Saturday, May 30, 2009

Devotion - Unchanging

(We are taking a break from our walk through the book of Romans. I am using Romans to end the school year off with my students so I do not want to get ahead of them. Consider today a stray thought or a slight detour.)

It is a beautiful, wonderful Saturday morning. What makes it so beautiful? That would depend on what you consider to be important. I am enjoying the quiet and the missing stress of time constraints this morning. Those are two things that make this morning as valuable as gold. I have my one cup of coffee, my laptop and a quiet moment to reflect.

Normally my home is bustling with the noise of activity; four young children all doing different things and often in competition with each other. Sometimes the moments are filled with laughter and other times with tears. If I were to ask my children what is beautiful to them they would probably tell me the freedom to chose to do what they want to do. They have a different perspective because of the different values they have from mine.

This can be said of most people concerning most things; we have different perspectives because of our differing values. Some consider time to be a precious commodity. Others would place the higher value on friendship. Still others would consider the pursuit of knowledge to be of great importance. Yet, others would prize family to be most important of all. Unfortunately this individualized perspective is sometimes applied to everything, like to what is right and wrong.

There are some things in life that, no matter your perspective, remain the same for everyone. If you have not seen the video RED BALLOON take two minutes and watch it now. We will wait for you.

There are certain unmovable, unchangeable truths that have been established by the Father. One of these is the difference between right and wrong. In reading through Romans we have looked at the fact that the Father gave the law so that we could see just how wrong we are. It revealed the truth to us that God is holy and perfect and we are not. The Ten Commandments clearly define the difference between wrong and right. Our perspective does not change this fact. Call the balloon by whatever colour you want, the truth remains that certain actions are wrong and others are right and it is the same truth applied to all of us.

The Father knew that when he brought in the law it was impossible for anyone to follow. In order to overcome this problem a temporary solution had to be established so the law of sacrifices had to be put in place. The Father did not like this but had to tolerate its existence because of the law. After his great sin king David sang:

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. (Psalm 51:16)

The law was not given so a law of sacrifices could be established but instead to provoke in us exactly what it provoked in king David:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

The Father wanted us, needed us to understand just how much we were in the wrong. You can't help an alcoholic unless he first accepts that he is an alcoholic. You can't help an abusive husband unless he sees himself as abusive. You can't help a thief unless he first sees himself as one and then accepts that what he is doing is wrong. We know it is wrong. The Father established it is wrong but unless that person is willing to see it we cannot help him. Unless a person recognizes that they are separate from the Father by their actions and thoughts there is not much that can be done by the Father to bring them back to him. The law was given to provoke brokenness so that the Father could heal us and restore us to him.

We use an expression, to "harden" our heart. It means that we are no longer sensitive to the right and wrong that the Father established. The believers are warned in the book of Hebrews:

See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:12-13)

A heart becomes hardened when it consistantly refuses to recognize that certain actions and thoughts are wrong. It becomes hard when it does not see the importance of the heart condition David sang about, "a broken and contrite" heart. The fact is it is impossible for us to live up to the law and it is the reason that Jesus had to come and be willing to be the once for all sacrifice that would cover all of us for all the wrongs we have done. But that sacrifice cannot be applied until we recognize that we need it. As long as we stand in our own understanding we will be able to justify our actions and we will call the balloon by whatever colour we want to call it. We will pose that same question Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?" We may even pose the question that is asked by the thousands of voices of today, "Whose truth?" Truth is not subjective. It was established long before the first building blocks of creation were called into being. It was knit into every fabric of creation and is the reason so many laws of so many societies are similar from the beginning of time.

Ethics, the establishment of what is right and wrong according to society, will be in constant change. What was not acceptable 10 years ago is acceptable now. I could list a long list of values that have changed over the years but I think we can all recognize that things have changed. Ethics change but morality, the defining of what is right and wrong by the Father, will never change. It is our measuring rod, the standard by which everything is compared. You can see it as our moral anchor, unchanging and keeping us fastened in place, different from our changing society. The question is, what has the greatest impact in our life; the ethics of our society or the morality that shapes our faith community?

The only way we can continue in our faith is if we journey through life with a broken and contrite heart. It is when we continue to recognize the higher authority of God's law, our inability in this law and our need for forgiveness so that we will be able to remain fresh and alive in Jesus. We can read this precious thought in Lamentations 3:

Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. vv. 22-23

It is not the number of times we fail the Father that matters. He knows us. He knows how weak we are and how much help we need. Our failings do not concern him. It is our stubbornnes to refuse to recognize our failings that concern him. His compassion for us is renewed with each new day. He is faithful to forgive us when we come to him with a heart that recognizes we have wronged him. He takes delight in this attitude as we seek his forgiveness. What matters is not our failing but our heart condition, our attitude and our seeking. The Father cannot do anything with a hardened heart but with a broken one he can do everything.

What good is worship if the heart is hard? It is only words that go no further than our lips. True worship is found in brokenness, when we realize just how much we need Jesus.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Devotion - Do We Support The State or The Belief?

We are continuing with Romans 11 this morning, looking at verses 11 to 24. If you are a fan of horticulture this passage is for you.

Over the last few year I have heard a lot of people say a lot of things about the Church's support of Israel. Some people have said we should not waste our time because they rejected Jesus. Others say that they are God's chosen nation and that by supporting them we in turn will be blessed. I also took a language course with an Israeli many years ago in Belgium. He had explained to me that we need to be careful in our references. An Israeli is anyone born in the state of Israel, whereas a Jew is a follower of Judaism. He told me that the fast majority of Israelis are secular. So where does that leave us in our support. Do we support the nation or Judaism? Why is this even important?

It is important because of this:

If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. vv. 17-18

We are young in our belief and understanding compared to the Jews. With us it seems that we are rediscovering truth with each generation. We say that God has no grandchildren. But in such a thing there also seems to be less maturity. We do not seem to be able to add layers to each generations knowledge and understanding. We do not have a lot of "standing on the shoulders of giants" as we forget the giants so quickly. How many of us actually study the great writings and knowledge of these giants? Yet the Jews build upon each generation. They do study. They learn and they grow. We are satisfied with simple mouthfuls of scripture each day and tend to follow the "teaching of the moment" in the Church. The Jews follow the great understanding and teachings of the Holy Sciptures.

Is it any wonder then that Paul points this out to us:

Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring! vv. 11-12

Isn't this an interesting thing; the Jews failed to believe and we were blessed. How much more will we be blessed by their belief? How much greater the riches by their fullness? How much more when the first children, the older children return to that fullness? Paul repeats the thought:

For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. vv. 15-16

Paul warns us off of arrogance in our attitude toward the Jews. We cannot afford to consider ourselves better than them. For a time they have been broken off but Paul tells us it is only for a time. Much grace has been shown to us because what we belong to now was not our natural inheritance. We were grafted into something that is not natural to us. The original branches were broken off so that we might be saved. But if the original ones were removed because of unbelief what makes us think we are safe in our unbelief:

If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. vv. 17-21

We all know how quickly things change in a person and a situation when a cold heart chooses to believe. We need to ask for and expect the restoration of the Jews to the Father through belief in Jesus. We need to go beyond moral support for the nation of Israel; we need to pray for that restoration because we too will benefit from such a thing:

Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 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! vv. 22-24

It is not a difficult thing. They were not broken off as a punishment but instead as a result of unbelief. It is only a matter of belief. How much easier is it for them than it was for us? This is their inheritance. This is an easy thing because they are natural to it. It is us who are strange to this grafting. So you can decide whether we are praying for a secular state of Israelis or the followers of Judaism. Let the Spirit guide you in your understanding. The important thing is that we pray for their salvation because it is to our profit to do such a thing.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Devotions - Some Are Chosen By Grace Alone

Good morning. This morning's devotion is straightforward as we look at Romans 11:1-10.

Again we see Paul's love for his people. He states that God has not rejected his people. Just because he allowed their hearts to be hardened does not mean they are forever lost. It is hard to think that some will be sacrificed for the sake of others but that is what the Father did for us by sacrificing his Son.

However, the Father has not wiped out Israel from his memory. Just as in the day of Elijah God has preserved a remanant. In Elijah's day it was a number of people who refused to bend their knees to idols as demanded by the king and queen. Elijah though he was the last of the true worshippers of YAHWEH in that land but God corrected him. He will not be left withour representation in Israel. Only now they are not a remanant by works but a remanant by grace:

So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. vv. 5-6

Nothing in the Kingdom is covered by works any more, it is all covered by undeserved grace. We must fight against that sin nature that tries to convince us that we must earn our salvation. God has chosen to have compassion on us. Are you listening? He has chosen. So it doesn't matter how terrible a person you are or what terrible things you have done, he has chosen to have compassion for you and through Jesus Christ to apply mercy.

Yet others were allowed to be hardened so that we may receive this good news:

What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, as it is written:
"God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes so that they could not see
and ears so that they could not hear,
to this very day." v. 7-8

Does this mean their choice was taken away? Not at all. They had the same prophets and sacred text as the remanant only they chose to be stubborn in their belief and the Father uses all things for the good of those who love him. So when the opportunity came to the non-Jews they responded and received. If you find it hard to understand consider the earlier part of Romans:

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. (Romans 1:24)

There was no fighting with their stubbornness so he allowed them to fall deeper into what they desired. You must have experienced it with some people in your life. You faught so hard for them but in their stubbornness they were determined to follow some course of action. So you allowed them to go, hoping they would learn from the experience, willing to be there to help them pick up the pieces. That is a hard thing to do but when a heart is determined to take a specific course there is not much anyone can do. But I am jumping ahead into tomorrow's text.

For this morning understand that God has set aside a representation for himself in Israel. Most are lost to their stubborn way but just like with Elijah there are those chosen by grace to walk in the truth.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Devotions: Let Him Who Has Ears Hear

Good morning my friends. Sitting in my kitchen right now, listening to the quiet of teh house and the singing of teh birds outside the window, I know that this is the quiet before the storm. In about four minutes my children will descend on the kitchen to prepare for school. I am sure that even teh birds outside will take to flight in great fear of their lives. So allow me to write as much as possible before that delightful storm hits.

Due to the empending storm I only have time to look at one portion of our passage this morning:

Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: "The man who does these things will live by them." But the righteousness that is by faith says: "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down) "or 'Who will descend into the deep?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess 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 confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Romans 10:5-13

There is so much about knowing Jesus and accepting Jesus that is dependant on the Spirit. As long as we brick up our own spirit in us we will not hear the testimony of our Father about himself. People can preach at us for years. Teachers can teach us for years. People can give us tonnes of literature to read. We can even read the Bible for ourselves. Yet, none of it will make any sense until we are willing to hear the Holy Spirit testifying to our Spirit that it is true.

The conviction of our separation from teh Father does not come from outside of us, it is the voice of his Spirit calling us to him. Preachers and teachers plant seeds but those seeds are dead in us until we are willing to hear teh Spirit speaking. This is the reason Paul says:

But the righteousness that is by faith says: ... "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart".

The Spirit brings the law to life in us so that we are compelled to desire the righteousness of God because we are convicted of the huge separation between us. This righteousness does not require any sort of works. It does not demand a price from us. There is only one requirement:

That if you confess 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 confess and are saved.

Notice that it is a twofold requirement. Why isn't the confession of Jesus as Lord enough for salvation? Because everything to do with our Father is a heart matter. There must be a softening of the heart so that we believe what we are confessing. At the same time it is important that our faith comes alive as we give it life through our words. Later James will give us the understanding that there is a third element to this faith; action.

This faith really comes down to one other word:

"Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame."

Trust is really teh heart of the matter. Do you trust that Jesus is who he says he is? Do you trust that he will do what he says he will do? Jesus is a true historic figure as recorded by the historians of that time, but do you trust his claims? Do you trust he is the Son of God sent to become teh sacrifice for our sins and to be an instrument of restoration to the Father? The promise is that if we trust we will not be made to look like fools, we will never be put to shame because we trusted in false promises.

This is where the testimony of teh Spirit is vital. It is he who convicts us of teh truth of these promises. Without him we are believing due to book knowledge. We need teh Spirit to convict us of these things so in our heart we will believe and with our mouth we will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Devotions - A Matter Of Faith

Good morning my friends.We are considering the last few verses of Romans 9, starting at verse 30 through to the end of the chapter. It is a matter of faith.

In a world where grown ups can enter into the make-believe world of children simply by popping in a dvd or playing a video game, we are seeing the imagination destroyed. Who needs imagination any more when technology is able to create the incredible world of Tolkien or where real people can converse with cartoons? Almost every children's story ever told has been created in movie form so they no longer have to read and rely upon their imagination for the images. No, we have robbed even our children of this as our world becomes more and more based on "what you see is what you get".

We are becoming a practical society leaning more heavily on the material world and placing our "faith" in the belief that science and technology holds the answers to all things. We trust the teaching of science without question, without investigation. We treat spiritual matters in a similar way, only we dismiss it without question, without investigation. We treat our existence as a mere physical thing not understanding there is so much more to life than what we see.

The problem is, we are asked to believe something that we can only sense in our spirit and cannot see with our eyes. Some people even refuse to believe that we have a spirit so how would they ever acknowledge this thing that they feel. Then what is this need to worship something greater than ourselves? Without acknowledging what we sense, and without faith we will never be able to see God.

In the world in which we live we have increasingly become more reliant in the work of our own hands. We believe that if we are going to succeed we can only do so with hard work, determination and a bit of luck. The only thing we want to believe in is ourselves. This is why it is so much harder for people to believe that the Christian teaching is true. It is not a new phenomena:

What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the "stumbling stone." Romans 9:30-32

It seems to be a paradox but the one we are to place our faith in is a stumbling block to that faith. Many people would believe if it wasn't for the cross and the resurrection. So many people have problems with the resurrection which to me is very strange. If you are going to believe in the Creator and his desire to reconcile with his Creation why would be dismiss the ability of the Creator to raise the dead?

Jesus was a stumbling block for the Jews because they could not believe that YAHWEH would have entered into his creation in this manner. They find it hard to accept that YAHWEH would have his son come as a mere carpenter instead of in all his royal splender. They really have a tough time with the death of the Christ. Different issues from the world but the same results; Jesus is the stumbling block. Yet those who do believe are declared to be right with God, reconciled to him, and as such are adopted as his children.

We can investigate, research and understand all of this. We can become great theologians and argue the case for and against. We can memorize all of the sacred texts. It still comes down to that moment of acknowledging God and placing our faith in Jesus Christ. No amount of knowledge on the matter will win the day for us. The question is, "Will I trust?" This trust cannot be a one moment deal. We are told to work out our salvation daily. In other words we need to renew and live our faith every day with every decision we make.

As you head out into your day remember, we live our faith one decision and one act at a time.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Devotions: Good Monday Morning

Well this is not a great way to start a Monday morning. I went to prepare my blog and blogger is down for maintenance. Do you think that would work if I called in to say I was unavailable today due to maintenance? Probably not. There are some Monday mornings when it is harder to get moving than others. This morning we have to be at the school by 6:30 am to get everything set up. So, here we go.

As we move on to Romans 9 we have here a brief glimpse into the heart and passion of Paul’s heart for his people. He states if it was possible he would gladly face condemnation in order that Israel would be saved. Fortunately that is not possible. Every person stands or falls according to their own decision. No other person can sacrifice for our salvation. The Father alone paid the price for that salvation and any other sacrifice falls short of what he offered.

This chapter 9 was written so that we might understand what God has done through Israel. If they had accepted Jesus as the Christ, as the Son of God, we may never have been presented with the gospel. God used their hardened hearts to have the gospel spread throughout the world. It was not just a matter of Israel rejecting Jesus, they tried to stamp out his teaching completely. It was through this persecution that the Church was scattered and wherever the members went to hide the gospel was spread.

Now, in explaining this situation to his readers Paul also pointed out something that many people find disturbing about our God:

What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,
"I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. vv. 14-16

Paul uses the example of Pharaoh's hardened heart that caused God to send the plagues which revealed God to the world for the first time. God was revealed as he rescued his people from a cruel existence. This made possible because of Pharaoh's refusal to let Israel go. Pharaoh was lost in order a nation could be saved. How do we reconcile this in our own thinking?

To add to it Paul continues:

Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. v.18

Paul asks the question for us:

One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' "Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? vv. 19-21

That's a hard answer, isn't it? Only if we try to make God after our own image. It is hard for us to understand all the details of our Father. Our little minds would not be able to process even a fraction of the information if it was given to us but we can understand one thing. When our Father speaks of mercy he is not paying lip service to a concept. His mercy is real and should never be taken for granted.

The fact is that none of us deserves to receive salvation. We deserve death. So the fact that we have been included in his plan of salvation should cause us to rejoice everyday and we should be showing our appreciation with thanksgiving hearts. Unfortunately we act like rich, spoiled children who believe we deserve every privilege available to us. We deserve death. What we received due to the Father's mercy is life and we should be celebrating that life every day. It came to us freely but was paid for dearly.

So instead of starting this day off with complaints and groans let us enter into it with praise and thanksgiving, that we have a Father who chose to love us and has shown us such great mercy.

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.

I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.

Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him."(Lamentations 3:19-24)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Devotions: He Doesn`t Care and It`s His Fault

I have to reserve Romans for the weekdays as I am walking through this with my students. So as I considered what to share with you this morning Psalm 39 came to mind. Never believing in coincidences I took a quick look. This is the Psalm that speaks to people such as me.

Why are we afraid to complain to our Father? Why are we afraid to express our thoughts and our feelings on the circumstances and seemingly injustices of life? Consider the words of the Psalmist and ask yourself if this has been your experience:

I said, "I will watch my ways
and keep my tongue from sin;
I will put a muzzle on my mouth
as long as the wicked are in my presence."

But when I was silent and still,
not even saying anything good,
my anguish increased.

My heart grew hot within me,
and as I meditated, the fire burned;
then I spoke with my tongue: vv 1-3

Have you ever been in this place where you feel that it is better just to keep things to yourself? This may be a good decision in some circumstances with people in your life but it is never good with things between you and the Father. Hiding your feelings, not speaking your complaint, keeping your resentment to yourself only causes distance; it never allows for a progressing relationship.

The Psalmist describes his resentment for his circumstances as a hot anger and a fire burning within him. This is the result of living behind a facade, of unspoken resentment and pain. How many people do you know that did not express their real pain to Father, carried on as they thought they were expected to do and finally arrived to the point where all their unexpressed emotions separated them from the only one who could bring them relief.

When will we grow up and realize that Father is not a heartless being sitting in a distant place, determining our future for us? He is a real Dad who wants to be as involved in our lives as we want to be involved in our own children's lives. We want them to express everything to us so we can help them walk through this life. How do we feel when they close us out? Then understand Father.

Look at how this psalm ends:

"Hear my prayer, O LORD,
listen to my cry for help;
be not deaf to my weeping.
For I dwell with you as an alien,
a stranger, as all my fathers were.

Look away from me, that I may rejoice again
before I depart and am no more." vv. 12-13

This is one of those awkward psalms that does not end in a conclusion. The psalmist has opened his mouth and laid out his complaint against God. He says, "You have done this to me." It is a personal expression of hurt. He is saying. hear me; listen to me; be not deaf. To what? To his prayer, to his cry for help, to his weeping. And his final request? That he would be allowed to experience one more moment of joy before he dies. Have you ever been there? Don't we blame Father as well? "If you allow things to take place then I am holding you accountable for what has happened to me." "It is your fault." "You could have presented this." "You could have stopped this from happening.``

Our God is not some china glass idol who can't do anything in response to us because we created him. No, our God is the Creator. He is our Father and is the Father of all things. He is a "roll up the sleeves and get in the mud with us" dad who waits to be invited to be part of our mess. He does not stand on ceremony. He does not require sacrifices. He does not require certain words to be spoken. He wants us to confess our pain to him so he can get involved in it. He waits to be asked because he respects us that much.

So lay out your complaints, your pain and your hurt so that you can make room for the love that will flow from his response. It may take a bit of time as he helps you let go of the resentment and other things we tend to hold on to. Invite him to help you. Ask him to listen to your plea. Ask him to allow you to experience joy again. Trust that Father really loves you, because he does.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Devotions: The Power of Love

Good morning folks. We are still working on Romans 8. After much difficult foundation laying Paul is now giving us some incredible truths to encourage us in our walk. He had to take us through the dark valley in order that we would appreciate the significance of the truth:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. v. 28

Notice here that God's love for us is truly transforming but they key to unlocking teh transformation is our love for him. He can love a sinner with all his might but until that sinner chooses to love God nothing changes. But how awesome is it for those who do love him? Look at this, he uses all things, not just some things, but all things for the good of those who love him.

Look at the significance of what he has done for us:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. vv. 29-30

Do not get lost in the word predestined. In this sense it means that he predetermined our salvation. Who did he predetermine this for? For those he foreknew. Who did he foreknow? Everyone. Remember that it is the "whosoever" believes will be saved. So he has called us all to salvation. Those who respond he then justifies. What does this mean? A simplified version is that he makes everything right between him and that sinner. Sins are forgiven, strength is provided, he declares them righteous, they are given new "clothes" to wear, he gives them the ability to see, hear and understand. Those he justified will also receive his glory which simply dumbfounds me. How can we go fom trash ti being lorified by God?

The next few verses are great and significant but in the interest in time I just want to touch on one major point:

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? v. 31

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? v. 33

Who is he that condemns? v. 34

The sad fact is that there are a lot of people who will come against us in our walk. There will lots of people who will charge us with things that God has forgiven and forgotten. There are a lot of people who will condemn us. Paul is not saying this will not happen. He is saying that they are of no significance because our relationship with the Father is what matters. The forgiveness provided us through Jesus Christ is what matters. With God for us it really doesn't matter who is against us, so stop allowing them to effect your walk. Paul is strong on this point:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? v. 35

Now that we found him are we really going to allow such trivial things to try to separate us from him? Some people lose their salvation over such insignificant things and yet others find themselves strengthening this relationship in face face of terrible adversity. How much do you love Jesus Christ? How much do you love the Spirit? Are you in love with the Father? There is no other way it is going to work. You must be obedient to the greatest commandment. It is then that you begin to understand the determination behind these words:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. vv. 37-39

I want you to remember this today. No matter what your day contains there is nothing greater or more significant than the fact that the Father loves you. It is through this love that you will be able to overcome every obstacle in your day.

God bless.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Devotions: More Than Meets The Eye

Good morning one and all. We are continuing with our look at Romans 8. This morning we will consider three things Paul puts forward; all of creation is also in bondage, we do not yet possess what has been promised, the mystery of the interceding Spirit.

People always seem surprised whenever I mention that creation has paid a price for our sin:

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. vv. 19-21

This is an easy matter to understand. God had to put his creation in bondage in order to fulfill the curse that was pronounced on Adam for his sin. He told Adam that it would only be by sweat that he would be able to produce crops. Up to this point things grew readily. Creation was bountiful. God's original design was so much different then what it has become. Why is this important? Because this thought starts with:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. v. 18

Don't ever consider what you see is what you get. We have always been intended for much more. Sin has deformed us. We are in bondage. We are nothing compared to God's original design. A day is coming when all this will change, when we will be freed along with all of creation, to bare the glory of our Father.

This realization is important because we need to understand that we are not yet in possession of these things:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. vv. 22-25

Again people are surprised to discover that we are waiting eagerly for our adoption because they think it has already happened. Neither are we saved yet. These are all promises that we possess and we speak of them as if we already possess them. But teh reality is that we have the Holy Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come. The Father's promises are sure so that is why we speak as we do but we will not receive the full measure until the day of Jesus' return. Why is this important to know? Because what we see is not what we get. The best is yet to come.

There are many things we do not know and cannot understand, the Father's will being one of these. We are children who have much to learn and we need to be patient in our learning. This is one of the purposes of the Holy Spirit in us:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. vv. 26-27

Isn't that amazing? The Holy Spirit interprets our needs to the Father. When we cannot even figure out what we should be praying the Spirit is working on our behalf. We cannot see our condition because we have not seen God's glory. We cannot see where we fit in or even understand our future. How could we ever understand our needs when we cannot put ourselves in the proper context? But the Spirit knows these things and he interprets our needs accordingly and speaks to the Father for us. So there may be times when we feel taht we are only speaking words because we cannot convey the aching of our heart but be encouraged, that ache is understood and is presented to the only One who can respond.

So some mysteries are revealled, telling us that there is more than meets they eye. There is so much more going on around us than we could ever possibly understand. So when you are feeling down, discouraged by circumstances understand that this is not all there is; there is so much more to come. So be patient and wait in eager anticipation; do not let go of our hope.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Devotions - A Contrast

Good morning. I apologize that I am doing this on the run this morning. We are looking at a few verses in Romans 8.

You will recall from yesterday how Paul described the sense of powerlessness over the sin in us. Our natural state is one of slavery to the sin nature we were born with. But Paul described it as something that is in us but that is not us. This means our Father had created us with a different design but sin had distorted that design. We are slaves to that sin and cannot do what we want to do because of it. Now look at how Paul begins this next section, the nest step in the unfolding gospel of grace:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. vv 1-2

The incredible news is that, even though we deserved to be destroyed because of this sin in us, this defect to God's perfect design, our Father put a rescue plan in play that we would be able to be restored to him. Where we were condemned before there is now no condemnation for those of us who have been reborn into Jesus. We live because we live in him.

Now where Paul had previously concentrated on our condition without Jesus he launches into the contrast between those with the Spirit and those without:

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. vv. 5-8

Notice what Paul had said in the previous sections is now illustrated here. We are a creation that is not meant to stand on our own. Paul said that we are either slaves to sin or slaves to God's righteousness. We see it here. We are either controlled by sin or controlled by the Spirit there is no other choice. The contrast is found in the benefits. Notice that the sinful mind cannot submit to God's law. Again building on the idea of the previous section that in order to be obedient we must be alive in Jesus and dead to our former selves. There is no other way.

The greatest benefit to accepting Jesus' sacrifice for us is that we end our separation from our Father and are restored to him:

Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. vv. 12-16

The notion of sonship is different these days. Much of society has done away with the notion of obedience and allegiance to family and especially dads. Sonship under our heavenly Father brings with it the obligation to be obedient to the Father's will. It is what we live for, our greatest desire. It is seen in the example Jesus set for us, a life of obedience according to whatever the Father requires of us. This happens with the transformation. Our obligation is an obligation of love not fear, "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear", instead we have become sons who obey out of love, and love has obligations.

I wish I had more time to get into this further but this is enough to plant a seed for you today. I trust the Spirit to take this seed and cause it to grow in you today, driving out any fear and doubt that remains in you.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Devotions : The Nature Of Things

I have made a promise to get back to the daily devotions and I plan on doing my best to keep that promise. Though I do find it funny that I should say that considering the passage of scripture we are considering this morning. I have been working my way through Romans with the students and hope that you do not mind me picking up from where I left off on Friday, Romans 7:7-25.

We try to do a lot of things by human effort and ingenuity. We achieve quite a number of astonishing things when we get right down to it. Yet, we do not seem to be able to achieve much in ourselves. We are definitely doers but we are not great healers. What can we do about the human condition? Sure, we can beautify the outside, shave, wash our face, get a hair cut, put on clean clothes but we can't touch the inside. Its still as dirty as the day we were born.

Success isn't going to change anything either. Look at some of the great heroes of our day. A president having an affair in the oval office. Sports heroes using performance enhancing drugs. Recently a great sports hero was found guilty of lying in court to protect his son. It does not matter how hard we try the failure comes from something we have no control over. The Apostle Paul describes it this way:

So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? vv 21-24

So let's back track just a little bit to understand the source of this problem:

As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. vv 17-20

We can fancy it up all we want, call it by any name we want, the fact is that we are slaves to the sin nature we were born with. We may be able to put forward a good looking face to the public but we all know what lies on the inside. Earlier Paul had explained it:

Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? Romans 6:16

This is the part that we really seem to struggle with because there is nothing we can do to help ourselves. We were born this way. And this is the reason we need Jesus. He is the only solution to this problem. He is the only one who can break this mastery that sin has over us. We try it without him and we just end up where we started from. Apart from Jesus we can do nothing. With Jesus all things are possible, including the breaking of the yoke that binds us to our sinful nature. You can try everything that you want to rescue yourself, they will all fail. Only the blood of Jesus is efficient to free us from the slavery so we can be clear in our thinking as we decide who we will be a slave to.

My advice, stop fighting with yourself, you will only lose. Instead, ask Jesus to clean up your act and then see how it all works out.