Friday, May 29, 2020
Thursday, May 28, 2020
Note: Make sure to notice that today’s reading goes through 8:11. I have respected chapter boundaries so far, but I am making an exception.
Key verse: Romans 8:3
My daughter is terrified of having a splinter removed. I am not sure where she got the idea that it involves amputating her arm, but there is no removing it without lots of tears (sometimes she cries, too). The easiest thing for me to do would be to give her some Tylenol and keep it from hurting. No more pain, no more problem! Except the splinter would stay inside, an infection would fester, and a minor problem could become a significant one.
Like an intervention with an addict, sometimes the best approach to a problem is to make it clear. Muddling it and numbing the pain seems kind in the short term, but it is ultimately cruel. God never chooses the easy path over the loving one, and so we should not be surprised that He does not deaden the infection, but intensifies it until we are willing to have it removed.
God did not give people the Law to get them to Heaven; no amount of good work could ever cancel out our guilt. He knew that we could never keep the Law because of the weakness of our bodies (Romans 8:3). All the Law could ever do is expose our guilt by accentuating it. When Paul was a child, he did not know not to covet, but when God commanded him not to do so, the sin in his heart rose to rebel against God’s Word, and his rebellion bore the fruit of death. Is this a failure of the Law? Not at all. The sinfulness of Paul’s heart appeared more clearly when it corrupted even a righteous commandment. It brought Paul to the point of crisis where his behavior and his values contradicted one another (Romans 7:22-23). The Law showed his frailty as it shows ours. When we realize how weak we are, we recognize that our only hope is the gospel.
There is no way that we could ever work our way to God’s level. The only way out is a radical one: like the boundaries of marriage are nullified by death, the domain of the Law ends when we die. It would be an unsatisfying escape hatch (out of the frying pan and into the fire) if we have to pass into death alone, but Jesus offers a better way. We are joined to His death by faith in Him. All the wrath of God against sin is spent on Him already; we do not just go into death but through it. We have died in the old world of Adam with Christ, and are born into a new life in the realm of the Spirit. There is no condemnation in this Kingdom we have entered by faith, only life with the Spirit that gives life (Romans 8:1). The Law has not failed; it has fulfilled its purpose by teaching us to walk in the Spirit (Romans 8:4).
Discussion idea: How does a life of obedience in the Spirit look different than someone who is just concerned with following a list of rules? Does trying to obey God in our own strength put the sin of pride into everything we do?
Prayer focus: Pray for help being sensitive to the guidance of the Spirit in what to do and open to the strength of the Spirit to accomplish it.
Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Key verse: Romans 5:21
Big idea: One man sinned and brought death to all, but the gospel shows us how one man died and brought life to all.
When I make a bad decision, it does not only affect me. My wife and children, because they are my family, suffer for my actions. But as a pastor, the consequences of my mistakes can go even farther. I can harm the members of AMBC and everyone over whom we have influence. Imagine if I were the President of the United States. An error in judgment or character might cost servicemen and servicewomen their lives and launch a war which I would then be powerless to stop. The people who suffered would not be morally responsible for my sin, but they would nevertheless be affected. The first man, Adam, sinned, and because God had given him dominion over the whole world, the entire world suffered the consequences. Everything and everyone fell into the shadow of death with a nature bent toward sin.
Younger kids: The theology we are looking at today is complicated. The big take-away for young kids is that we are all sinners in our hearts and that sin leads to death, but that Jesus died for us so that He could give us new hearts that lead to life. Adam’s life brought death, but Jesus’ death brings life.
The state that Paul described in Romans 1-3 is endemic to our world: we are all sinners by our very nature. Who taught you to lie? Who taught you not to share? Who taught you to lose your temper and fight to get your way? This rot is deep into our hearts. Adam declared a rebellion, and his whole domain is embroiled in it. Worse still, when we are old enough to choose, we all enlisted with the rebellion. No one sins as a toddler and becomes perfect when they learn better. No, death came by one man, but it passed to all men because all sinned (Romans 5:12). We were God’s enemies, outcasts by birth and traitors by choice.
How did God respond to us? While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Adam’s life brought death to his whole kingdom, but Christ makes us a better offer: when we accept His reign by faith, He transfers us to a new realm, where His death brings life. God’s solution is to make a new creation, inhabited by new people, whose hearts have been made new. We are not made new by works (which are part of this creation and unable to rise above it) but by God’s work in creating a new one. The death of Jesus took the old rulers in the old creation to their ultimate conclusion and overcame them, to replace them with new and better masters. Sin was powerful, but grace’s reign goes farther and deeper (Romans 5:20). As indeed the domain of Adam was led into death, the realm of Christ the King leads to eternal life and righteousness. That is the path Abraham took in chapter 4, and it is the only path that leads to life.
Discussion idea: Who had a bigger impact, Christ or Adam? Why?
Prayer focus: Thank God that while we were still sinners, He loved us anyway and gave His life for us. Pray that He would give us the wisdom to see our lives as He does, where we have one foot in this world and one in eternity, so we might live like it.
Monday, May 25, 2020
Discussion idea: Why is Abraham's salvation recorded in Genesis, according to Romans 4:23-25? The Bible includes a lot of history; how does God use examples to help us?
Prayer focus: Pray for the ability to grow in faith, and take God at His Word.
Friday, May 22, 2020
Key verse: Romans 3:23
Big idea: The gospel is the universal solution to the universal problem of sin.
Discussion idea: How can God, who is a perfect, holy Judge, forgive us without sacrificing justice?
Prayer focus: Thank God that when we could never get to Him, He came down to us.
Thursday, May 21, 2020
Older kids: What is something good you can do for the wrong reasons? Is that more tempting than doing something obviously wrong?
Wednesday, May 20, 2020
Big idea: The gospel is the power of salvation for everyone who believes.
Today, we begin what is widely considered the greatest book of the New Testament. Paul’s letter to the church at Rome is a letter, addressing a specific congregation with specific problems, but it is his most sweeping, reaching from the pits of damnation to the heights of glory in the first 8 chapters, and unfolding the implications of that theology here on earth in the remaining 8. There is a long way to go, but chapter one begins with the most basic claim: the gospel changes everything. The word “gospel” is simply an antiquated way of saying “good news.” It is not “good advice” for changing our life, or a good secret that will unlock some hidden power. It is good news: something has happened, and that something begs to be announced.
The good news, Paul tells us at the beginning of the chapter, was promised in the past through the prophets, but is now revealed fully and clearly. Although creation and our own conscience warns us that there is a Creator and makes us accountable for sinning against Him (the end of the chapter focuses on this point), the good news is not something which we can discern from that. It is news which we have to hear and believe. What is that good news? That the Son of David has come and died in our place, and been raised again to be declared the powerful Son of God. This God-Man, human and divine, sacrifice and priest, has come and defeated our enemies of sin and death to give us peace. It seems irrational, almost like a contradiction in terms. A King should kill, not be killed! The way to glory should be golden, not via a cross. That is why Paul needs to say that he is not ashamed of this good news: this precious announcement is the power for our deliverance. If we will recognize the King by acknowledging our sin and having faith in His work, we will be His subjects and His family. We will have forgiveness and life.
Discussion idea: Why would God choose to bring salvation to us by faith in an announcement, rather than some list of deeds to perform? How is faith that Jesus is King the foundation of a changed heart?
Prayer focus: If it were not for Jesus, what kinds of things would enslave you? Thank God for coming and destroying the old lords and bringing us a King that loved us enough to die for us.
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Monday, May 18, 2020
Friday, May 15, 2020
In high school, I competed with some success in Lincoln-Douglas debate. My favorite part was the cross-examination portion, where you could lead someone along a path, and have them inside the trap before they ever realized it. In a moment, everything they said came crashing down on their head. Although most of the debate was still to come, they had already lost. When Paul stood before Agrippa II and Festus, he could not hope to trap some opponent by a sleight of hand. He had already appealed to Caesar, so his release was out of the question. More to the point, Paul’s biggest goal was not to be released from prison (and certainly not to win an argument) but to see people trust Jesus as their Savior.
Older kids: Have you ever been arguing with someone, and realized you were wrong? Is it easier to admit your mistake and end the argument, or to keep fighting and hope to “win” anyway?
When Paul had traveled from city to city, he had begun with the synagogue for two reasons. One was theological, the gospel came first to the Jew and also to the Greek. The second was practical: they knew the Old Testament, which Paul could build on to show how it was all fulfilled in Christ. Agrippa was Jewish, and Paul could build on that knowledge while fulfilling the words of Jesus from Acts 9:15.
Younger kids: What is something you are good at? If you wanted to teach a baby how to do that, what would they need to learn first? Do you think Paul had to teach people certain things before they could understand who Jesus is?
Paul shared what Jesus had done for him (for the third and final time in Acts). But Paul was not content to just share information; the apostle wanted the king to make a decision. Agrippa had three pieces of information: the background of the Old Testament, an understanding of Paul’s conversion, and the knowledge of the incredible life of Jesus, perhaps 25 years earlier. He just needed to connect the dots. Herod Agrippa’s response reminds me of his uncle Antipas, who killed John the Baptist because he did not want to go back on a vow made at a party. Sitting beside Porcius Festus, but also before a crowd, Herod would neither confirm nor deny that he believed the prophets. Instead, he told Paul that it would not be so simple to take him all the way to being a Christian. Paul responded that whether it was easy or difficult, he wanted everyone to become as much of a slave of Jesus as he was, the chains around his wrists the only exception.
We exist, whether it is easy or hard, quick or slow, to bring people to Christ. Our goal is not to win arguments on social media, impress people with our debating tactics, or even get someone intellectually to accept what we say. The churches of Jesus are here to reach people with the precious message of Jesus.
Discussion idea: What are some practical ways we can build on what people in our society already know to bring them to Jesus?
Prayer focus: Pray for an opportunity to share Jesus with someone, and the grit to endure, whether it is easy or hard.
Thursday, May 14, 2020
Tuesday, May 12, 2020
Paul had been providentially protected and smuggled in the night to the palace of Herod to await his accusers. Ananias, the high priest who ruled from AD 48-59, came with a lawyer to make his case against Paul to Antonius Felix, the procurator of Judea. Ananias didn't need to follow Paul through this trial, but the same temper that he had displayed at the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:3) brought him to Caesarea with a heart full of hate. The charges were a desecration of the Temple and inciting the people.
Paul quickly showed that both were ridiculous. He had been purified in the Temple, and if he had started a riot, there would be witnesses. No, Paul told Felix, he was on trial for one thing only: the resurrection of the dead. Over and over again, the book of Acts hammers home this theme. If death is the end, for Jesus and us, then the life of Christ means nothing. But if He rose from the dead, and we will too to give an account of our lives to God, the life of Christ means everything. In Acts, we have seen the ongoing works of Jesus through His body. By this point, the churches have overcome social, racial, and cultural barriers to form coherent bodies.
If God is not assembling
us by a common set of interests or a common background, what is the secret?
Paul would boldly testify that it is the resurrection of Jesus that breaks down
all old barriers and brings us together. Our unity is centered not on a style
of music, a type of outreach, or an earthly political allegiance. The historical
fact that Jesus died and rose again is the center of the Christian faith, and
without it, there is nothing. Calvary is the hill worth dying on because all of
our hope is in our Savior who gave His life and took it up on the third day.
For two years, Paul would wait in prison without resolution, but he continued to preach the same message, to guards, to Felix, and to anyone else who would listen. Felix was looking for a bribe, Ananias was looking to take a problem off his hands, but Paul only cared about one thing: Jesus died for me and rose again. That is the foundation of my life individually, of your life and of our life corporately. We are bought with a price.
Discussion idea: Does it matter that Christianity is based on a
historical event, instead of a statement or a vision? Can you have something
like Christianity without the resurrection of Jesus?
Prayer focus: Pray for boldness, like Paul had, to preach Christ crucified at all times, and to not let our deepest fellowships be built on anything else.
Key Verse: Acts 23:27
Big Idea: God’s sovereignly directs the circumstances of our lives to advance the mission of the Church of Jesus.
Prayer focus: Thank God for the family He gave you, and how He uses its positives and negatives to shape you and equip you.
Monday, May 11, 2020
In Acts 22, we come to the second account of Paul's conversion. There will be one more before the book ends, so that the same story is told thrice (with increasing detail) in a book of only 28 chapters. In Paul's letters, he gives the account personally twice more (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 and Galatians 1:11-16). Of all the events in the New Testament, the only one I can think of described in more places is the Resurrection (the Great Commission is a tie). Obviously, it was important to Paul, but why did the Holy Spirit place such an emphasis on his conversion in the Bible? I think perhaps it is because his salvation is a model for all of us. We begin as enemies of Jesus, opposing Him by opposing His work, and yet He still pursues us. When He catches us, it is not to destroy us but to rescue us. Paul's conversion seems dramatic, because his sin was so overt, but our own is no less of a transition from death to life and darkness to light.
Friday, May 8, 2020
Discussion idea: Have you ever had a setback that turned out to be for the best? What was that like? What does that kind of thing tell you about God?
Prayer focus: Pray for the patience to trust God's timing. Thank God for a well-timed setback!
Thursday, May 7, 2020
|Source: Faithlife Bible Art|
Key Verse: Acts 20:28
Big Idea: The church of Jesus was bought with His blood.
"Aye, there's the rub," as Hamlet said. Because it was not Paul's church at all. Paul had been a faithful steward of this flock, but the chief shepherd was the one who owned the sheep. That chief shepherd was now moving Paul on to tend another of his flocks and letting the elders of Ephesus continue as undershepherds here. As much as Paul loved that church, Jesus loved her more and proved it by buying her with His blood. In His hands, the church was safe, and He could be trusted to guide her as long as she heard His voice. Yet, Paul would not have served the church with any less distinction because she was not his own. If anything, he worked harder, because the church was cherished by the Lord He loved. So, when it was time to leave, He entrusted them to their common Shepherd.
Discussion idea: How do you think Paul would have responded to someone who said they loved Jesus, but did not care about the church?
Prayer focus: Ask God to help you see His church and His people the way He does.
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
Younger kids: Do you have a blanket or a toy that you always want to have with you? Maybe certain clothes you like to wear over and over again? How do those things make you feel? Can God make you feel the same way when you do not have those things?
Older kids: What is the biggest change you have experienced in your life so far? How did you anticipate it would feel? How did reality compare?
Prayer focus: Reflect on the idea that God alone is the unchanging, eternal constant, and pray that we would find our stability in that anchor, rather than our circumstances.
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
Big Idea: The churches of Jesus have unexpected allies.
Prayer focus: Who is someone God has placed in your life for your good and His glory that you can thank Him for today?
Monday, May 4, 2020
Big Idea: The Church of Jesus turned the world upside down.
If you were going to turn the world upside down with some institution, what would it be? Maybe the School - education for the masses might change their behavior. For the less optimistic, perhaps the Military - if bad actors could be stopped, where would evil come from? Taking your cue from the new Pfeizer commercial, you might suggest Science as the institution which could solve the problems that ail us. None of these are bad, but none of them really change the world. Schools help students face the world better, the military removes existential threats and scientists answer a certain set of questions. But what about problems than run deeper than a test or a gun can strike? What about problems that run so widely that every institution is built on a crumbling foundation? When the world itself is upside down, none of the institutions of the world can fix the issue, any more than a hamster can move her cage by running in her wheel. Something outside of the world, but that overlaps with it, is necessary to set the world itself right again. So the institution that you least suspected is the one you actually needed: the institution of the Church. But this was the institution that the Thessalonians could not tolerate in today's chapter.
While most so-called revolutions simply change one tyrant for another, the churches of the Lord Jesus offer a different kind of King. This King was not a new Caesar, come to accomplish the same things with bigger weapons or better propaganda. Rather, He came to win by dying and to ascend His throne by humility. Such a radical approach could not have a muted response. The frustration of many pastors at the seeming reluctance of people to see the depth of the message is expressed in a quote whose originator is unknown: "Wherever the Apostle Paul went there was revival or a riot. Wherever I go they serve tea." If you are a part of a local church, her purpose is not to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic, but to turn an upside down world rightside up again. People will either rejoice or rebel, but when the message is understood, they must respond.
Discussion idea: What are some attitudes, beliefs or values in our world that are upside down? How does Jesus turn them rightside up?
Prayer focus: Ask God to adjust your vision so you see things from a biblical perspective, and help turn things in the right direction.
Friday, May 1, 2020
Big Idea: The Church of Jesus operates when and where her Lord wills.
Discussion idea: Have one family member look at a picture, and try to describe to the rest of the family how to draw it (for younger kids, trying to duplicate an unseen Play-Doh sculpture might be better). How difficult is it to make something you cannot see? What is the value of a guide who has all of the information?
Prayer focus: Pray for God's guidance in decision making, and the wisdom to recognize our own inadequacy for seeing the path ahead.