Wrong is Always Wrong

Romans 2

May 18

Have you noticed how much easier it is to condemn others for their actions than to condemn ourselves, and our own actions? Too often, we become critics of everyone around us – judging the way they live their lives, the words they say, the things they do – critics of everyone except ourselves. For this particular sin, a trap we all probably fall into from time to time, Romans 2 really hits hard. Paul over-emphasizes repeatedly that wrong is always wrong, and sin is always sin, no matter who does it, no matter your intentions or your justification. Yes, our God is a loving God, forgiving and merciful forever and always. But our God is also a just God, and He will judge each and every person accordingly. As Romans 2:3-4 expresses, just because we serve a God who is kind, patient and forgiving does NOT mean that you can get away with any evil deed, continuing to live in unrighteousness relying only on the idea that all will be forgiven. 

“Do you suppose, O man – you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself – that you will escape the judgement of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:3-4

God’s abounding love and kindness is not a means to live however we desire, it’s a call to repentance, because He so wants us to live with Him in eternity, and if we truly want it as well, we would not continue living in sin, but repent and grow and strive to reach the very highest of our potential. We would strive to be just the tiniest bit worthy of His love and mercy. Because in all God’s perfection and all our imperfection, we are utterly incompatible. And yet He still loves us and desires a relationship with us, a relationship that lasts for all eternity. 

As we continue throughout this week, whenever we catch ourselves judging the actions of others, let us remember to instead look within ourselves. I pray that we may see through God’s eyes how we can improve and grow closer to who God made us to be, and ask forgiveness for our own sins, rather than judging the people around us for theirs. Let us obey the truth today for the sake of eternity, and not obey unrighteousness for the sake of today. “For those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury… but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good” (Romans 2:9-10).

-Isabella Osborn

Discussion Questions:

  1. If God has instilled in us a conscience, allowing us to discern right from wrong, (which according to Romans 2:15, He has) then why do we persistently live in sin?
  2. How should we move forward after acting in an unrighteousness, ungodly manner, in order to continue seeking everlasting life with God- living for Him and not for ourselves? 

The Truth & Lies

Romans 1

May 17

After lovingly greeting the Romans and assuring them that he plans to visit them and find mutual encouragement from each other ASAP, Paul spends the entire second half of Romans chapter 1 expressing God’s wrath on unrighteousness, providing multiple examples of what turning away from the LORD looks like, and warning against such evil. Paul does not take the neglect to honor God (despite knowing Him) lightly, and thoroughly affirms that God does not either.  

It is abundantly clear that we are living in an age in which right = wrong and wrong = right, in a world where people are living not for the Father, but rather for their own selfish desires – even daring to call them “good,” and encouraging us to do the same. However, we know how God has called us to live, and what will lead to true joy and fulfillment. 

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God continues to live forever.” 1 John 2:15-17

Sadly, we are often guilty of failing in this regard in one way or another, as noted by Paul,

“They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.” Romans 1:25

We constantly make the mistake of trading a relationship with God for the temporary satisfaction of giving into worldly temptation, worshiping possessions/desires rather than the One who provided us with them. But we are called to rise above the evil and temptation of this world, for there is nothing here that is worthy of worship except the one true God. 

It is reiterated multiple times in these passages that there is no excuse for those who know God and yet choose to turn away from Him to live an ungodly life. The last verse of chapter 1 says: “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” I pray that we may have the wisdom and discernment to not fall for these false claims that evil is good, though we are surrounded by such lies everyday. Guard your hearts, that you may live in this world as a light, and not of this world, trapped in darkness. 

-Isabella Osborn

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways have you found yourself exchanging the truth for a lie, choosing the creature over the Creator? 
  2. What’s a change you can make this week to keep God at the forefront of your life? How does putting God first in everything you do determine what your life looks like/how you spend your time?

With All Boldness

Acts 28

May 16

In Acts chapter 28, Luke continues the detailed account of his and Paul’s journey to Rome. We read about their encounter with the kind people of Malta, as well as the not-so-kind viper who didn’t seem to cause Paul much distress, all the way to their long awaited arrival in Rome. This arrival was a big deal. Paul had been determined for a long time to find his way to Rome, (as seen in Acts 19:21 and Romans 1:15) and not only fulfilled this promise to himself, but also Christ’s prophecy that his disciples would be witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). 

Paul spent every bit of his time there (two years waiting for his case to be heard before Caesar) teaching everyone who came to him, sharing the message with Jews and Gentiles alike, welcoming anyone who would listen. Two whole years “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” (Acts 28:31) Even in this season of waiting and uncertainty, God did not waste a minute of Paul’s time. In fact his ministry continued “without hindrance” – despite every trial they faced, from storms to snakes, the will and word of God was unhindered; no trial, no amount of unfair treatment, nor the passing months of captivity mattered as much as the immeasurable good Paul could be doing in the lives of others. Imagine the amount of soldiers he spoke to, the amount of brothers and sisters in Christ he met in Rome, every Jew eager to meet Paul, whose famous letters they had previously received, every Gentile curious about or zealous for Christ, and eventually Caesar himself. He made a profound impact, even while in chains.

The book of Acts doesn’t have a grand finale; this story continues even today. Paul said “Yes” to God time and time again, and every person who’s said “Yes” since continues his ministry, bringing the Kingdom message to the ends of the earth. Surrender your life and boldly say “Yes” when you hear God’s voice calling you; His plans will not be hindered. 

-Isabella Osborn

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways can you proclaim the kingdom of God even when you find yourself in a period of trials or uncertainty?
  2. What do you hear God calling you to do to further His Kingdom today? 
  3. How did Paul continue forward with such courage and boldness despite the many tests of faith he faced? Similarly, how can we?

Peace and Hope in the Storm

Acts 27

May 15

In this chapter, Paul, awaiting a trial before Caesar, finds himself stuck on a ship in the middle of a storm with 275 others. To me, this sounds like a very frustrating situation to be in; being taken as prisoner despite being innocent, and then being completely ignored when you (an experienced traveler on the Mediterranean) warn against continuing on through the storm even in this current season, and consequently being trapped at sea in the midst of a perilous storm. 

But Paul did not lose faith, and he would not let his fellow passengers give up either. After being tossed about in the storm for days on end, Paul encourages everyone onboard:

“Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.” Acts 27:21-22

He proceeds to tell them of the angel who promised not only his own safety, but also that of everyone with him on the ship.

“‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has also granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.” Acts 27:24-25

Weeks passed, and though everyone stayed alive, their situation had yet to improve. But still, Paul insisted that they would all be okay, urging them to eat while giving thanks to God. Eventually there was a shipwreck, in which the soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to avoid their escape, however the kind centurion Julius would not allow them to carry out this plan, and they all made it safely to shore. 

In Acts chapter 27, we watch as an epic tale unfolds (once again), and points us to the unrelenting faithfulness of our God. This amazing miracle was a small-scale example of what God is going to do for the entire world. As terrible as it gets, and as hopeless as our situation may feel, God’s promises do not change; He will always follow through. So we can eat our bread and find peace, even in the middle of the most terrifying of storms, resting in the knowledge of God’s coming Kingdom and never losing faith that His promises prevail. He will not fail you, He will not let you down, and He will not break His promises. So take heart, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 

-Isabella Osborn

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can you be an influence to help others find hope in their storms?
  2. In what ways has the knowledge of God’s promises and faithfulness affected your life?
  3. When do you find it most difficult to take heart? How can you help remind yourself, even in these trials, of the hope we have in Christ Jesus? 

Our Hope in God’s Promises

Acts 26

May 14

Once again, Paul has a chance to give his testimony.  He is respectful.  He boldly states “it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today.” v.6

God promised the Israelites blessings. 

Genesis 12:3 -I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you

God promised the Israelites redemption. – A savior messiah who would be the once and forever sacrifice for sin.    

Deuteronomy 18:15 – The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.   

Romans 3:23-25 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.”  

Psalm 16:10  – Because of this, all men have the hope of eternal life. 

Titus 2:14- who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Paul stayed focused.  And so must we.

God promised the Israelites land. 

Deuteronomy 34:4 – the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ 

Blessings, redemption, eternal inheritance in the kingdom on earth.  These promises are ours as well.

-Annette Osborn

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Reading Paul’s testimony in Acts 26, what are you most impressed by?
  2. What promises of God give you great hope?
  3. How can you share that hope with others?

Standing Against Their Agenda

Acts 25

May 13

It’s been more than 2 years since the Jews made their accusations against Paul.  He’s under house arrest.  Time after time the Romans find him innocent under the law.  But they lack the political will to go against the Jews.  How frustrating this must have been.  The Jewish leaders just won’t give up.  They are determined to push their agenda.

Society today is in a similar state.  Factions try to wear us down with their agendas.   2 Timothy 3:2-4 tells us “ People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” 

In spite of his unfair treatment, Paul deliberately chooses to act in a Godly manner.  He patiently continued to spread the good news.  He wrote encouraging letters to fellow believers.  We need to follow his example.  He exhorts in  2 Corinthians 10:3 “though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does”.  Be firm, not belligerent.  Be loving, not proud   Be kind, not conceited. Teach truth in love. We are called to remain holy in spite of what is going on around us.  Above all, we need to deliberately choose to focus on things above.  In Philippians 4:8-9 Paul tells us to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy.  And then to put it into practice.

-Annette Osborn

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. How would you describe Festus from this chapter? How would you describe the Jewish leaders? How would you describe Paul?
  2. Have you are ever been faced with injustice against you? How did you respond?
  3. What do you admire about Paul?

Paul Before Felix

Acts 24

May 12

Once again Paul is calmly stating the facts against his false accusers.  He stresses “there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (v.15).  Felix likes to listen to Paul, probably hoping for a bribe.  He’s a willing audience until Paul starts stepping on his toes.  When the subjects of righteousness, self-control and the coming judgment come up, Felix suddenly has better things to do.

Take care not to listen to God just when it’s convenient.  Or stop fellowship if someone steps on your toes.  Proverbs 27:17 tells us “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”   God wants us in fellowship for a reason.

-Annette Osborn

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Have you ever been in a “bad situation” (before your accusers or in custody for two years or something else) that was an opportunity to share about Jesus and a coming resurrection for the righteous and wicked? (Hint: the answer is yes) Did you seize the opportunity? How could you see the opportunity and be bold to do so next time?
  2. Are you easily offended or avoid further contact when your toes are stepped on? What is a healthy attitude to take?

Violence

Acts 23

May 11

Let’s start with some definitions.

Pharisee-felt spiritually superior; held themselves to the strict letter of the law; observed traditions to be as binding as the written word.

Sadducee- wealthy upper class; didn’t hold to tradition; denied there was a resurrection of the dead… which is why they were Sad-you-see

Sanhedrin- Jewish court of justice.  Made up of both Pharisees & Sadducees.

When the commander realized Paul was a Roman citizen, he wanted to unload this problem in a hurry.  When brought before the Sanhedrin, Paul took the bull by the horns.  As a Pharisee, he focused on an issue he knew was divisive:  resurrection.   So strong were their differences, the groups came to blows and even plotted to assassinate Paul. 

Violence is never the answer.  In our dealings we must remember to represent our humble Lord.       

Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath”.   Paul calmly stated his belief.  He didn’t shout down the opposition. 

James 1:20 “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires”.                      

I Corinthians 16:14 tells us to “Do everything in love”.   Paul didn’t bully people into his way of thinking.  We are called to preach the kingdom.  God will change men’s hearts.

-Annette Osborn

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. How was God working through this situation so that what He wanted done would be done? (see verse 11 and the rest of the chapter)
  2. What groups today are in sharp dispute with one another, sometimes leading to violence?
  3. How will you practice a “soft answer” and “doing everything in love” next time you are in the middle of a dispute?

Your Story

Acts 22

May 10

A personal story is an effective way of connecting with others, often opening doors to intimate conversations.  I often felt that I was missing out on something by not having a “come to Jesus” moment to tell others.  Raised in church, I knew right from wrong.  Though I didn’t always choose wisely, I never veered too far from the path.  What’s encouraging about that?! 

I found some pointers for writing a faith story…

Think about your life before your baptism.  What was missing? 

What did you do to feel fulfilled and accepted?       

What led up to your decision to be baptized? 

Was there a person, event, scripture that opened your heart?        

How has your life changed? 

How is God meeting your needs? 

What is your relationship with God today?

And this tip from 1 Peter 3:15-16 “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

-Annette Osborn

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. See questions above… 🙂
  2. Who do you personally know who could benefit from hearing your story? How will you make opportunities to tell them?
  3. How can you share your story (or pieces of it) with others beyond your closest friends and family? When? Where?

One Goal

Acts 21

May 9

Unlike many Jewish leaders, James and the elders were not jealous of Paul’s success among the Gentiles.  But they were aware that not everyone was so accepting.  To head off problems, the elders asked him to pay the costs of men completing a vow.   Likely a Nazirite vow, this voluntary, temporary commitment to total dedication to God required extensive sacrifices, including a female lamb, a male lamb, unleavened bread, loaves of bread, crackers, oil, and a grain and drink offering.   

Paul wasn’t buying acceptance. In 1 Corinthians 9 he writes “19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”  He had one and only one goal….to win others to Christ.  Let’s be as focused as Paul.

-Annette Osborn

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. If people who knew you were to guess what your main goal was, what might they guess? Would they be right?
  2. How have you become “like others” (while remaining true to Christ’s law) in order to be able to share the good news with them?
  3. What group(s) of people would you want to be accepted by, so that they are willing to hear from you about Jesus Christ? How can you go about this mission?
  4. What was Paul willing to do, and willing to give up, in order to reach more people with the saving gospel? What are you willing to do, and willing to give up, for the same purpose?

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