Devotions

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

Today’s Lectionary Text
Jeremiah 13:1-11
The Lord proclaimed to me: Go and buy a linen undergarment. Wear it for a while without washing it.  So I bought a linen undergarment, as the Lord told me, and I put it on. The Lord spoke to me again: Take the undergarment that you are wearing and go at once to the Euphrates and put it under a rock. So I went and buried it at the Euphrates, as the Lord instructed. After a long time, the Lord said to me: Return to the Euphrates and dig up the undergarment that I commanded you to bury there. So I went to the Euphrates, and I dug up the linen undergarment from the place I had buried it. But it was ruined and good for nothing.
Then the Lord’s word came to me: The Lord proclaims: In the same way I will ruin the brazen pride of Judah and Jerusalem! Instead of listening to me, this wicked people follow their own willful hearts and pursue other gods, worshipping and serving them. They will become like this linen garment — good for nothing! Just as a linen undergarment clings to the body, so I created the people of Israel and Judah to cling to me, declares the Lord, to be my people for my honor, praise, and grandeur. But they wouldn’t obey.

Today’s Devotional
I’ll confess that when I think of Jeremiah, I tend to think of chapter 31, where we learn that a new covenant — which we know to be ushered in by Jesus — is on the way. But today’s reading comes long before that, with the prophet having a discussion with God.

Well, actually, Jeremiah is doing a good job of listening and following instructions. He buys a loincloth, possibly to represent the people of Judah and how they were supposed to cling closely to God. Jeremiah is told to travel more than 500 miles away from near Jerusalem to the Euphrates River to bury the loincloth under rocks. He then, “after a long time,” is told to retrieve it.

What he finds is a beat-up, ruined loincloth, damaged by time, neglect and exposure.

Many scholars tend to think Jeremiah either traveled to a waterway much closer than the Euphrates or that this is a symbolic journey — almost like a vision. The loincloth was in good condition when it was taken far away, much like the people of Judah are in good condition but soon will be taken away to the Euphrates and beyond, into exile by the Babylonians.

That same loincloth would be beaten down while near the Euphrates, just like God’s chosen people would be beaten down while in exile. Why?

God tells Jeremiah, “Instead of listening to me, this wicked people follow their own willful hearts and pursue other gods, worshipping and serving them.”

In other words, not listening to God’s call in their lives cost the people of Judah their place close to God. Their actions led to separation from God.

Have we separated ourselves from God in today’s world? Unfortunately, I think we have.

When we don’t stand up for justice for people who are judged merely by the color of their skin, by the country in which they were born, by the language they speak, or by the people they love, we separate ourselves from God. When we fail to look out for the well-being of others by choosing not to follow guidelines provided by health professionals, we separate ourselves from God. When we are comfortable with the fact that people are stuck in the margins of our society, we separate ourselves from God.

And when we fail to share the good news of Jesus Christ with people who have not heard how he reconciles us with our Creator, we fail to bring ourselves and others closer to God.

May we this day examine ourselves, discern where we have allowed ourselves to be separated from God, and then surrender to Jesus and allow Him to bring us closer to the Creator who loves us all.
    — Todd Seifert, director of communications tseifert@greatplainsumc.org 
 
 Prayer for Reflection
Loving God, Creator of all people and our beautiful world, we yearn to draw closer to you. Help us to see how we have separated ourselves from You, and help us to embrace the risen Christ as the way to draw closer to You
Today’s Lectionary Text
Matthew 11:25-30
At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Today’s Devotional
During this season of our lives, when I read this section of Scripture, I am drawn in particular to the last three verses. I write this devotion from my experience but invite you to identify with what is written as it may resonate with your own experience.

I have experienced the pandemic, the changes and issues accompanying it. I have seen the videos of the indefensible killing of George Floyd and others. And as the renewed call for peace with justice rises, I also hear voices minimizing these concerns, mocking them, even responding in anger to them. I have seen thrown into stark relief to the efforts for good, the spiritual forces of evil at work perpetuating pain, fear, and division.

I have reacted to these momentous events and others with what seems like a continuous stream of strong emotions. I’ve felt anger, sadness, concern, confusion, helplessness. I’ve felt joy when good prevailed. I’ve felt these singly and mixed together, endlessly it seems. This continuous avalanche of emotions, perceptions, and reactions has left me, I must admit, weary. I am weary of soul.

It is in this state that I hear again the words spoken by our Lord, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” In a wearying world in a wearying time, Christ is my respite. It is in turning to my Savior that I find peace. And I do need peace. Through the peace of God that surpasses my understanding, I can again begin to find strength. And I do need strength. For there is work to be done, injustice to be addressed. There is work to be done, pain to be relieved. There is work to be done, divisions to be healed. Yes, there is work to be done, nothing less than the transformation of our world.

So, as I prepare anew for this work, I seek the renewal offered by God my Creator, Jesus my Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit who gives me life. I come to my Lord and my God to receive rest and to be refreshed. I come to find respite and to be revitalized. I take this moment of quiet today, to prepare for the tumult of tomorrow.

As the rider, relishing a moment of quiet during their journey reflected, “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.” From Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost.

–A.G. Turner, pastor Valentine (Nebraska) UMC agturner@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
God of all creation, both chaos and order, I come to you today a weary traveler, a disheartened follower. I seek you, for you alone are my rest and my comfort. I seek you, for you are my strength and my song. I seek you, for you are my hope and my future. I trust in you, God who loves me, God who accepts me, God who gives me life. Renew my strength that I may continue your holy work on Earth, through Christ who gave all for me and who loves me unconditionally. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 131
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time on and forevermore.Today’s DevotionalWe’ve all gone through months now with upheaval of our “normal” and it has begun to weigh on us, we know. As different sectors of our society begin reengaging in activity, there seems to be a pull to get “back to normal”. I can feel it as I prepare each week for worship. There’s a sense that we must be up to “full speed” now, like nothing has happened or is happening around us. Whether it be the pandemic or ongoing racial tensions in our communities, our world is different in the ways we view it now. As I deal with the tug of going back to “normal”, I contemplate what it means to have a soul that is “calmed and quieted” like The Psalmist writes. How can I be like the “weaned child with its mother” when I’m tempted to speed up and go back to normal?
 
We have an opportunity to reset our lives. We can examine what is important and what was missing prior to the last few months. I hear this short psalm, and think about taking the time to be calmed and quieted to examine. How is my health? Mental, Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual? Is going back to things exactly the way they were going to be the best? Or is it chance to refocus and repurpose?
 
I hope each of you can take this time and see if your life aligns with the “hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.” When we are tired and weary, this hope sustains us. When life seems like too much is weighing on us, this hope lifts us up. When it seems like the world is fracturing around us, this hope gives us light to follow.
 
  -Rev. Zach Anderson Goodland UMC Goodland, Kansas zanderson@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Gracious and Loving God, may your Spirit sustain us and calm us. May we take the time to be calm and quiet to hear your ever-speaking voice. Help us to live into your hope forevermore. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
2 Chronicles 7:14
if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

 Today’s Devotional
I almost rejected this verse as a possible starting place for this devotional. I have seen many Facebook posts calling for the people of this country to turn back to God, confess our sins, and submit ourselves to God’s will. Not bad advice – but most often it seems to come from folks whom I suspect mean that God’s will is their will and their will is 180 degrees opposite of my understanding of God’s will. (As if I know 100% what God’s will is!)

But I decided to reacquaint myself with the context of the verse. In 2 Chronicles, chapter 6, the people are gathered to consecrate Solomon’s great temple. Much of the chapter is taken up with the prayer of Solomon, in which he praises God and the covenant that binds Israel to God, recounts the history of how they had come to that moment and asks Gods to continue to walk with the Jewish people when they face adversity. Then, midway through chapter 7, the Lord appears to Solomon in the night and makes the promise that if the people who belong to the Lord will humbly pray, seek the Lord’s face, and turn away from evil, then they will be forgiven and their land will be healed.

There are no partisan politics. There is no “he said/she said” finger pointing over what constitutes evil. There is only the promise that if the people do three (not always so simple) things, then God will hear and act.

In the end maybe it doesn’t so much matter who it is that calls for prayer, confession, and submission to God’s will. What really matters is that we do turn to God and trust that God continues to keep that promise to hear and act – whether the result is what we expect, or not. And, when we hear God’s voice giving us direction, it matters that we respond.
On this Independence Day our country is troubled by a pandemic we don’t yet fully understand – and by a history of injustice that many of us do not want to understand because it means we may have to examine ideas we have long held as truth. If this is not the time, to seek God’s healing for our country – and indeed, the world – when will it be?
            –Rev. Robbie Fall, retired Elder    Hutchinson, Kansas

Prayer for Reflection
Help us, O God, to put aside our personal ideologies and turn our concerns for ourselves, our nation, and our world over to you. Heal us, strengthen us, forgive us, and make us obedient to your voice. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 46:10-11

“Be still, and know that I am God!
    I am exalted among the nations,
    I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Today’s Devotional

One of the best trips I have taken was to visit two national parks with my dad the summer before I went to college. I have never experienced more breathtaking mountains. While I was there, I hiked long, narrow roads by bodies of water and down into warm, comforting valleys.

When you think of mountains, what comes to mind? Do mountains shift? Do mountains move? Are mountains to be conquered? Are they to be admired or shaken? Recently, I have been thinking about mountains in the light of powerlessness.

God is showing me that I construct mountains as a solo trekker. My tendency is to tackle my fallen nature single-handedly and, in doing so, I build a mountain. I operate as a solo-heroic hiker exhausting myself conquering that mountain. I increase my motives and suppress the Lord. I build these mountains every day in trying to be a husband, a father, a friend or an employee. In my faith journey, I think I have to do all of these “things” to get it right; that I have to strive. In my self-satisfying willfulness, I build what then subsequently needs to be moved or shifted. I forget dawning is the mountain of the Lord.

In thinking back on my trip with my dad, before we even entered the mountain, we were boated across a calm, cool and crisp lake. The imagery has stayed with me as I think about how we are called to sit beside the still water of His mountain. In Psalm 46:10, He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Through stillness, we cease constructing our own mountains and instead take full advantage of the mountain made available to us. When our striving stops, we sit still, we are able to experience the dawning of the mountain of the LordSpiritual disciplines such as reading scripture, praying and worship still the waters that guide us to the mountain of the Lord.

God is everything, but I am so busy constructing my own mountains that I miss out on what God is doing! Mountains are a proclamation of God’s goodness and creation. God is the mountain of overwhelming grace and mercy. God’s glory is the actual mountain and it is already here, it is available for us to view, encounter, enjoy, and rest in His peace and power.

We will build mountains in our life but remember the mountain of God is dawning. That is the most powerful mountain! In comparison, your mountains may actually be more like bumps along the path trembling before God, so no matter where you are in life, God has called you His children. Think about how you might endeavor to be as clear and crisp as still water by the mountain of our Heavenly Father. God’s mountain is sufficient so sit at his feet and enjoy the view looking up at His magnificence.

-Shane Warta Lay Leadership Coordinator swarta@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Lord, you have been our help generation after generation. Before the mountains were born, before you birthed the earth and the inhabited world – from forever in the past to forever in the future, you are God. Teach us to do what pleases you, because you are our God. Guide us by your good spirit into a good land.

Today’s Lectionary Text
2 Kings 3:4-20 
Now King Mesha of Moab was a sheep breeder, who used to deliver to the king of Israel one hundred thousand lambs, and the wool of one hundred thousand rams. But when Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. So King Jehoram marched out of Samaria at that time and mustered all Israel. As he went he sent word to King Jehoshaphat of Judah, “The king of Moab has rebelled against me; will you go with me to battle against Moab?” He answered, “I will; I am with you, my people are your people, my horses are your horses.” Then he asked, “By which way shall we march?” Jehoram answered, “By the way of the wilderness of Edom.”So the king of Israel, the king of Judah, and the king of Edom set out; and when they had made a roundabout march of seven days, there was no water for the army or for the animals that were with them. Then the king of Israel said, “Alas! The Lord has summoned us, three kings, only to be handed over to Moab.” But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no prophet of the Lord here, through whom we may inquire of the Lord?” Then one of the servants of the king of Israel answered, “Elisha son of Shaphat, who used to pour water on the hands of Elijah, is here.” Jehoshaphat said, “The word of the Lord is with him.” So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him.Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What have I to do with you? Go to your father’s prophets or to your mother’s.” But the king of Israel said to him, “No; it is the Lord who has summoned us, three kings, only to be handed over to Moab.” Elisha said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, whom I serve, were it not that I have regard for King Jehoshaphat of Judah, I would give you neither a look nor a glance. But get me a musician.” And then, while the musician was playing, the power of the Lord came on him. And he said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘I will make this wadi full of pools.’ For thus says the Lord, ‘You shall see neither wind nor rain, but the wadi shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, you, your cattle, and your animals.’ This is only a trifle in the sight of the Lord, for he will also hand Moab over to you. You shall conquer every fortified city and every choice city; every good tree you shall fell, all springs of water you shall stop up, and every good piece of land you shall ruin with stones.” The next day, about the time of the morning offering, suddenly water began to flow from the direction of Edom, until the country was filled with water.

Today’s Devotional
Our world may feel different than it was a year ago when this devotion was originally published, but some things remain the same.

Elisha had to be feeling pressure. Elijah warned inheriting a double portion of his spirit wouldn’t be easy, and he was right. Three armies camped without water. Three kings so desperate for God’s guidance that rather than summon the prophet to them, they have come to him to seek his help. A king does not do that. But here are three, doing just that.
 
Elisha’s response isn’t unusual for prophets, and it’s one which resonates with our hearts today. “But get me a musician.” And then, while the musician was playing, the power of the Lord came over him. (verse 15)
 
Music touches our hearts and souls, connects us to one another, and connects us with God in ways that words alone simply can’t. It is a part of our entire lives. Parents sing babies lullabies to comfort them. As children we learn the letters of the alphabet and we learn about our relationship with God in song.
 
Jesus loves me! This I know, for the Bible tells me so.
 
You didn’t read that, you sang it in your head, didn’t you? Music can connect us to camps, to teams, to relationships, to our wedding day. At the end of life, music connects us to memories when other parts of our brains are failing.
 
In our faith journey, there is music which connects us to worship in times and places past, music which will bring joy to our hearts, and some music we may almost always bring tears to our eyes as we sing. As the people called Methodists, we are blessed with the prolific poetry and song writing of Charles Wesley. His words still speak to us, and we continue to add to them. Thanks to modern technology, we don’t have to seek out a musician if we want to find inspiration in music; it may be as close as our smart phone. But the power of God to speak to us and to inspire us in song is just as real today.
 Rev. Michael Turner Big Springs and Topeka Grace UMCs
michael.turner@greatplainsumc.org

 Prayer for Reflection
Holy God, we give you thanks for your gift of music, and for all those who use their gifts to serve you by bringing music to our world. Hear us when we worship and praise you in song, and open our hearts and minds to hear when you speak to us through music. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Isaiah 51:1-3
Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,
    you that seek the Lord.
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
    and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father
    and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
    but I blessed him and made him many.
For the Lord will comfort Zion;
    he will comfort all her waste places,
and will make her wilderness like Eden,
    her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
    thanksgiving and the voice of song.

Today’s Devotional
This January, I traveled to Israel-Palestine with my fellow seminarians. We saw all the major sites in Bethlehem, Galilee and Jerusalem. When I was packing for my trip, I got excited to see so many of the places. However, when I arrived, I never expected a little ancient town on the Sea of Galilee to make the largest impact.

My name is Madeline, which means “Woman from Magdala” and as kid from Nebraska, I had no idea what Magdala meant. Instead, my mom would always tell me stories of the great-grandmother I shared the name with. I’d hear about how loving Madeline was. However, since I never met my great-grandmother, I had to hear the stories from others. But when I visited Magdala, I saw a baptism in the chapel on the shore of Galilee. Watching this young baby be welcomed into the family of God, I thought about how my mom felt when I was baptized, and how the name Madeline meant so much to her. I thought about Mary Magdalene one of the great disciples, and the witness to the resurrection. Those saints who have gone before me, guide me throughout my life to carry God’s mission.

And so, Isaiah 51:1-3 reminds us to remember the generations before us. To remember the people who are a part of the family of God. Maybe it is the family members who helped guide your family, the Biblical saints or other friends. We then can ask ourselves; how will we live out God’s message of love in the world? Preaching the good news? Serving others? Seeking justice? The world I live in looks different than that of Mary Magdalene and my grandmother, Madeline, however the grace of God extended to them is the same grace extended to us all. So how will you “remember the rock from which you were hewn,” the saints who came before you, and continue to live into their mission?
 -Maddie Baugous Lincoln St. Marks UMC maddibau@gmail.com

Prayer for Reflection
Loving God, as we remember our past, the saints who walked before us, guide us to follow in their path to bring about restoration and love to our world. Remind us, we are all part of family, and you know our names. We pray to you our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 121
I lift up my eyes to the hills—
    from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time on and forevermore.

Today’s Devotional
I must admit these days that my brain feels more like the dog from the movie “Up.” Dug is laser-focused on things, until he is not. It’s become a family joke about when someone’s attention wanders someone yells, “Squirrel!”
Between the news about politics, the pandemic, working from home, following safety guidance and the lovely gifts left over from chemotherapy, my focus hasn’t been as great as it once was. I’m having trouble reading and concentrating and it feels like everything is out of focus and blurry. Routines have been upset, new challenges have come up, and new ways of working and planning have become the norm for those of us who are lucky enough to hold onto our jobs. And for those who haven’t been as fortunate, I can’t imagine the stress and fear and heartache they are going through trying to keep it all together.I think I have sung the scripture above more times than I’ve read it out loud. It is such a lovely image. It also reminds me of my grandmother, who would say in a tough time, “Keep your chin up.” This Psalm feels like God’s way of saying, “Keep your chin up. Better things are ahead. Keep looking toward the horizon, looking toward God.”If we can manage to put our blinders on and stay laser-focused on our God and Savior and ignore all the “squirrels” vying for our attention to throw us of course, then I think it’s going to be OK. I am not saying it’s going to be easy and there won’t be heartache and struggle, but we know that our God is in the struggle with us and doesn’t abandon us to the darkness.It is hard to see in the middle of the storm the hand that’s reaching out to hold us near. I pray that in this season of trial and turmoil, you seek out and take hold of that hand. You may still struggle but may you be enfolded in his love and peace as you work through it
.-Lisa Soukup Communications administrative assistant
lsoukup@greatplainsumc.org  

Prayer for Reflection
God, our father, and sustainer be with those who are struggling and hurting. Give them comfort and love as they learn to lean on you. Be with those who are fortunate during this time that they feel a spirit of generosity and help us all to look to you and keep our focus on you that we may feel your presence in our lives today.
Today’s Lectionary Text
1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.
 
 Today’s Devotional
It’s easy to make things complicated. How’s that for an ironic statement? But it’s true. And we’ve done a number on that where living out the basic tenant of our faith is concerned, at least from where I’m sitting. It seems that we can get embroiled in a dozen different conversations about Christian living, morality, the life of faith. Hear me out — those things are important, but somewhere along the way, we lost track of the simple root of this great vine: Love.
 
The rules, the dogma and praxis — the whole Book of Discipline is void if it can’t fit through this filter. It is the lens through which we who claim to follow Jesus view all of our life choices.
 
Here’s the other Great Foolishness of our faith though: The root call is so simple but it’s awfully hard to live out every day. And that’s why we practice. We do life together. We stay invested in our neighborhoods and the work being done there. We tend to the messy gardens of our own hearts and minds. We love in the doing. In the being. In the working. In the knowing. And, yes, in the receiving.
 
We know what we need to do. Chances are good it will look a little different today than it did a year ago, and the chances are even better that — if we’re paying attention and growing in love — we’ll get better at it as time goes on. It’s such a simple command with such a difficult learning curve. I’m going to keep practicing, starting with my own admittance that sometimes love is hard. And sometimes I’m hard to love. But here we are, ready to get our hands dirty with the most important work in the world — bringing the kingdom of heaven to harvest here on earth. We’re called to be busy doing the work of love.
 — Jodi-Renee Giron Discipleship and Spiritual Life Director
Trinity United Methodist Church in Lincoln jodirenee@trinitylincoln.org

Prayer for Reflection
God of Love, we know that it’s good for our hearts, souls, and bodies when we live together in love. Soften our hearts for this messy work of loving ourselves and loving others the way you would have us do it. Keep us busy with what is true, good, and beautiful.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 13
How long will you forget me, Lord? Forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long will I be left to my own wits,
    agony filling my heart? Daily?
How long will my enemy keep defeating me?Look at me!
    Answer me, Lord my God!
Restore sight to my eyes!
    Otherwise, I’ll sleep the sleep of death,
        and my enemy will say, “I won!”
        My foes will rejoice over my downfall.But I have trusted in your faithful love.
    My heart will rejoice in your salvation.
Yes, I will sing to the Lord
    because he has been good to me.

Today’s Devotional
How long . . .how long . . .how long . . .how long . . .(vs. 1& 2) Over the past 110 days of COVID-19 focus in the Great Plains Conference, I have asked how long more than once. I can almost guess that a lot of you have asked the same. That biblical cry has sustained us in various times of our lives when we could not find other words to express our souls. How long? With each new day, the situation remains the same, and again we are left in wonderment of when will we see the end?

Look at me! Answer me, Lord my God! (v.3a) And in His quiet way I see and hear His words through you. COVID-19 has not stopped us in the Great Plains! It has not closed our houses of worship! You, the people, who are most likely asking how long, are the church and the church is alive and making disciples in new and fresh ways.

I was talking to a friend of mine in south Georgia a few nights ago, and we were comparing notes on which worship services we are joining each Sunday via Facebook and livestream. We talked about the ways that ministry is happening, how the ability to spend much of Sunday in various worship settings is refreshing and providing much time of deep soul nurturing. After we hung up, I wandered through the conversation again, came back to this passage, and found that the words how long were not so restrictive after all.

How long has produced beautiful moments of new ways of connecting, meeting, praying and worshiping. How long reminds us that life is precious, and that we really will go to any measure to do what is necessary to do no harm and to keep individuals safe and well.

How long has reminded me of God’s faithful love, a love I cannot even imagine. It has reminded me of a steadfast relationship with Him, that is beyond what we live each day. How long is pretty short when my focus is on the One who loves me no matter what.
-Rev. Hollie Tapley Disaster Response Coordinator htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection 
Lord, remind us each day of Your faithful and steadfast love. Turn our how longs into powerful times of soul nurturing. Thank You for new opportunities of being the Church. May we never forget that is one of our roles. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
1 Peter 5:9-11
Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 
 
Today’s Devotional
The fourth week in June has been so devastating to my spiritual journey. I keep on asking God about the suffering happening around the globe on several fronts. Politically, nations are under turmoil, unrests, wars, and confusion. These have spilled over and now polarizing the body of Christ. Families have had their share of burying the dead the infliction of the rare pandemic throughout the world.

The world has been buffeted by COVID-19 resulting in the temporary closure of church doors. The good news is that our hearts have been enriched through social media platforms. The devotion today encourages us to keep standing despite the mounting challenges of our time.

Peter encouraged the Christians of his day to resist the devil who roared like a lion, yet powerless. We are also persuaded to stand firm in the faith in difficult times. While some of the challenges of our day are inevitable, believers around the globe are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. God sees our sufferings and is able to grace our lives.

Peter brings good news to the body of Christ. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.” Indeed, after we have suffered from all sicknesses, the COVID-19 pandemic, the closure of our churches, schools and cities, God will restore our houses of worship, families, nations, and the world.

God is always in the business of making things right. The enemy comes in like a flood and the Lord will always lift up a standard. The word encourages us that suffering is ending because God is in control. God will make the church and nations strong again. He will establish His kingdom mightily among His people.

Suffering has an expiration date because our God is able to do far exceedingly and abundantly beyond our human imagination according to his power that works in us. He encouraged, “after you have suffered a little while God will act powerfully.”
 — Ever V. Mudambanuki Bennington and Solomon United Methodist Churches EMudambanuki@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
O God, restore our lives anew after we have suffered a little while. Teach us to stand firm in your word and promises. Let this suffering produce faithful and strong Christians. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 
I cry aloud to God,
    aloud to God, that he may hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
    in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
    my soul refuses to be comforted.
I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;
    I will remember your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all your work,
    and muse on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
    What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
    you have displayed your might among the peoples.
With your strong arm you redeemed your people,
    the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
When the waters saw you, O God,
    when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
    the very deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water;
    the skies thundered;
    your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
    your lightnings lit up the world;
    the earth trembled and shook.
Your way was through the sea,
    your path, through the mighty waters;
    yet your footprints were unseen.
You led your people like a flock
    by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Today’s Devotional

Most of my life, I have had insomnia. I had a hard time sleeping as a child, and things just got worse when I was in my teens. I learned to survive on little sleep, but I also knew many dark nights of the soul, when my troubles, thoughts and sorrows would overtake me. I used to joke that I always slept like a baby: awake every two hours, crying. My sleeping got much better as I grew older and grew in my faith. I know it seems trite to just say “hand your worries over to God.” Yet faith gives perspective, and perspective is the great antidote to anxiety.

The part of this Psalm that we skip over in this selection finds the speaker digging deeper into despair, recalling many days of trouble and many sleepless nights. The Psalmist wonders if God has forgotten to show grace, if kindness is gone forever, if compassion has been swallowed by wrath. Then, instead of recalling the many nights of anguish, the Psalmist turns to the history of God’s grace, and kindness and compassion. And it is in that history, even though it is a national history and not a personal history, that gives the Psalmist perspective in the face of anxiety. In fact, it is that God has been shown in history to be graceful and kind and compassionate, that gives us faith that God will be so to us, even though it seems we are abandoned by God.

We live in anxious times, and the worst thing to say is, “Trust in God and everything will be all right.” No, but God is faithful. God will redeem God’s people. God will take the side of those who suffer under Pharaoh’s whip. God is with us when we walk with God. Meditate on the great deeds of God, the great grace of the cross, the great kindness to a sinful people, the great compassion for those who seek God’s presence. What god is so great as our God?-Rev. Daniel Norwood Barnes, Haddam, Washington First UMC’s
dnorwood@greatplainsumc.org

*This devotion was originally sent 6/28/2019 

Prayer for Reflection

Oh Lord, as we call out in our dark nights of anguish, let us know your grace and kindness and compassion. May we be comforted in your history of faithfulness, and your abundant love. In Christ name we pray, Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text
1 Corinthians 13
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Today’s Devotional
The past few years we have taken some of our cattle out to my in-law’s pastures near Wilson, Kansas. This is known as Post Rock Country for their use of the limestone for fence posts. This year I came across the above configuration and thought, “That will preach.”

My first thoughts were of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But as I have looked longer at the photo two other things have come to mind. Faith, Hope and Love has been a part of many a wedding ceremony. I know Paul was talking about the church when he wrote these words, but these stone posts remind me of those words and marriage.

My in-laws have been married for over 50 years. For my parents this is not their first marriage, but they are celebrating their 26th this year. My husband and I will be married for 19 years in August. I see the two outer posts leaning in together and the central post is our faith in God.

Over time, the wire holding these posts can become slack and the central post may lean, but if we work on it every year, tighten the barbed wire and continue to support each other, encourage each other and deepen our faith then it can last a lifetime.

I do not know when these fences were originally built, and I wonder if the original builders knew they would be around this long and celebrated. I wonder if they were people of faith who also thought of the trinity when they built their fences. I do know that they were clever and aware that a single post was bound to give way, but with support on each side it would last a very long time.–Lisa Soukup Communications administrative assistant
lsoukup@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the words of Paul to your church regarding faith, hope, and love. We know the greatest of these is love. Help us to lean on each other and put you in the center of our lives.
Today’s Lectionary Text
2 Timothy 4:7

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Today’s Devotional

Hi my name is Jaylie Postlewait! This fall I will be a Junior Communication at Emporia State University. I am an avid coffee drinker who plays board games and likes to hang out with my friends in my free time. Campus Ministries has been the place that I have grown and developed my faith. 

I was going to write about empathy vs sympathy and the importance of knowing the difference and how to be empathetic while living in this broken world that is today. The video that I think explains it best is an animation of Brené Brown’s speech on Empathy. It is short and a great watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw But I, as many teens are these days, was scrolling through tik tok the other day and I heard about 30 seconds of a sermon and I knew that I needed to watch it. So I scrolled through the comments in hopes that someone would have the link and there it was. The sermon was by Pastor Rick Warren and it is titled “If I Could Only Teach You One Thing: Why God Made You”. 

This sermon was an hour and 15 minutes long but was so easy to listen to because it was something that I have wondered about my whole life. I have always been insecure about who I am, what I am doing, and have asked myself the question why am I here and what is my purpose countless times. The sermon was so impactful that I felt called to share it with you today. 

Pastor Rick goes through the five callings that we have as humans on earth and covers four different purposes that we all have. A common thing that he talked about was that one of the reasons that we are here is to practice for the things that we will be doing in heaven. The first of the 5 callings is God planned me for His pleasure. The Bible states “You God created everything, and it is for Your pleasure that they exist and were created!” (Revelation 4:11b). God created us because He wanted us and He loves us no matter what. He loves us when we are simply being ourselves not just when we are doing religious things. Hosea 6:6 states “I don’t want your sacrifices – I want your love! I don’t want your offerings – I want you to know me!”, and so the first purpose that he states is to know and love God. 
The second calling is God formed me for His family. God made each and every one of us so that we could be a part of His family and so that He could show His love. Something that is discussed in the sermon is the idea of a church. I believe that church is just a building, but it hosts a community. Due to COVID-19 we have all seen this. Pastor Rick talks about how the church is a family, and how we need to not only believe in God but to belong to His family. In heaven we are going to be worshiping, loving one another, fellowshipping, and more and while we are here we need to be doing those things. The second purpose that he states is to learn to love others.

This third calling is the one that I was focused on the most: God created me to become like Christ. This is the section of the tik tok that I heard, it is about how when you go to Heaven you are not taking your car, money, job, whatever it may be, you are taking your character and who you have become. God put us here so that we could grow who we are supposed to be. Galatians 5:22-23 lists 9 qualities that Christ possesses: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”. Pastor Rick talked about how the way that you strengthen these qualities in yourself is by God testing them. It is a life-long process to become more like Christ, there is not a seminar, a class, or something magic that makes this instantly happen. You must work towards it. The third purpose of life is to grow up spiritually. 

The fourth calling is: God shaped me to serve Him. During this part of the sermon he talked about S.H.A.P.E. which stands for: spiritual gift, heart, ability, personality, and experiences. It is important to know that nobody on this earth is created exactly like you and that is a good thing. We all have different gifts, hearts, abilities, personalities, and experiences, and they all shape us into who we are. Ephesians 2:10 says “God made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us to do good works, which He planned in advance for us to live our lives doing”. He made us who we are supposed to be and with that we must go out into the world and do good. In 1 Peter 4:10 it states “God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other, passing on to others God’s many kinds of blessings”. This leads into the fourth purpose of life to serve God by serving others. 

The last calling Pastor Rick covers is God made me for a mission. Many of us do not know what our mission in life is and I think that is okay if we are continually talking with God as we search for it. This is important because God is so good and He will be there for us, in Psalm 34:8 the Bible says “Open your eyes and see how good God is! Blessed are you who run to Him”. Nobody in the world will love you as much as God loves you. Run to Him in the good times and in the bad times, He will never fail you! There are many people in the world who are lost, broken, have had bad experiences with religion, etc. and this verse from Matthew 11:28-30 speaks to all of God’s children who may be experiencing hardships: “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”. 

Because it makes no difference who you are or where you are from – if you want God and you are ready to do as He says, the door is open.

Thank you for sticking with me through this! If you would like to watch the whole thing here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5xyYI9tNV8&feature=youtu.be
-Jaylie Postlewait  Emporia State Campus Ministry-

*More devotions from Emporia State Campus ministry Faith Lab can be found at https://umcmfaithlab.wordpress.com/author/umcmfatihlab/

Today’s Lectionary Text
Luke 1:5-23 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John” (vs.13). I often wonder if, after picking himself up off the floor, if the follow-up words may have somehow brought some comfort to Zechariah? For he will be great in the Lord’s eyes. He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God. He will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking. (vs. 15,16,17b).

Today’s Devotional
It’s not everyday those words are spoken to an upcoming father.

Just as quickly I find my mind wondering about John, as he has grown into the person God anointed him to be. John prepares the way for the Lord – what a high calling! Bringing people back to the Lord, instructing them on turning from their disobedience into people of righteousness.

As I meditate on this passage today, our nation and world are in turmoil. COVID-19, the Inflammatory Disease, and the racial injustice has attempted to dim the flame of Pentecost. It does not matter what news channel you watch, from local to national, it’s the same stories. The stories that are so strongly attempting to put out the fire of righteousness.

I don’t have the answers. I don’t know the proper words to say. Yet what I do know, is like John, I am called and anointed to bring people back to God. I, like John, are called to teach others to turn from disobedience to righteousness. There is something else that I do know – you are John also. You are also called and anointed to bring people back to God. You are also called to teach others to turn from disobedience to righteousness. Indeed, it takes every single one of us to produce change. We don’t have to know the proper words. We don’t have to have the answers. We just need to be like John.

Hey, John – what are you up to today? -Rev. Hollie Tapley Disaster Response Coordinator htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Creator of the human ones, anoint us again. Forgive us for not being who You have called us to be. Help us to be like John, a person preparing the way for the Lord. Drive us to bring people back to God. Instill within us the desire to teach righteousness. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 6 
O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger,
    or discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
    O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
My soul also is struck with terror,
    while you, O Lord—how long?Turn, O Lord, save my life;
    deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
    in Sheol who can give you praise?I am weary with my moaning;
    every night I flood my bed with tears;
    I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eyes waste away because of grief;
    they grow weak because of all my foes.Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
    for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my supplication;
    the Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror;
    they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame.

Today’s Devotional
Let me admit, I am tired. I feel worn out. All I want to do is take a nap. As our world is troubled by a global pandemic our country addresses systemic racism, I feel tried from all which has happened in the last few months. I feel as though myself and many others are crying out to God, and simply crying out with pain, grief, and a call for justice on our lips. For myself, I have grieved not seeing my friends or church community in the physical church building. I have been moved to work on addressing my own racism, after watching many black and brown bodies be unjustly harmed and killed.
 
Many might feel disheartened and unsure what this all means for us. And we feel like the psalmist who writes, “Weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.” (Psalm 6:6) Our world right now is weeping and crying out due to the great pain and injustice present in our world. In this moment, tears and sleepless nights might be all we can manage. Often, we are told to simply stay positive, to not be sad by the world but to find joy. But there is such power in lamenting or expressing our grief to God. For God hears our cries. For God knows the pain we are experiencing and lets us all have our moment to express our pain and just lament. God’s steadfast love never leaves us, and the God of life will be the one who cares for us in these moments. If you are feeling frustrated, sad, or lost: call out to God. Lament. Feel all the emotions. And know God’s steadfast love will never leave you, even during pain and challenges.
~Maddi Baugous Lincoln St. Marks UMC maddibau@gmail.com

Prayer for Reflection
God of resurrection, there is much pain and sadness in our world. Hear our laments and reassure our spirits so we can continue to bring healing and life to this world. In your everlasting name we pray. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text

Psalm 100
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come into his presence with singing.Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he that made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him, bless his name.For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations.

Today’s Devotional
I spent six years working part-time in radio, playing everything from Top 40 to easy listening to country to contemporary Christian to polkas. (Shout-out on the latter to KUTT-FM in Fairbury; anecdotes available on request.)

My next 25-plus years were spent largely interviewing and writing about musicians and reviewing concerts.

Through all that, I’ve been interested in the Christian songs and performers that have crossed over into the pop world. Remember when Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith were on the charts? How about songs like Bob Carlisle’s “Butterfly Kisses” in 1997, or MercyMe’s “I Can Only Imagine” in 2001?

The latest example is Lauren Daigle’s song “You Say,” which was released nearly two years ago and is still on the adult contemporary chart.

“You Say” is not about making a joyful noise, as suggested in Psalm 100. It’s about God being there in the troubling times: “You say I am loved/When I can’t feel a thing/You say I am strong/When I think I am weak/You say I am held/When I am falling short/When I don’t belong/You say I am Yours …”

In the past few months, more than ever, we’ve felt alone. We don’t have the embrace of close friends, the laughs with co-workers, or the comfort of extended family – at least not in person.

We’ve missed out on rites of passage like graduations and weddings. There’ve been no concerts, no theater, no parties.

We feel alone.

But in the midst of all our emptiness, all our loneliness during this time – we need to remember God is there. And we need to remember that we are His.
 –David Burke communications content specialist dburke@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Dear God, you have told us that we are loved, that we are strong, that we are held by You and that we are Yours. Let us remember that You are always there for us. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text

Phillipians 2:1-4

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

Today’s Devotional
As a Micah Corps intern (thanks Great Plains Conference for that great program), we’ve been working this summer on social justice work within the church community. To say it has been a light summer would be quite the understatement. We’ve been navigating a pandemic of both COVID-19 and racism, all while being isolated from each other. As a white woman who grew up in York, Nebraska, I never thought that my ignorance of racial inequality would impact my ability to be a steward of God. That was until an incredible nonprofit, Nebraska Appleseed, shared with us a racial equity training called Cracking the Code. This training has helped me see my white superiority complex and how it impacts my thought process and influences my theology. However, it has also helped me see how I can break this down and use my privilege as a way to empower others, the way Christ intended all of His people to act. I found this scripture comforting and confronting during my reflection and effort to be a better white ally to systems of injustice. On the one hand, there is no hesitation to call us out in the scripture! God sees our selfishness and our ability to “other” each other automatically. But God also gives us hope in this scripture, through a call to remain humble, learn from others, and grow from our own faults. This reminds me of the last part of the Micah Corps mission from Micah 6:8 which states “walk humbly with God.”Over my experience with Micah Corps and being a human in 2020, I’ve had to lean into the uncomfortable nature of humility. We all want to be a beacon of light but for me it has been crucial in knowing the places where I am not an expert. Letting other people shine, embracing my own humility, and learning has shown me the pure nature of Christ’s grace. I challenge you to get a little uncomfortable and find new places to grow in your humility this week!  –Sam Redfern Nebraska Wesleyan University ’21  sredfern@nebrwesleyan.edu

Prayer for Reflection: “God please give us the mercy to meet us where we are, and the spirit to run to your perfect example of justice through Jesus Christ. Let us continue to recognize your great knowledge and our inability to always have the right answers. Keep us going in the moments where we feel most uncomfortable” 
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 92
It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
    to sing praises to your name, Most High;
    to proclaim your loyal love in the morning,
        your faithfulness at nighttime
    with the ten-stringed harp,
        with the melody of the lyre
    because you’ve made me happy, Lord,
    by your acts.
    I sing with joy because of your handiwork.
How awesome are your works, Lord!
    Your thoughts are so deep!
Ignorant people don’t know—
    fools don’t understand this:
    though the wicked spring up like grass
    and all evildoers seem to blossom,
    they do so only to be destroyed forever.
But you, Lord, are exalted forever!Look at your enemies, Lord!
    Look at how your enemies die,
    how all evildoers are scattered abroad!
But you’ve made me as strong as a wild ox.
    I’m soaked in precious ointment.
My eyes have seen my enemies’ defeat;
    my ears have heard the downfall of my evil foes.The righteous will spring up like a palm tree.
    They will grow strong like a cedar of Lebanon.
Those who have been replanted in the Lord’s house
    will spring up in the courtyards of our God.
They will bear fruit even when old and gray;
    they will remain lush and fresh in order to proclaim:
        “The Lord is righteous.
        He’s my rock.
        There’s nothing unrighteous in him.”

Today’s Devotional
Our scripture brings these words to light: Those who have been replanted in the Lord’s house will spring up in the courtyards of our God. They will bear fruit even when old and gray; they will remain lush and fresh in order to proclaim: The Lord is righteous. He’s my rock. There’s nothing unrighteous in Him. (vs. 13-15)

What a glorious picture that is! I’m thankful that God continues to replant each us over and over. We may never move, yet we are being replanted into new situations around us. Who of us ever dreamed that a pandemic would move us to new ways of worship, study, prayer, giving, serving and sharing our faith? When we were cut from the old and gray, we adjusted and have flourished in ways we never thought of. And guess what? Our new ways are lush and fresh! Out of our old and gray have come new and strong ways to proclaim God. We lived through it! We are living through it!

Let us use our old and gray to establish strong, beautiful people of faith who “do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can” (John Wesley).–Rev. Hollie Tapley Disaster Response Coordinator htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Father, my we continue to be strong, to bear much fruit, and to be fresh in all the ways that we can, as we are doing good to all people, whoever they are. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 3:1-10

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Today’s Devotional

Miracles strengthen our faith and happen all the time. Acts 3:1-10 alludes to that. Luke’s narrative portrays the manifestation and works of the Holy Spirit done through Peter and John. These two apostles had caught the fire of the Holy Spirit and were mightily used by God. Jesus had prophesied saying, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The first manifestation of God’s miracle happened at the Beautiful gate, close to the temple in Jerusalem.

I read this scripture with astonishment and soaked myself in the power of the Holy Spirit. The expectations of the unnamed man at the Beautiful gate were shattered when Peter spoke boldly of a new beginning, new day, and everlasting name of Jesus. “Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” 5So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. 6Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”7Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong” (Acts 3:4-6)

So, the lame man experienced a transformative life instantly on this day. It was a new day of rejoicing, leaping, entering the temple after many decades of sitting at the Beautiful gate. It was a moment of testifying the wonderful works of the Holy Spirit. I assume Peter was surprised by this miracle, yet Jesus had prophesied that they would do mighty works if they believed in Jesus. “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12). Peter and John demonstrated God’s power to the entire Jerusalem city.

The first miracle dumbfounded the worshipers and onlookers. 9When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called the Beautiful Gate, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. (Acts 3:9-10)

This then leads me to my childhood testimony. This is an everlasting imprinted miracle in my entire life. I am a miracle child. At age of 2, I lost speech, could not walk, and the torrent of death encompassed me awhile. The word concerning my sickness spread like wildfire within the family. This condition then forced my paternal grandmother to predict a speedy death. She sent one of my uncles with a death projection and wanted me to die at the family estate.
Amazingly, God intervened in my plight. I started talking, stood up, and walked toward the messenger sent. Unbelievably I greeted Uncle Joseph softly and perfectly. (“Mwakadini” in Shonalanguage) which means (“How are you?”) My parents were shocked. They leaped with joy praising God. Power of death was defeated, and new life began. Saints, I was healed! Speech restored and feet strengthened. This was a pivotal moment in my late parents’ life to experience such a powerful miracle.

The healing of the lame man happened speedily at the watch of the temple worshipers. What troubles me most in this scripture is the setting of the lame man, the beautiful gate. Close to the temple, a place of worship yet distanced from the internal activities within the sacred place. Day in and out he received alms and was carried to this setting. His condition was long lived and pathetic. Peter and John became the catalyst of his healing and divine restoration.
It might even resonate with our communities too. We have people who are carried to Beautiful gates with various conditions. People who are lame spiritual, financially, physically, mentally, and socially. Peter demonstrated the power of the Holy Spirit when he said, “In the name of Jesus of Jesus Christ, Walk.” I presume that the unnamed man’s life became a blessing in his community. I also suppose he started a great ministry to the physical challenged and referred them to Peter and John. His healing unveiled all his engrained life potentialities within his destiny. Perhaps he later found a beautiful woman got married and settled. Pursuing better education and lived a life worth calling. Another supposition is that he might have even started a business to the hand capped. Truth told; he became great beneficiary of the Holy Spirit mighty acts. -Rev. Ever Mudambanuki
United Church of Bennington / Solomon Yoked Parish- Salina District

EMudambanuki@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

O God of miracles, show your mighty acts among your people this season of Pentecost season. Let the Holy Spirit manifest great power and signs and wonders within your church. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text
Matthew 19:14
but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

Today’s Devotional
Following surgery and a stint in a skilled nursing facility, I came home on March 16. While I was away, the world had changed. Because I also have several underlying health issues that make me vulnerable to COVID-19, I have stayed very close to home ever since. I’m careful when I have to do shopping, and (until this week) I have only eaten out via drive-thru fast food. My masks are my friends.

Worst, though, for me as for many others, has been the lack of human contact. So, I looked forward to physical therapy and medical appointments just because there would be another human being touching me!

Then came Memorial Day weekend. It is my family’s practice to put flowers on the graves of family members on Friday evening or early Saturday morning. So, on Friday evening my brother and I headed to the cemetery to meet up with his wife and two of their granddaughters who had been helping put flags on veterans’ graves.

I had not seen the little girls since shortly after Christmas, but when they saw me get out of the truck, they came running across the cemetery to fling their arms around me and give me the best kind of hug. It felt so good to be hugged! Especially to be hugged by two young girls who were not worried about a virus or concerned as to whether they should hug me or not. They were just letting me know that they love me and had missed me.

Seven-year-old Annie, always followed by her 3-year-old sister, greets everyone in the same enthusiastic manner. Together, they welcome anyone and everyone into their circle without regard for who a person is or if that person is known to them or is someone just waiting to become a new friend.
Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t forbid them because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children.”

In recent weeks, as civil unrest over a long history of discrimination has unfolded across our country, I have thought about Jesus’ words in the context of the openness of children to welcome others. Until they are taught to hate or fear others – or far worse, learn fear out of experiences with others – children get it. We are all God’s children and precious in God’s sight. Until we ALL learn to greet and experience others as children of God and members of the kingdom of heaven, we will continue to struggle with systemic discrimination, ingrained white privilege, and an unwillingness to let go of those things that keep us separated.
 –Rev. Robbie Fall, retired elder Hutchinson, Kansas rfall@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Creator God, as Jesus welcomed all – especially the children – to his side, let us open wide our circles to enthusiastically receive all your children so that your kingdom may truly come. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
1 Samuel 3:1-9

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Today’s Devotional

This passage from 1 Samuel is one of the earliest call stories that I can remember really spending time reflecting on in my youth. I’m sure it was used during some youth camp that I attended along the way, but it is one that I have constantly harkened back to throughout my faith journey. From my earliest memories of faith, I never doubted that God was calling me to something. The “what” God was calling me to was usually the sticking point in my struggle with God. Was it professional ministry? Ordained ministry? Lay ministry? What did God want from me?

The constant return to Samuel’s story seemed familiar to me, like I could really understand the story. I think it was because I often found myself, and still do many days, hearing the call from God, but answering it in the wrong place or towards the wrong people. I don’t recognize that voice is God, who is calling me to something new and exciting (and often terrifying). I’m thankful for the “Eli’s” in my life who have helped me hear more clearly and really listen to what God has in store for me and my ministry.

It’s so easy for us, as humans, to try to ignore or not really listen to what God would have us do. It’s easy to shrug off the “nudge” or “push” as irrelevant or not real. We as individuals, and collectively as the church, need to create more space to really hear the call and say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Responding this way will almost never be easy or rarely is it calm, but it will always be worth it to speak out and say, “God, I’m here. Use me.”–Rev. Zach AndersonGoodland United Methodist ChurchGoodland, Kansas
zanderson@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Loving God, thank you for your patience with us throughout our lives. Continue to call us forward into new possibilities of service in your name. Give us the great nudge we need as individuals, and as your church, to listen and hear your voice, so that we may clearly respond, “Your servant is listening.” In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text

Psalm 126
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we rejoiced.Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
    like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
    reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
    bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
    carrying their sheaves.

Today’s Devotional
Lord, change our circumstances for the better.
 
I just told my teen son about another string of violent injustices that have unfolded just in the last 24 hours. He and I sat silent and heartbroken together for a few minutes, sharing in the collective grief and frustration. A few moments passed before he started talking about positive changes that are already happening, movements and awakenings, collaborations between seemingly opposite folks to bring about good. He is a child of revolution, born into a world that has given visual 24- hour-a-day access to wars and rumors of wars his whole life. To him, the world can be changed and it will be done by the ones who courageously make their voices known and do the work.
 
It inspires me. I tend to think I’ve done a good job deconstructing some of the either/or ideas I had of God, some of the more convenient notions I held onto about what it means for God to be in control, thereby absolving me of any real responsibility in the work of justice, renewal, and beauty- harvesting. But then moments like these come along and I feel overwhelmed, helpless, and maybe a little despairing that any real change will come into the world. Into my world.
 
I love this psalm – a pilgrimage song. It’s a melody for the journey. It reminds me that maybe the right thing for today is just to stay on the road. We’re invited to keep planting truth, beauty, and goodness in the fields of our own hearts and our communities…even if the seeds are watered by our tears and we bury some of our expectations – and for some, even their fathers, sisters, children – in the ground alongside.
 
God is on this journey with us, friends. Even when the laughter seems gone and the work seems too hard. So keep planting, keep tending to the work, keep showing up even if the cheeks are tear- streaked and the eyes are weary. We are the people of the impossible. We are farmers of hope.
 -Jodi-Renee Giron Lincoln Trinity UMC jodirenee@trinitylincoln.org?
 
Prayer for Reflection
Lord, change our circumstances for the better, like dry streams in the desert. Where my heart or my old thinking is stifling joy, gently lead me to right thinking and right action. Where the world is in need of my hands and feet, give me courage to be your love in real time.
Today’s Lectionary Text

Genesis 18:1-15 and Psalm 100

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.” 

A Psalm of thanksgiving.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come into his presence with singing.Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he that made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him, bless his name.For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations.

Today’s Devotional
It keeps coming to mind — laughter. But I feel guilty focusing on the laughter. What is happening in the world today is no laughing matter. However, in the Genesis story and in Psalm 100 laughter stands out. Sarah laughed, even if she was meaning, “Yeah, right!” she laughed. Making a joyful noise surely includes laughter. We cannot laugh now, though. All of the world around us is in a whirl of bad stuff — pandemic, riots, protests, injustice, poverty, economic mess, hatred, meanness. No, we cannot engage in laughter.
 
Wait. Maybe we need to do so. Psalm 100 gives the directive to make a joyful noise, worship with gladness. It also notes that we are God’s people — God’s sheep. God cries with us over pandemic, lack of righteousness, poverty, unkindness. God’s heart breaks. But our God is with us in it. Steadfast love from God is there forever. Is this not a cause to be filled with joy, a reason to laugh with delight?
 
As we realize in new ways God’s amazing and comforting presence through all that is happening, we can embrace laughter. We can be delighted that our shepherd — God — tends to us and is by our side. God really cares. So, let laughter lift our spirits. Allow it to happen. Then, let’s get back to reaching out, offering what is needed, listening well, and doing what we can. We can laugh and be joyful and then return refreshed and confident that God continues to strengthen us and walk with us.
-Rev. Dianne Tombaugh Retired Deacon Wichita, KS
dtombaugh@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Beautiful Shepherd, we delight in you. You fill us with joy. Let that joy renew and empower each of us, your people, so that we might continue to serve in the world in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. Help us to fight injustice and to work to make evident your Presence and love for all. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Joel 2:28-29
Then afterward
    I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your old men shall dream dreams,
    and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
    in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Today’s Devotional
The Holy Spirit outpouring is powerful to fathom in the “Catch the Fire” momentum. I am calling it the “Holy Spirit operation” as the church marches on with power like the days of Pentecost. The church doors are physically closed, yet there is such a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit in homes and around the globe. The church has now advanced in power and mighty in the midst of the torrents which beat against the church doors. Hearts have been strengthened and many have turned their lives to God via social media.

“Afterward” means the challenges we have encountered awhile are outwitted by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2 fulfills the word afterward when the Upper Room was inflamed by tongues of fire upon the 120 church believers. Luke’s narrative expounds in the “God of the suddenly” poured his Spirit upon the waiting believers in the Upper Room.

Joel spoke highly about the Holy Spirit in the midst of the challenges of his day. Yes, floods of winds of change mounted, turmoil occurred upon Joel’s people, but God had not forgotten about his people. A prophecy of the future was pronounced loudly: And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. The inclusiveness of the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon all flesh expands the church in her mission. Hence, the church is unstoppable because the Holy Spirit enables her to function mightily.

Afterward denotes to a previous negative event which had ravaged the people of “all flesh”. All flesh is under the attack of this invisible beast that is COVID-19. But the good news to believers is that there is an aftermath news of operation which is the Holy Spirit. God continues to pour out the Holy Spirit who refreshes, revives, strengthens, guides, and directs us in all truth. So, Joel’s prophecy alerts us to yield to this great outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This is power beyond human power which transforms the entire world.

Lessons to learn from Joel:There is such an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the universe, it is time to catch the fire wherever we are.We have to experience this great revival among us. The Holy Spirit lives and reigns among God’s people. Acts of the church are manifested from our homes to the end of the world.Stay connected to the mighty power and function under Holy Spirit influence.God shows no partiality to his creation because Joel says: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream.” We are dreamers and prophets in God’s Kingdom.
-Rev. Ever Mudambanuki United Church of Bennington / Solomon Yoked Parish- Salina District EMudambanuki@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
 Oh Lord, I avail myself to receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text

Psalm 116:1-2 
I love the Lord, for he heard my voice and he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,   I will call on him as long as I live. 

Today’s Devotional
Calling on God in times of need of mercy becomes a natural and reoccurring event in our lives, which is good and gives us a go-to source when our world is turned upside down and we have no other place or source to turn. The Lord is always there for us when we stumble or fall. This is very reassuring to know that the God of the universe is always watching out for us, day or night, in good times and in bad times.Why is it we wait for the bad times to turn to God for help? Our lives would be so much more complete if we would remember that He is with us always. Every moment in our lives can be filled with joy and happiness instead of sadness and emptiness.The strength that we need to go through every day on a regular and reoccurring basis can only come from God, due to the very fact that we do not have the power to continue through crises after crises as we have seen the past few months. In order to maintain a steadfast, orderly life that has meaning, we need the Lord involved in our lives, every second of it. This gives us the stamina to not only maintain, but to strive for excellence in all times. Even the dark moments that Satan has tried to pour out on the entire world.The answer is to call on God. Calling on Him gives us the answer to any problem that we might have. So why wait for a situation to stand in our way of success? Look and call to God for the answer. The answer is Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Thank you so much God for sending Jesus to save us all!
–Brad ZimmermanPastor, Bucklin UMC  bzimmerman@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Dear Lord, we look to You for all things in all situations. You are the answer, and we thank You so much for being with us always. Amen
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 29

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
    worship the Lord in holy splendor.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
    the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
    and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
    and strips the forest bare;
    and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
    May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Today’s Devotional

A daily walk in the woods is my favorite method of physical, mental and spiritual self-care. I began walking almost daily during my high school years. I walked to school unless the weather was inclement, when my father would delay his drive to work long enough to deliver me to school.  The distance was two miles one way (uphill both ways, of course!) to me, was a time of silence, contemplation, prayer and dreaming. I learned early on this would be an important part of my life.

Several years ago, I was walking as usual on one of my favorite trails. It was lined on both sides with trees, bushes, wildflowers, and a wide array of birds. When I walk, my mind does not focus on my immediate environment. It tends to wander wherever it delights. On this particular day, walking briskly, thinking about nothing in particular, I distinctly heard the word “Mary” in what I would call a stage whisper. It was so real that I immediately stopped, turned and answered “what!”  I soon realized no one else was near. The trail was empty as usual.

It was a time of discernment for me. I asked myself “where does God want me to go from here?” Was this event the voice of God, reminding me that He is near? That He is with me, beside me, within me, and works through me. I often think of this experience, a moment in my life that has stayed with me, reminding me who is really in charge but yet I do have choices. Choices to praise or not, to hear the mighty thunder or not, and to listen to the whisper or not. Yes, the Voice of the Lord is powerful, majestic, and strikes like lightening. Yet it can come in a whisper. A whisper that can be more effective than loud clanging of bells. “The Lord blesses his people with peace.”
–Mary Feit Lincoln New Visions UMC marykfeit@windstream.net

Prayer for Reflection

Lord, I praise and honor your Holy Name and recognize my need for you in my life. Help me to listen and hear you in the loud clanging or in the soft whisper. Give me the passion and strength to follow your guidance and devote my life to you. I pray in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text
Romans 12:2
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Today’s Devotional
We are living in times whereby it seems to be the norm that so many are in a mode of follow the leader. If someone does something it seems that others are inclined on an automatic basis to follow lockstep. It appears at first glance that as so many follow what others may do or say those actions are accepted as what is the right way to do things and live. This world that we are living in has chosen its own road. A crowded road filled with the many. But a road that will in fact lead to a dead end.

But as those who vision is not focused on this natural world we are to be more so in line with a different path to follow. As well we are called on to follow in a manner that is the antithesis to the majority.

As Christians ours is the charge to not to be conformed to the direction that the world is going. I recall a saying that my grandmother used to say; just because everybody is doing doesn’t make it right.

The road that we as Christians travel will be less traveled. It will be devoid of the multitude. It will be a road whose journey calls for us to depart from the old us, and be transformed into a new person daily. A new person daily testing and approving the will of God. Doing so that it will be pleasing in his sight.
Alan Black Omaha Clair Memorial ab55@cox.net

Prayer for Reflection
Heavenly Father we come to you asking for you to mold us and shape us daily into who you call us to be. Renew our minds and pour into our spirits that which we need. For in you we know that your purpose and plan for each of us is perfect and so we look to you this day. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 137:1-6
By the rivers of Babylon—
    there we sat down and there we wept
    when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
    we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
    asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”How could we sing the Lord’s song
    in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
    above my highest joy.

Today’s Devotional
A prayer for the closing of Summer Camps

While my head knows it is the right decision,
My heart aches with the loss.
For all the kids who will miss out – on the fun, on the worship, on the connection with each other and with God
For all the kids (like my precious PKs) for whom summer camp is their constant, their rock, their place of peace in a world of chaos, their wild and different encounter with God
For all the adults, young and old, that have lost their summer jobs, their purpose, their connection
For all the horses who will miss their riders, for all the animals who will grow more wild
For the teens who are missing what would have been their last summer of camp before moving into the adult world
For missed connections, new and old
For the parents scrambling to find new childcare, and new options all while grieving alongside their grieving children
I grieve.

 –Rev. Andrea Beyer Clay Center, Kansas, UMC abeyer@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Holy and blessed God, please touch all these kids and adults who are affected by this loss. Soothe their sorrowful hearts. Boost their spirits in new ways this summer. Help them to encounter you and each other in new and amazing ways. Amen
Today’s Lectionary Text
Micah 6:8

And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.

Today’s Devotional

In November 2007 while serving as Hutchinson District Superintendent I had a once in a lifetime privilege.  A global convocation was called for all Bishops, District Superintendents and Conference Council Directors in the United Methodist Church.  A gathering of worldwide leadership executives, if you will, of our UMC was never conducted in recent times.  So, we gathered from around the globe at Lake Junaluska North Carolina and spent time in worship, sharing best practices, learning, discerning and strategizing. It energized me to be in conversation with other leaders from around the world as we spoke of our responsibilities, current realities, the future and common strategies to promote a vital, mission-based church.

An initiative that came out of that meeting created an easily understood and common strategy for all United Methodist congregations around the world to promote in each of our leadership ministry locations. And so, we returned to our respective conferences, districts and mission fields and shard with pastors and churches under our responsibilities “The Three Simple Rules of Being a United Methodist” (developed by the late Bishop Reuben Job).  Remember them:  1) Do No Harm, 2) Do Good, 3) Stay in Love with God.   (I believe these rules can flow from our Micah 6:8 scripture)   In the months that followed it was energizing for me to share “The Three Simple Rules” with each congregation and pastor I visited in the Hutchinson District.  It gave us all a common goal, language and practice based on relationships that would be a focus around our global UMC.  That was 13 years ago.  And much has changed and transpired in our church, society and world.

This month we are living in the tension of these pandemic times, filled with choices, both individually and in our congregations, regarding reopening while maintaining safety for all.  We also are regularly reminded of the divisions in our nation politically, economically and socially and even our churches. And the tragic event in Minneapolis and its consequences reminds us of our wounded nation.  Add to this the ongoing violence and dis-respect toward people who we may fear as “the other” — and we are crying out “God help us.”

I believe this month more than ever we need to recommit to making known and practicing “The Three Simple Rules” of our UMC tradition. There is purpose, power and transformation when we follow them and base our faith first on relationships.  Together let’s be instruments promoting faith communities and a world committed to a path (rules) purposing to: Do No Harm, Do Good, and Staying in Love with God.   Let it be a spiritual tattoo on our hearts and minds.-Rev. Rick Saylor
Retired Clergy
Clergy and Congregational Coach

rsaylor@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Eternal God, God of this month of June, feel our troubledness and hear our frustrations as we live into this month and all that weighs upon us. We know it also weighs upon You.  In this Pentecost season give us a double portion of Your Spirit so we may act with compassion, courage and faith in every relationship and in all we do. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text
Matthew 6:22-23
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Today’s Devotional
It was a good thing that I grabbed some “Kids” version of sunscreen yesterday because about the time I thought I was being so careful, my hand involuntarily twitched and I got some in my eye. My vision was blurry but is okay. I want to see well and don’t want to miss what God has for me to see, hear and do as I listen for His leading, as I open His word and greet and serve His created ones.

“Blurry vision” is nothing new for me: between the allergies and the floaties, the aging eyes and the slowly growing cataracts. However, there is a different kind of vision that Jesus addresses in this passage from Matthew 6. It is a matter of our “spiritual vision” that keeps our souls in right relationships with God through our faith and obedience. Our spiritual vision gains clarity rather than losing it, as we keep eyes focused on Jesus, and keep traveling toward the heavenly Kingdom through love of God and love of Neighbor.

That means we need to be able to control the focus of our eyes—to keep them looking toward Jesus-His teachings, and His way of living to please God the Father, that we can live into Paul’s words:
          “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

“Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8, 9

Before we think we our “vision” is just fine and we are seeing clearly, let us make sure that our eyes are full of the Light of the World (Jesus). Before we promote something at the “coffee shop” in our conversations, on the signs we hold, or on social media let us check to see if what we are saying or agreeing with aligns with what we read in the truth of God’s Word. Let’s stop and ask ourselves, what is truly behind the scenes of what others are doing, saying, and asking us to buy into?

Let us ask: what are the “dark floaties” in my life that block out the Light of Christ from my good vision? What makes my vision “blurry” in regard to this group or that situation? What does God’s word say that sheds Light on this? Is my spiritual vision clear enough that I know what I believe and for which I am willing to fight?

Satan our enemy dresses up as an “angel of light” hoping he can deceive many people. We need God’s spirit, the armor of God and a heavenly wisdom and discernment to perceive the truth, as we research, as we double check the stories we hear, as we choose what to promote with our friends and acquaintances, with our time, our “emotional investment” and our money.
-Rev. Sandy Ferguson Fancy Creek Zion- Swede Creek – Leonardville – Randolf- Keats – Riley                                                                  sferguson@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
May God keep on helping our eyes to see and our ears to hear so we can be filled with Christ’s light and wisdom.
Today’s Lectionary Text
2 Timothy 1:12-14 and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Today’s Devotional
Anybody else have the feeling that God is stretching you right now? The last few months have felt like wading through molasses and I’m pretty sure I’ve aged a few years.

Let’s count it off. So far we’ve been in a global pandemic, a financial crisis, an unemployment crisis, and now we add peaceful demonstrations, rioters, and racism that many white Americans had thought was a thing of the past. It’s only June.

My head hurts and my heart hurts. I see the deep division we have in this country, and in our communities. I only have to compare my Facebook timelines to those of other people in my family to understand how differently we see our country. We watch different news stations, we question facts and statistics that can be manipulated, and we are a nation in a state of unrest.

At heart I’m a peacekeeper. Usually I can see both sides of an argument. Not this. But I’m still afraid to rock the boat. I see people I think of as good Christian people engaging in whataboutism regarding white victims of black crime during this time and I want to respond but I don’t want to engage in an argument that won’t change anyone’s mind and only make us more divided.

I’m angry about the arguments of “one bad apple” being applied to one group of people but not equally to another. Generations of system rooted racism have left some of us with the illusion of fairness and equality but recent events are pulling back the curtain to the dark reality that justice, healthcare, opportunity, safety and security are not available equally and definitely not fairly. 

I’m ashamed of the part I’ve played as I think back of incidences where I was blissfully ignorant of actions that were passively or unintentionally racist. Now that I know better, I need to do better. 

We sometimes hear in the church that the kingdom of heaven is not somewhere far away, it is here and it is now. Our God is surely tired of weeping over how we have been treating each other. He loves us as a father and knows we can do better, wants us to do better and I believe is nudging us (or shoving us) to be better.

We need to return or remember or remember that sound teaching that Paul is writing about in the verse above and hold fast to it.

I need to speak up, be heard and stand up for those who are vulnerable, those less powerful, my fellow citizens with less privilege. That’s the kind of Christian Jesus wants me to be. I only hope that I am up to the task.
 -Lisa Soukup Communications administrative assistant
lsoukup@greatplainsumc.org 

Prayer for Reflection
Oh Lord, you hear the cries of our world in pain.  Show us how to bring your kingdom here today
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 8
To the leader: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David.
O Lord, our Sovereign,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!You have set your glory above the heavens.
    Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
    to silence the enemy and the avenger.When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    mortals that you care for them?Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
    and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.O Lord, our Sovereign,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Today’s Devotional
Psalm 8 celebrates God’s creative power and our relationship with God’s creation. Words matter, and the words we use to describe our relationship with God affect how we view it. The New Revised Standard Version opens and closes Psalm 8 with “O Lord, our sovereign.” The Book of Common Prayer says, “O Lord, our governor.” While we rarely use the title of governor outside of politics, I’ve found reflecting on it has helped me recently.
 
It’s a reminder that our divine governance is above any political governance we have put into place. We are, first and foremost, children of God. The word has also reinforced the great responsibility to care for God’s creation in a way that meets God’s vision for it. Maybe it’s a stronger connection for me. I am employed at the pleasure of the governor of the State of Kansas. But it’s been speaking to me, saying I have another’s expectations I must live up to.
 
We have dominion over God’s creation, but we are governed. We must be stewards of creation in a way that pleases God. We have far too often used our dominion to exploit Earth’s natural resources. We pollute its air, ground, and water. We fail to see the image of God in each other. We see first race, nationality, class, gender, and not another child of God. It’s when we see another as less than human that we fail to love our neighbor as ourselves. It’s the path that leads us to discrimination, racism, violence, war.
 
As I’ve watched the events of the past week unfold, I’ve felt helpless. I’m not sure how I – a middle-aged white man who pastors two small congregations in Kansas – can move America toward ending a system of racism that’s four hundred years old. The only answer for me; do my very best to see everyone I encounter as a fellow child of God. And encourage anyone who will listen to do the same. -Michael Turner, Pastor Auburn UMC/Topeka Grace UMC
michael.turner@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
O Lord, our governor, we give you thanks for all your creation. We thank you for its beauty, its diversity, and its ever-changing seasons. We thank you for the responsibility of stewardship you have placed in us. We seek forgiveness for when we have failed in that stewardship and when we have failed to love our neighbor. Grant us vision so that we may see your image in everyone we meet. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
John 14:1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.

Today’s Devotional
Being troubled has taken on a life of its own in these pandemic times. It creates various intense emotions and disturbances. Mental preoccupations and confusion as well as a general sense of unsettledness. Everyone is living with being troubled in one way or another. It’s a new global normal! And we struggle with managing our “troubles” and our inner reactions to them like never before.
 
Our Judeao-Christian Biblical tradition often addresses human troubles, fears and anxieties with realism yet hope. A familiar verse of the Gospels addressing human difficulty records Jesus saying “let not your hearts be troubled.” Note he addresses our hearts not our minds. Troubles will always create stress and conflict in our thinking. It’s the way of things. But Jesus points to our hearts – the core of our being and the essence of who we are. He seems to be saying do not let your God given self, your identity, your spirit be “troubled” – Greek word “tapassestho” – which translated may mean don’t let the essence of who you are (your heart) be “stirred up, disturbed, unsettled or thrown into confusion.”
 
Jesus is appealing to our higher nature – our better angels if you will – to rise above being troubled – by being “trustful.” “Believe in God, believe in me” are the next words of the verse. Jesus says believe in me, believe beyond you, in times of overwhelming difficulties that a power of love and benevolence holds me, holds you, holds the world. Even now in this global COVID-19 pandemic. So, choose trust not troubles as your inner default. A trust that affirms who you are and who’s you are, that is a reality beyond any troubles and any experience of “being troubled.”
 –Rev. Rick Saylor, retired clergy Clergy and congregational coach
rsaylor@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
O Jesus, lover of our hearts and souls. See our troubles, feel our troubledness. Invite us and empower us to rise above our troubled global pandemic world. Grace us with new energy and resolve to trust You and be more trusting than troubled in our hearts. So be i!
Today’s Lectionary Text
Brothers and sisters, we ask you to respect those who are working with you, leading you, and instructing you. Think of them highly with love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are disorderly. Comfort the discouraged. Help the weak. Be patient with everyone. Make sure no one repays a wrong with a wrong, but always pursue the good for each other and everyone else. Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t suppress the Spirit.

Today’s Devotional
In the rush to reopen the country as COVID-19 appears to be loosening its grip on us, I have noticed that there is a lot of noise in the news about people who are dissatisfied with the speed that things are happening. After weeks of separating ourselves from others, eating our own cooking, missing those salon appointments, and –for so many – worrying over finances when jobs were lost, we are all ready for life to return to something that more closely resembles what it was at the end of December, before we’d never heard of this novel coronavirus. But a lot of the noise of frustration I have heard seems to disparage the efforts of those making decisions about when certain things can happen — or openly derides the advice of epidemiologists and public health officials.Then I happened across the above verses from the first epistle to the church at Thessalonica. Yes, sometimes it is very hard to respect the advice we get from leaders because it is not the advice we want to hear. It is so much easier to doubt that they know more than we do. Yet, as believers, we are expected to respect those in leadership – and live in peace with one another.I am not seeing much living in peace reflected in the actions of those who discount advice, allow their own prejudices to overcome their better selves, and strive to create chaos in the world. Some think wearing masks is a sign of weakness (or lack of faith in God’s ability to care for us), while others see mask wearing as an act of love for others. Some choose intimidation, others choose kindness.The wisdom laid out in the above text speaks loudly to me – although I admit that I don’t practice it as well as I should. 
Be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure no one repays a wrong with a wrong, but always pursue the good for each other and everyone else. 16 Rejoice always. 17 Pray continually. None of us is perfect. We let our tempers get away from us. We allow our own fears and wants to overtake our good sense. But, if we call ourselves Christians, then we are claiming to be followers of Jesus, who taught his followers to love one another. Love means being patient, doing good, and rejoicing in our present situation. It means considering the needs of all and respecting the efforts of those in leadership – whose jobs are to make the best decisions they can in the face of vast amounts of contradicting information. I don’t want to be in their shoes.
Do you?                                                                     
 –Rev. Robbie Fall (retired elder) Hutchinson, Kansas robbie.fall@gmail.com

Prayer for Reflection
Help us, Great God of Wisdom, to respect our differences of opinion, rejoice in the life you have given us, pray often, and always to pursue good for one another. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Romans 8:26-30
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Today’s Devotional
These first words in today’s reading have always been a reassurance to me in my life. Prayer is something I’ve struggled with throughout my life to feel comfortable with, and if I admit it, to feel confident in doing it “right.” I love to talk with people and have long conversations, and it comes naturally, but when it comes time to pray I find myself getting nervous and wanting to be good at it. Paul’s words in today’s text help ground me and calm me. To know that Spirit lifts us up in those moments of weakness and helps us in weakness, real or perceived.
 
We find ourselves struggling as a society right now with a never-ending list of concerns. These concerns weigh on us and can even leave us in a place of paralysis. I know that’s where I am almost daily when I turn on the news or open up my internet browser. I don’t know what to pray for on most days right now. Then I hear these words at the end of verse 26, “that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” That’s it, the prayers I’ve been seeking to express at this time are “sighs too deep for words.” I realize that I just need to find a place and create space for the Spirit to intercede, especially in those times where I don’t feel the “right” prayer. I need to be open and willing to be present, in a prayerful attitude, and let God take over the rest. This is a daily challenge, one I’m thankful for God’s grace to continue learning about.
 –Rev. Zach Anderson Goodland, Kansas, UMC zanderson@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Gracious and Loving God, when words don’t seem to come, there you are. Send your Spirit on us this day, to lift up our heavy sighs on behalf of all who are suffering in our world. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Joel 2:18-29
Then the Lord became jealous for his land,
    and had pity on his people.
In response to his people the Lord said:
I am sending you
    grain, wine, and oil,
    and you will be satisfied;
and I will no more make you
    a mockery among the nations.I will remove the northern army far from you,
    and drive it into a parched and desolate land,
its front into the eastern sea,
    and its rear into the western sea;
its stench and foul smell will rise up.
    Surely he has done great things!Do not fear, O soil;
    be glad and rejoice,
    for the Lord has done great things!
Do not fear, you animals of the field,
    for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit,
    the fig tree and vine give their full yield.O children of Zion, be glad
    and rejoice in the Lord your God;
for he has given the early rain for your vindication,
    he has poured down for you abundant rain,
    the early and the later rain, as before.
The threshing floors shall be full of grain,
    the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.I will repay you for the years
    that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
    my great army, which I sent against you.You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
    and praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
    and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.Then afterward
    I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your old men shall dream dreams,
    and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
    in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Today’s Devotional
So this Pentecost felt surreal in a dozen ways. There were no church crowds flocked in red. The celebration was through “likes”, text messages, and isolated collegial enjoyment. The Church celebrated her birthday behind closed doors. But maybe this makes this passage from Joel even more profound. We are a people waiting for harvest, longing for a gathering around a table of feast, gratitude, and renewal.

And, in this stark time, it also reminds of this: God is always on the side of the oppressed, the poor, and the struck down. Always. And while I don’t think it’s in God’s nature to have a favorite kid, sometimes we force a decision. When we are silent in the face of radical injustice, when we normalize or justify marginalizing behavior or prop up systems that create inequality – we have to be reminded again about God’s giant heart for “the least of these.” So it’s no secret that the more comfortable I am, the more self-righteous and justified I feel, the more superior in my intellect and reason, the less likely I am to inhabit the space of vigilant looking for “God at work” that those in the margins tend to desperately live in on the regular.

There are so many beautiful things that turn up when we start talking about the Holy Spirit and the experiences people have recorded throughout our human history. The very etymology of the word is viscerally moving.  Pnuema in the Greek writings. Ruach in the Hebrew. Wind, breath. The life force that animates, creates, and inspires – like oxygen in the lungs and air in the nostrils.

So maybe it’s less about snake handlers, healings, and demons cast out. Those are amazing and I don’t pretend to understand, but we’re chasing the wind here. If we want to see and experience the Holy Spirit -the pnuema and ruach – we are called to look for signs of life.

This week my news alerts and social media feeds were filled with an image frozen in time: a black man face down on the concrete, hands behind his back, while a white police officer pinned him down with a knee to his throat. All of the world watched George Floyd die. As the life was stolen from his body, he begged: I can’t breathe.

I think, for the 2 minutes and 53 seconds George Floyd lay unresponsive and without life beneath an oppressor’s knee, the Holy Spirit lost her breath too.

If we want to see miracles of healing, people speaking in tongues to cross language barriers, great revivals of love, then we need to go where the winds of inspiration blow. It’s lazy faith and cheap hope to believe the Holy Spirit is only ecstasy and joy, people dancing in aisles and men with arms outstretched on mountain tops. There is power in the wind. It can overturn, disturb, unseat structures from their foundations. The Spirit is present in the breathless last words of George Floyd, in the final exhale of Ahmaud Arbery, the terrified gasp of Breonna Taylor. Our attention is commanded by systems that are shaking from an invisible force bearing down from the outside – a wind blowing while our sons and daughters speak truth to power, our elders dream with us, and those who have a vision for the future will lead us. This, my friends – my Church – is our Pentecost.-Jodi-Renee Giron
Lincoln Trinity UMC
jodirenee@trinitylincoln.org 

Prayer for Reflection
Creator God – Spirit, Sustainer, Inspiration: bear with us in this time to provoke us when too comfortable with injustice, warm us when love is needed and desired, and inspire us to be the builders of a true, just, and beautiful world. We are a people in need of your hope and your courage. May the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven through us. In the name of Jesus our Redeemer, Amen
Today’s Lectionary Text
Read slowly and prayerfully.  What words or phrases stand out for you?

I Peter 1:10-25 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look!Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. For“All flesh is like grass
    and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
    and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord endures forever.”That word is the good news that was announced to you.

Today’s Devotional
What are you going to take with you from I Peter to encourage you in the difficult times—times when you feel your flame start to flicker?
 
I Peter 4 and 5 are full of practical advice, but I would sum it up in one sentence: “Do not lord it over those in your charge but be examples to the flock.” It is easy for us pastors to preach and teach, but hard to be examples.
 
The bible says, “Live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God” (I Peter 4:2).  It can mean avoiding sins of flesh (I Peter 4:3-7).  It can also mean, however, “loving one another constantly” (I Peter 4:8-11).  Both ways of being examples include enduring sufferings with complete trust in God’s faithfulness while continuing to do good (I Peter 4:12-19).
 
The fruits would be humility (I Peter 5:6) and freedom from anxiety (I Peter 5:7).
 
Humble yourself, then people will despise you!  Humble yourself anyway.
 
Love enemies, then they will destroy you!  Love them anyway.
 
If we can do this with complete trust in God’s faithfulness, we can keep our fire burning and spread the sparks everywhere we go!

Prayer for Reflection
Holy Spirit, we pray for our spiritual leaders who ae exhausted and for new spiritual leaders (lay and clergy) who are called to help start more fires.  Amen.
 
“Excerpted from the book “Catch Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World” by Blake Busick and Christie Latona.”
Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 13:1-3 Read slowly and prayerfully.  What words or phrases stand out for you?
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

Today’s Devotional
This coming Sunday our congregation will participate in the baptism of my friend’s son.  The baby’s grandfather, though now deceased, was the head usher at our church and a true disciple.  He grew up a Christian in India and was one of the few folks in our congregation whom I knew had been persecuted for his faith.
 
As this baby is baptized, he will be incorporated by the Holy Spirit into God’s new creation and made to share in Christ’s royal priesthood.  Our congregation will welcome him with Christian love and renew our covenant to faithfully participate in the ministries of the church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness.  We will make our promises to nurture him in Christ’s Holy Faith and teach him to practice the Wesleyan means of grace:  Prayer, Searching the Scriptures, Holy Communion, Fasting, Christian Community, and Healthy Living.
 
May we prepare to be sent, as this grandfather was, to share our faith.  As we baptize and confirm members into our congregations and move beyond our buildings into mission and ministry in our local communities, let us remember to follow our spiritual disciplines as the church in Antioch did:  They fasted and prayed and laid their hands on Barnabas and Saul and then sent them off.
 
Praise God for the Priesthood of all Believers, which calls each of us to minister to our faith.–Gayle Shearman

Prayer for Reflection
God of All, we pray for the members of churches that they will experience and be responsive to a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit and a wildfire spread of God’s reign.
 
“Excerpted from the book “Catch Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World” by Blake Busick and Christie Latona.”
Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 12:20-25    Read slowly and prayerfully.  What words or phrases stand out for you?
 Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. So they came to him in a body; and after winning over Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for a reconciliation, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat on the platform, and delivered a public address to them. The people kept shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a mortal!” And immediately, because he had not given the glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.But the word of God continued to advance and gain adherents. Then after completing their mission Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem and brought with them John, whose other name was Mark.

Today’s Devotional
Reflect:  Is there one who you would consider to be your mission companion (a Paul to your Barnabas or a Barnabas to your Paul, etc.)?  If not, describe your ideal mission companion—the one who would complement your strengths.
 
The story of Herod’s death and the perhaps more disturbing ones of Ananias and Sapphira—since it’s a tale about believers with misguided motives who are struck down (from Acts 5:1-11, Day 23) – make it clear that God is serious about this stuff.  Power, wealth, responsibility, and education—the blessings of God are not fire to be toyed with or kept to ourselves and for our security or aggrandizement, but fire that is kept to ourselves and for our security or aggrandizement, but fire that is properly used for the glory of God.  It confuses us that not every person who misuses power suffers public fall—it’s quite often the opposite—and we rightly hesitate to pin causality on others’ misfortunes.  Still, we are called to faithfulness and fruitfulness, to look upon the world with the eyes of faith, and to partner with others to shine God’s kingdom light where there is injustice and pain.  We can humbly and confidently leave the ultimate results up to God.
-Laurie McHugh              

Prayer for Reflection
God of Mercy and Justice, we pray that churches and faith communities in every town might find community partners with whom they might start and spread more Holy Spirit fires.
 
“Excerpted from the book “Catch Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World” by Blake Busick and Christie Latona.”
 
Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 12:1-19
About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him.The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his wrists. The angel said to him, “Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him. Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying. When he knocked at the outer gate, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. On recognizing Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she insisted that it was so. They said, “It is his angel.” Meanwhile Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the gate, they saw him and were amazed. He motioned to them with his hand to be silent, and described for them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he added, “Tell this to James and to the believers.” Then he left and went to another place.When morning came, there was no small commotion among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. When Herod had searched for him and could not find him, he examined the guards and ordered them to be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.

Today’s Devotional
As a person who works in young people’s ministry, I would wonder about the question, “Do you too easily give in to worldly forces, assuming that the mission of Christ is limited because of the times in which we live?”  What came to mind immediately was technology.  Young people (OK, maybe not just the young) are robbed of their ability to make time, to take time for prayer, fellowship, and their relationship with Christ because of all the distractions that the wonderful world of technology has to offer.
 
When we are at camp, we ask that the staff and the campers give up their cell phones, not accepting their need to use them as a “clock, or alarm.”  I often am handing out drugstore watches where they actually have to read the hands of the clock!  This is a shock for many to be completely “disconnected” from the “times” we live in, and experience Christ as the early church did:  “actively” focused in His creation and their relationship with Him through prayer, study, fellowship, and worship.  By day two there are few complaints about being without those distractions, and we have a full faith community living, praying, and seeking their potential in their life of faith.  A movement of transformation happens each and every year at camp and I believe that being in His creation and participating actively in our relationship with Christ without the distractions of our times is the key.
 
Let us not become “stagnant” in actively experiencing and living God’s mission in our lives and in the world.  Remember, the focused fervent prayers of the church rescued Peter from his captors.-Kelly Newell 

Prayer for Reflection
Almighty and gracious God, we pray for each pastor today, that he or she might lead boldly and courageously so that others join in the movement of God’s mission in the world; to once again catch on fire and spread that fire wildly.
 
“Excerpted from the book “Catch Fire in 50 Days: Joining the Movement of God’s Mission in the World” by Blake Busick and Christie Latona.”
Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 11:19-30

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

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

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

Today’s Devotional

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be bold.
George Bennett

Prayer for Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Suffering for Doing Good

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

Today’s Devotional

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

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

How would you describe the hope which is within you? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer for Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Devotional

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

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

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

htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Devotional

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

Prayer for Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Reflection from Blake Busick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Devotional

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

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

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

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

mgepford@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Devotional

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

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

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

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

mgepford@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Try your own.

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

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

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

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

Today’s Devotional

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

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

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

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

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

mgepford@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Devotional

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer for Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Devotional

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

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

Prayer for Reflection

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

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

Today’s Lectionary Text
Acts 2:14-36 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Devotional

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

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

Prayer for Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Devotional

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

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

kchali@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Devotional

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

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

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

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

nconard@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Devotional

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

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

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

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

rconard@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

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

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

Today’s Lectionary Text
Matthew 28:1-10 

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

Today’s Devotional

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer for Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Devotional

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

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

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

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

Prayer for Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Devotional

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer for Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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