November 23 – Following Jesus in a Jacked-Up Church – How to Grow in Spiritual Maturity

Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 and 1 Peter 2:2-3

She’s as cute as a “button” flashing her beautiful blue eyes and gummy smiles, but my 3-month-old granddaughter spends most of her day eating. Round the clock, her main need is her mother’s milk. There is nothing she craves or longs for more, and her wails let everyone know, she is hungry.

Both Paul and Peter refer to the milk of the Word. Paul’s words are almost a reprimand. The Corinthian believers were not ready for solid food and were content being hand fed the milk of God’s Word because they were focused on themselves. They were wrapped up in jealousy and quarreling. They were not ready to go deeper into God’s truths because sin was blocking their appetite for God’s Word.

Peter also compares new believers as babies:

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”1 Peter 2:2-3

As there are stages in physical growth, the same is true in our spiritual growth. This first stage, as a new believer in Christ, can be summarized by the word LONGING. When the Spirit indwells us at the moment of salvation, He whets our appetite for His Word. We long to feed on God’s truths. We have tasted that the Lord is good and we long for more of Him. A “baby” in Christ is sustained by the simplicity and basic truths of the gospel.

Let me be clear.

The power of the gospel is enough. But we all know believers who claim a belief in Jesus, but have never grown spiritually. Why is that? Because longing must result in the next stage of growth, LEARNING.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:3

That’s a big, long word that merely means that we are set apart for a special purpose for God. How can we know what that purpose is? Timothy tells us to study God’s Word- be a continual learner. Go deeper and sink your teeth into solid food. Yes, just like a baby experiencing a spoon for the first time, there will be much we don’t understand and it can be a little messy, but don’t give up.

Never stop longing for and learning God’s Word.

There is one more stage in spiritual maturity that all of us rather skip, but, according to James, it is the pinnacle of completeness. LETTING God mature us through trials. James says in James 1:2-4:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Trials will either break us or strengthen us. James encourages us to allow trials to push us to persevere in our faith. My husband and I are just coming out of a long two-year trial. During that trial, I recalled the words of a dear friend who said that when you go through trials it is a time to draw from your reservoir- your reservoir of all the years of learning God’s Word.

Now is the time to let God apply those truths.

This is why Paul could write these words to the Romans:

“…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”Romans 5:3-4

Do you crave to learn God’s Word? Do you have a reservoir of God’s truths from which you can draw when trials come? Is there a sin that is blocking you from going deeper? Growing physically is a life-long process. So is spiritual growth. We should never lose our longing to learn how God lets His Word sustain us and move us closer to Him.

The next time you hear a baby crying, think about that food for thought.

Charline Engle

November 20 – Following Jesus in a Jacked-Up Church

Read 1 Peter 2:9-10

Have you ever noticed that when people are involved, anything has the potential to get messy?

I can’t help but think of a family I know. The parents divorced when the daughter was in elementary school and, as a result, people were deeply wounded and relationships were shattered. Deep pain was infused in every family member at a very young age and because of that, you never know how certain members will treat each other.

When people are involved, things get messy.

Would it surprise you to know that the Church is no different? Even with people passionately pursuing Jesus together, things can get complicated.

Over the next 9 days, we are going to study the church in Corinth which, to put it bluntly, was pretty jacked up. It was a complete mess. I count at least 15 distinguishable problems that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians alone, ranging from rival leaders, incest, prostitution, divorce, lawsuits, idolatry, speaking in tongues, worship, women praying and prophesying in immodest ways – only to name a few.

Before we formally begin the series tomorrow, I want to get us centered on who we are in Christ. Our reading today includes Peter telling believers that:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

As followers of Christ, we are chosen and holy and to be used for God’s purposes in order to declare His life changing praises to those around us. The unofficial definition of a church is a whole bunch of jacked up people going after someone who’s not. We are never going to be perfect. However, we need to all have the same standard.

“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.”

God saved us from our sin and gave us, through Jesus, access to eternal life. We have been shown mercy. Why not show it to those around us?

As we prepare to look into some jacked up church issues, I challenge you (especially myself) to examine yourself. Are you living a life that is honoring to God? Are you pulling people together or pushing them apart?

The Church is never going to be perfect. Things will always get messy. However, we need to stay focused on our purpose which is to develop all people into fully devoted followers of Christ.

Jake Lawson

October 30 – The Poor Millionaire – Stewardship

Read 1 Peter 4:10

I once saw a picture online that read, “I know they say money doesn’t fix all your problems. However, part of me wants to come to that conclusion on my own.”

Money is one of those hot topics that can make or break a person, couple, nation…etc. It remains one of the biggest areas of tension for couples and many people, myself included, have dreamed of the day that they cash in a big paycheck and many of the obstacles in their life fade away.

I praise God that I was raised in a modest household. We didn’t have a lot but we had enough. We never had the nicest things and we all were totally okay with it. As I grew up, I remained a frugal person and married a spender who will quickly tell you likes the finer things in life. We learned that we needed to meet in the middle. I shouldn’t be afraid to spend money while she needed to learn how to wisely spend money. Even now, we are still working out our dynamic.

Regardless of any dynamic, one thing is apparent and even a command from God: we need to be wise stewards of what He has given us.

As Kelly and I looked at our budget and where money was going, we knew we weren’t being morons with our money. At the same time, we wouldn’t say we were being “wise stewards” of our money. We weren’t going above and beyond to honor the Lord through how we handled what He entrusted to us.

Kelly and I are blessed with incredible people around us who encourage us to be wise stewards of our finances. At the time of this writing, Kelly and I are among the many people taking Financial Peace University here at Grace Church. Currently, we are working on paying off debt but we have caught the vision for what can happen if we stick to the proven plan and are diligent.

I know, for many, money stresses people out. Trust me, I know. When we would spend $25 as a family at Chic-fil-a, I would cringe at the thought of the money being spent. Don’t get me wrong, I call Chic-fil-a “The Lord’s Chicken” and I’m pretty sure it’s in the Bible that the Love Feast will include Chic-fil-a. Regardless, we all need to be involved, knowledgeable and honoring with our finances.

As you look over your finances, where do you stand? Are you living cautiously? Do you have a plan? A vision?

What steps do you need to take to honor the Lord and be good stewards of your money?

Depending on when you are reading this, I would suggest checking out Financial Peace University. https://www.ramseysolutions.com/ramseyplus/financial-peace/class

Get a plan! See the vision and potential and take steps to honor the Lord through your wealth!

Jake Lawson

October 14 – Holding On – To Humility

Read 1 Peter 5:1-11

George Matheson was born in Glasgow, Scotland, the eldest of eight children. He was partially blind as a boy and, by the age of 17, became completely blind. He lived his life in humility – freedom from pride and arrogance.

When George’s fiancée learned that he was going blind and that there was nothing the doctors could do, she told him that she could never marry a blind man. She dropped him like a stone dropped into a pond. This humble man was brokenhearted and never did get married.

George was helped by a devoted sister throughout his ministry. She learned Greek, Latin and Hebrew in order to aid him in his studies.

She learned three languages to assist her brother!

Despite his blindness, Matheson had a brilliant career at Glasgow Academy, The University of Glasgow and The Church of Scotland Seminary. When he was forty years old, something interesting happened – his sister got married. Not only did this mean that he lost her companionship, it also brought a fresh reminder of his own heartbreak. In the midst of this intense sadness, on the eve of his sister’s marriage, he wrote a humble hymn – one that would become a great hymn – “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go”. He completed the whole work in five minutes and never edited, corrected or retouched it. “This came like a dayspring from on high,” he wrote.

“O Joy that seekest me through pain,

I cannot close my heart to thee;

I trace the rainbow through the rain,

And feel the promise is not vain,

That morn shall tearless be.”

It was through the deep trials of illness and desertion that George Matheson had come to place all his trust and hope in the love of God in Jesus Christ as his Savior.

Troubles are part of life. Life humbles everyone. How do you respond to trouble? Jesus faced trouble and so did the apostles and many others. However, as Matheson’s hymn beautifully says, “troubles do not have the last word”.

Life humbles everyone. How do we respond?

Peter wrote:

“Clothe yourselves with humility.”

The writer of these words, Peter, had been with Jesus throughout his ministry and witnessed all of it, including the climactic events of his suffering (see Mark 14:54). Peter was also present at the transfiguration (see Matthew 16:27). He should know about humility because he saw it modeled in person by Jesus. He goes on:

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that at the right time he may lift you up. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”1 Peter 5:6-7

You can begin to clothe yourself with humility by getting rid of worthless idols that you may cling to. How do you spend your time? Don’t lose out on what God wants to do in your life.

Your predicament is never too difficult for God.

Tom Weckesser

October 13 – Holding On – To Character

Read 1 Peter 4:1-19

Oh, the joy of re-runs on TV!  I don’t know what draws me to them since I know most of the plots and have seen them over and over.  I think it is probably because the characters have become so familiar to me they are almost like friends.  We all know the good guys, Andy, Barney, Lucy, Richie, Shirley, and Laverne. They become so familiar to us that, at times, we forget that the person we see is only an actor pretending to be the character on the show.

Sometimes it is hard to separate the actor from the character they are known for and it comes as a shock when we read in a fan magazine or hear on the news in real life these actors we have loved cheating on their spouse or have bad drug, drinking or gambling addictions.

In our mind it is so “out of character!”

What would the viewers of your life story think of your character?

Would they be shocked to learn about the real you?

In today’s reading, Peter helps us put a check on what our review should look like. We should not be living for our own wants but for the will of God. Use your gifts not only for praise for yourself but to serve others! Know and speak God’s truth, not curse words.  Keep your mind sober and not drunken with drugs, alcohol or even praises from others.

Today’s reading warns us not to change to “fit in”, not to indulge in drunkenness and sexual promiscuity. What part of your God-given character are you giving up to “fit in’ with your friends? Do you live for God and try to do good or do you live for evil and try to see what you can get away with? Do you live to lift up other people or do you live for the daily gossip on social media?

Do you have standards, a line you will not cross behavior-wise?  What about the words that come out of your mouth?  Do you find yourself often saying, “Excuse my French!” when you aren’t even speaking the French language? Do you call upon the name of Jesus Christ to bless someone or only when you are mad and upset?

“When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.”

Billy Graham

If your character isn’t that great and you often give in to peer pressure, it isn’t too late. Ask God to forgive you and help you get on the right path. As Peter says, it isn’t easy. People who were once your friends will wonder what is wrong with you and may even harass you. But, with each “no” you say, you are making a stand for God! You never know when your strength might be what draws others to God too!

Pat Arnold

October 12 – Holding On – To Honor

Read 1 Peter 3:1-22

Once a day, at least, I walk up to my wife, Kelly, give her our son’s stool (because she’s 6 inches shorter than me) so she can be at eye level and the perfect height to hug. While holding her, I tell her that I love her and that I’m so glad that she’s my wife. Seven or so years ago, when I made the decision to propose to Kelly, I wasn’t completely sure of what married life would be like. I praise God that I was given a great example through my parents, but every relationship is different.

At the time of this writing, Kelly and I have been married 6.5 years and we have two kids (5 and 1). I knew she was the best choice for a wife and, seeing her grow as a wife and even a mother, has made me fall more and more in love with her.

Why do I share all of this with you, besides to brag on my wife?

Years ago, I read the following verses and immediately thought of Kelly:

“Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.”

In the context that Peter was writing, these verses were written to believing wives who had come to faith while their husbands had not. However, for believers today, I can’t help but think that this should be such an encouragement to wives today. Live in such a way that your husband may be won over only by your actions and character.

A common theme in our reading today is honor which means to hold something in high respect or to adhere to what is right. A caveat to the second half of this chapter seems to be related to those who may not necessarily deserve it.

Like we have read before, this letter was written to Christians who were in the beginning stages of the worst persecution of the faith yet. They were going to encounter people who we may not think deserve to be honored but, Peter says, we need to do it anyway. How are we going to stand out as holy and honoring in the midst of a secular and sinful world?

So, I ask you, are you living a life of honor? Do you stand out in the world around you or do you blend in? Do people look at you and your actions and see Jesus or do they see themselves?

If you struggle with living a life of honor, I challenge you to bring it before the Lord. Allow Him to purify your heart so that you can stick out like a sore thumb in the world we live in today!

Jake Lawson

October 11 – Holding On – To Integrity

Read 1 Peter 2:11-25

There are two things that people tell you not to mention unless you want intense responses from people…

Religion and Politics.

It seems like nothing instills quite a sense of passion and bitterness than when you bring either of these topics up in today’s world.

I have a rather complicated relationship with politics. Don’t get me wrong, I have very clear convictions and that shows through how I vote. However, when politics get involved, I immediately shut down, similar to when people talk about math and numbers.

To me, it seems like politics has become more of who or what we are against rather than who or what we are for. Political commercials seem to be geared towards how terrible their competitor is rather than what they, themselves, bring to the table. I know, for a fact, that this isn’t true, but it appears that the bickering seems to be all that they do.

Can we all just come together and fight for a better America rather than tear it down from the inside out?

It’s not that easy.

The Bible is very clear with how a believer should respond to those in authority:

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”

We are to deliberately place ourselves under the authority of those in authority over us, FOR THE LORD’S SAKE, regardless of if we agree with them or if they even deserve it.

This means that we are to honor, to hold in high regard, those in authority. Paul takes it a step further in his letter to the Romans:

“Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”

If you reject or resist the authority that God Himself has put in place, not only are you rejecting the authority of political officials, but you are rejecting the authority of God Almighty.

Do you really want to be doing that?

So, how do we live lives of integrity according to our reading today?

Honor those in authority and respect those who we don’t believe deserve respect.

We all have work to do with this.

This reading is tough but I challenge you, more than ever, to open your heart and allow the Holy Spirit to convict you of any place where you have fallen short.

It’s okay to not be okay but not okay to stay that way.

What if, instead of tweeting and posting against political officials, you prayed for them?

What if, instead of berating those who don’t agree with us, we loved them instead?

“Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God…”

Do people see how you live your life, how you treat those in authority over you, and glorify God as a result?

Friends, we cannot afford to turn people off to Jesus through how we react to authority. We need to be better.

Jake Lawson

October 10 – Holding On – To Identity

Read 1 Peter 2:1-10

When I was in college, I made plans to go to Florida with a friend, who was from Florida, for Spring Break.  I told my mom about my plans, and her comment to me was:

“Remember who you are.

You are a Sweeney (my maiden name) which holds a certain reputation.

But above that, you are a Christian, which holds a certain standard of living.” 

As you look at the passage today, Peter seems to be telling us to remember the same.  He gives four distinctions in verse 9, that all believers are to hold on to.  These distinctions are not natural to man as all are born into a state of darkness. Through Jesus Christ, believers have been called out of this darkness and into a new life. This new life brings privileges and responsibilities:

  1. Chosen:

You were not chosen because you came to Him, you came to Him because you were chosen.

(John 15:16) God chose Abraham, Moses, David, the 12 apostles, the woman at the well, Paul and also you! God’s choices are perfect. As one of His chosen, you can walk with confidence, because you belong to God.

Where do you feel weak, or lack the confidence to “hold on” as you walk through this life?

  1. Royal Priesthood:

In the Old Testament God chose the family of Levi to be the royal priesthood (Exodus 28). Priests were to represent God and intercede for man. This was a position that could not be earned or bought, it was appointed by God.  Everyone, even you, represents God before man. You can now intercede for man before God.  Even though you may face hard times, rejection, or persecution, remember that you have been chosen and are a part of the royal priesthood. You have a purpose. Your life has meaning. Remember that you represent Jesus to others. You are part of something greater! 

How will you represent Christ today?

  1. Holy Nation:

We are one holy nation, under one King, devoted to God. To be holy, means to be set apart for a special and sacred purpose. You, along with other believers, have been set apart from the world for a relationship with God to fulfill His purposes. Our holiness as a nation of believers consists of our devotion to God’s mission. As a believer, and part of a holy nation, you should strive to be a person of integrity, truth, love and compassion. 

How will you plan to be a person of integrity today? 

  1. God’s Possession:

You have been cleansed (1 John 1:9) and given new garments (Revelation 19:7-8).  You are precious to Him. He protects you (Psalm 121:7) and cherishes you (Jeremiah 31:3).

He has chosen you!  Will you choose Him today above everything and everyone else?

You are His chosen, His priests, His nation, and His possession.

Peter is encouraging the reader, you, to “hold on”. 

Put aside the old ways of living (1 Peter 2:1).  Don’t allow yourself to get swallowed up by the ever-changing whims of society, worldly attitudes and actions. A “holy” people are called to “hold on” in every walk of life, whether at home, work, school, your neighborhood…or spring break. 

Remember who, and whose, you are!

Janene Nagel

October 9 – Holding On – To Hope

Read 1 Peter 1:1-25

What are you holding on to for hope?

Are you holding on to what’s in your retirement account or the next election? Perhaps you don’t have hope in anything and are just trying to keep yourself distracted with what this world has to offer. I have good news for you, whether you have misplaced hope or no hope at all, God’s word gives us the answer for what, and more specifically, for who we should hold on to for hope.

The book of First Peter was written to Christians who were exiled from their homeland and were scattered throughout many different places. The Bible says in 1 Peter 1:6 that they were suffering griefs and trials. These Christians were not in their familiar places, and they were amongst people who were hostile to them. They didn’t have safety or security and they were probably scared. Can you imagine that for a minute? I think of the refugees from war-stricken Ukraine, people from places that were just displaced by Hurricane Ian, or Christians in countries that suffer persecution and are forced to leave their homes and hide.

All of these things can cause hopelessness.

In chapter one of Peter’s first letter to these scattered Christians, he reminds them that they have a living hope (v.3). If you’ve trusted in Christ as your Savior, you have received a new birth. You have been born again into a living hope and this is only possible because Jesus was raised from the dead. The resurrection is what gives us hope. Without it, our faith is in vain. Because Jesus arose from the dead, we can have hope that we will be resurrected together with Him!

Not only that but Jesus has given us an eternal inheritance that is kept in Heaven for us (v. 4-5). This should give us hope because it is something that can’t be taken away from us by thieves, rust, decay, or a bad economy. Our inheritance in Heaven is eternal! We will receive it because God keeps it for us. If you know Jesus as Savior, this world is not the end for you. Because of our eternal inheritance of salvation, we will spend eternity with Him!

God has given us a living hope to hold on to. He has given us His Son Jesus that died and was raised from the dead for us. Because of this, we have an eternal inheritance that will never go away because it is kept by God Himself in Heaven.

So, what are you holding on to for hope? If you’re holding on to anything but Jesus for hope, it will fade. I want to challenge all of us this week to evaluate whether we are holding on to Jesus alone for hope. If there are other things that we are holding on to, let’s forsake them and hold on to Jesus alone.

Ethan Cline

October 8 – Holding On

Read 1 Peter 1:1-2 and John 16:33

I had the great privilege to travel to central Africa in the fall of 2019 as a part of a team who was checking on a Grace Church sponsored ministry that was training up leaders, pastors and evangelists to carry the gospel to the most remote places in Africa. It was a very hot but amazing trip. I can specifically recall walking out of the N’Djamena airport and the culture shock hitting me. It was clear I wasn’t in northeast Ohio or even in America.

This was a whole new world.

I can’t help but think that is where Christians are in their faith. It is crystal clear that we are quickly transitioning to post-Christian culture where sin runs rampant and Christians are being called out and persecuted for our faith.

In the series that’s to come, we are going to study Peter’s first letter to believers scattered abroad. It was during this time where the first, and brutal, wave of persecution from the hands of Nero was on the horizon. Little did they know…maybe they did…just how intense this next season would be for them. Their faith would be tested to its very limit and they would be challenged, more than anything, with what position of authority they placed Jesus in their lives.

Would they bend under the gruesome torture at the hands of the Romans, as their bodies were lit aflame, or would they hold on to the truth of the gospel and the hope that they have been promised from Jesus?

In Peter’s letter, there are 6 distinct areas, or characteristics, that Peter encourages believers to hold onto in the midst of their upcoming persecution.

While verses 1 and 2 of chapter 1 lay out the context, I want John 16:33 to be the backdrop for this series. Among Jesus’ parting words to His disciples was:

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Christians, at the time of Peter’s writing and us today, know that we have and will continue to face trouble for our faith as we will be ostracized and persecuted for it. In the midst of this, while knowing the true capacity of our trials, Jesus tells us to keep heart:

“I have overcome the world.”

While we will face storms for our faith, the battle has already been won. Believer, when we breathe our last breath, life doesn’t end…it truly begins.

As you start this next series, I encourage you to pray for hope and encouragement. It is our prayer that this series will give you something to hold on to in the mist of this culture shift.

Tough times are ahead. We are all in this together!

Take heart, however, Jesus has already overcome the world!

Jake Lawson