Birth Pains

Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 24 and Genesis 47 & 48

               I have never had a baby.  Shocker, I know!  As a male member of the human race the act of childbirth has and will forever elude my lived experience.  However, as a father of eleven Fletchers, I have spent many years of my adult life in the company of pregnant women, or more precisely, a pregnant woman.  I was there for all eleven births and I caught most of them (the last one came so quickly that I caught him solo).  All this is to offer to you my credentials that, although never directly experiencing labor, I have been present for enough births to recognize the various stages that women go through in childbirth.  Fun fact, for women who have more than one baby the Braxton Hicks contractions (otherwise known as false labor) can come several weeks or even months before the baby is actually born.  Braxton Hicks contractions are one way that the body prepares itself for labor.  It’s like an athlete doing warm up exercises before the actual event.   Muscles tighten and relax as they practice for the real thing when it comes. 

                Today’s devotion isn’t really about childbirth, it’s about being prepared for the return of Jesus Christ, the end of this present age and the preparation for the age to come, the Kingdom of God.  Matthew 24 is known as the “little apocalypse”.  Apocalypse is another term for Revelation.  In the Bible the book of Revelation is 22 chapters long and goes into a lot of detail about the end of this age and the coming of Jesus.  Matthew 24 is a condensed version, kind of a mini-sermon Jesus preached to his followers shortly before he went to the cross.  (You will run across parallel or “synoptic” passages when we get to Mark 13 and Luke 21 in just a few days/weeks).

                Jesus’ purpose here is to prepare his followers to be ready for times of great tribulation or distress that would come immediately prior to his return.  If you’ve ever read or heard a sermon about the apocalypse or the end of the world or Armageddon you probably are aware that Jesus warned that before things get amazingly better- ie. The New Heavens and the New Earth, Christ returning to rule over all the world bringing a final end to all sin and death and setting free the whole earth from the “curse” of death… before things get amazingly better, there will be a time when they become incredibly hard.

                A brief study of the history of the Church for the last 2000 years will show that Christians have gone through hard times a lot.  In the first 2 centuries the problem was the Roman Empire.  Followers of Jesus were often told that they had to renounce their loyalty to Jesus and declare their loyalty to Caesar alone.  When they refused, some of them were thrown to the lions or burned at the stake.

                Since Christianity was legalized in the Roman Empire it has faced challenges in many parts of the world at different times.  In the 17th century Christian missionaries in Japan were killed for their faith.  In the 1930’s Christians in Germany who failed to support Hitler faced severe persecution and some, most notably Dietrich Bonhoeffer, were executed for resisting Nazism.  Christians in Communist China and the Soviet Union experienced incredible persecution during most of the 20th century.  There are places in the Islamic world today where Christians who attempt to proselytize Muslims face the threat of execution.

                Every generation of Christians since the first century could look at what was happening in the world and see the potential for the end of the world.  Jesus’ own disciples asked him right after his resurrection, before he ascended to God, “Is it NOW, Lord?” (Acts 1:6).

                2020 was a really challenging year with Covid, racial division, murder hornets, wildfires and hurricanes.  I had a lot of people asking me if I thought the end of the world was coming.  Perhaps you’ve wondered that yourselves.

                Matthew 24 is a great place to go when you start wondering if this is the end.  Like a woman who is going to have a baby, she may have “birth pangs” for a long time before the baby is actually ready to be born.  The same is true with the coming Kingdom of God.  I think every generation of Christians experience some amount of persecution or “natural” disasters or other tragedies that leave them wondering if the end could be near.  Just as Braxton Hicks contractions are God’s way of preparing a woman to give birth by having her muscles practice for the big event, God permits every generation to experience a certain amount of trials and tribulations to help prepare God’s people for the final “great push” that will occur right before Jesus returns.

                Jesus himself said that no one knows exactly when he will return.  He said that even he doesn’t know.  That is something that only God knows.  What Jesus does say to his disciples then and to us today is that we need to stay ready, we shouldn’t fall asleep in our faith.  He warns that as troubles and persecution increase and as the world becomes a less loving and more violent place that many of his followers would fall away:

                “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:10-12).

                Jesus might come very soon. I can’t predict when.  All I can do is make sure that I’m ready whenever he does come.  I must make sure that I stay faithful and don’t turn away even if the persecution gets really bad.  I think Christians living in the United States are getting ready to face some real persecution in the near future.  In fact, I think we already are.  There is a lot of pressure to conform to the changing norms of society.  Cancel culture will not have any respect for Christianity.  Some of the things that the Bible teaches about how we are supposed to live, particularly in areas of morality, sexuality and gender norms are considered anathema by the current progressive climate.  As people place more value on becoming “woke” more followers of Jesus, young and old will be persecuted if they fail to change their values.  Remember, Caesar doesn’t like to be rejected as God, neither does the devil, and neither do the progressive elites.  In the wake of the coming persecution Jesus our Lord tells us to “stand firm.”

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

Listen to Him

Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 33 & 34 and Matthew 17

Here we are beginning the 3rd full week of 2021 and so much has happened already. 7 days of careful investigation revealing solid scientific evidence supporting a Biblical view of a miraculous creator (and destroyer) God. And then 7 days of the Old Testament patriarchs of Genesis and fathers of the faith: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – and what they teach us still today about following God with the faith of Abraham. This week our devotions will be following our New Testament readings in the book of Matthew (one chapter a day) to see what God is doing…

Matthew 17 begins with an awe-inspiring mountain-top experience (often called the Transfiguration) in which God’s glory radiates through and around Jesus Christ – showing a snippet of the beauty, majesty and glory of God’s coming Kingdom which will feature His dazzling Son amongst the risen heroes of the faith. Peter, James and John were there to see it – and they were shaking in their boots at the power of the moment and the voice of God heard from the cloud saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” (Matthew 17:5)

But wait…we really can’t start there. Our spiritual journey doesn’t exist only on the glorious mountaintop. What comes before the glory? About a week before the events of Matthew 17, Jesus was telling his disciples that he would face much persecution and even death (before being raised to life) (Matthew 16:21). Bold, strong, impetuous Peter who thinks he knows better than the Son of God tries to correct Jesus – Peter would never let that happen to Jesus. But Jesus isn’t encouraged or amused by Peter but rather calls him “Satan…a stumbling block….you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23). Jesus continues to prepare his disciples, letting them know that he would not be the only one expected to suffer – but that they too would be required to endure the agony of “taking up their cross” to follow him.

It doesn’t sound fun or exciting. It is hard to get people to sign up for suffering. Peter and the disciples didn’t like the sound of it. Most people today don’t. But it is not suffering without a goal. It is a fight worthy of the cause and the prize. Jesus said those who would suffer for him and lose their life would find it – because after the suffering for Christ – comes the glory. Jesus explained, “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:27-28 NIV)

And, a week later, Peter, James and John found themselves on a mountain-top getting a taste of the splendor that will be when God tells His Son, Jesus, it is time to go to the earth to set up a kingdom like none have ever seen before. A kingdom greater than anything set up in the time of the Law (Moses) or the prophets (Elijah) or Jesus’ first coming. God was revealing His perfect plan for His perfect Son and all those who will listen to him.

Contrary to both today’s “prosperity gospel” and Peter’s human thinking, God’s perfect plan does not consist solely of beautiful, bright mountain-top experiences. There is also the ugly, dark and painful cross. For Jesus – and for those who listen to him and carry their cross. But don’t fear, God’s got this. He’s got those who listen to His Son. Our trials will not last forever – but His Kingdom will. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV)

How can you be sure your suffering will have a reward? Are you suffering for Christ – or yourself? Is your master plan for your life from the mind of man (how can I get ahead and protect myself best?) or from the mind of God (suffer for the sake of God’s Son and look forward to the reward to come)? What will listening to Jesus look like for you in 2021? What will suffering before glory look like for you today?

-Marcia Railton

A Pattern for Prayer

Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 31 & 32 and Matthew 16

After Jacob had served Laban in Padan Aram for 20 years, God told him to go back home.  It was finally time for him to face his past.  Remember, he had cheated his brother Esau, and had run for his life.  He had about 500 miles to go to get home.  He sent some servants ahead to let Esau know he was coming home.  When the servants returned, they told Jacob that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men.  Jacob was terrified, and prayed a beautiful prayer that is recorded in Genesis 32:9-12.

He started, “Oh God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac…”.  In this section, I see Jacob acknowledging the history his family had with following God, ever since God called Abraham in Genesis 12.

He continued, “O Lord, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and to your relatives, and I will make you prosper’. ”  In this section, I see Jacob acknowledged what God had told him to do, and he had followed what God had told him to do. 

Next, he acknowledged his own unworthiness, praying,  “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant.  I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups.”  And he acknowledged what God had done for him, even though he was unworthy.

He continued, “Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children.”  In this section, he admitted his fear to God, and then he finally got around to begging God for what he needed help with – “save me”.   Note that he didn’t give God suggestions as to how God could solve the problem.  He just turned it over to God.

He concluded with, “But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’.”  He closed with reminding God of His promises.

In this prayer, I see a potential model for our own prayers.  It goes sort of like this:

  • Start by thanking God for his provision until now for our family, including for our ancestors.
  • Today, God speaks to us through His word.  I think it is important to be familiar with his word and follow his word.  And I think that’s a perfectly fine topic to bring up in prayer, “God, you said to …, and I have done that as you commanded.”
  • I believe we need to humble ourselves before God, and acknowledge that we don’t deserve all he has done for us.  I think it also helps to remind ourselves in our prayers what God has done for us.  (We don’t need to remind God.  He already knows.)
  • We should admit whatever we’re feeling to God.  (He already knows anyway, but it helps us maintain an open channel of communication with Him.)
  • We are finally at the point in our prayer where we should clearly lay out the problem we’re facing.  And we don’t need to offer God suggestions as to how He could solve our problems.  He can come up with solutions better than we can even imagine.
  • I think in the closing of Jacob’s prayer, he was not just reminding God of the promises God had made.  I think he was also looking forward to those promises himself.  We should do the same.

And I think it’s fine to pray something like, “God, you promised that everything works for the good of those who love you.  I don’t understand how that is possible in the situation I’m in right now.  Please open my eyes to understand that, or at least to accept it as truth.  I know you have promised that nothing can separate us from your love, not even death.  God, things aren’t looking very good from my perspective right now, but I’m holding on to your promise that when Christ returns, you will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.  God, I’m really wanting that now.  Please keep me focused on you, and living for you.  And please send Jesus soon.  Amen.”

–Steve Mattison

Abraham is tested

Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 21-22 and Matthew 11

God had promised Abraham, in Genesis 17:19, “Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac.  I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.”

At this point, Abraham was over 100 years old, and had faithfully followed God.  In Genesis 12, Abraham obeyed when God told him to leave his country and family.  Abraham allowed Lot to take the lush land around Sodom in Genesis 13, and trusted God to provide for his own flocks and herds on barren mountains.  In Genesis 15, Abraham trusted God’s promise that he would have a son in his old age, and God counted that faith as righteousness.

In Genesis 22:2, we find God commanding Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love and go to the region of Moriah.  Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

This doesn’t make sense.  God had explicitly promised that God’s promises to Abraham would be passed down through Isaac’s descendants, and now God was commanding Abraham to sacrifice him – apparently destroying the promise He had made to Abraham.

By this point, Abraham had developed a very close relationship with God.  In fact, we’re told 3 times in the Bible that Abraham was God’s friend (2 Chron 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, James 2:23) – and as far as I know, Abraham is the only person in the Bible of whom this is said.

We’re told in Hebrews 11:19 that Abraham reasoned that God was able to raise the dead, and that He was going to keep His promise.

So early the next morning, Abraham took Isaac and 2 servants and left for the place God told him to go.  When they got close, Abraham told the servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there.  We will worship and we (emphasis added) will come back to you.”

As they got even closer, Isaac asked his dad, “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Can you imagine how this must have broken Abraham’s heart, looking down into his son’s questioning face, knowing that in a few minutes he would be killing his beloved son, who would be the offering?  Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb.”  (Actually, God had provided Isaac – as a miracle baby in his parent’s old age.)  When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar, arranged the wood, tied up Isaac, and laid him on the altar.  

As he was getting ready to kill Isaac, the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and stopped him.  Abraham then saw a ram caught in the brush by its horns, and sacrificed it instead.  God then promised Abraham, as recorded in Genesis 22:16-18, “I swear by myself, declared the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore… and through your offspring, all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

I could point out all the similarities of Abraham’s being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, and God being willing to sacrifice His Son, Jesus.  I could point out the significance of another quote from this chapter, “Jehovah Jireh – on the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”  (This was the mountain where Soloman’s temple was built hundreds of years later.)  I could point out the importance of obeying God, and the benefits that result.

Instead, I want to comment on who, when, where, how, and why of God’s provision.  

Who:  God tested Abraham with a very difficult test even after a life of serving God.  We see that God provided the ram in this case only after Abraham trusted and obeyed God – even though it didn’t make sense.  Assertion:  God provides for those who trust Him and obey Him.  

When:  God provided for Abraham at the very last minute, not before.  We’re told in Hebrews 4:16 that we will “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  Assertion:  God provides precisely when we need something, not when we think we need it.  (i.e.  according to God’s timing.)

Where:  God provided for Abraham only after Abraham went where God told him to go, and after he obeyed everything God told him to do.  Assertion:  God will provide if we are where He wants us to be.  We should have no expectation of receiving God’s provision if we aren’t where He wants us to be. 

How:  God didn’t send an angel from heaven with an offering for Abraham to sacrifice, God provided a normal ram, caught in a normal thicket, by it’s normal horns.  And God didn’t send a whole flock of sheep, just one ram, because that was all that was needed.   Assertion:  God will usually provide in ways that are very natural – don’t look for miracles.

Why:  In times of testing, it’s easy to only think about our problems, and focus on, “why is this happening to me?”  I think there may be two general reasons why trials come.  First, we are told in Romans 8:28, “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.”  Note that this only applies if we are living according to His purpose.  Also note that trials are by definition difficult, and won’t seem to be beneficial at the time.  Second, ultimately, everything is for God’s glory.  Isaiah 43:7 says, “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory…”  We see an example of this with God destroying Pharaoh and his army for God’s glory in Ex 14:4, 17.  Assertion:  God allows trials and gives provision for our good and for His glory.

The bottom line is, if we are faithfully following God, times of testing will come.  If we remain true to God, if we are where He wants us to be, and if we are obedient to Him, he will provide what we need (not necessarily what we want), at the very last minute, usually through normal means – and this is for our good.  If we aren’t following God, the times of testing may just be to bring Glory to Him.  I’d rather be in that first group.  How about you?

–Steve Mattison

As in the Days of Sodom and Gomorroh

Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 19 & 20 and Matthew 10

I think we can assume it is universally known that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire from heaven for their wickedness.  In Genesis 19:1, we read that Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city.  Historically, important people, like city elders, would sit in the gateway of a city to judge between parties in a dispute, or businessmen would congregate there to transact business.  

2 Peter 2:7 tells us that Lot was a righteous man.  And yet, there he was sitting at the gate of a very wicked city.  This suggests to me that he was assimilating into the wicked city.  I think Lot’s decline started in Genesis 13, when Lot and Abraham had to separate because the land couldn’t support all their flocks and herds.  Lot greedily chose to live in the lush fertile valley near Sodom, and left the barren, rocky heights for Abraham to graze his flocks.  In Genesis 13:12, Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom.  In Genesis 14:12, he lived in Sodom, here, in Genesis 19:1, he was sitting in the gateway of the city, easing his way into assimilating into the sinful city.

Even though Lot was a righteous man, he apparently didn’t exert much Godly influence over the locals.  In Genesis 18:32, God said He would spare the city if only 10 righteous were found there.  As it was, only Lot was considered righteous.  Not only did he not convert others in the city, he couldn’t even convince his own future sons-in-law to leave the city with him.  (And arguably, he didn’t have much positive influence over his own daughters.  Read Genesis 19:30-38 as proof.)

Despite Lot’s poor judgment in choosing where to live, God was very merciful to Lot by sending two angels to lead Lot and his family out of the city before sending judgement.  Once they were clear of the city, God rained down fire and burning sulfur on the cities of the plain, and everything and everyone was destroyed.  Everything Lot had owned, everything he had worked for literally went up in smoke.  Unfortunately, Lot’s wife looked back, presumably longing for what she had left behind.  She died as a result of this.

We’re told in 2 Peter 2:6, “… he (GOD) condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly…”  This story in Genesis 19 is an example of what will happen when Jesus returns, when He will save the righteous, and destroy the wicked by fire.

In Luke 17, Jesus is talking about conditions before the second coming of Christ.  Luke 17: 28-32 says, “It was the same in the days of Lot.  People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building.  But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.  It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, no one who is on the roof of his house with his goods inside should go down to get them.  Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything.  Remember Lot’s wife.”

I think there are several applications for us.  

First, if you don’t have a relationship with the Lord, it’s imperative you fix that right now.  Isaiah 55:6-7 says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.  Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts.  Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”

Second, If you do have a relationship with the Lord, continuously work on strengthening that relationship with the Lord.  Especially since we don’t know when Jesus will return and we don’t know when we will die.  We should live in such a way that we would always be ready to give an account for our lives.  2 Corinthians 5:10 reminds us:  “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

Next, we should all carefully choose the situations in which we find ourselves, and seriously consider whether we are being conformed to the patterns of the sinful people around us, or if we’re influencing others for the Lord.

Finally, we should not become too attached to the world or anything in it.

1 John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.”

I’ll close by challenging you to follow Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

–Steve Mattison

Follow the 2021 SeekGrowLove.com Bible reading plan to read the Bible in a year – with an Old Testament and a New Testament/Psalms/Proverbs reading each day. Together let’s Seek God, Grow spiritually and Love Him and others more and more!

Remind Me: Whose Side Am I On?

Revelation 9-13

The Hebrews watched as the plagues of Israel consumed the whole of Egypt.  They watch God lead them in a cloud by day and a fire by night.  They watched the Red Sea part and swallow the advancing armies hoping to kill or reenslave them.  Yet, fresh off the heels of all of these things, they lost their nerve when Moses, their leader and messenger from God, had been gone for a few moments longer than expected.  In the place of God Almighty, they erected a golden calf to worship saying these were the true gods that brought them out of Egypt.  An enraged Moses came down from the mountain to see utter chaos.  Aaron fumbles through his excuses and the people of Israel are punished.  Moses declares that each person must pick a side – You are either for the Lord or against him. (Ex 32:26)

So much destruction occurs in these few chapters of our reading today as angel ominous trumpeting announces another terrifying event on earth.  Cities are destroyed from earthquakes, fire, sulphur, and smoke destroy a large percentage of the population, and a plague occurs that tortures to the point of death, but never comes. It isn’t a pretty site – unleashed by ultimate permission giver.  It will be an understatement that many will have their faith tested during these times, and begin seeking any answer to the misery they see unfolding before them.  When there is no great parting of the Red Sea proclaiming the Lord is in this moment, so many will begin to look to new creatures, whether literal, people, or nations, to follow for immediate comfort or distraction.  In fact, war will be raged against anyone who tries to serve the Lord during this time or who shares the testimony of Jesus (Rev 12:17). The only way to survive it seems, is to worship a beast and take its mark so you may buy or sell.

“The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk.” – Revelation 9:20

“The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom.” – Revelation 13:15-18a

There is much to study in these scriptures about what the unfolding of these events may look like in our coming world, but the implications of these passages are as simple as the charge from Moses. When I struggle, whose side am I on?  If there isn’t immediate relief from the pain, whose side am I on?  If it keeps me from my dreams, whose side am I on?  When it costs me my reputation or position, whose side am I on?  If it costs me my friends, my family, my children, or my life, whose side am I on?  Even if you don’t live long enough to set your eyes on the terrifyingly terrific events laid out by the trumpets, you must make a decision before you cross the path of the lesser trials in your own life.  A claim must be laid for the Lord in your heart, and you must begin setting yourself apart. Otherwise, your faith will be crushed at the first crosswind of complication.  Indecision will place you in the queue of those ready to receive their mark on the path of least resistance.  You may receive a momentary benefit from your idol, but it ultimately places you opposite of God.  Much like the fate of the Israelites who stood against Moses, destruction comes for those who stand against the Lord Almighty.  Draw a line. Pick a side. Ready yourself for the fight of your life.

“If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” – Matt 5:29,30

-Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Revelation 9-13.

Tomorrow we continue with chapters 14-18.

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.

“That’ll do, Pig.”

Daily reading: 1 Peter 1-5

When Jesus told Peter to ‘Feed my sheep,’ he was commissioning him as a shepherd. And in the book of First Peter, we see a part of the fulfillment of that commission.

There are believers (the Lord’s sheep) scattered throughout Roman provinces in Asia Minor, and Peter is writing a letter to be routed amongst them.

There was a movie out in the 90’s about a pig that herded sheep. When the sheep dogs on the farm did their job, they demeaned and scared the sheep into submission. But sweet little Babe the piglet just asked them nicely and off they marched in lines for him.

Sheep of a different flock, however, didn’t know this sweet pig, and saw no reason to listen to him. That is, until, Babe received word from his pasture back home of the secret words to tell these new sheep that he was on their side. ‘Baa, Ram, Ewe’

We are an individualistic bunch of sheep, I think. 

Maybe it’s just me. Reading the book of First Peter with the eyes of a flock, a group, instead of reading it just for me, I see it somewhat differently.  There’s a definite theme coming through it all that it seems Peter wanted these sheep in his scattered pasture to remember:

There’s more than this.

  • Seek the holiness of sincere love for each other, because you’re like perishing blades of grass and God’s ways endure. There’s more than this way of loving.
  • You might feel rejected, but you are chosen. There’s more than this world’s acceptance.
  • Live to please God not the society you live in. There’s more than this wisdom.
  • God cares about how you treat your family. There’s more than your own perspective.
  • Compassion and humility never go out of style. There’s more to be gained through suffering than we can often see.
  • Wake up, pay attention, Jesus is coming back and you need to be ready. There’s literally more than this world coming one day.

Peter may not have needed to say ‘Baa, Ram, Ewe’ to unite the scattered sheep of his day, but perhaps we need a reminder that we, too, are a scattered flock.

Friends, there’s more than this.

Do you feel the sincere love of the body of Christ? No? Don’t wait for someone else to ‘do something’ about it. Everyone else is a perishing blade of grass just like you. Authentic love doesn’t start with a social media campaign; and it doesn’t start with the whole church, it starts with a few individuals. Be those few.

There’s more than this way of loving.

Have you felt rejected? Alone? Broken? Empty? Peter’s response to the scattered flock on this issue was to remind them about Jesus, and of this: “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

It seems that acceptance begins with mercy. Mercy comes after repentance. Repentance comes after we own up to our sin. This world tells us to own our sin. Big difference.

There’s more than this world’s acceptance.

Along those lines, if the wisdom of this world affirms all of your choices, you might want to question if God would. Living to please God rarely aligns with the wisdom of this world.

There’s more than this wisdom.

Perspective is a powerful influencer, and seeing our family solely from the lens of our own perspective is not only selfish, but dangerous. We can fall into the trap of living for ourselves even while fooling ourself into thinking we are part of a team. How lonely. How unfulfilling. And definitely not God’s best for us.

There’s more than your own perspective.

Suffering is difficult and hard and it stinks. Anyone who says to say ‘Praise God!’ for suffering is a liar or a robot (or a lying robot, perhaps?). Jesus didn’t even want to suffer, he asked his Father if he could avoid it if possible.

Finding peace in the midst of suffering, finding joy in God’s provision during times of suffering, and praising God during suffering are all very different than praising him FOR the suffering.

There’s more to be gained through suffering than we can often see.

Peter quotes a Psalm and tells these scattered sheep that they must seek peace and pursue it.”  Compassion, humility, gentleness, sympathy, blessing… these are all active. A person who is actively pursuing peace, especially when suffering abounds, will stand out. Maybe that’s why Peter suggests it?

People loving differently, repenting of sin, showing mercy, treating their families differently, being the most kind, compassionate, gentle, humble, easy to get along with group of people anyone ever met…yet not compromising God’s standards, not backing down, standing strong against the roar of evil around them, refusing to be devoured — Those people would garner attention.

There’s literally more than this world coming one day.

Wake up, pay attention, Jesus is coming back and we need to be ready.

-Susan Landry

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

Tomorrow we begin the book of Hebrews (chapters 1-6)

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.

Dead Faith

James 1-5

I have enjoyed going through the first half of the book of Acts with all of you, as the book of Acts is one of my favorite books in the Bible.  I am fascinated with the history of the church after Jesus ascended to heaven, and there is no better source to take a look at than the book of Acts.  I hope you all enjoyed the first half of Acts as well.  Today, we cover the book of James, another real solid book (really all 66 books are real solid).  James is one of the first books of the Bible that I would have a new believer read, as it has a ton of applicable information.  The book provides great stepping stones to living a godly life.  If you haven’t read the book of James before, stop whatever you’re doing (Well, I guess that means stop reading this devotion), and read the book of James for yourself.  If you have read it before, I would still encourage you to revisit this piece of gold.

            James covers a wide range of topics throughout his book.  Today, we are going to spend most of our time covering two topics found in the book.  Before we do that though, I want to mention the other topics found in James.  If there is a topic that interests you, then go ahead and see what James himself has to say about it.  The main talking points in James that we won’t talk about are: hearing and doing the word, the sin of partiality, taming the tongue, wisdom from above, warning against worldliness, boasting about tomorrow, warning to the rich, patience in suffering, and the prayer of faith.  Much could be said about each of these different topics.  There is simply not enough time/space to mention all of these topics in our devotion.

            With that being said, we will talk about the testing of our faith and the relationship between faith and works.  I wanted to talk about the testing of our faith because it connects very well with what we have been talking about with the book of Acts.  In the first 14 chapters of Acts, we saw a handful of people suffer because of their faith in Jesus.  What does James have to say about this?  Well, James says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing,” (James 1:2-4).  In summary, James says to consider it a joy!

            I don’t know about you, but it is not my initial thought or feeling to consider a trial a joy.  I think a large reason is because it is not fun or enjoyable to go through a trial.  However, when we think about the effects of enduring through trials of various kinds, we can come away with an appreciation.  When we successfully endure through a trial, it can produce steadfastness, which enables us to be a more complete, well-rounded person. 

Every single time that someone goes through a trial, they either grow closer or they grow further away from God.  The heroes of our faith that we took a look at in Acts went through various trials, and it appears that they grew closer to God.

Our next main topic is the relationship between faith and works; they have an interesting relationship with one another.  They have caused a lot of discussion and even some disagreement in Christian circles.  According to James, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead,” (James 2:17).  That means that a faith that is not accompanied by any works is useless!  We need to remember though that it is by God’s grace that we are saved, and we accept that grace through our faith, not our works (Ephesians 2:8).  However, we can’t accept God’s grace with a dead faith; it must be a living and active faith that we have to accept God’s grace.  We already mentioned that a faith without any works is dead and useless.  That means that we must accept God’s grace through our faith, but we have to accompany our faith with our works.

At an initial glance, it can appear at times that James and Paul (in Ephesians) clash with one another.  However, that is not the case at all.  They both show how faith and works have a beautiful relationship with one another.  I remember being stumped over the relationship between faith and works for some time.  It took me awhile to see how they work together, and I hope this very short explanation can help clear up the confusion that any of you may have between faith and works.

Well, there we have it, folks.  This past week we got to spend time in Acts and James.  We have learned a handful of very valuable lessons from the likes of Paul, Peter, and James.  If you have read the devotions for this week, I hope you stick with it!  There is lots of great content ahead, as we get to explore the writings of Paul and others.  As always, there is also a great lineup of writers to help us all dig into God’s Word.  God bless!

-Kyle McClain

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – James 1-5

Tomorrow we read Acts 15-16.