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?

Finding the Edge of Infinity

Romans 6

May 22

Observable and theoretical astronomy both confirm the universe is indeed infinite.  It just keeps going, and going, and going in every possible direction. There is no place within our existence you could plant your telescope and see what lies beyond.  There is no edge.  There is no boundary.  Even for those who make no concessions for God who brought this all to be “in the beginning,” this can be both a mind-boggling and mind-numbing contemplation.  

Such are qualities of an infinite God. Specifically, Romans 6, speaks to God’s infinite grace.  It expands in all physical locations, to every generation, in every moment.  No matter where we find ourselves, no matter what we’ve seen, no matter what lies in our past, we will not find a place within our own existence that God’s grace cannot live in. It, too, is both mind-boggling and mind-numbing.

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” Romans 6:1-2

To know God, is to know grace, but to know grace is to know sin.  Ironically, Paul states we should actually use less grace, even though we have the knowledge that the mercies of God are infinite.  This is because he has counted the cost of using an infinite amount of grace versus living a life in accordance with the laws of the Heavenly Father.  Unrepented sin, no matter how great or small, creates separation from God, an expanse as large as the universe.  The great irony is the further you settle into a life of sin, the less likely you are to seek God’s forgiveness. God’s grace is flowing abundantly like water from a tap, yet continual, habitual sin becomes a drain that siphons it away, never allowing the vessel to fill.  We gain nothing by exhausting the grace of God.  We have the same empty vessels with which we started.  Sin only further entangles and enslaves; and eventually, we become entrenched in wickedness instead of righteously restored through the blood of Jesus Christ.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. – Romans 6:11-13

Paul encourages us to plug the drain. Stop the habitual sin, or “building a testimony”; or creating a who’s who of things you’ve done. Set yourself free from sin and death and submit to and live for the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ that leads to a life more abundant, and ultimately, a life that is as infinite as the heavens. You can be filled with Living Water, ready to carry his words of grace, comfort, love, healing, and love wherever and whenever in the universe he calls you to – the place you now stand or the ends of the Earth.
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:22-23

-Aaron Winner

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Have you found sin to entangle and enslave? How else would you describe the power of sin?
  2. In Aaron’s illustration, how do we keep God’s grace from running down the drain?
  3. Do you appreciate God’s grace for you? How will you thank God?

Devotion

Matthew 1

January 1

de·vo·tion | \ di-ˈvō-shən (noun) – 1. a feeling of strong love or loyalty; 2. the use of time, money, energy, etc., for a particular purpose 3. prayer, worship, or other religious activities that are done in private.

So it begins.  A new year, a new beginning! (but in reality, pretty much the same as yesterday, just with a couple minutes more or less daylight than the surrounding days depending on which hemisphere you live in.) As anticipated, we are beginning a new set of readings for this year! Yay! Today it begins with Matthew 1, which goes through the family tree of Jesus through the line of his father, Joseph., and the DM from God about Jesus.  It is a showcase of how God has been devoted to his people, Israel, faithfully moving generation-to-generation, literally or metaphorically, to begin the path of Jesus Christ and the redemption of us who follow Him.  In so doing, God displays his devotion to us; His love, His use of time, and the pouring out of His holy blessing.  Because of this, we should do nothing less than be devoted to Him in the same manner (John 4:19). What does it mean to be devoted to God?  Today, we look at the three definitions for the word devotion to gain a clearer picture of how we can remain faithful, not only to reading God’s word this year, but drawing closer to Him through this daily activity.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. – Matthew 1:24-25

1. A Strong Love or Loyalty – On our very best days, we seek God in every aspect of our day.  We plan alongside Him; we move with Him; and it is because we love Him and desire to do His will.  But then there are other days where we are faithful and devoted to Him, and our flighty human nature begins to tug.  Those days, usually Mondays, we are in a place of love, but not necessarily acting on a response.  We still must find the will to be faithful, true, and loyal, because God is still in these moments forgiving, restoring, healing, and moving us.  Devote yourself to reading the Word of God throughout this year. Hopefully, in this blog. Follow, share, and do His will in this manner and your relationship with Him will grow stronger. 

Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah. – Matthew 1:17

2. The Use of Time for a Particular Purpose – It is obvious from reading the genealogy in Matthew 1 that God uses time precisely. This may be used as evidence that God had created a family tree from Adam to Second Adam, Jesus, before the creation of the world. He set them apart.  There is no doubt that setting aside time for a particular purpose has its perks.  Christians have been doing it for centuries, coming together at the same time and location to worship God.  In doing this, the weekly life of the family or individual is governed by their meeting as a body of believers, “Sorry, we can’t do that because we have church.”  In the same manner, your individual time of worship and devotion with God should govern each of your days, not simply be the remaining portions.  Set aside time that doesn’t have distractions, doctor’s appointments, or drudgery. This is time only for you and God.

Because Joseph, her husband, was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. – Matthew 1:19-20

3. Religious Activities Done in Private – Joseph wanted to “put away” Mary privately instead of humiliating her in public because he was faithful.  WHAT?!  He was faithful to the law and the customs of His people, which many of us often confuse with the Will of God.  It is also in private that Joseph receives a direct message – God’s will is moving in a much different direction and will change the foundation and fulfillment of the Law.  Being devoted to God is not solely in the public display, although the symbols of baptism and communion are important public, visible representations that acknowledge our walk with Christ.  Before giving us the model prayer in Matthew 6, Jesus discourages us from making our prayer, devotion, and fasting times something that we draw attention to because when we do, we draw attention to ourselves.  It is welcome, and highly encouraged, that you read these devotions alongside someone you know, but it’s not to showcase your devoutness, or to shout in the streets your sufferings for Christ, or to display your streaks.  There will be time to declare your faith and testimony in public, but it is guided by what is done behind the closed doors of those who are devoted.

-Aaron Winnner

QUESTIONS TO PONDER/DISCUSS

you may pick and choose your favorites

  • In this chapter we see several names for the baby born. What names do you find in verses 1, 16, 21, 23, 25 (some are repeated) and what is the significance and meaning of each? Footnotes may be helpful. What will help us remember the importance of these names?
  • Which definition of devotion do you feel you are doing the best with right now? Which one could use a little work? What would your family, friends, neighbors say you are devoted to? Better yet – what would God say you are devoted to?
  • The angel told Joseph in a dream, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife…” (Matthew 1:20). Think about what God may be wanting you to do today, this week, this month, this year. It might go against your natural tendencies or the customs of the land. It may be something that causes you fear and some anxiety. Pray for the direction and follow-through to step out in devotion to God and be an active part of His plans for redemption.
  • Many people find great benefit from the practice of journaling – often writing down thoughts, questions, feelings, quotes helps them stick a little better. You may enjoy daily writing out a verse from each chapter. You can either write out the verse pictured with each devotion, or when reading through the day’s chapter look for a special verse that you want to write down to take with you through the day.

The link to read today’s chapter, Matthew 1, on BibleGateway.com is now at the top, directly below the title and picture.

And here’s the reading plan for the year to print and mark your progress. Looking forward to Seeking Growing and Loving together with you in 2022! God has good things in store for those who seek Him!

Resolution 6: Finish What You Have Started

Malachi 3-4 and Revelation 22

If you are reading this, you have officially made it to the end of 2021, like it or not.  For many, whether they have faced greater hardships or substantial joy, they are ready to see what God has in store for their next year of life.  For me, the calendar is one of the few things that I can say each year that I saw through to completion.  I have successfully completed the calendar 36 or so times; however, one year, if the Lord tarries, I simply won’t.  Poof.  My dusty remains will most likely rest in some sentimental location in the earth’s crust to wait for the return of Jesus Christ, awaiting to receive his promise alongside all those who faithful have served Him (Hebrews 11:39-40).

Conversely, with about every other element in my life, I am a terrible finisher.  Currently, I have several projects going on at my home: a mostly finished deck, one mostly finished fence, one mostly unfinished fence, and a horseshoe pit that I decided to begin work on a couple of days ago. I present this as evidence that I am a terrible finisher, and this is just a single outlet of my life.  This is true in pretty much every aspect, from professional work to text messages, there is always something left undone.  Thank you, God for not making the Christian walk a checklist that has to be completed before I bite the big one. No matter how many “tasks” I have performed, how many prophecies I have spoken, or how much love I have shown, if I wake up the next day still sucking air, I am not finished, and that is a feeling very familiar to me.

Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near. Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.” – Revelation 22:10-11

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4: 6-8

God has us covered with grace.  If He cared, like Kingdom of God-cared, about my fences, deck, or horseshoe pit, then they would already be made complete, and I could move onto the next project at hand.  But we have an eternal God whose mind is set on eternal things.  He doesn’t care about my home projects.  Only my heart in pursuing them. He doesn’t care about my career, only my heart in pursuing it.  He doesn’t care about my resolutions, text messages, or what I am leaving undone, only my heart when pursuing each of those things.  His grace is already complete, so the thing He and I work on are the hearts that will find their way to the Kingdom of God, including, and most importantly to me, my own.

If 2021 is my last calendar year, I will leave behind much undone, which may resound with you because many of us are in the same boat. However, my heart is the one project that I have assuredly been working on and hope and pray that it is finished and made God complete through Christ Jesus (Col 2:10). Everything can be (and really will be) left undone, unfinished, and incomplete. I encourage us all to close out this year being finishers. Not by checking off the last couple of boxes of projects, resolutions, or bucket list items that remain, but by considering matters of the heart: your faith, your actions, and your pursuit of eternal things, so you can end this day, this year, and this life, strong.

“On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not. – Malachi 3:17-18

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:4-6

-Aaron Winner

As we finish off our 2021 Reading plan…we are excited about beginning a new plan for SeekGrowLove for 2022. Watch for more information coming today! Sneak peak – tomorrow’s reading will be Matthew 1. We are glad to have you on this journey working on our hearts as we Seek Him, Grow Our Faith and Love Him and Others through another calendar year!

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Malachi 3-4 and Revelation 22

Resolution 5: Make Healthy Choices

Malachi 1-2 and Revelation 21

I think we all have flirted with the “best by” dates on food products.  Some of us have done it out of necessity, others maybe more out of laziness, but there is no doubt that some are more sensitive to these subjective guidelines .  I personally give it a sniff and stir test.  Looking for foul odors or curious textures before giving it a taste.   The level of craving or hunger often determines how much flexibility I will give.  At work, I still haven’t lived down a tub full of moldy hummus I ate because I didn’t want to waste it.  I should have just kept my mouth shut (well open really, I was eating), but alas, here I am telling another audience. Surely, the carrots, celery, and apple I was enjoying with the hummus offset any of the negative consequences.  I am willing to eat leftovers, perform sniff tests, down some soft grapes, because when I do this, I give my family an opportunity to buy healthy fresh foods, and treat them to a pleasing sit-down meal from time to time.  This Outback Dinner was brought to you by the goat cheese that sat on the bottom of the meat drawer for weeks and the awful cauliflower-something dish that no one else would eat. Nevertheless, it would seem a bit more detestable if I only treated myself alone and made my family eat the stuff growing hair in the back of the fridge.

 When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty. – Malachi 1:8

Now to frame these choices into a different context.  Is this the way we are treating our relationship with God?  Are we giving him the leftovers, the surplus of our pantry, or the rejects of our storehouse?  Is there an allotted time that you are giving God each day for prayer?  Or do you pray when you have time.  Or if you get up early.  Or when you’re in the car alone.  Are you only tithing what you have left after you pay your bills?  And that is only if there is anything left.  Or maybe not this month because things are tight.  Are you filling the church with single-ply toilet paper when you have triple-ply at your house?  Or bringing your recipe-gone-wrong to the potluck?  Or going to church only when it’s convenient to your and your kids schedule?  Or donating things because you didn’t like the style anyways? If you answered yes to any of these, what you are giving God is going to require a sniff and stir test; your offering may be lame. Your discipleship is growing mold and diseased.  When we are talking about God, we give him the firstfruits.  The unblemished.  Simply the best we have (which still is the equivalent to nothing) but it is fragrant to God and His desires.  He acknowledges the sacrifice when we bring it with a merciful heart. He sees the effort we are making to have a relationship with Him. Our offering is not animals or crops, it is our time, our effort, or energy, our money, and our stuff.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? – Romans 8:32

God didn’t skimp on salvation.  He didn’t provide someone who was expendable.  He didn’t choose someone who was already terminally ill. He didn’t choose a criminal.  He picked the firstfruits, or as Colossians 1 says the firstborn of all creation, meaning before it all, God had already set aside the sacrifice of His son for our sins.  He picked the best.  The only man unblemished by the disease of sin.  This is our example of what sacrifice should look like.  Even though we don’t live in the age of sacrifice, giving first, going without, but most importantly showcasing with our very best effort our desire for God is still a beautiful way to show our love for Him and our request to receive the magnificence of his mercies.  He doesn’t require our sacrifice, but he desires our worship.

“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.  Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”

On a final note, the best of God’s plan is yet to come.  The richness in store for us is beyond anything we would do without now.  Again and again, as you read the blueprints of the Kingdom in Revelation 21, you will be blown away by the preparations God has made.  The God outside of time has taken all of His time to make something beyond all fathom, wealth, and existence.  Wow!  Consequently, when your sacrifice is from the healthiest choice, you are going to miss some fun.  You will have to wake up early or stay up late.  You will have to do without some luxuries, or even believed necessities.  There is still a greater inherent blessing from knowing, serving, and honoring God in the reheated stuff that this life is made of in a corrupt, sinful world.  But God…Oh, how God! He is pouring His very best into what is to come.

-Aaron Winner

Read or listen to the Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Malachi 1-2 and Revelation 21

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