March 8 – Hard Questions 2.0

Read 1 Peter 3:15, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 and Luke 19:10

When was the last time you were put on the spot about your faith?

I remember chatting with a co-worker before a Chipotle shift. At the time, I was going to school for ministry and, knowing that, she had some questions about God, Christianity, Church…the whole 9 yards.

We live in a world that is increasingly anti-God. When we say anything about church, praying or God, we seem to be quickly met with pushback to the point where we feel like we are the defendant in a high-profile court case.

Regardless of how we may feel, this is the world we live in.

How do we respond to the questions we hope no one will ask us?

For the next week and a half, we are going to explore such questions. Before we do, I want to take a moment to set the scene, focus us for the devos that are ahead.

Our reading today describes a few ways that we should prepare for hard questions:

  1. Be prepared

Questions are going to come. We are going to be put on the spot. Peter is clear in telling us that we need to be:

“…always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

This upcoming series is a great resource for you to get prepared. Also, never hesitate to look in the Bible for the answer to a question you are asked.

2. Pray

Nothing of eternal significance happens apart from prayer. Pray for yourself. Pray for strength. Pray for confidence. Pray for clear communication. Pray for your friend. Pray for a soft heart. Pray for the Holy Spirit to convict their heart (John 16). Pray for a good conversation.

Paul shares with the Thessalonian church to simply:

“pray continually…”

Shower the whole interaction with prayer.

3. Don’t lose sight of the goal.

I think we quickly lose sight of the goal. The goal of this interaction isn’t to win an argument. We tend to verbally joust someone until they repent of their sins. That’s not how it works. We’re not after a speech and debate award. We are after their hearts.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Jesus came to earth to draw people to Himself…our mission should be the same.

Take a moment and, using these three points, prepare yourself for this series and the conversations that are to come!

Jake Lawson

January 16 – Prayers of Jesus

Read 1 Thessalonians 5:17

One thing that not a lot of people may not know about me is that I am very much an introvert. Sure, part of my job is being around people but that doesn’t mean it comes naturally to me. This past fall, Kelly, the kids and I went into the fair, as is customary for Wayne County residents. We weren’t more than 20 yards past the gate and I could feel my chest getting tight with anxiety.

It’s even worse when I have to talk in front of a lot of people.

One time, I led a portion of our Communion services here at Grace. I had written out what I was going to say and had rehearsed it over and over again. As I was sitting at the table getting ready to take the stage, I couldn’t help but think about the lights turning on and everyone turning from their tables to look at me. I was uneasy and sweating. It must have been obvious because Kelly leaned over and said, “Don’t worry, you’re going to be fine.”

As I walked on stage, I began to pray. As a pastor, your main goal, in communicating, is for people to see Jesus through you. You don’t want people to say, “Good job” but, instead, how God worked in their lives through your words.

I was trying to re-center my thinking as I went to the middle of the stage and, with trembling hands, set my notes on the table. I reached to my hip to turn on my mic and prayed the very simple words:

“Your words not mine, God”

Prayer is a very common practice for believers but it’s easily overlooked. In its simplest form, prayer is a conversation with God. However, rather than it being a common practice, we tend to only utilize it when we need something from God, as though He is a magic genie that is going to grant only a select number of wishes.

Rather, prayer should be used to help change our perspective. God has a holy perspective on life and prayer is you asking Him to realign your thinking.

It’s one thing to talk about our praying, but did you know that, throughout His time on earth, Jesus practiced the future words of Paul to continually pray?

Over the next several days, we are going to be studying some prayers of Jesus. Before we do, I want to challenge you to think of your own prayer life.

In what spirit do you pray? Is it to get something or to change your perspective to a holy one?

What do you most often find yourself praying for?

How often do you pray? Would you say that you are anywhere close to praying without ceasing?

Jake Lawson

June 19 – Christian Conduct

Read 1 Thess., 5:12-28
Through and through. Head to toe. Inside and out. Complete. Whole.

Blameless…if that word doesn’t send us to our knees, maybe onto our faces, we may have
forgotten grace. We may have forgotten just how wretched we once were.

Sometimes, we just need to pause and look in the mirror and remember who we were and what
we looked like before Jesus rescued us. Remember how we thought. Maybe we need to look
at how we’re still thinking… how we still look.

Are we different? Have we grown in our faith? Would onlookers know that we’re under

Salvation is a package deal. All inclusive. Not only do we receive forgiveness for our sins and
life now and forever with our Creator, we also get in on a renovation project more impressive
than anything Chip and Joanna Gaines have ever done.

Let’s look back in that mirror and recognize how impossible we were. How impossible we still
are. How impossible we feel.

I mean, how good are you at the list we read today? Do you honor those who are working hard
for your spiritual growth? Do they know you appreciate them? Are you living a life of peace and
unity? Are you an encourager? Does your life sharpen others or dull them? And are you loving
people that are different than you? Are you helpful? How’s your patience? Are you seeing the
best in people or the worst? Are you testing what you hear and are exposed to with the word of
God? Are you generous? Are you full of joy, prayer, and thanksgiving . . . always?

Wow, what a charge! This is sanctification. It’s a gift. It’s an opportunity. It’s abundant life. It’s
becoming an uncommon human, full of love and godliness.

It’s part of the package. And it’s the most humbling and beautiful thing to know that we can’t
do it on our own but that God can. And that God does. That He is the only one who gets us
through (and through).

He sees through our flimsy excuses. He sees through our thick skin to our pain,
disappointment, depression, and instability and says, ‘I want to get you through that. Walk with
me hand in hand. If you’ll just let me. If you’ll surrender, I will craft your ‘insides’ to look just like
me and then your ‘outsides’ will too. I am your faithful God. I called you into this life and I will
see it through.”

This renovation is full of all the upgrades and best. It’s the most expensive option. It’s the one
we would choose, if we could afford it. Ahhhh….and we CAN through the work of our precious
Jesus who paid for it all.

Go back to our passage and ask the Spirit to show you how you’re doing. Confess your
shortcomings. Ask for help. And trust that He will finish the work He started in you. And thank
Him often that you will be found blameless at His coming!

Shelly Eberly

June 18 – Thessalonica – View of Death and the Afterlife

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

The Battle of Trenton was a small but pivotal battle that took place on December 26, 1776 during the American Revolutionary War.  George Washington planned to cross the Delaware River on December 25. He would then surround the Hessian Garrison (German mercenaries hired by the British).  Because the river was icy, only 2400 men crossed under Washington’s command.  A spy reported to the Hessian commander, Colonel Johann Rall, an urgent message of an advancing attack.  But the commander, who was playing poker at the time, took the note and put it in his pocket.  Washington attacked and the Hessian’s encampment began firing, but it was too late. The Hessian Garrison was captured.

Things could have turned out much differently for Colonel Rall, but he chose to remain uninformed, hiding the note in his pocket.  Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians wants them to be informed.

“Brothers and sister, we do not want you to be uninformed

about those who sleep in death,

so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”1 Thessalonians 4:13

Paul doesn’t want the Thessalonian believers to wonder about life after death.  The Gentiles had no hope of a life after their earthly life. Believers can have a confident hope that soothes their grief.

“For we believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that

God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.”1 Thessalonians 4:14

Paul reminds the Thessalonians that Christ died and rose again and will return with those who have “fallen asleep”.  Did you catch that?  Christ died!  But believers sleep!  Because Christ experienced death, we won’t! Christ took the penalty for our sin, experiencing death in all its horror, so that we would not have to.  The word “sleep” is not applied to Jesus, because He died.  And because He died, we have no need to fear death.  He died for us so that we may be together with Him (1 Thessalonians 5:10).

“Death does not annihilate them. It is but a sleep to them.

It is their undisturbed rest.

They have retired out of this troublesome world,

to rest from all their labors and sorrows, and they sleep in Jesus Christ.

Being still in union with Him, they sleep in his arms and are under his special care and protection.

Their souls are in his presence, so that they are not lost, nor are they losers,

but great gainers by death, and their removal out of this world is into the better.”

(Matthew Henry commentary on 1 Thessalonians)

Because He experienced death, we sleep.  And because He was raised from the dead (1 Thessalonians 4:14), and is alive, we have a confident hope of being awakened at His return.  We have the full assurance of a joyful resurrection and life with Him. 

This knowledge removes fear and sorrow.

You have been informed.  You have been given a special message. Jesus died, rose again, and will return for those who are in Him (1 Thessalonians 4:14). What will you do with this message? First Thessalonians 4:18 tells us to encourage one another with these words. Who will you encourage today?  Don’t put this message “in your pocket” hiding it away, risking the lives of those around you. 

This is news that can save lives!

Janene Nagel

June 17 – Thessalonica – Work Ethic

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

A boy used to pick raspberries when he was in junior high. The job included eating all the berries he wanted. But the bushes irritated his arms and they got scratched up. So, he soon learned the hard way that he needed to prepare by wearing long sleeves.

He used to deliver morning newspapers when he was in ninth grade. He soon learned that people wanted their newspapers on time so he needed to get up earlier and make sure he was on time. And some of his customers were very irritating to him because they didn’t pay their bill and then they avoided him.

In high school, he had a job working in a drugstore cleaning and dusting.  But since he had hay fever, he discovered that the dust caused irritation in his nose and throat. It wasn’t a big deal and he plowed his way through it.

He worked at college basketball camps for many summers. He soon learned the hard way that this job involved a lot of effort. Every coach was doing their best during the 16-hour days in a gymnasium that was 100°. So, he learned that he needed to pace himself while doing his best and drink liquids.

It takes work and effort to accomplish anything in our lives. You reap what you sow.

“What a person plants, he will harvest.”Galatians 6:7

God put the light in you! Sometimes you work with people who are difficult to work with. They irritate you. How do you handle it? Do you focus on Colossians 3:23?

You are working for God, not people.

By being prepared and punctual you can do your job with efficiency and be a great example to others. There are always roadblocks and irritants. How do you handle it? God is the hope that leads you out of the dark!

There will be flare ups and people who are difficult to get along with. Sometimes there is danger. As a high school teacher for 35 years, I found out one day that I had a student in my class for an hour who had a gun strapped to his leg under his pants. Who knew? I certainly didn’t.

When there is friction, complaining and discontent at work, remember to fight with God’s weapons of compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength and patience. (Colossians 3:12).

It can be done!

Slow down, pray to God, walk away, wait, listen more, speak less, control yourself, sleep on it and write a note and don’t send it. Do not allow your anger to be out of control! (James 1:19-20).

Let Jesus be in charge!

God put the light in the Christian. Let your light shine!

Tom Weckesser

June 16 – Thessalonica – Sexual Purity

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Someone I know visited a couple soon after their wedding.

“So, how are the newlyweds?” they asked excitedly.

“Well, honestly, not much different.”

This couple had been living together for quite some time before their wedding.

For the last several decades, our culture has been loosening more and more it’s grip on sexuality. Where it once was this precious act to be cared for, sex is now something that two consenting people can take part in and it’s not thought about twice.

I mean, why should you care about the old school tradition of saving yourself sexually until you’re married?

Because, as Paul describes in our reading today, it is one of the things that defines a believer.

Where it has become commonplace to toss sexual purity aside, Paul, in our reading, urges believers to use their bodies for honor and that it is the will of God for believers to be sexually pure.

How do you apply our reading today?

It’s very clear.

Fight for purity.

It defines your faith.

“So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”

It’s sad to see that sexuality has become what it is today, especially in the church. Taking a stand for purity isn’t going to make you popular, but it is something that God values tremendously. Rejecting God’s teaching on sexuality is rejecting Him directly.

What are some ways that you can and should fight for purity in your life? Are there any areas that you are compromising your faith in this way? Is there some patchwork that needs to be done?

It’s a tough job, for sure.

I was recently asked to officiate a wedding for someone very close to me. While, initially, I was thrilled and honored to be asked, I quickly realized that a personal conversation was going to need to take place as they were living together and didn’t see anything wrong with it…but they knew better.

They just didn’t care enough to change.

I sought advice on the best way to have this conversation and ended up telling them that, while I was honored to be asked, before God I cannot officiate a wedding if this issue wasn’t addressed. They seemed to understand but ended up moving in a different direction.

While I worried about the toll this would take on our relationship, at the end of the day, it was the right move because sexual purity isn’t just an annoying and old school law, it is something that defines a believer and shows our commitment to God Himself.

Fight for purity.

Jake Lawson

June 15 – Thessalonica – You Were Prepared for This!

Read 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13

For those of you who know the Lawson’s, you would know that the matriarch and patriarch are two very different people. Not to say that they don’t share such qualities in varying degrees but, where Mom is expressive, encouraging, will hug anyone and is quick to cry, Dad is calm, collected, wise and disciplined. Second only to God, Mom and Dad have shaped me into the man I am today. To this day, I’ll do something and smile, knowing Mom would do the same thing. However, Dad’s words of wisdom will often pop into my head as I have benefited from his encouragement often over the years.

While my wife, Kelly and I were dating, I was flying back home from Florida and had to transfer through O’Hare in Chicago…literally one of the biggest airports in the world. I was anxious about making my connecting flight and was starting to sweat at the thought of the journey when Dad told me in a way that only he could, “Get off the plane and read the signs. They won’t lead you wrong.” Sure enough, I got off the plane and, when I could feel the anxiety swell and my chest start to tighten, I heard Dad in my head say, “Follow the signs”.

Our reading in 1 Thessalonians today is Paul encouraging very close friends of his about their faith. They are strong in their faith but, because of life circumstances, they are wavering. Paul is encouraging them, essentially telling them, “You’ve been preparing for this!”

It’s easy to trust in God when things are going well for you. However, it’s a whole other ballgame when life gets hard. How quick are you to trust in God in the midst of a storm? How much do you remember the truths you have read and internalized from the Bible beforehand?

I can recall the exact emotions I felt when I dialed Dad’s phone to tell him and Mom that Kelly and I miscarried our second baby when they didn’t even know we were pregnant. I remember the feeling of hopelessness as I was in the hospital being told I was suffering from seizures that were causing my heart to pause.

Where is God now?

Does He even care?

Friend, it’s through tears and through personal experience that I tell you that God cannot be closer to you than when you are going through trials. You have been preparing for this! Your faith is in place for when life gets hard. We have been blessed with hope!

My challenge to you is simple: trust and prepare.

If you are reading this and life is going well for you, continue to spend time alone with God and His Word. How can you strengthen your faith and secure your foundation for when life takes a turn?

If you are reading this and you’re struggling, hold fast to your faith! You’ve been preparing for this! God is near and promises to never leave you. The answers to your problems can only be found in the person of Jesus and the inspired words of the Bible.

There is hope! God is good and He is near!

Jake Lawson

June 14 – Thessalonica – Potential to be a great example

Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-2:20

“Is It Cake?” is a game show cooking competition, where cake artists create replicas of everyday objects in an effort to stump the judges.  The cake artists have to imitate the “real deal” down to the texture, size, shape, color, etc.  Judges have to spot the “sweet fake” from the “real deal”.  The fake is revealed when the host of the show tries to cut into whichever item the judges decide is the “sweet fake”. 

The Thessalonians in this passage were not a “sweet fake”.  They were the “real deal” following the example of Paul.

“You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message…”1 Thessalonians 1:6a

The Thessalonians welcomed the Gospel message and were fully convinced of its truth.  The evidence of this was seen in the way they lived.  The example that Paul and the Thessalonians set was based on their living faith, hope and love.

They had a Living Faith:

“…in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 

And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 

The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—

your faith in God has become known everywhere.” 1 Thessalonians 1:6b-8

Their faith was seen in their joyful witness, in the midst of affliction.  Their response to suffering became an example to imitate.  Paul was told of the Thessalonian’s faith and word spread, and their example reached many.

They had a Living Love:

“…for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us.

They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God…”1 Thessalonians 1:9

The proof of their faith was not only seen in their perseverance under persecution, but it was seen in their love for others.  The Thessalonians had turned from worshipping false idols, to loving the one true God.  They were devoted in service and love to God’s people.  I am reminded of a song we used to sing at camp, “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord….and they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” 

They had a Living Hope:

“…and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—

Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”1 Thessalonians 1:10

They lived with the hope of His return.  Because they believed Jesus was raised from the dead, they had a confident hope that He would return.  Because they believed He would return, they had a confident hope that He would deliver them from wrath.  The Thessalonians had a living hope that Jesus had purchased their salvation, and that He would return, bringing with Him a full and final deliverance from the coming wrath – death.

The Thessalonians were watching Paul, and others were watching the Thessalonians.  Like it or not, we are being watched and examined by the world.  What we say and do, and how we respond to situations, leaves behind a witness as to who we are.  When the judge’s choice on “Is It Cake?” is cut into, all is exposed.  Whether we are going through trials or just living our life day to day, we are exposed to the world around us.  

How does your life reveal your faith? Your Love? Your Hope?

Janene Nagel

December 4 – Open Letters – Human Approval

Read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Dear Human Approval,

You are a hard task master. In our desire for your applause, we have pushed ourselves to the limits and then listened for your response:

  • … At times, you seemed to offer only criticism rather than compliments. The only thing people seemed to notice was how we could have done better. Don’t you know how important your “thumbs up” is to us?
  • …Sometimes, you said nothing. There was only silence instead of recognition. No one voiced anything – good or bad. Didn’t you see how hard we worked and how noteworthy the outcome was?
  • …Yes, there were times when you acknowledged our efforts and praised our efforts. Still, we often yearned for more than you delivered. And even what approval you offered felt like pressure from you that we had to deliver even more and better next time.

You have exhausted and disappointed us!

So, we are trading you in. Like the apostle Paul in today’s reading, we are choosing God’s approval rather than yours (v. 4). We have so often found that our motives get all messed up when we perform for the wrong audience (v. 3). So, we are intentionally deciding to pursue His praise and not that of people (v. 6). Even when the human opposition and criticism seem most threatening, we refuse to change our message or our response (v. 2).

Instead, today and from this day forward, we are playing to an audience of one – the God of heaven. Although we don’t always sense His immediate response, we know that it is ultimately before Him and before Him alone that we will one day stand (2 Cor. 5:10). It is His approval we seek. It is His “Well done, good and faithful servant!” we long to hear. He is the One who calls us to give our best while also recognizing that our inherent abilities may differ from those with whom we have so often compared ourselves (Matt. 25:14-30).

My prayer: Father, forgive me of my insecurity that has caused me to pursue the applause of people. I give myself from this day forward to pleasing you and you alone.

August 31 – Missions Spotlight – Mark and Roxanne Johnson

Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Ministry: Winning college students to Christ, building them up in their faith, and sending them out into the world to do the same for others

Missionaries: Mark and Roxanne Johnson

College students are one of the most unique groups of people on the planet. They sit at a crossroads in life, figuring out who they are and what they believe. The choices they make will affect the rest of their lives, for good or for ill. Furthermore, many of them will eventually become leaders in their businesses and communities. If we can reach the campus for Christ today, then perhaps students will help reach the world tomorrow.

In this Bible passage, we see Paul praising and thanking God for how the gospel impacted the lives of the Thessalonians. Paul brought the gospel in conviction and power to Thessalonica over the course of a few weeks (see Acts 17:1-9). In turn, the Thessalonians received the gospel and believed this good news with joy despite afflictions and persecutions. Notably, the gospel then multiplied from those original believers. Paul colorfully writes that the gospel “sounded forth” (like a gong!) from the Thessalonians. Previously, they had walked in darkness and worshipped idols. Now, however, the gospel had changed them in a radical way, and they served the living and true God.

The gospel is glorious good news! It changes lives wherever it is embraced. People under wrath become people under mercy and grace. Our desire is to bring this powerful gospel to college students. When a young person begins following Christ and begins to win, build, and send others in Christ’s name, what kind of impact will they have for the next fifty years? How many others will hear this good news because of them? Therefore, what we do on campus is designed to help students hear the gospel, share the gospel, and train others to do the same since the gospel should impact lives. We long to see the gospel “sounding forth” from the campus to the world!

We serve with Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) on the campus of Indiana University. For the past 15 years, we have sought to proclaim Christ and help others do the same. Mark has led the missionary team as the Campus Director since 2012. The Lord has blessed us with three lovely girls – Kyla (8), Eden (6), and Selah (1).

Prayer: Please pray that we will be able to find new and spiritually interested students this Fall semester as the university lifts COVID restrictions.