September 30 – Philippians – God’s work will continue!

Read Philippians 1:2-11

I call them “stones.”

Each one represents a time in my life of asking for or experiencing the working of God. The purpose of these stones is for remembrance, just as Joshua set up memorial stones after crossing the Jordan River. Many of these stones of remembrance are reflected by a name and date in my Bible. As I open to Philippians chapter 1, my son’s name and date, written in black ink, carries my mind back to November 2013.

Prayer seems to be the theme of today’s passage. Three times Paul reminds his friends in Philippi that he is praying for them. Tucked in the middle of these verses is verse 6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” What an encouragement that must have been to his readers! Paul had a confidence, an assurance, a no doubt kind of faith, that God not only began a work in them, but promised that He would continue that work to maturity. As I’m sure that also encourages us today, two things jump out at me when I read this passage:

First, it is God who does the working. As simple as that sounds, it is an important truth to remember. He is the one who initiates the work.

“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8

The work He has begun in believers is a gift from Him. We can do nothing to earn it and we don’t deserve it, but we get to enjoy the eternal benefits of His love and grace.

Has He begun that good work in you?

If God just gave us the gift of His grace, that would be more than enough, but Paul says that God will complete the work He began. Ephesians 2:10 states that God “prepared the good works He created us to do that we should walk in them”. As a receiver of His gift of grace, we have the privilege of learning, trusting, growing and serving. In other words, God will continue to mature our faith and the work He wants to do in us and through us.

Secondly, God wants to use us in continuing His work. Paul gives us a beautiful model in this passage. Prayer- Work- Prayer. Sandwiched between the assurance of God’s work is prayer. Prayer will ever be a mystery to me, but I know it is essential in continuing God’s work. Who or what are you praying for today?

As I reflect seven years ago to November 2013, I thank my God for that stone. I see God’s work continue and I remember that the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. As you pile up your stones, may you see that God’s work and prayer are a perfect partnership.

 Charline Engle

September 29 – Philippians – Intro & Context

Read Acts 16:11-12 and Philippians 1:1

In northeastern Greece are the remains of what was once considered a major city in the day of Paul’s ministry. In fact, Acts 16 tells us that Philippi was the first “Jesus community” that Paul started in eastern Europe. You can read about Paul’s story starting late in Acts 7. After Paul gave his life to Christ, he spent the rest of his days relentlessly traveling around Turkey and Greece planting churches, training leaders and ministering to many. The New Testament from Romans to Jude are all letters that individuals wrote to gatherings of people. These letters are called “epistles”. No sooner do some hear the word “epistle” before they hear “Pauline” before it. Paul single- handedly wrote around 2/3 of the New Testament with such letters to churches that he has planted or to mentees in his ministry.

While these letters were written all throughout his journey, 4 of them were written while Paul was in prison. These are commonly referred to as the “Prison Epistles”. I still can’t fathom the dedication that it takes to be thrown into prison for doing what you have dedicated your life towards, only to think, “Oh, you know? I should probably check up on those churches I planted.” If you read Acts, you will soon find out that the guy never took a break.

Now, Philippi was known for its patriotic nationalism which, in turn, means that a good amount of them didn’t take too kindly to Paul’s teaching that Jesus was the Messiah and not Caesar. After Paul left Philippi, the followers of Christ there experienced much of the same resistance and persecution. Paul is writing this letter to them to encourage them and to also thank them for a financial gift they sent him while he was in prison.

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”

These words, which Paul wrote in his first letter to the church in Corinth, echo much of the same theme of Philippians. Paul encourages the Philippians that they need to see their story as a living expression of Jesus’ story. Throughout the book, you will see several examples of Paul telling the Philippians about imitation.

As you follow along with this study for the next 6 days, I challenge you to think about who your life is imitating. Do you claim to be a follower of Christ? Is this public knowledge? When people see you, do they see Jesus? Paul tells the Philippians at one point that, “for me to live is Christ”. Paul wanted the only word people could say about him, after seeing how he lived and carried himself, to be “Christ”.

Do people think the same about you?

Do they see any difference between their life and yours? Just as Paul encouraged the Philippians to follow after and imitate Christ, we should heed the same challenge.

Come with me as we study Philippians.

Jake Lawson

September 28 – Hard Questions – Why are there 4 different gospels?

Read John 20:30-31

“Our tendency in approaching the Gospels is to think of them as modern biography. We want them to give us all the facts about Jesus and especially to get the chronology of His life right…Yet, the Gospel writers did not set out to write modern biographies. They did not even know about it or realize that people would be interested in such issues in hundreds of years. What they did know about was ancient biography.

The point of such works was not to give a chronology of a life but to present selected facts so as to bring out the significance of the person’s life and the moral points that the reader should draw from it. The point is that, as was the case in ancient biography, the Gospels are not photographs of Jesus but portraits.”

When I walked into The Great Commission Bible Institute (GCBI) in August of 2011, I had no idea the amount of God’s Word I was about to get to know. I was a fairly new surrendered follower of Jesus and still trying to grasp and understand His truth and, boy, was I hungry to know more! But like most new followers, I was confused by a lot of things at first, especially why the Lord gifted us with 4 different portraits of Jesus’ ministry and time on earth. 

The Overview:

The Book of Matthew – The Words of Jesus 

The Book of Mark – The Works of Jesus

The Book of Luke – Chronology of Events

The Book of John – The Conflict of Jesus

Matthew’s gospel was focused on the words of Jesus. I say this mostly because its backbone was the main 5 sermons taught within its pages. (Sermon on the Mount in chapter 5, True Witness in chapter 10, What Heaven is like in chapter 13, Forgiveness in chapter 18 and The Olivet Discourse in chapters 23-25).

Mark’s pages skip the first 30 years of Jesus’ life and focus mostly on the workings of Jesus’ ministry

Luke enters in during the first church; think the book of Acts. He collects interviews from first-hand accounts and puts them in order chronologically (Luke 1:3).

By the time John’s writing Matthew, Mark and Luke’s writings had been already circulated through the church and Jews were trying to turn Gentiles to Jews. In my opinion, John is a Polemic Biography, meaning “to make a point” and the point being where we started:

So then, many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that by believing you may have life in His name.” – John 20:30-31

I don’t say all of this for just the sake of knowledge and knowledge alone, but to give you context. Each God inspired writer (2 Timothy 3:16) has a purpose and that was to tell you the whole story.

Think of it this way; when you walk into a tattoo shop, what the artist does before he begins to tattoo skin is draw on translucent paper. Say someone wants an in-depth intricate piece that will take four sessions; each session has its own piece of paper. On its own, it may look great, but it doesn’t give you the fullness of what was intended. Once the artist stacks all four pieces on top of each other, you see the beautiful piece it was intended to be. 

Alone, each gospel tells the story of Jesus and it is good. However, God intended for us to have four different perspectives of Christ’s life and ministry that fit together to give us the entire perspective as it was intended to be.

Kelly Lawson

September 27 – Hard Questions – Are Old Testament prophecies really accurate?

Read Deuteronomy 18:22 and Isaiah 41:22-23

What do you think of when you hear the word “prophecy”? Perhaps the name Nostradamus and his various prophecies come to your mind. Or maybe you think of the Mayan calendar that pegged the end of the world to occur in 2012. The year 2012 came and went, but the world did not end. There have been numerous prophecies throughout history that have ended in nothing.

When I hear the word “prophecy”, I think of the New Testament book of the Bible called Revelation. But did you know that the Old Testament is full of prophecies that have come true or that will come true in the future?

You may be asking yourself right now, “How can I trust the prophecies in the Bible when so many prophecies throughout history have failed?”. That is a valid question and one that God answers for us in Deuteronomy 18:

“But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death. You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?’ If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.”(v. 20-22)

God gives us four truths regarding false prophets in the verses above:

  1. A false prophet will speak presumptuously or arrogantly in God’s name commandments that He has not given (v.20).
  2. A false prophet will speak in the name of other gods (v. 20).
  3. A false prophet’s prophecy will not come true because it is not from God (v. 21).
  4. Do not be afraid of or be alarmed by false prophets (v. 22).

These four truths can be boiled down into one statement: you can trust God’s prophecies because they always come true. Nostradamus’s prophecies did not come true because they were not from God. The Mayan’s prophecies did not come true because they were not from God.

There are numerous Old Testament prophecies and there is no way we could cover them all here. But I do want to end with one of my favorites which says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14 NIV). This prophecy is talking about the birth of Jesus. Jesus was born of a virgin named Mary and He was called Immanuel, which means “God with us”. But don’t just take my word for it, you can find the fulfillment of this prophecy in Luke chapters 1 and 2.

Jesus, the Son of God who died for the sins of the world, who rose again on the third day, and who wants you to turn away from your sins and trust in Him as your Savior, was a fulfillment of prophecy. You can trust God’s prophecies because they always come true.

Because God’s prophecies always come true, we can trust Him. He is always faithful. We shouldn’t fear the future because it’s in His hands. What are some things in your life that you are anxious or fearful about? Cast those things on God and trust Him that He is in control of the future!

Ethan Cline

September 26 – Hard Questions – What does “the Word of the Lord came to me” actually mean?

Read Isaiah 20:3, 30:2 and Jeremiah 37:17

If you know my Dad, you know that he is very logical and matter of fact. I remember a time where I was following a bus to a retreat. I had just lost my debit card so when I got to a toll road, I pulled off the side and found an alternate route to the destination. When I pull up to yet another toll road, I begin to panic. How am I supposed to get there if I can’t pay for the toll? I’m in this car by myself in the dark and I don’t know what to do. My breath gets shortened and as sweat begins to fall, it’s almost like I heard Dad say “You got this, buddy. Take a breath, get control and figure something out.” I had to route the path (which apparently only went through toll roads) and zoom out and run my little blue dot parallel to the outlined path until I got to the resort.

I had heard Dad’s logic and level headedness for so many years that it was almost like he was in the car with me.

In the Old Testament, there is a common theme among the prophets:

“The Word of the Lord came to me…”

What does this actually mean? Was it like Dad seemingly being in the car with me? Did God actually and audially speak to these prophets? Does this same thing still happen today?

First off, it’s important to understand what the role of an Old Testament prophet was. As Moses was preparing his ministry, God told him and Aaron that He would “put my words in his mouth”. This means that these prophets would be a mediator between God and the people, or Pharaoh in Moses’ instance. In Old Testament times, the word of God would come audially (i.e. the burning bush etc.) and their primary goal was to accurately pass on the message to the people to whom they were ministering to. The stress was on the action coming from the divine source not the prophet who was the recipient. As we all know, many followed the command of God while others did not.

Sound familiar?

When Jesus came, He fulfilled the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17) and became our Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). Because of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit, we have immediate access to God if we repent of our sins and commit to follow God. We have the access to God that only prophets did back in the day. Also, because of the canonization of the inspired Scripture, there is nothing that prophets can tell us that isn’t already in there.

How amazing is it that we have God with us at all times? Don’t waste this access. Spend time getting to know God and growing in your faith. When you have experience to fall back on, your faith will be strong. Just as I fell back on what I heard my dad say for years, you’d be surprised how God can being truths and lessons to your mind when you need them most.

Jake Lawson

September 25 – Hard Questions – Why does God seem so angry in the Old Testament and loving in the New Testament?

Read John 1:18, Jonah 4:2 and Matthew 5:29-30

Throughout the Old Testament you can find books that indeed show the love of God. Read the end of the book of Job.  Look at the book of Ruth, Proverbs, and Psalms. But, at the same time, realize that mankind has been in rebellion to God since Adam and Eve.  Mankind has to face the consequences of sin.  We read in Hebrews 12:6

“For whom the Lord loves He disciplines and scourges every son whom He receives.”

Read now in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel:

“Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked rather than he should turn from his ways and live?”

Read this question again through those passages and still one more:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever.”Hebrews 13:8

In the Old Testament, people were admonished to follow the Lord God with all their heart, soul, mind and spirit.  We are taught in the New Testament to do the very same. 

As we grow to be like Jesus, we will see more of His attributes in what we read of the Lord in the Old Testament. Our prayer today ought to be for God to open our eyes to the truth of His Word and not of our perceptions and ideas we have concerning it.  The Bible is the only book in all of human history where, at any point in history, we can talk to the Author of it about it.

Throughout the Old Testament we read of God being declared to be “a compassionate God, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness”.  In the New Testament, we see a more fully shown view of this in the sacrifice of Jesus for mankind. Jesus spoke of the Spirit being the Helper. The one to teach us all things.  It would be through the Spirit in each of us that we have our perceptions of God and ourselves seen through different eyes, Spiritual eyes. 

Pray each day for renewed understanding. We are told that God gives wisdom to all who would freely ask.   Pray that our misconceptions of God would be either answered to or removed from our way of life, our way of thinking.

Lastly…note that our Father in Heaven is our Father. Kids don’t always do what they are told and, when that happens, discipline follows. That does not mean that we are loved any less because of it.

David Brenneman

September 24 – Letters to the 7 Churches – Laodicea

Read Revelation 3:14-22

I love the letters that God wrote to the churches that we have documented in Revelation. However, the letter He wrote the church in Laodicea is the most troubling for me.

All the letters to the other churches contain something positive about how the church is doing. I don’t find any of that in the letter to Laodicea, the only positive I see is what God is willing to do if the people will turn back to Him.

So, what is it that displeases God?

They are “neither hot nor cold”.

On the surface it sounds like they aren’t “too bad”. It seems they are content to live in comfort with no passion for God, no desire to grow. I can imagine them saying, “I’m not too bad – it’s not like I ever killed someone. I’m certainly better than some people.”

God is clearly appalled by their behavior.

I’ve seen a translation of verse 17 that says “I’m going to vomit you out of my mouth.”

That’s a nasty picture!

I believe that God is very serious about the fact that He is looking for people who will passionately serve, worship and follow Him. Also, He wants us to serve others, in His name, with all of our heart.

The church of Laodicea reminds me a lot of much of the church in North America. I challenge us to take a hard look at ourselves and say, “am I cold, am I hot or am I lukewarm?”

Please ask God to show you how He sees you.

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts, see if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Psalm 139:23-24

Don’t settle for comfortable and content, we only have a short time on this earth to make an eternal difference in the life of others!

Later in this letter, God gives an invitation:

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

How are we going to answer?

Let’s love God with all of our hearts, soul, strength and mind and love our neighbors as we love ourselves!

Mike Molter

September 23 – Letters to the 7 Churches – Philadelphia

Read Revelation 3:7-13

Perseverance and obedience aren’t flashy. The person with spectacular gifts and abilities and the single event that caused jaws to drop seem more appealing. Still, these are qualities that are heralded by Jesus in His description of the church in Philadelphia.

Rather than negative traits or actions that needed to cease, Jesus applauded positive responses of the church that were to continue. When it came to perseverance, they were committed to “endure patiently” (3:10). You know, anyone can withstand opposition for a moment. What if the opposition continues? Will you remain faithful? Anyone can force a one-time godly response when things get tough. What if the “tough” never stops? Will you persevere? Yeah, perseverance is under-appreciated because we are taught to lash out. We are trained to respond in the flesh rather than persevere in the Spirit (Gal. 5:19-23).

Obedience was another response affirmed by Jesus. He acknowledged that they had “kept my word” (3:8) and “kept my command” (3:10). I am sure it wasn’t easy. In fact, there were apparently individuals close by who claimed faith but were, in reality, liars (3:9). Genuine faith is more than a claim. It is demonstrated and even confirmed by obedience (Jn. 14:21). Unfortunately, most of us as believers know more truth than we are living out. Is there one of those areas that comes to mind for you? What step could you take to begin to obey in that area?

Let’s face it…no church is perfect. The church in Philadelphia was no exception. But unlike many of the other seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, Jesus gave no negative descriptors. In fact, He extended to them some amazing realities.

  • To them, Jesus had opened a door that could not be shut (3:7). This door certainly included their access to the Father through Jesus (Jn. 10:9; 14:6) or it could also be an open door of ministry opportunity (Col. 4:2-4).
  • To them, Jesus promised exclusion from testing…the testing of the tribulation (3:10; chs. 5-19).

While perseverance and obedience may not be flashy, they do merit blessings and reward.

Steve Kern

September 22 – Letters to the 7 Churches – Sardis

Read Revelation 3:1-6

Alive Church

That was the name that some people might have ascribed to the church in the ancient city of Sardis located in present day Turkey. These people were doing things! God was at work in them. Sardis was congregation with spiritual vitality. At least that was their reputation.

But the interesting thing about a reputation is that it is often rooted in the past and based on appearance. The trouble with a reputation rooted in the past is that it may no longer be accurate in the present. And the problem with a reputation based on appearance is that it may not be a good representation of reality.

How about your reputation? Do others have a realistic perspective of you? Are the opinions of others congruent with the perspective of God?

Back in first-century Sardis…Regardless of the reason, the Lord Jesus pointed to a discrepancy between their reputation and reality. Yes, there were a few exceptions (v. 4), but the majority of them exhibited little signs of spiritual life (v. 1).

While we aren’t given great detail on what this spiritual lifelessness looked like, we are told what was required to experience spiritual revitalization. Whether you would consider your walk with Christ to be described by lethargy or vitality, here are some good principles.

  1. Wake up! (v. 2…and dare I add “and smell the coffee”?) There is sometimes the need to come out of the state of slumber and candidly recognize our true state. How would Jesus describe your walk with Him?
  2. Remember! (v. 3) If you have walked with Jesus for any time at all, there are certainly a few things you have learned along the way. There are principles that you have been taught in sermons or read in the Scriptures. These principles fit into two broad categories of love for God and love for others.
  3. Keep it! (v. 3) The Lord doesn’t just give us truths as information. These truths serve the purpose of transformation. His word invites an obedient response.
  4. Repent! (v. 3) Those areas of discrepancy between God’s plan and your reality are more than just areas needing improvement. They are areas requiring repentance. Humbly go to the Lord and acknowledge that discrepancy and ask for His forgiveness.

Your response to these four principles can breathe vitality into spiritual lethargy. They can help you eliminate the discrepancy between appearance and reality.

Steve Kern

September 21 – Letters to the 7 Churches – Thyatira

Read Revelation 2:18-29

How often do you find yourself excusing sin as “not that big of a deal”? How often do you find yourself comparing your sin to others as “at least I’m not doing that!”

As a society, it seems apparent that we are transitioning to becoming post-Christian. We seemingly don’t care about what makes God happy but only what provides us the most immediate satisfaction.

Right becomes wrong and wrong becomes right! No matter what, we must never tolerate immorality and sin.

In Thyatira, God is calling out their toleration of immorality, specifically, by someone who claims to be a prophet. God is about as clear as you can be by saying that believers should have no part in the prophet or they will face immediate and harsh consequences.

Do we really believe God does not have eyes to see and ears to hear? There is great danger in this path of toleration of sin!

Are you tolerating any kind of sin in your life or with those around you? How can you lovingly but truthfully call the sin out and strive for reconciliation with God? In what way can you be praying for our world to turn back to Christ? Instead of getting bogged down with the state of our society, are YOU living a life glorifying to God?

If we continue to tolerate sin and immorality, it will only get worse. We need to speak out. We need to make our presence known. Let’s dance on God’s great dance floor! We need to get out of the fetal position because this is a war. A war for our souls and the hearts of the unbelieving.

Let’s all commit to living a pure and God-honoring lifestyle. One that shows people the God that we serve and the hope that is available to those who believe!

Tom Weckesser