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.

“Philemon: Itty Bitty Book…Phenomenal Cosmic Message”

Daily Reading: Colossians 1-4; Philemon

The best movies are more than a fun way to spend a couple of hours, they leave us with something. And a film doesn’t have to be deep and dramatic to be able to find lessons in it. Analogies are everywhere. Learning can come from many places.

Our devotional trailer opens on a fleeing man, Onesimus, with the voiceover telling us, Under Roman law, there were no limits to the punishment a slave master could inflict on a runaway slave….but sometimes redemption comes when we least expect it. ”

Onesimus somehow found Paul, and over time he grew a faith…and a friend, it seems. At some point, Paul sent a letter to Onesimus’ former owner, telling him he was sending the slave back to his previous master.

 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you… If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.

Charge it to me.

Do you see how Paul is mirroring the story of the cross here?

In this story we are Onesimus. Like him, each of us deserves punishment. We owe a debt. And like him, someone offered to take the punishment on our behalf, to pay our debt.

Someone has given us a second chance.

Maybe you’ve never really been in the position of needing a true second chance. Or maybe you have and you’ve just forgotten how demeaning and low it can feel. The graciousness of Paul, to speak of Onesimus as ‘my son’, ‘my very heart’, and ‘a dear brother’ must have allowed Onesimus to hold his head high as he returned to his former home.

The account of Onesimus and Philemon may be a short one, but the way that Paul used this opportunity to illustrate the gospel story is pure genius.

Maybe, in Onesimus, Paul wanted each of us to know that we are beloved. That we are worth saving. We are worth sacrificing for.

Maybe he’s telling us that knowing our true value allows us to hold our heads high as we live in our ‘former home’ until our forever home is ready for us. We are Abba’s children. We are Christ’s dear brothers and sisters.

This would be one movie that would pack an emotional punch, and you could be sure you’d leave the theater changed…if you were really paying attention.

And speaking of paying attention—the next time you are unsure of your standing, remember that you have a letter in your pocket that says, “Charge it to me,” and lift your head a little.

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to here at BibleGateway – Colossians 1-4 and the itty bitty book of Philemon

Tomorrow we will read the book of Ephesians.

No Longer a Slave

Galatians 4-6

Galatians 5:1 – It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.


Growing up in the great Southwest, I have had the luxury of enjoying authentic Mexican food. I could eat chips and salsa every day, all day. When I’ve got a craving, I will even eat chips and salsa from New York City. (Click here for reference to an old TV commercial.) 


Tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, burritos are all very, very good. But one main entree dish tops them all, the chimichanga. If you’re not familiar with the chimichanga, you can think of it as a deep fried burrito topped with sour cream and guacamole. Or if you’re feeling extra decadent,  queso fundido sauce. My mouth is watering just thinking about it…


When I was in college, I spent a semester at Kansas State University. For the most part, I enjoyed going to school there. One of the only drawbacks was that back in 1993, there weren’t any Mexican restaurants in the area. And while I could get chips and salsa from the grocery store, and tacos from Taco Bell, there wasn’t any authentic Mexican cuisine to be found. 


Then one day, I was dining at an Applebee’s. And low and behold, there on the menu was a chicken chimichanga. I almost cried. I was so excited! With great anticipation, I waited for the plate to be brought out to the table. And when the dish finally arrived, it was everything I could do to hold back the tears. Not because I was so thrilled, but because the chimichanga was covered in chili! Not Mexican red or green chili, but chili beans! I was dumbfounded. How could anyone mess up my chimichanga?!?! When I spoke with my parents later that evening (they were still living in Arizona), I let the tears fall. I was so homesick. 


I tell you all of this because when I read the book of Galatians, something stands out to me. The church in Galatia had enthusiastically accepted the Gospel that the apostle Paul had preached to them. But after he had left, interlopers had begun to convince Believers that there were certain rituals that they had to practice, including circumcision, to be considered righteous. When Paul heard of this, he was so frustrated! 

Here’s Bethany’s interpretation of Galatians 5:1 – Why, why, why would you go back to living under the burden of all these rules and regulations? Don’t you know that Christ died so that you wouldn’t have to be a slave to all that? Your faith has set you FREE! Now start living like it! 


The same message applies to you and me. Once you realize what life can be like living under the grace of God through faith in what His son did on the cross on your behalf, why, why, why would you ever think about going back to a previous lifestyle? And yet, that’s what we encounter every single day. We’re faced with decisions on how to treat others, how we spend our time, how we invest our finances. It might be tempting to make concessions in stressful circumstances, but we must stay strong, to persevere and be firm in our faith. 


When you get in the habit of living in freedom, going back to a former way of living becomes just as inconceivable as eating a chimichanga with chili beans dumped all over it. When you experience the REAL DEAL – you never want to go back. 


Grace from God gives us a glimpse of His goodness.

Mercy from the Most High motivates us to move mountains.

Forgiveness from the Father fills in the fissures of the heart.

Rest within the shadow of the Rock renews our responsiveness.

Acceptance by the Almighty alters our attitudes.

Joy from Jehovah jolts our joints! 


It is for Freedom that Christ has set you Free. Now start living like it!  

Bethany Ligon

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Galatians 4-6

Tomorrow we will read Acts 17:1-18:18.

Matthew 20-21

Election day is only a few days away. Every election cycle seems more divisive as the sides pick and choose what truths they want to adhere to from news media and officials. When we see each side yelling at each other and calling the other names, it can seem like it’s hopeless. How can we piece back together mutual respect and trust – despite the fact that we believe differently? 

In our reading today, we read about Jesus’ triumphal entry, in addition to some parables. In Matthew 21, we get the story: 

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, a sign of suffering, humility, industry, and peace rather than a horse, a sign of war and wealth, to show how his kingdom would be different. The people are sure to welcome him into the city and even drape their coats on the ground so that the donkey’s feet would not touch the ground. Even though the people warmly welcomed Jesus and gave him the honor he deserved, the Pharisees saw this and were jealous. After the triumphal entry, they began plotting against Jesus to kill him. 

In the swirl of the election cycle, our focus can get hazy. As we’ve read this week, there is so much that can cloud our vision and cause us to stumble and fall in our pursuit of God. But, as we inch closer and closer to the day when our votes are counted for this country, we need to rest in the truth that this is not our home. We are a holy priesthood – a set-apart nation. We are the kingdom of God on earth, ambassadors of Christ. We are not waiting with bated breath for the winner of this election season to save us. 

Our King rode in on a donkey 2,000 years ago. He is who we are waiting on, who we are trusting in. He is the one who saved us.

~ Cayce Fletcher

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 20-21.

Tomorrow, we will read Luke 18:15-19:48.

Matthew 19 & Mark 10

In Tim Keller’s book, Counterfeit Gods, he describes the ways that we put other areas of our life in the role of ‘god of our lives.’ Though the handmade idols that the Israelites worshipped – like the Baals and Golden Calves – may not exist anymore, idolatry is still very present in our modern day life. Keller describes how we, as humans, have a tendency to make good things god things, and consequently, we allow those things to turn our focus away from God. Sex, marriage, money, wealth, (self-)righteousness, and status can all be good things, but these things cannot be the ultimate thing. 

In today’s passage, we meet the Pharisees who were trying to trip Jesus up with a question about divorce. They wanted to know if Jesus was going to contradict the law of Moses by saying that divorce was not legal. After Jesus responded that divorce should not happen outside of sexual immorality, the disciples were amazed and said, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry” (v. 10). Jesus agrees with them in v. 12 when he talks about the eunuchs who chose to live that way for the sake of the Kingdom. 

Then, later on in Matthew 19, a rich young ruler comes and asks Jesus what rule he needs to follow to get eternal life. Jesus tells him the thing that he needs to do is give his possessions to the poor. He “went away sad, because he had great wealth” (v. 22). When Jesus tells his disciples that it is incredibly difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom, they are amazed and asked “Who can be saved?” (v. 25). Jesus responds in v. 26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

In Matthew 19, Jesus focuses on 3 areas of life, and in each case, he shows the disciples that they need to obediently follow what God says, despite how contrary it looks to the world. These 3 areas of life can be areas where we all easily fall into idolatry. They are good things – but they cannot be the ultimate thing. These things cannot be our god, but we try to put them in that place. 

The pharisees (and the rich young ruler) struggle with self-righteousness. They wanted to be good enough to be their own god – so that in effect, they wouldn’t actually need God. Though no one in the story seemed to struggle with marriage and sex, the question the Pharisees asked brings up this next idol that so many people make an ultimate thing. Both of these marriage and sex are created by God, but so often, we do not act with obedience to God’s word in these areas, and we step out of God’s design for us. By doing so, we are making these things an idol. The last area is money and wealth. The rich young ruler had so much wealth that he went away grieving. We don’t know if he made the choice to act with obedience to what Jesus commanded him to do, or if he decided that his wealth was too important to him to follow Jesus and ‘enter life.’ What we do know is that he mourned for his wealth. The disciples were amazed that Jesus spoke so harshly of wealthy people. In a culture that values money and possessions (like our own), the pursuit of wealth always seems like a good thing. However, like we’ve read this past week in the book of Luke, money can become an idol in our life, and the Bible says plainly that we cannot serve two masters: God and money (Matt. 6:24). 

When it’s so easy to fall into idolatry, who then can be saved? Jesus reassures us that “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” If you find yourself in a place of idolatry – putting good things in the place of the ultimate thing, turn back to God. He is the one with whom all things are possible. 

~ Cayce Fletcher

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 19 & Mark 10.

Tomorrow, we will read Matthew 20-21.

Luke 17:11-18:14

In today’s reading, we read four different stories: (1) the healing of the ten lepers, (2) the teachings on the coming of the Kingdom, (3) a parable on persistence in prayer, and (4) a parable on the dangers of self-righteousness. Throughout all of these passages, Jesus clearly teaches the importance of humility and the dangers of pride in ourselves. 

In Luke 18:9-14 it says: 

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The Pharisee in this story believed that he had done everything right. Because of this, he boasted in his own righteousness and looked down on others. When we look at the Pharisee’s actions, we may question why the Pharisee was not the better person in the parable. The Pharisee has been following the law and doing a much better job than the people he was looking down on. Whereas tax collectors were notorious for stealing money when they came to collect taxes for the government of the foreign military occupying their lands. Even though that was the case, the tax collector was the one who was justified before God! 

Why would this be the case? Why would the person whose life did not follow the law be the person who was justified before God? It’s all about the way that we view ourselves in relation to God. As Romans 3:23 states, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” None of us are truly righteous. We all fall short. So, none of us have a right to boast in the few things that we do – none of those things make us righteous when you compare our righteousness to God’s. 

Knowing this, how should we lead our lives? We should still strive for righteousness, but we need to recognize that our actions are an outpouring of our relationship with God. Those actions – going to church, tithing, mentoring, having a ministry, evangelizing, or writing a devotion – those actions are not the things that save us. What saves us is the love that God has for us and the faith we have in him. 

~ Cayce Fletcher

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Luke 17:11-18:14.

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 19 & Mark 10.

In Need of a Shepherd

John 9:1 – 10:21

Imagery of sheep and shepherd are found all throughout the Bible, in both the old and the new testaments. Because of this, I think we sometimes forget some of the metaphorical imagery that comes with the sheep and shepherd dynamic. Sheep are not an intelligent animal in any sense of the word. They often wander off and get themselves in trouble. When threatened by predators, sheep will often clump themselves together in such a tight pack, that sheep in the center will often suffocate. All in all, sheep are fully reliant on their shepherd for protection, food water, and for their own survival.

Here in John 10, when Jesus is speaking about sheep, and he being the good shepherd, the people probably would have seen it as insulting when he compared them to sheep. But the point that Jesus is trying to make, is that like sheep we could not depend on ourselves for salvation from the consequences of our bad choices. God had to send us a shepherd who would “lay down his life for his sheep”. So he sent us His son Jesus. And as Jesus said, no one took his life from him, but he laid it down of his own accord. I don’t think we could have asked God to send us a better shepherd than who He sent us, His one and only son, Jesus. In just over a week, the Thanksgiving season will begin, and I think that this year we need to spend time thanking God, for the gift of the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life willingly, for us his sheep.

Jonny Smith

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – John 9:1 – 10:21

Tomorrow’s passages will be the rest of John 10 and Luke 10.

Be a tree!

Matthew 13 & Luke 8

There is something so beautiful about watching a plant grow from a little seed to a strong healthy plant. Christians are compared to plants in this way. A spiritually mature Christian should still continue to grow in their walk with God. 

Jesus often taught the crowds and his disciples using parables, which can be found all throughout the Synoptic Gospels. With seven parables in Matthew chapter 13, the parable of the sower is the only parable in this chapter that doesn’t start with “The Kingdom of heaven is like” because this parable is how the Kingdom of God is going to begin. In fact, it is already happening right now. 

There are four different scenarios of what becomes of the seeds that are sown that Jesus depicts here, being eaten by birds, scorched by the sun, choked by thorns, or producing a crop. Which respectively relate to being taken by the evil one, trouble and persecution, worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth, or yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown. Out of four scenarios there is only one that has roots, which leads to salvation. By having the deep roots, a foundation on God and his word, you will bear fruit. Fruit that can show God’s love and share the hope that we have with others and by doing so yield sixty or a hundred times what was sown. 

To go along with the analogy, John 15:1-8 adds on to it and explains the dire need of having deep roots in God and Jesus. 

John 15:5 says, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” 

So how are you going to strengthen your foundation and bear fruits? Be a tree! Three out of the four groups are between a rock and a hard place. So defy the statistics. Commit your life as a living sacrifice for God bearing cherries, apples, bananas, and pears. Put in the effort to focus on your foundation. Make it a priority to spend quality time with God. Paul tells us that fruit will come as a result of our faith, so when they do, nurture them, prune, water, weed, do whatever it takes to help them grow. The parable of the sower shows the importance of how we are living our lives right now. So go, be a tree, rooted in God and overflowing with fruit!

-Makayla Railton

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway – Matthew 13 & Luke 8

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 8:14-34 and Mark 4-5.

His Touch

Matthew 8:1-13 & Luke 7- Jesus heals a man with Leprosy

Before we get into today’s story, we need to understand the Old Testament law dealing with leprosy.  Leviticus 13:1-46 talks in great detail about leprosy.  There, we find that leprosy is a skin disease that is more than skin deep, it’s highly infectious, it defiles a person, anyone with leprosy must cover their mouth (this sounds like a mask), be separated from other people (social distance), live outside the town (this sounds like isolation), wear torn clothes, and cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!”

In Matthew 8, we find the story of a man with leprosy.  Instead of staying away, we’re told, “A man with leprosy came and knelt before him [Jesus] and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  I believe this man had great faith.  He knew Jesus could heal him, he just didn’t know if Jesus would be willing to.  And he violated the law so he could get close enough to Jesus to find out.

Matthew 8:3 says, “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.  “I am willing,” he said, “Be clean!”  Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.”  I find this very moving.  Jesus demonstrated how much he cared for this man by not just healing him – which was astounding enough.  Jesus also touched him.  By touching the man, Jesus would have become defiled – made unclean himself.  And remember, since no-one could touch a leaper, who knows how long it had been since this man had someone actually touch him.  I can’t imagine what that touch meant to the man.

Matthew 8:4 goes on to say that Jesus told the man, “See that you don’t tell anyone…”  We find this same story in Mark, and we’re told in Mark 1:45, “Instead, he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news.  As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places.  Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.”

In this story, I see that leprosy compares well with sin.  Sin runs more than skin deep, it is highly infectious, it defiles a person, and whether we admit it or not, it makes us unclean, and separates us from God.  When Jesus went to the cross, he took our sin on himself, causing him to be defiled.  But he demonstrated his obedience to God and his love for us by doing this anyway.  But Jesus’ sacrifice means nothing for us unless we each have faith in Jesus, come submit before him, and ask to be healed (forgiven).  Are you willing to get close enough to Jesus to find out what he can do for you?

Finally, at the end of the story, the man disobeyed Jesus’ direct command to him to tell no one.  Jesus commanded us to tell everyone.  How are you doing with that?

–Steve Mattison

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 8:1-13, Luke 7

Tomorrow’s reading will be Matthew 11.

Incident at the Pool

John 5 – The Healing at Bethesda

In Jerusalem there was a pool, called Bethesda, where blind, lame, and paralyzed people would gather.  My Bible has a footnote that says John 5:4 isn’t in the most reliable manuscripts.  John 5:4 says “From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters.  The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.”  If this verse isn’t legitimate, the rest of the story doesn’t make sense, so I’ll assume it is valid.

Anyway, there was a man there who had been an invalid for 38 years.  Jesus asked him if he wanted to get well.  This seems like a strange question to ask someone who was an invalid.  But who knows, maybe he was making a good income begging, and wanted to stay in his condition.  

Instead of saying, “Yes!”, the man started making excuses – he replied that he didn’t have anyone to help him into the pool when the water was stirred, so he never got into the water first.

Jesus then told him, “Get up!  Pick up your mat and walk.”  At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

This is a curious miracle.  The man didn’t ask Jesus to heal him.  The man didn’t have faith that Jesus could heal him – when asked, he didn’t even know who had healed him.  Also, there were many sick people there, and Jesus only healed this one man.  First, I do have to acknowledge this is a tremendous example of grace.  But I do have to wonder, why did Jesus heal this man?

If we keep reading the story, we find that instead of being happy for the man that had just been healed, the religious leaders criticized him for carrying his mat on the Sabbath.  He told them he was just doing what he was told by the man who had healed him.  When asked who that was, he didn’t know.

Later, Jesus found him again and told him to stop sinning or something worse would happen to him.  (We can assume Jesus meant the final judgement, but we’re not told.)  After this, the man went back to the religious leaders to tell them Jesus had healed him – on the Sabbath.

Now, I think we are finally at the point of understanding why Jesus healed this man.  I wonder if Jesus wanted to shake up the understanding of the religious leaders of his day, and this was a good way to get their attention.  He told them, “My father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”   Notice that Jesus said “My father” instead of “our father”.

The Jews recognized that Jesus was telling them that He is the son of God.  In this chapter, He also called himself the “Son of Man”, which they would have recognized as a messianic reference from Daniel 7:13l.  They were furious that not only was Jesus breaking the Sabbath, he was claiming that He was (is) the son of God.  And they made the mental leap to say that if Jesus was claiming to be the Son of God, he was claiming to be equal with God.

They studied the scriptures regularly, and thought they would “earn” eternal life because of that.  Jesus pointed out, “These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” 

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day couldn’t accept what He was telling them.  Instead, they just wanted to kill Him.  What about you?  Do you acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God who will one day judge the living and the dead?  To paraphrase James 2:19, the demons acknowledge this too – and shudder.

If you do acknowledge Jesus, what are you going to do about it?  I would encourage you to take a cue from the man who was cured, and obey what Jesus said.   No, don’t pick up your bed and walk – instead read your Bible to understand all Jesus taught about, and obey all of that.  Finally, we should all take to heart Jesus’ warning to the man, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”

Because, as we’re reminded in John 5:28-29, “… for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out — those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”

–Steve Mattison

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

Tomorrow we read Matthew 12:1-21, Mark 3, and Luke 6 as we continue in our Bible reading plan.