward understanding.
Call out for insight, cry aloud for understanding.
Seek it like silver; for it like hidden treasure.
Then you will understand the fear of the LORD, and discover the knowledge of God.
The LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He reserves ability for those with integrity. He is a shield for those who live a blameless life.
He protects the paths of justice guards the way of those who are loyal to him.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice, as well as integrity, every good course.
Wisdom will enter your mind, and knowledge will fill you with delight. Discretion will guard you; understanding will protect you. Wisdom will rescue you from the evil path, from people who twist their words.
They forsake the way of integrity go on obscure paths.
They enjoy doing evil, rejoicing in their twisted evil.
Their paths are confused; they get lost on their way.

Today’s Devotional
People who know me are fully aware that I’m a “Star Trek” nerd. Actually, I’m into most things labeled science fiction. But “Star Trek” has always held a special place in my heart. Part of it is the logic shared by Mr. Spock.In the last movie with the original cast, “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” Spock has an exchange with a confused younger Vulcan named Valeris. Spock is trying to explain how to sort things out in what the movie portrays as a particularly puzzling time. The line goes something like: “Logic, logic, logic. Logic is the beginning of wisdom, Valeris, not the end.” Wisdom. Logic may start it, but how do we truly obtain it? The teacher in Proverbs 2 offers up one solution. The teacher implores the student to “turn your ear toward wisdom, and stretch your mind toward understanding.”In other words, we have to seek out wisdom. We have to be willing to stretch our minds to find it. And stretching our minds means we have to exercise our brains. Seeking wisdom without effort is — and I think Spock would agree with me on this — illogical.So, how do we seek wisdom? Verse 6 tells us that “The Lord gives wisdom; form his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” God gives us wisdom through God’s Word, that is the lessons taught by Jesus and the words contained in scripture.It seems simple, but it’s all about reading the Bible, and doing so regularly so you can gain perspective, discern what is written and reason for yourself what God is telling you through those words. Put simply: You can’t gain wisdom about God without spending time with God, in the scriptures provided to us.Lent begins in one short week. Often we talk about giving something up for Lent — usually something bad for us like sugar, soda or smoking. Why not this year add something, such as a reading plan for scripture each day during the Lenten journey toward the cross.As verse 10 says, “Wisdom will enter your mind, and knowledge will fill you with delight.” Sounds logical to me.
— Todd Seifert, director of communications tseifert@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Gracious God, give us clarity of thought and a heart for your Word during the upcoming Lenten season. Help us to create the habit of reading scripture, meditating on it, praying for your wisdom and then putting what we learn into action in the world today. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Matthew 5:14-16 You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.

Today’s Devotional
I love lighthouses. This love started as a teenager when my father took our family every summer for a week’s vacation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. One of my favorite memories is playing in the surf and sand in the shadow of the Cape Hatteras Light. Actually, the Outer Banks coast has six lighthouses: Cape Lookout, Cedar Island, Ocracoke, Cape Hatteras, Bodie Island and Currituck. Each is strategically located 40 miles from one another. Why? Because the nighttime beams from these lighthouses extend 20 miles along the coast. Ships and boats travelling at night along the coast and the dangerous waters of the Atlantic Shoals are never without a light to guide them. An ancient form of GPS long before GPS. Jesus says “we are the light of the world.” Like a lighthouse we are called to individually and together as a faith community to be a guiding light to humanity making its journey though sometimes dark, dangerous and rough times. An appropriate challenge for our times we are currently living in. In the midst of the darkness of me-first entitlement, the danger that come from disrespect and even hate towards the other, and our current culture of growing incivility – Jesus calls us to be a light of and for the world. We have opportunity to be a light of guidance and good news regarding another way to travel through life. The way of Jesus. For me that means to let my inner light of faith, hope and love as a disciple of Jesus shine continuously and broadly in the corner of the world in which I live.  Like an Outer Banks light, letting my light shine for at least 20 miles through my smile, words, actions and prayers. So how about you? Join the lighthouse effect of letting your light shine in this year of 2020. 
— Rev. Rick Saylor, retired pastor Clergy and congregational coach
Kansas City, Missouri

Prayer for Reflection
O God of all enlightenment. Give us your light of faith, hope and love to make our way through these difficult days of 2020. And then give us the courage and opportunity to let our inner light shine to others in the world through what we say and do. Let it be so. Amen. 
Today’s Lectionary Text
Luke 6:17-26 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
    for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now,
    for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
    for you will mourn and weep.“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

Today’s Devotional

“Watch your words, because words become things.” My grandpa always dropped these little wise, quippy sayings when he was instructing (or correcting) me as a child. Even as a kid, I knew that he didn’t mean that I could literally manifest a puppy or an ice cream cone with my words. I did learn, though, how wise his little saying was. That, indeed, where we direct our attention, our joy, gratitude, and praise, creates a powerful ripple in creation.

Luke’s retelling of the Sermon on the Mount (often referred to as the Sermon on the Plains) invites us to reflect on this picture of blessed people. As often as a young Christian, I read this as a list of characteristics to which I must comply: poor in spirit, meek, struggling, relishing my suffering. But that reading feels limiting and maybe even a little selfish. It takes away from the grander invitation of this story.

Instead of reading this as another tiny Christian box into which we must squeeze, what if it’s a story of Christ looking up at a community of people needing healing and longing to be raised up? What if it’s a story of Jesus showing us how to really see what is good and beautiful and pausing to bless it all? Really bless it — with held open hands, compassionate eyes, and a smile in our voice.

Instead of tearing down or turning inward, we can bless what is good, what is true, what is of GOD’s magically upside-down kingdom. It may mean that we bless what others curse or condemn. We celebrate and affirm what exists in the margins, seemingly unloved and unnoticed. And in doing so, we make the Kingdom even more real, experienced, and potent while we also diminish the power systems of the world.

I’m convinced that part of our transformational work — in the world and in the lives of each other — is to speak blessing into each other’s lives. This means seeing the truth and affirming the values of Spirit in each other. Because words become things. Not in a “woo-woo” way but because it all becomes more real when we say it out loud.

So come down from your mountain, my friends. What beauty and truth will you speak into the world today?–Jodi-Renee Giron Discipleship and Spiritual Life Director Lincoln Trinity UMC  jodirenee@trinitylincoln.org 

Prayer for Reflection
Lord, let us speak blessing into each other’s lives, seeking the truth and affirming the values of the Spirit in each other. Amen.

Editor’s note: This devotional originally appeared Feb. 17, 2019.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 1 Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

Today’s Devotional
The cottonwood is the state tree of both Kansas and Nebraska. The tree was important to European settlers as they came to the prairie, not because it was prolific, but because they were remarkable when they stood tall above the grass treeless plains. They became landmarks. They became places where people met to transact business.
 
The cottonwood seems an unlikely choice for prairie life, for it requires something which can be hard to find on the prairie — water. A mature tree can require hundreds of gallons of water a day. Those great cottonwoods marking the trail also often marked a source of water, for if that tree had grown to maturity its root system reached a point where it was able to constantly find water.
 
The Psalmist says those who follow God’s way are like trees planted by streams of water. I believe if we live our lives constantly being renewed by the living water offered us by God, not only do we grow and bear fruit; but like the cottonwood trees that marked the trails on the prairie, we can show the way to those who are following us.–Pastor Michael Turner Auburn, Kansas, UMC*

Prayer for Reflection
Holy God, as we seek to nourish ourselves in the love and grace you offer us every day, may our faith root us deeply so that we are always close to you. And as we grow, may our strength and maturity show others the way to the living waters you offer them. Amen.

* Editor’s note: This devotional originally appeared Feb. 16, 2019; Turner has added Topeka Grace UMC to his charge.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 1 

Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

Today’s Devotional

“Mama, is there a bad guy in this movie? What will happen to him in the end? Will he go away? Will he learn to be nice?”

Around our house, Saturday mornings often involve a pajama-clad screening of a classic Disney film. Our 4 year-old daughter loves the music, the magic and the brave heroines … but the moment a villain appears onscreen and begins to wreak havoc, she will inevitably launch into the line of questioning above. She is desperate for the assurance which the Psalmist gives us today — that the “good guys” will prevail, and that all will be set right in the end.

Fortunately for my tender-hearted girl, Disney movies always fulfill the promises of Psalm 1 well before the credits roll. The wicked perish and the good are protected, and everyone lives happily ever after. It’s beautiful and it’s easy; it’s the way things should be … and honestly, I find myself dreading the day when my daughter discovers that real life doesn’t always play by the Disney rules. When she discovers that sometimes the bad guys seem to win, and when she learns that peace and justice are not always delivered on our desired timeline.

When that day comes, maybe I’ll sit down and read Psalm 1 with her. I’ll assure her that even though the world can be messy and scary and uncertain, we have been called to follow in the Way that leads to life. I’ll remind her that hope and comfort can be found in the arms of God; that we won’t wither in despair if we plant ourselves deep in God’s goodness. And I’ll share with her the promise that all of us yearn to hear — that even when it looks like the bad guys are winning, and even when justice seems far away, the story isn’t over. I’ll tell my beautiful girl that when the world looks bleak and hopeless, that’s when we need to remember that the credits haven’t rolled yet. Evil will not triumph in the end, the moral arc of the universe will keep bending toward justice, and God’s Kingdom will continue to be built on earth as it is in heaven. (And that’s a happy ending worth singing about!)

–Rev. Emily Spearman Cannon
Auburn First UMC* 
Auburn, Nebraska

Prayer for Reflection

Watchful God, you cause the ways of the wicked to crumble and the fruits of injustice to wither on the vine. When we struggle to find hope, remind us that the story isn’t over, and that your will will be done. Amen.

* Editor’s note: This devotional originally appeared Feb. 15, 2019; Rev. Emily Spearman Cannon is now pastor of McPherson First UMC in Kansas.

Today’s Lectionary Text
1 John 4:10 (CEV) Real love isn’t our love for God, but his love for us. God sent his Son to be the sacrifice by which our sins are forgiven.

Today’s Devotional
Depending on when you read this devotion, Valentine’s Day is being celebrated around the world. Some people honor another on this day with chocolates, flowers and/or quality time with the person. Others will not have such a positive experience and may feel left out of all the love shared on this day. But whether a person celebrates this day or not, the fact remains that each person on the planet is loved by God … a lot.

Our verse for the day addresses love, real love. Not the love that is manufactured by Wall Street or hormones. Real love gives all, and the best, it has for another. Real love is sacrificial and holds nothing back. It does what is best for another and does what is needed or the other, no matter what.

This verse speaks to real love starting with God toward us. This love God has for us is not a love from lack as is the case so many times for humans. It is not a love to be returned as if it were some kind of business transaction. It is not a love that even needs to be reciprocated. Love simply gives for love’s sake.

The verse continues with what this love God has for us gives … His Son. If we stopped there with the verse it would be a quaint thought, a Hallmark moment, but it would be empty like a hollow chocolate cross. To be real or true love, it must give of itself sacrificially. And so, God gave His Son willingly and Jesus gave Himself willingly for us. Again, that is so sweet…but it is not what the verse states. God gave Jesus to die, to be a sacrifice, for us…for our sins (Romans 5:8). Now that is an impressive and humbling kind of love. It is said that someone asked how much Jesus loved them and He stretched out His arms on the cross and said, “this much.” Regardless of your position on the doctrine of Christ’s death on the cross, you can see clearly that this is a love that will not stop at anything to show itself. It is a tangible and memorable gift that not only is for Christ-followers now but will be our gift for eternity plus.

Now that is a real loving gift.
— Bianca Elliott, pastor Linwood UMC belliott@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Thank You, God, for not simply telling us how much You love us but showing Your love to the uttermost. Thank You, Jesus, for loving us that much too.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 119:1-8 Happy are those whose way is blameless; who walk in the law of the Lord.Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart,who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways.You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous ordinances.I will observe your statutes; do not utterly forsake me.

 James 1:12-16 Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived my beloved.

Today’s Devotional
It would be nice, wouldn’t it – blameless while enduring temptation! James points out that most of our temptations become temptations because we let them, and the Psalmist humbly asks God to not “utterly forsake” him.   In a recent sermon, I talked about how Hannah had given her preschool son, Samuel, to God as a reflection of how precious God was to her. I described how the apostle Paul had given up all he had worked and trained for as a Jew in order to serve the Christ he had come to love. I asked my congregation to write on a piece of paper one thing they could give to God that would express how much God was worth to them, possibly something that stood in the way of God being able to be reflected clearly to other people. We burned those pieces of paper as part of our worship that day. I had no idea how hard this would be until I did it myself.  In recent years, I have learned how to play games on my phone and tablet, and I have enjoyed playing them whenever I had a spare minute. But it had become a temptation that turned into an obsession, and that got in the way of my hearing and seeing God. I knew this. So, in front of a congregation who had no idea what was on my slip of paper, I choked up when I prayed over the flames. Only God knew that those games are gone – forever. But because that temptation has been dealt with, I am able to more fully seek God with my whole heart and more closely observe his statutes.  — Diana Webster, pastor 
Bushton UMC and Claflin UMC, Kansas 


Prayer for Reflection
Thank you, God, for not utterly forsaking us when we let our desires turn into temptations and our temptations into outright sin. Show us our failings and help us to seek you with whole hearts. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
1 Timothy 3:1-9 

The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once,temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil.

Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.

Today’s Devotional

These verses share a lot to unpack as overseers aspiring to live according to qualifications. Looking past the possible overwhelming list, what I love in this passage is that it pertains to everyone. In order to get close to these qualifications, we first focus on an aspiration to be Christ-like and ultimately reflect him as image-bearers in all that we do.

My personality gravitates towards qualifications and clear expectations primarily because they help me grasp what others want from me and what I can expect of others. It also sets the precedent for how to act in different situations. I am a rule follower, but more importantly I am a child of God. If I do not approach these verses with a heart of knowing God’s grace, I might wind up feeling like a massive failure. I have fallen short of these qualifications in my own strength, but through the Grace of God I may one day come close. Daily surrender and spiritual disciplines help me avoid the pitfalls and traps that are present.

We should feel encouraged, not discouraged, and so as you look into these areas within your life, I find it hopeful to remember the following: We are all overseers of the kingdom of God. We are all spiritual leaders. We are called to be caretakers of God’s church: but not by our strength alone! Praise be to God!
–Shane Warta
Coordinator of Lay Leadership

Prayer for Reflection

Heavenly Father, thank you for the clarity in which you instruct and qualify us. Thank you that we do not have to strive on our own, but that you are with us! Though we fall short you meet us where we are and see us even in our weaknesses. But you do not leave us there! Through the Word, body of believers, and your daily grace we push forward, desiring this noble task ahead of us. Amen.

Editor’s note: This devotional was originally published on Feb. 12, 2019.

Today’s Lectionary Text
Isaiah 6:1-8 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Today’s Devotional
The Bible is full of stories of people who are unworthy — people who didn’t think they were the right for the task that God has asked of them. They didn’t have the right background, the right knowledge, the right words, the right skills for the job ahead. But God chose them anyway. He chose them for that specific task at that specific moment in time.
 
Every job I’ve ever had, including the one I have now, didn’t fit my experience or exact skill set. I worked for a company that issued annuities without prior knowledge of what annuity was, I worked for a company that created and supported software for pharmacies despite having no knowledge about  coding or having a background in pharmacy other than picking up my own prescriptions. I came to the conference office with a lifelong background in being a United Methodist and a communications degree, but even with those qualifications this is a different type of work than I’ve ever done before.
 
We tend to put ourselves in boxes by what our strengths and weaknesses are, then look for opportunities that match. Stories like this one in Isaiah remind us that God doesn’t always call those who are equipped to do the work, but instead equips those who are willing to do the work.
 
When we start looking at new opportunities to serve as a chance to learn new skills, learn new things about ourselves and how we can help others then we will be ready to answer, “Here I am, send me!” when the call from the Lord comes.–Lisa Soukup Communications Administrative Assistant

Prayer for Reflection
Lord, help us to be ready when we are called to do things that aren’t in our comfort zone. Remind us that you will give us the tools we need to do your work. Amen.

Editor’s note: This devotional originally appeared on Feb. 11, 2019.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Isaiah 6:1-8 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;the whole earth is full of his glory.”The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Today’s Devotional
When I moved from rural Kansas to Los Angeles many years ago, I was overwhelmed, lost, lonely. It was, I think, the Holy Spirit that led me to look up churches in that monster of a phone book. I went to the nearest United Methodist Church that Sunday, and the people were so welcoming and healing, that I went back on Monday and asked, “Do you have something I can do?” The education director looked at me, a bewildered stranger, and said, “Vacation Bible School is next week. I’m sure we have work you can do.” On Monday I was helping make sandwiches. On Tuesday I was leading the lunch prep. On Wednesday the director asked me to help a teacher with a class. By Friday I was teaching the class. I was no longer lost and lonely.
 
 A few years later, I met a man named Jack, who was also lost, even though he and his family were attending the church I was working in. We had talked, and I was impressed with his biblical knowledge and his spirit. I asked him if he might try teaching an older elementary Sunday school class.
 
He hesitated, protested that he couldn’t do that, that he was not good enough. Finally, he said, “Most people don’t know this, but I’m an alcoholic. I’m not worthy to teach kids. I’ve considered joining AA, but I’m scared to try it.”
 
On some strange impulse, I said, “Do you drink on Sunday morning? Because I still need a Sunday School teacher.” Jack proved to be an excellent Sunday School teacher, and a month later he told me he had joined AA. “Thanks for believing in me,” he said. “It was the fresh start I needed.”
 
God heals in unexpected ways. An overworked church educator was my seraph. I was able to offer a cauterizing coal to Jack. I think God is calling all of us to be seraphs, so they, in turn, can say, “Send me.”
 –Jean Wilcox, Concordia (Kansas) First United Methodist Church

Prayer for Reflection
Lord, help me see, really see, those around me who need God’s touch, that I might be a channel for that touch. Amen

Editor’s note: This devotional originally appeared on Feb. 10, 2019.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Luke 4:42-44 

At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.

Today’s Devotional

Change is hard.

This time of year, many United Methodist pastors and churches receive news that shakes up their world. The Great Plains Conference website flurries with a new influx of activity. Disappointment and excitement, sadness and joy fill the air of our sanctuaries and jumps off the pages of our newsletters. It is appointment season.

In the United Methodist Church, pastors are “itinerant;” that is, they go where the Bishop appoints them. Since pastors are up for reappointment each year, they may stay at a church for as little as one year or serve there for many years.

I experienced this system first-hand as a preacher’s kid. From the time I was born until I graduated from high school, my father served in seven different communities (and has served in many others since). There were times when the moving and starting over broke my heart and filled me with anger. But then there were times after the dust settled, when new friends were made and new connections were forged, that I could see the strength in embracing the change.

I began noticing there was always new and different work to be done when we arrived at a church. No two appointments ever met my father with exactly the same challenges, and no two churches met my family with exactly the same opportunities. My father’s particular gifts and the church’s unique mission field met up in a way that allowed the Holy Spirit to do a new thing in that time and place. When we left, the following pastor would bring fresh gifts into that church, allowing the growth and ministry to continue.

I noticed the strengths these continual changes were forming in me. Following my father’s example, I learned to trust that God had a plan for us in each place we lived and that I could lean on God during any uncertainty. I learned to be resilient and adaptive, and to be in community with different kinds of people. I even realized that I actually like change! (Well, sometimes.)

I have now been a member of one church for nearly 14 years, having served as staff in different capacities for eight years. When the opportunity came for me to work for the Great Plains Conference, things were going well in my position at the church. I loved my job and there was great energy about my work. It didn’t make sense that I should feel moved to leave. But God was calling me to move on.

Now that I work for the conference, things are still going well back at the church. The person fulfilling my former duties has brought new ideas and made changes I would not have done, and this is a good thing! Holding on to my comfortable ways would not have allowed the Holy Spirit to do a new thing in that church. 

As members of mainline denominational churches, we tend to hold on to our old ways. We know this. We hold on in spite of, or because of, our changes in pastoral leadership. We are afraid to make changes in programming, staffing, music and interior decorating because we are afraid that something new might devalue what was done before. But we have to let go of that fear.

When Jesus is begged to stay in one place, he doesn’t keep doing the safe, comfortable thing, but responds, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.”

We may not be sent to other cities, as Jesus and many of our clergy are, but we are called to receive the Holy Spirit and follow its leading.

Change is hard. But it is good.
–Jayna McFarland
Great Plains Social Media and Web Specialist

Prayer for Reflection

In this season of change across our conference and across our denomination, help us to open ourselves to the calling of the Holy Spirit and allow You to do a new thing in ourselves, our churches and our communities. Amen.

Editor’s note: This devotional originally appeared Feb. 9, 2019.

Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 138 Of David.
I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;
    before the gods I sing your praise;
I bow down toward your holy temple
    and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness;
    for you have exalted your name and your word
    above everything.
On the day I called, you answered me,
    you increased my strength of soul.All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord,
    for they have heard the words of your mouth.
They shall sing of the ways of the Lord,
    for great is the glory of the Lord.
For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly;
    but the haughty he perceives from far away.Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
    you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies;
you stretch out your hand,
    and your right hand delivers me.
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
    your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
    Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Today’s Devotional
Even though I was expecting it, I was filled with fear when the doctor told me I needed surgery on my shoulder. While it may seem minor to those who have faced far worse medical news, for me it was a frightful new experience. You see, I have never had to deal with my own need for a surgical procedure. I imagined all kinds of things happening- none of them good. I was afraid I would have a heart attack or a stroke during the operation and wake up in Intensive Care in the hospital or worse. I started trying to do a Medical Power of Attorney online and raised the anxiety level of my children by making sure they knew where things were just in case. I was getting my ducks in a row. I was literally making myself sick with worry.A few days before surgery, I decided to sit down and play my piano, since I was sure I would not be able to for months. As I played the songs we used in worship last summer at Institute High School Youth Camp, the tears began to flow and peace flooded my soul. I had forgotten whose hand held me and that, no matter what happened, God would be there with me.We all have times we forget that God holds us in His hand and nothing can separate us. When that time comes for you, I hope you have music, scripture, friends- something or someone to remind you that we have an awesome God who holds us in the palm of His hand.–Mary Brooks Five Rivers Lay Servant Ministries Director
Lyndon UMC

Prayer for Reflection
Faithful loving God, forgive us when we let fear overcome our trust in you. Help us to live boldly, with peace in our hearts as we face all the things life throws at us, knowing we are always held in your hands. Amen.
Editor’s note: This devotional originally appeared Feb. 8, 2019.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Jeremiah 1:11-19 

The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?”

“I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied.

The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.”

The word of the Lord came to me again: “What do you see?”

“I see a pot that is boiling,” I answered. “It is tilting toward us from the north.”

The Lord said to me, “From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land. I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms,” declares the Lord.

“Their kings will come and set up their thrones
    in the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem;
they will come against all her surrounding walls
    and against all the towns of Judah.
I will pronounce my judgments on my people
    because of their wickedness in forsaking me,
in burning incense to other gods
    and in worshiping what their hands have made.

“Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Today’s Devotional

The word of the Lord came to me again: “What do you see?” Recently someone at work asked me if I saw the severely damaged billboard sign on my way to work that day — a sign for which this business was responsible for its construction. I said, “No, I didn’t see it,” and he said, “How could you miss it when you drive right by it!?” This was sort of a wake-up call for me that I really have not been paying much attention to my surroundings or details as I should. So I have been trying to notice things more with my surroundings, with people whom I talk to or see every day, little and big details. I’ve started paying more attention to the many variety of birds on my bird feeders, especially during this bitter cold weather. I have noticed how my cats have certain play times that they enjoy and now I enjoy watching them. I notice an edge or a strain in the voice of a friend or coworker now and take the time to gently find out why and provide support or just a kind word when needed. I’ve rediscovered the delight and warm feeling of spending just a little more time with thanking the waiter/waitress or calling a friend whom I’ve not seen in a while.

What do you see? Jesus was talking prophetically in this Scripture to Jeremiah, and Jeremiah responded to what he saw. Jeremiah responded to what he saw because he “saw” it with every part of his being; Jeremiah was attuned to Jesus.

Perhaps if we often asked ourselves, “What do I see?,” we would be more attuned to what Jesus really wants us to see not with just our eyes, but with our hearts, our souls, our very being. If we truly “see” what Jesus wants us to see, we will follow Him, trust Him, love Him, and see through His eyes. Then as Jesus told Jeremiah—and tells us today — “I am with you and will rescue you.” Amen and Amen. — Judy Attebery Certified Lay Servant
Nehawka, Nebraska, UMC judyat@windstream.net

Prayer for Reflection

Dear Jesus, In our times of trouble, our times of neglect, our times of goodness, help us to always know you are with us through it all. Guide our eyes and our hearts to see what you want us to see. Let us see each day the needs of those around us, the glory of your Creation we look at every day but perhaps don’t really see, and to show your Light and Love to all we encounter each day. In the Holy Name of Jesus, Amen.

Editor’s note: This devotional was originally published on Feb. 6, 2019.

Today’s Lectionary Text
1 Corinthians 13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Today’s Devotional
It’s one of the most powerful passages in the Bible and easily one of the most well-known; so much so I fear we read it with the casual dismissal of familiarity sometimes. But Paul was so overcome by his appeal to a divided Corinthian church that he, strategic thinker though he was, became a poet.
 
I grew up in the Church and have seen the redemption and the ugliness — both as a congregant and as a minister. I’ve seen people divide whole congregations over where the coffee is served or the song selection. I once believed these were tied to some higher moral issue that was worth a struggle. Or at least a strongly worded letter. And I dutifully showed up for worship, armed with Bible memorization and prepared to carry the cross into battle. I really do believe that I was a Christian then. I wanted to be good at it and get it right.
 
But it wasn’t until God called me into ministry and I met a group of leaders who loved me well –with relationship, tender acts of care, accountability dripping with hope for my potential — that I became a follower of Jesus. Jesus became real through the love I experienced from his followers and I really started to get why this love thing Paul waxes on about was so much more than a wedding reading or a “Yes, of course. But what about…” practice.
 
We don’t act loving because it’s a mission strategy or another neat way to grow the church. We love intentionally, honestly because it’s the bond that forms us as the Living Church across time. We rest in knowing that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God. Love really is that powerful.
 
As I grow less childishly innocent, the “right” choice is not always so clear. That’s when I choose love in word, deed, and truth. Even when it’s difficult. Even when I am unlovable or encounter the unloveableness of others — especially then. We see sometimes only in hindsight that these things remain: faith, hope, and love. Read the text again. May we all know and experience that the greatest of these is love.
 –Jodi-Renee Giron Discipleship and Spiritual Life Director
Trinity United Methodist Church, Lincoln jodirenee@trinitylincoln.org

Prayer for Reflection
Holy and Loving God, you have found countless creative ways to show us you love us and to invite us into loving each other. Love is so much more powerful than we sometimes believe or practice. When we find ourselves lost for the right thing to do or the right way forward, may your Spirit always bring us back to the poetic words of Paul. As we go into the world today, may all we meet know we are Christians by our love.

Editor’s note: This devotion previously appeared on Feb. 3, 2019.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Ruth 1:1-18 During the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. A man with his wife and two sons went from Bethlehem of Judah to dwell in the territory of Moab. The name of that man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the territory of Moab and settled there.But Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died. Then only she was left, along with her two sons. They took wives for themselves, Moabite women; the name of the first was Orpah and the name of the second was Ruth. And they lived there for about ten years.But both of the sons, Mahlon and Chilion, also died. Only the woman was left, without her two children and without her husband.Then she arose along with her daughters-in-law to return from the field of Moab, because while in the territory of Moab she had heard that the LORD had paid attention to his people by providing food for them. She left the place where she had been, and her two daughters-in-law went with her. They went along the road to return to the land of Judah.Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, “Go, turn back, each of you to the household of your mother. May the LORD deal faithfully with you, just as you have done with the dead and with me. May the LORD provide for you so that you may find security, each woman in the household of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.But they replied to her, “No, instead we will return with you, to your people.”Naomi replied, “Turn back, my daughters. Why would you go with me? Will there again be sons in my womb, that they would be husbands for you? Turn back, my daughters. Go. I am too old for a husband. If I were to say that I have hope, even if I had a husband tonight, and even more, if I were to bear sons— would you wait until they grew up? Would you refrain from having a husband? No, my daughters. This is more bitter for me than for you, since the LORD’s will has come out against me.”Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth stayed with her. Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is returning to her people and to her gods. Turn back after your sister-in-law.”But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD do this to me and more so if even death separates me from you.” When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her about it.

Today’s Devotional
I had not read the book of Ruth in quite some time until our church’s Bible Book Club recently decided to read both it and the story of the judge Deborah. I dubbed it “Girl Power Month.” The club reads passages from the Bible and then discusses them just as we would a new release on the nonfiction or even fiction bookshelves. The idea is to gain understanding by discussing the story.And oh, what a story Ruth is! This opening tells us the basics. A famine forces a family to relocate to foreign territory, in present-day Jordan. Once there, two sons marry two women, both Moabites. It means those women likely worshiped a false god named Chemosh. Still, these women are now part of a family descended from Abraham. But it’s a family thrown into turmoil when, over the course of about 10 years, the men die, leaving widows to fend for themselves — not a recipe for a high quality of life in the patriarchal ancient world.Naomi, the mother-in-law, tells both of the young women to go back to their families so they can be supported, but one of them, Ruth, refuses to leave her mother-in-law.A young woman in our book club made an observation that turned the lightbulb on inside my head: This desire for Ruth to stay with a woman she must have respected is a second love story in this book. Yes, this book is important because Ruth becomes the great-grandmother of King David. But Ruth’s marriage to Boaz and the critical progeny to follow don’t happen if first Ruth doesn’t make a strong connection with Naomi. Ruth says the words we hear recited so often in wedding ceremonies: “Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”It’s a beautiful relationship between two women who stick together through difficult times. And it’s an illustration about how relationships can lead people to the living God. In this case, Ruth vowed to follow the living God because of Naomi. Let’s all pray that we can make an impact on family and friends.
— Todd Seifert, director of communications tseifert@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Gracious God, we thank you for the example of Ruth. Help us to build relationships with neighbors, friends — even our family members — so that we may introduce them to the true, living God. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Hebrews 11:1-12 Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see. (v.1) By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out without knowing where he was going. (v.8)

Today’s Devotional
At times it is hard to live by faith. I want to see the future! I want to be able to make plans for the months and years ahead. I am guessing that a lot of you reading this are the same way. Knowledge of what lies before me brings me comfort and peace. Oh, if life was only like that!I also know what it is like to step out in faith, to take the risk, to not know. It makes me fearful, yet because I trust that God’s ways and plans are surer than mine, it is somewhat easier to make that step. The story of Abraham stepping out in faith has always brought me much peace and comfort. Abraham was obedient and left just as the Lord told him, and he was taken care of.For many in The United Methodist Church right now, there are more questions than answers. The fact remains that right now, this very day, we have no idea what is going to happen. There are no answers presently. I imagine that is the way it was for Abraham. I’m sure he had questions (who wouldn’t)!The power of the story is that (according to our scripture passage), Abraham didn’t stop and ask questions. The account in Genesis (chapter 12), is that Abraham listened, and then left! Faith is total confidence and complete trust.I wonder what the next several months would look like in the Great Plains Conference and in The United Methodist Church, if we didn’t ask questions? What if we just all remained obedient to the call to make disciples and transform our communities, states, nation and world for Jesus Christ. I believe if we all do this, then the outcome will be like the lyrics Kenny Chesney sings in my favorite country song:
Everything’s gonna be alright
Everything’s gonna be alright
Nobody’s gotta worry ’bout nothing
Don’t go hitting that panic button It ain’t near as bad as you think
Everything’s gonna be alright
Alright, Alright

 — Rev. Hollie Tapley Disaster Response Coordinator
htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
God, who knows all and is all, help us to obey You and know everything’s gonna be alright. Amen
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 42: 1 & 2  Just like a deer that craves streams of water, my whole being craves You, God. My whole being thirsts for God, for the living God. When will I come and see God’s face?

Today’s Devotional
There is nothing worse than to be really thirsty. The desire then sticks in my mind and that is all I think about. Try as I might to ignore it, I can’t! I may attempt to take care of the thirst by drinking a Pepsi (my go-to during disasters) or a Sprite with cranberry (if I’m close to Sonic), yet neither of those ever help. Nothing is going to be OK until I find some cold water to take care of that thirst.In life we often attempt to use substitutes to also take care of our thirst for what satisfies our soul. We can try whatever we want, yet nothing can take care of our soul except spiritual disciplines, corporate worship, and a rich, growing relationship with Jesus. Life likes to distract us, to feed our minds with things that hinders our peace and contented souls.Thomas Kelly writes: “Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a Holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return” (from “A Testament of Devotion”) Aren’t those words powerful and refreshing, like a cold drink of water? Whatever comes before us, whatever distracts us — is not powerful enough to take the thirst from our amazing inner sanctuary of the soul!I find personally that when I am doing soul work (which is daily), I don’t have to ask “when will I come and see God’s face? (v.2b)” When the thirst of my soul is satisfied with the Living Water, I see God everywhere! That is why my whole being thirsts for the living God, because I want to see Him.–  Rev. Hollie Tapley, Disaster Response Coordinator
htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
God give us soul eyes to see You always, in everything and everyone. Empower us to totally crave You, and You alone. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 15  A Psalm of David.
O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
    Who may dwell on your holy hill?Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
    and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
    and do no evil to their friends,
    nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
    but who honor those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
who do not lend money at interest,
    and do not take a bribe against the innocent.Those who do these things shall never be moved.

Today’s Devotional
When I think of someone who is blameless, my first thought is Jesus Christ.  This is an indisputable fact that our Lord not only lived a life without sin but made it possible by dying on the cross then rose from the dead three days later for all mankind to live an everlasting life by accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior.   

What about the day to day living that we experience?  As David spoke in Psalm 15.  Is it possible to approach the sacred tent or come near the holy mountain?  Our attitude toward the grace and promises of God are extremely important in our daily lives.  Yes, we have the freedom to make those choices of truth over lies, right over wrong to our neighbors, fearing and honoring the Lord over a vile person.  Keeping an oath even when it hurts, lending to the poor interest free and not taking a bribe.  Not being shaken in any situation is the mark of someone that is grounded in the Word of God.  
-Pastor Brad Zimmerman Bucklin UMC
bzimmerman@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Our gracious Father, we love and adore you and thank you for giving us an opportunity to serve you.
Today’s Lectionary Text
John 6:1-15 

After this Jesus went across the Galilee Sea (that is, the Tiberias Sea). A large crowd followed him, because they had seen the miraculous signs he had done among the sick. Jesus went up a mountain and sat there with his disciples. It was nearly time for Passover, the Jewish festival.

Jesus looked up and saw the large crowd coming toward him. He asked Philip, “Where will we buy food to feed these people?” Jesus said this to test him, for he already knew what he was going to do.

Philip replied, “More than a half year’s salary worth of food wouldn’t be enough for each person to have even a little bit.”

One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, “A youth here has five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that for a crowd like this?”

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass there. They sat down, about five thousand of them. Then Jesus took the bread. When he had given thanks, he distributed it to those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, each getting as much as they wanted. When they had plenty to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather up the leftover pieces, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves that had been left over by those who had eaten.

When the people saw that he had done a miraculous sign, they said, “This is truly the prophet who is coming into the world.” Jesus understood that they were about to come and force him to be their king, so he took refuge again, alone on a mountain.

Today’s Devotional

Five barley loaves and two fish – to feed the 5,000 who were in attendance. If this was before us today in our local churches, what would we hear? Possibly something like the following: “we can’t feed that many,” “we don’t have enough money,” “we don’t have enough people,” “Who is He (Jesus) kidding?” “Jesus is really calling us to do something like that?”

We may not be faced with feeding the 5,000, yet we are faced with creative ministry in these uncharted territories ahead of us. Knowing that, we have the unique opportunity to join with other local churches in our networks so that we may share the ministry of transforming the world for Jesus Christ. (Point of information here: all of our Great Plains Conference local churches are placed into networks within your particular district for shared ministry opportunities and resourcing one another.) I’m guessing several of you may still be thinking, “no way.”

“Yes way!” The miracle that day was through the hands of Jesus. As Jesus took the bread and fish into His hands, He began the powerful work of multiplying. No money, no sending the disciples to borrow money, just by the use of His hands Jesus made ministry happen.
We may be limited with finances and or resources, yet when we join with others, that produces opportunities for pooling together what each church and/or individual has to offer. As we join together and become creative, new ideas emerge and new opportunities are provided. In this passage, Jesus provides us with permission and authority to do ministry different than we are used to. I like that about Him!
-Rev. Hollie Tapley Disaster Response Coordinator
htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

God of powerful hands and creative minds, join us together with other local churches and individuals so that we might be creative as You are. Thank you for radical ways of touching so many people. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text
Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.

Today’s Devotional
One of the things I have taken notice of over the past couple of months is people seem to not be motivated. I keep hearing, “we just need to wait and see,” “that’s not for us,” “why should I try that?,” “it’s just another thing to do.” Driving back from Nebraska last week I was pondering these words that I’ve heard. As the sky begin to darken at the end of the day, I found myself asking God, “is that the problem … our lives and motivation have darkened, like the end of the day?”

I was returning from meetings with our Disaster Case Managers, Orders & Fellowship, and the Nebraska Governor’s Recovery Task Force Meeting, and my mind was shooting off in so many directions. So much happening on all paths! Homes still needing much work, projection of “widespread record flooding for this spring” (National Weather Service and Nebraska State Office of Climate), Asset-Based Community Development, Readiness 360, Fresh Expressions, Disaster Early Response Trainings, Connecting Neighbors, Active Shooter Awareness Training, Until Help Arrives, Stop the Bleed Trainings, Great Plains & UMCOR Disaster Response Training.

Motivation – as I continued my drive, a white van pulled up next to me, rolled down their windows and the passengers started waving to me. I rolled down my window and waved back. I have no clue who they were, just figured they recognized the Great Plains United Methodist Disaster Response logo on the truck and were just being nice. Motivation – just as a small raw of sunshine appeared for a very brief moment, I was renewed. All of the needs, words, programs, meetings reminded me of the passion God has given me for this ministry and for the Great Plains Conference. All of those “things” that carried me down so many paths of wondering, are tools. Tools to make disciples for Jesus Christ – now that is motivation!-Rev. Hollie Tapley Disaster Response Coordinator
htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Creator God, empower us to motivate each other for Your work. It’s all about You! Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 119:49-72  Remember your promise to your servant,
    for which you made me wait.
My comfort during my suffering is this:
    your word gives me new life.
The arrogant make fun of me to no end,
    but I haven’t deviated from your Instruction.
When I remember your ancient rules,
    I’m comforted, Lord.
But I’m seized with anger because of the wicked—
    because of those who abandon your Instruction.
Your statutes have been my songs of praise
    wherever I lived as an immigrant.
Lord, I remember your name at nighttime,
    and I keep your Instruction.
This has been my practice
    because I guard your precepts. The Lord is my possession.
    I promise to do what you have said.
I’ve sought your favor with all my heart;
    have mercy on me according to your word.
I’ve considered my ways and turned my feet back to your laws.
I hurry to keep your commandments—
    I never put it off!
Though the wicked have surrounded me with their ropes,
    I haven’t forgotten your Instruction.
I get up in the middle of the night to give thanks to you
    because of your righteous rules.
I’m a friend to everyone who honors you
    and to all who keep your precepts.
Lord, the world is full of your faithful love!
    Teach me your statutes! You have treated your servant well,
    Lord, according to your promise.
Teach me knowledge and good judgment
    because I’ve put my trust in your commandments.
Before I suffered, I took the wrong way,
    but now I do what you say.
You are good and you do good.
    Teach me your statutes!
The arrogant cover me with their lies,
    but I guard your precepts with all my heart.
Their hearts are unfeeling, like blubber,
    but I rejoice in your Instruction.
My suffering was good for me,
    because through it I learned your statutes.
The Instruction you’ve given to me is better
    than thousands of pieces of gold and silver!

Today’s Devotional

Protocols, plans, amendments, different sides, new groups, new denominations, and on and on – enough to make me want to scream! Nones, Dones, Unchurched, Dechurched, and on and on – enough to make we want to scream! Republican, Democrat, Independent, and on and on – enough to make me want to scream!

What has happened to me? To all of us?

For many years my daddy taught me by his example of life what it means to be a person of integrity, compassionate and caring. As a child and youth, I truly believed that all people were taught the same values. I really thought that all people treated one another with respect and never judged one another for what they thought or believed. I will never forget the day that strong belief came tumbling down and I saw jealousy, disrespect, and watched a “so-called” person of faith derail my personal beliefs in humanity.

I can’t help but think with all that is going on before us that these distractions are an attempt to derail us from the people God has called us to really be. Distractions that draw us away from integrity, compassion and care for each other. TRUE integrity, compassion, and care – not just saying we are living with those qualities, yet truly living that way from the core of our soul. 

Wonder what it would look like if we put all these distractions behind us and got back to the core of what it means to be people of faith? I really like that thought!!!! Just think – living a life of integrity, compassion and care would call us to live out the words of Matthew 28: 19 therefore, go and make disciples of all nations. That is what it’s all about anyway!

-Rev. Hollie Tapley Disaster Response Coordinator htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
God of us all, help us to get rid of the loud distractions that keep us from focusing on Your commandment to make disciples of all people. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
2 Corinthians 7:2-12 

Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.

For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. So even though I wrote to you, it was neither on account of the one who did the wrong nor on account of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are.

Today’s Devotional

I think Paul is walking a fine line with the congregation in Corinth with this passage. Clearly, his first letter to the Corinthians caused some hurt that resulted in some sort of backlash. Paul knows that some people apparently took offense, and he’s trying his best to explain in a loving way.
As part of his explanation, he tries to emphasize his love for the people. Paul’s associate Titus has provided a good report about the workings of the church and about the congregation’s desire to make amends.

Paul could have rebuked the congregation further, and doing so may have driven a wedge deeper in their relationship. Instead, he decides to tell them how happy he is that they want to reconcile, and instead of ignoring what has happened — kind of a “you deserved it” statement via silence — he says he is sorry that the letter brought them sadness.

But the emotions take a quick swing from sorrow to joy — gladness that his first letter caused them to change. He wants to be clear that he didn’t send the first letter merely to criticize them but to bring about what he calls “godly sadness.”

Doing so produced a change of heart and a change in behavior that leads instead to salvation and, in this case, a restored enthusiasm.
Nobody likes to be told they’ve done something wrong. We prefer to be praised than to be criticized.

But I’ve found — first as a newspaper and website editor and now as a communications director — that constructive suggestions every now and then help me improve, just as they did to the church in Corinth.

Paul approached his response from a standpoint of love and respect. The church responded. It’s a good example for us to follow.

  — Todd Seifert, director of communications
tseifert@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Gracious God, we know sometimes we fall short and need to be corrected. Please bring people into our lives who can do so lovingly and who will be partners with us along the path. Amen.

*Devotion republished from 1/29/19

Today’s Lectionary Text
Micah 6:6-8 “With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

 Matthew 5:1-12 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Today’s Devotional

How do I live today? Each day? Do I know how I need to be? When did I learn that? 

Yes, I can do things like brush my teeth, take a shower, prepare our meals, make the bed. Somehow, I learned those things as I grew up. Then, I passed those skills on to my children.  

But, how do I treat others? What’s my attitude? What do I consider important? Where does my heart need to be? 

The answer to these latter questions is highlighted in Micah and in Matthew, today’s readings. Matthew notes the blessing, or happiness, that comes with showing mercy or, in words used by Micah, in being kind. How hard is that? We can be kind by smiling at someone on the street, or by asking about and then listening to another person’s account of his or her day. However, it does not seem like the world today values such behavior. Aah — but God does. 

What about spreading peace or doing justice? Once again, it seems like the world does not value justice; it does not care if peace even exists, let alone abounds, especially not if justice or peace requires one to put something other than “me” first. 

Justice and peace are big words, huge concepts. These are not something one can just bring about, even if one desires to do so. Yet one can take steps along the path to peace. Guarding our words, our tone, our manner takes just a little extra effort. If we are careful in these parts of our own living, we can create an atmosphere of peace and thus move the world just a bit further down the road toward peace. If we take advantage of opportunities to speak up for those whose voice is rarely heard, and as we defend efforts to fill everyday needs — for food, for shelter, for medical care — and as we make those efforts over and over and over, we will help clear a path toward bringing justice to a world that is not especially fair or in which what is truly righteous rarely prevails. It can happen, with even one small step that fits into our daily “to dos”. 

What helps as one attempts to treat others with kindness and caring every day? Or, what facilitates being clued in to and acting upon opportunities to create a world where peace prevails and righteousness reigns? Many days I’d rather just make my bed, cross vacuuming off the “to do” list, and then do what’s fun and feels good for me. But as I move through the first hour or so of my day, with quiet all around (that’s what works for me) God’s presence permeates my consciousness. Yes, I do ask to become aware of just how very present God is around me and in my heart. I have to be willing to adopt a humility and acknowledge my poverty of spirit. Each of us must find the willingness to start, to take the next step on the journey. 

Let’s each open our eyes and ears and hearts this day. We might stumble upon opportunities to be kind — maybe take a jar of peanut butter to a food pantry or sit and visit with a scruffy-looking bus rider. We could quiet our individual souls with softly-playing hymns or with rap music that create a cacophony of sound. Let’s each do what works for us and brings us more deeply in touch with our God. Perhaps we can each walk with God throughout this day. 
 –Dianne Tombaugh Retired Deacon dtombaugh@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Empower me to put myself after, to act for justice, to love with kind deeds, and to walk humbly with You, Holy One. Amen. 
Today’s Lectionary Text
Matthew 6:16-18 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Today’s Devotional Reading
Matthew 6 has been a fascinating experience especially as I learned in depth the meaning and power of fasting. Fasting, going on without food in order to spend time in prayer, is noble and difficult. Most people talk about it, practice the spiritual discipline, and yield some spiritual fruits. Fasting brings a spiritual refreshing and strengthens the soul when done orderly and accordingly. Some Christians are hesitant to fast, yet it’s a powerful way of connecting with God. Fasting is connected to the secret place where we enter the inner chamber in prayer. Therefore, prayer and fasting are the hands in gloves.

I learned through the scriptures that fasting gives us time to pray, teaches self-discipline, and abstaining from fleshly desires. Now, in the scriptural context, Jesus was not condemning fasting, but the hypocrisy done by the Pharisees. Within the scripture Jesus highlights people who fast in order to gain public approval. “And when you fast, do not look gloomy and sour and dreary like the hypocrites, for they put on a dismal countenance, that their fasting may be apparent to and seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full already.” (Matthew 6:16) 

The Pharisees voluntarily fasted twice a week to impress the people with their holiness. But I wonder what Jesus meant when he said, “But when you fast anoint your head and wash your face.” (Matthew 6:17). This shows a distinction between the hypocrites and those who fasted from the heart. “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me, with all your heart with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning, and rend your hearts and not your garments.” (Joel 2:12-13). The true believer fast from the heart and returns to God sincerely while the hypocrites fast to be seen by men.

 Anointing the head was common in ancient times. It was customary for people to anoint their heads during meals. It was like a person using deodorant. Oil was a basic part of sitting down together for a meal, and the Pharisee had been inhospitable by not providing any. So, Jesus said, “anoint your head, or put oil on your head.” The head denotes to thinking process during the fasting and praying. Some people struggle when fasting, but the oil seals the fasting as one focus in prayer. We are not to showcase the fasting by being downcast but to be grateful, prayerful, and cheerful. Our out wide appearance has to be anointed with oil and faces have to be washed as usual yet within secretly connected to God.

Lessons learned about fasting. Fasting is the humbling of soul, done in secret as one seeks God in depth.Fasting and prayer are intertwined and yield spiritual results when done instructively and accordingly.Fasting calls for total endurance and self-discipline to align our souls more to God.-Rev. Ever Mudambanuki United Church of Bennington and Soloman Yoked Parish EMudambanuki@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
O God, teach me to practice self-denial and self -discipline in my spiritual journey. I will not fast to be seen by men but to be rewarded by you my God, Amen
Today’s Lectionary Text
2 Corinthians 7:2-12 

Make room in your hearts for us; we have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. I often boast about you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with consolation; I am overjoyed in all our affliction.

For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted in every way—disputes without and fears within. But God, who consoles the downcast, consoled us by the arrival of Titus, and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was consoled about you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it (though I did regret it, for I see that I grieved you with that letter, though only briefly). Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance; for you felt a godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves guiltless in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong, nor on account of the one who was wronged, but in order that your zeal for us might be made known to you before God.

Today’s Devotional

Like many children, I grew up with the little nursery rhyme “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” It was a catchy response to the taunts and teasing that children naturally do, unless they are taught better. The truth is, words often hurt more than the sticks and stones. Bruises from physical wounds soon heal, but the wounds from carelessly spoken words, or words spoken in the heat of anger, can create wounds in our souls that linger for years.

And yet, as followers of Christ, we are called to “speak the truth in love.” And what is truth? It is the question Pilate asked of Jesus. When we speak, are we speaking God’s truth or our own? When we quote scripture, are we speaking to build up or are we using the Bible as a weapon to win an argument? In the coming months, as we digest and discern around the seeming inevitable split in our denomination, may we be especially mindful of the ability of our words to hurt as well as heal. We will not all agree but we can all be kind and loving with one another. There will be some in our congregations that will feel called by their beliefs to go a different direction from us. I hope we can show them the love of Jesus, even as we continue to pray for unity for all believers — one Lord, one faith, one baptism.-Mary L. Brooks
Five Rivers District Lay Leader/LSM Director

marylbrooks6401@msn.com

Prayer for Reflection

God of all, remind us we are all one family. Help us to avoid the sin of trying to use your guidance to tear apart rather than build up the body of Christ. Be with us as we struggle through these difficult times and remind us we are called to be peacemakers in a world already filled with strife and contention. In Jesus precious name we pray. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text
1 Samuel 17
Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. Saul and the Israelites gathered and encamped in the valley of Elah, and formed ranks against the Philistines. The Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons. In the days of Saul the man was already old and advanced in years. The three eldest sons of Jesse had followed Saul to the battle; the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. David was the youngest; the three eldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening.

Jesse said to his son David, “Take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers; also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand. See how your brothers fare, and bring some token from them.”

Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.

All the Israelites, when they saw the man, fled from him and were very much afraid. The Israelites said, “Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. The king will greatly enrich the man who kills him, and will give him his daughter and make his family free in Israel.” David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” The people answered him in the same way, “So shall it be done for the man who kills him.”

His eldest brother Eliab heard him talking to the men; and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David. He said, “Why have you come down? With whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart; for you have come down just to see the battle.” David said, “What have I done now? It was only a question.” He turned away from him toward another and spoke in the same way; and the people answered him again as before.

When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul; and he sent for him. David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!”

Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”

When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him; then he cut off his head with it.

When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. The troops of Israel and Judah rose up with a shout and pursued the Philistines as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron, so that the wounded Philistines fell on the way from Shaaraim as far as Gath and Ekron. The Israelites came back from chasing the Philistines, and they plundered their camp. David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem; but he put his armor in his tent.

When Saul saw David go out against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is this young man?” Abner said, “As your soul lives, O king, I do not know.” The king said, “Inquire whose son the stripling is.” On David’s return from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with the head of the Philistine in his hand. Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”

Today’s Devotional

One of my favorite stories in all of scripture is that of David and Goliath. As a child, I loved the story so much because of its plot about how an evil giant of a man was defeated by the “little guy.” But as an adult, I came to realize there is so much more to the story.

David’s brothers are engaged in battle with the Philistines. It is a brutal battle. The Philistines are well equipped and well trained. It seems as if little or no progress is being made, at least from the Israelite side. 
 
Young David, who has stayed home to help with the family farm, is eager to join the battle. His King, Saul, gives in a little and says he can join the battle but must wear armor – the King’s armor – and be armed with the King’s sword. But, after trying it on, David realizes that the armor is too big; he cannot move quickly while wearing it, he cannot wield such heaviness. He decides to fight without it, much to the chagrin of his King. 

Meanwhile, back on the battlefield, in a last-ditch effort to end the battle, the  Philistines send out their biggest and best warrior, Goliath, a massive man with the track record of no losses on the field. At the same time Goliath is being sent to the field, David shows up to bring his brothers some supplies from home. He hears the jeering and challenges of Goliath: 
 “Send out your best fighter! Is there no one brave enough to face me?”

 It’s more than David can take. He steps to the banks of a creek, picks up five small stones and reaches in his pack for his only weapon, a slingshot…something he uses certainly almost daily as a defense against wolf attack as he watches his father’s flock.
 
 As his brothers look on in disbelief, David steps toward the battlefield where Goliath awaits. In shock, they plead with their brother not to do it. “The giant will crush you, David! You have no weapon to defend yourself: no sword, no spear. Don’t do it!”
 
 To which I like to think David replies, as he holds out his hand showing the five small stones: “I go forth the face the battle of this day with what little I have and my faith in God.”
 
 We know how the story ends. David is victorious. The threat is defeated.
 
 Would that we could all live by David’s words: “I face the battles of this day with what little I have and my faith in God.” 
 
 Victory would always be within our grasp. -Rev. Dyton Owen
Halstead First UMC
dowen@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Great God, remind us of your love and faithfulness as we face the challenges of today. Guide our lives to fulfill your plan for our lives, our communities and our church. Make is so.

*Devotion reprinted from 1/22/19
Today’s Lectionary Text

Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
    I am exalted among the nations,
    I am exalted in the earth.”

Today’s Devotional

Anxiety is something I have lived with for a good part of my adult life. A little voice in the back of my head questioning each thought and decision. It’s funny as I look back the things and events anxiety made me worry about.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, the doctor who gave me the news offered to increase my anxiety medication. I deferred knowing I could call at any time and have it increased. Going through all the preliminary testing, 16 rounds of chemo over 20 weeks and now preparing for surgery, I’m amazed at the sense of peace that has become a part of my daily life. The small badgering voice has retreated and quiet has replaced it.

Over the last few months instead of pushing myself I’ve learned instead to listen. The need to do more, more, more has morphed into do what you can. In a world that constantly tells us to do more, be busy, and if you aren’t stressed you aren’t doing enough, I’ve been able to sit back, push back and even say no, something I wouldn’t have dreamed of being able to do before.

My hope is that when this trial is through I don’t revert to my anxious, busy ways. I hope to take the lessons of treatment and keep the sense of peace that it unexpectedly gave me. Cancer may have redirected my life for five months, but it taught me many things, introduced me to amazing medical professionals, given me a sense of peace, and has allowed me to draw closer in my faith. In forcing me to slow down I have a new appreciation for entering His presence in stillness and knowing He holds me near.

 -Lisa Soukup Communications administrative assistant
lsoukup@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Heavenly Father, thank you for your patience with us. Help us to see the need to slow down before we are forced to do so. Draw us near to you and help us to be comfortable in the stillness.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 19:1-6 To the leader. A Psalm of David.The heavens are telling the glory of God;
    and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
    and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
    their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
    and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them;
    and nothing is hid from its heat.

Today’s Devotional
One of the benefits of moving to Kansas from Arkansas almost three years ago has been enjoying a big sky. Having lived either in the foothills, or smack dab in the middle, of the Ozark Mountains for many years, I never had a good view of the sunrise or sunset. It was always blocked by mountains and trees. Now the awe-inspiring beauty of both is something to which I hope I never become accustomed. As Psalm 19 explains, they really do tell of the glory of God and proclaim the work of God’s hands. Chis Tomlin refers to it in his latest song as “a love letter in the sky.”

Some days as I drive over a ridge only to be confronted with a sky dressed in orange and pink and gold, I even say out loud, “Now you’re just showing out, God!” But I know that God goes to great lengths to reach me and everyone else and the message is the same, displayed right there in the heavens for all to see: “I love you!”-Donna Ernest
Congregational Excellence Administrative Assistant

dernest@greatplainsumc.org
Today’s Lectionary Text
Matthew 6:7-8 

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Today’s Devotional

I kept on reading Matthew 6 and discovered the secret of praying specific prayers. What exactly do I need to pray for and how do I present my prayer requests before God? What did Jesus mean when he said, “And in praying do not heap empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they are heard for their many words.” The verse denotes to a person already in the secret place communicating with God. The question is how we present ourselves and petitions before God. Jesus teaches us to specify our prayers and lessen multiply words. This calls for an orderly presentation before God. God wants us to bring our specific prayers with intention and purpose. Jesus teaches us that God values those specific prayers and disregards all empty phrases or multiply words, meaning (repeating the same ones over and over) as the Gentiles do, for they think they are heard for their much speaking.” (Matthew 6:7). This takes back to my family prayers some decades ago.

My daddy was prayerful and loved to sing during the evening devotions when he was home. His prayers were powerful but very short and to the point. We used to laugh at his prayers and the way he sung during family devotions. We talked about his specific prayers as children but learned that he was right on track. One day he asked me to pray as we were praying for the new year and school year. I prayed a long prayer repeating words over and over again. Daddy was a man of wisdom. He later sat me down and taught me the way Jesus taught his audience in Matthew saying, “Ever Vennah, people will sleep if you keep this method of praying. Remember, your heavenly Father knows everything before you even open your mouth in prayer. Just be specific when you prayer.

Truly speaking some prayer warriors would be disappointed by this teaching because they would be thinking of persistence in prayer like the widow in (Luke 18:1-8).

Indeed, we have to be persistent in prayer with purposeful and focus when praying. The widow was very specific when she went constantly to the judge without weaving and in a few words saying, “Vindicate me against my adversary.” (Luke 18:3).

Saints, this widow was specific in her persistence. She never heaped many words but had one prayer point or focus, sought justice from her adversary.
Therefore, Jesus is teaching us to:
1. Write our specific prayer requests or desires within our hearts and present them orderly and accordingly before God.
2. To pray knowing that God already knows our heart desires and purpose of our prayers. “Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.” (Isaiah 65:24)
3. To journal our prayers as we connect to God.

It is a great moment to pray during that sweet hour of prayer. God listens to us as we also listen to him.
-Rev. Ever Mudambanuki United Church of Bennington and Soloman Yoked Parish EMudambanuki@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Teach me to be specific in my prayers O God. Listen to my prayers and answer me according to your will. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
    I am exalted among the nations,
    I am exalted in the earth.”

Today’s Devotional
Looking around us we see on a daily basis a constant swirl of activity. How often while you are on your way to work do you see people driving and texting or looking at their phones simultaneously? Not to mention even as people are walking at work or in the grocery store they are on their phones.

For some maybe it’s the headphones that they sport throughout the day. It would seem that during the course of a 24 hour day there is rarely a moment when we or others are not busy doing something. It is almost like a mantra that you have to be doing something every minute of the day. 
If by chance we were to ask someone what you do in your quiet moments there might be a look of puzzlement on their face. The very thought of being quiet or doing nothing is for so many a foreign concept.

A part of each day calls for us to be still. To be still would mean to step away from the busyness of being us. To stop and be still and make it a point to pause and show appreciation.

Be still and know that he is God. God who blesses each of us beyond measure. God who is very reason that we have the opportunity to go about being busy to begin with.

Least we think it’s all about us, just a reminder. The very air we breathe is because of our heavenly Father. Our very being is because of him. On a daily basis let us exalt him among the nations and throughout the earth. How great is our God!    
-Alan Black Omaha Claire Memorial ab55@cox.net
Prayer for Reflection
Heavenly Father help us to embrace our need to be still. To make time throughout each day to say Lord it’s our time. And during our time grant me the privilege to exalt you among the many, and thank you for all that you do. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
John 1:40-42 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

Today’s Devotional
Have you ever doubted you had made any difference in the world? Remember the recent devotional story of the curmudgeon who wanted to dampen the enthusiasm of his friend? He asked his young friend to stick his fist in a bucket of water and observe the hole left when he removed it. “Your impact on the world will be as great as the size of the hole you left in the water.” As the ripples caused by a fish spread across a quiet lake, I realized the old man was wrong in his measure. The fish did not leave a hole in the lake, but the ripples of the action changed the flow of the entire lake.
           
Looking at John’s gospel, we might wonder how big a hole Andrew left in his bucket. What did Andrew do? He brought his brother, Peter, to meet Jesus. Andrew did not have to save Peter, or even convince Peter to follow Jesus. All Andrew had to do was bring his brother to meet Jesus. Jesus handled the rest. The ripple of Andrew meeting Jesus was that Peter met and chose to follow Jesus. Peter’s having met Jesus would one day result in a sermon where 3,000 men met and chose to follow Jesus. Is the size of Andrew’s impact on the world the size of the hole he left when he quit fishing or the ripples he created when he brought Peter to meet Jesus? I gotta go with ripples.

The ripples you create in your local ministry setting cannot be measured today. I challenge you to continue to plunge your fist into the water with Jesus and watch the ripples. I believe one day when we get to stand with God, God will show us all of the ripples we have created. We will offer those ripples to God; lives touched and hearts changed. We will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servants. Enter into the joy of your Father.”
-Jada D.L. Hodgson CLM serving at Plum Creek UMC
jhodgson@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Loving God, please take our ripples and use them to change the world in accordance with your great plan. We dedicate ourselves to you anew. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Philippians 2:3-4 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Today’s Devotional
I’ve been journeying through the book of Philippians with a friend this new year. As we read the letter from Paul and converse about connections in our lives, we joke around that neither one of decided to set new year resolutions. What’s been most evident to us is seeing Philippians 2 provide a script for imitating Christ’s humility. These verses push past, and require, more than a new year resolution.

As I move in and out of seasons saying, “I need to focus more on myself”, I subsequently rout others and their possibly interests. Already a couple weeks into a new year, I feel a need to focus in on myself more. Where’s humility in a world that pressures resolutions, personal goals and fresh starts? I think Paul’s words help by looking deeper into ambition. I hear Paul speaking about learning contentment by enabling a grace that has been given to each one of us.

We learn contentment by first giving ourselves grace. Grace moves us to contentment, which then determines our motives. A humility towards other’s interests shouldn’t disregard our own interests. We can find strength in Christ as we learn to be content and radiate joy to others. Imitating Christ can be intimidating, but not if we pause to grow contentment and see God with us.
-Shane Warta Coordinator of Lay Leadership swarta@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Father, it is my desire to do nothing out of selfish motives or my incentives, but rather I pray that I may in humility of heart, value others above myself, to Your praise and glory. Help me to value the needs and concerns of another more than my own and keep me humble in heart. In Jesus name I pray, AMEN.
Today’s Lectionary Text
1 John 5:13-21 

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him. If you see your brother or sister committing what is not a mortal sin, you will ask, and God will give life to such a one—to those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin that is mortal; I do not say that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not mortal.

We know that those who are born of God do not sin, but the one who was born of God protects them, and the evil one does not touch them. We know that we are God’s children, and that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true;and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

Today’s Devotional

Building our confidence as a follower of Jesus is what I understand John’s purpose is in the writing of these verses.  First, he wants us to understand that when we surrendered our hearts to Jesus we received God’s gift of eternal life.   Next, John shares with us that because we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the prayers that we pray for our brothers and sisters who sin will be heard by God.  These are the intercessory prayers we pray for those we love:  family, friends, and neighbors who we know have a need, and also for those we don’t know who are facing a crisis or difficult situation. 

We can have confidence that God will answer our prayers because He hears our prayers.  John continues on by telling us that Jesus keeps us safe and protects us from the Satan.  And finally John defines who God is, “Him who is true” and who Jesus is, “His Son Jesus Christ,” to build our confidence in the ones we have chosen to follow.-Pam Bilyeu, Lay Leader
Lyndon UMC
Five Rivers District

Prayer for Reflection

Lord thank you for your Son and the gift of eternal life, and for listening and answering our prayers.  Amen

*Devotion reprinted from 1/15/19

Today’s Lectionary Text
Luke 1:67-79 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
    in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
    that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
    and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
    to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
    before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Today’s Devotional
Zechariah was left speechless because of his encounter with the angel Gabriel (see Luke 1: 8-10).  It is magnificent that Zechariah received a prophesy of the Messiah. Zechariah could only share the good news!  We live in a society where it is acceptable and even encouraged to cast hatred, bias, and judgement against our neighbor.  As believers in Christ we are called to boldly share the Good News of the Gospel for all to hear! We must purge from evil that tells others that they are not loved because of their social statuses, and boldly proclaim that God created us in His perfect image.

When Zechariah could say nothing at all he was left to sing praise and prophesy.  Is there an issue today that God is calling you to speak out for? How can we witness like Zechariah?  I must also mention that Zechariah and Elizabeth influenced John the Baptist to be a prophetic leader?  In Luke 3:3, John the Baptist went around the Jordan river sharing a message of repenting from one’s sins and being forgiven.   What would the world be like if believers marched up and down the streets proclaim God’s love and a message of repentance of sins?  It indeed is not an easy or convenient time to be a Christian.  But there are many souls that have not been filled with the Holy Spirit.  We must be like these biblical characters and grandly share the Word!

We seem to operate in a society that focuses on condemning one another instead of embracing the love and grace that God freely gives.  instead of focusing on factors that cause division such as political affiliations, and social stratifications we must embrace the positive qualities that the Triune God blessed us with. 

 -Spenser Johnson Emporia State University Campus Ministry
Garrett- Evangelical Theological Seminary- Master of Divinity Student

Prayer for Reflection
God, please guide us today to be prophetic leaders and following the footprints of our brother Jesus Christ. May we cast aside hate and put forward love. Amen.
*Devotion reprinted from 1/9/2019
Today’s Lectionary Text
Romans 16:1-16 

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. Greet my relative Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother—a mother to me also. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who are with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.

Today’s Devotional

We American types love to celebrate the lone wolf, the independent hero, the self-made man [sic]. We remember the names of the generals, the CEOs, the explorer who planted the flag. We conveniently forget the foot soldiers, the countless employees, the partners, the colleagues and sherpas. Even in the church, we have our lone-wolf heroes, not the least of which is Paul.

But here in Romans 16, we have this litany of proof that Paul did not accomplish his great mission alone. He acknowledges Phoebe, a deacon and his benefactor. He says that Prisca and Aquila were not only co-workers in Christ; they risked their very lives for him. He lifts up his dear friends and cherishes their fidelity: Ampliatus, Stachys, Apelles. He names all the women who have “worked hard” (like we do) so that the gospel could flourish: Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis. He humbles himself before Andronicus and Junia (another woman!), calls them apostles, and says they were in Christ even before him. This is just some of the list.

I am not immune to the lure of wanting to be the solitary hero. Even though it is tempting sometimes to think that my work is just between God and me, I know that I stand on the shoulders of Paul and Phoebe, Andronicus and Junia, John and Charles, Sojourner and Richard, Fanny and Georgia. In my time, there are countless contemporaries who challenge me and encourage me. I do nothing without myriad colleagues and friends and church-family members who labor by my side.

This is incredibly good news. Because last I checked, we are part of God’s dream to make this world like the kin(g)dom of heaven … and we have a long way to go. Transforming this world is a lot of work, but we’ve got the Holy Spirit and one another.
Thanks be to God we do not have to journey alone.–Rev. Chris Jorgensen,
Omaha Hanscom Park UMC revchrisjorgensen@gmail.com

Prayer for Reflection

Gracious and generous God, thank you for the family, friends, and colleagues you have given me. Help us to support one another as we do your work in the world, and multiply our work in ways we cannot even imagine. May it be so. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 40:1-11 
To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.

Happy are those who make
    the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
    to those who go astray after false gods.
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
    your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
    none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
    they would be more than can be counted.

Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
    but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
    you have not required.
Then I said, “Here I am;
    in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God;
    your law is within my heart.”

I have told the glad news of deliverance
    in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
    as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation.

Do not, O Lord, withhold
    your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    keep me safe forever.

Today’s Devotional

At the beginning of a new year, I find myself taken time to think about where I am in my life in all facets. One thing I’ve always been keenly aware of is that I’m not patient enough. I like to see results immediately and want to move onto the next thing on my list. This is especially true when I look at goals for the previous year and see where I am. Almost always, my hope is to be a lot further down the road than I am.

When I read the Psalmist’s words from Psalm 41, I’m reminded that almost every time God has done amazing things in my life, it has happened gradually and over the long haul. This true of my personal life and my ministry. God’s time has no relation to human time. God will use us and guide us through the plan set before us, but we will feel like nothing is happening. That is, until we look back and realize how much amazing work God has done around us, and in spite of us. 

The Psalmist declares, “He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” God hears our cries, but we must wait patiently for God’s response. I need to keep my eyes, ears, and heart open to all the ways God may respond, and not just turned to my own vision of how it should be done. Looking back reminds that the greatest moments with God have been unexpected and totally not in the same realm as my ideas. I need to look back a little more in my life to be more open in the present. If I can find myself waiting patiently for the Lord, then I will be more likely to be singing a new song and sharing the blessings of God each and every day.
–Rev. Zach Anderson
Goodland UMC
zanderson@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Gracious and Loving God, give me the patience to wait on your time, to sing your praises, and live a life full of delight in your love and mercy. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 10:44-48 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Today’s Devotional
Recently, when watching “Bones” (Season 1, Episode 16, “The Woman in the Tunnel”), I was amazed by certain similarities between that story and the story in Acts 10. In Acts 10, the Lord speaks to Peter and teaches him to accept the invitation to visit a devout group of worshipers who are gathered at the home of a centurion named Cornelius. When Peter tells them about Jesus, these people worship God as led by the Holy Spirit. It then became Peter’s job to tell the story to the followers of Jesus back in Jerusalem and convince them to accept these people, in whom God was already working, as a part of the fellowship of believers.In the TV series, the team from the Jeffersonian performs a similar function to bring acceptance to Harold, the mayor of “Mole Town.”The story begins as three members of the Jeffersonian team are being lowered down a ventilation shaft to recover the remains of a woman found at the bottom. At the bottom, the team discovers that this person is not an old skeleton but belongs to someone who has recently died.When the team looks up from their work, a dark man runs away at full speed into the darkness. “Bones” runs after him until the team catches up. Booth grabs the man roughly and begins to demand information from the man.  “Bones” insists the Booth relax and speak to this person with respect. Booth begins again and things go smoothly until “Bones” discovers bloody clothes and a video camera that had belonged to a woman who had recently disappeared among these tunnels among the possessions of this man. Harold is taken into custody.With great difficulty, and many reminders to each other, the Jeffersonian team gains Harold’s trust. He then describes a blond he has seen beyond the perimeter of his community. His description of her was the crucial bit of information that solved the disappearance. Justice was done when the murderers were found. Harold was found to be trustworthy and returned in honor to his underground community, to the tune of a song containing this phrase; “Don’t hide, shine a little light. Give up on your pride.”– Elly Biederman Certified Lay Speaker, Plattsmouth (Neb.) First UMC ellybiederman@gmail.com

Prayer for Reflection
Our Redeemer, the light of you love welcomes us to a place to call home. It is overwhelming and strong. Let us find new life by absorbing your light. Let us share you love and reflect it by gently being kind to all we meet. AMEN
Today’s Lectionary Text

2 Chronicles 34:2 He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.

Today’s Devotional

Wow, just wow! Really! Am I reading this correct? An 8-year-old – King? And that he did what was right in the Lord’s eyes … and on top of that, 8 years later after becoming King, our scripture says that while he was just a boy, he began to seek the God of his ancestor David. I love that the scripture points out that while he was a boy, he began to seek God. A lot of times in our world, we think that God only speaks to adults. Adults are the wise ones, they have the reasoning, understanding, they know scripture, so by all means that is who God speaks to. Yes, God does speak to adults and youth and young adults, and it’s great to know that our God speaks intergenerationally – it doesn’t matter what age we are!

We adults fail to realize that God speaks to our children. If we would just sit at their feet, put aside our adultness and really listen to them, we would benefit. Their innocence is so pure, and the ways of adultness has not rose colored their outlook on things. Children trust and believe because they have not reached the age where we adults attempt to teach them other things about God. I remember being taught how to talk to God: hands folded, eyes closed, then you prayed a certain way. In our house it was first you thank God, then you confessed all your sins, then you prayed for other people, then you prayed for yourself. Those times of seeking and talking to God seem staged to me. The experiences that taught me more about who God is are the ones that no formed prayer was said, no ritual words were spoken. One I will share: our house was not a real Christian home, we played the game, we went to church (all the time), yet there were dark times. Times that I still to this day call, “dark times of the soul.” On one such night I was scared, covers over my head, and I was turned over on one of my sides with my arm hanging off the bed. I remember saying “God if you are there, let me know.” I sensed a presence, and a slight, yet cupped hand squeezing my hand. I was a child, and knew God was very real in that moment and forever.-Rev. Hollie Tapley
Disaster Response Coordinator
htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Creator God, teach us to listen to You with the innocence of a child. May we seek You as Josiah did. May we be bold enough to tear down idols and other images not pleasing and glorifying You. May stop and sit at the feet of children, and once again, hear Your voice speaking to us. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Ephesians 4:17-5:1 Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That is not the way you learned Christ! For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,

Today’s Devotional
There was a time in my recent past where I experienced what I’d like to call a ‘spiritual desert’.  Like the Gentiles in this passage, I experienced a hardness of heart.  I had let my inner being become so stone like that my life hardly resembled the goodness of a heart deeply connected to Christ.   Kindness, which had once been second nature to me, became a distant stranger.  I let in resentment, anger, and bitterness to live in my heart as welcome guests.  I had forgotten how to live in the truth and abundant life that Jesus offers in life with Him.
 
Christ invites us to enter into a relationship where we must take off our former way of life and be present in the renewing of our minds.  We are to lay the negative and harming behaviors aside and put on our new self in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17— “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”)
 
After ruminating on the words in this scripture, what is compelling is that this isn’t a singular process.  While the transformation does happen ultimately within us—it is certainly spurred on in relationship.  We are to be kind to one another, to be compassionate to one another, and to forgive one another.  In this way, we are called to imitate Christ. 
 
Through reconnecting with God, friendships/mentors, study, and introspection, I made my way through the spiritual desert, removed the trappings of my former self and put on my new self in Christ.  Can you identify areas in your own life where your heart has become hard or areas where your old self still lingers?  I invite you to be in relationship, be kind, compassionate, to forgive, and clothe yourself in Christ.
-Nicole Guthrie Director of Community Engagement Urban Abbey
nicole@urbanabbeyomaha.com  *reprinted from 1/7/2019

Prayer for Reflection
Transformative Creator, reach into our hardened hearts and knead it back into the tender muscle that imitates you.  Let us strive for kindness, compassion, and forgiveness so we may be an example for others.  Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Matthew 2:1-15 

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

Today’s Devotional

It’s Jan. 10 and I wonder how many of those bright shiny resolutions we had on the first have already fallen by the wayside? Resolutions for exercise and health, financial goals and decluttering, and other promises of a better you we have made and so quickly abandoned. We’ll try again next year, right?

In light of today’s scripture, I can’t help but to think of poor Mary and all she’s been through up to this point. An angel has appeared to disrupt her life. She’s carrying a baby that’s the son of God. Nobody likely believes her even her fiancé at the beginning. Then as her time of delivery comes near, she has to travel and give birth away from home. To add insult to injury she can’t go back home where she likely had everything laid out in preparation for Jesus. She has to go on the run to Egypt not knowing when she will see home again.

So, what do our tendencies to abandon resolutions and the holy family’s flight have in common?

Life is unpredictable. They say God laughs as we make plans. Resolutions are made based on our timing, not God’s. Is it good to set goals? Yes, absolutely. Should we have some grace with ourselves when it comes to achieving them? Yes, absolutely.

Just as Mary, Joseph and Jesus eventually return to Nazareth when safety could be assured, January 2020 goals easily transition to later 2020 goals or even to 2021 goals when the time and circumstances are right.

If you have already fallen off your resolution wagon the good news is, you have all of the rest of this year to get back on it. Just remember to be kind to yourself along the way and give yourself some grace.-Lisa Soukup
Communications administrative assistant
lsoukup@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Heavenly Father, help us to have grace for each other and ourselves. Help us to remember that when life doesn’t go according to our plan that your plan is so much bigger and better for us.

Today’s Lectionary Text

Matthew 6:5-6 When you pray, don’t be like those show-offs who love to stand up and pray in the meeting places and on the street corners. They do this just to look good. I can assure you that they already have their reward.When you pray, go into a room alone and close the door. Pray to your Father in private. He knows what is done in private, and he will reward you.

Today’s Devotional I was reading Matthew’s Gospel last week and was truly touched by the importance of prayer. Jesus taught deeply about “And when you pray …” Prayer unlocks the heavenly doors and connects us to God. Matthew teaches us how to enter the heavenly throne especially as we begin the new year 2020, new month and new decade. Abundant prayers are desperately needed in our generation.

Jesus teaches us to be mindful of the way we pray to God. God is our Father whom we communicate with in prayer. Therefore, prayers are directed to him and not to men. There is a strong caution given in this scripture not to showcase our prayers. I wondered how the Jews of Jesus’ day prayed. The scripture says some of these hypocrites stood in the synagogues and in street corners that they could be seen by men. One would call these “intentional prayers or showcasing prayers.” These people prayed loud to be seen by men. There is a strong warning from Jesus concerning such kind of prayers. Show cased prayers are vain prayers and aimless in nature. Saints of God, vain glory is destructive and deceiving.

Jesus highlights the importance of a deep spiritual prayer which connects us to our heavenly Father. A deep spiritual prayer is distinct from vain glory prayer in that:
1. It comes from the heart of the believer and directed special to God. Its deeply rooted in one’s divine relationship with God. This reminds me about the two men who went to pray at the altar. One was a Pharisee and the other one a tax collector. The Pharisee boasted about his tithing and how righteous he was. He even said he was not like the tax collector who did not tithe, prayed, and fasted. Jesus categorized the Pharisee prayer as “showcasing prayer.” But the tax collector just confessed his sins and was forgiven by God. (Luke 18:9-13)
We are never righteous before God. We just have to admit our sinful nature in prayer. Hence, we have to stop practicing vain glory prayers and seek God from the bottom of our hearts when we pray.
2. Enter into thy closet and pray. That is a secret place where we vent out all our problems, sins, desires, weakness, self-deceptions and secrets from our hearts. Who does not have secrets embedded within the heart? We all do, and the closet is a meeting point for humanity and God. Closet is a sacred place where we hide under God’s mighty wings and communion with him. Remember, God keeps all your secrets and values confidential more than men. Therefore, enter your closet and talk to God. I like it when Jesus teaches us to shut the door. Shutting the door means leaving behind all distractions of the world around us. Deep connections happen in pray and it is important to shut the doors of distractions.
 
 –Rev. Ever Mudamkanuki United Church of Bennington and Soloman Yoked Parish EMudambanuki@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection O God teach me to pray from the heart and not to show off when praying. Holy Spirit please intervene when I shut the door and enter the sacred place in prayer. Amen
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 51:7-15 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Fill me with joy and gladness;
    let the bones which thou hast broken rejoice.
Hide thy face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence,
    and take not thy holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of thy salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.Then I will teach transgressors thy ways,
    and sinners will return to thee.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    thou God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of thy deliverance.O Lord, open thou my lips,
    and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.

Today’s Devotional
As I was putting our Christmas decorations away recently, I was thinking that it would be a good feeling to get our house reorganized, to have everything put away and clean once again. Then the verse, “Create a clean heart in me, O God” (RVS) popped into my head. I not only needed a clean house, I realized that I also needed a clean heart. When David wrote this Psalm, he was thinking of something much more serious than putting away Christmas decorations. The prophet Nathan confronted David after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, and these verses are part of David’s humble prayer for forgiveness and cleansing after he recognized and admitted that he had sinned. Sometimes our lives become cluttered, and we don’t always take the time to recognize and admit that we need to sort out the good from the bad, the important from the unimportant, the serving from the self-serving. We need to clean up some areas of our lives and get reorganized. 

We recently celebrated the birth of Jesus, who was a gift from God and who sacrificed His life for us. Because of Jesus’ love for us, our sins are forgiven if we ask, and we can start over with a clean slate. When we are forgiven, we can experience joy in our lives once again. I am always happier when our house is clean and organized, and so is my husband! With a clean heart, we will have joy in our lives and will want to live in God’s presence. We are promised the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and we can call on that Spirit to help us develop and keep a deep faith. With deep faith, we develop a spirit willing to serve God and others. We will want to share this Good News with others. 

Only God can create a clean heart in us. Only He can equip us for the tasks we need to complete as we minister to others. What a gift we have been given! We can have a clean heart and a new spirit which we can use to live in His will and serve others.-Linda Rector, lay speaker
Wichita University UMC
alrector66@gmail.com
Prayer for Reflection
We praise you, O God, for these gifts you have given us. May we be willing to share these gifts with others in this New Year.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 9:10-19a In Damascus there was a certain disciple named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, “Ananias!” He answered, “Yes, Lord.”

The Lord instructed him, “Go to Judas’ house on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias enter and put his hands on him to restore his sight.”

Ananias countered, “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man. People say he has done horrible things to your holy people in Jerusalem. He’s here with authority from the chief priests to arrest everyone who calls on your name.”

The Lord replied, “Go! This man is the agent I have chosen to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites. I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Ananias went to the house. He placed his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord sent me—Jesus, who appeared to you on the way as you were coming here. He sent me so that you could see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Instantly, flakes fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. He got up and was baptized. After eating, he regained his strength.

 Today’s Devotional I marvel at the bravery of Ananias, and I am impressed with how he shows tremendous faith.

God tells him to go to a specific house on a specific street to meet a man named Saul, from Tarsus. We see immediately that Saul’s reputation is infamous in this region of the world, so much so that Ananias is understandably nervous about these instructions. But with just a little more nudging — an emphatic “Go!” — Ananias goes to fulfill his mission. It probably helped that the Lord explains Saul’s past is not the issue any longer but his future will serve an important purpose, basically opening the Kingdom of God not only to Israelites but also to Gentiles and rulers of all ethnicities.

Ananias shows his faith not only by going to Saul as directed, but once there Ananias calls Saul “brother.” It’s a word that shows both compassion and connection.

Saul’s sight is restored, and he goes on to become the greatest missionary for Christ, perhaps the most significant preacher in the history of Christianity.

As for Ananias, he disappears from our story after Saul’s recovery. His mission is complete.

We may, to one degree or another, be like Ananias. We may not heal someone, but we may be the way people experience the living Christ. We may never be remembered beyond one or two episodes in a person’s life, but we may serve an important purpose in those instances.

Saul was so moved by Ananias that he recalls what he did for him during Saul’s testimony in Acts chapter 22.

May each of us make such an impact on someone else as we live out our faith.
    — Todd Seifert, director of communications
tseifert@greatplainsumc.org


Prayer for Reflection Gracious God, please help each of us to make an impact in the world around us. Like Ananias, help us to be brave and to show our faith in You to those around us.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Matthew 2:1-12 

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Today’s Devotional

We don’t know who or how many they were – or from what places they came. Church tradition says there were three of them – based on the three gifts that were named in Matthew’s Gospel. Tradition also gives them names – Balthazar, Melchior and Caspar – although those names are not found anywhere in the biblical account. But we do not know anything more about them than that they were wise men from somewhere far to the east of Judah. We can deduce from the story of the slaughter of the innocents that they from far enough away that it took them about two years to reach Bethlehem after the star of Bethlehem caught their attention.
I have often wondered what it was that made that star so compelling to the Magi that they would plan and execute an expedition from whatever places they called home to a small town of seemingly small importance in a land controlled by the Roman Empire. Of course, the simple answer is that it was part of God’s plan for Jesus’ life on earth. But God didn’t tell them to follow a star so far as we know. There was something significant about that star – whether it was just its brightness or something else – that drew them out on a long journey.
Whatever it was that inspired their journey, I am mindful that the journey of the Magi was only one of several journeys that figure in Jesus’ birth and life. There was the journey of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Then, with the departure of the Magi, Joseph took Mary and Jesus on a journey to Egypt where they would remain until the death of Herod – and then make another journey back to Nazareth. There were journeys that Jesus undertook as a part of his earthly ministry.
–Rev. Robbie Fall, retired elder Hutchinsonrobbie.fall@gmail.com

Prayer for Reflection

Loving God, you sent your Son, your greatest gift, to redeem the world. Let us remember to proclaim Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection every day of our lives and praise your name in all things. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text
Matthew 2:1-12 

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Today’s Devotional

The New Year came in like a bang for some, a whimper for others. As always, I sat and reflected with mixed feelings on what the next year might hold for me, for my community, for the world. I sometimes wonder if we misnamed this holy day. Epiphany makes it sounds like there was an “a-ha” moment in the narrative. You know, as if the wise men moved purposefully into the humble dwelling of Joseph and Mary and just knew on sight that this was exactly what they were looking for. More like an “ha” moment. It was the star, deep listening, faith that led them to believe this was the newborn king, even if it did not live up to their expectations of what it all was supposed to look like.

And this is the beautiful gift of Epiphany: we see glimpses of GOD’s mystery and plan through the life of Jesus. We get it at least a little. We don’t always know what it will look like on the other end and Lord knows I need help releasing my expectations of that – but we know that it will somehow look like Jesus.

When I get hung up on what I think I should be or disappointed when I find that GOD’s way in the world is more patient or less concrete than I demand, my colleague and friend Hugh reminds me: Love always wins in the end. And, if it should look as if love did not win, it only means that it is not yet the end.

This year is full of possibilities. The gospel that pulls us from our graves – so much more powerful than a New Year’s resolution – is ripe in you, in me, in our neighborhoods. Maybe we don’t always know how, who, or where, but we know that faith and hope will lead us to the Jesus who makes us – and all things – new.-Jodi-Renee Giron
Discipleship and Spiritual Life Director
Trinity United Methodist Church
Lincoln, NE

*Reprinted from 1/6/19

Prayer for Reflection

God of the Stars, you promise to lead me through the dark and you became vulnerable so that you could invite me to create with you. When that call is daunting or my heart is unsure, inspire me with stories of love and call my faith back to you. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text
John 1:40-42 

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

Today’s Devotional

Have you ever doubted you had made any difference in the world? Remember the recent devotional story of the curmudgeon who wanted to dampen the enthusiasm of his friend? He asked his young friend to stick his fist in a bucket of water and observe the hole left when he removed it. “Your impact on the world will be as great as the size of the hole you left in the water.” As the ripples caused by a fish spread across a quiet lake, I realized the old man was wrong in his measure. The fish did not leave a hole in the lake, but the ripples of the action changed the flow of the entire lake.

Looking at John’s gospel, we might wonder how big a hole Andrew left in his bucket. What did Andrew do? He brought his brother, Peter, to meet Jesus. Andrew did not have to save Peter, or even convince Peter to follow Jesus. All Andrew had to do was bring his brother to meet Jesus. Jesus handled the rest. The ripple of Andrew meeting Jesus was that Peter met and chose to follow Jesus. Peter’s having met Jesus would one day result in a sermon where 3,000 men met and chose to follow Jesus. Is the size of Andrew’s impact on the world the size of the hole he left when he quit fishing or the ripples he created when he brought Peter to meet Jesus? I gotta go with ripples.
The ripples you create in your local ministry setting cannot be measured today. I challenge you to continue to plunge your fist into the water with Jesus and watch the ripples. I believe one day when we get to stand with God, God will show us all of the ripples we have created. We will offer those ripples to God; lives touched and hearts changed. We will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servants. Enter into the joy of your Father.”
-Jada D.L. Hodgson CLM serving at Plum Creek UMC

Prayer for Reflection

Loving God, please take our ripples and use them to change the world in accordance with your great plan. We dedicate ourselves to you anew. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text
Genesis 28:10-22  Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”

Today’s Devotional Jacob was following his father’s orders to find a wife from among family, someone who might be a God-worshiper. But Jacob was also running from his brother Esau, the one he had cheated out of the birthright and the blessing. God confronted Jacob, saying that the promise He had made to Abraham was valid for Jacob, too. But Jacob was Jacob and wanted to be in charge. So as he set up his stone pillow as a memorial to that promise, he vowed, “If God will be with me and watch over me on this journey … so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
 
If, so that, then, and. How many times are our prayers more like the deal Jacob was trying to swing? How many times do we ask God for something but withhold our trust until He comes through for us? Hebrews 11:8 says, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” As we begin 2020 with all of its uncertainties on so many levels, let us who follow Christ say with certainty, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.”1 No ifs, so thats, thens or ands. Just raw trust and faith.
 
Pastor Diana Webster Bushton and Claflin UMC’s
diana.webster@greatplainsumc.org
 1 I Know Whom I Have Believed, words by Daniel W. Whittle, music by James McGranahan, United Methodist Hymnal #714 

Prayer for Reflection God of all time and circumstances, encourage our trust, strengthen our faith. Help us to live as Children of the Promise, even though we don’t know where this year will take us. All we have is You; let that be enough. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Matthew 1:13-23
… and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,”which means, “God is with us.”

Today’s Devotional
Happy New Year, what is 2020 going to bring?  Well as some of us may be aware there is a lot of doubt, uncertainty, and fear.  We think about what the outcome of General Conference 2020 in May might be.  Matthew 2:13-23 also is an example of fear, doubt, and uncertainty for Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus.  The Wise men, Magi, three kings, whatever you want to call them left after sharing gifts, and the message they had heard about Jesus.  Then Joseph is warned to pack up and leave immediately for Egypt.  How were they going to make ends meet, who did they know in Egypt, where were they going to live.  I am sure all of these thoughts came to mind as Joseph did as he was told.  But deep down he listened to the messenger, he led his family to safety, and he continued to be a parent.
    
I can’t say I know what it likes to be a parent, but I do know that a parent will do almost anything for their children.  They will definitely do anything to keep their children safe.  I know that God too cares about all of us and that means we too are called to care about one another.  So, while we may not know what the outcomes will be after GC 2020, we can live into what God has called us to do.  Share the good news with great joy that a savior has been born in the city of David.  One image that has continued to be stuck in my head is from the Advent study The Gift of the Nutcracker.  Rev. Matt Rawle says this in his book, “this why God put on flesh and was born in a lowly manger…. Jesus is God up close.”  God up close…. we all have an opportunity to remember that the birth in the city of David changed it all for every person that hears the message. 

So, as we start this new year let us all commit to loving one another, let us put our trust in God, and let us continue to share the Good news of Great Joy that the birth of Jesus brought into the world.  Each year starts with new and fresh opportunities and as we think about our new year’s resolutions let us be willing to step outside our comfort zones and listen to one another. –Rev. Jeff Goetzinger
Little River and Mitchell Chapel UMC’s

jgoetzinger@greatplainsumc.org
[1] Matt Rawle, The Gift of the Nutcracker (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018), 69.

 Prayer for Reflection Dear God, as we start this new year may your peace come down and reside in your children.  May that peace give us opportunities to build bridges over the division, let us always remember that we are ALL brothers and sisters in Christ called to proclaim Jesus’ message to all the world, Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Revelation 21:1-6 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring.

Today’s Devotional Even though I am not a good student of Revelation, this scripture jumped out at me for the New Year.  Usually while I am preparing to speak, a sermon or devotion, there will be songs that pop into my head.  This time it was the Country song Write This Down by George Strait, to which I related.  By changing the words from a “somebody done somebody wrong song” to words you might hear from Jesus, it came out this way: Take my word and read it every day, Keep it close by, don’t let them fade away. Every single word is true; and I think you need to know…so you remember what I say. This year I am striving to retain more of Jesus’s words in my head the way that songs stick there.  I have found that even if I don’t memorize many scriptures, I can commit them to my memory in prayer asking God to engrave them on my mind so that when He wants me to speak through Him, the right words come. It’s up to me to feed my mind the Good News. HAPPY NEW YEAR! God Bless America and God bless us everyone!-Bonita Kitts, CLS
Ottawa First United Methodist


Prayer for Reflection Dearest Lord let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, my rock and redeemer (Proverbs 19:14) Let my voice be heard in a choir who sing your praises to the Nation.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.

Today’s Devotional

I for one will be glad to see the passing of 2019.  It’s been a rough year. I’ve spent the latter half of the year it seems either in treatment for cancer or in recovery from the treatment.  Time has slowed to a crawl and I’ve slogged through the days and weeks sometimes wondering if I was going to have the energy to make it through the day.  2020 promises new phases of treatment but I’m hopeful that this too shall pass.

When I look back, I feel so very blessed by the ways God has taken my sickness and made so much good.  I have been abundantly blessed by people in my church, at work, and in my life.  They have reached out from far and near to support, pray and take care of me and my family.  I’ve had to learn to rely on my faith, family and friends instead of my own strength.  I’ve joined a sisterhood of amazing women who have ushered and mentored me into their ranks with so much grace. 

I can’t forget about my all-star medical team.  Each medical professional I have encountered has been amazing from my oncologist to my super star chemo nurse who has been with me through almost all my treatments.  These professionals are truly doing God’s work taking care of so many of us going through what can be a very scary time in life.

I’ve learned that nothing is certain, nothing is promised.  Each day is a gift and I now think about how I plan to use my time after cancer.  I know I’ll spend some time speaking out about early detection and how key it is to beating this disease. I hope I can be as great a mentor to someone else as my mentors have been to me. 

When I received my diagnosis, I had a conversation with God.  I knew he would be with me every step of the way because I couldn’t do this without Him.  He has kept his promise.  I know He will walk with me into 2020 and be by my side no matter what comes next.
-Lisa Soukup
communications administrative assistant

lsoukup@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Heavenly Father, thank you so much for walking with us in both dark times and the light.  Help us to lean on you and allow others the opportunity to be your hands and feet in our lives. 

Today’s Lectionary Text
Romans 12:2 

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Today’s Devotional

It was beautiful at the lake this morning. It was so quiet that I could hear every fish that breached the surface.

I was reminded of a story that was proved to me to have the wrong conclusion. Maybe you remember the story. An old curmudgeon wanted to dampen the enthusiasm of a younger person. The older man had a five-gallon bucket of water and instructed the boy to stick his fist in the water and then remove it. “Now,” said the old man, “look at the hole you left in the water. That is exactly how much you will be able to influence the world.”

That is simply wrong. This morning, I noticed that every time a fish turned over in the water, ripples went out from the event. They changed the wave patterns of the entire lake. Soon after the event, the ripples were no longer visible, but they had changed the entire lake. The old man in the story had a wrong measure for influence. It is not the hole we fail to leave in the water that matters. It is the waves we create while we are there. Each one of us changes the pattern of our “lake” every day in every life we touch. We make a difference; we have an impact and an influence.

Make good waves in the lives of others today! Have a blessed day.
-Pastor Jada Hodgson
Plum Creek UMC
jhodgson@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Gracious God, thank you for giving your children the ability to change the world. We impact the world in ways we cannot imagine. Help us, we pray, to make positive ripples in the world, in Jesus’ name and for his sake. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text Isaiah 63:7 
I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord,
    the praiseworthy acts of the Lord,
because of all that the Lord has done for us,
    and the great favor to the house of Israel
that he has shown them according to his mercy,
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love.

Today’s Devotional
In 2011, I had the tremendous honor to travel to Liberia, Africa, as part of my doctoral immersion. The immersion helped me experience the gospel firsthand. The immersion made it possible for me to look in a mirror darkly and see face to face; and to understand completely what, until that point, I had only partially known.
              
On one side of the hallway was a well-lit room with a ward of about a twenty beds. About 50 percent of them had children in them, and half of them had adults and other family sitting at children’s bedside. We learned that parents would travel from miles away from the hospital to bring their children there for treatment, often having to return home because there are other family members at home who needed their help. The consequence surrounding the practice is that sometimes parents would return to the hospital to find their child had gotten well, and sometimes parents would be devastated to learn that their child did not survive.
              
Across the hallway was another room and light from outside the room had been blocked out as much as possible. I could see a few children with family members at their side due to the light of a dim desk lamp, but when I looked into the room, I saw something I will never forget.
              
Sitting in the doorway to the room was a woman I believed was a mother to the child lying face down on the bed. I couldn’t tell if the child was a boy or a girl, but along the child’s hairline, the hair was not an African black, but a blondish-red indicating the child had experienced malnutrition. I don’t know why the baby was there and I knew nothing of the child’s disease or prognosis. What I was struck to notice was that the child’s mother, probably about 20-years-old, wasn’t wearing a stitch of clothing.
             
 At first, I wondered why; it wasn’t a culture I was overly familiar with. I thought it had something to do with the humidity or the temperature in that hospital ward. I smiled at her and tried to let her know with hand motions that I was praying for her and for her child. The hardest part for me to this day is not knowing the outcome of the prayers I spoke that day or the prayers that resonate with me still. When I motioned to her that she and her child were in my prayers, she smiled the most beautiful smile I have ever seen. It was akin to the bright aura of the light reflected through stained glass of historic biblical figures.

What I learned the next day, though, blew me away.
              
The next day, our professor had us visit with some of the African cohort in our D.Min. classes. After sharing what I had seen, I was asked if I understood why this mother was undressed as she was. I said I thought it was due to the heat or the humidity. It was neither.
              
Anna, my African cohort, led our discussion group. Once I shared the story with her and a couple American students, we were told this angelic mother was undressed because she was being vulnerable before God and her child because she knew that God could do for her child what the medicine was not. What she was doing was an act of faith that is deeper than any I think I’ve ever practiced.
              
I share this story because that June day in the Phoebe Hospital, I was not just introduced to a new way of thinking about the lengths people are willing to go for God’s healing provision, but what I saw that day became, for me, the image of the nativity  of my mind because it is only in total vulnerability to God that the deepest and greatest healing – of God entering the world through human life – meets my need, every person’s need, and especially that mother and child’s need.

As I learned that day in Gbong, Liberia, God waits to heal and transform all God’s children; what it takes for that to happen is to go beyond despair, nakedness and vulnerability that are so often difficult for us to practice to the understanding that God is present in the aura a waiting mother, a child who has had the most recent contact with God, and in the prayers of a passing friend. That day, for me, will always serve as a reminder that God knows what God’s doing.-Rev. Mark Crist
Crawford Valley and Plainview UMC’s

mcrist@greatplainsumc.org
Today’s Lectionary Text
Luke 2:1-20 

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Today’s Devotional

Sitting down, thinking about new year’s resolutions led me to thinking about the conference devotional.  So, while I searched for Lisa’s email that told me where the link to the signup could be found I started to think about this week, it led me to thinking about the whole season of Advent.  This has been a tough season for me.  While I have been leading both my congregations through the Joy to the World series by Rev. Marcia McFee celebrating the 300th anniversary of this beloved hymn I have struggled to find the joy.  Part of the reason for my struggle is losing my dad to complications from lung cancer in October.  I tell others that no two people experience grief the same way and as I have thought about worship, Advent, and Christmas I have been in a deep funk.

In the midst of this seasonal funk I have had two opportunities to truly feel the Holy Spirit move.  The first was on December 14th during our network Blue Christmas service.  The Salt & Light Network (Lyons, Ks First, Geneseo, Sterling First, Alden, Lyons Ebenezer, Mitchell Chapel, and Little River First) came together to offer peace and hope for those struggling during the holiday season.  I was not thinking about myself, but in the midst of the service I had those goose bumps come up and the little hairs on the back of my neck stood up.  The second was when we had the opportunity to worship Christmas Eve at McPherson First and Pastor Lacey Wheeler and Rev. Emily Spearman Cannon led a moving worship service. 

Thinking about these worship opportunities gave me time to reflect one of my favorite scriptures for the Christmas season.  As I think about the shepherds all alone out in the fields in the middle of the night, I wonder what troubles they were thinking about.  Predators, loneliness, food, family, I think all of these may have been on their minds and then an Angel of the Lord appears to them and they hear, “Do not be afraid”.  Yeah right, all alone out in a dark field with sheep sleeping and an Angel appears.  They were receptive to the rest of the message and became the first messengers of Christmas.  The last line is something we should follow, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told to them.  So here we are a few days after Christmas and we too need to remember to glorify God and praise all that had been told to us.  Let us always proclaim Joy to the World as we spread the light of Christ.
-Rev. Jeff Goetzinger
Little River and Mitchell Chapel UMC’s

jgoetzinger@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Holy and loving God, may you watch over all those that may have troubled hearts, those that are struggling in this season of Christmas.  May your holy light push back the dark thoughts, and all that may separate us from you.  In Jesus holy name we pray, Amen

Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 148 
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
    praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
    praise him, all his host!Praise him, sun and moon;
    praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
    and you waters above the heavens!Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever;
    he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
    stormy wind fulfilling his command!Mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
    creeping things and flying birds!Kings of the earth and all peoples,
    princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
    old and young together!Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
    praise for all his faithful,
    for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!
Today’s Devotional
Christmas Day has come and gone, now.  For many people the arrival of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day marks the end of Christmas.  The family has gathered, the gifts have been opened, a feast eaten, and it is now time to take down the tree and pack away the ornaments and other Christmas decorations until next December.  Perhaps you have already begun “undecking” the halls.  Or maybe you wait until New Year’s or even Epiphany to do that job.

Those of us who follow the liturgical calendar know that Christmas doesn’t end until Epiphany.  It’s the whole “12 Days of Christmas” thing that doesn’t get as much attention in the United States as it does in so many other countries. 

More important than how many days of Christmas we observe though, is how we proclaim the glory of God’s gift of Jesus to the world.  Psalm 148 makes me think of the imagery of the Christmas story with angelic messengers, stars, and animals all proclaiming God’s glory.  Except – the psalm gives me the impression that this praise and proclamation goes on and on.  It doesn’t end.  Just as our own praise and proclamation for God’s gift of love should never end. 

The gift of Jesus needs to be proclaimed beyond the few days we designate as “Christmas” each year.  As we look beyond these days of festive celebration, may we remember to offer our praise to God and proclaim Jesus every day of the year.
         -Rev. Robbie Fall, retired elder Hutchinson, KS
robbie.fall@gmail.com
Prayer for Reflection
Loving God, you sent your Son, your greatest gift, to redeem the world.  Let us remember to proclaim Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection every day of our lives and praise your name in all things.  Amen.
 
Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 6:8-15

Stephen, who stood out among the believers for the way God’s grace was at work in his life and for his exceptional endowment with divine power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose from some who belonged to the so-called Synagogue of Former Slaves. Members from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and Asia entered into debate with Stephen. However, they couldn’t resist the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke. Then they secretly enticed some people to claim, “We heard him insult Moses and God.” They stirred up the people, the elders, and the legal experts. They caught Stephen, dragged him away, and brought him before the Jerusalem Council. Before the council, they presented false witnesses who testified, “This man never stops speaking against this holy place and the Law. In fact, we heard him say that this man Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and alter the customary practices Moses gave us.” Everyone seated in the council stared at Stephen, and they saw that his face was radiant, just like an angel’s.

Today’s Devotional

Just one day removed from our celebration of the birth of Christ, we come to this passage in the lectionary about Stephen. This follower of Jesus eventually will lose his life simply because he is a believer and, therefore, a threat to the establishment. In ensuing verses, Stephen will provide a brief history of the Chosen People and will explain how the Jewish leaders conducting this sham of a trial “… received the Law given by angels, but you haven’t kept it.”

This look in the mirror angers them greatly and prompts them to take Stephen outside the city and stone him to death, making him the first follower of Christ to be martyred.

It may seem kind of odd to have this passage appear right after the birth of Christ, but when you consider what Stephen did, it really makes sense. Yesterday, we celebrated the arrival of Jesus into our world. Today, we read about the expectations of those of us who proclaim Jesus as Lord as we live in our world. We are not to stay silent about this miraculous baby born in Bethlehem. We are to share with others the importance of Jesus’ birth and life.

Thankfully, most of us don’t have to worry about being killed because we worship Jesus the Christ. But that isn’t true everywhere. In some places, people are doing as Stephen did and are standing up to authority in the name of Christ. As they do, they are putting their lives in jeopardy. Yet, in the United States, where we can worship freely, we often fail to share our faith with others.

As we move on from the joy of Christmas and start to focus on the cross, may we all be like Stephen and openly share our faith with others.
 — Todd Seifert, director of communications
tseifert@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Gracious God, we thank you for the gift of Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Grant us the wisdom, strength and courage of Stephen to speak to others about you by sharing our faith. Please make others open to this most important of messages. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text
Matthew 1:18-25

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled:

Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
        And they will call him, Emmanuel.[a]
(Emmanuel means “God with us.”)

When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.

Today’s Devotional

Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. and Mayé are celebrating Christmas with their family in Texas, and their wish for the people of the Great Plains Conference is that its people are able to celebrate this important holiday with their loved ones.

Click the link below to view their short Christmas video for the people of the Kansas and Nebraska.

Watch the video.

Prayer for Reflection

Loving God, we thank you for sharing Jesus with us in the form of a baby. We thank you for such a great gift that shows your love for all of humankind. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text
Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quiet your soul and read contemplatively Luke 24.
 
Today’s Devotional
After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.
 
Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 24:1-12.
 
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. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
 
Meditate
As we celebrate Christmas Eve, we read the Resurrection story. Christ’s resurrection puts Jesus’ birth and life in a new light. What do you hear in this story today?
 We see in this story of the women the telling of the good news of Christ’s resurrection. The named women – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary, the mother of James, told the apostles. As we tell the story of Christ’s birth, we share the good news of Christ’s life and resurrection. How has reading through Luke helped you to share the good news of Jesus Christ? 
Share
On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections to wish people a Merry Christmas. Post where you are celebrating the Christ child today.  Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke24 as we reflect together in community. Congratulations for completion of the reading the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Luke!
 Prayer for Reflection
O God, on this Christmas Eve we are grateful for the birth and resurrection of your son, Jesus Christ.  You have offered us life abundantly through Christ.  Thank you for loving us so much to send your son so all may know your love.  Help us share your good news with all that we meet. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text

Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quiet your soul and read contemplatively Luke 23.

Today’s Devotional

After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.

Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 23:44-49.

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.”  When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away.  But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Meditate

  1. Read today’s words in a silent moment of your day.  In the recounting of the crucifixion, we remember Christ’s love. What about today’s Scripture speaks to you?  
     
  2. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” Jesus says.  As we remember this story before Christmas, we are reminded of the gravity of the birth of our Savior.  How does reading this Scripture at Christmastime refocus how you see Christmas?

Share
On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke23 as we reflect together in community.

Prayer for Reflection

O God, your unending love surrounds us through your Son, Jesus Christ. We celebrate you coming to be with us in the form of a human – to live and die as God Incarnate.  We are grateful for your love for us. Amen.

December 22, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text

Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quite your soul and read contemplatively Luke 22.

Today’s Devotional After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.
 
Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 22:14-20.
 
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table.  And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” 
 
After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
 
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
 
Meditate No other act of worship has moved the church through the centuries as much as Holy Communion.  We stand in the presence of mystery and wonder.  Christ came to us as a servant, to be Emmanuel, God’s presence with us. He humbled himself in a child in a manger, lived among us, set a table before us and freely accepted death on a cross. How does Holy Communion help you to celebrate Christmas?  The span of the table invites all who earnestly seek him and want to follow Christ. Who are you inviting this Christmas to partake of this amazing meal and celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus?

Share On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke22 as we reflect together in community.

Prayer for Reflection O God, we read of the Last Supper in Jesus’ last days and we remember Christ’s birth in a few days. So help us in this season, to join with those throughout time and space to celebrate the life, death and resurrection of your Son.  Help us to invite others to join in your unending feast. Amen.

December 21, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text
Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quite your soul and read contemplatively Luke 21.
Today’s Devotional
After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.
 
Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 21: 12-19
 
“But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.  And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves.  For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.  You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.  Everyone will hate you because of me.  But not a hair of your head will perish.  Stand firm, and you will win life.
 
Meditate As we draw nearer to celebrating Christ coming in the form of a child, it is in stark contrast to Jesus’ words to his disciples. Jesus will be betrayed by a friend—Judas—and put to death so he experiences the full measure of the trials that are about to fall upon his followers. This Scripture foreshadows the work of the disciples in the book of Acts. What about these words stand out to you?Tonight, on the longest night of the year, we remember the darkness.  It is in the darkness that Christ brings light – the light of the world.  The gospel offers not a way to avoid pain, suffering, and darkness but the spiritual resources to cope with adversity and hardship — the hope, joy, peace and love that only Christ can bring.  Do not fear, for God is with us. What do hear from God on this day? What light can you share with others this Advent season?   
Share On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke21 as we reflect together in community.
 Prayer for Reflection O God, you have sent your Son to be the Light of the Word. Help us shine Your light brightly in the dark times, so that people may know you and hear the words you have to see to us. Amen.

December 20, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text
Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quite your soul and read contemplatively Luke 20.

Today’s Devotional

After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.

Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 20: 1-8
One day as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the good news, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”

He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?”  They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.”  So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.”Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”


Meditate

  1. Jesus is questioned by the religious leaders of the day.  It was their role to check on Jesus, who had come into the Temple being hailed as a King and announced the Temple’s destruction. The religious authorities had responsibility to ask questions. Jesus answers a question with a question. He did not get involved in the drama. In what ways have you sought more clarity in your interactions with those around you? When have you answered a question with a question?  
  2. We are reading stories of the chief priests’ and scribes’ rejection of Jesus.  In this story, it was not about the authority but more about concern with their position and honor.  How can you pay attention to the people with grace and compassion, even if they have ulterior motives while addressing you? 

Share
On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke20 as we reflect together in community.

Prayer for Reflection

O God, you know our hearts and how we want to follow after you in our words and actions. Help us to have your patience and grace this Advent season with those around us and open us up to where we can spread your good news. Amen.

December 19, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text

Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quite your soul and read contemplatively Luke 19.

Today’s Devotional

After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.

Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 19:36-40.
 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

Meditate

  1. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest,” the crowds shouted in Jerusalem as Jesus entered the city.  How do these words of Palm Sunday resonate with you in the midst of this Advent season?
  2. As Jesus approached Jerusalem, he had gathered many followers and their welcoming Jesus into the city replied to a question from a Pharisee – a religious leader. If these stones become silent the stones will cry out. How do you show God praise today?

Share
On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke19 as we reflect together in community.

Prayer for Reflection

O God, You are good and holy. We praise your name and give you thanks that we celebrate you this day. We place all that we have before Your throne and remember that you are the King who comes in the name of the Lord.  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest. Amen.

December 18, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quite your soul and read contemplatively Luke 18.

Today’s DevotionalAfter reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.
 
Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 18:35-43.
 
As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him.
When he came near, Jesus asked him,  “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.
Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.
 
Meditate Bartimaeus is waiting beside the road to Jericho.  Imagine the crowd passing by, a man loudly questioning what is going in, the leaders sternly telling him to be quiet.  The hustle and bustle of a busy time in Jesus’ ministry.  Where would you picture yourself in this scene – Bartimaeus crying out, a leader trying to quiet him, the crowd going along, Jesus’ disciples watching this scene play out?  “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks the blind man. Bartimaeus replies, “Lord, I want to see.” What would you request of Jesus today in prayer?  What do you want from Jesus?  
Share On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke18 as we reflect together in community.
 Prayer for Reflection O God, thank you for listening to us when we pray – when we cry out, when we are silent, when you know the desires of our hearts.  Guide us to hear the prayers of your people and cry out to you with the cares of our hearts. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

December 17, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text
Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quite your soul and read contemplatively Luke 17.
Today’s Devotional

After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.

Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 17:11-19  

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” 

And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.  He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Meditate

  1. Jesus heals ten lepers, sends them to the priest, and only one leper returns to give thanks to Jesus for his healing. Who do you see yourself being in this story –the one that returned to give thanks or one of the nine who continued on?
  2. What ways today can you pause and go the extra mile to give thanks?  Offer thanks to God for many blessings today. Share a word of gratitude to people around you today.

Share
On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke17 as we reflect together in community.

Prayer for Reflection

O God, thank you for the amazing gifts all around us.  We pause to come to you to give thanks and to praise your unending name.  Prompt in us the ways to say thank you throughout our day to share your love with those we meet. Thank you. Amen.

December 16th, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quite your soul and read contemplatively Luke 16.

Today’s Devotional After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.
 
Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 16:10-13
 
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
 
Meditate We read, “Whoever can be trusted with little can also be trusted with much.” What are you entrusted with in this Advent season?Jesus speaks all throughout Luke 16.  What words of Jesus speak out to you today? 
           
Share On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke16 as we reflect together in community.

Prayer for Reflection O God, that you for your words to us in this Advent season. Help us to follow after you more closely and be aware of what you have entrusted to us in this time of life.  Amen.

December 15, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text

Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quite your soul and read contemplatively Luke 15.   

Today’s Devotional

Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 15:11-33.

 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons.  The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.  So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.  He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’  So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on.  ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.  But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”


Meditate

  1. This long Scripture passage is the phenomenal story of The Prodigal Son. Who do you relate to in this story: the runaway son, the returning son, the father, the older brother?  Envision each perspective. 
  2. As one of three lost stories in Luke 15: Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son. How do you relate to the lost son?  What is calling you home, this Advent? How do you want to be received with open arms of the Father? 

Share
On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke15 as we reflect together in community.

Prayer for Reflection

O God, thank you for welcoming us home, for saving us with your grace and helping to live life abundantly. Help us to extend Your grace to others and welcome them home, in this Advent season. Amen.

December 14, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text

Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quite your soul and read contemplatively Luke 14.   

Today’s Devotional

After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.

Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 14:7-11.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:  “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.  If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.  But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Meditate

  1. Meals were important social occasions.  Luke writes about where Jesus eats, who he eats with and where people sat. Jesus is not the model guest, following the social norms. What do you hear in Jesus’ words of teaching?
  2. In Communion, we talk about feasting at the heavenly banquet.  The Last Supper points ahead to this meal but also reflects on Jesus’ meals with disciples, Pharisees, and crowds. Christ’s humbly interacts with others, even over meals. In this season, we recognize the act of humility, as God offers God’s self in the form of a child. How do you want to practice humility this Advent season?

Share
On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke14 as we reflect together in community.

Prayer for Reflection

O God, in this Advent season, we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, and you will lift us up. Amen.

December 13, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quite your soul and read contemplatively Luke 13.  
Today’s Devotional After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.
 
Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 13:18-21
 
Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.” Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
 
Meditate In Luke’s story, Jesus had just finished healing a woman on the Sabbath.  Then, he begins 3 parables about the kingdom of God. The small mustard seed is a parable of the kingdom’s beginnings. Small beginnings and big results.  When have you seen a small glimpse of hope or peace this week? In Advent we proclaim that the kingdom of God is already here and not yet here.  The kingdom of God was inaugurated when Christ came, and Christ will come again. What about these words from Jesus help us understand about the kingdom of God?           
Share
On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke13 as we reflect together in community.

 Prayer for Reflection O God, in this Advent season, guide us to see your seeds of hope, peace, joy and love around us.  Help us be a part of bringing in your kingdom on earth and as it in heaven. Amen.  

December 12, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quite your soul and read contemplatively Luke 12.
Today’s Devotional After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.
 
Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 12:32-34.
 
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
 
Meditate What do you hear in today’s Scripture this Advent season?Where your treasure is, there is your heart. List some of your treasures. Evaluate your treasures. Hold each one up against your life. Reflect on how to let God be your greatest treasure. What would you need to let go of, “see,” for this to be a reality in your life? 
           
Share
On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke12 as we reflect together in community.

 Prayer for Reflection O God, this Advent season, we recognize that Jesus Christ is our treasure.  We remember the reign of God in us.  Help us to follow you more and more each day. Amen.

December 11, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quite your soul and read contemplatively Luke 11.
 
Today’s Devotional After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.
 
Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 11:1-4:
 
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  He said to them, “When you pray, say:
“‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”

 
Meditate As we hear these familiar words of Jesus, we remember the way Jesus taught us to pray.  Pause and ponder the words of the Lord’s Prayer.  What phrase do you hear anew today?The Lord’s Prayer was an answer to one of the disciples who said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  Christ taught us to pray for God’s kingdom to come, for daily bread, forgiveness, and no temptation.  How are you praying this Advent? 
Share
On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke11 as we reflect together in community.

Prayer for ReflectionO God, teach us how to pray. We pray as your Son taught us to pray: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

December 10, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text

Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quite your soul and read contemplatively Luke 10.  

Today’s Devotional

After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.

Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 10: 38-42  
 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”  “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,  but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[f] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Meditate

  1. In today’s passage, Jesus has sent out 72 disciples, shared the story of The Great Samaritan and met with Mary and Martha. In this jam-packed chapter, spend time like Mary soaking in today’s Scriptures. Listen to someone else’s wisdom today.  Give yourself the gift of being attentive to the voice of God speaking to you through your experiences today.
  2. In honor of Martha, find some tasks to do joyfully today.  Choose some specific work and try to do it more contemplatively, practicing the presence of God with you in all you do today.

Share
On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke10 as we reflect together in community.

Prayer for Reflection

O God, we surrender our thoughts, quiet our souls and lean into your abiding grace with us through all that we do today. Amen.  

December 9, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quite your soul and read contemplatively Luke 9.  After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.
 
 Today’s Devotional Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 9:12-16.
 
 Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.”
He replied, “You give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.”  (About five thousand men were there.) But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” The disciples did so, and everyone sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfulls of broken pieces that were left over.

Meditate In this impressive miracle of the feeding of the 5000, the disciples were perplexed on how to answer the crowd’s hunger.  Jesus saw what was there in the crowd – one man’s lunch – and took the ordinary food, blesses it and broke the loaves and gave to disciples to give to the people. What do you have today that can be offered and blessed by God?After the meal, the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.  There was an abundance of food when there seemed to be so little. Today use your eyes of abundance. What do you see around you today that is abundant? Give thanks to God.                               
Share
On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke9 as we reflect together in community.

 Prayer for Reflection O God, guide us as we look around us through eyes of abundance and the great gifts you give us to share with one another.  Amen. 

December 8, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quite your soul and read contemplatively Luke 8.  
Today’s Devotional After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.
 
Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 8:4-8
While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable:  “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up.  Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.  Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

Meditate In the parable of the sower, Jesus defines the seed as the Word of God.  Tend the soul of our souls today. Along the path of our souls, is there traffic and hurriedness that doesn’t let the seed take root? Or is it rocky ground with boulders that get in the way of hearing God’s Word? Is it the thorns of worry and distractions?  What is the soil of your soul this Advent season? How has the Word of God fallen in your soul today? Allow the seed of God’s Word take root in your soul today. What are the practices that you can continue in this Advent season to open yourself up to God’s Word? (Adapted from The Song of the Seed by Macrina Wiederkehr)
           
Share
On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke8 as we reflect together in community.

 Prayer for Reflection O God, in this Advent season, have your Word fall anew on the soil of our hearts today.  Amen. 

December 7, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quiet your soul and read contemplatively Luke 7.After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.

 Today’s Devotional Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 7: 36-40
One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
 
Meditate The nameless woman of our story had to put aside a lot of fear to come boldly to a table where she was not invited. She is as transparent as the jar she carries.  She has heard Jesus teaching and has become a disciple.  Where did she first meet Jesus? When did she become a disciple? What was the good news that broke open the alabaster jar of her heart? Spend time in communion with this woman today. Jesus is being anointed as much by the precious ointment of her faith and love as by the contents of the jar. The alabaster jar has become a symbol of life that holds something precious about to be poured out. Each time we pour out the costly ointment of our lives, there is a healthy hallowing out.  A space is created in us and Jesus rules the world from that space. Who has broken open the alabaster jar of their lives to anoint you. Give thanks for them. Who are you pouring into? (Adapted from The Song of the Seed by Macrina Wiederkehr)
           
Share
On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke7 as we reflect together in community.
 
 Prayer for Reflection O God, in this Advent season, we reflect on the life of Luke’s nameless gospel woman, the life of Jesus and the life-changing love that you extend to us. Help us to pour into others with your good news.  Amen. 

December 6, 2019

Today’s Lectionary TextThroughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quiet your soul and read contemplatively Luke 6. After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.

 Today’s Devotional Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 6: 27-36.
 But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
 
Meditate Depending on your perspective, you look at this text as a list of impossible commands or as a loving challenge. We are all created in the image of a loving God.  We don’t always live that way.  In this Advent season, take a moment to rediscover the power of God’s love. Would you like to live in love? Take a moment to listen to God right where you are. Listen with the ear of your heart.Who are the great loves in the pages of your life? Name them and meditate on their lives. Draw courage from their love. Who are your enemies? Bring into the oven of your heart people you don’t like very much, those you have gossiped about, those you envy, those who have hurt you. Having brought these people into your heart, pray for each one.  What can you learn from each person? Do you need to forgive anyone?(Questions are adapted from The Song of the Seed by Macrina Wiederkehr)

Share
On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke6 as we reflect together in community.

 Prayer for Reflection O God, in this Advent season, make your home in us and live out your words today.  Amen. 

December 5, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text

Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quiet your soul and read contemplatively Luke 5

After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.

Today’s Devotional

Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 5: 17-26

 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

Meditate

  1. To be paralyzed means to be unable to move. Are there areas in your life where you feel paralyzed? What is your unique paralysis?  What prevents you from moving freely?
  2. If you were choosing four friends to assist you in being healed of your present day paralysis, whom would you choose?  The faith of others can be a priceless gift in your healing presence. What quality in each of these friends do you most cherish?  The seeds of these qualities are already in you. Water them with your faith.

(Questions are from The Song of the Seed by Macrina Wiederkehr)
           
Share

On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke5 as we reflect together in community.

Prayer for Reflection

O God, in this Advent season, help us to pick up our mat and walk to where you are calling us to go today.  Thank you, God, for the community of people along faith journey with us.  Amen. 

December 4, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text

Luke 4

Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together. You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quiet your soul and read contemplatively Luke 4.

Today’s Devotional

After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.

Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 4: 1-4.  
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

Meditate

  1. After Jesus’ baptism, this opening scene places Jesus in the wilderness and temptation.  As if it were a play, we have changed scenes and we are in a stark contrast of the narrative before.  In this moment, how do you picture this scene?  Place yourself there.  What are the sights, sounds, tastes, experiences do you see as this story unfolds? 
  2. In the temptations, the if/then statements provide a conditional way of understanding Jesus as the Son of God. If you are the Son of God, then do turn stones into bread. Jesus is tempted to serve his own needs rather than depending on God’s provision for his needs.  What gets in your way of God’s work within you today?  How are you depending on your own needs instead of God’s provision? 

Share
On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke4 as we reflect together in community.

Prayer for Reflection

O God, in this Advent season, help us to continue Jesus’ mission and echo the words of your Son, Jesus “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” (Luke 4:43) Amen. 

December 3, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text

Luke 3 

Throughout Advent, we will read the book of Luke together.  You are invited to pause for a few minutes, quiet your soul and read contemplatively Luke 3.

After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.

Today’s Devotional

After reading the entire chapter, pause and read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.

Today‘s focus is on verses Luke 3: 21-25
When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli,  the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melki, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai,

Meditate

  1. In the text for today, we hear Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism.  How do you remember your baptism today? How do you want to be more open to the Spirit?
  2. Immediately following the baptism story, a long list of genealogy finishes the chapter.  The lineage from Joseph, tracing back to the son of God.  How do you read this family tree? What heritage has brought you to this place?   

Share
On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights. Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke3 as we reflect together in community.

Prayer for Reflection

O God, in this Advent season, we can hear your voice calling and claiming us as Beloved. Renew us today to live as a child of yours. Amen. 

December 2, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text

The Great Plains Conference is sharing a time of reflection through the book of Luke by reading and reflecting on one chapter each day during Advent. In a time of hurriedness of the holiday season, you are invited to pause to quiet your soul.  Pause for 5 minutes. Read contemplatively or have the Scripture read through audible recording, having the Word of God fall into your soul this Advent season.

Luke 2 

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
    which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

Today’s Devotional

After reading the entire chapter, enter into a wordless prayer to God. Read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.

Today’s focus is on verses Luke 2: 1-12

Luke 2:1-12 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.(This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Meditate on Luke 2:1-12

  1. On the 2nd day of Advent, we read the Christmas story as told by Luke.  What do you hear in this familiar passage that you have not heard before?
  2. As the shepherds are on their night shift, they were visited by an angel of the Lord and invited to be one of the first guests to see the Christ-child.  They were told who Christ was and to find a sign – a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Who are you prompted to invite this Advent season to celebrate the Messiah, the Lord?   

On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke 2 so we reflect together in community.

Prayer for Reflection

O God, in this Advent season, we echo the response of the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)

For further reading on the adapted format of devotionals, The Song of the Seed: A Monastic Way of Tending the Soul by Macrina Wiederkehr.

December 1, 2019

The Great Plains Conference is sharing a time of reflection through the book of Luke by reading and reflecting on one chapter each day during Advent. In a time of hurriedness of the holiday seasons, you are invited to pause to quiet your soul.  Pause for 5 minutes. Read contemplatively or have the Scripture read through audible recording, having the Word of God fall into your soul this Advent season.

Luke 1 

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 
Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”And Mary said,“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
    in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
    that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
    and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
    to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
    before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.
Today’s Devotional After reading the entire chapter, enter into a wordless prayer to God. Read the highlighted verses below for further reflection.
 
Today’s focus is on verses Luke 1: 26-32.
 
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.

Meditate on Luke 1:26-32. As you interact with this text, an angel of the Lord spoke with Zechariah and Mary. The angel brought a message, announcing the birth of Jesus.  How do you hear these words today?Ponder the first announcement of Jesus to his mother, Mary.  Christ’s kingdom will never end. In Advent, we celebrate the kingdom has already come and the kingdom has not yet fully come.  How do you set apart this time of Advent in active waiting of Christ’s rule? On social media — either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram —share an image and/or your reflections on today’s chapter. Please share only images that you have taken or for which you own the rights.  Be sure to include the hashtags #GPUMCAdvent and #Luke 1 so we reflect together in community.
 Prayer for Reflection: O God, as we begin this season of Advent, we echo the song of Mary: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”  (Luke 1: 47a)

As we read through the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Luke through the month of December, we will end on Christmas Eve – concluding the reading of the gospel together. You are invited to participate each day in reflection and taking an extra step in sharing as a part of the Great Plains community. 

For further reading on the format of these devotionals, The Song of the Seed: A Monastic Way of Tending the Soul by Macrina Wiederkehr.

November 30, 2019

Matthew 13:31-32

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

This week, our devotions will center on what our conference staff members shared by writing things we are thankful for on large Post-it Note pads. Please read to the end to see how you can participate.

Jesus used the parable of the mustard seed to show how something small and insignificant can grow into something lush and strong. We conclude our week of Thanksgiving reflections with a quick look at some small things for which we are thankful but that didn’t fit on one of the previous lists.

For starters, we’re grateful for the little things in life. These are the relatively insignificant parts of life, but the good parts that make life joyful, things like giggling children or a full-blown belly laugh in an adult. 

We’re grateful for the opportunity to create, regardless of our medium. This outlet helps us relieve stress and helps us grow as people.

We’re grateful for people who go above and beyond to serve us or other people. We’re grateful for when we’re in the right place at the right time, for gratitude journals, learning new things and when we receive that unexpected note of encouragement, long walks, finally finding answers to long-held questions, and playing with pets.

We’re thankful for weddings, graduations, job promotions, new challenges, great ideas and the excitement of receiving an actual letter in the mail.

We’re thankful for the imaginations of young kids and when they help us reconnect with our inner children. 

We’re thankful for lunch hours, the opportunity to both coach and be coached by peers, and seeing loved ones succeed and achieve their goals.

We’re grateful for second, third, fourth and fifth chances. And we are thankful for peace of mind.

It is this peace for which we give thanks and that we celebrate starting tomorrow, with the beginning of Advent. Philippians 4:4-7 tells us that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guad your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” May we all find peace this holiday season. May we all remember to continuously give thanks for Jesus Christ in our lives. – Todd Seifert, communications director
tseifert@greatplainsumc.org

Share something that you are most thankful for by posting a photo you have taken yourself or some reflective words on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Please use the hashtag #GPUMCgivesthanks.

Prayer for Reflection

Loving and merciful God, you gave the world something small, a baby boy, who grew into the greatest of Saviors. We thank you once more for the gift of Jesus Christ in our lives and in our world. Give us the words and courage to talk to others about Jesus during this coming season of Advent. Amen.

November 29, 2019

Today’s Lectionary Text is 1 Corinthians 10:23-31“All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience,for “the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.”If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience —I mean the other’s conscience, not your own. For why should my liberty be subject to the judgment of someone else’s conscience?If I partake with thankfulness, why should I be denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.
 
This week, our devotions will center on what our conference staff members shared by writing things we are thankful for on large Post-it Note pads. Please read to the end to see how you can participate.
 
Many of us still probably have a day or two of leftovers in the refrigerator following our Thanksgiving Day feast. And some of us may still be so stuffed that we don’t even want to think about food. But we will keep our week of thanksgiving going today with a look at some things our conference staff was thankful for regarding food, beverages and nourishment.

First, we definitely are thankful for the wide variety of foods we enjoy. Some favor steak, while some stick to vegetables. Some people prefer fried chicken to baked turkey. Regardless, we give thanks to the fabulous food we have to eat while recognizing that far too many people go hungry each day. We can do better.

We give thanks for the treats in our lives. Fresh produce, dried fruit such as bananas and apricots, frozen drinks, ice cream of all flavors,and, my personal favorite, cheesecake, all satisfy our sweet tooth. And we’re thankful for more and more sugar-free options, with much better taste than we could find just a few short years ago.

We give thanks for our favorite drinks, with green tea, slushes, coffee, and Coke Zero just a few noted by our staff. 

And we give thanks to the great cooks in our lives who know what to do with all of those ingredients, who know exactly how much of certain spices to add, and who serve it all up with love.

And we give thanks for our Risen Savior, the bread of life, as Jesus described in John 6:25-40.

 – Todd Seifert, communications director
tseifert@greatplainsumc.org
 
Share something about food and nourishment that you are most thankful for by posting a photo you have taken yourself or some reflective words on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Please use the hashtag #GPUMCgivesthanks.
 Prayer for Reflection: Loving God, we thank you for Jesus, the bread of life. And we thank you for the pleasure you allow us to have through our relationship with tasty food and drinks. Help us to be mindful of those who go hungry, that we would serve them so they have their immediate needs met and so we can change the systemic problems that lead to poverty in the first place.

November 28, 2019

Today’s Devotional

View a brief Thanksgiving message from Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. and Maye.
This week, our devotions will center on what our conference staff members shared by writing things we are thankful for on large Post-it Note pads. Please read to the end to see how you can participate.

One of our favorite parts of living out our faith is building and nurturing relationships. And that’s what today’s Thanksgiving devotion is all about.

Many of our conference staff members noted that they were thankful for their families. In whatever form those families take, we’re grateful for the times of nurturing, tender care, support and bonding that comes with these special relationships. From our parents to our children to grandparents, aunts and uncles to siblings, we give thanks for knowing there are people to whom we can turn when we face difficult times and people who will celebrate with use in times of joy.

We give thanks for spouses and significant others who walk this journey of life with us, sharing our hopes and dreams, providing us with prayer partners, and serving as our closest companions.
We give thanks to those special people known as grandchildren, with the wonder that accompanies them as they enter the world and the chances we have to spoil them – and then send them home to their parents.

We deeply appreciate the family members made by choice through adoption. These children may not share our genes, but they certainly share our hearts, and they complete our families. And thank you to the parents who opened their homes and hearts to children in need of families to love and care for them.

We also give thanks for friendships. Some are new and are still being explored, while others have stretched decades with people who know us better, in some cases, than our own flesh and blood. From girls’ nights out to men’s retreats to unexpected phone calls from friends living far away, this connection is truly treasured.

We’re grateful for co-workers, for the laughs shared while we go about our daily tasks to coffee breaks where we learn more about one another.

We’re also thankful for our furry friends – the spastic cat who runs and jumps all over the place, the loyal dog who chases balls all over the yard, and many other kinds of companions that God has entrusted to us to care for and love.

On this Thanksgiving Day, don’t forget that you have a Savior who wants a relationship with you as well. Please pause to reflect on that point and on the relationships you treasure. It may be a parent, a child, a neighbor down the street, a high school friend, or a Labrador retriever. Regardless, give thanks for the loved ones in your life on this special day.

– Todd Seifert, communications director
tseifert@greatplainsumc.org

Share something about relationships that you are most thankful for by posting a photo you have taken yourself or some reflective words on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Please use the hashtag #GPUMCgivesthanks.

Prayer for Reflection

Gracious God, we thank you for the relationships you have provided for us, the loved ones who have crossed our lives and the people who stand with us through times of heartbreak and joy. Thank you for wanting and giving us a way to have a strong relationship with you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

November 27, 2019

This week, our devotions will center on what our conference staff members shared by writing things we are thankful for on large Post-it Note pads. Please read to the end to see how you can participate.

We readily acknowledge that many of our “First-World” problems are not problems at all, but merely inconveniences because the technology and comfort to which we are accustomed fail at times. But those failures help us to remember that we should give thanks for them. And that is what we are doing today.

We love and are thankful for technology, from the electronics that power our phones, tablets and computers to washers and dryers that allow us to clean our clothes to automobiles to indoor plumbing.

We’re grateful for televisions that help keep us informed and entertained, and we also are grateful for the many choices we have: cable, satellite, Hulu, Firestick, Amazon, Roku and Apple TV, to name just a few. And we’re grateful for gaming systems that occupy kids while teaching them unique hand-eye coordination. We’ve come a long way from Atari and Commodore 64 to the lifelike realism of today’s video games.

We’re thankful for book clubs, e-books and audio books for the way they capture our imaginations and help us to dream bigger and bolder. We’re also grateful for great music and the way the music captures our attention and amazing lyrics cause us to think.

Several of our staff members shared their thankfulness for some basic needs that all too many people go without, things like shelter, warm clothes, fur-lined boots, a bed to sleep in, and, on cold winter nights, fireplaces and space heaters.

We’re thankful for advancements in health care and the many dedicated professionals who put those new discoveries to work to help patients overcome ailments. We appreciate good cooks, card games, clearance racks and opportunities to grow.

Let’s not forget electricity, cell phones, video conferencing, and the fun that comes with taking in a musical, play or other cultural events.

And some of us wanted to say we are thankful for a variety of sports. And though we didn’t necessarily agree on which teams we should root for, we all agreed that we’re happy to be running the race like the Apostle Paul noted in I Corinthians 9:24-27.

– Todd Seifert, communications director
tseifert@greatplainsumc.org
Share something that you are most thankful for regarding technology or comfort by posting a photo you have taken yourself or some reflective words on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Please use the hashtag #GPUMCgivesthanks.

Prayer for Reflection

Loving God, we greatly appreciate the things you’ve allowed us to develop to make our lives easier. Thank you for advancements. Help us never to take them for granted. Amen.

November 26, 2019

This week, our devotions will center on what our conference staff members shared by writing things we are thankful for on large Post-it Note pads. Please read to the end to see how you can participate.

I left my hotel a little early on a recent Saturday in Dodge City, Kansas. I was traveling to a convenience store to buy ice for drinks at a local-church communications workshop I was helping with in Cimarron. I came around a corner and saw one of the most amazing sunrise skies I’ve ever witnessed. It looked like fire in the sky. (see the accompanying photo)

God’s creation provides us with many blessings, and our staff shared some of those traits in during our Thanksgiving exercise.

We’re thankful for those amazing sunrises and sunsets. The colors that paint our skies remind us of God’s love and a reminder that God’s creation didn’t end with the stories in Genesis. We’re also thankful for the colors from the amazing array of flowers we can plant, nurture and grow in our fertile soil. And though the autumn came and went quickly this year, we are thankful for the brief time we had to see the reds, oranges, yellows and golds of the leaves as they changed with the season.

Perhaps it’s the cold, but more than a few of us stated that we are thankful for summer, for the rebirth of spring and even sunshine through our office windows.

We’re grateful for the peaceful streams, lush meadows and the beauty of the barren prairie. We’re grateful for the stillness of the early morning, the glimmering stars at night, full moons and gentle breezes. 

We’re thankful for when we can get outdoors for hikes, play in snow, jump in leaves, and spend summer by the lake.

We’re thankful for all of God’s creatures, large and small, though we’re not quite so sure about why God made spiders, snakes or mosquitoes.

We’re thankful for fresh, clean water and the technology God has provided to allow us to find it. And when it’s really cold and really hot outside, we are thankful for climate-controlled buildings. 

We’re thankful for clean air and for the knowledge we have about what is necessary to protect our environment. We pray we will have the wisdom, strength and courage to do what is necessary to care for the great creation God has provided. 
– Todd Seifert, communications director
tseifert@greatplainsumc.org

Share a part or two of your nature/creation that you are most thankful for by posting a photo you have taken yourself or some reflective words on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Please use the hashtag #GPUMCgivesthanks.

Prayer for Reflection

Masterful Creator, We give thanks for the way you share the beauty of this natural world with us. Help us to appreciate the world around us, and help us to be good stewards of your holy work.