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

Resolution 3: Save Less

As someone in their mid 30’s who still lives the vast majority of their life like their 13, it’s kind of weird to think my wife and I have assets and savings. Banking. Bonds. Portfolios. Pensions. That’s all stuff for adults. I can’t even match my socks. Yet, here I am, meeting with a retirement counselor and occasionally checking in on the stock market.  As much as both my wife and I love our work, we realize that we don’t want to do it forever.  Each month, a chunk of pay goes into a couple different accounts meant for use a quarter century from now. Lord willing, if we both make it.  Check with us in 25 years.

We are reminded in Proverbs that it is a fool who doesn’t think about the future (Prov: 6:6-8).  Yay. Point for me. But should I, as a Christian, have money in my savings account when I could be giving it charitably?  Do I really need to put aside money for the future if God is going to take care of me? Hmm. God gives all, and tells you to save for rainy days, so He will give you something to save for a rainy day. Honestly, I’m not sure. What I do know is saving is an important discipline, especially with the consideration of tithing, but we are reminded by Jesus that we can get carried away with accumulating things, hoarding our wealth, our assets, and collections (Matt 6:19-24; Mark 10:17-27) and be led down not only a distracting path, but a divisive contrast to the life that pursues God that leads to destruction. If you must err on a side as you pursue God’s answer for this, it would be to give more, and save less.  See the sparrows and the rich young ruler.

Unfortunately, or honestly, more fortunately, you will not receive any long term financial advice from me because I can’t even be counted on to keep cash in my pocket without losing it.  The virtuous woman in my house is responsible for all of our rainy day savings. Although still not fully qualified, I would like to take a moment to focus on the savings that occur in today’s reading.  As we all know, weddings can be very expensive affairs and often are the culmination of many years worth of saving.  Keep this in mind when you begin to read about the marriage supper of the Lamb.  God has been “saving” for the wedding of Jesus and the Church since the foundations of the world.  Imagine how elaborate this celebration will be, when God begins to tap into his reserves for sons and daughters. This is a nest egg far beyond our imagination.

“Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:  Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns! Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. – Revelation 19:6b-7

Investing in a single company, bond, or stock is a foolish idea, that’s Finance 101 and some wisdom for earthly investments. However, for treasures that await in heaven to become sight on earth, you can’t diversify.  You must be sold out in your devotion to the Savior (Matt 16:24-26).  That means you must begin reducing and selling off your other investments of your time, your mind, your energy, and your heart.  If you must bank, first, bank of the hope of Jesus Christ. If you must save, first, let it be for others in the telling of the Gospel message.  If you retire, first, let it be in the peace that comes from this saving knowledge.  The pension that comes from a lifetime of devotion to God is far greater than we could ever imagine and earned through our faith in a single truth: Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God and Father, given as propitiation for our sin, and He is coming again to establish God’s kingdom.  Wholly invest in this.

The Lord their God will save his people on that day as a shepherd saves his flock.  They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown. – Zechariah 9:16

-Aaron Winner

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Zechariah 9-11 and Revelation 19

Resolution 2: Exercise Less

Zechariah 7-8

It was roughly two and a half years ago when I sat down at a Walmart because I wasn’t feeling particularly well. My seat – the automated blood pressure cuff, because I felt like I needed to get a reading. I felt tense, short of breath, and was sweating for no particular reason.  My suspicions were confirmed when my blood pressure came up 160-something, over 100-something.  Yikes!  My wife was pregnant with twins at this point, and as a soon-to-be-dad, the mental, physical, and emotional stress hadn’t even really started.  With a history of heart issues running through my family tree, I thought, if my blood pressure is this high now, how am I going to be able to play with my kids?  I knew something had to change.  I made a few changes to my diet, but mostly, I began to exercise to get rid of extra poundage that was contributing to the toll I was placing on my body.

The super-short version of the story is YAY! My blood pressure is normal, I play with my kids, and I’m down about 50 pounds.  Running (a lot) is now part of my weekly routine.  But now that I’m where I want to be with my health, I am finding that exercise can simply be exercise. A repeated motion, causing a bit of sweat, but sometimes to no real purpose. If I run 40 laps around the track, I will start and end in the same place. Nothing achieved. I can celebrate the fact that I can snag an extra donut on Teacher Appreciation Day, or score,  a McDonalds breakfast (I didn’t say my blood pressure was great, just normal) without the guilt, or eat eight desserts at Thanksgiving (sad, but true), but I’m not really going anywhere.  I am in maintenance mode, like those awaiting a second temple here in Zechariah. 

“Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves? – Zechariah 7:5-6

Now, before I move any further, it needs to be said I am healthier because I run. Spiritual disciplines are not unlike this. These routines are important, and even more, necessary. Prayer, worship, and reading God’s Word should be part of your to-dos every. single. day. BUT what those items shouldn’t be are chores sandwiched between taking the trash out to the curb and picking up the milk.  Are you doing these things because you want to draw into a closer relationship with God? OR are you doing these things because you are doing these things.  I mean, how did you get here to read this blog today?  Is it part of your exercise or your routine?  If so, is it because you desire more about your loving God and his calling on your life? Or do you use it as a means to build credit in the God bank so you can have the extra donut, or eighth desserts? It’s tough. Right? Live for a moment outside of the routine.  Today, start exercising less and engaging more. Throw out the score card because God already has you beat. Enter into the purpose of what you are doing, seek Him, and draw nearer to His Spirit.  Find a way to share His justice, His mercy, and His many compassions because you are compelled to show the love of God, not simply run to the next item on your list.

This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’ – Zechariah 7:9-10

-Aaron Winner

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Zechariah 7-8 and Revelation 18

Resolution 1: Drink More Water and Less Kool-Aid

Revelation 17

The eternal feasting from Thanksgiving to Christmas has begun to catch up with me (it’s not just you, promise).  This pre-New Year’s week (and it’s bloating) is often cited by many as their week of revelation and insight into the preparations of what they might change in the upcoming year. While any time – month, day, or hour – is welcome to change, this week I will be focusing on some resolutions presented to us in the continued reading in the prophecy of Zecheriah, the Revelation of John, and the beginnings of Matthew.  While many of the passages are filled with prophetic, symbolic, end-time images, I will try to remain focused on the big picture: the message or warning presented in the passages.  Our eyes should be open, our ears listening, and our spirit attune to the world around us, not only because we become reflective as our year draws to an end, but because the drum roll quickens towards the end of this present evil age.  We should hasten our efforts, not to simply shed a few holiday pounds, start a new hobby, or get organized, but to make changes and to carry on efforts that will make lasting impacts in the Kingdom of God.

Speaking of eternal things, did you know, Kool-Aid, when stored properly, really doesn’t expire?  It is a seemingly innocent drink, yet there is a crushing idiom out there beckoning people not to partake in the consumption of this perpetual potion: You might hear an older generation say, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid ”.  This expression actually means don’t believe everything you hear, especially because it presents a very real threat.  It might seem that the origins of this phrase refer to the high sugar content, the unnatural color, or the artificial flavor of the name brand fruit drink of childhood and beyond.  It is true, there isn’t much wholesome about this drink (sorry, grape. I still love you tho❤️); however, this isn’t where our figurative turn of phrase is born.  Instead, the origin is far more tragic than the attack on our blood-sugar.  The notorious event is referred to as the 1978 Jonestown Massacre, where hundreds of innocent men, women, and children died by drinking, or being forcibly injected, with a combination of Flavor-Aid and poison.  This presents a more tragic history behind the coinage, but draws a parallel to today’s reading in both Zechariah and Revelation.  The words below remind me that there is a great coming (or even present) evil, or a more perilous and poisoned Kool-aid that is brewing and being passed as legitimate name-brand Gospel.

“I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.” – Revelation 17:6

The prostitute on the beast paints an ironically sobering picture, becoming intoxicated on the blood of saints and lying with the kings of the earth.  Those who take part in this great debauchery against God, may do so willingly, but it seems many do so unwittingly, astonished and deceived by the spectacles of ungodly power (v.8) . There will be those who are not in the Lamb’s Book of Life who attend churches, have ministries, and even blog about Christ, but give-in to tinted truths, sweet lies, and god-like power, because it is a more “palatable” gospel, requiring less real change and more gratification.  The love, justice, mercy that take root in another source other than our Heavenly Father, may look pretty, taste sweet, and have some of the same notes, but it is filled with poison.  It will never quench your thirst.  It is just empty calories leading you closer to death.  Stop the endless following, swiping, and double-tapping – look up.  Turn off the continuous bombardment of the news cycle – look up.  Quit chasing after causes that don’t lead to the saving Gospel message of Christ – look up. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

Now, this begs the question, what then should we drink?  Coffee!  Wrong. Tea? Still wrong.  Soda?  Getting colder.  Simply, water.  No beans, no leaves, no syrup, no colors, no nonsense straight-from-the-tap water.  It is what your body is craving, essential to every major function in your body, beginning at the cellular level.  Among many other things, water aids in digestion, stabilizes the heart, regulates blood pressure, flushes away the toxins, and provides protection to the day-to-day function of our organs and joints.  Such is true for our Living Water, the Gospel message and the Spirit of God present in our daily walk.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:13-14

“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.  By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” – John 7:37-39

While there is a metaphor to be drawn for each of these literal benefits, there is an inherent advantage, understood or not, from consuming water.  Yes, we are trying to flush away perpetuated falsehoods, but drinking living water in and of itself is simply refreshing.  Make time for God’s Word.  Worship Him in your car.  Honor Him with your time. Live out the Gospel through actions and bear the testimony of Jesus Christ. Resolve to fill your tumbler and carry it wherever you go because there are so many ready to make the switch from the Kool-Aid to the quenching Living Water.

-Aaron Winner

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at Bible Gateway here – Zechariah 5-6 and Revelation 17

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