October 15 – Prison Letters – Fond Memories and Great Expectations

Read Philippians 1:1-30

From a prison cell in Rome in about 62 a.d., Paul reflected on people he had known and experiences he had had some 550 miles to the east and as far back as 10-12 years earlier.  His memories were fond ones.  They must have included people like Lydia and her family.  The conversion of her family and her warm hospitality were surely highlights.  The story of the jailer’s middle of the night conversion and care for Paul and Silas was perhaps one of his favorites.  Certainly these were but a couple of many memories that caused a joyful smile to spread across the apostle’s face as he penned the words of this letter.

But not only did Paul express fond memories of the past.  For these people who had become so dear to him, he also had great expectation for the future.  It is true that a prison wall, chains, and hundreds of miles prevented him from direct contact with them.  Still, he knew that God would complete in them the work He had begun.  God does that, you know.  Though He often chooses to use us to bring encouragement and growth in the lives of others, He is not ultimately dependent upon us.  Are there people in your heart that you need to entrust to God, inviting Him to pick up from here?

Fond memories of the past.  Great expectations for the future.  But this first chapter also includes a positive report about the present.  Paul wanted them to know about his current circumstances.  And the report is not what one would expect.  How could it be a positive one?  After all, he was in a prison.  Daily, he was living with the uncertainty of possible execution.  Still, life for him was not defined by his surroundings or circumstances.  Life for Paul was living for Christ (21).  And his greatest joy was experienced in knowing that the gospel was advancing (v. 12) in the lives of others.

Those thoughts about past, present, and future certainly mess with our minds!  What is it that really matters?  Where should joy really come from?  Can I trust God with others?

Steve Kern

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October 14 – Prison Letters – Philippi, the First Visit

Read Acts 16:1-40

Yesterday, we visited Rome and spoke of Paul’s incarceration there in the early 60’s a.d.  It was from this important city that Paul penned some of his most important communiqués, the “Prison Epistles” of the New Testament:  Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon.

Before we embark on a study of one of these letters, Philippians, we travel back in time some 10-12 years from Paul’s imprisonment to his first encounter with people in the leading Macedonian city of Philippi.

Paul’s initial visit there was not accidental.  No, it was strategic and Spirit-directed.  It was strategic in the sense that Paul was not ashamed of the gospel.  Instead, he was constantly looking for new opportunities to share that life-giving message with both Jews and Greeks (Rom. 1:16).  His specific arrival had been directed by the Holy Spirit.  As Paul sought to preach in the province of Asia and in Bithynia, the Spirit had said “no.”  Then, ultimately, He directed Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke to Philippi.

Do you daily seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit?  His direction is not only important for what we consider to be the big decisions of life like career, spouse, or home choice.  We need Him to point the way in our daily encounters because all of us are ambassadors for the King of Kings!

Having been directed to Philippi, Paul was privileged to see Lydia and her family respond to the gospel and choose to be baptized.  Praise God!  But only a few verses later, Paul and Silas were in a Philippian jail because of their stand for Jesus.  But these servants of God were able to rejoice in their chains.  And God allows them to see even more people come to the Savior!

Can I ask . . . How do you respond when circumstances turn negative?  I often hear people begin to question decisions they made that put them in a position to experience what they may be going through.  But immediate circumstances do not give us the final word on God’s will.  If you, like Paul, have sought the Spirit’s guidance and followed His leading in the decision, there is no reason to doubt when things become difficult.  God must have a greater plan that you are not yet able to see!

Steve Kern

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October 13 – Prison Letters – Prison Faithfulness

Read Acts 28:1-30

The final chapter of Acts may seem like an unusual place to begin a new segment of your Bible reading plan.  This likely appears to be a better chapter to end something than to start it.  Indeed, not only does this chapter draw the book of Acts to a close, but it also ties a bow on the detailed account of Paul’s missionary journey.  In traveling to Rome, one of Paul’s dreams had been realized (Acts 19:21).  To be sure, Acts 28 is the culmination of a process that began as Paul was seized seven chapters earlier and 1400 miles to the east in Jerusalem.

In many ways, however, Paul’s arrival in Rome represented a beginning.  It was the beginning of a two-year imprisonment that the apostle would endure in the capitol city of the Roman Empire.  And, it was the beginning of a unique phase of Paul’s ministry.  You see, although he was incarcerated, he, nevertheless, experienced some freedom when it came to sharing his faith, welcoming visitors, and teaching about the kingdom of God.

But Paul’s Roman imprisonment also provided him with opportunity to write letters.  These were not just any old letters for any old purpose.  No, included in his writing during this time period were the Spirit-inspired “prison epistles” of the New Testament.  That’s right, most theologians agree that the books of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon were penned during this time.  At least some of these letters were carried by Tychicus to their final recipients (Eph. 6:21, Col. 4:7) and were intended to have a wider reading audience than those recipients (Col. 4:16).

As has been already mentioned and as we will see in the days to come, this Roman imprisonment provided great opportunities for Paul to share his faith with unbelievers and to enrich the lives of Christ followers.  His experience, however, was far from that of a conference celebrity in a four-star hotel.  Paul had financial responsibilities and lived with the constant threat of execution hanging over his head.  And yet, he faithfully and joyfully carried out his commission.

This, my friends, is the starting point for our study over the next few weeks in the Prison Letters of Paul.  Stay with us.

Steve Kern

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October 12 – Our Values – Multiplication

Read Acts 2:41-47; 4:1-4; 5:14; 6:7

If you have been around Pastor Nick much at all, you have likely heard him talk about his passion that our church ministry be characterized as a “multiplying movement.” We aspire to be “one church with thousands of locations and multiple campuses.” Multiplication, you see, is a big part of our identity.

But multiplication is not just something that staff or board members have dreamed up. It has been part of Christ’s plan for us from the outset. He called us to make disciples among all people groups (Matt. 28:19, 20). His Spirit empowers us to carry His message from the neighborhood to the nations (Acts 1:8). And in 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul talked about a “four-generational” multiplication which began as he (first generation) shared truth with Timothy and others (second generation). He invited Timothy, then, to entrust those truths to other reliable people (third generation), who would teach still others (fourth generation).

Disciples who make disciples…that is the goal and the essence of multiplication.

Your Bible reading for today describes what that multiplication looked like in the first-century church in Jerusalem. On the day of Pentecost, the birthday of the church, the Holy Spirit of God used Peter’s sermon, and He drew 3000 people to Christ (2:41). Only a short time later in the fourth chapter of Acts, the number of men alone was at 5000 (4:4). Then, in the aftermath of cleansing, “more and more men and women believed…and were added” in chapter five (5:14). Chapter six also points out how “the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly” (6:7).

While we may attribute this multiplication in Jerusalem to another place and another time, not possible today, we must recognize two important things. First, God has also done this in our day. If you trace the growth of Christianity in South Korea over the last decades, you will discover amazing multiplicative growth! Secondly, although the numbers and the rate of growth may differ in our day, don’t lose sight of the fact that God wants you to multiply yourself by making a disciple. He wants to multiply your Grace Group by launching another group or leader from it. He wants to multiply our church by seeing other churches/campuses established.

Will you join us?

Steve Kern

Questions to consider:

  1. What people were instrumental in your faith journey?
  2. Who are you investing in to see them come to and grow in faith?

 

 

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October 11 – Our Values – In, Out and Up

Read Hebrews 10:24-25, Acts 2:47 and Colossians 1:28-29

I’m so introverted it isn’t even funny. I am completely at peace when Kelly and I are at home spending quality time together whether it’s just talking, watching a show on Hulu or cleaning up after our two year old. Sure there are times in my life where I need to be extroverted whether it’s at work or out in public, but for the most part, I choose to keep to myself. Even when I’m called on to host a service(s) at Grace Church, I get sweaty, light headed and my stomach churns all the way to the stage.

It’s just who I am.

However, as I am growing in my maturity, I am realizing that just because something comes easily to me, doesn’t mean that is something I need to focus 100% of my effort all the time. Life is full of doing things that are uncomfortable. Seek discomfort…it makes you grow.

The same is true for our groups ministry here at Grace. For all of our 60+ groups we want some key qualities to be a part of their very DNA that we believe make them the healthiest group and leader they can be: In, Out, and Up.

Probably the most natural sign of a healthy group and leader is IN. Most naturally people get together and “live life” with one another. However, I am encouraging our groups to take it a step further and be in the trenches of life with the members in their group. Next, the hardest sign is OUT. Most groups have an easy time being IN and UP, however it isn’t easy to serve. Our vision for OUT and #forwaynecounty is to gain the favor of people in order to soften their hearts to the gospel. We want to be known as a personal church that wants God’s best for people and this includes serving outside the confines of our church. Lastly, the easiest sign is UP. It may seem obvious but we want people to grow in their relationship with the Lord as a result of their group.

While these signs were designed for group life, how can you apply them to your life? How can you best foster relationships with other people? How can you be in the trenches with people and genuinely care for them? What are some ways that you can serve those around you? Our #fwc movement is a GREAT way to begin serving. Lastly, are you growing spiritually? In what way are you engaging with the Bible? What are you learning? What are your plans to dig deeper?

We believe that if groups are IN, OUT, and UP to their very core, they are being a healthy group. In the same breath, we believe that if you challenge yourself personally to be IN, OUT and UP, you are on the road to becoming healthier as a physical and spiritual being!

Jake Lawson

Questions to consider:

  • What are some ways that you can foster deeper and more genuine relationships with people?
  • What are some ways that you can best serve those around you? Check out our #fwc page for inspiration!
  • What are some ways that you can grow deeper in your relationship with the Lord?
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October 10 – Our Values – It all belongs to God

Read Romans 12:1-2

Serving as a Grace Group leader for Grace Students has been one of the most rewarding, and challenging experiences of my life. My co-leader and I have been with the same group of guys for a few years now, and as we have had the blessing of watching these boys turn into young men, so too have we been stretched to deepen our own understanding of the Bible as the questions from our group have grown in complexity. In particular, a young man in our group recently asked me the following “Taylor I want to give to God and the work of His church, but how do I do that if I don’t have an income?” My mind immediately went to the verses we are studying today.

I love thinking about the concept that everything belongs to God. All of the values of our church have a special place in my heart, and in some way are a part of my story, but this one in particular stands out to me. We live in God’s world, everything that has existed, that exists here in the present, and will exist in the future is His. That includes you and I. Our bodies, our spirit, every strand of DNA in us is God’s. This truly is His world, and we have the wonderful blessing of getting to play some small part in it during this period of history.

The words Paul shares with Romans in this passage, and with us today is foundational to understanding sacrifice and its importance in our walk of faith. The Lord has blessed us with our life, our bodies, our minds and our spirits. The very least we can do is to offer ourselves as vessels to share His love, preach His Gospel, and serve His Kingdom on His earth. Whether you have an income or not, if you are reading this devotional today you have life- so what are you doing with it?

I encourage all of us today (myself included) to reflect on our lives and ask the Lord to continue to show us new ways we can sacrifice for the Kingdom. He has called us for such a time as this, and if “you’re not dead, God’s not done.” I believe strongly that Jesus has a plan for all of us and am praying today that He will continue to lead us towards loving others and spreading His gospel.

It ALL belongs to God.

Taylor Bennington

Questions to consider:

  • As you reflect on your life, what are some ways you can sacrifice for the Kingdom?
  • Even outside of tithing, what are some ways you can live out “it all belongs to God”?
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October 9 – Our Values – Life is better together

Read 1 Corinthians 12:26

It was a Wednesday evening in January as I entered a youth room as a new youth leader at the church I visited regularly in my teens and young adult years. There I met her, the woman who would become my pillar; her name, Mayelis (Magie) Keogh (Cisneros).

Church’s aren’t meant to be created as simply a building for people to come and go so you can check it off your list or a place to tithe because the Bible says so. Church is not a building but a body and in our culture, we often forget that God is relational. A body meant for connection and iron sharpening iron. A body meant to work together to achieve the end goal to be more like Jesus so that we can make disciples who make disciples who proclaim the name of Jesus.

Yet, here we are, fallen beings and without each other, how are we sharpened?

Magie was the pillar, the iron the Lord used to sharpen me. He used her character, her faith, her story with Him to minister, challenge, encourage me to become the best that God created for me. Without Magie and how the Lord used her specifically, I would not be who I am today.

Something Pastor Nick stated in a sermon recently was the fact that in any recovery program, the people, the sponsors aren’t meant to just come and go to a meeting, but they jump into the trenches with the newly sober in order to build them up, to support them and walk life with them. This is essentially the point that Paul is trying to make in 1 Corinthians. He is stating the value of one another in another’s life. I love this value of our church because it is a value that Magie taught me early on in my walk with the Lord. She was there. She stood by me as I repented, as I healed, as I grew and she pushed me into a biblical world view that I couldn’t see before and I will be forever grateful for the lives and women the Lord has placed in my life since her. Life, truly is, better together!

Do you have a pillar? Is there someone in your life that lives life with you and builds you up, points you back to Jesus? Someone who sharpens you?

Are you connected within our church, serving or involved in a Grace Group?
What is your next step when it comes to connection? Do you believe this is God’s best for you?

Kelly Lawson

Questions to consider:

  • Do you have a “pillar” in your life? If you don’t who comes to mind that you could reach out to?
  • Do you believe that God is relational? What does that characteristic of His mean to you?
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