Friday, June 10, 2022

June 10 - Romans 15

Key verse: Romans 15:6

Big idea: The gospel teaches us to worship together. 

Recently, we were cleaning out my parents' barn and found my kindergarten report card. Counting, recognizing letter sounds, matching shapes, and identifying colors were all apparently on the menu. If you look under "Gross Motor" on the far right, you will see the one skill I left kindergarten without was "skipping." Maybe I should have been held back because to this day it is not a pretty sight. 

Kindergaten report card image

One thing I cannot find on the curriculum is the lesson on selfishness. Yet, I have mastered it. Apparently, the kind of self-centeredness that the Romans dealt with has not only survived but is so entangled in the human heart that it emerges unbidden in all of us. That selfishness causes division, where we want to push others aside and only care about what affects us. But the gospel says something different. Those who are strong have an obligation to carry the weaknesses of the weak, not just to please ourselves. We have to serve each other.

Older kids: If you want to play a game, but your friend has a broken arm and can't participate, do you leave her by herself, or change your plans so she can play too? 

As always, Paul brings this moral commandment back to the biblical example. Jesus took our pain as His own and accepted us even though we were sinners. If we can have peace with God, shouldn't we have peace with each other? 

But the unity we experience as Christians is not some kind of superficial alignment, where different pieces are taped together. We are not coming together for the sake of being together, holding hands and humming. Our unity is not a crowd in a Walmart, but a choir, where God brings us together to glorify Him. The gospel teaches us how we can stop going our own way and can come together to sing one song of praise to Jesus. When we bicker and fight, we rob God of praise. When we accept one another because Christ has accepted us, we bring Him glory. 

Discussion idea: How does seeing a self-centered attitude as robbing God of praise give it new significance? 
Prayer focus: Join in Paul's prayer for endurance, encouragement and harmony to bring praise to God. 

Thursday, June 9, 2022

June 9 - Romans 14

Key verse: Romans 14

Big idea: The gospel gives us both liberty and responsibility. 

One of the great philosophical divides is between the authoritarians and the libertarians. Authoritarians see life as a series of obligations and pose the basic question: what must I do? Libertarians see life as a series of openings and ask: what can I do? Thoughtful Christians can see the strengths and weaknesses of both of these approaches. God has given us real freedom, but also the obligation to love and care for each other. In light of that: what should I do?

Younger kids: If it is your turn to play with something, but one of your friends is having a bad day, would you let them have a longer turn? Why or why not? 

The Romans dealt with a very specific challenge. Some of the believers, who were weak and immature in the faith, believed it was a sin to eat certain meats. Others, more mature and better grounded theologically, knew that food was not an issue before God. The result was that they were caught in a vicious cycle of mutual disgust. Those who ate looked at those who didn't as fools and those who abstained looked at the others as hard-hearted reprobates. Paul challenged them to be less concerned with winning an argument and more concerned with winning a brother or sister. Yes, they truly had freedom. Yes, they truly had a responsibility. So each should lay aside their privileges to serve each other, for the glory of God. They had no right to condemn one another, because they would all have to give an account to the same Master: Jesus. That Master had proven His commitment to them when He died on the cross. He would certainly not abandon them now. 

Older kids: Which direction do you find yourselves wanting to lean: more toward hard rules, or pushing the limits? How does the biblical idea of freedom, restrained by love, challenge you?

If that is the case, how could one of His servants do anything which would cause heartache for another? If Jesus loved them enough to die for them, how could another of His servants then treat them carelessly?  Our burden goes beyond a set of rules. We must love others like Jesus loved us. Our freedom and our obligation go farther because they are bound up in our hearts.

Discussion idea: Have you ever given up something you deserved because of love for someone else? Why?
Prayer focus: Pray for the kind of selfless love and acceptance of others that Jesus modeled, and thank Him for showing it to you.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

June 8 - Romans 13

Key verse: Romans 13:1
Big idea: Citizens of heaven should live in a way worthy of the gospel on earth. 

When I was a kid, getting on a bus to church camp, our pastor would always give us a speech before we left. It had the same basic points every year, and one that has always stood out to me was that when we were out, we were representing God, our families and our church. We did not exist as private, isolated individuals, who could do whatever we wanted without affecting anyone else. Unfortunately, too many people did not hear this lesson as children or failed to remember it. We are ambassadors in this world and everything we do represents our King. 

In Romans 13, Paul continues his explanation of how Christians ought to offer themselves as living sacrifices. How should we respond to the government? Paul was in prison under the regime of a wicked Roman emperor, who killed with impunity and valued personal loyalty above integrity. How can God's people respond to a government like that? Paul's response is somewhat shocking. They should be subject to those authorities, because they are put in place by God. Our obedience to these authorities is obedience to God, and provides us with credibility when we share the gospel. 

We must be quick to fulfill all of our obligations (Romans 13:8), except the obligation to love. The debt of love is the one that we can never repay, so we must follow that obligation every day. Love is the overriding commandment which drives all others. Love does no harm to others and does not ask the question "how far can I go?" Love looks for the chance to serve. When we leave no foothold for our sin and simply love in every circumstance, we are truly representatives of the King. 

Discussion idea: If the governments of the world are subsidiaries of God's government, does that imply any limits on when they should be obeyed? What should be do if the order of a human government contradicts the Bible?
Prayer focus: Pray that God would help you to see yourself as His representative of love in your normal life.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

June 7 - Romans 12

Key verse: Romans 12:16

Big idea: The gospel transforms all of our relationships. 

When you first meet someone, what do they need to know to understand you? Is it "excuse my language, I work in a plant"? "Look out for my temper, I'm Irish"? Maybe "I always tell it like it is," that coward's way of masquerading cruelty as candor. Many people's relationships are defined by their politics or their social group. But if we are a new humanity, rescued from sin by the good news of Jesus, what should define us?

Older kids: 
When you are in a bad mood, does your mood define you, or your choice to follow Jesus? How can we overcome our own weaknesses?

Paul's answer in Romans 12 is both obvious and challenging. Every relationship that we have is redefined in light of the gospel. The first verses are rightly famous. The word translated "service" in the KJV refers to service in the Temple, the daily worship-work of the priests. We are a kind of spiritual priesthood, offering up ourselves as sacrifices of thanksgiving to God. Not dead sacrifices (because our sin has been removed and the power of death is broken), but living sacrifices. The idea is a little gruesome for modern people, but imagine an animal being sacrificed. There were four horns on the corners of the altar, so the animal could be stretched out, helpless. Nowhere to hide and nothing left of its own, the entire sacrifice was given to God. Paul says that you and I are living sacrifices, exposed to God in the same way, no part of us hidden or reserved, all given to Him. 

Our whole lives are the worship that flows from a transformed heart. In our churches, the gospel teaches us to serve one another. The gospel shows us how to love sincerely, honoring one another, working hard, serving the Lord. It teaches us to love our enemies and leave vengeance to God. As people who know our own sinful frailty, we are able to weep with the weepers and laugh with the laughers, never worried about our own station, but about the heart of the image-bearer of God before us. There is no part of our lives too mundane to be touched by the gospel, and no part we have any right to withhold from God.

Discussion idea: Which of these practical commandments is the hardest for you? Why? How does it flow out of the basic call to genuine love? Does your family have any struggles in common?
Prayer focus: Confess that specific weakness to God, and offer it as a living sacrifice. 

Monday, June 6, 2022

June 6 - Romans 11

 Key verse: Romans 11:15

Big idea: All nations are brought into God’s family by the gospel.


Can you imagine what it would have been like to be an angel on the day Adam fell? God had carefully formed the world and created a being in His own image to rule over it on His behalf. You sang in sweet harmony with His declaration that it was very good. God carefully planted a garden for the image bearer and gave him a perfect wife. Yet it was not enough. Adam and Eve wanted to be as gods themselves and so they rejected God's law for their own. If angels weep, they must have shed many tears over this beautiful scene wrecked by sin. Their songs still praised the holiness and the majesty of God, but what would happen to this creature and the creation he inhabited?


To an angel's mind, the consequences must have been obvious. Humanity's relationship with God would be shattered, and their relationship with each other would be broken as well. A generation later, one of their children is dead and the other is a murderer. Tragic, but not shocking. There are no limits to how far those without God will go, as Satan and his angels had already proven to you. What is God going to do with this mess?


Someone once told me that when you have a field of cotton to pick, you start with the spot next to you and go from there. In the same way, God took Seth (Adam and Eve's third son) and chose his line to redeem the world. It carried down from Seth to Noah, from Noah to Shem, from Shem to Abraham, from Abraham to Isaac and from Isaac to Jacob. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, and his 12 sons became a nation. They were called to be priests to God to lead the world to Him. That family was like a plant, carrying life out to its branches. But many of them had the right parents but did not really know God. The looked like part of the vine, but they did not get its life.  


But there were always some who had real life (like Paul) and so a faithful remnant carried the line forward. Finally, the one son of Abraham who was truly faithful came: Jesus, the root and the offspring of David. "I am the vine," He said, "you are the branches. Without me you can do nothing." Some of the natural branches were hardened, even to the point of crucifying their Messiah, but doing so provided the path to life. Through Jesus, those without a family link to Abraham (Gentiles) are grafted in and become part of Abraham’s family. Paul says that the conversion of the Gentiles provokes some of the Jews to jealousy and brings them to faith. Everyone has been under wrath, so everyone can receive mercy (Romans 11:32).


When all of the Gentiles who will be saved have been saved (grafted in), He will prune the olive tree of Israel until only true branches remain. If their rejection of Jesus gave the Gentiles acceptance, what could their acceptance mean but resurrection? So the faithful dead of all the ages will be raised, from Abel onward, and will stand together as one family

Discussion idea: How does God’s faithfulness to Israel reassure you of His faithfulness toward you?

Prayer focus: Pray that God will help you notice an opportunity to share the gospel which you might overlook because of a human barrier.

Friday, June 3, 2022

June 3 - Romans 10

Key verse: Romans 10:11

Big idea: The gospel will never let us down. 

Those who know me know that lots of chapters of the Bible are my favorite. But Romans 10 has to be my favorite. Or at least one of them. In Romans 9, Paul spent some time elaborating on God's sovereignty and faithfulness to fulfill His promises, while chapter 10 shifts to our responsibility to respond in faith. Chapter 9 profiles how we often fail to serve God as we ought to, but chapter 10 tells us that when we place our hope in Him, He never lets us down: whoever believes in Him shall not be ashamed. This chapter is the basic promise that we do not have to climb up to Heaven to wrestle God down, or go to the grave to rescue Him from the jaws of death. No, Jesus has already voluntarily come down to us and has already conquered death. We do not need to go anywhere, God has already brought the solution to our mouths and our hearts, we just need to accept it. 

Have you ever believed in someone and had them disappoint you? Of course. When our hearts are tied up in other people, their sin or their weakness will always fail eventually. Another person is not built to bear the weight of your expectations like that. Have you ever said something about someone and regretted it later? I have recommended someone for a job and been deeply embarrassed and recommended a book from someone who later went off the deep end. The hope that I expressed with my mouth made me ashamed, because it did not match reality. Indeed, the basic problem most of us have is that our hearts have entirely too much confidence in ourselves, and our mouths boast much more than we could ever do.

But when our heart trusts in Jesus, and we confess that He is Lord with our mouths, there is no disconnect. Just faithfulness. No broken promises, just answered prayer. Not all have believed the gospel, but everyone who has (whether Jew or Greek) is never let down. When we share the gospel with others, there is no need to fear that it might not work for them, and leave them back in their sin. If they hear the Word of God and believe it, they will be delivered. 

Discussion idea: A lot off things in our society seem unstable. What are some things you thought you could trust that have let you down? How does God's faithfulness override those things?
Prayer focus: Pray that our faith would be in the One who can always deliver. 

Thursday, June 2, 2022

June 2 - Romans 9

Key verse: Romans 9:6

Big idea: We can trust God will be faithful to the gospel because He has always been faithful to His Word.

We live in a divided nation, perhaps more divided than it has been in a long time. The immediate causes are complex enough that it will be a generation before historians will be able to really trace the process, but theologians can see the issue now. Our nation is divided because our world is divided; since the rebellion of Adam in the garden, humanity has been fractured from God and each other. In the Bible, the two main categories were Jews and Gentiles. Jews had received the Old Testament and enjoyed a special relationship with God. But now, Paul had argued, the division that separated humanity is eliminated in Christ, as the new Adam. The people of God are all those who have faith, and racial, social, and cultural divisions are irrelevant. So Paul is faced with a big question: if this is true, has God gone back on all of the promises He made in the Old Testament? What good are God's promises to believers if He has broken His promises to the nation of Israel? 
Older kids: Has anyone ever broken a promise to you before? How did you feel the next time they said something?
Younger kids: Have you ever hold the story of the boy who cried wolf? When you tell the truth, how does that help people trust you later?
Paul begins by expressing his own grief for the people of his ancestry. If he could be condemned in their place, he would! Of course, Paul did not need to be condemned in their place, because Jesus already had. So his prayer was for them to accept that forgiveness. But if they do not have any special guarantee of trusting Christ, was there any point to God's dealings with Israel at all? Yes, Paul argues. They were given many great blessings, because the Word of God and His worship were entrusted to them, and they were given the special honor of being the nation of Jesus. Yet, they still rejected Jesus, just as throughout the history of the nation there was a faithful remnant that carried on the promises while even a twin brother might turn away. God is faithful even when His people are unfaithful. So His promises to the nation are not broken, they are fulfilled (as they always were) in the segment of the nation who had faith. As we will see in the coming chapters, God has a plan for using that remnant to reach others.

So Paul's message is the same as it had been throughout the whole book. There is no royal road to God's presence, based on your ancestry or your works. Everyone needs faith in the gospel, no matter who they are or what they have done. Young or old, Jew or Gentile, black or white, male or female, the gospel is the good news we all need. 

Discussion idea: How has God been faithful to you in the past? How does God's faithfulness to His word in the past reassure you about His faithfulness in the future?
Prayer focus: Pray that God would help you to remember to be grateful for His answers in the past, so you can trust Him for tomorrow. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

June 1 - Romans 8

 Key verse: Romans 8:18

Big idea: The gospel takes us all the way to glory. 

Today, we are concluding the first half of Romans. This section of the book has been laying out the theological framework for our lives, from sinners under God's judgment, to justification by faith to sanctification by walking in the Spirit. But now we come to the climax, where God finishes what He started and the new creation which began in our hearts encompasses all of us and all of the world. He has justified, He is sanctifying, and He will glorify. 

Everything which happens in the life of a Christian is used by God for our good. The problem is our definition of good. We think good means comfort or prosperity, but God is not nearly so short-sighted. When God says all things work together for good, He is saying that everything in our lives works together to make us like Jesus. Finally, when Jesus returns and His children are revealed, we will be made perfectly like Him forever, and will reflect His untarnished glory. The lingering sin in us will be cut loose, and the whole creation's bondage to decay will end once and for all, as God makes everything as it always ought to have been. 

Those who have trusted Jesus as their Savior will be His joint-heirs, inheriting the world with Him in life, even as those who chose to remain in the flesh will die (Romans 8:13). The triumph of every Christian is total: we look forward in hope to the day that we receive what we have been eagerly waiting for. Between here and there, we find a lot of tribulation, but in all of those things, we are more than conquerors through Jesus.

Discussion idea: How does the promise that God will heal every hurt of this world and every sin of our heart encourage us to face challenges?
Prayer focus: There is an old expression about being so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good. For most Christians, the opposite problem is the real issue: we are so earthly minded that we have lost sight of heaven. Pray for God to help you walk today with an awareness of eternity. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

May 31 - Romans 7


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.

Monday, May 30, 2022

May 30 - Romans 6


Key verse: Romans 6:22
Big idea: Our lives are transformed by the gospel. 

When you love someone and they love you, do you want to please them? Of course. It is not that doing what will impress them will give you a relationship with them, you want to do something they will appreciate because you already have a relationship with them. Trying to do something for someone to earn a relationship is frustrating and unfulfilling; instead of acceptance there is anxiety and instead of security there is strain. But when behaviors are a part of an existing relationship, they can deepen and strengthen it. 

Younger kids: Do you believe that there is anything you could do that would make your parents stop loving you? What about God?

So far, Paul has argued in Romans that our relationship with God is not dependent on our behavior, but just on faith in what He has done in Christ. But does that mean that what we do does not matter? Some of Paul's opponents claimed the gospel of grace was permission to sin as if the only reason to serve anyone is a fear of punishment. But if someone has saved our life, we will want to serve them out of gratitude, not fear that they will throw us into danger. We have moved from the old realm of Adam to the new realm of Christ through His death; how could those who have joined in Christ's death go back to their old way of life? If someone died to help her son escape slavery, would that child then return to their old master? Our freedom is not because of our works, but our works are the only reasonable response to freedom. 

The good news of Jesus tells us that our world has truly changed, and so our lives should change too. We have been freed from the chains of sin and been made Jesus' servants instead. All of our old servitude only earned us death, but God has given us something new and beautiful as a gift. That gift is free, but once we have received it, we should bear the fruit of gratitude. When God has changed our hearts by his grace, our whole lives will change too. 

Discussion idea: Would you serve God differently if you were afraid of punishment? How does service of love and gratitude go farther?
Prayer focus: Pray that God would help you live in accordance with the gospel. 

Friday, May 27, 2022

May 27 - Romans 5

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.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

May 26 - Romans 4


Key verse: Romans 4:21
Big idea: The greatest and the least all need the gospel.

Sometimes heroes seem to inhabit a different world than the rest of us. Who can think about Apollo 13 without wondering if Jim Lovell is made of a different kind of flesh than we are? Or look at Winston Churchill without wondering if we would have the strength to stare staggeringly powerful evil in the face and hold onto hope against hope? Could anyone claim to be like Jim Elliot and Nate Saint, giving their lives to try to take the gospel to the Huaorani people, and Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint, going to love the very people that had killed their husband and brother (respectively)? For Paul's Jewish readers, Abraham was like all of these combined. He was the founder of their nation, who with staggering faith had marched across the known world to go to the land God had promised. He was a religious, patriotic, and cultural icon. He lived centuries before the Law of Moses was given, and was the first to be ritually circumcised according to the commandment.

Younger kids: Circumcision was a small surgery done on Jewish boys when they were 8 days old to show that they were part of God's people. It was a mark on the outside of their bodies that was supposed to match their hearts that belonged to God.

How does he fit into Paul's radical claim that because we are all sinners, incapable of attaining righteousness by obeying the Law, we are all saved by faith alone? Isn't Abraham's faithfulness the perfect example of someone who was saved by good works? Paul's answer is a challenge to read the Old Testament account carefully. God made a promise to Abraham that he would have a son and descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sand on the beach (although his wife was too old to have children), that he would have a certain land and that all nations of the world would be blessed through him (ultimately, a promise that one of his descendants would be the Messiah). Abraham believed God and God credited that faith to Abraham as if it were a life of righteousness.

Abraham's relationship with God, Paul points out, was because of his faith in God before he was circumcised. Before Abraham took the mark of a Jewish man, he was already God's. He did not comply with the Law first or join a religion first, he simply believed God's Word. The hero came to forgiveness the same way as the murderer Saul and the same way as you and I can. God could have had Abraham be circumcised first, but He controlled the order so that we would know that external acts of obedience follow a change of heart, not the other way around. 

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.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

May 25 - Romans 3

 Key verse: Romans 3:23

Big idea: The gospel is the universal solution to the universal problem of sin. 

 Suppose I ate a bacon cheese Whataburger, with a large order of fries and a chocolate malt (any similarity to actual events is purely coincidental). I took in a lot of bad things: saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt. Maybe later that day, I started to feel guilty about it. How many salads with low-fat dressing would I need to eat to cancel that out? Or maybe I had a bottle of water, with a little poison in it. How much tea do I need to add to the poisoned water before the good tea cancels out the bad poison? Silly questions. Good things do not cancel out bad things, and what is true in the physical world is even more critical in the moral. No amount of time in a soup kitchen can ever excuse a murder. Good deeds can never remove the burden of sin. 

 Romans 1 and 2 have laid out the case against humanity. Whether we have violated our conscience and the testimony of nature like the Gentiles or violated God's revealed Law through hypocrisy like the Jews, we all have the same problem: sin. The Bible denies the claim that people are basically good. Instead, God tells us that we are all God's good creations, but have been warped and disfigured by the Fall. Our actions and our desires alike have been bent to the wrong ends. We all stand accountable to God, and we all fall short. There is no room for pride because every human being is in the same position. Our behavior can never solve the problem, and the more we try, the worse it gets. 

 This bad news can only be counteracted by the very good news that God has done the work for us. God's Law pointed toward real righteousness, but it could never get us there because of our own weakness. Instead, God has given us righteousness apart from the Law by giving us righteousness as a gift. Our sin earns us death, but He died in our place. No matter who we are, no matter what we have done, there is one problem and one cure—Grace through faith.

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. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

May 24 - Romans 2

 Key verse: Romans 2:23

Big idea: The gospel is the answer to religious self-righteousness. 

Doing wicked things is dangerous for our hearts. Our consciences get less sensitive, our habits pull us in the wrong direction and we feel trapped by past sins into future ones. But there is probably something even more dangerous: doing the right thing with the wrong heart. When our actions are right, but our attitude is arrogant and self-righteous, we are like someone with no feeling in their legs sitting too close to a fire. The burning is still dangerous, but the warning sign of pain is removed. Someone who sins without external consequences, and maybe even enjoying external praise, can go far on the wrong path before they realize what they have done. 

Older kids: What is something good you can do for the wrong reasons? Is that more tempting than doing something obviously wrong? 

Younger kids: What is worse, someone who does the wrong thing on accident, or someone who is a tattle tale, but does the same things they complain about? Why?

As Paul continues in his letter to the Romans, he adds to his condemnation of the Gentiles a condemnation of the Jews. Although they had the Law and knew God's Word, their obedience was imperfect. Despite their status as sinners, they believed that righteousness was something they could earn. Paul pointed out the hypocrisy: the ones who thought they were teachers did not teach themselves. "They don't practice what they preach" is how we would probably put it today. Jesus had made the same criticism (Matthew 23:3). People who are overly impressed with their personal goodness are blind to their own faults, and their hypocrisy contaminates everything they do. The gospel leaves no room for those kinds of delusions. If our only hope is the love and grace of a forgiving God, who gave His Son so we could be forgiven, then there is no room for pride. We are all in the same boat, and must all come to God on no basis but mercy. The antidote to hypocrisy is honest self-awareness.

While we try to obey God and follow Him more closely, we have to be careful to not allow ourselves to fall into the sin of self-righteousness. Our obedience is because of our relationship with God, our relationship with God is not because of our obedience. When we get that confused and start to think that our actions somehow earn God's love, our own good deeds from a proud motive keep us from experiencing God's grace and forgiveness. When a good thing comes between us and the Best One, then it is evil. 

Discussion idea: The gospel puts us all on equal footing, whether we seem to be good or bad to other people. How does this motivate us to do the right thing, with the right motive? Doesn't saying God loves us unconditionally give us an excuse to sin?
Prayer focus: Pray that God would help you to see that your value in His eyes does not come from anything you do or do not do, but that His love is unconditional. 

Monday, May 23, 2022

May 23 - Romans 1

 Key VerseRomans 1:16

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.

Friday, May 20, 2022

May 20 - Acts 28

 Today's post is a special guest one from Brother Chris Meek.

Key VerseActs 28:28 Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the
Gentiles, and that they will hear it.
Big Idea: The Church of Jesus takes the whole word to the whole world.

As we come to the final chapter of the book of Acts, we are reminded again that we are not at
the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. To recap, we have seen the church
spread among the Jewish world, then leap to the Gentile world under the many missionary
journeys of Paul, Barnabas, and company, until finally Paul is bound for Rome - the seat of the
Uttermost in the Great Commission. After being shipwrecked in Chapter 27, we see how God
provides for Paul and his traveling party, first through the “barbarians” at Melita, then through
other Christians at various stops on the way to Rome.

Then we see our big idea in action. Paul, in a familiar situation, is preaching the gospel to the
Jews in Rome, where “some believed,” and “some believed not”. What Paul says to them next is scathing - the kind of message that got him imprisoned. You may recognize the verses in 26-27 from the Parables of Jesus: Paul is saying that their hearts are so broken and dysfunctional, they’ve closed off their own eyes and ears to what God is doing (indeed, not only Paul, but also Isaiah and Jesus!) He further insults them by saying God is taking what they understood to be exclusively theirs - salvation - and making it available to their enemies, the Gentiles! And He does just that: using Rome as a base, Paul is able to help and encourage the church sharing the Gospel there, write many of the epistles that make up our bible today, and gain an audience with the leadership of Rome (which made up the bulk of the civilized world).

The book of Acts begins a story that continues in you and I today: God using His church, a people He has called out, to reach the lost of this world. By His word, He saves us from our own
sin and the punishment we deserve for it (Romans 10:17). But we should not make the mistake that the Jews made, assuming that salvation was only meant for their benefit. Remember: God not only promised that He would make a nation for Abraham, but that through his son He would bless all nations. Many people struggle to know God’s purpose for their lives, but the book of Acts, and the entire Bible, make this clear: our purpose is to bring the Good News of Jesus to those who need it. And to do this, there are only two things you need: to know the Good News, and to tell it to someone else.

Older Kids: Check out vss.30-31. Paul preached “with all confidence, no man forbidding him,”
but at this point, Paul is still in prison. What most people see an obstacle, God used as an
opportunity. What opportunities are you missing because of our “grumbling and complaining”.

Discussion Idea: How can God use us to share His word? Specifically, who is someone in your
life that you could reach out to this week with the hope of Jesus Christ?

Prayer Focus: Ask God to give you the opportunity to share the Good News with someone this week. Ask Him to give you the words to speak. Be bold - pray for the person you named above.
“He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23)

Thursday, May 19, 2022

May 19 - Acts 27

Key verse: Acts 27:43
Big idea: The character of the members of Jesus' churches allows them to carry on His work.  

Paul is finally able to make his trip to Caesar, but the journey itself is not a quick one. Against Paul's warnings, they traveled late in the year, when the risk of storms was higher and they were caught in just the kind of trouble he had worried about. When the storm grew terrible, Paul had already earned the centurion's trust. When Paul warned him that some of the sailors were trying to escape on a lifeboat and that doing so would cost the others their lives, the lifeboat was cut off into the sea. When the soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners, lest they escape, the centurion stopped them, in order to save Paul's life. 

We could say many things about the events of this chapter, but the simplest and clearest to me is that character counts. Paul was clearly Christlike in his behavior on the ship, even in chains, and the centurion had enough sense to know that the one who was faithful in little would also be faithful in much. Paul could have been a thrown in the centurion's side, but instead he lived the kind of life that opened up opportunities which he could not have foreseen. 

If a possible employer were standing behind you in a slow grocery line, would you be an attractive hire? If your friends could hear everything you said about them, would they still be your friends? The one who is faithful in small things will also be faithful in big things. Never underestimate the protection that a life of character provides.

Discussion idea: How does our character in everyday life open doors for bigger things? How can a lack of character interfere with the opportunities God might give us?
Prayer focus: Ask God for the strength of character to be faithful in little things, to be prepared for the great things. 

PS In Genesis. Joseph was accused of attempting to rape Potiphar's wife. He was eligible for the death penalty. Why was he allowed to live? I suspect that, although Potiphar felt the need to side with his wife, Joseph's proven character laid a foundation of trust that protected him, so he could go on to do God's work and save the known world.