Watch Out!

Romans 16

June 1

One of the best ways to say “I love you” in the midwest without using those words specifically is to say, “Watch out for deer” when someone is leaving your house in the evening. This is a phrase that is so common, especially in the summer months when deer are more willing to wander further distances before there are plenty of crops to munch on. Ask anyone who has ever hit a deer: the damages to any vehicle can be severe. It is devastating. So, although it is obvious that it is not ideal to hit a deer, nor would anyone want that, we still remind one another to watch out for them. It’s a simple way to show concern to something that is an all too common experience.


The Apostle Paul does just this when he is closing out his letter to the Romans. In Romans 16 he says to the church, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites” (Romans 16:17-18). We all know instinctively that division is not a good thing. Division causes pain and strife in any family, but we see this specifically in the family of God. Just like in the summer months we ought to watch out for deer, so we need to be on guard against people whose goals are to cause divisions and create obstacles. This type of behavior is found in a person who is not interested in growing God’s kingdom by sharing the gospel. Rather, this type of person is interested in dividing God’s kingdom into different sections. Paul further explains the type of people who are always dividing: they are interested in serving themselves and not the Lord Jesus.


We live in a time where politics and culture are always in the forefront of people’s minds. It is hard to take in any form of media without having some type of political statement attached to it. The division that is caused by the polarizing view of politics is something that can be avoided in the church almost altogether. I say almost altogether because there are issues that Christians should vocally stand for such as being pro-life. A majority of political issues fall under the category of “opinion” however. I heard it said well recently that the Apostle Paul could have filled his letters with news concerning the Roman empire. But he didn’t. He spent his time and efforts sharing the good news of the kingdom of God and the Lord Jesus. We need to be on guard from anything that divides the body of Christ, and to seek unity in the body of Christ. Especially when the divisions are created over opinions, and not because of a dissent in sound doctrine. Division should be avoided as best as we can. We should never roll over because it is easier, nor should we have a church split because it would be easier. We should make every effort to keep the family of God in a unified stance. We are stronger and better together. The kingdom grows because of our common faith. Let’s grow God’s kingdom together and not divide it into smaller pieces.

-Nathan Massie


Application:

  1. Seek to build in unity with those around you and don’t become divided away from other people on the basis of opinions.
  2. Watch out for people who seek to make divisions in the church for their own gain.
  3. To remember Christ wants us to be unified in his body and to rejoice in the unity
    in faith that we all share.

Following the Very Best Example

Romans 15

May 31

There are many examples in this world: some good, many bad but none are indifferent. We often see the fruit of living a life without godly character in celebrities who become corrupted by the money and lifestyle that comes from being in the spotlight. It’s unfortunate that these poor examples of how to live life are inescapable because they’re plastered all over the internet. There are, however, good examples of selfless serving people in this world, such as first responders, volunteers who help the needy, and people who seek the good of those around them. The ultimate example that our lives should conform to is of course to the example of the Lord Jesus. Compared to the example of the life of Jesus and his earthly ministry, all other good examples pale in comparison. Following Christ’s example is our first and true calling as Christians.

Paul in Romans 15 gives a clear and achievable example of how to imitate Jesus. Paul says: “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up for Christ who did not please himself” (Romans 15:2-3b). Christ’s ultimate aim was to think of others before he thought of himself. This is most clearly seen by him voluntarily taking the cross on our behalf so that we might have life in God’s kingdom. This principle was lived out in his everyday life, as well. Christ’s goal was to seek the good of those around him, by serving them, ministering to them and ultimately being an example to them. Christ’s life was marked by building up the people around him. This example was often displayed to the outcasts, the poor and those who were suffering. Christ was always interested in supporting and loving those around him and he always thought of himself second. Not just the people in the upper parts of society, but anyone without exception.

Paul then continues his thought by saying “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6). Paul’s thought is this: when we seek to build up those around us we are moving towards a place of harmony. God’s desire is for us to live harmoniously with our brothers and sisters in the faith. When we seek the good of those around us and they do that for us in return, we will truly live in one accord in Christ Jesus, and with one voice glorify God!

Our job as God’s people is to follow the example of the Lord Jesus by seeking the good of others above our own desires. We, by following the example of the Lord Jesus, ourselves are being the example that the world and the next generation of believers need!

-Nathan Massie

Application:

1. Seek the good of those around us, even above our own desires. When we all do this as God’s people we are moving towards harmony.

2. Be the example that our world and young believers need.

3. Realize that the harmony that is achieved by following the example of Jesus unites us in worship to our God.

No Stumbling Blocks

Romans 14

May 30

One of my all time favorite movies from childhood is Finding Nemo. One of my favorite scenes is when Marlin and Dory meet the group of three sharks who vow not to eat fish anymore. The line that is continually repeated by the sharks is “Fish are friends not food”. The three sharks are attempting to help Marlin and Dory on their quest to find Nemo. Marlin and Dory have a moment where they are arguing over the diving mask that has the address to where Nemo could be. They are pulling the mask to and fro and it snaps against Dory’s nose and she bleeds. The largest of the three sharks, Bruce the Great White, catches a whiff of her blood and he forgets the new motto that he’s trying to live by. A wild chase ensues with one of the most intense scenes from the movie, while the shark who vowed to help lost his way with his desire to eat them.


There are times in our lives where we forget who we have become in Jesus. There are moments where we forget the new life that comes from having a relationship with God and we are tempted to sink back to our old ways. After getting a faint scent of blood Bruce was ready to turn back to his natural shark ways.


In Romans 14 the term that Paul uses is “stumbling block” to refer to areas of temptation in a believer’s life that might not be a hindrance to our siblings in Christ. In fact Paul says to “not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother…so then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:13-19). The blood that came from Dory’s nose was not a temptation that everyone fell for in that scene. Bruce was the weak one who was struggling the most with his new life. The blood was a hindrance and stumbling block that sent him in a frenzy in which he fell into his natural temptation.


If there’s an area that really tempts a brother or sister in Christ, but does not tempt us, we must go out of our way to help our siblings not fall into temptation. Our job is to be our brother’s keeper and to come alongside one another so as to not allow ourselves to fall into sin. Paul implores us and shows the seriousness of bringing temptation to our siblings in Christ by making the statement: “Do not…destroy the one for whom Christ died.” (Romans 14:15). The context of this passage is concerning food and drink that might be a hindrance in the lives of ancient Christians, but the wider application encompasses all temptation that we might face for all time. The greater rule here is that temptation, no matter how insignificant it seems for us, is a big deal to someone who struggles in that area. We must be sensitive to the areas of temptation for our brothers and sisters and make diligent efforts to pursue peace for the mutual upbuilding of the body of Christ.


One of the most practical ways we can limit temptation for those around us is to practice modesty. Modesty is not some old out of date stuffy ideology. Modesty is the pursuit of holiness in Christ through our dress, speech and conduct. Choosing modest clothes, words and actions is something that is so foreign to our world today. God desires us to be set apart and one way we can do that is to make sure that we are honoring God and one another through our appearance, our choice of language and the way we live our lives. This is a way to bring peace to those around us and to make sure that we are not being a stumbling block and a hindrance to those who see us, hear us and live their lives in proximity to us.


Sin and temptation are both extremely serious. They are also both difficult to deal with. But with the help of God and the help of one another we can remove the stumbling blocks from each other’s paths. We can also make sure that we are not hindering one another’s walk with God, but rather enhancing our walks with God by building up one another in Christ.

-Nathan Massie


Application:

  1. Have intentional conversations with your friends about what temptations they struggle with and how you can help them.
  2. Identify your own weaknesses and struggles and ask for help from a trusted and mature Christian friend and/or mentor if you keep falling into the same temptations.
  3. Ask God for guidance on what steps you should take to help your friends with their walks with God.
  4. Build up one another in Christ through accountability. It is nearly impossible to deal with temptation and sin without the help and accountability from mature Christian friends and/or mentors.

Be A Good Neighbor

Romans 13

May 29

For most of my adult life I’ve lived in an apartment and one of the biggest realizations is this: it can be difficult to have neighbors that are so close to you. Rarely have I had quiet neighbors that have totally kept to themselves. I’ve heard the intricacies of arguments that I wish I could unhear. I’ve smelled cooking that was not appealing. I’ve been awakened in the middle of the night to a barking dog or to a loud crash of pots and pans falling out of a cabinet unexpectedly.


It isn’t always fun being a neighbor.


Sometimes it’s challenging to want to be a good neighbor to people because of the way they act. On the other hand, it’s not always as obvious to us that we might be the neighbor that needs some improvement. Being a good neighbor should not be something that we do because it is reciprocated by another person. Being neighborly to others is what God asks us to do despite the way they might treat or think of you.


The biblical concept of being a neighbor goes beyond those who are in our immediate vicinity. It is not just someone who lives in your apartment building or on your street. A neighbor is not limited to someone that looks like you, talks like you, or acts like you. A neighbor is not just someone who is a Christian. A neighbor is not just someone who shares citizenship in the same country as you. The Bible is clear that all fellow humans are our neighbors. This is a concept that Jesus really drove home in a conversation with a Pharisee.


The expert lawman approaches Jesus and asks “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). Jesus then asks for the man’s opinion on what the law has to say about it. The man responds with “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27). Jesus affirms the lawyer’s answer, but the lawyer had a follow up question: “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). The question: “Who is my neighbor?” is not a
question of identifying who his neighbors are but rather who they aren’t. The question that the man is really asking is this: who am I allowed to not be loving towards and still get away with it? Jesus explains in the parable that follows this interaction that being a good neighbor means loving other people regardless of who they are.


Paul in Romans 13 really drives the point home on what it means to love our neighbors.

He says this:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).

Paul begins his thought on neighborly love by speaking about debt. Paul wants to make it clear that the only thing we truly owe one another is to love one another continually. What a remarkable thought. That’s a type of debt that even Dave Ramsey can get behind!

Paul continues with a list of familiar commandments. The “shall not” list is a list of bare minimums of how we should treat one another. We shouldn’t be killing each other, or stealing from each other, or desiring one another’s possessions. But if we seek to love one another we are truly fulfilling what is required of us: not just scraping by on what’s minimally expected. That’s why Paul finishes up with this thought: “Love does no harm to a neighbor”. We should look to fulfill the highest good to those around us by never seeking to do harm in any capacity. Let us seek the good of those who might not seek our good in return. Let us not repay negatively for what negative things people might have done to us. Let’s take the higher path and accept the greater calling that God has called us to: to love others with no bounds.


Let’s strive to be good neighbors by seeking out the good to those around us. Let us be as loving as possible to others who are different from us. Let us fulfill what God has called us to: to love people no matter who they are or how different they might be. Let’s continually aim to fulfill the high calling of loving others as we love ourselves.


A lot has been said about loving others and seeking the good of those around us, but that is more of an ideal than something to do. Loving those around us in a neighborly way is extremely practical. It could be meeting the needs of someone in your community – whether physical, spiritual or emotional. It could be volunteering at your local food pantry to sacrifice some of your time to help the hungry. It could be spending time after school tutoring someone who is struggling in a subject. It could be performing a service for someone that isn’t physically capable of doing it. It could be spending time with a shut-in who is lonely. It could be discipling someone to follow Jesus. Loving people is an extremely practical act.


Being a good neighbor means meeting the needs of those around you regardless if they return the favor to you. Loving people is an endless job that will never have an end. The world needs strong examples of what it means to be a good neighbor, and it starts with us.

-Nathan Massie


Questions:

  1. What does it mean to be a good neighbor?
  2. Who are some neighbors in your community that need help, and how can you
    help them?
  3. How does being a loving neighbor positively impact your community?

Cling to What is Good

Romans 12

May 28

More than any other year, I have had conversations with other teachers about leaving our profession. If you have a teacher in your life, you’ve probably heard it before: low pay, no appreciation, kids are getting worse, and no support.  Teachers, by nature, are critical thinkers and problem solvers, which can also make them quick to complain.  Change their donuts to bagels in a staff meeting and a mutiny will form.  I do not say this as one who stands outside the circle.  I am equally guilty, although my frustrations are often internalized and turned into canker sores and headaches. For a reason I can’t quite pinpoint, it has been especially hard to keep my morale up these past nine months.  I took off every day I could this year because I just had to get away.  Not necessarily go on vacation, visit the doctor, or spend time with a chore.  I just straight up needed to walk away from my classroom because I could feel the souring of my attitude and the shrinking of my heart.  I admit it: there is a lot not to like about being a teacher, BUT, and this is a really big BUT (snicker), it is an unbelievably fun, challenging, and exciting profession.  If you place your focus on the good, it far outweighs the day-in-day-out demands and frustrations. The intrinsic compensations are great, and why, ultimately, teaching is consistently ranked as one of the most rewarding careers.

Now, I do have a pro-trip, a trick, a game changer when it comes to negativity towards your career, or being a parent, or living as a teenager, or any other stage or status in life.  It is delivered at the end of today’s reading in Romans 12: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  What a simple solution.  If we’d only heard that earlier, right?  Don’t do bad stuff.  Don’t let the bad stuff get to you.  You may have picked up that my commentary is laced with sarcasm.  However, for much of the chapter, this is the theme: something bad happens, do something good in its stead. Man, is it hard.  I mean, how is it even possible? Why would I reward someone for being bad to me?  Why should I indulge in any situation which makes me feel stressed?

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Romans 12:9-11

There is a bleak backdrop to living in this world. There is war, famine, and disease.  There is poverty, addiction, and abuse.  There are shooting sprees, abductions, and pandemics, and we’re only beginning to list the atrocities of the present evil age. There is an onslaught of badness of the baddest worstiness.  BUT, and this is a really big BUT, there is good, and that good stems from our Heavenly Father, and with that good, we are triumphant. We can love those who have enslaved us, show mercy to those who have betrayed us, enrich those who have stolen from us, and give peace to those who bring war to us.  And with that good, the goodness of God, we win.  BUT, this time a slightly smaller one, we have to be ready to change our thinking.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. – Romans 12: 18-19

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12: 2

We cannot be conformed to the pattern of diseased thinking.  Although it is an easy path to follow, it is poisonous and breeds destruction.  We have to be ready to reframe and reform every situation, our own dire circumstance, into God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will.  The arrows for this fight are fledged with praying for our enemies and those who persecute us.  I remember distinctly this year I was becoming increasingly frustrated with a student, when she shouted “Jesus Christ!” I responded by saying, “You can’t talk to Him right now because He’s busy talking to me about you.” Playfully intended, when I become frustrated with a student, an adult, family, or children, prayer is my weapon. Talking to God about it changes my heart and exposes my faults. As those who follow the Lord, we have the ability to test and prove what action we should take to demonstrate the Kingdom of God.  In the vast majority of cases, our fiery arrows are plunged with the fruit we bear when mangled and tangled amongst weeds and thorns. Don’t drop the ball. Hold on to to what is good!  Cling!  We must be stringent to live out His moral will (see: fruits of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22-23) even if it causes our situation to deteriorate further. That’s hard, but this is when our testimony truly begins. Enemies and spectators, like Paul, and his jailer, and the thief on the cross, are actively watching and it changes their hearts. Don’t give your complaint a shelter to live in; give your life, your action, your attitude as the testimony to the Father.

-Aaron Winner

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What are the problems with negative thinking – for you and for others? Is there an area in which you get stuck in negative, stinking thinking? What gems in Romans 12 can help change this mindset? Write them out. How can you begin retraining the brain (be transformed by the renewing of your mind)?
  2. What evil will you work to overcome? How? Pray for God’s leading and strength.

Roots

Romans 11

May 27

I have never really pondered the meaning behind the politically-charged term “grassroots.” I have only thought about it in the most basic of terms.   The people are basic, grass is basic, so as an organization or movement made up of basic people; this must be their connection. These past few weeks creating a garden in a space that was previously untamed ground has really changed the direction of my contemplation on this term. I had taken a great deal of time to till up the ground, remove the vegetation, make a raised bed, and amend the soil.  We sowed new vegetable seeds and waited.  And waited.  And WAITED. To our horror, we watched the most beautiful patch of grass within our entire yard form but not a single seed germinate and reach the surface.  Together my wife and I removed the newly formed grass, this time with great care to remove as much of the roots as possible. We sowed the seed again and waited. This time the vegetables plants grew alongside the grass.

This is when I began rethinking “grassroots.”  There is and was so much of it.  It was impossible to get rid of, to stamp out (at least for the novice gardener). The roots run in so many directions and are intertwined.  Momentarily getting rid of the green is possible, but the grass comes back stronger, greener, and flourishes even more from the pruning.  Culturally and politically, grassroots make a deep connection to this extended metaphor.  As regular folk, we can be part of big ideas or shared values with expectations that are entrenched and hard to amend or move.  However, we are not the root, we are just the greeny growth that thrives off the vine.

“Consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.” – Romans 11:18b

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. – John 15:1-4

Romans 11 makes an ever deeper root connection (this is a pun, and you’ll see why in a moment).  In this case, the gardener is not a novice. Grafting branches onto a tree takes an experienced hand.  The metaphorical botanical in this passage is an olive tree. But why? Because they live an insanely long time. They are a millennial perennial. Additionally, the roots of an olive tree can grow deeper under the surface than above.  It is extremely hard to extinguish some of these species.  Impossible, when you consider the species specifically spoken about here: Jesus Christ.  His Father is the Gardener, He is the vine, and we are the branches. We are grafted by God into the Savior, which predates His arrival.  It is the oldest, deepest promise of God.  “After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!” Romans 11:24

No longer is there a single type of branch budding on the tree, but the Good Gardener has chosen a variety.  Each one is equal to the other because none can be supported without the vine.  This makes us all part of the same faith, intertwined in the same hope, which strengthens and flourishes the whole plant, (or body – 1 Corinthians 12)  These roots run from the origins of the universe and the branches are fruiting, growing, and reaching towards Kingdom Come.  Are you accessing the sap of the Spirit? Utilizing your provision to make fruit? Allowing the gardener to prune the dead bits? Tap into the power and the promise that most assuredly lies in the deepest root.

-Aaron Winner

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. Reading Romans 11, what do we learn about the Gardener who grafts in branches? How would you describe Him? What is His purpose?
  2. How does the Doxology (an expression of praise to God, sometimes sung) in verses 33-36 tie in with the rest of the chapter?
  3. How is your grafting process going? How have the roots supported you? How are you getting along with the other branches?

There is No Difference

Romans 10

May 26

One of my favorite childhood stories is The Sneetches by Dr. Suess.  It tells the tale of two groups of the same fictional creature that are cliqued together by the presence and the absence of a green star on their bellies.  Those with the stars participate in exclusive events, while those without are excluded. More conflict follows, and you’ll love how it ends — But don’t take my word for it. Be warned there may be spoilers ahead.

Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. – Romans 10:3-4

Christian of the 21st century have the tendency to be the star-bellied sneetches, or the modern-day pharisitical Jews. We are really good at identifying each other through our branding, participating in exclusive events together, and making sure others know they are not on the same level as us. We believe through family heritage, denominational existence, or culture perpetuations that we have increased in value and rarity like a fine wine. By comparison, we may look at others struggling with more physically or mentally identifiable sin, rolling in the hot mess of their struggles, and working through the consequences of poor choices, and keep them on the outskirts because they are a little too rough around the edges. Be informed. We all are the same sinful species.

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him – Romans 10:12

Again I say, woe to you, Christian.  You may be in a different position, but it is like comparing one steaming pile of muck to another. We are rotting stacks of stench that stink, stank, and stunk.  Polishing one pile of manure doesn’t make it more appealing than the pile to the left or right. However, one thing is true.  With age, compost makes some pretty fertile soil. In this process of breaking down, we come to terms with who we really are in Jesus Christ and can grow the seed of the Kingdom of God.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. – Romans 10:9-10

Our eyes shouldn’t be focused inward on our marshmallow roast, but rather outward, leading others to the saving conversations about the grace of Jesus Christ. There are so many who already know Christ but are ashamed to try to live more abundantly because of the odor their life is currently putting off.  It is good to remind them you’re a decaying mess too.  Love like Jesus. The bigger the trash-fire, the greater the compassion, cause Lord knows we need it too.  The same creatures with the same Lord.

-Aaron Winner

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What stood out to you most in today’s chapter and devotion?
  2. Have you ever been guilty of a “better than…” attitude? Is that a good way to attract more people to become followers of Jesus? How can you improve?
  3. How pretty are your feet? Re-read Romans 10:12-15. How and where can you take the good news beyond your saved little circle/clique to the hurting world who is just like you?

Why Did You Make Me Like This?

Romans 9

May 25

Sweet adolescence.  A time of a personal experiment, finding one’s self, and coming of age. It is a scary season filled with growing feet, growing hair, and new body odors.  During these years we’ll try out more looks, hairstyles, and ideas than the rest of our lives combined.  For many of us, there is some perceived physical flaw, (acne and weight were mine) we try to hide or minimize because we don’t want to stick out or become the source of ridicule (and maybe this is still true today of some of us who are older, too). Why did I have to be made like this?  Why couldn’t my heavenly Father shape me to be more like them over there?

One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us?  For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?  “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Romans 9:19-20

Romans 9 seems to indicate that God has foreseen our identity and placed us to “be” in our present circumstance.  We’re all made out of the same clay, but we each have a different role.  He knows our hearts, and He will use each of us to his advantage.  We don’t even need to be “good.” God foreknew Esua’s flagrant disregard to his birthright and used it to continue his line through Jacob.  God used the hardened heart of Pharaoh to bring about the freedom of the Hebrews for Egyptian captivity.  He used King Cyrus to send the Jews home to rebuild their temple and wall.  The lack of relationship to the Heavenly Father doesn’t remove you from being a character in his story.  God made each of them like this and they fulfilled His purpose.

But let’s provide some contrast.  God used Esther, Joseph, and Solomon in almost identical manners to those listed above.  So, did God predestine the fate of the “good” and the “bad”?  Give some ungodly inclinations so they could move in the direction of wrongdoing, and give others no opportunity to fail at following Him?  Well, I’m not a theologian, but I feel the Bible is consistent about the free choice of man to choose and follow God at any point, including His son, Jesus Christ, who faces his own trials and temptations.  We may have perceived traits, inclinations, chips, chunks, or some other appraisal of malformation in our clay, which again, beg the question, “Why did I have to be made like this?” Well, whether it is the normal stuff or the special stuff (v.21), God has made you to be used for times such as this, according to His plan..

In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offering. Roman 9:8

Because there is no longer a single line of inheritance, Jewish heritage, he is calling all the pottery of different shapes and sizes to follow Him.  Our titled-question I cannot answer. That is the Heavenly Father prerogative and determination. What I can tell you is to spend less time questioning God about the chunky bits, the cracks, the struggles He has placed within you and before you. We have been formed exactly in a way to shine the fullness of God.  To find Him, not ourselves.  To look like Jesus, not everyone else.  For us, His work and craftsmanship, to trust in the Potter’s identity alone.

-Aaron Winner

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. If you could ask Paul to further explain one of his points in Romans 9 what would you ask and why? What might he reply?
  2. What do you love about God’s plan? What do you wonder about God’s plan?
  3. What is the joy in being the clay not the potter?

The Chosen, The Groaning, The Story, & The Cross

Romans 8

May 24

There are a month’s worth of daily devotions that fill the pages of the eighth chapter of Romans.  It is my go-to chapter when I need a reminder of my definition in Christ.  I have read this chapter in thanksgiving and through blurry-vision tears.  I have turned here in the midst of demoralizing sin and great spiritual triumph.  God has reminded me time and time again that my definition, purpose, compassions, and mercies lie here.  Ultimately, the Spirit is governing me, being my guide, becoming my life and my peace (v.6)  This is all breathed into every square inch of Romans 8.  So I present to you four enduring truths that time and time again speak to me from these 39 verses.

1. You are chosen and adopted by God.

God created Adam and Eve. What I believe to be equally true is that he created each and every one of us since.  He stitched us together in the womb of our mothers (Psalm 139:14).  He counted the hairs on our head (Luke 12:7).  We are indeed each God’s creation.  Although this makes God our Creator, we are not yet called his children.  We are sons and daughters of a genealogy filled with sin and in turn, this creates a separation.  It is when we cry out to Him “Abba, Father! Daddy!” (v.15), admit our guilt, and respond to His will that we receive the outpouring of his blessing and the inheritance that truly belongs to us.  We trade the shackles of sin for the anticipation of adoption (v.23). We are spoken for by our Heavenly Father.  Our account is paid.  And in those moments when we stray, we are loved deeper by a Father desperately awaiting our return and calling for us to come back home (Luke 15:20).

2. The world is groaning for Jesus.

Is it not more apparent with each passing day?  Wars and rumors of wars (Matthew 24:6).  Men calling what is evil “good” (Isaiah 5:20). The rapid increase of widespread disease, famine, and earthquakes (Matthew 24:7). The hastening of the spread of the Gospel through the information age (Matthew 24:14).  The physical world, the spiritual world, and our individual hearts are groaning for Christ’s return.  The beat of our pulse is quickening.  The contractions have begun (v.22). The Spirit of God is cuing us to the long awaited return of Christ. Hiding behind our pews and pulpits will do nothing to advance the Gospel and satisfy the aching within.  It is time to share his message with the most desperate and broken who may seemingly be the furthest away (not so..see #4).  The abandoned, the sickly, the tax collector, the prostitute, and everyone else on the outskirts and in between.  Bring their attention to the aching they have within. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few (Matthew 9:37).

3. God controls the narrative.

When asked, “How are you doing?”  You might simply reply, “Good,”  as a catch-all synonymous with happy, pleased, content, or a lack of present conflict.  But if we are “good” and follow the will of God, we can expect our contentment to be frequently interrupted. We can expect conflict to be a recurring feature of our life. We can expect happy to be a word reserved for experiencing persecution on the behalf of Christ (1 Peter 4:13).  This is why it is tough to hear, especially in the deepest, darkest moments of our life, “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (v.30)” He isn’t using your circumstance to make you happy. He is using your circumstance to further testify of his Good News. He is using the joy in your struggle, your steadfastness in conflict, and your love for those who have wronged you as a testimony for good.  If you are following Christ, you no longer write the story.  Sometimes you end up at the bottom of a well, falsely accused, thrown in prison, and sharing your faith with the most unsuspecting ears. (Genesis 37-40)  But how sweet it is.  How great is our hope.  How wonderful our reward. Our story, when it becomes His story, is very, very good.

4. No matter…The cross.

What can separate us from the Love of God is Christ Jesus? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.  As long as we suck air. As long as we can consciously reflect and repent, there is God.  You can fail in a moment or run for decades, yet there before you He stands. No matter what.  Abusing or abuse.  Addiction or depression.  Idolatry or simply burying your head in the sand.  Murder or loss. Demons or baggage. Denial of his presence and cursing His name will never stop His knocking and will never rescind his love.  He is ready to bring you into a life of adoption, that will help you understand the groaning within, and will change your narrative for good. Those who love Him understand. Those who don’t yet most certainly can.  No matter where you are today, you are just one step away from the cross.

-Aaron Winner

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Have you accepted God as your Creator and your Father? What does that mean to you?
  2. Ask God to show you who is stuck in the groanings of this world without the hope of the return of Jesus Christ. Together with God, make a rescue plan. What is His role, what is yours? Pray and proceed.
  3. How is your story different because of God’s love for you in Christ? Throughout Romans 8 what do you find about who God created you to be and who you are in Christ? How is the cross a part of your story?

Do Do

Romans 7

May 22

As someone who is trending towards 40, I realize there is still some time to grow up.  I am not a lost cause.  However, the longer I teach middle school, the further delayed my coming of age may be.  I still laugh at a lot of immature things.  Body noises. People falling.  General potty humor.   But nothing quite gets me like a “do do.”  I remember sitting in an interview for an open position at my school, intently listening, taking notes, giving confirming head nods, and then out of nowhere came “do do.”  “I am very aware that I do do…”  Every muscle in my body clinched to remain professional.  I hid my smile with my hand, furrowed my brow, and increased the quantity of affirming head shakes. I was no longer listening, only trying to hide the fight going on within.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  Romans 7:15-18

In a similar way, Paul makes it clear in Romans 7 that our body and mind aren’t always on the same page.  In our innermost being, we desire the things of God.  We desire to be holy.  We desire to know His will for our life. We want to ponder, study, and worship.  Unfortunately, what we desire and how we act follow different paths. We don’t do the things of God, but we “do do” the things that grasp for the attention of our immature faith, paving our way to fiery judgment with good intentions.

So why are we like this? We are not slaves of sin, but we are very much subject to the circumstance and condition we find ourselves, living in this present evil age.  We are sinners, living amongst other sinners, in a sinful world; it’s what comes to us naturally.  If we try to fight the battle alone, no matter how valiantly we fight or resiliently we hold the line, we will ultimately crash and burn.  It takes the man, Christ Jesus, who fought against sin and came out victorious bringing death to its knees.  We must ask and allow him to intercede and succeed in all areas of our lives, but especially in the places we leave ourselves vulnerable.  He must be Lord of our screens, and our pride, and our money, and our idols, and our drinks, and of all our vices.

Bind yourself to Him. Cling to the cross of our Savior. Until Jesus returns, temptation will surround us, but praise be to our Heavenly Father, it is Christ who lives within us.  Don’t do it any other way. Do do what he says. Bear your cross, increase Christ, and cultivate a mature faith. In turn we will have actions that match the greatest ponderings, pinings, and pursuits of the heart that is completely submitted to God.

-Aaron Winner

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Choose one area of your life in which you know what you want to do in order to be pleasing to God, but you (often) find you do something else instead. How can you bump up your fight against this temptation? How can you make Jesus the Lord of even this area of your life?
  2. Reading through Romans 7, what verse would be a good one for you to post in a significant location and work on memorizing to bring to mind when faced with what you will do – and not do?

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