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Week 1 Devotional Blog (Dec. 30-Jan. 5)

Happy New Year to everyone and welcome to 2019!

The last 3 months of 2018 I failed to keep up with my devotional blog as life and ministry took some turns. I assure you I didn't stop reading my Bible, I just had less time to write and reflect through this particular medium. That said, I intend to re-start and maintain this pattern for 2019. So, let's get to it...

Day 1

Introduction: Having spent portions of the last three years preaching through John's Gospel, and most recently spending over 4 months walking through John 11-17, it's interesting to see John's application and fleshing out of so much of what Jesus said and taught, particularly in the private moments of the upper room discourse with his disciples. I said, and do still believe, that so much of what John writes here in his epistle, is making practical and personal sense of Jesus' claims and commands, with the help of the Holy Spirit. So, as we walk through this letter, I'm thinking of it as John expounding and elaborating on Jesus' teaching and applying it to the life of the church.

1 John 1:1-4

This is a rather breathtaking introduction or re-introduction to Jesus, depending on your prior exposure or understanding. I imagine the Apostle, so many years ago, decades past Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension, and he's penning this letter for the building up and shaping of the church, as some of the last apostolic content to be circulated... and he's as convinced as ever about who his friend, Jesus, was and is and the essentialness of knowing him as he is for the sake of our own lives.

Jesus is from the beginning... He has always been. He has always existed. He is eternal. There is no time which precedes Jesus. Which means he is God. This is why John, and the other NT writers, use the term "appearing" or "manifest" in relation to Jesus' incarnation and life. Because Jesus didn't come to be at some point in history, Jesus was presiding over history and simply revealed himself in time and space. That's what John testifies to here...

So when he speaks of Jesus and his life and ministry and teaching, he is speaking of the very life of God, the ministry of God and the teaching of God, concerning reality itself. And he is talking about something he and the other apostles saw visibly, heard audibly, touched physically... meaning he is not talking about spiritual, ethereal, mystical ideas. He is talking about spiritual realities, yes, but they are spiritual realities which ground our understanding of and engagement with the physical universe we inhabit. So these ultimate truths and spiritual realities are not detached from our everyday lives, but rather they are embedded within our everyday lives and they anchor us in our everyday lives if we will view life properly through this filter and adjust accordingly.

John is telling us about life and reality from the perspective of God, revealed in and through Jesus, so that we can align our hearts and minds and lives according to their original and ultimate design. We can't experience life the way God intended until and unless Jesus is at the center. That's where real life begins... when we actually enter into life with God, through faith in Christ.

And life with God means fellowship and intimacy and closeness to the Father, the Son and to all those who are also in fellowship with the Father and Son through faith. When we enter into life with God, we're entering into life with God's people, necessarily. There is no life with God that does not include life with God's people. And any attempt to live life that way is at odds with the life God has invited us into.

Brothers and sisters, this is so important... we can't experience life with God and remain disconnected from God's people. Trying to live and grow as a Christian without being meaningfully involved in a local church is like wanting to get paid for a job you won't do. I'm not saying church is a job or that maturity in Christ is earned, but their is a causal relationship between experiencing deep community and walking faithfully with Jesus. Lone-wolf Christianity, or church-on-the-periphery Christianity, are incongruent and incompatible with real Christianity. To be in Christ is to be a member of Christ's body, the church. And to live as a disembodied member of Christ's body is to harm oneself and the body of Christ severely.

That's why John is writing the things he writes in this letter... he wants us, as members of Christ's body, to know Christ personally and collectively. And he wants us to know how to live in the reality of Christ together so that we can all flourish and that God's mission to rescue and redeem His lost sons and daughters advances through us. And John says that's where his joy and the joy of the apostles is found... in connecting us to the ultimate reality which God has revealed in Jesus, and invited us all into through Jesus.

Prayer:

Father, as this new year begins, would you reveal yourself more powerfully to me and to us as a church than ever before. Help us to see and experience the reality which John witnessed personally and testified to joyfully for our sake. There are many things I want and feel a need for, right now. I have tons of competing desires within my heart. But I confess that my greatest need today, and this year, is and will be to see you more clearly, to know you more deeply, to walk with you more intimately, and to depend on you more desperately. Give me a deeper, richer, fuller experience of life with you this year, I pray. And I ask that you would do that through my deepening relationships with and commitment to your body, the church family you have called me to at Generations. Unite us in our love for you, and for each other, and do among us what only you can do. I ask all this on the basis of Jesus' perfections and for the sake of Jesus' glory in and among us. Amen.

Day 2

1 John 1:5-10

Yesterday we saw that conscious faith in Christ unites us to Jesus, to the Father and to all those who share that same faith in Christ... In these verses John is telling us the essential character of the fellowship we've been brought into. It's a fellowship of Light, because it's a fellowship created by the God who is light and the God gives light, and God in whom there can be no darkness.

John is telling us that our fellowship with God and one another is one of honesty, openness, safety and truth... a fellowship without deceit, hiddenness, fear, and uncertainty. The gospel gives us permission, and even compels us to see ourselves as we really are, at our absolute worst, and to be honest with ourselves and others about our true selves... that is the bleak backdrop against which God's grace and the gospel shine the brightest. When we diminish our sin and guilt and need, we diminish the grace and mercy and provision of Christ.

So a fellowship of light celebrates the total goodness of God to guilty sinners, with the total depravity of each member in full view. There is no need in a community formed by the gospel to hide, pretend, fear or impress... we each bring our need and weakness and moral guilt, and the empty hands of faith while God brings His sovereign and rescuing grace to every one of us, and we're all remade and refreshed by him... None of us has anything to prove or defend. We just come in utter depenedency and desperation to God, and we daily return and remain in that place, so that we can get our lives back from Him who gave His own life for us.

The only way we continue to experience the grace of God and live in the felt love of God and enjoy connection and belonging among the people of God is to continue to confess our sin and weakness and unbelief to God... to repent and believe again and again in the finished work of Jesus. We savor the sweetness of God's kindness and we taste and see the goodness of the Lord only as we receive him continually on his terms... through the empty hands of repentance and faith.

We fear that honesty about our limitations and failures, and admitting or exposing our own weakness will isolate us from people and leave us alienated. But John is confronting that wretched belief and giving us a new thought that makes no sense to our natural mind. He's saying that being real and honest about ourselves and with others is actually the doorway through which we travel in order to find rich fellowship with God and life giving connection with others. 1 John 1:5-10 is the basis for a social environment characterized by the Gospel, Safety and Time. That's what we're called to cultivate personally, create collectively, and protect vigilantly.

Prayer:

Father, let me never grow tired of seeing myself as I am so that I always have the lens through which I can see you as you are. Don't let me obscure your grace by diminishing my guilt. Let me always delight to bring myself in total dependency to you and let me always resolve to walk openly with my brothers and sisters that surround me. Give me the commitment and courage and humility to be known truly, so you can be seen clearly, rather than to grope after impressiveness. Let me be content and glory in the fact of weakness and need before you, so that your provision for my need to draw others to you. Amen.

Day 3

1 John 2:1-6

Continuing in the thought stream from yesterday, this is so counter-intuitive. John seems to indicate that his emphasis on our need to identify and confess our sin is the catalyst to our putting sin to death. In other words, the more we acknowledge our sin, the less we will sin. Sin draws it's life from hiddenness and pretense, and it's power is diminished and defeated when it is brought into the light. Everything in me fears talking about my sin, and wants to downplay sin, and thinks sins greatest harm will be done when others know about it...

But again, the truth John is teaching us is that it's in our admission of sin that Jesus' defeat of sin is personalized... his righteousness is applied to us, when our unrighteousness is owned by us. We live in the reality of Christ's atonement for our sin, only when we bring ourselves under the covering of his atonement. To receive and live in the benefits of union with Christ, we must exercise and keep exercising the instruments given to us to be joined to Christ... and that's conscious repentance for personal moral sin and guilt, and the empty hands of awakened faith in Jesus Christ alone and his completed work... that's the basis, and the only basis, of our life with God.

The next few verses connect us to the fruit of repentance and faith. That's how we must walk continually before the Lord and as we do, it will produce a visible holiness of life. We will keep growing toward Christlikeness, imperfectly but observably, as we remain in a posture of repentance and faith toward Jesus, and submission and openness to God's Word. It's through gazing into the living word of God and beholding the risen Son of God that we come to experience the fullness of life with God... His love and grace and presence and power are increasingly realized and personalized to anyone of us who will continually adjust their life to Him.

Prayer: Lord, than you for giving me the righteousness of Jesus... for applying the perfections of your son to a wretch like me, so that I too could be your son. I rejoice in your holiness, and the holiness of Jesus that has made me holy. I give thanks for the righteousness of Jesus that has made me righteousness before you... and I ask you know to help me embody today the holiness and perfections which have already been applied to me through Christ's blood. Let me actually walk in a manner worthy of Him today. I am utterly unable to walk uprightly before you and yet you have given your Spirit to do the impossible in me... so I submit myself today to your Spirit, in the hopes that I might walk, by His power, as Jesus walked by the same power. Amen.

Day 4

1 John 2:7-14

v. 7-11 - John has spoken about keeping God's commandments, without specifying any one commandment. Then he says he's writing "no new commandment, but an old commandment..." However, there is newness in the old commandment, which he says, we've had from the beginning. So what is new in the reiteration of the old commandment? Jesus.

Before the life and ministry of Jesus, the impact of God's commands condemned us. The law of God was an albatross around our neck weighing us down because of our inability to keep it and even our inclination to reject it. But in Jesus, that weight is lifted... his fulfillment of the law on our behalf removes the accusation of the law which fosters resentment in us, and instead reveals the goodness which motivates our obedience. The grace we receive in and through Jesus allows us to see the beauty of the law and the joy of obedience without the threat of condemnation hanging over us.

John is saying that the reality of Jesus, and life with God through faith in Jesus, allows us to see the commands of God as they really are... as a pathway into the fullness of life. Jesus frees us from the demands of God so we will actually desire God... only the gospel can bring this kind of clarity to our confusion, and only the gospel can generate the obedience which the law requires but can never produce. Grace gives us the ability to see God's heart for us, and the power to walk in step with God's design for us.

v. 12-14 - I just would emphasize here, John's identification of three distinct stages of development, and the responsibility we bear in those stages. More seasoned people (not old people) seem to be responsible to maintain a proper perspective. They are to be steadfast and unflinching and reassuring during the uncertanties of life, grounded in truth and not swayed by emotions.

Young men are to allow their fighting spirit to drive their spiritual engagement... to wage war against sin, to stand firm against temptation and accusation, to be bold and courageous in their faith. They are to be on the front lines of spiritual battle and giving energy and force to representing and advancing the kingdom fo God.

Children are to be rooted in the simplicity of the gospel, and in the centrality of God's glory, and in the love of the Father... their identity in Christ. These seem to be areas of emphasis for these different stages of life and development which are worthy of our consideration and cultivation.

Day 5

1 John 2:15-17

These 3 verses are so loaded with insight that we would never come to on our own. We deeply resist taking these words as seriously as we should, especially when considering the stark picture they paint…

v. 15 is an outright rejection of our morally ambiguous culture. John is not speaking of outward behaviors, but internal affections, and he’s saying that what we cherish and value, and the hierarchy of what we cherish and value is morally charged. The notion that all loves, values and affections are incidental or acceptable or equally valid is categorically false. The idea that our attraction to whoever or impulse for whatever is acceptable or legitimate, is outright denied. To love that which is in the world and internal to us which is not of the Father, is evidence that we have not yet encountered the fullness of the Father’s love.

The connection here is powerful. John is saying that the Father’s love, while it is unlimited in measure toward us, is limiting in it’s impact on us… we can’t love the Father and live under the love of the Father without hating other things. In some sense, the worldly conception of love is exactly the opposite… the world’s version of love is broadly applied but heavily conditioned. The world hates the idea that loving God would keep us from affirming anyone else in their life and choices. Love, they say, should cause us to endorse everything. And only thing we can’t endorse for anyone is the withholding of their endorsement of someone. Love, God’s word says, demands the rejection and repudiation of a great many things in order to love him and that which he loves.

v. 16 goes on to explore the love of the world more specifically… John says the love of the world consists in what we are drawn to physically and visually as well a emotionally… It’s about what indulges my appetites, what captures my eye, and what makes me feel better about me. If our lives and the lives of others are about the pursuit of self and indulgence of self than they are inherently opposed to the Father.

v. 17, John says it’s temporarily satisfying but ultimately hollow. Sin and self has it’s moments of pleasure to be sure, but it also always has a gotcha. The love of the world is the preference of corrupted versions of what comes from the Father over and against what actually comes from the Father and leads us into life with the Father.

John is telling us to pay careful attention to what we ascribe worth and value to; what we pursue and chase after; what we cherish and hold dear; what we long for and orient our lives toward. Our affections are never morally neutral or without consequence. What we love will determine the direction and trajectory of our lives, and as v. 17 tells us, of our eternity. There is life that leads to life and life that leads to death.

Day 6

1 John 2:18-25

In this passage John is writing to true believers in Jesus about those opposed to Jesus, though some of them identified as followers of Jesus. And he’s saying that real followers of Jesus keep following Jesus. Those who claimed to follow Jesus, even those who genuinely thought they were following Jesus, if they no longer follow Jesus were only ever following some version of Jesus they developed or customized for themselves. To encounter the real Jesus in a saving way is to be bound to Jesus for eternal life. But there is a kingdom of darkness that hates Jesus and wants to undermine peoples faith in Jesus and one of the chief ways he does that is not just to rage against Jesus but to counterfeit Jesus. The spirit of antichrist is in the world to cause people to settle for a version of Jesus that actually centers on the self in a way that ruins them for the real Jesus who calls us to crucify the self in order that his life may take root in us.

John is provoking an urgency for those who are true believers, those in whom the Spirit of Jesus is alive and well, pleading with them to be diligent and vigilant about their pursuit of Christ… he’s reminding us that a peace time mentality is a danger to our souls because we live at a time with war raging all around us and within us and to passively exist in that war leaves us vulnerable to the enemies attacks. Though satan and his efforts cannot undermine our salvation, by making us indifferent regarding our salvation, he can undermine our fruitfulness and faithfulness. So, let’s live right now, this day, in the present alive to the future we have with the Father for all eternity… let’s live in the darkness of this moment by the light of our eternal reality.

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Thinking Biblically About Thanksgiving

"For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." - Romans 1:21

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I’m not sure of all the reasons why, but it definitely has something to do with the menu and football. I am also pretty certain that the minimal consumeristic exploitation of the holiday has something to do with it.

Obviously, there is no such thing as a non-commercialized holiday in the American calendar, because finding a way to monetize everything is part of our national ethos. But as far as our holidays go, Thanksgiving has been the least hijacked by our materialism.

Perhaps Turkey Day has been overlooked by market forces because it’s sandwiched between the crowned jewels of the retail industry, Halloween and Christmas. But the bottom line for me is that it’s an almost stand-alone day that is intended for food, family, friends, and the simple, essential, and yet far-too-often neglected practice, of reflection.

When the Apostle Paul described the decadence and opulence which surrounded first-century Christians in the Mediterranean world, he traces the godless corruption, pagan practices, and sexual deviancy back to the some unsuspected roots of individual ingratitude and indifference, writ large.

Or said differently, Paul's evaluates an anything-goes, ancient, mainstream culture that included things like temple prostitutes and violent combat for sport, and he's making the claim that, of all things, thanklessness and thoughtlessness about God going viral. Paul may be wildly out of touch and hyper religious, but let's pretend he's a credible voice for now and at least explore how this could be true.

In Paul's theology, the heart of sin is a disregard for God; a willful ignoring of that which deserves and demands our attention; a refusal of the smallest expression of our rightful allegiance. And because Satan is the enemy of our souls, the least obvious and intrusive advancement of his agenda, is to keep us distracted from Jesus and discontent with any and every aspect of our lives.

Brothers and sisters, this means that neither ingratitude nor indifference toward God are morally neutral categories. God is not unaffected by our ungratefulness, nor is he indifferent toward our indifference. A vague awareness of God without a particular mindfulness of and appreciation for God is inherently dishonoring to God. He is honored only when our hearts are provoked to a conscious relief and joy and gratefulness to Him for all that He is and all that He does. Anything less than that is sin having it’s way in and through us. Indifference is not stagnancy or status quo. Directionally speaking, even our inattention toward God is moving us away from him and the life He's created and saved us to experience.

Indifference is not really any better than ingratitude. It's just passive ingratitude. And both are contrary to thankfulness, which is one of the most forceful commands in all of Scripture when weighted by the sheer frequency of the imperative in it's various forms.

“Praise the Lord!” 

“Rejoice in the Lord!” 

“Give thanks to the Lord!”

All of these are different ways of commanding thankfulness. And anytime God commands something we can be sure it is both a moral good and a non-normal human trait. Gratitude, therefore, is unnatural. Thankfulness is non-instinctual. The tide of the human heart always pulls powerfully toward grumbling, complaining and discontent. That’s why over and over again, God implores us to intentionally nurture in our own hearts, and to consciously cultivate in our own communities, an attitude of appreciation for the Lord, and a clear sense of our indebtedness to the Lord, for the full range of His goodness and grace to us.

Paul is making the case that if a culture can be accurately characterized by the extreme moral categories of evil, wickedness and corruption, it can be traced back to the very ordinary, acceptable and ignored sins of thanklessness and thoughtlessness.

For a culture to slide into utter moral degradation, Paul is warning us that it only requires a high enough concentration of individuals within that culture to be characteristically ungrateful toward God. We don't know what number or percentage of people tip those scales within a given social environment, but we can easily determine that each person will contribute to the overall movement of a culture on the moral continuum. We will each either drift with the worldly and fleshly tide away from godliness, or we will swim against that powerful pull of godlessness, toward a better future together.

If we take Paul's connections seriously here, than it radically intensifies our engagement with Thanksgiving as a holiday, but it highlights our much greater need for thanksgiving as a way of life.

I wonder which one more aptly characterizes you. I know I'm ashamed to consider for a moment how compulsively and chronically I tilt my own family, community and social environment toward the tragedy of Romans 1. If you're with me in that, then here is our next best opportunity to reverse the trend and swim against the tide. We can thank God right now, for his grace to us, in Jesus, which anticipated our pathological discontent and gave us something to be grateful for even at our worst... and that's the Jesus has already paid the price that our sin demands and absorbed the shame, humiliation and embarrassment for our pervasive cynicism and narcissism.

Repentance is the real beginning to thankfulness. An act of faith in which we simultaneously acknowledge our failure and receive the gracious gift of God's forgiveness and His generous provision of a way forward, free from bondage to our indifference and ingratitude.

As Christians, we also know that we're in need of God's mercy even at our best. And as we live with a consciousness of that, our personal character and our relational culture is to become normatively defined by thankfulness to the Lord. This requires an other worldly, unearthly intervention.

We need the supernatural rescue of the Holy Spirit to make us constantly, or at least consistently, mindful of and oriented toward that which God has done and is doing in our world and on our behalf. And we need the moment-by-moment, Spirit-empowered will to choose to live in the light of those realities, rather than in the darkness of the lesser realities, such as unpleasant circumstances or uncomfortable situations in which we inevitably find ourselves.

Thanksgiving, friends, can be a one-day break from our normal malaise toward God; a one-day blip that socially sanctions sentimentality. Or, it can be a supernaturally-charged reminder of what is to be ordinarily descriptive of us as God’s people; a day that gives us a hyper-concentration on what should be normal among us every day. Maybe, with God's help, this Thanksgiving can be more than a national holiday. Maybe it can be more of a declaration of war against the kingdom of darkness. And maybe we can enter the fray and stay in the trenches year 'round.

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Week 35 Devotional Blog (August 26-Sept. 1)

Day 1

Romans 5:12-21

Paul lays out the doctrine of original sin in these verses, which is that we are all guilty and sinful by nature because of the guilt of Adam which has marked us all. He stood in our place, as the representative head of humanity so that when he rebelled against God in the garden, he brought condemnation not only upon himself but upon us all. Our sinful nature alone is enough to bring condemnation upon us because we compulsively and chronically diminish God and inflate self. We're sinful to the core.

The law came later through Moses to help clarify that reality. Sin and death still dominated the human story from Adam forward. But the Law came through Moses to clarify and amplify our guilt... that we do make sinful choices all the time, which confirm the sinful instinct. We need forgiveness for those choices, but we also need rescue from the condition itself. The law helped us to see how obvious and pervasive our sinfulness is, and how desperate the situation is. We need rescue. We need redemption. We need deliverance. We need a Savior.

But here is the larger thrust of the passage... Paul is contrasting the first Adam and the second Adam... showing us how Jesus came to reclaim all that Adam forfeited, and how Jesus came to make right all that had gone wrong since Adam. So just as sin came into the world through Adam and all were judged, in Adam, so grace and mercy have come through Jesus and his perfections, and all who identify with him by faith are justified through him. Sin and death entered through the rebellion of one man, but how much more, Paul says, has life has forgiveness and life come to us through the righteousness of the greater man.

Where Adam stood in our place and asserted his will, Jesus stood in our place and surrendered his will to the Father. Where Adam stood in our place and unleashed chaos into God's order, Jesus stood in our place and restored order to the chaos we've created. Where Adam stood in our place and elevated himself above God, Jesus stood in our place and denied himself though he is God. And where Adam's sin put blood on our hands, Jesus' blood has washed us clean. Jesus is the true and better Adam.

But the only way we get all the benefits of Christ and identification with us, is to identify with him and receive his grace by faith. Jesus doesn't force himself upon us. But he offers himself fully to us. He took resposnibility to be our representative before God, so that we could receive, not just forgiveness for our sin, but the record of his righteousness. Just as Adam's guilt came upon us, so Jesus' holiness and perfection has been gifted to us. And we will either walk in the living deadness brought upon us by Adam, or we will walk in the deadness to sin and aliveness to God which Jesus has secured for us.

Day 2

Romans 6:1-14

So, Paul continues to voice and respond to the anticipated questions which people bring to the gospel. And Romans 6 confronts the most obvious question when faced with free grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus for our forgiveness and justification. Because the sinful condition is so deeply embedded in the core of our being, we immediately respond to the idea of grace with the thought that now we can really get to sinning. If we've already received grace to cover our sin, why not let sin run wild? And Paul emphatically and unequivocally rejects that notion.

The real grace of Jesus is neither an endorsement of sin or permissiveness to live for your own fleshly pleasures and impulses. The cross isn't God's wink at our wickedness. Calvary isn't Christ's willingness to die for our sin so we could remain in the deadness of our sin. Calvary is the infinitely costly price Christ paid for deadness to sin and newness of life free from the rule of sin. Our identification with Christ through faith, expressed through the ordinance of baptism, is the exchange not of an old life of guilt for the old life with no guilt... it's the exchange of the old life for a new life altogether.

Grace as an earthly idea enables our sin. Grace as a spiritual reality frees us from sin. If our understanding of grace excuses us to keep living for sin and self, it only demonstrates that we have not yet encountered the reality of grace. Of course we will still sin after receiving newness of life in Jesus, but our tolerance for our sin and sensitivity to our sin should be forever recalibrated so that where sin remains in us, we are actively and aggressively struggling against it, by actively and aggressively pursuing obedience to Christ and oneness with Christ.

Newness of life in Christ is about a change of masters. Where sin was formerly our master and we were compelled to obey it's demands, we have come under the authority of Jesus, and are now driven to obey his commands. We have a new nature that desires to obey and follow Jesus, but we've lived in sin long enough to still retain some of those habits. We're developing new reflexes over time with the life of the Spirit in us, but we must consciously root out sin and our impulses to comply with the old nature.

It's like coming out of an abusive relationship and trying to learn a healthy way to live. Your instincts are all wrong. You don't know what normal is. You have to retrain your responses and interrogate your thoughts and assumptions, and you have to confront fears and insecurities, which the Spirit of God lives in you to lead you through. But we must keep renouncing the old identity and our allegiance to the old master as it tries to assert control over us, while reasserting our new identity and allegiance to the loving Lordship of Jesus.

Walking in newness of life is not a passive thing that happens to us, it's a willful and intentional surrender and obedience to Jesus, to war against the old man and live into the new man. The life of God's Spirit is in us to help us and see us through, but we must cooperate with his leadership and direction, moment by moment, and day by day, because we have an enemy within us competing for our desire and allegiance. We are in a constant battle and we need to gird our loins if we are to walk in and experience the victory which Christ has already won on our behalf.

Day 3

Romans 6:15-23

Paul says in v. 19 that he is "speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations..." He is using earthly metaphors to convey spiritual truths order to help his readers understand the transformation that has already happened to them because of Christ, so that they might actually walk in step with Christ. It's a reminder to me to pause, and to prayerfully consider the Scriptures as we read and study or are taught from the Bible, because this isn't another book for intellectual stimulation. This is about spiritual formation. This is about knowing the God who is there, and knowing ourselves as we really are and rethinking everything in light of the gospel.

And in this particular text, Paul is trying to help us see how we once lived as slaves to sin, obeying our selfish impulses and submitting to our natural inclinations. And the reason any of us has come to faith in Christ, is an awareness of where that was taking us and what that was leading to. In some sense, because of the life of the Spirit in us, we have come to an understanding at some level, that our lives were not what they were meant to be and we had no power to redirect them on our own. We were powerless to change ourselves.

But now, if you are indeed in Christ, that powerlessness is a thing of the past. We now have the power of the resurrected Christ working in us and through us to transform us. We are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to God. Meaning we belong to another, and are under the command of another. And the disconnect Paul is talking about is that we revert back to a slave mentality in relation to sin, while living as though we are free from the burden to obey God... as if obeying God is the burden and not obeying the flesh.

Paul is making the argument that everyday, essentially, you wake up, not as your own independent person, but as a slave with a master. And you will live as a slave to one of those masters. We will submit to some authority. And the idea of being our own authority is just submitting to sin by another name. Self rule is at the heart of sin. So, Paul's trying to get us to evaluate from just a logical perspective, what sin and self is producing in our lives... is it moving us in the direction of life, freedom, joy, wholeness, peace? or in the direction of death, frustration, brokenness, regret, selfishness, isolation, unrest?

We're talking about two totally different ways to live, rooted in two different mindsets, that come from two different understandings of who we are... and we're either going to see ourselves and live like those are bought with a price, or we will see ourselves and live as those who can make our own way in the world as the captains of our soul.

Day 4

Romans 7:1-12

Day 5

Romans 7:13-25

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Week 34 Devotional Blog (August 19-25)

Day 1

Romans 3:9-20

Paul continues his line of thought from last week, where he was telling the Jews why being a Jew is a great advantage and benefit when it comes to the gospel. After heling the Jewish part of his audience to see the gospel through a uniquely Jewish lens, he's back to the earlier issue of their sense of superiority. He anticipates the question in his readers doubling back to that issue... "So, you're saying we are better than the Gentiles now?"

And you can imagine Paul, like a person being interviewed on television and being misunderstood and misrepresented by the questioner, trying to impose their own idea on what he's saying, Paul is steadily addresing each progression of thought... and here, it's like he's staring into our hearts, going, "No, that's still not what I'm saying."

And he summarizes again, that both Jews and Greeks are under sin, guilty, deserving of God's judgement and in need of God's grace. He then quotes different parts of the OT to confirm in his own day and for every day what was true in the past, that there is nobody that can stand before God on their own merit or righteousness. All of us are sinners, having removed God from his throne, in our own minds and hearts, committing cosmic treason against him and trying to diminish his glory for our own self-enhancement.

Paul's point is that this game we play of comparing ourselves to each other, as if we can be right before God because I'm better in some sense than my neighbor in my own assessment. We tear others down and puff our chests out as if this impresses or fools God. But, it's a silly and stupid game. It's a sinful game in itself. The reality of sin and guilt in every one of us has levelled the playing field. We have no high horse on which to sit and elevate ourselves over anyone. There is no room for pride and arrogance and superiority in Christianity because the first principle of Christianity is your guilty and isnful and worthy of judgement and only the mercy and grace of a perfect substitute can make peace with God. If any of us stands right before God it is only because we've abandoned self-reliance in favor of faith in Christ's righteousness. So, there is no room for us to boast outwardly or even to feel superior inwardly. Christ is the only thing we have to boast in.

This is so important for us to understand and to return to again and again, because everything in us drifts toward pride. We war against that by letting the gospel bring us low in our own hearts continually, so that we might receive and abide in grace, which is the grounds of our salvation and sanctification.

We have only Jesus to appeal to. Nothing and no one else.

Day 2

Romans 3:21-31

Day 3

Romans 4:1-12

Day 4

Romans 4:13-25

Day 5

Romans 5:1-11

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Week 33 Devotional Blog (August 12-18)

Day 1

Romans 1:1-17

Paul's first officials sentence lasts 8 verses. That's classic Paul. There's so much just in the introduction, and reading more than 2-4 verses devotionally in Romans can be overwhelming because there is so much to think to about with seemingly every line.

In his greeting, Paul includes significant details about the content and nature of the gospel itself, and it's impact. In a day when more and more professing Christians and church leaders are embarrased by the Bible, undermining confidence in the Bible, and supposedly too smart to actually believe the Bible, Paul's statement in verse two is super important... about the gospel of God, Paul says "which He promised before hand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures..."

So, while many today want to unhitch from Christianity from the Old Testament, or dismiss and disregard the OT, Paul is reminding us that the truth and glory of the gospel was promised and foreshadowed and anticipated throughout the OT. When people question the reliability of the OT and the Bible, Paul is reinforcing the divine revelation and total trustworthiness of the Scriptures. He is showing us that with the challenge of misunderstanding and misinterpreting the OT in particular, we don't need to disown it, we need to more precisely and rightly teach it. Brothers and sisters, we need more confidence in the Word of God, not less. We need more understanding of the Word of God, not less. We need greater reliance upon the Word of God, not less. Paul's certainly advocating for the clarity, reliability, authority and sufficiency of Scripture, and we should too, for the sake of our own souls and for the sake of the world we've been sent to.

In addition to the Word of God, if we are to grow in Christ, we also need the people of God. Paul gives us a window into the function of being in the body of Christ in v. 11-12, where he expresses his desire to be with the church in Rome, to strengthen them and to be encouraged by them. Paul expects to receive life and strength from his brothers and sisters as well as to give life and strength to them. The church is unified and sustained by the mutual edification given to each other by each other. This is a simple but beautiful summary of what it means to function as a member of Christ's body, the Church.

This means that, like Paul, that when we gather as a church, either as a whole body such as on Sundays, or as smaller groups meeting informally in homes, we come with an openness to God's grace through his people and consciously seeking to impart God's grace to his people. We are not takers only. We are givers. We aren't consumers. We contributing members. We are all called to disciple one another toward Christ-likeness, and we do so with a heart and mind, attentive to God's Spirit, intentionally seeking to encourage one another through gospel reassurances and reminders.

I would love to see the heart Paul expresses in these two easily overlooked verses become normative for the heart of every church member at Generations. Who wouldn't want to be part of a culture where everyone is taking responsibility for the faith and growth of one another by looking for ways to encourage each other with and toward the truth of the gospel revealed in Jesus and through God's Word.

Let's give ourselves to this... let's be a people willing to receive and willing to give the encouragement and grace we all need.

Day 2

Romans 1:18-32

Oh, man, this passage has so much going on. The big emphasis though is on truth and error. In v. 18 we see that unrighteousness is the result of supressing truth. The description that follows is the progression of unrighteousness... the alternative to repentance and faith is to deepen the suppression of truth by ignoring God, and living as though He is not real and is not personally involved with us. Paul describes the hardening that takes place within our hearts to keep that up. It leads to fultility in our thinking and foolishness in our hearts, that begin to cement themselves as normative...

If we stay in that posture, we become worshippers of creation rather than the Creator, because we will have to be shaped by the worth of something, and if it's not God himself, it will be that which he has made. He goes on to characterize that as exchanging the truth of God for a lie... and he says that God will not force our hand, but he will give us over to the reality of what's in our heads eventually. He will let us experience the living deadness and darkness of life without him, on our terms, based on our assumptions and ideas. We can live in the lies we believe, the lies we nurture, the lies we export, so that we might yet come to see the truth as an ultimate treasure, not to be ignored, negotiated, or bargained for.

And when we still won't submit to him or align with reality as revealed by God and through Jesus, then Paul describes the perversions and distortions corruptions that leads to, not just at a personal level, but at a cultural level. And the scary thing for us is that Romans 1 describes so much of our culture and the current climate which we find ourselves in...

Look at the description of a persistently godless way of life on a massive scale in v. 26-31... this is the context we're living in. Which means we traded truth for lies a long time ago, and we've build our lives, and our communities, and our culture, and our morality, and our whole system on those lies while suppressing the truth. And God has been increasingly giving us over to our godlessness... not in the sense that nobody believes in God, but in the sense that our belief in God is according to our assumptions, and very few believe in God has he has revealed himself to be. So, it's led, as v. 32 makes clear, not just to the legitimization and normalization of so much darkness, but the celebration of that darkness, as though it were light.

This is the space we're living in. And it's the place every wealthy, powerful, decadent culture throughout history has gotten to. And it's God's wrathful removal of himself that allows us to descend there... and yet mercy is available to us. God is allowing us to experience life on our terms without him so that might taste the bitterness of that... there is always an invitation to repent and turn and renounce the lies on which we've built our own reality for oursevles, so that we can start living again in the reality of God's sovereignty, authority and glory revealed ultimately in and through Jesus.

I could expound on this text for a long time... but I'll stop here to ask some questions: are you building your life on lies or the truth of God according to His Word? Are you contributing to the lostness of our culture by reinforcing and celebrating that which is unrighteous and evil in God's sight. Are we bending life to God's truth, surrendering to his truth, aligning with His truth, or ignoring his truth? We are all either part of the problem and in revolution against God, or we are living under the rule and reign of God and in revolt against the kingdom of this world? Which is it for you...?

Day 3

Romans 2:1-11

So Paul connects all the godlessness of Romans 1 that we read yesterday and personalizes it to everyone of us. He basically outs us all and any pretense that we aren't complicit in the culture of wickedness at some level. As believers, we can look at the decadence and decay of our culture and have a judgemental posture toward those outside the church as though the problem is external to us and internal within us. I'm thinking again of Francis Schaeffer's statement that the biggest problem we face is never outside the church but inside the church...

Paul's reminding us pretty forcefully and unequivocally that we are always battling our own lies, and the biggest one may be that we're grounded always in the truth and uninfluenced by the culture around us. Paul is saying if you believe that than you're blind to what's really going on. We are always being influenced by the world around us, and we need to remain postured in repentance for small and distorted thoughts of God, for lies that we give authority, for the pride and superiority that thinks we have things ordered rightly and are immune from the deception that we're all vulnerable too, etc.

In Romans 2, Paul is confronting the ethnocentrism of the Jewish community which denigrated teh Greeks and saw Gentiles as the corrupting influence in the world, rather than taking resopnsibility for the corruption which is so obviously present in the Jewish community too. He's telling the Jews to stop elevating themselves above the Gentiles and seeing them as the enemy. He's telling them to stop elevating Jewish culture and denigrating Gentile culture and to reject both in favor of a Kingdom culture, where ethnic identity has no bearing on right standing with God.

God is leveling the playing field and flattening all of our man-made hierarchies. Our standing with God has nothing to do with status and culture and success and attractiveness and other surface level things which we value... He rejoices over integrity, righteousness, obedience and truth ordering our lives, regardless of external factors that we're so consumed by. He repudiates rebellion, pride, self-importance, and self-rule regardless of our external factors. God is not favoring Jews over Gentiles, or the rich over the poor, or the educated over the uneducated, or the social elites of the social anonymous, or republicans over democrats, or the young over the old or whatever classifications we assume and establish. He is concerned with the heart and character of our lives and whether we relate to him and ourselves and the world on the basis of faith in Christ's finished work, or whether we're operating on any other basis.

God is bringing us back to our shared status with all other people to remind us that, even as Christians, we are what we are by grace. The privilege of living under God's favor and experiencing his power and presence is nothign we've earned or deserved or achieved, so it should humble us into the dirt rather than make us superior toward those who have not yet come to a place of embracing Christ. Rather than hammer away at people or withhold dignity from them or treat them with superiority, we should be motivated by the grace we've received to see them through the lens of that grace and treat them accordingly. Paul is advocating for the witness of the church and our engagement with the world to be anchored in the reality of God's grace to us in Jesus, so his patience and kindness toward us would dictate our attitude and posture toward those who are even hostile toward us.

Day 4

Romans 2:12-29

Paul is deconstructing the sense of superiority which was deeply ingrained among ethnic Jews in the first century church. There is this idea that they are the real Christians because of their cultural identity and adherence to the Mosaic Law. But Paul starts by arguing that moral guilt and the penalty of sin is universal with or without The Law. He argues that even the Gentiles who had no law from God in the written sense, are still burdened by a guilty consience or a defensive instinct or both. There is an inner awareness of our guilt, even if the feeling is for the wrong things.

I think the point Paul is making is that whether you have God's Law as Israel did, or a social and cultural laws without divine weight, we all know we're not living up to even our own self-ideal, much less to the standard of a Holy God, and we feel the burden of our brokenness. The function of the Law, or any law, is that it accuses, condemns and judges us. Law is always on the attack. For example, there is a functional law for women in our culture that tells them they must be highly productive and successful in the workplace, physically attractive and in shape, very involved moms with wonderfully pleasant and high achieving kids, and a husband who adores her. There is some version of these unrealistic demands and expectation placed on women and they feel the pressure of these things and their inadequacy. They can't live up and even though plenty of these things aren't sinful at all, they feel guilty for what they aren't doing.

The same could be said of men in different areas. The point is that Gentiles felt their guilt before God even apart from the Law because their conscience bears witnes to them that they are broken. They may feel guilty for the wrong reasons, but that they are guilty is real. Israel is no better than them. Having received the Law has not made Israel obedient to that Law. Israel is clearer on what Holiness looks like and what fits in the category of sin perhaps, but that should only give them greater clarity of their own sinfulness, not elevate their sense of superiority.

The first century church has this pervasive problem of Jews trying to retain a place of privilege, and make Gentiles more Jewish, rather than more Christian. They have associated cultural endorsement with God's gracious favor and blessing on Israel. They keep returning to the badge of their Jewishness rather than the badge of their forgivenness through Christ. And Paul is telling them, and us, that God's choosing of them had nothing to do with their merit or intrinsic worthiness, but it was according ot his grace and kindness. To be a Jew, which is to be included among God's chosen people, is not in reality an ethnic right... God's people are those whose hearts embrace him on his terms, and who find their life and identity in his grace. True Israel is comprised of those who love God, through Christ, because of the life of the Spirit in them. There is no room for superiority or pride or self-enhancement in any of this, because it's only by grace that we belong to God...

The Gospel flattens everything so we can see God for who he is, and ourselves for who we are and see everyone else around us as on equal footing, so as to extend the same grace that we ourselves have received.

Day 5

Romans 3:1-8

So Paul, as he does often throughout Romans, anticipates the question from the text we read yesterday. Essentially, he asks, "if being ethnically and culturally Jewish doesn't actually land you inside True Israel, is there any benefit to being Jewish?" He knows that his readers have a sense of their identity and nationality playing playing an important role in both human history and redemptive history. But if it is not to be assured of place in God's family, what's the point... what difference does being Jewish make?

His answer is that there is great blessing and favor from God in their Jewish identity, because they have every reason to believe the gospel. Their culture and history and personal stories are thoroughly embedded in the ultimate reality of salvation. The cultural distance that 21st-century non-Jews feel from the world of the OT and the significance of Christ's fulfillment of the Law is lost on most people... their is a disconnect and fundmental lack of understanding of the glories of Christ which ought to be so poignant and personal for a Jew.

Specifically, Paul points out that being Jewish helps you understand the faithfulness of God, not because of Israel but despite Israel. Jews have a more accurate view of the cycles of sin and idolatry through their nation's history. Being Jewish, they understand the depth of their brokenness and the patterns of rebellion, and the desperate need for a Messiah to come... And being Jewish gives them a unique scope and depth of meaning to every aspect of the uniqueness of Christ as the provision for their need. The faithfulness of God to his promises, through the various layers of fulfillment by Jesus, is more clearly displayed and more deeply understood by those to whom His promises were made. Being Jewish gives you every reason to be a Christian and removes all kinds of hurdles which keep many from coming to Christ.

So, Paul argues that the unfaithfulness of Israel, which Jews are well acquainted with, is the backdrop to display God's faithfulness. And then he anticipates the follow up question... "that if God ordained unfaithfulness in us to display the undeserved faithfulness of God toward us, how can God hold us accountable for that unfaithfulness?" Or in other words, "if God is sovereign and he planned salvation but needed people to be sinners to need saving, then how can we be responsible for our sin?" Or said differently, "Isn't our sin God's fault and responsibility?"

Paul emphatically rejects that argument... that logic that would let ourselves off the hook and blame our unrighteousness on God. Paul even says this is the distortion many make of the gospel... that if you preach the grace of Christ for guilty sinners through the instrument of faith, my sin and brokenness are needed for God's grace to shine brightly. So I'm free to sin so that God's mercy might be made known... God's grace becomes an excuse for sinning. We don't need to take sin seriously, because our sin is needed for the display of Christ...

And Paul essentially lands the plane here... that within this human thought pattern is a sinful inclination to let ourselves off the hook and go easy on ourselves, and to shirk responsibility. And he just interrupts that idea and confronts it with this claim: that we are both simultaneously living under the sovereign rule and reign of God in real time and space, and we are repsonsible for the sin in us which renders us guilty. God is not unjust to hold us accountable for our lives.

He is sovereign in saving sinners and man is reponsible to receive that salvation or suffer the reality of remaining seprate from God.

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