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Devotional—New Life

Luke 24:13-35

On the same day the empty tomb was discovered, two disciples are walking and discussing Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. Jesus joins them. When they do not recognize him, they share with Jesus, “but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. (Luke 24:21).”

They were blind to the beautiful and powerful truth of the risen Christ walking alongside them.

As we continue in our journey with Jesus into Eastertide, we will have “But we had hoped” moments. As experienced on the road to Emmaus, we will find that Jesus will continue to reveal truth about himself and prove to be faithful to us.

During Easter we celebrate new life in Christ – it is not merely a day but a season in the worship calendar that continues through Pentecost. As a practice to help us notice the transformation Christ is offering us, create two columns to journal through this time.

In your first column list your “We had hoped” moments. Think of longings and expectations that you have experienced, both for yourself personally and for your experiences in Christian community. Is there a something you have had to leave behind? Is there an unmet longing you are hoping he will fulfill?

In the second column, share your “buds of new life.” Here, list the new life that Jesus is birthing in your life this Easter season. How do you see his hand in your life personally? Perhaps it’s a new habit, an opportunity to start a new relationship (or an entirely new chapter in an old one), new hopes, new dreams. What desires for Christian community is Jesus forming in your heart?

Prayer:

Jesus, you are faithful to your word, even when circumstances blind us to the reality of your presence with us.

In your perfect love for us, you conquered death and rose from the grave. The resurrection was not just an event, but an invitation to be raised into new life with you.

Our lives are being shaped and transformed by your presence and power, O Risen Christ. This Eastertide help us to process the beauty of life that follows death. Amen.

By Michelle Fleming
GCI Elder & Communications Director

 

Devotional—Resurrected for All

Is it any wonder as Jesus walked down the Mount of Olives on his last trip into the city, he stopped and wept? He was going there to die for all of humanity, and most would reject him—and most still do.

But here’s the good news! Reject him or not, Jesus is the Lord of All and he was resurrected for all. And that’s why we celebrate. Not just because he was resurrected for you and me, but because he was resurrected for every believer and nonbeliever, for every slave and free, for every Jew and Gentile, for every man and woman. Easter reminds us that Jesus—the Son of God—our Redeemer and Savior—went to the cross for all and was resurrected for all.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ shows the profoundness of God’s love. Some call it reckless, some call it preposterous, some call it radical, Paul said it comes across to others as foolishness. Why would God die for people who don’t even acknowledge his presence? For the same reason he died for all those who do acknowledge his presence—because God loves all his children; Jesus came for all.

The apostle Paul is talking about the resurrection of Jesus when he says:

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:21-22

All will be made alive! Loved ones, what if we lived like it was true? Let’s make Easter more than a season of celebration; let’s make it a season of change.

Thank you, Father, Son, and Spirit, that Easter changed everything! Praise God that here is no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female. Jesus, you have made us one. Help us to see this truth more clearly. Help us to respond accordingly—with a bit less judgment, a bit less animosity at times, a bit more compassion, and a lot more understanding. God, help us to follow the new commandment—to love others as you love us. Amen.


This devotion is an excerpt of the Equipper sermon for April 21, 2019.

 

GCI Prayer Guide—April 2022

“To fail to pray, then, is not to merely break some religious rule—it is a failure to treat God as God.” ― Tim Keller

Join us in prayer this month as we thank God for loving and listening to our longings. Click the link below to download and print the April Prayer Guide, and check out what’s happening in our fellowships around the world.

Devotional—In the Grave

Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am in distress. Tears blur my eyes. My body and soul are withering away. I am dying from grief; my years are shortened by sadness. Sin has drained my strength; I am wasting away from within. I am scorned by all my enemies and despised by my neighbors—even my friends are afraid to come near me. When they see me on the street, they run the other way. I am ignored as if I were dead, as if I were a broken pot. … But I am trusting you, O Lord, saying, ‘You are my God!’ My future is in your hands. Let your favor shine on your servant. In your unfailing love, rescue me. Psalm 31:9–12, 14–16 NLT

There was a point in Jesus’ human existence when he said to the Father, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Gone with his last breath were all the dreams, plans, and daily joys of that life that once was. As those about him watched the breath of life leave his body, they saw a chilling change occur—his body took on that singular appearance of lifelessness, now cold and still, that comes with death.

We can only do one thing when faced with grief, loss, sorrow, or death—rest quietly for a while in the grave with Jesus while waiting, trusting, and hoping in God’s love. In God’s good and perfect time, we will arise to a new existence, one that will be forever altered, but filled with an incredible hope. For all of life is “in Christ”—a genuinely human life full of his tender concern, care, presence and peace, no matter what we may temporarily experience. This transition to new life may involve risk—we must choose to leave the darkness and embrace the bright sunlight. It may involve setting aside what has us bound—we don’t need the graveclothes any longer. And it may even involve moving some stones—we may need God’s resurrection power to bring us to a new place we cannot come to on our own. But “in Christ,” we will live again.

Heavenly Father, thank you for sharing even the depths of our sorrow and loss with us, having given your Son freely even when it might have cost you everything. Thank you, Jesus, for joining us in death and loss, while giving us a hope for new life we can cling to. Precious Spirit, infuse our hearts again with your resurrection life, enabling us to wait, trust, and hope in the midst of our grief and sorrow, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

By Linda Rex
Pastor GC Nashville & Cookeville, TN, US

Devotional—The Lost Son

Luke 15:11-32 NIV

20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

The scriptures are filled with wonderful stories, poems, historical accounts, and prophesies, but there is one story that really speaks to my heart. It’s the story of the “Lost Son” or the “Prodigal Son” found in Luke 15:11-32. This is not just a story or a simple parable, but it reveals the deep things of God. Remember Jesus is the one sharing this story. This is critical, because Jesus came and put on flesh for a few reasons, but one of the crucial ones was to reveal the Father to humanity. Jesus tells his disciples that no one has seen the Father – except the Son (John 1:18). Jesus is telling this story specifically to reveal the Father’s heart, character, and unconditional love for his children – ALL his children.

In this story a man has two sons. The younger son decides he doesn’t want to wait for his inheritance upon his father’s death. Instead, he demands his inheritance now. He then goes off to spend his inheritance on wild living in a foreign country. Things do not go well for this son – and that’s putting it mildly. In time, the son gets sick of his wayward life and decides to go home. In his brokenness, he is willing to forfeit his sonship and serve as a lowly servant to his father. Well, to make a great story short, he arrives home only to find his father waiting and hungering for his return. This selfish and sinful son is lovingly accepted back into the family and restored to full sonship. The amazing part of this story is that Jesus is telling all of us that our sins do not separate us from the Father—except in our minds and hearts (Colossians 1:21). Jesus has made a way for all of mankind by living a perfect life in our place, then willingly to trading his life for ours. We can accept this unbelievable offer from Jesus, but we cannot add to it. He is the Alpha and the Omega and everything in between. Salvation is found in no other name under heaven.

Lord, let us trust completely in you and your love. Help us to stop trying to be lord of our lives and trust in your will and timing. We love you and thank you for your amazing and unconditional love. Help us to see others around us with this same kind of love and help us to not look at anyone from a worldly point of view because of what you have done for all of us!

By Mike Rasmussen
Superintendent of North America & Canada

Lost and Found

Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it? And when she finds it you can be sure she’ll call her friends and neighbors: ‘Celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!’ Count on it—that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.” (Luke 15:8-10 The Message)

Aged hands holding coins

In Luke 15, Jesus was aware of the Pharisees and scribes’ hatred because of the company he kept. He was known to hang out with tax collectors and sinners. In the eyes of these religious leaders, this group of people represented the “others,” the outsiders. With this as the backdrop, Jesus shares three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.

The sheep parable displays a shepherd actively seeking what is lost while the prodigal son comes to his senses and returns home. But in the parable of the lost coin, we get the unique view of our dependence on someone else to be saved. Both the sheep and the son can cry out or wander home. A coin can do nothing but wait to be found. Jesus came for us.

God loves us so much He sent his Son down to earth to live in the flesh (incarnate), experience baptism, die on the cross, be resurrected in three days, and then ascend to heaven to become our primary intercessor. In all that Jesus experienced, His love guided his actions.

How do we respond to such a love as this? Our response is to worship and join the celebration already going on in heaven.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord. You pursue us when we have no idea we are lost. Thank you for every gift you so freely give in your Son Jesus. Help us learn to walk in the truth of who we are in You and respond in true worship. Lord, we depend entirely on you and the salvation you freely offer. Lord, please complete the work in us that you have started. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Tamar Gray
Tamar Gray

By Tamar Grey
Pastor, GC Cleveland

 

Devotional – Lost Sheep

Photograph of a green pasture with sheep

Luke 15:1-7

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

 

It is very easy for me to be “compelled by love” (GCI Theme for 2022) for my wife, for my two sons, and their families. In fact, it seems unnatural if I don’t feel and express love for them. It isn’t as easy to feel that same compelling love when dealing with broken people who are struggling through life.

In Luke 15:1-7, Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees and scribes because he is spending time with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus tells a story to make a point to those religious leaders. He tells them about a lost sheep and how the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to go after the lost sheep. Jesus is comparing the tax collectors and sinners (all humanity) to a sheep that has wandered away from the flock. Most of us will have heard many sermons and other teachings about Jesus as the Good Shepherd who out of love leaves the ninety-nine to search for the lost sheep. I would like us to pause for a moment and consider that wandering sheep.

Having grown up on a farm/ranch in Wyoming, I have dealt with lost animals (cattle in our case). I’ve never experienced any of our cattle intentionally getting lost. In many cases, the animal wanders off looking for a fresh bite of grass. They don’t notice they have walked off to potential danger. When it was time to feed or check the health of the cattle, we would notice that one was missing. We would search for that one to make sure they were not sick, injured, or attacked by predators.

The missing sheep (tax collectors, sinners, you and me) in Jesus’ story did not intentionally get lost. The sheep simply followed the “good” grass – or curiosity at something that attracted their attention – a “shiny object” – away from the ninety-nine in the flock. As children of Adam, we wandered away to follow what appeared like good grass (remember Eve thinking the fruit looked good?), not realizing that we were opening ourselves to sin. Something sinful looked attractive and we followed it rather than looking to the Shepherd. Perhaps a “shiny object” took our attention away from God – job, spouse, latest prophetic insight, a pet theory about a biblical point, political point of view, or other aspect of life tempted us to stray. When we understand we have been reconciled through the life of Jesus, we not only will be drawn to remain with the Shepherd and the flock, but also be compelled by love to invite others to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.

We are all sheep prone to wander unless we are constantly keeping our eyes on the flock and the Shepherd. We are blessed with the Great Shepherd who is compelled by love to not only be aware of those who are missing, but to make every effort to draw them/us back to himself. The Shepherd is seeking each of us in the areas of our lives that are not yet like him.

Father, we thank you for the loving Shepherd in your Son, Jesus. May Your love grow in us, so we don’t wander off to some distraction or seeking what we think is good. And may that love also grow in us so that we are compelled by Your love to reach out to those around us who have wandered away from You. We ask in the name of the Great Shepherd. Amen

Glen and Connie Weber (and grandbaby!)

By Glen A Weber
Central Region Support Member

 

Devotional – Lost Flavor

Matthew 5:13-16

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Many western cultures are in the second month of a new calendar year. In the US in particular, the new year is a time of making resolutions and setting intentions. Having a way to mark time and seasonal rhythms is beneficial, and most of us can positively relate to the idea of a reset or fresh start.

Sadly, the setting of New Year’s resolutions has been co-opted by the self-help industry in the US. The promise of a successful, limitless life is within your grasp! Simply choose these behaviors, these products and you can avoid pain, suffering, mourning, persecution. But that’s not the message of Matthew 5 that begins with The Beatitudes, is it?

After Jesus implores his listeners to be the salt and light of the world, he goes on to teach extensively on healthy relationships and our impact on others. Yet with a culture that focuses on individualism, we’re often malformed to set goals and resolutions only for self.

The second person of the Trinity, who chose to self-empty (kenosis) and conform to humanity, is now conforming us to his redeemed humanity. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus seems to be saying, Pay attention! This is what it looks like to be fully human.

It looks like being other-centered and relational. It looks like mutuality, interconnectedness, and showing up with love in community. We don’t light a lamp on its own, and salt is distasteful when eaten alone.

You are the salt and light of the world because that is your identity in Christ and who you were made to be. Therefore, be salt and light! Is there hope for us if we lose our flavor, our saltiness? Absolutely! The Bible, taken as a whole, teaches us that Jesus goes after and restores that which is lost. He is in pursuit of you, and he is relentless. What good news!

Beloved church, blessed are we to be compelled by love. How might you set an intention today to show up as the flavor and the light of the kingdom for your neighbors?

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thank you for pursuing us. Jesus you are the true salt and light of the world. Conform us to your image and compel us to love one another. Amen.

Photo Credit: Rex Dela Pena

By Elizabeth Mullins
GCI Media, Publications Assistant