First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @


December 2014

Who is really welcome?

 Communion Table

Today’s Passage:  Gal 2:11-14 (NIV)

Verse 14 is my focus today…read it again from The Message translation:  “If you, a Jew, live like a non-Jew when you’re not being observed by the watchdogs from Jerusalem, what right do you have to require non-Jews to conform to Jewish customs just to make a favorable impression on your old Jerusalem cronies?”

Who’s welcome at the Table?  Table fellowship, here, is the primary point of focus, but it could easily be the pews of the church, the outings of the church, the mission of the church…you can think of others I’m sure.  The question is “Who is really welcome?”  Paul’s confrontation of Peter is direct and to the point.  Why?  Because the “truth of the gospel” is at stake.  The “truth of the gospel” is directly linked to table fellowship – Jew and Gentile believers on equal terms…One church not two.  Was there to be one table where Jews and Gentiles could eat together as brothers and sisters in Christ or would it be necessary to maintain two separate tables symbolizing the separate cultural identity of the Jewish Christians?

The truth of the gospel mandates the formation of a new community in which there is no division between Jew and Gentile – a community in which Jews and Gentiles eat at one table in the love, and as we will see in tomorrow’s passage, “the faith of Christ Jesus”.

I came across the following story the other day in my reading…I think it has the right contemporary today-view of the community of faith we might claim in the church…


Founded in 1995, Faith Promise Church in Knoxville, Tenn., has grown steadily over the past 20 years. It started out with a launch team of 200 and now serves over 5,500, having opened its first multisite campus in the fall of 2010.

Through the years, the church has opened additional locations throughout the greater Knoxville area, and recently launched two additional sites. Today, the church has a thousand more members than at this time last year—a 22 percent growth rate.

“Moving into a multisite model has enabled us to go from addition to multiplication,” explains Senior Pastor Chris Stephens. “Instead of giving one or two invitations a week at one location, we give 13 invitations at six locations.” (This includes the five physical locations, a partner campus in Costa Rica and an Internet campus.)

Obviously, by serving and reaching more people, the opportunity for spiritual growth increases exponentially. For instance, last year the church performed a record number of baptisms (on Easter Sunday alone, the attendance was 12,752, and they baptized 288 people that weekend). This year they have almost broken last year’s baptism record with five more months still remaining in 2014 as of this writing.

Stephens describes Faith Promise as a “come as you are” church. “It doesn’t matter what your skin color is, how you dress, how much money you make, what kind of car you drive,” says Stephens. “We welcome everybody.”

Of course, not everyone adheres to an unconditional culture of love and acceptance. At Faith Promise’s newest campus, some members of the congregation were flustered when a cross-dresser named Tom began attending. Though they insisted that Tom be kicked out, Stephens refused, saying, “We’re gonna love whomever God sends through the door.”

Ultimately, about half of the congregation left, which was fine by Stephens. “Tom got saved,” says Stephens. “And now we’re back at numbers bigger than ever before.”

As for plans for the future, the church’s biggest challenge has been maintaining leaders—especially as the church branches out to multiple locations, thinning out volunteers. The church, however, has become very intentional about developing next-generation (18- to 25-year-old) leaders.

“We’ve opened the door and they’ve flooded in,” notes Stephens. “They’re spreading their wings.”  Spreading their wings and growing the church.

Knoxville, Tenn.
Senior Pastor: Chris Stephens
Twitter: @drchrisstephens
Founded: 1995
Affiliation: Nondenominational
Locations: 5
Attendance: 4,931
Growth in 2013: +875 (22%)
Fastest Growing: 22

Source – Outreach Magazine

The Essential Gospel

Galatians 2:1-10 (NIV)     Galatians 2:1-10 (The Message)

imagesPaul reminds the Galatians of the nature of the Gospel he preaches and teaches.  The Good News he freely shares, wherever he goes, came directly from Jesus Christ.  Paul did not receive it from any human being.  His calling, by the grace of God, is to take the Gospel to the world of the Gentiles even as Peter has a calling to share the Good News with the Jews.  And that calling and Gospel were confirmed when Paul met with the leaders in Jerusalem; James, Peter, and John.

Circumcision, while a sign of the Old Covenant/Testament, was not required for followers of Jesus in the Gentile world.  The essential Gospel is about Jesus Christ and not Old Testament rules and regulations such as circumcision.  On this both the Jewish Christian Leaders in Jerusalem and Paul were in agreement.  See Acts 15:1-32 on the Jerusalem Council where this was decided.

How wonderful to see that they understood the essential message of the grace of Jesus Christ when they took the Gospel into all the world.  How wonderful to see the church so eager to reach out beyond Israel to all the world.  May we find joy in the essential Gospel; that is the grace, love, hope, and peace of God given to us in the person and presence of Jesus.  And may we also find joy in sharing this extraordinary news and love of Christ in our own world today.  What could be more essential?

To the Churches of Galatia…


Galatians 1:1-5 (CEB)

Angry…passionate – this is how Paul’s letter to the churches he founded in Galatia is known by so many.  From the opening greeting, we know that there is a crisis that needs to be dealt with by Paul.  The identity of these newly established churches was up for grabs – would they be known as simply branches on the tree of Judaism or would they be known as a new and distinctive community that is neither Jewish or pagan.  This is an intra-church…intra-Christian dispute – whether the traditions of Judaism, or those things that distinctively mark Jews as Jews, should be forced upon the Gentile converts.  Paul is having to defend his apostleship as he is challenged by unidentified Jewish-Christian teachers going around telling the new converts, formerly pagans, that they need to be circumcised and to observe other elements of Jewish ritual and law in order to truly stand in God’s covenant.

As you might guess, Paul will have none of this…in fact, as only Paul can do, he brings a message of radical grace that stands apart from works of the law.  Paul will go toe-to-toe with these individuals who claim the necessity of law observance in the name of Jesus.  Paul diagnoses the problem as these individuals preaching a false gospel despite their use of Christian language.  In his letter to the churches of Galatia, we will see Paul provide for them a reinforcement of his previous teaching in the areas of their understanding of Jesus Christ, the importance of the Holy Spirit, and a renewed understanding of being one in Christ Jesus bound together in faith and love for this is what it means to be the church.

In Galatians, Paul defends the one true gospel – he is not cursing pagan outsiders for their unbelief…he is warning Christian believers against false teachers who use the language of the Christian faith but preach a false gospel message.  Paul claims that if the church is to bear witness to the gospel with integrity in “the present evil age” it must have the courage to not only understand these challenges but have the fortitude to speak out against those who deny the grace of God.

Grace and peace to each of you as we ponder the relevance for the church today in this challenging letter from Paul.

For Us!


Isaiah 9:2-7 (NIV)              Isaiah 9:2-7 (The Message)

I realize, as I remember Christmas’s past that although I scheduled this devotion for 6 a.m., some of you with little children may have awakened before 6 a.m.  God bless you!  Some day you will long for these days.  Now for the devotion.

It’s Christmas Day!  It’s a day to always remember that God is For Us, For the World, For the Light, Love, and Life that Christ Jesus brings!  God is For Us, Always!  God entered earth to begin the makeover of all the world into what brings peace, wholeness, grace and so much more.

“For a child has been born—for us!
the gift of a son—for us!
He’ll take over
the running of the world.
His names will be: Amazing Counselor,
Strong God,
Eternal Father,
Prince of Wholeness.
His ruling authority will grow,
and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings.”  (The Message)

Perhaps you prefer the more traditional language of the NIV translation.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.

That’s great news!  Celebrate the Savior’s birth this day. Live in joy, hold on to hope, and rejoice with the Angels.  “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord…

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”


The Magi

Matthew 1:18, 2:1-12 

The Christmas story is so fascinating in part because it has so many interesting stories that seem to stretch beyond the time and place of Bethlehem. What we see in the Christmas story is all those prophecies from long ago coming to life in a way that makes one go wow.  And to add another layer to this story, we see people from different walks of life, different social status and even nationality being part of it. The Christmas Story is indeed the Gospel Story, salvation will come and people, rich and poor, jews and gentiles will see it and each one will have a chance to come and receive what God has done for them.

What stands out about this story, is that some strangers, some wise men from the East, maybe astronomers or scientists of the day or maybe just some very wise men, get to see that salvation but some of the chief priests and teachers of the law miss it all together. They knew the signs and prophecies too, they even know where but still they miss seeing the salvation of God. While many things can be said about them, the main point of the story is salvation has come, and those that have an open heart will get to go to Bethlehem and see it.

I pray that this Christmas each one of us can pause in the middle of all of it, and let our mind travel back to Bethlehem and may we find that stable and let our hearts be captured by the joy that the Emmanuel brings again and again.

Merry Christmas,

Bo M.

Good News of Great Joy!


Today’s Passage:  Luke 2:1-20

For all people… So long ago the first to hear the message of Christ’s birth were the unlikeliest of people.  Has the Christmas message become one that is only heard within the walls of the church?

I got to thinking about this the other night when filling in for Micah for this year’s confirmation class.  The subject for the evening was the present Kingdom of God. We talked about what it meant to be a Christian in the present Kingdom while we await Christ’s second coming.

The birth of Christ is good news for all to hear…not just some.  Even centuries later, in a world that has it’s fill of little caesars and empires, Jesus is born for all – good news for all people.  Jesus’ kingly reign continues to break into our world today…when others hear the message of great joy…when the unlikeliest of people are lifted up with a genuine love that blasts away fear.  When strangers and outcasts are welcomed.  When reconciliation is on our lips.  When we go beyond the boundaries of the church building to feed the hungry, or clothe and shelter the poor.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ in the present kingdom we do so with an eye and a great hope for the day when Christ’s love, mercy, peace and hope will come in all its fullness.  In the meantime…“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”.  Who will you share the story of “good news of great joy for all the people” with this year?



What are you looking for?

Letter chart

Today’s Advent Passage:  Luke 1:67-80

In my Bible, this reading is labeled “Zacharias’ Benedictus.” The setting for this passage is that Zechariah was a descendent of a family of priests beginning with Aaron, brother of Moses. There were many of these priests, in twenty-four divisions (1 Chronicles 24), that officiated the Temple in Jerusalem twice each year for one week. Apparently, Temple priests had other jobs for the rest of the year. Only at the festivals (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles) did all priests serve at the Temple.

Both he and his wife, Elizabeth (cousin of Jesus’ mother Mary), were good Jews. Yet godly living is no guarantee or insurance policy against suffering and disappointment. They were childless and on in years.

Zechariah has this angelic vision (Lk. 1: 11-17) as people were praying while serving one of his weeks in the Temple. This vision entails Elizabeth giving birth to a boy, John. Zechariah couldn’t believe it (v. 18). Could you? He asks for a sign to confirm that his vision was from God and not because of something he ate or drank. God’s reply is to dumb his voice (v. 20) because of his unbelief, until the baby is born. God’s sense of humor – making a priest, His spokesman, unable to speak?!

After Elizabeth gives birth, they go to the Temple to have the boy circumcised (v. 59). At the ceremony, Elizabeth spoke the name “John” for the child’s name; all Zechariah could do was chalk “His name is John” (v. 64) on a piece of slate when they were asked what name was given to this child.

Immediately after this writing, Zechariahs’ ability to speak is restored. What he says in this reading ranks with the most exalted psalms in the entire Bible. It is a summary of the history of Israel’s prophetic experience with God (vv. 68-75) and their son’s role (vv. 76-79) in preparing Israel for it’s introduction of Jesus to the whole world.

Craig Randolph

The hand of the Lord…


Today’s Advent Passage:  Luke 1:57-66

What constitutes evidence “the hand of the Lord” is with us?

The births of John the Baptist and Jesus cry out the redemption only available by and through God.  The people, Israel, are suffering under the Roman empire and Herod.

Remember, Luke began his gospel with “in the days of King Herod of Judea” (1:5)…but God did not act through Herod.  Instead he chose to act through an elderly priest and his barren wife.  God was present in the midst of their oppression.

Do you sense the hand of the Lord in your life today?  How do you know God’s presence among the vast oppression we call life on earth?

Luke 1:39-45 – The other 364 days.

Luke 1:39-45

This passage is great. Mary and Elizabeth get together and unborn John the Baptist is super excited that unborn Jesus is around.  So much so that he starts jumping around all excited.  This time of year its pretty easy to focus on the gift we have in Christ.  Its a poignant reminder that we’re lost and He came to save.  Thats why our church will be filled to the gills next wednesday and again on Easter.  But what about all those other days that aren’t Christmas or Easter?  Are we really focused on worshipping the New Born King?  I know for me.. I trade my relationship with Jesus for all sorts of things.  My priorities and use of time often prove it.  What if we took a cue from the life of John and spent our whole lives excited about Jesus and pointing other to Him?

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