In Despair

Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 27 and Exodus 3-4

                As we move through the Gospel of Matthew one chapter per day it’s pretty amazing how quickly we move through the life of Jesus.  Matthew brings us through the entire earthly life of Jesus so quickly.  Think about it for a minute.  Less than a month ago we were celebrating Christmas and the birth of Jesus.  Just a week later we were celebrating the start of a new year, 2021 and we started the book of Matthew which summarized roughly 2000 years of Israel’s history from Abraham down to Jesus.  We heard the angels announcement to Joseph that Mary was going to give birth to God’s son.  We read of his birth, the visit from the magi and Herod’s attempt to have Jesus killed and his rescue to Egypt.  We fast forwarded to his 12th year visiting the temple and being precocious in his questions of the learned doctors of Jewish Law. Just like that Jesus is 30 and being baptized by John in the Jordan River and going into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan.  Then he’s calling disciples, performing miracles, preaching the Torah in a way that is more authoritative than the average rabbi.  Before we know it 3 more years have passed and Jesus is in Jerusalem having his last supper with his disciples and preparing them for his approaching death.

                Now, here we are reaching the climax of Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus is tried, condemned and crucified.  This was not how any of his followers or any of the Jews for over 1000 years imagined how the story would go.  They envisioned the son of David as a triumphant King leading an armed rebellion and  defeating the powerful and oppressive Romans and being free to finally worship God under the rule of God’s anointed King, descended from the great King David of old.  Instead, they get a meek and gentle man being falsely accused and  refusing to defend himself, being rejected by his own people and, despite his complete innocence, meekly suffering and going to his death in the most shameful way imaginable: beaten, stripped naked and nailed to an execution pole for all to see and mock and serve as warning to any who might dare to defy Rome’s hegemony over the whole world.

                For the Apostle Paul and most every Christian since that day, this is foundational to the entire Christian message and the central event in the history of the world.

Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15:

15 Now, brothers, I must remind you of the Good News which I proclaimed to you, and which you received, and on which you have taken your stand, and by which you are being saved — provided you keep holding fast to the message I proclaimed to you. For if you don’t, your trust will have been in vain. For among the first things I passed on to you was what I also received, namely this: the Messiah died for our sins, in accordance with what the Tanakh says; and he was buried; and he was raised on the third day, in accordance with what the Tanakh says; and he was seen by Kefa, then by the Twelve;

(Complete Jewish Bible Translation)

                Paul reminds his readers that one of the first things he passed on to his students was the death of the Messiah, Jesus, for their sins as a fulfillment of the teaching of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh or Old Testament).  Matthew tells the story more or less chronologically and it builds up to this.  But for Paul, this was among the first things he taught.  Whether it’s shared first as in Paul or toward the end as in Matthew, either way the death of Jesus and with it his resurrection, is the most important thing for Christianity.

                There is much for you to think about in this chapter but I will simply pause to name two and they both have to do with despair and death.  Matthew places side by side two men who have reached a crisis in their life, Judas and Jesus.  For both their crisis has brought them into great anguish and to the brink of death.

                Judas is in despair because he has betrayed his teacher and friend.  He sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver.  One might try to get Judas off of the hook by suggesting that he didn’t really have a choice in the matter.  It was God’s plan.  I’ve even heard it suggested and even wondered myself if Judas wasn’t simply trying to force Jesus to go to war against Rome.  Judas was a Zealot and growing impatient with Jesus.  Maybe he assumed that when Jesus was arrested he and the other disciples would defend him and bring him into his Kingdom.  When Judas realized that his plan backfired and Jesus was going to die without bringing in the Kingdom he was overcome with guilt and despair.  Or maybe he was just greedy and sold out his friend for the money.  Or maybe some combination of things.  Sometimes we humans beings do things and we don’t even understand why we did it, but afterwards we are filled with shame and regret and despair of life. 

                Judas responded to his despair by taking his own life.  Suicide is the final act of despair.  The suicide rate in the US has been going up each year.  I imagine when the deaths related to Covid are finally tallied we will see a significant number of deaths were not from Covid but because of people’s despair over Covid and the Covid related isolation, economic losses, disenfranchised grief, increased substance abuse and loss of connection with faith communities and other sources of hope and meaning.  Judas’ story ends in a tragic death of despair.

                Jesus is also facing his own existential despair.  He’s been betrayed, denied, abandoned and rejected by his friends and followers and all his fellow Jews.  Jesus was beaten nearly to death and is alone on the cross and has all of the guilt and shame of the world heaped upon him.  In his agony and isolation he cries out to God in despair ,“My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”  Jesus is having the worst day of his life, just as Judas did and Jesus is in extreme pain, just as Judas was and Jesus was about to die, just as Judas did.  And yet, their deaths couldn’t be more different.  Jesus never lost his connection to and faith in his father, even at this point of greatest pain.  Even as Jesus cries out, he is praying and maintaining his connection to his faith tradition.  “My God, My God why have you forsaken me” is the opening prayer of Psalm 22.  This was a Lament Psalm.  The Hebrews were very familiar with suffering.  They had been slaves for over 400 years in Egypt.  They spent 40 years traveling in the wilderness.  They spent 70 years in exile in Babylon.  The Hebrews knew suffering and it was in suffering that God continued to sustain them and draw them back unto himself.  Every Psalm of lament, no matter how much hurt or pain they processed, no matter how angry or betrayed by God they felt, there was always a remembering of the ways God had been with them and helped them in the past, and there was the hope and trust that God would sustain them through the suffering and restore them to wholeness and joy.

                Jesus never lost his connection to the father, even in the depths of pain and despair.  He surrendered his life to God, but he did not take his own life as Judas did.  Judas’ tragic death ends with no hope for him.  Jesus’ tragic death ends with hope for him and for everyone.

                We all go through periods of hurt, pain, disillusionment, brokenness, anger, shame, guilt and pain.  When we go through those time we are in a moment of decision.  Do we give in completely to the despair and give up on God, or do we cling to faith, remembering God’s faithfulness in the past and hope in the future.  That will make all the difference in how our story ends.  It doesn’t have to end like Judas.  Jesus offers the path to hope and life.

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

Good Riddance, Best Riddance

Revelation 19-22

More than any year in recent history, people are looking forward to the closing of 2020.  There is no magical spell that will make our worries disappear as the zero turns to a one, yet for many there will be a great sigh; a new year brings a new promise.  There are some prognosticators who say the worst is yet to come, yet for some reason, I have a renewed sense of hope. I have longed for an eventual reprieve, rest, and relief from restrictions.  The whole world is longing to move forward, and see 2020 left on the side of the road in the rearview mirror, “Good riddance. Goodbye.” as we blow it a sardonic kiss. Mwwahh.

As we have seen in our time with Revelation this week, any break we have is temporary because the worst is yet to come <balloon pops>.  The pandemic we have seen up to this point will pale in comparison to the plagues preceding the Kingdom of God.  Although there has been some pretty intense weather and natural disasters this year, this isn’t even close to what is being forecasted for future calamities.  While many wars have waned in the wake of coronavirus, war will be truly inescapable, pressing in on all sides before the coming of Christ.  It is so true that grief, sorrow, exhaustion, frustration, and anxiety have been intensely felt in 2020, and I would never make light of that, but when compared to the longing of the earth that is to come, it will easily eclipse all we have felt this year.  The people, and the earth itself, will be longing more than ever for refreshing.

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:  Hallelujah!  For our Lord God Almighty reigns!  Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. – Revelation 19:6,7

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  Revelation 21:3,4

The best news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is this ultimate reprieve will come alongside our Lord and Savior. This will be the greatest of all welcomes and simultaneously, the best of all riddances.  While we can retain some small hope that our life will return to the way it was a year ago, was it not still filled with tears, death, mourning, crying, pain, the entirety of the whole old order?  To long for a return to 2019, or even a better version of the past, is similar to the cry of the children of Israel in the desert to return to Egypt because at least their bellies were full there (Ex 16:2,3).  Life as we know it (or even knew it) is marginally mediocre when we compare it to what is in store for us.  If we are to cry out, to groan, to bemoan, let us do so as people who are ready to be rid of our sin and the captivity it has placed upon us and the earth once and for all (Ex 2:23). Our present suffering, no matter how great, is nothing compared to the glory that awaits.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Rom 8:18-22

-Aaron Winner

If you have been reading along all year, congratulations! Today we read the final chapters of God’s Inspired Word – Revelation 19-22.

Tomorrow we begin a New Year and a New 2021 Bible reading plan! Every day we will read 2 passages – an Old Testament passage (usually just 2 chapters) and a New Testament or Psalms/Proverbs passage (often just one chapter or a few short Psalms). Our writers may write about one of the day’s passages, or some will choose to write all week on a chosen theme, giving us the opportunity to dive a little deeper into some relevant subject matter and what Scripture teaches on that topic.

Print your copy of our Bible reading plan below – and let’s see what God has to tell us in 2021! Seek Him! Grow Your Faith! Love!

Do Not Weep

Revelation 4-8

There is much to take in with today’s reading as John describes the throne room of heaven and the events that unfold, marking the Kingdom of God being set into motion.  There are angels, horsemen, and elders, each executing and exacting the will of God.  If you are a bit overwhelmed by today’s reading, you are not alone. John, who spent more time with Jesus than most, is still awestruck by the worship of God happening before him, and he is doing his best to describe heavenly things for which there is no earthly vocabulary (something important to keep in mind as we examine the remainder of this book and prophecy).  With a resounding question, John’s attention is drawn to the hand of God:

“And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.” Rev 5:2-4

John weeps, for the content of the scroll could very well never be known.  Salvation’s plan locked inside this scroll with no one on heaven or earth who is worthy of removing the seven seals that keep it shut.  This is seemingly the end of the road.  Without a Savior, life on earth has no redemption.  This is most definitely worth a weep, knowing that for some, their story stops here.  They have put everything in what they alone can achieve, yet they are like every other creature in heaven and on earth.  Without the hope delivered in the next verses, all that would remain is remorse and regret (Luke 13:27,28).

Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Rev 5:5

Salvation is a gift of God, paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8,9).  In the moments when we are overcome with great grief, sense the defeating drift of sin, are lost or lonely, feel pressed or persecuted, let Jesus Christ step forward. Do not reach deeper into empty stores, pour out of a broken vessel, or pick up the shattered pieces; let him do what we cannot.  We need only lift our heads – to pray, to seek, to take heart – as we listen to the words of the elder that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, has triumphed.  He will step forward and unfurl a new banner, renewing and restoring the purpose of our life. He alone is worthy to open the scroll, yet we are indeed the beneficiaries of the prize of his propitiation.

And they sang a new song, saying:  “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Rev 5:9

-Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Revelation 4-8.

Tomorrow we continue with chapters 9-13.

The Time is Near

Revelation 1-3

It is very likely that at the time of the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John, he was the last living apostle of Christ.  In his final days, he was banished to the Greek island of Patmos for his preaching and prophesying, both viewed as ways of stirring up unwanted rebellion in the Roman Empire.  It is here that he is delivered a vision of final days before the return of Christ.  Of the men that followed Jesus, John may have had the least cruel fate. According to scripture or historical accounts, all had been killed – stoned, clubbed, crucified, beheaded, and speared – preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God, doing everything in their power to fulfill their commission (Acts 1:4-8) and reach the ends of the earth before the return of their friend and Savior. The disciples preached the Kingdom of God as something that would be seen by the generation they spoke to or the coming one. There was an extraordinary emergency to their message. And yet, 2000 years or so later, here we are.

I am reminded of my internal adolescent rebuttal when hearing Christ was coming soon — “If Jesus Christ has not come in the last 100 generations, why should I think that he will come in mine?” Through our reading this week, we will unpack the message of John and, like many before us, apply his words to the time and place that we live in.  We live in interesting times, but so have many generations before us.  They each had their own political unrest, plagues, and natural phenomenon.  With all the challenges of this year included, to live in the United States as a Christian is still pretty easy by comparison to many places in the world today, and most definitely effortless compared to the challenges faced by apostles of Christ.  For many of us, our ease of living has led us to share (or not) a complacent gospel.   This was already happening in the days of John; a symptom shared by many of the churches in Revelation 2 & 3.  As you read this week, consider the following to renew your sense of urgency to the Gospel message and reinstate Christ’s Kingdom as the centerpiece of your daily purpose:

1.   You are always a single breath away from the Kingdom of God.  No person knows the day or hour of his/her death. We must live our life to be found in Christ, not wait for signs of his return and scramble our way to grace.  The thing is, if you’re waiting for signs before you live out the Gospel, you will be distracted, diverted, or disconnected (Matt 25:1-13, Parable of the Ten Virgins).  “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” – James 4:13,14

2.  No one, except the Father, knows the day or the hour Christ returns.  The days before Christ arrival will be as in the days of Noah (Matt 24:38) –  people will be married, there will be parties, children will be born, parents will send their teens to college, couples will be building their dream homes, and many will be working hard to retire early (v.40-42).  Despite the best efforts of John to deliver his prophecy, many will be caught unaware of the harbingers of Christ’s return. Because of this, it is imperative we deliver the Gospel message wherever our feet are on the daily. “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” – Matthew 24:36,37 

3. Many of the dramatic events that unfold in Revelation will happen within a single generation.  God has been working on His salvation plan since the foundations of the world (Col 1:16) with the culmination being (spoilers ahead) the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth.  According to the words of Jesus and the vision of John there are compounding and intensifying events as seals are opened and the wrath of God being poured out. Natural wonders, dramatic plagues, famines, wars, and a global political climate will feed off one another and spur along the intervention and return of Christ.  If this year has taught us one thing, it is how fast the world can change with some of these elements aligned; however, the ignition point for the return of Christ is already set.  There will be a fire that follows and it will consume quickly; the temperature need only rise a bit more. “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things <Matt 24:14-33> take place.” – Matthew 24:34

“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” Revelation 1:3

-Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Revelation 1-3

Tomorrow we continue Revelation with chapters 4-8.

Merry Christmas

1st John

On Christmas, it’s appropriate that we read 1 John. It may seem better that we read Matthew or Luke, but 1 John distills the life and teaching of Jesus from the perspective of an old man. If we want to hear an old, inspired teacher dispensing his wisdom, John (and the books attributed to that name) are books to which to turn. 


John is old and he is concerned with the most important things in life. He testifies about Jesus, the light who comes into the world, to fulfill the joy of himself and his readers. Joy is a chief concern of the old man. Jesus doesn’t turn us into a curmudgeon. That’s because Jesus brings us to a God who is greater. 
A God who is light.  A God who is love.  That’s a God of Joy. 

If we want to be in Christ, to have this God who fulfills joy, to be counted among the children of light and love, we must keep the commands of Christ. We must walk as Jesus walked. But what is the command. When John says the old command they have heard from the beginning, he is not referring to the law. He is referring to the command from the beginning of the teaching of Jesus. The message which we have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.(3:11) Just as Christ laid down his life for us, we should be willing to lay down our life for our brothers and sisters in love (3:16). We believe in the name of Jesus and love one another, just as Christ commanded us (3:23). More verses that tell us to love one another because of the love of God : 4:7-8, 4:10-12, 4:19-21.


The command is to love our brothers and sisters. 

But we are also commanded to NOT love the world. Of course, this doesn’t mean to not love people. The “world” according to John, are all the things that are not of God: sin, power, money, control, hate. We so easily love sin, which gives us momentary pleasure, usually at another’s pain. We love power and money and control, so that we can continue to sin without consequence in this world. And hate allows us to have superiority to others even as we hurt them, because we think we are better. 


AVOID THAT. Avoid those idols!

Know that if you keep the command to love, if you believe in the name of Jesus, and allow him to guide you in light and love, the God of joy is going to give you a joy that lasts forever. We are promised eternal life. 


May you, my brothers and sisters, experience the JOY that God gives. 

May you LOVE one another, as is the command of Christ. 

May you avoid sin and the love of the world, and have PEACE in yourself.

May you experience eternal life, both now and forevermore, and have HOPE. 

And with that HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and LOVE, may you have a very, very…


Merry Christmas!

-Jake Ballard

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 John.

Tomorrow we read 2nd & 3rd John.

Times will be Tough; Keep the Faith!

2 Timothy 1-4

I wish I could tell you that after you are faithful, after you have lived a life dedicated to loving God and loving people, that everything is smooth sailing. I wish I could make and keep a promise that you will never get sick, never be poor, never be mocked, never be persecuted, for the faith that you have. But, the truth is that we live in a world full of sinful people, a world full of broken people. We may even be the cause of some of our pain. When the world gets tough, when life is hard, what are we supposed to do?


Paul addresses these questions in his second letter to Timothy that we have in scripture. We need to recognize that, when Paul is writing this letter, he is currently under arrest for his faith. He had spoken the name of Jesus and the Jews arrested him. Because he was a Roman citizen, he appealed to Caesar for his trial. Instead of walking free, he was bound, shipped around the Mediterranean, shipwrecked, and transported to Rome, where he was kept under house arrest. (Before, I thought house arrest didn’t sound bad, but 2020 lockdowns have drastically changed my mind.) In the midst of all this, everything that Paul is going through, his message to Timothy, a young pastor, is “Keep being faithful to the Gospel message.” Even though that message is the very thing that has Paul in chains, as he follows God’s will to be in Rome, Paul knows that the Gospel is the only source of life. The Gospel message of Jesus tells us about God’s Kingdom, both later over the whole world and in our hearts now, how to live as a citizen of that kingdom today, and how to be given eternal life in the future. No amount of suffering now can compare to the hope, peace, love and joy that come through the Kingdom Message. 


Paul notes to Timothy that this doesn’t make life easier. In 2 Timothy, we can almost hear the sadness in Paul’s words as he notes that his friends have left him. He’s not angrily ranting, but sadly noting that his entourage has turned into only the smallest, die-hard band. Moreover, Paul seems to know that his death is near (4:6-8). He is getting his affairs in order, even in case he dies before Timothy’s coming (4:9-15). He knows things are at the end. This is his farewell note before going to sleep.

So what does he say?


Teach others, Timothy! (2:2, 4:1-2) Paul wants the things that Timothy heard to be passed on to others, who will know the faith so well that they can pass it on to others. For the pastors reading this, this is CLEARLY meant for you (and me). If we are not teaching in order to create teachers, we are not doing the job he has called us to do. if you are not a pastor, there is still a calling for you in this. For our more mature readers, this is calling you to share your faith with others in such a way that it sinks down deep and molds people so that they will share their faith. And for those who are new to the faith, share your faith, but also seek out mature and faithful believers to see what they have to teach and offer you. Paul spoke to Timothy, AND TIMOTHY LISTENED TO, TRUSTED AND OBEYED PAUL. 


This is not giving everyone you meet a complex theological treatise. There is nothing wrong with complex theology; I’m a big fan myself. But Paul tells Timothy to keep the message simple to not wrangle over words or about things that don’t matter. (2:14, 16) Be FOCUSED on the things that matter because the days will get worse. You, Timothy, and you, reader, must be strong, because all those who desire to live holy lives, the best lives we can live, will be persecuted by those who don’t want to live that way. (3:12)


Finally, Paul lets Timothy know that there should not be despair at his “departure” (death). Paul knows who he is … and more importantly whose he is. Paul knows what awaits him at the coming of Christ. 
A Kingdom

A Heavenly Kingdom

A Kingdom that will come down from God on high and will last forever. 

Paul’s farewell letter is an ode to this Kingdom. He wants his Son in the Faith Timothy there. He wants those who have not yet heard the message there. His singular focus is glory to God through Jesus Christ. 


May you my brothers and sisters, be strong in the midst of difficult times. 

May you proclaim the faith boldly.

May you trust God, obey him, and serve him in his kingdom, now and forevermore. 

-Jake Ballard

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Timothy 1-4.

Tomorrow we will read 2 Peter and Jude.

If God is for you…

Romans 8-10

I think Romans chapter 8 is one of the most encouraging sections of scripture.  And boy can we use some encouragement right now.

It is so sad to see so many suffering from the effects of the Covid virus.  Many, many people have lost work and income.  Many children are not able to attend school in person.  Abuse has increased.  And many people have died or have otherwise physically suffered from this virus.  It is very easy and very natural to be discouraged and worried right now.  But for Christians at least, we need to cling to the fact that present circumstances do not alter the future promise that God has made.

One day, there will be no need to fear death from a virus or anything else.  We will be made perfect in the coming Kingdom!  That is the hope talked about in Chapter 8, and it is a hope that can not be taken from us. 

Until that day comes, be encouraged, fellow believers, in the words Paul shares here.  Verse 28 says, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. That’s encouraging!  That doesn’t mean everything will be perfect as we want it to be, but God, in His infinite wisdom knows what is best for our own good even if we do not.

Verse 31b – If God is for us, who can be against us?  That is a great statement.  What God has put in motion is unstoppable.  No one will stop God’s plans, and God’s plans include YOU!

Yes, this pandemic stinks.  And it doesn’t seem the end of it is super soon.  But we have a certain hope in that coming day, and nothing can take that hope away or prevent that day from coming.  Likewise, these momentary troubles can not separate us from the love of Christ.  Paul tells us  in verse 37 that in regards to these troubles we are “more than conquerors.”  We WILL get through these momentary troubles.  For that is all they are, in the bigger picture.

Finally, chapter 8 concludes with more incredible encouragement:

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I hope that is as encouraging for you as it is for me.  Take these passages to heart.  Remember them when the world seems to be against you or, as now, the world seems to be falling apart.  Remember that your creator, your Father, your God is FOR YOU!  And nothing can take that, or His future promise for you, away.

-Greg Landry

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Romans 8-10.

Tomorrow we continue with Romans 11-13.

Be Strong

1 Corinthians 15-16

Welcome back to our final chapters in 1st Corinthians!

Chapter 15 must be one of the most powerful and hopeful chapters that Paul has written.  There is no one that can leave this chapter feeling defeated with a message taunting Death asking “Where is your victory?  Where is your sting?” (15:55).  We have a victory in Christ that no one can stop, not even something that feels as permanent and powerful as death.

This year has brought many challenges.  People have experienced financial struggles, people have dealt with severe illnesses and deaths, people have experienced mental and emotional turmoil, people have disagreed with those they are closest to, people have felt betrayed, silenced, oppressed, offended, and defeated.  It is so easy this year to become discouraged, and no one would blame anyone if they did not focus on something as far away as the Kingdom.

But that focus on the Kingdom must be at the front of our minds daily, because without it, the darkness that is this world today will all too easily take over our own life.  Paul calls us to be steadfast, immovable, working enthusiastically for the Lord, and knowing that our work is not in vain (15:58). 

In a world where so often the struggles and challenges we face are in front of us due to someone else’s choices, it can be incredibly uplifting to remember that Jesus will abolish all of the rule and power on earth, God will put the enemies under his feet, and our world will be at peace for the first time since the fall of man.  There is a point where things will be made perfect, and those who have committed themselves to Christ will have an opportunity to experience that perfection.

What strikes me while reading these passages is how even when though this was written to a specific church however many hundreds of years ago, the message has never changed and is incredibly applicable in 2020.  Our God is unchanging, despite our world changing so rapidly away from Him.  In this changing world we must put our faith, trust, and hope in an unchanging God.  I don’t care how cheesy that sounds!

So where does Paul leave the church in this letter?  He doesn’t just finish with a message of hope.  True to form, Paul gives the church one more reality check in chapter 16.  Verse 13 says “Be alert, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong.”  To me that message is one that you leave when you know something’s coming…  Paul wasn’t finishing on a happy-go-lucky victory note because he knows that the victory doesn’t come without a battle.  As we grow closer and closer to Christ’s return, we can expect our world to continue to fall.  Yes, we have a hope.  Yes, that hope should carry us through the hard times.  And yes, we should be ready for a spiritual fight. 

We shouldn’t be living in fear of the battle, because we already know the outcome.  We should be living with the intention of being on the winning side.  When we are confidently standing with the winner, we should be finding everyone else we can to bring them to victory as well.  That is our mission.

I am so excited to jump into 2nd Corinthians with you all tomorrow!  Until then, My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus.

-Sarah Blanchard

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Corinthians 15-16

Tomorrow we will begin 2 Corinthians (chapters 1-4).

Your Work, Labor & Endurance – through Faith, Love & Hope

1st & 2nd Thessalonians

1 Thessalonians 1:3 – We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.


Work Produced by Faith

Faith is defined as having a firm belief, complete trust and confidence in something. As a Believer, our faith is determined by the extent of which we believe that God is who He says He is and that His son, Jesus the Messiah, was born of a woman, lived a perfect life, died on the cross for the redemption of your sins, was raised to life, is currently sitting on a throne next to his Father, waiting to return again to reign in the Kingdom. IF you and I believe all of that – then our day to day life will be a compilation of evidence of acts done in faith and by faith. 


James makes the claim in the third chapter of his letter “to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (James 1:1) that “in the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (3:17). And in verse 26 of the same chapter, James writes, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead”. 


The Thessalonians didn’t just accept the gospel message, they acted on it. Jesus was both their Savior and their Lord, meaning that they were obedient to the call on their lives. They were doing the work that God had prepared in advance for them to do (Ephesians 2:10). Likewise, when we accept the gospel message for ourselves, we have to respond. Jesus tells us in the book of Luke that we must take up our cross (do the work) and follow him (9:23). 

Labor Prompted by Love

Mark 12:30 says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength”. Have you ever wondered why these four domains are identified? Have you ever loved someone so much that there isn’t anything you wouldn’t do for them? You sacrifice all that you have in order to serve them, sacrifice for them, and labor for them. In the following verse, we’re told to love our neighbors as ourselves. Sacrificing ourselves for family members and close friends is one thing…serving and laboring for others beyond our closest relationships is quite another. 


This is why we’re told to love with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength – because it’s not easy. Sometimes loving another is labor. It’s hard work. It’s humbling ourselves by putting our own desires off to the side in order to honor others. But it’s what we are called to do. And it is possible if we lean into the strength that is provided through our faith in Christ. 

Endurance Inspired by Hope

One of my favorite types of exercise is a 20 minutes HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout. I like it because I don’t have to do it everyday, it’s quick, and efficient. And I get to rest for almost half of the time during the “down” intervals. If I were ever called upon to do something that took longer than 20 minutes, I would be gassed! I do not have the endurance for it. And I have no enthusiasm to train for it! 


Walking out your faith knee deep in “works produced by faith” and “labor promoted by love” is not for the faint of heart! It’s not a one time deal. And unlike my HIIT workouts, it’s an all-day, everyday kind of commitment –  for a lifetime! This requires an endurance that cannot be faked nor manufactured. The only source for the necessary fuel to keep this faith-centered life going is HOPE. A hope that has a foundation on the love God has for us. When we stay zeroed in to that – we are able to dig deep and and go the distance. As Paul says in his second letter to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. We can have a FULL life that gives us the endurance needed to do the good works. 


The Christian life is not for the wimpy. In this single verse out of 1 Thessalonians, we are told that we must work, labor, and endure. I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t seem very comfy. It’s not a life of luxury and indulgence. The ONLY way that we will be able to sustain this day to day living is doing so out of Faith, Love, and Hope. May these virtues fill your heart today.

-Bethany Ligon

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1st Thessalonians & 2nd Thessalonians.

Tomorrow we will read Acts 18:19-19:41.

Completely Astonished

Matthew 8:14-34 and Mark 4-5

Jesus – how well do we really know him? It is easy to look at passages like today’s and quickly dismiss them as familiar. Oh, yeah, this is where he talks about the parables of the Kingdom of God for awhile, drives out a bunch of demons (whatever those are), calms the storm and heals some people. He was a pretty cool guy.

Indeed, but if we look at these stories more closely can we learn anything that we might not have caught back in our preschool Sunday School days when we may have first heard these amazing and true stories of the Son of God. I enjoyed reading the Wiersbe NT Bible Commentary that pointed out in these chapters of Mark we see that, “God’s servant, Jesus Christ, is the Master of every situation and the Conqueror of every enemy.” (p101). We see him provide victory over danger (the storm), demons, disease and even death! In a world that still has some very real issues with fear, anxiety and worry (and maybe even demons?) – we would do well to take a closer look at this man Jesus – as well as how people responded to him when they were face-to-face with this one-of-a-kind conquering hero servant.

To help me look at Jesus more deeply, I made a chart of what Jesus DID in these passages – his actions and how he responded to various people (and demons). And, then, as I am also interested in how I ought to respond to Jesus – I included how a broad range of people reacted to Jesus, his teachings and what they personally experienced.

My Jesus column included things like:

Jesus saw – both the crowd and then also individual needs

He touched – Peter’s mother-in-law and Jairus’ daughter

He taught – to the crowd in parables and with further explanations for his followers

He slept – in the boat, through the storm (even though we also know some nights he stayed up praying all night)

He spoke – and the demons obeyed

He went with Jairus

He knew power had gone out from him

He ignored what others said (regarding the girl being dead or asleep)

I love the presence of this man. Not shaken by a storm or by a legion of demons (in the Roman army a legion was a group of 6,000 men) or by sickness or even by the science of death or by those who would argue or laugh at him. He knew what they didn’t. He knew he was the Son of God and God would use him to display God’s greatness and power and compassion and wisdom.

And some people (and demons) of his day would see this – and react in different ways. So, on my chart of how others responded to Jesus I included things like:

Peter’s healed mother-in-law – Got up and began to wait on him

Those who heard of Jesus – Brought demon-possessed and sick to Jesus

Teacher of the law – Vowed to follow Jesus

Disciples – Followed him; amazed at Jesus; still terrified – even AFTER the winds and waves obeyed Jesus; questioned who Jesus was (needed to know!)

Demons – Begged Jesus; recognized Jesus as the Son of the Most High God; and had no choice but to obey him

Those who saw the changed life of the formerly possessed man – Scared of Jesus; pleaded with Jesus to leave the area

The man formerly possessed by “Legion” – Begged Jesus to let him go with Jesus – but followed Jesus’ direction to stay and tell others of what Jesus had done for him

Jairus (synagogue ruler with a very ill 12 year old daughter) – Fell at Jesus’ feet; pleaded earnestly for his sick daughter

Poor, sick, desperate woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and spent all she had on doctors who only made her worse – Found Jesus; secretly touched his clothes, confident this would heal her; when healed and Jesus questioned – she fell at his feet, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth

Mourners – Laughed at Jesus

Jairus’ 12 Year Old Daughter – Raised from the dead and walked around

Saw Jairus’ Daughter Raised – Completely astonished

Even though these events happened 2,000 years ago, there are still those who laugh at Jesus, and those who don’t understand and ask him to leave. I pray our eyes are opened and we spend more and more time, “completely astonished” at what he has done. May we turn to Jesus again and again when we are hurt, scared, fearful, spiritually unhealthy, haunted by demons, and in need of wisdom and hope. May we bring our friends and family to him for healing. May we be active and vocal in serving him and telling of what he has done. And, like the disciples who watched him calm the storm, may we remain a bit terrified at what he can and will do. His reign is not over, in many ways it has not even truly begun. The best is yet to come.

Obviously we can’t take just one passage (of which we still have only brushed the surface) and say we know all there is to know about Jesus. There is still so much more. The things we have already read, like how he told the healed paralyzed man to, “Go and sin no more.” and the stern warnings he had for the ‘holier than thou’ Pharisees. As well as all the exciting things we have yet to read in the coming months and days – washing the feet of his disciples, his prayer for those who will believe, the agony of his crucifixion, the victory of his resurrection, the mystery of his ascension and the completely astonishing coming return of Jesus. Now is the time to get to know him and share him. The best is yet to come!

– Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 8:14-34 and Mark 4-5.

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 9 & 10. Come follow along as we learn more and more about Jesus and how we can respond to him, on our Bible reading plan…