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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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Week 32 Devotional Blog (August 5-11)

Day 1

Zechariah 14

Zechariah concludes with an image of the future messianic Kingdom which includes the restoration of Jerusalem where people from all nations are gathering to live under God's rule and reign. It is God that will intervene ultimately and save them from their enemies and give them a safe place to dwell securely and flourish. this chapter paints a picture of people from the nations coming to Jerusalem and a stream of water flowing from the temple outward to heal the nations. It seems to point toward a salvation that is global in scope but which comes from and draws people to Israel.

This chapter, like all of Zechariah is filled with prophetic pictures that are difficult to fully understand or make sense of, but when taken together that seems to be part of the design. Zechariah is reflecting on history, making sense of Israel is in real time and prophesying regarding their future and things don't connect in a perfectly coherent way. There is a sort of chaotic nature to the flow of the book and it provokes a lot of head scratching moments... it's like life this way. And throughout each section, Zechariah is pointing beyond the chaos and confusion to a coming King and Kingdom that is for Israel and all who honor the covenant with the Lord.

He continually points beyond all layers of reality that we're taking in an trying to makes sense of, to the ultimate reality of God governing over all things, keeping his promises, moving history toward his determined climax. Nothing that seems out of control is, in fact, out of his control. He will bring Salvation. He will send a Savior. The hope of Israel for renewal and restoration is in something real and solid. And their hope is the the hope of the nations...

The Savior has come and he has brought salvation. Jesus has ushered in the Kingdom of God already, but it is not yet here in it's fullness. And so still we endure and live within the chaos and noise. Still our faith and hope are undermined and threatened by the difficulties and struggles we face, and by the sin that ravages us. It's easy for us to feel defeated and discouraged and to wonder if there is anything beyond the chaos, like Israel did. But we're reminded here that there is a larger narrative unfolding than just our individual lives. There is a grand story which God is authoring and which we are caught up in, which he will see through to completion.

In Zechariah's day they were anticipating the coming of the Messiah and the Kingdom he would bring. In our day we look to the Messiah who has come and inaugurated the Kingdom, and we live now as citizens of that Kingdom while we await it's consummation at the return of the risen and reigning Christ. And therefore, we have hope.

Day 2

Malachi 1

So Malachi is written a 100 years or so after the Jews have return from exile... the temple and Jerusalem have been rebuilt and Israel is a generation or more into rebuilding their lives. And their cycle of rebellion and corruption and idolatry is repeating itself. And through Malachi, God is confronting these things in Israel. There is a series things that God takes issue with, the first 2 of which are chapter 1.

He starts by reaffirming his love for Israel, which they question and doubt and ask for evidence of. "How have you love us?" is a not so subtle accusation from Israel of how God has failed to love them in their estimation. And so he reminds them of how he chose Jacob and established his covenant with him and his descendants, contrasting that with the Edomites which came through Esau, Jacob's brother. God essentially compares the blessing and faithfulness he's shown Israel throughout their history verses the Edomites whom he has left to themselves.

Then God confronts the people in general, and particularly the priests, for the quality of their sacrifices before the Lord. The people are offering sick, blind, and polluted animals in sacrifice to the Lord. The priests are accepting and facilitating such expressions of worship and God is very dishonored. Israel retorts with a sort of digruntled, "nothing-is-good-enough-for-you", self-pity. And God doesn't soften his stance. He refuses to accept their worst as legitimate worship. He reaserts his worthiness of their best.

So, taken together, these first two points in Malachi are still essential for our own worship of God. Our frustrations and sufferings drive us to a place of forgetting God's faithfulness and despising his blessing by our "what have you done for me lately" attitudes. We get overwhelmed and confused by life and so easily and readily put God on trial in our own hearts, presuming to judge him and his expressions of love to us. On this side of the cross, we still have the audacity to ask God how he has shown his love for us, diminishing or dismissing outright Christ and him crucified, to say nothing of the many other things God does to show his love to us.

And in the same way, we disregard God in our hearts, living for our own pleasures and our own appetites while maintaining religious practices, and call that worship. We start thinking that begrudging church attendance, or obligatory giving, or stale Bible reading are forms of our worship which God is luck to have and entitles us to something of his favor and blessing. We live for ourselves 90% of the time, without any awareness of God's hand on us or presence with us, and think we're doing him a solid by our occasional spiritually oriented activities.

Worship is not about outward forms. It's about heart affections. Worship is when our lives are shaped by the worth of something. And when our expressions of worship are mere afterthoughts, moments squeezed into the narrow margins of our busy schedules, leftovers of our crowded lives, the worth of Christ is displayed clearly. When we fit worship into the periphery, it reveals the peripheral nature of God's place in our hearts. But when our lives orbit around Jesus it demonstrates the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.

I wonder if he fits into and around your life... or if your life calibrate around and bends to him? It's worth considering. Let's remember the gospel... the precious blood of Christ, the perfect, spotless lamb, slain for the sin of the world because of God's love for the world... his love for you. And let's respond by giving him our best and not our leftover or expendable parts.

Day 3

Malachi 2:1-16

God's rebuke of the priests continues into chapter 2, where He makes a point to reiterate his covenant with Levi, which is the tribe of the priesthood. He emphasizes the life giving and peace bringing nature of faithfulness in the Lord's service, which is rooted in a fear of the Lord, which the priest's of that day have forsaken.

Priests are to teach people the ways of the Lord and lead them into life with God. But thse priests have approached their responsibiltiies and role cavilierly and casually. They have nurtured a environment of flippancy and nonchalance in worship, and a culture of relativism in their doctrine. They teach and emphasize what is convenient, rather than what is true. They lead people towards comfortability rather than toward uprightness. And God is displeased.

Additionally, God brings charges of treachery against the men of Israel, citing their marriages to foreign wives which created an on ramp to idolatry, and the growing trend of divorcing their wives without legitimate grounds. So God is disgusted with their proclivity to enter into marriage unwisely and to end marriage unlawfully. They are perpetuating unfaithfulness to their covenant with the Lord, and unfaithfulness to the covenant of marriage.

Behind both of these charges is a serious warning for two things plaguing Christians today: flippancy in worship and flippancy marriage. These are not problems outside the church. These are major problems in the church. Far to many churches approach worship and the ministry of the word with flippancy. Leaders get caught up in the consumer culture, more concerned with being cool and entertaining and funny, than with biblical seriousness and spiritual reverance. We want people to be comfortable with us and each other more than right with God. That's a real problem. That kind of church culture is common and corrosive.

As it relates to marriage, we enter into it far to casually and end it far to readily. It's not hard for people to find reasons to be dissatisfied in marriage. But it should be a lot harder for Christians, and Christian pastors in particular, to find reason to affirm divorce. Marriage is a battlefield for the enemy because God created marriage to be something of a visible representation of the gospel. Satan wants to maim that image, and our sinful hearts are inclined to cooperate with him. But this is why marriage must be preserved and protected with all vigilance. It's not about us and our convenience and happiness. It is about Jesus and his beauty and glory.

One of the discouraging trends I see with Christians in marital difficulty is the creativity and diligence in expanding the categories of biblical justification for divorce. There is so much pain and destruction in dysfunctional marriages, but the degree of a person's hurt or depth of their distrust cannot be the determining factor in whether we affirm or encourage divorce. We need more creativity and diligence within the Church to expand our reasons to stay married, beyond our own convenience and hopes for future happiness. We need to recover a gospel-centered purpose for protecting the covenant of marriage. We need to remain in disappointing marriages for the sake of Jesus.

There are a lot of layers to this topic and I'm not addressing them all here because the text doesn't... the text is simply re-establishing the seriousness of the covenant of marriage and the need for our recovering the seriousness with which we enter into marriage and the seriousness with which we guard the permanence of marriage. And let's not ignore that it's the men Malachi is specifically addressing, and the men who who bear primary responsibility before the Lord. So, men, marital seriousness and covenant faithful must start with us.

One last thought on this from v. 15... talking about God making 2 people into 1 through marriage, he poses the question, "what is it that God was seeking to accomplish through their oneness?" (my rephrasing) And the answer provided is surprising... GODLY OFFSPRING. God is seeking, through Christian marriage, a Christ-exalting next generation. God is giving us in one short statement here a non-selfish and transcendant purpose to fight for marriage and an obvious reason we should avoid divorce at all costs. And all the studies and information on children of divorce or children in single parent households confirms the wisdom of God in Malachi 2.

Divorce ravages kids. Divorce has a toxic, destructive and fragmenting effect on the souls and lives of the next generation. It undermines faith and creates barriers for belief in Jesus, particularly when those divorced spouses are Christians. Sustained marriage is a life-giving, stabilizing force in the life of kids. Parents remaining married significantly shapes the lives of the next generation, reinforces faith, nurtures family health in the future generation, and produces on balance the generational blessings of much greater joy, career success, educational advancement, and relational health, and spiritual fulfillment. That doesn't mean anyone's kids are doomed through divorce or gauranteed anything by parents who remain married. But divorce makes things much harder in every way for the next generation while marriage make things easier and more fulfilling.

Day 4

Malachi 2:17-3:15

In this section, God brings two more charges against Israel which certainly translate to our own day.

The first is how they have wearied him and tested him and worn out his patience with the upside down nature of their categories. They are looking at people doing wicked and presuming they're good. This reminds me of Isaiah, when God says "woe to you who call evil good and good evil." God is provoked when we promote, cheer on and celebrate things that are sinful and evil in his sight. And as we fight and contend to legitimize and normalize that which is illegitimate and against God's design, we will eventually reach the anger portion of God's slownness to anger. And that's what is happening hear. They are accommodating and affirming those who do evil as if they are under the smile of God.

The categories of good and evil are real and they matter. The categories of morally pure and immoral are real and they matter. The categories of holiness and righteousness are real and they matter. And the categories of sin and rebellion are real and they matter. And all those categories are not culturally defined, they are biblically defined. They are established by the Sovereign God not the historical context or the dominant moral instincts of the time and space in which we live. God's people are to be a morally serious people who humbly but courageously maintain biblical categories, and who steadfastly and winsomely identify what belongs within those categories.

Israel is muddying the waters everywhere, or just creating their own moral concoction and God declares his judgment on them for doing so.

The second issue God brings up here, is that they are robbing Him, through their withholding of tithes and offerings. They are skimping on their giving, and keeping for themselves part of what belongs to God who has generously given to them everything they have. And with judgement in the wind, God offers a way out and even pleads with them to return to Him. And they're back is through repentance, which God defines as an active turning away from their faithfless practice of hoarding, to the obedient practice of tithing.

Repentance is not just an admission of guilt internally or verbally, but a visible re-alignment with God's commands. God even addresses their fear and insecurity underneath their disobedience, and invites them to test Him. Walk in faithfulness in this area and see if He doesn't rain down blessing. Give to Him what is required of them and see if he does not provide generously for their needs.

What we're seeing here is not God's promise to give us an amount of money commensurate with what we give to him. The natural direction of life in a fallen world is decay and death. Because of sin, creation rages against the dominion of man. Satan rules this world on the principle of devouring and destroying. Things don't naturally get healthy, they naturally bend toward unhealthy. But that's all out of step with God's original design, where life flourished and our labor led to life. And he's essentially telling us that if we lean toward the operating principles of the world, rather than according to the Kingdom of God, then we'll suffer the effects of the operating system of the world.

However, if we'll live by faith in line with the operating system of His Kingdom, then we will experience the super-reality of the Kingdom. And in the Kingdom economy, generosity doesn't deplete our resources, it actually multiplies our resources. And he's saying live as if that were true at your moment in history, and see if he won't provide graciously and abundantly. It's not so much a promise of obedience and reward, as much as it's an invitation to live under his rule and reign, which gaurantees his provision and protection. It's not a way to accumulate wealth, it's a way into life with God and the security and assurances He personalizes to everyone of us who walk by faith.

These two areas remain significant for us today. We're still tempted to and pressured to categorize things in our world according to the values system of the world. And we're still tempted to earn, to keep and to spend resources, rather than to receive, to give and to steward them for God who owns everything. And our way forward into a richer experience of God's presence and blessing is still through repentance and faith and obedience.

Day 5

Malachi 4

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