January 2 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 1-6 Review

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

Congratulations as your first week of this challenge is complete!

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, when you are reading in Matthew this Sunday, January 2nd, what lessons are you taking away from Matthew 1-6? 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 weeks’ readings and pray for God to open your heart and ideas to the principles you will receive this next week as we read chapters 7-12.

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 1 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 6

Read Matthew 6:1-34

Have you ever wondered why people flock to Amish restaurants?  Could it be the REAL mashed potatoes from REAL potatoes and not a box?  Fresh fruit pies from REAL fruit and, of course, REAL sugar that contains REAL calories?  Maybe it is the REAL whipped cream from REAL fresh cream – no cool whip there! 

Nothing beats the real thing in food and in life!

Genuine, real, honest, authentic – all are words we look for but often find missing in people we encounter these days. We seek them in politicians, journalists, doctors, friends, spouses and even used car salesmen, but often we are disappointed and find we are left with only empty promises and artificial relationships. Someone you might have trusted only used you to get what they wanted. Maybe it was to get a bonus, a promotion, a committee assignment, or reward of some kind that they were willing to trade their integrity for. 

When I read this chapter of the book of Matthew, I can almost see a big flashing “Be Real” sign right before my eyes. God wants us to be real with, not only Him, but the people around us.  Why did you help that poor person?  Was it because you really wanted to or was it to be recognized and praised by those around you?  But what good was it after the applause and everyone had gone? You might have even gotten a plague to hang on your wall but, after a while, it just gathers dust.

Jesus tells us that, even though the people around us might praise us, God sees what is really in our hearts.  There is no need to be fake with Him.  He knows you better than even you know yourself.  He sees your tears.  He knows your pain.  Flamboyant prayers that go on and on to impress the people around you are just like wisps in the air to God, while a simple whispered sincere, “Help!” can move mountains!

When I was young, there was a man on TV whose stage name was Captain Penny.  He used to always end his show with this phrase: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool Mom!  She’s pretty nice and she’s pretty smart.  Do what Mom says, and you won’t go far wrong.”  

I like to substitute “God” for “Mom” in that saying!  All God is asking you to do is to be REAL with Him and the people around you.  You aren’t fooling anyone except yourself when you aren’t.

Are you willing to help others when no one else is around and no one knows about it but you?  Do you pray when no one else can hear you?  Be real with God and He will be real with you.  

What are some ways that you can live a more genuine life?

The lyrics to a Sandy Patty song should be our prayer:

The stage is bare, the crowds are gone
Lord, now’s the time I need your song
To give me joy and certainty
When no one else is watching me
I need you more than words can say
Tomorrow’s such a daily day
And I so need to feel you then
Holding my hand, please hold me then
I need You, Lord!

Pat Arnold

December 31 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 5

Read Matthew 5:1-48

As a father of two daughters and grandfather of five granddaughters, I now see the world from a different perspective – the female perspective. I am still learning how to brush long hair and how to put a dress on a little girl. I may never learn it properly.

I have learned that women like to be treated with respect. Some are taught by movies and others to treat those of the opposite sex like they are objects.

Isn’t that what Jesus was talking about when He said, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”? By lusting after someone who isn’t your spouse, we are treating people as objects.

“Chesed” (Hebrew for love) means affection, action and commitment in English. That is a definition of love – just the opposite of lust. Look for opportunities to love other people with affection, with action and with commitment.

Affection: Words of affirmation, quality time and physical touch are examples from the book The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This is a book every engaged or married person should read.

Action: A man can demonstrate respect for a woman in many ways, including patient listening, helping with daily tasks, being careful with his tone and being selfless. It is the attitude and actions which demonstrate affection.

Commitment: In football, there is an “unsportsmanlike conduct” penalty and in basketball, a “technical foul” players can receive. In both sports, a second foul may be disqualification. In life, if you commit the foul of adultery, you will disqualify trust. And that is a big mistake.

When someone poisons their mind with immoral things of any kind of movies, magazines, websites or immoral discussions, it can infect their thinking. Could this pollute their view of the opposite sex?

What do you fill your mind with?

“It’s the second glance that ties your hands as darkness pulls the strings.”

(Casting Crowns)

Honor others. The life of Jesus is full of evidence of Jesus showing honor to women. Godly women stand out in Jesus’ life and ministry. Examples would be the virgin Mary and mother of Jesus, the woman at the well and the women who accompanied the disciples on missionary trips. It was women who stayed at the cross until the burial and who were first at the empty tomb.

Jesus’ respect for females is obvious and it is awesome. The sermon on the mount is Christ’s instruction to us for godly living in the present world. This includes honor, courtesy and respect for others. Love includes affection, action and commitment. Let’s make it our focus and make it a habit.

What do your actions, affection and commitment convey about the type of relationship you are willing to work for?

Tom Weckesser

December 30 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 4

Read Matthew 4:1-25 and Hebrews 4:15

There is such a power in someone relating to something you’re going through.

If you’ve read our devos over the past year or know Kelly and I personally, you will know that she and I are fairly outspoken about our miscarriage in the fall of 2020. We do that, not because we want people to feel sorry for us, but so that people can see the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord in the midst of a trying time we experienced.

As we were dealing with the grief of the loss of our child, my mind immediately shifted to the many couples in our church who I know have experienced this exact thing. Over the months that were ahead, Kelly and I both met with individuals who we knew had experienced a miscarriage themselves. I can’t explain the power that had for Kelly and I. For someone to say, “Hey, I’ve been there. You’ve got this. God is faithful.”

It was monumental.

There are many different aspects of Jesus that amaze me even today. There is a theological term called “hypostatic union” which is the truth that Jesus was and is both 100% God and 100% man. When Jesus put on human flesh as described in John 1, Jesus was fully human while also complete deity, however He laid aside the right to some of His divine power.

One of the greatest truths in the gospels and one that, if untrue, destroys the Christian faith is that Jesus never sinned while on earth.

However, that doesn’t mean that He wasn’t tempted.

Matthew 4 describes the temptation of Jesus immediately after His baptism. This brings about the principle that, often after a great high point in your life, you are the most susceptible to temptation.

Hebrews 4:15 puts it this way:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”

When Satan offered food to Jesus, it wasn’t as if Jesus immediately cast him aside and declined. He was tempted. He may very well have thought about giving in. When challenged to throw Himself off a high point and have angels miraculously save Him, I bet Jesus thought about making Satan eat his words. However, He resisted temptation and He did so via Scripture.

When we are tempted and we pray for deliverance, Jesus can say, “Hey, child, I’ve been there. You’ve got this. I am faithful.”

When you are tempted, in what way can you utilize Scripture to fight through? How does it make you feel to know that Jesus was, according to Hebrews 4, tempted in every way we are? Also, is there anyone that you can come beside and say, “Hey, friend, I’ve been there. You’ve got this. God is faithful”?

There is such a power in someone relating to something you’re going through.

Jake Lawson

December 29 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 3

Read Matthew 3:1-17

Matthew 3 has much to consider, much more than we can cover in this short devotional. So, my goal will be to hit some highpoints and hopefully give you, the reader, something to think about.

Chapter 3 starts by talking about John, his message and that he is a fulfillment of prophesy. John is encouraging all to repent, to turn from the way they have been living and to live the way God would have us live. He then is baptizing those who repent, as an outward expression of the change inside.

We also get an idea of where he is at – basically the middle of nowhere – and yet people are coming from all over. His appearance is very different from what the people are used to seeing when it comes to religious leaders; and speaking of religious leaders, we are told that the Pharisees and Sadducees have come to see what is happening. It would appear, based on John’s response, that they aren’t interested in repentance and baptism and probably don’t think they need it because they are trusting in their lineage and “good works”. In verses 9 and 10, John is clear that what they are trusting in doesn’t produce the life and relationships that God wants for us.

Next, John lets the people know that his baptism is just a start and he is more interested in pointing them to the one who is coming, Jesus. When Jesus does come to John to be baptized, John is hesitant because he knows that Jesus is much greater than he and he doesn’t feel it’s appropriate for the lesser to baptize the greater.

Jesus insists and John obeys.

I just love what we see in verses 16 and 17. To me, this is such an incredible picture of the Trinity. Jesus the Son is clearly there, the Holy Spirit comes down on Him, and God the Father speaks about the Son (Jesus). It would have been so amazing to be there to see and hear this happening.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So, in summary, I want to challenge us to think about how we are living and who we are more like. Do I feel that God accepts me based on what I do or don’t do like the religious leaders? Or, am I like the people who were being baptized, knowing that they needed forgiveness and trusting in God for their righteousness? Another way to think about righteousness is how God sees me. If I’m trusting in Jesus for forgiveness, then, when God sees me, He sees the righteousness of Jesus – perfect and without sin.

I pray that we will all see our need for forgiveness and trust in God to take care of it.

Mike Molter

December 28 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 2

Read Matthew 2:1-23

The story of the wise men is a familiar part of the Christmas story. Many of us know the part about men from the East traveling to see the baby Jesus. We know they brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  They even have their own Christmas carol. What really strikes me though, is how persistent they were in their endeavor to find the Christ-child. After all, they were wise, smart men who were pursuing an infant. I wonder why they didn’t give up. Why did they sacrifice their time and money to find a baby? Why didn’t they wait until He was older and of an age when He would have had a more significant role in society? What prompted and motivated these men to pursue like they did? What kept them focused when they may have been tempted to give up?

Planning a vacation for our family is one of my favorite things to do. I like to organize our bags and pack activities for the long drive. I like to plan our menu and have snacks and drinks ready for the kids. I even pack “extras” for the just-in-case-something- goes-wrong situations that are bound to arise. I like to think I am ready for whatever we may encounter. However, when we are down the road, in the middle of the journey, it’s never as fun as I imagined. The kids are not impressed with my organizational skills which I would like them to honor by putting their activities back in the bag it came out of. The snacks aren’t as tasty and refreshing as I had hoped. Someone has to go to the bathroom right as the kid who never falls asleep has just conked out. Argh! The journey never goes like I had it planned in my mind. I end up wondering if all the planning and packing is worth it.

If I compare my faith journey to my vacation planning, I find some similarities. I want to be prepared and ready for bumps that I may encounter along the way. I memorize Scripture that will help me fend off doubts and worries. I build relationships with people whom I love and trust to guide me. I also set aside time to get to know and pursue God. Ultimately, my destination is a relationship with the One who loves me unconditionally and forgives my sins.

I wonder if the wise men encountered any problems as they traveled. Were there days when they wanted to turn around and go home? I am sure there were. However, they continued on. Their goal was to meet the Messiah. They were persistent in their pursuit. They didn’t give up when the going got tough. 

They persevered.

Are you pursuing Christ? Are you persistent in your pursuit? In 1 Timothy 6, Paul encourages a fellow believer to “Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” To do this, we must stay committed to the truth. We must take each step of our journey in faith. We must persevere despite setbacks and hardships. Where are you in the journey of faith in Christ? Are you just beginning to understand who God is or are you on down the road a ways? Are you getting to know Him better each day through reading His Word, praying for understanding, and being in fellowship with other believers? If not, take some time to recommit to the journey. Refocus your goal of knowing God better and pursuing Him.

Tammy Finney

December 27 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 1

Read Matthew 1:1-25, Ephesians 1:13-14 and 2:13

I couldn’t pass up writing this devotional. Speaking of passing up, did you pass through that list of names in Matthew 1, or did you savor some of them, at least?

No shame here. I realize that I’m writing to a group of readers in various stages of their lives with Jesus. It’s only recently that I’ve come to recognize a lot of those names and have grown to appreciate the stories that accompany them. Keep reading! You’re doing great!

As important as that list of names is, I’m fast forwarding to my favorite part of this chapter… “they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

I can’t get enough of this truth. I need God to be with me every moment.

Jesus told His disciples in John 16:7 that He would be leaving them. This had to be devastating news from the One they had come to love. But He also told them He was leaving them with something better, His Spirit. Not only do we receive forgiveness and a place of belonging when we put our faith in Jesus, His Spirit also comes to dwell in us.

I’ve been reading through the New Testament and just read Acts 13 this morning. This is an account of Barnabas and Paul’s first adventure of traveling to share the gospel. In this single chapter we learn of the ‘high’ they experienced as almost the whole city gathered to hear them share the word of the Lord. A few sentences later we feel the weight of their ‘low’ as they endure rejection and persecution for their obedience. Then we read this humbling verse…” And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52)

If Barnabas and Paul only rode on the surface of their experiences, they would have found joy impossible to embrace.

It’s not that hard to find ourselves skimming along on the ups and downs of life ourselves. My family has gone through some lows being caught up in the mix of an illness of a loved one and the restrictions put on us by a world with COVID.

It feels impossible and sad.

And I’m not alone.

Now, if I’m stuck with someone I find annoying, if I have a companion I can’t trust, if I’m bound to someone who constantly reminds me how much they don’t know me, it’s torture.

But Jesus is trustworthy. He does know me. He loves me. He understands grief and suffering. He walks in joy and victory. He is my perfect companion and friend.

And He has the power to change my highs and lows. He has the wisdom to work everything for my good. He not only walks with me, He carries all of my luggage (even uphill).

What luggage are you carrying around? In what way do you need to entrust it to the Lord? How has He showed up for you in the past?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (Ps. 139:8-10)

God gets us.

He is behind, ahead, and with us.

And He’s someone I love being ‘stuck’ with.

Shelly Eberly

December 26 – Gospel Readthrough

Read John 21:25

Today, Jeff Walter is challenging us all to grow closer to God and allow Him to reign supreme in our lives by reading through the gospels leading up to Palm Sunday (April 10).

If you text READ to 3302649459, you will receive a PDF of the 6 day a week reading plan along with an invite to our private Facebook group where we will be sharing our takeaways from each chapter reading!

In preparation for Matthew 1 tomorrow, it is important to share some context to the 4 gospels as a whole.

If you’ve read the gospels before, you will notice there are similar stories…many stories of Jesus appear, in varying detail, in more than one of the gospels.

Why is this? Why not just make one book with all of the stories in it?

Each of the gospels is an account of Jesus’ life and ministry, written from the perspective of 4 different authors. I have a study Bible, on which the first page of Matthew reads:

“The Gospel According to Matthew”

Matthew, being one of Jesus’ disciples, wrote down what he observed about Jesus – thus, the gospel or “good news” of Matthew.

I have always been in awe of our specific reading today. As John and other close friends of Jesus wrote down what they observed, the truth is that so much more happened than what they were able to write down.

How amazing is that?

How amazing is our Savior?

As we travel through the gospels over the next few months, we will pause on Sundays to review what we learned the week prior.

As you prepare your heart for this challenge, I pray that you would open your eyes to the words you are about to read. Don’t allow them to just be stories, but allow them to be challenges to you. How are you going to grow closer to God as a result of what you read? What changes do you need to make in your life and faith to become more of the person God created you to be?

I’m super excited to start this challenge with all of you! Be sure, if you have a Facebook account, to text in as described above so you can join in the discussion!

Jake Lawson

December 25 – Christmas: The Promise Fulfilled – God’s Triumph Through Christmas

The following is a YouVersion plan. To participate with this plan on YouVersion, download the app, create an account and click on the link here to participate:

Christmas: The Promise Fulfilled

Don’t forget to share your comments and takeaways every day!

Read Luke 2:6-15, Matthew 2:1-12, Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7 and 1 Peter 1:19-20 God’s Triumph Through Christmas! When we celebrate Christmas there is a sense of wonder we should have in how God fulfilled the Promise of Jesus Christ. First we remember the prophecies He revealed through the Prophets of Old. Then there was all that the angel spoke to Mary and Joseph. Now we come to see everything that God said would be has come true. What we celebrate is really to us the culmination of the truth of God’s word. That God would send His one and only Son into humanity in the human form of a baby! Everything that God promised and foretold would happen have come true! Praise God that it is so! We first see the reality of it all in the town of Bethlehem. In the very town that the prophets foretold- Mary gave birth to the Son of God and named Him Jesus. (Just as the Angel told her to.) He was really born in a manger because due to the census they all traveled to Bethlehem to partake in; there was no room for them in the inn. God still provided for their needs still keeping with the fulfillment of the promise. Next we see real witnesses of the actual time and places surrounding the Messiah’s birth. Besides Mary and Joseph themselves, God sent the angel once again to announce the birth of Christ. He came to the Sheppard’s telling them that a Savior was born for them who is Christ the Lord. He gave them a sign telling them where the Messiah would be and what He would be dressed in. After the angel left, they left their sheep and went straight to the very place where the angel told them He’d be. They witnessed the Christ child, Mary and Joseph. They left there worshiping and praising God because what they saw confirmed what the angel had told them. Can you imagine being a part of what they experienced? What a humbling experience it would have been! The next witnesses were brought to the Christ child sometime after His birth. A star led them to the Christ Child. God used this star up in the heavens to lead the magi to Christ where they worshiped Him and gave Him gifts. Then on top of this, God protected Jesus, Mary, and Joseph from Herod’s jealousy, envy and wrath as He sent the angel once again to Joseph in a dream, warning him of Herod’s plan telling him to flee from there and go to Egypt. Here again God provided in His infinite wisdom a plan to protect His Son until the appointed time some thirty plus years later when He would die for all mankind’s sin. Joseph was obedient again and left in the night to Egypt where they would await the angel’s word, which would confirm that it was safe to return. It seems that God also provided protection to the magi, as I believe He gave them the wisdom to go home by a different route. A route by which they’d find safe passage home that would avoid contact with Herod and his pending wrath, as he aimed to kill the Christ Child. All of God’s promises came to reality, with physical and written proof. God is faithful and we can celebrate the triumph of Christmas through our Savior’s birth! My prayer for all of us is that the reality of all that God spoke, wrote, planned, and fulfilled, will keep us in awe of His power and majesty. Each year, may our Christmas become more worshipful and thankful as we celebrate the Birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ- the Fulfillment of God’s Promise! What God promises, you can always trust will take place down to the very last detail! God keeps His promises! Questions To Get Started With:
  • How do the scriptures confirm all that God promised which is why we celebrate Christmas at all?
  • How does the knowledge of God’s fulfilled promises impact your Christmas celebration?
  • If you don’t know Him, then don’t you think it’s time that you receive His free gift – especially during Christmas! The best gift of all is Jesus!
  • Maybe you do know Him but have taken a step away from your faith and relationship with Him? Don’t you think it’s time to recommit yourself to Him and truly celebrate Christ’s birth?

December 24 – Christmas: The Promise Fulfilled – An Announcement from Heaven

The following is a YouVersion plan. To participate with this plan on YouVersion, download the app, create an account and click on the link here to participate:

Christmas: The Promise Fulfilled

Don’t forget to share your comments and takeaways every day!

Read Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:18-25, Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7 and Micah 5:2 An Announcement From Heaven That Solves A Serious Dilemma.  We’re once again reminded of a story that we’ve heard many times. An angel, sent by God, comes to Mary to make an announcement that would change her life (and the world’s) forever! She was a virgin betrothed to marry a righteous man named Joseph. She was troubled by what the angel Gabriel told her. She had a lot of questions I’m sure. The angel comforted and reassured her to not be afraid then laid out everything for her, even what she should name the child. Once she was put at ease she stated, “Let it be done according to your word.”  What a powerful and Faith Filled statement she made. I wonder if she knew how incredible her statement was and if she was familiar or not with the prophecy she would play a part in fulfilling? Here again we witness God’s Word in action. Real people fulfilling what God really said and recorded for us in the scriptures! Everything is fulfilled according to God’s Word. Miraculously, Mary would remain a Virgin until after the baby was born. She also would have most likely faced some ridicule in the process because she was pregnant before she and Joseph were married. She persevered and treasured all the angel revealed to her. Even if she didn’t understand all the implications of having this child meant, she showed great faith and courage, as she was willing to do what God wanted her to do. In comes Joseph, He was the one betrothed to Mary.  He has a dilemma on his hands because he finds out that she’s pregnant with who know whose child. “What should I do? He asks himself.” Should I put her away (divorce her), because by this time they were joined together according to scripture? He was rightly troubled because he desired to do what was pleasing to God. He showed that he was very honorable because he did not want to ruin Mary’s reputation either. He had a real dilemma on his hands. But, here again, God sends an angel to intervene and set things in place so the promise of God may be fulfilled through the birth of the Christ Child. In a dream, the Angel makes everything clear to Joseph as he explains what the situation with Mary was. The angel explained what the prophecy said and that Mary was the one who would bear the Messiah conceived by the Holy Spirit. He went on to tell him that it was OK for him to take Mary as his wife. Joseph awakens and goes to take Mary as his wife as the angel of the Lord commanded. God sent the angel to talk with Mary and Joseph, announcing The Promised One from God was coming and whether they fully understood it or not, God would be using them to fulfill the prophecy and to bring His one and only Son into the world. This is an amazing thing God chose to do for mankind! The stage was now set for the entrance of the King of Kings as promised by God. It’s truly incredible how God works out all of the details, isn’t it?! God continues to show Himself faithful to reveal and fulfill the promises in His Son. The Messiah would be born of the Virgin Mary according to His Word! Questions To Get Started With:
  • What kind of faith was evident in Mary and Joseph?
  • How would you describe their faith by their actions?
  • What do you think was going on inside them as the Angel came to them with this news?
  • Do you think they completely understood what the announcement from the angel meant?
  • What do you think you would have done if you were in their shoes?
  • What do these announcements tell you about God’s Fulfilled Promise?