January 12 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 15

Read Matthew 15:1-39

Here we are, just over half way through the book of Matthew. What have you learned of Jesus and His ministry? What has stood out to you about those who left everything to follow Him? 

For me, the biggest theme of most of Matthew is that of faith.

As I wrote about in my previous blog on chapter 9. Faith plays a huge role in the ministry of Jesus. 

How could it not?

What I love most about this chapter is that it starts with the Pharisees, these religious leaders and rule keepers, coming to Jesus and pointing their fingers of what “He has done wrong” … yet, what comes next is a takedown on the faith front. 

Here is Jesus reminding these Pharisees that it isn’t about what you do, but about your heart. It’s about where your faith lies. For most of the Pharisees of that day, their faith laid in their rules and regulations in order to remain “holy” and “good”. For the Canaanite woman and the people who ate with Jesus, their faith laid within Him and their lives were rewarded. 

Look at these two different scenarios; one of people who are prideful and saying all the right things in the name of pride and a woman who says something because her heart’s motive is truly believing in who Jesus says He is.

Her faith was rewarded where their pride causes them to fall. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. . . I am NOT saying we are rewarded when we operate out of faith, but what I am saying is just like the Canaanite woman and the people who were fed by a miracle. Their lives were rewarded because of where they placed their faith. 

I am surrounded by people all throughout my job, all of us, the same…human. We all breathe in and out the same way, we all have hurts and struggles and circumstances that cause us to feel sad or heartbroken. However, the biggest difference I see between myself and some people is where our faith is and where our heart’s motive is. We can say and do all the right things, give of what we have and what we are, but our lives are still about us.

Our heart’s motive is still selfish and prideful like the Pharisees.

Whereas, take someone like the Canaanite woman, someone who has so little that the scraps are most valued and she isn’t angry or sad over her circumstances. She knows the One who provides. She knows of the One who can truly satisfy and, in the end, her faith proves her holy. 

Her happiness lies within her relationship with her Savior and not her life itself. 

We have two choices in an ongoing cycle to make, day in and day out. We can choose to live for ourselves, looking like the part in faith… or we can actually live with our heart’s motive in a place of honoring the Lord and holiness. 

Where is your heart? Where is your faith? Is it for you or Him?

Kelly Lawson

January 11 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 14

Read Matthew 14:1-36 and Hebrews 12:2

My eyes were fixed on the field. They were fixed on the scoreboard. I was at the 2016 World Series – Game 7 in Cleveland. This had never happened in Cleveland before. And I almost had to mortgage my house to get a ticket. It was a thrill and my eyes were fixed (focused) on the game for all 10 innings.

Peter had his eyes fixed on Jesus when he walked on water. In fact, that’s how he did it.

But guess what happened – Peter looked down and lost his focus and then he sank. He lost his focus because of fear. Have you ever lost your focus because of fear?

“…Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Matthew 14:29-30

What does it mean to fix your eyes on Jesus?

Joel and Luke Smallbone are a Christian pop duo called FOR KING & COUNTRY. In the song, “Fix My Eyes On You,” the duo begins to address what it means to fix your eyes on Jesus:

“I’d love like I’m not scared,

Give when it’s not fair,

Live life for another,

Take time for a brother.

Fight for the weak ones,

Speak out for freedom,

Find faith in the battle,

Stand tall but above it all,

Fix my eyes on you.”

The message from Matthew and the song is that I need to keep my eyes on Jesus in everything that I do. If I take my eyes off of Him, I will sink – in life.

Verse 23 shows how Jesus used solitude and praying before big events in His life and ministry. We can keep our eyes on Jesus, if we do the same. We can ruthlessly work to have a quiet time in our day to pray and stay focused on God. Jesus sought solitude so He could pray.

“After he dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later, Jesus went with his disciples to Gethsemane garden, and he said to them, “’Sit here while I go over there and pray.’”Matthew 26:36

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Mark 1:35

“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16

We all need to seek solitude to pray as a way to keep our eyes fixed on the Light of the world.

What do you fix your eyes on? In what way do you need to improve your prayer life?

Tom Weckesser

January 10 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 13

Read Matthew 13:1-58

Aww, Spring!  Nothing is better than the promise of Spring after several months of cloudy skies and snow.  When we think of spring, we think of sunshine, baby animals and, of course, gardens.

In today’s reading, Jesus was talking to the people about something they were familiar with – planting crops for a future harvest.  As usual, Jesus was teaching through parables (an Earthly story with a Heavenly meaning). By using everyday objects and activities to illustrate His message, Jesus knew the people would not only understand, but remember what He had said every time they work the soil for their crops, look at seeds or pull some weeds.

This chapter is titled the “Parable of the Sower”, but a better title might be the “Parable of the Soil” for it isn’t the sower or the seeds that change in each illustration but the soil.  The “soil” stands for the human heart. It was the soil where the seeds landed which made all the difference.  If the heart of a person is hard and is not prepared for the gospel, the words will fall on deaf ears.  Sometimes the gospel can fall on an eager heart.  This person is a baby Christian who is all in for everything involving church and God, but, if they don’t take time to develop a deeper understanding and roots, they can be easily swayed by false teachings and their faith withers and dies the first time their faith is tested. 

It is only the good soil, a willing heart, that will allow the word to be planted, grow roots, develop strong plants, and then produce fruit and spread seeds so that others can become strong Christians too.

No story about gardening would be complete without talking about weeds that want to stop the good plants growth by taking over and blocking the sun. These weeds hide among the flowers. Sometimes they are hard to spot.  They might even imitate the flowers in looks.  However, they will take over any unattended spot.  Some have deep roots and, no matter how you try to dig them out, they seem to come back and multiply.  Sometimes they are often covered with thorns and will hurt anyone who tries to remove them. 

Some people are like these weeds.  Some hide within groups, waiting for their chance to take over the cause for evil.  Then there are the people who wait to see where there is relative calm and sneak into the hearts and minds of other people with half-truths to cause doubt!  They might spread their poison through untruths, gossip, or social media.

I hope you aren’t any of these weeds.  I hope that you are a sweet-smelling flower who blooms wherever you are planted and lets your love of Christ flow through everything you do!  However, we need to not be so naïve to think that the weeds AREN’T around us everywhere!  We need to put on the full armor of God, even if it has to go over your petals. Then go forth and do some gardening for God! We need to pray that God will show us the hearts that are ripe for planting the gospel, reveal the weeds as they pop up and then help us to quickly remove them.   

Pat Arnold

January 9 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 7-12 Review

The day after Christmas, Jeff Walter challenged us to draw closer to God by reading through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John leading up to Easter.

This week, you read Matthew 7-12.

We thought that it would be important, as we continue to make our way through the gospels, more specifically Matthew, to pause once a week to reflect over what we have read so far.

A huge part of reading the Bible, or internalizing any kind of biblical truth for that matter, is application. How are you aiming to apply what you’ve read to your life? In what way are you going to become a more fully devoted follower of Christ as a result of your reading?

So, whenever you are reading this Sunday, January 9th, what lessons are you taking away from Matthew 7-12? What stood out to you? What do you have questions about? I know there are a lot of takeaways from these chapters, but I challenge you to focus on even just one.

Take today to reflect on this past week’s readings and pray for God to open your heart and ideas to the principles you will receive this next week as we read chapters 13-18.

Thanks for taking on this challenge!

FYI, we have a private Facebook group for this challenge where people can interact with others and share what they’re learning. If you are interested in joining this group, email Sharon (skarhan@woostergrace.org) to receive an invite!

Jake Lawson

January 8 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 12

Read Matthew 12:1-50

Jesus > Religion

This phrase graced the screen at the beginning of a video that now has 34.8 million views on YouTube. A guy named Jeff performed a 4-minute spoken word describing the relationship, or lack thereof, of Jesus and religion:

“Religion says, ‘Do’. Jesus says ‘Done’”

This was a very tough pill for the people of Jesus’ time to swallow and was normally at the center of the conflict that Jesus experienced during His earthly ministry. The religious leaders at the time were so focused on the Old Testament law that they completely overlooked the fulfillment of that law that was standing right in front of them.

Often, we, as Christians, can get so bogged down with “do’s” and “don’ts” that we can completely miss the point. It can be frustrating when you read the gospels, on how much the religious leaders of the day did just that. Jesus would heal someone and immediately His life would be in danger. He would speak out against them and, instead of taking the constructive criticism, they would conspire to kill Him.

How often do you find yourself focusing on stuff that doesn’t matter? The Pharisees were just so blinded by the law that they overlooked the life change which was happening right in front of them! When reading the gospels, I often get frustrated by how blind the Pharisees were by hate and disagreement that they never grasped the truth.

“[The Church] isn’t a museum for good people, it’s a hospital for the broken.”

If you’re honest with yourself, how often do you find your faith in something that you can physically do? Do you think that reading your Bible, not cussing and going to church secures for you eternal life? No. Good fruit comes as a result of being grafted into Christ. These actions that we do in obedience come as a result of a changed heart.

When you think about it, do you get caught up in the “to do’s” of Christianity so much so that you find yourself blind to the reason behind them?

There’s nothing we can do to deserve the grace that we have been given through Christ. There is nothing we can read, nothing we can do and nothing that we can say that will put us in right standing with God. We were justified when Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose from the grave a few days later, thus conquering death.

As you continue to read through Matthew and, in the future, through the rest of the gospels, this “Religion v Relationship” is a common theme that you will read about.

What about you?

In what ways do you need to overcome the “religion” in your life? In what way are you just going through the motions and missing the biggest picture? Are you planting your stake in the ground for something that doesn’t truly matter?

I encourage you to check out Jeff’s viral video and allow his words to ring true for you:

Jake Lawson

January 7 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 11

Read Matthew 11:1-30                  

Doubt.

Chances are that sometime in your life you have wrestled with doubt. Doubt in your ability, doubt in others, even doubt in God’s love. You’re not alone. Many biblical heroes we place on holy pedestals have fought the battle of doubt. Read Hebrews 11, the chapter often referred to as “the hall of faith”, and notice how many of these “heroes” overcame one of our greatest obstacles – doubt.

Although John the Baptist is not mentioned in Hebrews 11, he has almost a whole chapter dedicated to his testimony of faith in the eleventh chapter of Matthew. Let’s set the scene. John, God’s prophet, chosen to prepare the way for Jesus’ message, was in prison. Captive to his unpleasant surroundings, he only heard of Jesus’ works. He was not part of the crowd who walked with Jesus, ate with Jesus and witnessed Jesus’ miracles. Perhaps this was not how John expected things to turn out. He knew Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, but as he sat in a cold, dark, lonely prison, doubt crept in. “Are You the Expected One or shall we look for someone else?” John questioned. In other words, John wanted evidence. He wanted assurance that Jesus is who He said He is. Jesus responded by sending back a report to John. Jesus said that all the downcast of society have been helped, healed and set free from their circumstances.

But not John. Jesus had the power to set John free from his circumstances. Instead, John sat in a Roman prison, missing everything he prophesied about, only hearing secondhand the amazing works Jesus had done.

There’s another chapter 11 wrestler of faith. We find a desperate and doubting woman named Martha in John 11. After the death of her brother, Lazarus, the tension of faith and doubt pulled at her. She believed Jesus was able to heal Lazarus but doubted why He came after her brother died. The crowd that had gathered around the tomb expressed their doubt too. “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of him who was blind, have kept this man also from dying?” (John 11:37).

Have you been there?

Wondering why God hasn’t shown up or changed your circumstances? Faith cries out that you know He can. Doubt shouts louder, wondering why He hasn’t. We learn from both John the Baptist and Martha that faith isn’t so much about believing God’s ability, as it is trusting His sovereignty. When God seems silent, rather than doubt, look up, for God always has a greater purpose. He had a greater purpose for John and for Martha and both were rescued from doubt. Read the entire chapter and hear John’s accolades from Jesus himself. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”  Both John and Martha sought the Lord and I have no doubt they received their reward for faith- and I don’t doubt He will do that for you too.

What doubt are you experiencing in your life? What role does your faith play in overcoming that doubt?

Just believe.

Charline Engle

January 6 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 10

Read Matthew 10:1-42

As Matthew originally penned this gospel directed by the Holy Spirit, it did not include chapter and verse divisions. Those two added features serve us well as they allow us to quickly identify a specific reference. On the downside, however, we can end up limiting the attention we give to the greater context beyond the immediate chapter or verse. Let’s not make that mistake here.

As Jesus sends out the twelve apostles, don’t forget that this comes on the heels of His own teaching, proclaiming, and healing. It comes after His compassion for the crowds. It follows His request of the disciples that they pray that the Father would send out laborers (9:35-38.) That request to pray in chapter 9 became an invitation to go in chapter 10.

The ones who were to pray for more workers became workers themselves. Like Jesus, they were to bless others by addressing felt needs while announcing the importance of spiritual needs. They were to trust God for His provision and be faithful in the midst of opposition. In fact, they were to expect opposition . . . not only from strangers they encountered but also from people they counted as family and friends. But He assured them that there was eternal reward in His service.

Granted, you and I may not be first-century apostles sent out with the same assignment. Still, don’t miss out on the appropriate parallels.

  • We, too, can pray. The need for people to carry the compassion and message of Christ to other parts of the globe is real.
  • We, too, can go. To be sure, our going may not require plane travel, but it could include a trip across the street to a neighbor, across the hallway to a classmate, across our place of employment to a coworker.
  • We, too, can expect opposition. Not everyone will be thrilled at our expressions of care and verbalization of truth.
  • We, too, can anticipate reward. As we, one day, stand before Christ, we may also hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Join me as we pray and go!

“Lord of the harvest, would you raise up workers to plant, water, and harvest in your fields around the world? And, Lord, send me today to those people I can reach for You!”

Steve Kern

January 5 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 9

Read Matthew 9:1-38

Have you ever wondered why 4 books of the Bible go through the same timeline? Speaking of the gospels, we’ve got four books written by four different men. Three of the four were disciples of Jesus and one came after, so intrigued that he went and studied Jesus by talking with the people who lived life with Jesus. When looking at each of the gospels, we can see four different perspectives. Matthew focuses on the words of Jesus, Mark on the works of Jesus, Luke brings about His life in chronological order and John looks at the conflict that He faced. 

Here we are in Matthew. One of the biggest themes we see in what Jesus says is the faith of those around Him. From the first encounter when He got back home, calling Matthew to follow Him, raising the little girl, to healing the woman and the blind. 

The thing that sticks out the most is the faith that all of these people had in Jesus. 

Have you had a faith check recently? 

In what is going on around us, it is hard to keep the faith. It’s hard to keep the kingdom perspective while living in a not so biblical worldview. 

The one part in chapter nine that I always like to reflect on is that of the woman who bled. Her faith was so strong that she knew she didn’t need Jesus’ attention, all she had to do was touch some part of Him and she would be healed. Her faith was so strong that she knew with just one small touch her life would change. 

How often do we forget that Jesus changes everything? From the very small to the very big. It isn’t because our circumstances change or “get better”, but it’s because we know with the help of the Holy Spirit that we are going to be okay because we know, we believe that Jesus loves us and is for us and makes all things better for those who love Him. 

The most recent example of this test in my life was when Jake and I miscarried our second child in August of 2020.

It was so hard.

The only thing that kept my heart and mind above water was keeping the Kingdom perspective in mind, knowing that our child was where they were intended to be. Knowing that God loved me and Jake, our family and our baby and had the best in mind for us. Did I doubt? Absolutely. Did I get angry? Of course. But…just as the woman who bled, I believed and still believe that Jesus changes everything. He was what we needed most in those times and the times to come and, in that, my faith grew stronger. 

Have you examined your life recently when it comes to your faith? Do you have the faith of Matthew who left his career and way of living to follow after Jesus? Do you have the faith of that little girl’s daddy who knew that Jesus had the power to heal? Do you have the strong faith of the woman who bled, who just needed to touch Jesus’ robe in order for her life to change?

I challenge you to examine your life. Examine your circumstances and allow Jesus’ power to enter into those situations and change your perspective.

Kelly Lawson

January 4 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 8

Read Matthew 8:1-17

It wasn’t just a good day for Jesus. It was His life. The humble, compassionate tender-hearted power that Jesus gave to everyone who’d have Him could do nothing less than show itself true through every encounter He directed.

This was a day full of healing. Jesus’ touch. Jesus’ word. No matter the method, He healed people who needed wholeness.

“He Himself took our weaknesses and carried our diseases (v17).”

The healing, the life-giving — this is why Jesus Christ left heaven’s comfort. He is the very Creator of each person who saw Him, heard Him, followed Him that day. Jesus stepped off His perfect and glorious throne in heaven and onto the broken and hurting earth so He Himself (could take their) weaknesses and carry (their) diseases. So He could take our weaknesses and heal our diseases.

When the man with that terrible skin disease, who hadn’t been touched in who knows how long stepped forward and asked, Jesus took away his disease with a tender touch of love-come-down. 

And when the Roman soldier, whose servant lay dying as he stood believing, approached Jesus, He Himself carried away the man’s weakness with the breath of His word. Literally. Jesus Christ spoke healing for that man’s servant. And the servant was well.

His transformation went from faith to fullness in the amount of time it took for Jesus to say:

“Go; let it be done for you as you have believed (v13).”

A faith Jesus hadn’t yet seen showed Him to be the all-powerful Creator that He is. Healer of the broken. Breath of life.

The centurion’s was a faith that leads me to marvel at Jesus’ power, the breath of His Word, the power of His being. I wonder about my faith. I wonder about yours. Does it display the nature of God and show off who He is? What does our faith show others about Jesus? What step of faith can you take today that might lead others to see the wonder and might of Jesus Christ? Ask Him to show you your next step of faith. Then trust Him and take it. And watch Him work through your faith.

Bria Wasson

January 3 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 7

Read Matthew 7:1-29

I’m 4 months away from turning 30 at the time of this writing. I am beginning to notice that there’s an entirely new language coming up behind me that I don’t understand. It’s not totally uncommon for me to hear and say the phrase “that’s what the kids are saying now-a-days”. I have just not heard these words or phrases before.

One such term is “full send” which, according to Dictionary.com, references the sense of intense, hardcore or without regard to consequences. “Full send” is to go all out and being okay living with what happens.

When my brother and I were still living with our parents, upon coming home from school in the winter time, we would (attempt to) drift our little Ford Escort into their driveway, trying to slide right into our parking spot. Now, there was no half-hearted drifting with Wade and I. In order to get maximum satisfaction, we had to punch it or “full send” down the street, hit the brake and yank the steering wheel to initiate the slide.

There had to be zero hesitation.

I should probably say that this is a horrible idea which no one should try as we got in trouble every time we tried as we would normally leave some tire marks in the front yard (sorry, Dad).

Today, we are finishing up reading what is called the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) where Jesus tells His followers what it takes to be a true follower. People usually pick and choose in what way they follow Jesus but the truth is that you are either in or you are out.

There is no grey area.

In Revelation 3, God is very clear in His dealing with lukewarm people:

“So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.”

You will see at the end of chapter 7, Jesus concludes His sermon on the mountainside by giving people a clear narrative: are you in or are you out?

As you read about the gate to enter, the tree and its fruit, and your foundation, there is the sobering realization of 7:21-23:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

Today, I challenge you to think to yourself if you’re ALL IN with Jesus. Do you pick and choose how you want to follow Him while conveniently leaving out the uncomfortable?

Allow these 3 chapters to serve a reminder for what needs to characterize your life as a follower of Christ. Are there any compromises that you are making? In what ways do you fall short of a FULLY DEVOTED follower of Christ and what changes are you going to make immediately to reposition yourself?

Don’t be on the fence. Don’t be lukewarm. Be all in!

“Full send” it!

Jake Lawson