Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Romans 5

Key verse: Romans 5:21

Big idea: One man sinned and brought death to all, but the gospel shows us how one man died and brought life to all.

When I make a bad decision, it does not only affect me. My wife and children, because they are my family, suffer for my actions. But as a pastor, the consequences of my mistakes can go even farther. I can harm the members of AMBC and everyone over whom we have influence. Imagine if I were the President of the United States. An error in judgment or character might cost servicemen and servicewomen their lives and launch a war which I would then be powerless to stop. The people who suffered would not be morally responsible for my sin, but they would nevertheless be affected. The first man, Adam, sinned, and because God had given him dominion over the whole world, the entire world suffered the consequences. Everything and everyone fell into the shadow of death with a nature bent toward sin. 


Younger kids: The theology we are looking at today is complicated. The big take-away for young kids is that we are all sinners in our hearts and that sin leads to death, but that Jesus died for us so that He could give us new hearts that lead to life. Adam’s life brought death, but Jesus’ death brings life.


The state that Paul described in Romans 1-3 is endemic to our world: we are all sinners by our very nature. Who taught you to lie? Who taught you not to share? Who taught you to lose your temper and fight to get your way? This rot is deep into our hearts. Adam declared a rebellion, and his whole domain is embroiled in it. Worse still, when we are old enough to choose, we all enlisted with the rebellion. No one sins as a toddler and becomes perfect when they learn better. No, death came by one man, but it passed to all men because all sinned (Romans 5:12). We were God’s enemies, outcasts by birth and traitors by choice. 


How did God respond to us? While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Adam’s life brought death to his whole kingdom, but Christ makes us a better offer: when we accept His reign by faith, He transfers us to a new realm,  where His death brings life. God’s solution is to make a new creation, inhabited by new people, whose hearts have been made new. We are not made new by works (which are part of this creation and unable to rise above it) but by God’s work in creating a new one. The death of Jesus took the old rulers in the old creation to their ultimate conclusion and overcame them, to replace them with new and better masters. Sin was powerful, but grace’s reign goes farther and deeper (Romans 5:20). As indeed the domain of Adam was led into death, the realm of Christ the King leads to eternal life and righteousness. That is the path Abraham took in chapter 4, and it is the only path that leads to life.


Discussion idea: Who had a bigger impact, Christ or Adam? Why?


Prayer focus: Thank God that while we were still sinners, He loved us anyway and gave His life for us. Pray that He would give us the wisdom to see our lives as He does, where we have one foot in this world and one in eternity, so we might live like it.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Romans 4

Key verse: Romans 4:21
Big idea: The greatest and the least all need the gospel.

Sometimes heroes seem to inhabit a different world than the rest of us. Who can think about Apollo 13 without wondering if Jim Lovell is made of a different kind of flesh than we are? Or look at Winston Churchill without wondering if we would have the strength to stare staggeringly powerful evil in the face and hold onto hope against hope? Could anyone claim to be like Jim Elliot and Nate Saint, giving their lives to try to take the gospel to the Huaorani people, and Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint, going to love the very people that had killed their husband and brother (respectively)? For Paul's Jewish readers, Abraham was like all of these combined. He was the founder of their nation, who with staggering faith had marched across the known world to go to the land God had promised. He was a religious, patriotic, and cultural icon. He lived centuries before the Law of Moses was given, and was the first to be ritually circumcised according to the commandment.

Younger kids: Circumcision was a small surgery done on Jewish boys when they were 8 days old to show that they were part of God's people. It was a mark on the outside of their bodies that was supposed to match their hearts that belonged to God.

How does he fit into Paul's radical claim that because we are all sinners, incapable of attaining righteousness by obeying the Law, we are all saved by faith alone? Isn't Abraham's faithfulness the perfect example of someone who was saved by good works? Paul's answer is a challenge to read the Old Testament account carefully. God made a promise to Abraham that he would have a son and descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sand on the beach (although his wife was too old to have children), that he would have a certain land and that all nations of the world would be blessed through him (ultimately, a promise that one of his descendants would be the Messiah). Abraham believed God and God credited that faith to Abraham as if it were a life of righteousness.

Abraham's relationship with God, Paul points out, was because of his faith in God before he was circumcised. Before Abraham took the mark of a Jewish man, he was already God's. He did not comply with the Law first or join a religion first, he simply believed God's Word. The hero came to forgiveness the same way as the murderer Saul and the same way as you and I can. God could have had Abraham be circumcised first, but He controlled the order so that we would know that external acts of obedience follow a change of heart, not the other way around. 

Discussion idea: Why is Abraham's salvation recorded in Genesis, according to Romans 4:23-25? The Bible includes a lot of history; how does God use examples to help us?
Prayer focus: Pray for the ability to grow in faith, and take God at His Word.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Romans 3

Key verse: Romans 3:23

Big idea: The gospel is the universal solution to the universal problem of sin. 

 Suppose I ate a bacon cheese Whataburger, with a large order of fries and a chocolate malt (any similarity to actual events is purely coincidental). I took in a lot of bad things: saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt. Maybe later that day, I started to feel guilty about it. How many salads with low-fat dressing would I need to eat to cancel that out? Or maybe I had a bottle of water, with a little poison in it. How much tea do I need to add to the poisoned water before the good tea cancels out the bad poison? Silly questions. Good things do not cancel out bad things, and what is true in the physical world is even more critical in the moral. No amount of time in a soup kitchen can ever excuse a murder. Good deeds can never remove the burden of sin. 

 Romans 1 and 2 have laid out the case against humanity. Whether we have violated our conscience and the testimony of nature like the Gentiles or violated God's revealed Law through hypocrisy like the Jews, we all have the same problem: sin. The Bible denies the claim that people are basically good. Instead, God tells us that we are all God's good creations, but have been warped and disfigured by the Fall. Our actions and our desires alike have been bent to the wrong ends. We all stand accountable to God, and we all fall short. There is no room for pride because every human being is in the same position. Our behavior can never solve the problem, and the more we try, the worse it gets. 

 This bad news can only be counteracted by the very good news that God has done the work for us. God's Law pointed toward real righteousness, but it could never get us there because of our own weakness. Instead, God has given us righteousness apart from the Law by giving us righteousness as a gift. Our sin earns us death, but He died in our place. No matter who we are, no matter what we have done, there is one problem and one cure—Grace through faith.

Discussion idea: How can God, who is a perfect, holy Judge, forgive us without sacrificing justice? 

Prayer focus: Thank God that when we could never get to Him, He came down to us. 

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Romans 2

Key verse: Romans 2:23
Big idea: The gospel is the answer to religious self-righteousness. 

Doing wicked things is dangerous for our hearts. Our consciences get less sensitive, our habits pull us in the wrong direction and we feel trapped by past sins into future ones. But there is probably something even more dangerous: doing the right thing with the wrong heart. When our actions are right, but our attitude is arrogant and self-righteous, we are like someone with no feeling in their legs sitting too close to a fire. The burning is still dangerous, but the warning sign of pain is removed. Someone who sins without external consequences, and maybe even enjoying external praise, can go far on the wrong path before they realize what they have done. 

Older kids: What is something good you can do for the wrong reasons? Is that more tempting than doing something obviously wrong? 

Younger kids: What is worse, someone who does the wrong thing on accident, or someone who is a tattle tale, but does the same things they complain about? Why?

As Paul continues in his letter to the Romans, he adds to his condemnation of the Gentiles a condemnation of the Jews. Although they had the Law and knew God's Word, their obedience was imperfect. Despite their status as sinners, they believed that righteousness was something they could earn. Paul pointed out the hypocrisy: the ones who thought they were teachers did not teach themselves. "They don't practice what they preach" is how we would probably put it today. Jesus had made the same criticism (Matthew 23:3). People who are overly impressed with their personal goodness are blind to their own faults, and their hypocrisy contaminates everything they do. The gospel leaves no room for those kinds of delusions. If our only hope is the love and grace of a forgiving God, who gave His Son so we could be forgiven, then there is no room for pride. We are all in the same boat, and must all come to God on no basis but mercy. The antidote to hypocrisy is honest self-awareness.

While we try to obey God and follow Him more closely, we have to be careful to not allow ourselves to fall into the sin of self-righteousness. Our obedience is because of our relationship with God, our relationship with God is not because of our obedience. When we get that confused and start to think that our actions somehow earn God's love, our own good deeds from a proud motive keep us from experiencing God's grace and forgiveness. When a good thing comes between us and the Best One, then it is evil. 

Discussion idea: The gospel puts us all on equal footing, whether we seem to be good or bad to other people. How does this motivate us to do the right thing, with the right motive? Doesn't saying God loves us unconditionally give us an excuse to sin?
Prayer focus: Pray that God would help you to see that your value in His eyes does not come from anything you do or do not do, but that His love is unconditional. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Romans 1

Key Verse: Romans 1:16
Big idea: The gospel is the power of salvation for everyone who believes.

Today, we begin what is widely considered the greatest book of the New Testament. Paul’s letter to the church at Rome is a letter, addressing a specific congregation with specific problems, but it is his most sweeping, reaching from the pits of damnation to the heights of glory in the first 8 chapters, and unfolding the implications of that theology here on earth in the remaining 8. There is a long way to go, but chapter one begins with the most basic claim: the gospel changes everything. The word “gospel” is simply an antiquated way of saying “good news.” It is not “good advice” for changing our life, or a good secret that will unlock some hidden power. It is good news: something has happened, and that something begs to be announced.

The good news, Paul tells us at the beginning of the chapter, was promised in the past through the prophets, but is now revealed fully and clearly. Although creation and our own conscience warns us that there is a Creator and makes us accountable for sinning against Him (the end of the chapter focuses on this point), the good news is not something which we can discern from that. It is news which we have to hear and believe. What is that good news? That the Son of David has come and died in our place, and been raised again to be declared the powerful Son of God. This God-Man, human and divine, sacrifice and priest, has come and defeated our enemies of sin and death to give us peace. It seems irrational, almost like a contradiction in terms. A King should kill, not be killed! The way to glory should be golden, not via a cross. That is why Paul needs to say that he is not ashamed of this good news: this precious announcement is the power for our deliverance. If we will recognize the King by acknowledging our sin and having faith in His work, we will be His subjects and His family. We will have forgiveness and life.

Discussion idea: Why would God choose to bring salvation to us by faith in an announcement, rather than some list of deeds to perform? How is faith that Jesus is King the foundation of a changed heart?
Prayer focus: If it were not for Jesus, what kinds of things would enslave you? Thank God for coming and destroying the old lords and bringing us a King that loved us enough to die for us.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Acts 28

Today's post is a special guest one from Brother Chris Meek.

Key Verse: Acts 28:28 Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the
Gentiles, and that they will hear it.
Big Idea: The Church of Jesus takes the whole word to the whole world.

As we come to the final chapter of the book of Acts, we are reminded again that we are not at
the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. To recap, we have seen the church
spread among the Jewish world, then leap to the Gentile world under the many missionary
journeys of Paul, Barnabas, and company, until finally Paul is bound for Rome - the seat of the
Uttermost in the Great Commission. After being shipwrecked in Chapter 27, we see how God
provides for Paul and his traveling party, first through the “barbarians” at Melita, then through
other Christians at various stops on the way to Rome.

Then we see our big idea in action. Paul, in a familiar situation, is preaching the gospel to the
Jews in Rome, where “some believed,” and “some believed not”. What Paul says to them next is scathing - the kind of message that got him imprisoned. You may recognize the verses in 26-27 from the Parables of Jesus: Paul is saying that their hearts are so broken and dysfunctional, they’ve closed off their own eyes and ears to what God is doing (indeed, not only Paul, but also Isaiah and Jesus!) He further insults them by saying God is taking what they understood to be exclusively theirs - salvation - and making it available to their enemies, the Gentiles! And He does just that: using Rome as a base, Paul is able to help and encourage the church sharing the Gospel there, write many of the epistles that make up our bible today, and gain an audience with the leadership of Rome (which made up the bulk of the civilized world).

The book of Acts begins a story that continues in you and I today: God using His church, a people He has called out, to reach the lost of this world. By His word, He saves us from our own
sin and the punishment we deserve for it (Romans 10:17). But we should not make the mistake that the Jews made, assuming that salvation was only meant for their benefit. Remember: God not only promised that He would make a nation for Abraham, but that through his son He would bless all nations. Many people struggle to know God’s purpose for their lives, but the book of Acts, and the entire Bible, make this clear: our purpose is to bring the Good News of Jesus to those who need it. And to do this, there are only two things you need: to know the Good News, and to tell it to someone else.

Older Kids: Check out vss.30-31. Paul preached “with all confidence, no man forbidding him,”
but at this point, Paul is still in prison. What most people see an obstacle, God used as an
opportunity. What opportunities are you missing because of our “grumbling and complaining”.

Discussion Idea: How can God use us to share His word? Specifically, who is someone in your
life that you could reach out to this week with the hope of Jesus Christ?

Prayer Focus: Ask God to give you the opportunity to share the Good News with someone this week. Ask Him to give you the words to speak. Be bold - pray for the person you named above.
“He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23)

Monday, May 18, 2020

Acts 27

Key verse: Acts 27:43
Big idea: The character of the members of Jesus' churches allows them to carry on His work.  

Paul is finally able to make his trip to Caesar, but the journey itself is not a quick one. Against Paul's warnings, they traveled late in the year, when the risk of storms was higher and they were caught in just the kind of trouble he had worried about. When the storm grew terrible, Paul had already earned the centurion's trust. When Paul warned him that some of the sailors were trying to escape on a lifeboat and that doing so would cost the others their lives, the lifeboat was cut off into the sea. When the soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners, lest they escape, the centurion stopped them, in order to save Paul's life. 

We could say many things about the events of this chapter, but the simplest and clearest to me is that character counts. Paul was clearly Christlike in his behavior on the ship, even in chains, and the centurion had enough sense to know that the one who was faithful in little would also be faithful in much. Paul could have been a thrown in the centurion's side, but instead he lived the kind of life that opened up opportunities which he could not have foreseen. 

If a possible employer were standing behind you in a slow grocery line, would you be an attractive hire? If your friends could hear everything you said about them, would they still be your friends? The one who is faithful in small things will also be faithful in big things. Never underestimate the protection that a life of character provides.

Discussion idea: How does our character in everyday life open doors for bigger things? How can a lack of character interfere with the opportunities God might give us?
Prayer focus: Ask God for the strength of character to be faithful in little things, to be prepared for the great things. 

PS In Genesis. Joseph was accused of attempting to rape Potiphar's wife. He was eligible for the death penalty. Why was he allowed to live? I suspect that, although Potiphar felt the need to side with his wife, Joseph's proven character laid a foundation of trust that protected him, so he could go on to do God's work and save the known world.