Good News Youth Devotional

By Linda Dows-Byers (Director of Youth Ministries at the Lancaster Church of the Brethren (PA))

Ephesians 2:11-22 “…in him you too are being built together…”

We live in a world of insiders and outsiders.

If you are reading this blog you have, most likely, already made a commitment to growing your relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you probably go to church (or you did before the stay at home order) and, odds are, it’s a Church of the Brethren. You might be an insider.

Imagine how intimidating it could be for a new Christian or someone just learning about the Christian faith to understand how a church service works. We have rules we don’t even know we have. We know when to stand up and sit down. We are used to singing together along with the choir or praise band. Most everyone has seen church represented on television or in the news, but being there is so different. A lot of underlying expectation go along with attending a church to worship–what to wear, where to sit (or not sit), how to pray, how the offering is taken. Do you raise your hands in praise or clap, or is that not what worship looks like at this place of worship? For people who have been church insiders for years, it is difficult to understand how someone joining in from the outside might experience church.

But outsiders have perspectives that are valuable to the church. There is newness and excitement when Jesus first grabs your heart. New followers often have ideas or vision about how church can grow or be more welcoming. New followers are hungry to learn about faith and grow in relationship with God–maybe just a little more than the insiders who have been doing this “church thing” for years.

In this time when churches are meeting online doors are open to people who might not be comfortable walking into church for the first time. Some of the barriers that intimidate people from joining in are absent. Some of us are literally going to church in our pajamas because there is no dress code for at home worship. We can sing loud, off key and mess up the words to the Lord’s prayer and no one looks our way. First time church-goers can go to worship without sneaking in and out of the side door.

The Bible passage in this devotional ends by telling us we all share a common foundation as followers of Christ–insiders and outsiders. Christ is key to the structure, He is in our cornerstone, holding down the 90 degree angle for the new bricks to be added. And those new bricks go in two different directions, but without the cornerstone, both walls would fail. Christ is the center. These bricks are made from Jesus’ teachings and lessons on building a relationship with God through faith in Him. How we worship, where we worship, or what time we worship is not as important as Who we worship. We are the church. We are the family of God. We are the next blocks in the creation of the church. Let’s build on Christ as our example.

Good News: God’s Kingdom welcomes everyone–insiders and outsiders–no matter your past, your family history, your level of education, your economic status, your accomplishments, or your failures.

Discussion Question: In your church, do you feel like an insider or an outsider? What brings you to that conclusion? Do you imagine God’s church growing or shrinking in this time of Covid-19? What is your evidence? How might this change your congregation in the future? Do you have unchurched friends who might watch an online church service? Have you invited them? What do you need to have a strong foundation in your relationship with God?

Go one step further: In this time of stay at home orders, invite a friend to watch your church’s online worship service or another online gathering of believers you are joining. Then talk about it later.

Go online and watch a Christian church service from a church that might not worship like yours. What is different? What is the same? Would these worshipers feel welcome to worship the same way in your church? Would you be comfortable changing your style of worship to “fit in”?

Take time to learn what the Christian faith and Jewish faith have in common (we already share the Old Testament). You might be surprised what things look and feel the same or what is different.

Good News Youth Devotional

By Walt Wiltschek (Pastor at the Easton Church of the Brethren (MD) and at-large editor of Messenger magazine)

Ephesians 2:1-10 “…it is by grace you have been saved through faith…”

One of my favorite Southern sayings is, “Grace is like grits. It just comes.” And it’s true. When we used to travel to visit my relatives in Texas, if you stopped in somewhere for breakfast—and sometimes for other meals—you would find a pile of grits on your plate when it arrived. It usually didn’t matter whether or not you had ordered them. They just appeared. It’s like a “lagniappe” in New Orleans: a bonus gift that comes unexpectedly with your purchase.

In Ephesians, Paul tells the church that God’s gift of grace comes much the same way. They didn’t deserve such a grand gift. They had screwed up. They had disobeyed. They had made mistakes. But God loved them anyhow. And because of God’s grace through Jesus Christ, they had been saved from all of that—not because of anything they had done to earn it, but simply because they were “God’s handiwork.” And for those who accept that, the grace just comes.

Good News: How do you come up with any better news than the gift of God’s grace? Ask forgiveness for the places and times that you’ve screwed up, and experience it for yourself.

Discussion Question: Take a look at the lyrics of the hymn “Amazing Grace” by John Newton. Are there any verses or phrases that particularly grab you? Why? Are there parts you still wonder about?

Go one step further: Check out a video of Chris Tomlin’s contemporary take on the hymn “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone).” You can find one set to some beautiful scenery below. Soak in the words. What does grace mean to you?