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.