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Acts 22 Devotion

Acts 22

When Paul was arrested by the Romans at the end of 21, he could have played the Roman citizen card then but it seems that he delayed in order to bear witness to what God had done on the road to Damascus.

After sharing, he then makes use of his Roman citizenship, it would seem, that he might continue to share. But if he had played that card earlier he would not have had the opportunity to tell the people his story.

His story? If you remember that darkness fell on Jesus at noon, Paul describes seeing light at noon! First, how do you see light brighter than the noontime sun? Second, he sees the light at noon because Jesus took the darkness at noon.

Dying to self will often look something like what Paul does here. He had particular rights that he decided not to make use of so that he could tell the story of the One who died and was raised!

You might point out that Paul didn’t share with them his understanding of the cross and resurrection. You are right, but I’m certain that he would have. The scene is playing out much like Jesus’s last hours. So, I guess you could say he is sharing Jesus (putting him on display) in his own sufferings.


Romans 11 Devotion

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How does this happen in the picture above? Why does chapter 11 end with praise? (Rom. 11:33-36) Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Not only should Romans 11:33-36 be sung to the Lord but these words should never be said of us or anyone but God alone. These things are only true of Him!

How is praise possible? Are there multiple ways for salvation to happen that would end in worship? I’m not a very smart person. I don’t have it all figured out. I am a mess most days. I doubt that I ever help or encourage anyone with anything that I write. Sometimes it’s too long. Sometimes it’s too short. Life and the human element of our limitations are always at play. But if ever you have ever read anything I have written, hear this: no grace, no praise!

Grace is the link, the means, the way, the truth, the beginning and end of how God lovingly works to save us and bring appropriate praise to Himself. Any other way and there is no praise to God. If your salvation does not stir you to worship then you may believe in a false gospel. Paul has written eleven chapters describing the gospel and fittingly, he ends that segment of the letter with praise. That’s amazing and so right! It is what God’s grace does!

Grace is unmerited favor but it is also God’s free choice to set His love on whomever He chooses. It is the beautiful picture of adoption. God is the creator. He has the right to do whatever He pleases with His creation. Everything He does is good and right and holy and just and loving. He is God and we are not. May we give Him praise and honor and glory, forever and ever…amen!


Romans 9-10 Devotion

I love this picture! Go and make disciples of ALL NATIONS! The Kingdom of God is advancing throughout the globe as God’s people are sent out to share the gospel to every tribe, tongue, people and nation. Indeed, the Day will come when many among the earth will be gathered before our King to worship forever and ever!

But what a minute. Would we be wasting our time? I mean, if we look at Israel’s history, is there any hope for the rest of humanity? Will the gospel fail? Can God keep His promises? Is chapter 8 possible: (Rom. 8:1) “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…..(Rom. 8:38-39) For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

What assurance…unless Paul’s not telling the truth. Why does he begin chapter 9 this way? (Rom. 9:1) “I am speaking the truth in Christ– I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit.” Is this only for that which he is about to say or what he has just finished saying in 8? It seems to be both because he brings up the fact that many of his kinsmen in the flesh to whom…(Rom. 9:4-5) “belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”

Did the love of God become separated from the Israelites? Did God break His promises? It would seem so…..unless we misunderstand what election is. I know it’s hard to understand. However, I’m afraid if we avoid it we may have to dismiss assurance as well. We need to see at least that election is either true or God failed. But God didn’t fail. That’s why Paul says: (Rom. 9:6-7) But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”

Do you doubt God in any way? Is there the slightest bit of uncertainty in your heart when it comes to trusting God’s promises to you and to anyone who will believe the gospel? Have you ever looked at Israel and thought that if God couldn’t do anything with them then He probably can’t do anything with me or those I have shared the gospel with. Chapter 8 states it very clear that God will do what He says. Chapter 9 teaches why you should not doubt God’s promises because not all Israel is Israel. In other words, an Israelite could not assume he or she was good with God simply because they were an Israelite.

And furthermore, if you have shared the gospel, you know that many people reject the message. It makes the messenger easily justify not speaking the gospel…they aren’t going to listen anyway! But that’s not true either. There is hope in believing and in sharing. Paul wishes he himself was separated from Christ which he just said cannot happen but his desire for the salvation of his kinsmen is serious! He began chapter 10 by telling us that he was praying for their salvation. He is certain that God is at work in the world to save His people.

Many do not know about God’s righteousness. They need to hear! But how will they hear if no one shares? How will someone share if they are not sent? Faith comes by hearing! (Rom. 10:15) “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Oh, may they hear and believe. Because whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved!

May we be assured of God’s promises to save us and those who hear and believe. May these truths give us courage and urgency to go and share with anyone who will listen. Lord open a door, today. Cause us to cross paths with those who need to hear the gospel or to water what they have already heard. Give me boldness and fill me with Your Holy Spirit to do what You have called us to do. Let not fear overtake me. You have given us the resources to do what you have called us to do. It is not in our strength but Yours! May the Lamb receive the reward of his sufferings!


Taking a break from the blog

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:4


Romans 8 Devotion

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Long my imprisoned spirit lay

Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;

Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,

I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;

My chains fell off, my heart was free,

I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

My chains fell off, my heart was free,

I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

And can it be that I should gain, by Charles Wesley

This is one of my all time favorite hymns! Romans 8 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. I turn to its truth often. I continually need it because how I feel and what is true about me NOW are not always the same. I had a hard time understanding my continued need of the gospel. The way it’s talked about sometimes sounds like it is something you accept and then are done with. That sounds even silly for me to say now but I didn’t understand.

Now, I find myself preaching the gospel to myself. I pray the gospel over my family even when I’m thanking the Lord for the food He has provided. I never want to get over the gospel. And I can honestly say that sometimes I do. My mind is consumed with too many other things. Prayer is an all-out-battle. I have to begin quickly or my mind begins to wander. The enemy must be threatened when God’s people pray. Battle in prayer, brothers and sisters!

Chapter 8 begins with one of the most assuring declarations a former enemy of God, now adopted child, can hear. Let me throw out a rough translation to drive home the beauty of this truth. The Greek begins with an emphatic NO…8:1 “NO then now penalty to those in Christ Jesus.” (Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.) English is bound by a certain word order and we often miss the astounding but simple statements that we would otherwise be blown away with!

They are sweet words to the one who in chapter 7 is battling against the flesh and wondering who will save this wretched man that I am! Please hear those words, struggling child of God! Cling to them in the dark! Fight to believe them when you doubt! Give them to other struggling brothers and sisters in Christ! Cherish them even on the days that aren’t so hard. Sing that song I quoted in the beginning. Tell yourself what is true. Inform your heart how to feel! Demand it!

Why is this important? Because our daily failings and struggles will get the better of us. The enemy will whisper the most eloquent of lies to us. The lie is not that we haven’t failed but rather that God no longer loves you because of your failings. And the latter would be true if our relationship were dependent on our performance. But it’s not. Our salvation fully rests on the perfect work of Jesus. Our salvation is sure because Jesus is constant and sure.

We have no penalty or condemnation coming to us because Jesus has already taken the penalty for us on the cross. The resurrection declared that the payment was sufficient! We deserve the penalty but God loved us by sending His only Son that whoever believes (or is believing) will have eternal life. You will never conceive of any greater love than this. In fact, that’s why Christianity is so compelling to me. No one would have cooked up this way of salvation with a higher deity. But God did have mercy on us!

If you have never experienced the quickening ray and the chains falling off and your heart being set free, I would encourage you to reach out to me. I will walk you through what it means to follow Jesus or I’ll try to get you connected to someone who can. But you really don’t need me or anyone else. Just start confessing to God, He can hear you. Plead with Him to have mercy on you and He most certainly will. If the Lord is at work in your life, the Holy Spirit will carry you along! This song below might give you words to express to God.


Romans 7 Devotion

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There has been a theme embedded in the middle of this letter to the Romans. The first mention of it came in (Rom. 1:32) Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. As we have already discussed, unrighteousness is a death sentence for us. We wrestled with this problem and how we have an amazing gift of forgiveness and being counted righteous by faith in God’s Son. But I want to follow this theme of life and death because that’s what chapter 7 begins with.

This theme might be a little confusing. It should seem like foolishness to the world. Maybe one of my new favorite verses has emerged as I saw this. Check this one out: (Rom. 5:10) For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. It’s that astounding! If we were God’s enemy we were dead. But God made reconciliation not through our death but through the death of His Son. To have the Son’s death effectual, then we dead sinners needed to die that we might have life and shall be saved by Jesus’s life. Wow!

The way to life is through death. The way to death (I should say, eternal death) is to save your life now. In other words, we must humble ourselves now. We must agree with what God says about us. We must lay down our lives and live for Him. To live now is to die later. To die now is to live forever. Jesus died the death we deserved that we might live eternally with God! Can you imagine how much God loves us to reconcile His enemies to Himself through the death of His own Son? There is no other love like this. There is no other gift available. Repent and believe and you will be saved!

Chapter 7 makes clear that one must die to the law so that you can be joined to Christ. Our union with Adam, our father, must be seen and broken by the law. The law cannot save but it does reveal who we are in union with and that we are sinners.

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.

(Rom. 7:7-11)

The law says do not eat of that tree. Whatever the law says…whatever God says is not good for me is righteous and holy and good. But we say, “Oh, I believe that I know better than God and eating of any tree I want is good and right.” Therefore, we eat and we die. The law revealed our wicked desires and sin came forth and killed us. The very thing that is good and righteous and holy killed us. It said this is the right way but we didn’t want the right way. We want our way. If the law had not revealed that in us, we would not have known and would have remained enemies of God.

It leaves you asking as Paul did: (Rom. 7:24) Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? If you have seen this about yourself, a miracle has occurred. Notice this: (Col. 2:13-14) And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. What does this do to you? What will it result in?

Praise! (Rom. 7:25) Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. Can you say, “Thanks be to God?”

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Is it well with your soul?


Romans 4-6 Devotion

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(Rom. 4:1-3) What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

I have lingered over chapters 3 and 4 for years. It is so important to understand justification by faith alone apart from works. It’s also important to understand that true faith always bears fruit. There are no more words that speak so clearly as Romans 4 on being counted righteous by faith. Just to clarify, I don’t think this declaration makes me righteous but rather gives me a right legal standing before God for which I am forgiven and Jesus’s perfect righteousness is in my account. Because of this, the Holy Spirit (God’s presence) can live within me and change me which is sanctification.

I remember thinking through how scandalous the gospel appears to be. It seems obsurd that salvation is only by faith and not works. All we know in life is the fact to get something we must pay for it. Some people don’t do well with gifts. They immediately feel an obligation to return the favor. Isn’t it strange how we want to pay someone back for a gift! We are so wired like this that the gospel doesn’t make sense to us.

Paul says this: (Rom. 4:4-5) Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.

I had to discipline myself and retrain my heart and mind to think and feel rightly about this. Here’s part of my retraining: when I receive my payroll check, I never say thank you. I understand that someone owes me that money. I have earned that wage. Therefore, I should not praise them for that which is not a gift. Maybe a bonus or something like that is worthy of it but my regular salary was earned.

That’s not so with the gospel. The reason the gospel shuts every mouth is because we cannot earn salvation by working for it. We completely trust in the perfect, finished work of Jesus. He earned it for us. His merit is our merit by faith. So much so, that Paul points out that Abraham’s justification happened BEFORE he was circumcised. Order matters. Abraham has nothing to boast about. His situation was impossible apart from the work of God. And our salvation is impossible apart from the work of God, too.

God reconciled Himself to us. We did not reconcile ourselves. We were His enemies. But now, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God. Our union with our father Adam has been broken which led to death. Our union with Christ has been sealed which leads to eternal life with God. This is how it was meant to be. A new and better Eden awaits those who are joined to Christ by death. Yes, death. Faith and repentance can be understood as our death. His death is our death. Our penalty was paid by Jesus. Our sins were nailed to the cross. By his strips we were healed.

So, now let us put off the old man. We are a new creation. Sanctification can now happen. We can be made righteous. We must present our members as slaves of righteousness, resulting in sanctification.

Let’s consider some ways to put to death the deeds of the flesh:

1. There are some things that can and should be avoided completely. Don’t go to places (websites, people, buffets, certain movies, etc.) that will tempt you to sin.

2. Be actively comitted to a local body of believers to which you are accountable. Do not hide out in the services but rather be intimately connected with a group.

3. Consider the consequences of an action. Play out where this leads in your mind before doing it.

4. We are going to mess up. Be quick to repent. I have often needed to repent of not repenting quickly. I have lingered proudly instead of agressively throwing myself at the feet of God’s mercy.

5. Be in the Word of God regularly. That is the place where God’s speaks to us. Listen and respond.

6. Read good books that will help you identify sin in your life and ways to eradicate it.

7. Preach the gospel to yourself everyday. You will never find yourself in a position that you do not need the gospel. Paul was writing this letter called Romans to believers in Rome and the content is the gospel. Start the day low before the Lord in confession and appealing for His mercy and grace.


Romans 2-3 Devotion

For God to say to you, “I am well pleased with you,” demands far more than your good outweighing your evil. The scales of justice are misleading when it comes to the justice and righteousness of God. What amount of payment is required for a particular sin in God’s economy is different than what we know about justice. The only way anyone can stand before God is with PERFECT RIGHTEOUSNESS! Nothing else will do!

That causes a serious problem for us because the second half of chapter one through the first half of chapter 3 makes it pretty clear that all are unrighteous. And it also tells us that God’s wrath is against all unrighteousness. If all are unrighteous and God’s righteous judgment awaits us then we need to find a way to be righteous.

But how can we become good? Maybe by keeping God’s law? Well, Paul says that no flesh will be justified by the works of the law…not to mention we don’t want to nor can we keep them. And what about the times we have already broken the law? How do we fix/erase those?

If that were not enough to cause us despair, how can God set a guilty sinner free and remain righteous Himself? Isn’t that evil not to punish the guilty? Indeed it is! That’s called injustice! All of this poses significant problems for us. How on earth can we be saved? What hope is there?!

I’m glad you asked! There is a way for us to be forgiven and counted righteous and God can remain righteous Himself by setting guilty sinners free. If the answer is not within us then it must be outside of us. Can we appeal to those who have gone before us to lend us some of their extra righteousness (you know that is a thing, right?)? Can we purchase merit with some amount of money? Can we do good things and make God like us? What about just doing what we can and trusting God with the rest?

I’m certain the answer to all of them is, no. The answer to our most serious problem—separated from God because of our sin—can only be fixed by God Himself. In other words, God must meet His own demands for us.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-

22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. – Romans 3:21-22

Here is the good news! The righteousness of God has come! Not in the form of the letter of the law but in a person—namely, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. But how can the Righteous One (the Holy One) help us? I mean, yeah he’s righteous and good but how does that fix my problem?

Righteousness is available through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe!

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. – Romans 3:23-25

All have sinned…all are unrighteous but all can be forgiven and counted righteous by receiving them as a gift from God by His grace! Problem solved. Our sin debt is cleared because by faith it is forgiven. How? Because Jesus paid for the penalty of our sin, which was death. Therefore, by faith his death is our death. And by faith his righteousness is our righteousness.

We can be right with God—justified—by grace through faith in Jesus. And that’s how God can remain righteous in setting guilty sinners free. Because He is the just and justifier! Sin was punished so that God could have mercy on us! It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:26

Why this way? Why can’t we participate in our salvation? It feels like we should, you know. The reason is so that we would have nothing to boast about in ourselves and every mouth is stopped! There will only be forgiven sinner boasting in Jesus in heaven. We will not share in his glory like that. All praise and honor and glory forever and ever to the Lamb of God!

May Jesus weigh down the scales of justice for you by faith in him!


Romans 1 Devotion

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You have something very important to do everyday! What I’m about to say seems small and insignificant. And in part, that’s the lie many of us believe that keeps us from doing this. Discouragement kills us. The image above displays someone who is discouraged. If she remained in that posture when others were around you could easily spot it. However, most of us can hide our pain at a minutes notice.

Our important daily ministry as followers of Christ is to strengthen and encourage one another. Particularly, we are under obligation (using the words of Paul in this chapter) to our fellow church members. We have made promises to each other and what better way to advance the Kingdom of Jesus than seeking and doing what Paul sought to do in Rome.

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you–that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

(Rom. 1:11-12)

The truth of these few verses is important to the overall mission Paul seeks to accomplish in Rome. He longs to see them in person. (Don’t we know how that feels these days.) The purpose for which he wants to see them is so that he can give them some spiritual gift. Yeah, I know we talk about a list of spiritual gifts but we should never see those lists as exhaustive. So what is the spiritual gift he desires to share with them?

It must be the gospel! Only the good news strengthens us. Only the fact that we are forgiven and counted righteous by faith alone in Christ alone will encourage us. In fact, Paul spends eleven chapters explaining the gospel to fellow believers and then five more chapters on how to apply it to their lives.

You cannot know how much encouragement will further the gospel! When you SEE the faith of others your faith is strengthened. I know for sure that I share the gospel far more when I am encouraged in the gospel myself. Indeed, the joy of the Lord is my strength! Yet, we all need to be reminded of this everyday.

This might discourage you but I think it must be said. Did you notice that it should be mutual? In other words, Paul is seeking to strengthen and encourage AND to be strengthened and encouraged by them. It’s often the case that, for whatever reason, encouragement becomes one-sided. There is no reciprical (back and forth) to each other. Maybe many of us are so discouraged that we lack any reserve to give one another.

But that’s just it. I sometimes find myself discouraged which causes me to withdraw, like the image above. But we often find encouragement by pressing in and going against our inclinations to back away. Serving and strengthening others usually results in ourselves being served and strengthened. Do not shrink back, beloved. Press in and press on!

Don’t be the one who breaks the cycle of mutual encouragement. The Kingdom advances through strengthened saints!

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

(Heb. 3:13)

You have a simple but important ministry, beloved of the Lord. Encourage someone today.


Faithfulness

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What does faithfulness look like? What does loving God with all that you have look like? What does it look like not to love money? I think this scene is proof of the existence of God and the worthiness of God! Who gives like this to a theory or possibility? NO ONE!

This will be a brief reflection on an observation I see. There’s so much that we could talk about like how we would have never known her struggle if she had only one coin. She didn’t even give one and keep the other for herself. But something equally amazing is how Jesus responded to her faithfulness.

Before I point it out, let me ask you what it looks like to live and give faithfully in this temporary world? I think this scene tells us how. Take notice of what followed this encounter: And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Mk. 13:1-2).


This offering given by the widow was probably a freewill offering which was for the upkeep of the temple. But Jesus replied to his disciples that not one stone will be left upon another in the coming days. Do you think this widow would have given all she had to live on for a building that was about to be ransacked? Are you upset with Jesus for not telling her? Does it bother you that the leaders of her day were devouring her…probably taking what little money she had? Will Jesus not do anything?

Such is life in this broken world! But hope for another is very evident in this woman’s life! She trusted that the Lord would take care of her…gathering in the fields of others who trusted the Lord. She had to have known that anything that needed upkeeping was temporary. Her hope was in that which is eternal. This temple was merely a copy and shadow of the heavenly Temple!

She gave all she had to a soon-to-be pile of rubble? Nah! She gave to the Lord! She loved the Lord! And it caught the eye of Jesus! What evidence of faith! What a picture of faithfulness. I want to be like her! I want to be like Jesus!