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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

Month

September 2014

Paul’s 1 Simple Step To Character Development

Romans 5:1-11

We’ve talked a lot about the Gospel since we started Romans and for good reason because its an obvious recurring theme.  In this Gospel saturated passage I want to focus on something a little different in verses 3 + 4.  Paul says that we as Christians “glory” in our suffering.  The word “glory” makes me think of the pictures of the LA Angels partying after winning their division the other day.  They glory in a division title but we glory in suffering.  Why?  Who would be so absurd?  Paul.  Paul knows that point of life isn’t our physical comfort.  Suffering builds character.  It gives us deep roots; helps us weather next year’s storms.  People who don’t suffer well end up with a persecution complex; those who suffer well end up deeply grateful for everything they’re given because they know the alternative.  How does Paul say we develop character?  By suffering well.

 

Abraham’s Faith

Romans 4:13-25

Abraham! You say that name and you automatically think of faith. At least I do. Abraham’s life is all lived with that sense of hearing, seeing and finding God in unexpected ways and places. His actions speak about faith that was credited to him as righteousness.

C. S. Lewis said, that the whole world consists of just two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God is saying, “Thy will be done.” In a way that is the definition of faith. For one to trust God in a manner where God’s will becomes their only compass. Faith for Abraham started as trust a God that calls you from your own land to a distant place, navigate challenges along the way that put his life in danger, for Abraham faith meant sacrifice along the way. All of that with the trust that God’s will will come through.

For me, that concept is not as easy to live out everyday. In part because I need to know, I need to have a plan. And because of that I sometimes struggle in understanding how did Abraham did all the things he did because his faith. What I need to remind myself is that faith is not only trust, faith is a growing trust. It starts with the Spirit of God working in us, and continues to grow as we follow God.

Faith in God, is about saying: Let your will be done, and being willing to see God working in that way in our lives. I pray that when we are weak we can trust God in a mighty way, and just like Abraham we can follow God knowing that he will be with us every step of the way.

Be Blessed,

Bo M.

Faith…only Faith!!

Faith Road Sign

Today’s Passage:  Rom 4:9-12 (ESV)

Paul follows up on his point made in 3:28 and using Abraham to tell us:

  • It’s not about circumcision…
  • It’s not about the law…
  • It’s not about how many good deeds you do…

It is all about the free and glad welcome that grace gives to all who believe the gospel.  It’s all about the God we worship being the God that justifies the ungodly…  It’s not about how godly or moral or how religious we are…it’s not about being Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic…  Paul continues to emphasize, here and throughout Romans, that it is all about God’s character.

Our passage (really all of Ch. 4) challenges us to look at the way true faith reflects, and feeds on the character of God.  Paul is telling us that God doesn’t play favorites when it comes to salvation – Jew…Gentile – it just doesn’t matter…it’s about faith…only faith!  It’s not about meeting the minimum daily requirements.  Can you imagine a groom saying to a bride, “What’s the minimal amount of fidelity and commitment I have to give you to remain married?” Or in a job interview saying, “What’s the minimal amount of work I have to do?” Paul is reminding us that it is God’s character that matters most and, most specifically when it comes to justification, it is God’s character and love in the Christ event…through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—the presence, power, favor, and love of God is available for all to experience. “Follow me”, Jesus said, because that’s the way you receive it and live in it. Trust Jesus with everything, including the eternal state of your soul. Your eternal salvation is a free gift of grace. You can’t earn it.

Today’s passage challenges us to understand, then, how others see us.  So walk by faith. Don’t worry about whether or not you have enough faith. Don’t focus on the quality of your faith; focus on the object of your faith—Jesus.  This leads us to understand how we are to follow in the footsteps of faith and, in so doing, have others come to know and want the same thing. This is THE message to tell others who have yet to find a place in the body of Christ…it’s all about faith…only faith!!

Help My Unbelief

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Romans 4:1-8 (NIV)

Faith and trust and unbelief and faithlessness are a part of our lives and our journey as people of God.  “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)  Abraham, though childless, believed God that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the night time sky.  That’s a lot of faith.  Earlier Abraham believed God and left his home town and country to go to a land that God would show him. (Genesis 12:1-7)  This is another example of placing faith in God.

What does God wish to do in our lives?  What would God show us if we only believed?  Where might God send us if we trusted completely in his care and guidance?  What would greater faith mean for us?

Jesus often spoke about having faith to those who came to him and to his disciples.  “Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’ He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’” (Matthew 17:19-20)  That call to faith seems huge when I read, “Nothing will be impossible for you.”

A man brought his son to Jesus to be healed from seizures and said to Jesus, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22b-24)  Jesus healed the boy.

What might be possible for us as individuals and as a church, if we only believed, had faith, and just put our trust in Jesus?  I wonder what could happen?

I think that Eugene Peterson describes this kind of faith very well in his translation of Romans 4:1-9 (The Message).  What would such faith produce this day, this week, this season in us?  Perhaps we too should cry out to Jesus, “I believe, help me overcome my unbelief.”

 

Justify Me! – Romans 3:27-31

This late blog entry is brought to you by Micah and Craig Randolph.  The lateness is from Micah, the content is from Craig.

27   Where is the boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith.
28   Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.
29   Or is He the God of the Jews only?   Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also,
30   since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.
31   Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.

The Christian, that is a believer who sins, is treated as righteous before God because of the blood sacrifice of Christ. Jesus “who knew no sin” bore believers sins on the cross by being made “sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

The act of justifying a believer is something that God allows in a judicial sense because of the sacrifice of Christ. It does not comply a person to live any more righteously than unbelievers. Living righteously, for God, is simply a choice we all make or fail to make. Virtue is its own reward in most cases.

The following can be said about the believers’ justification/righteousness before God…

  1. It originates from the grace of God (Rom. 3:24, Titus 3:3-4).
  2. It is through the redemptive work of Christ who fulfilled the law (Rom. 3:24-25, 5:9).
  3. It is by the believers’ faith, not by anything he or she does to earn it (Rom. 3:28-30, 4:5, 5:1, Gal. 2:16, 3:8, 24).
  4. It is the judicial action of God whereby He declares and treats those who believe in Jesus Christ as righteous. The believer has been declared justified or righteous: his or her slate is declared clean (Rom. 8:1, 31-34) by the Judge Himself (Rom. 3:31).

I apologize for getting a bit lawyerly in the above. It can’t really be helped. After all, part of living is legal or illegal; legitimate or illegitimate. It’s comforting to know that, after all is said and done, as Christians we have already been judged to be righteous before the ultimate Judge.

 

Craig Randolph

Romans 3:21-26: Why we might not like Paul if he preached this Sunday.

Aside from the fact that he’d look like he just wandered in from a St. Francis toga party, we might find parts of his sermon a little obnoxious.  Good grief Paul, try to be a little be a little more positive. He uses all these unnecessarily negative words: condemnation, sin, blood, judge and wrath.  All this in a chapter that would take me about three minutes to read out loud.  Obviously this is part of a greater narrative of salvation that Paul is weaving. So why doesn’t Paul just fast forward us to the good part, the part where we’re forgiven and hang out with Jesus?  After all.. this church in Rome probably knows what they were saved from.

This is just my humble opinion, but I firmly believe that when we underplay sin, our depravity and our past lostness we end up downplaying the Gospel by default.  We forget just how valuable it is. We begin to take it for granted and personal holiness begins to take a back-burner.  We get nonchalant about sin when we forget just how much it cost to be saved from it.  Christ didn’t come to earth to help us have happier marriages (though often a result) or to help us fix a few things that are hard for us.  Christ died because people He dearly loved were hopelessly separated from Him. I don’t know about you but that makes me run to Jesus even harder.  It makes grace just that much more beautiful and valuable.

Free from guilt, free from sin

freedom-hd-place-com-414779Romans 3:10-20

Do you ever think of the things that makes one righteous?

Starting with Adam and Eve, humanity has dealt with that question. What pleases God? What is that thing that brings God’s favor? Along the way humanity learned about fait- like Abraham, we learned about obedience and trying to please God. And then things got complicated. Faith and obedience turned in to law, into rules that become more important than the very act of worship. And this law started governing the way we relate to God. Along the way this law became a yoke, a burden that brought a sense of condemnation, a idea of an angry God that needs to be pleased. Something that was meant to help people come to God became a barrier, a block for many to come to their Father.

Paul points out that no one, jew or gentile. will be made righteous by their own work, because no one can satisfy the law. This concept comes in part from looking at the inability to be absolved of the guilt that came as a result of the sin that began ruling our lives. It is at this point that Paul points out that all these things like guilt, or the sense of condemnation are vehicles through which we learn about who God really is. Without the law, we would not really understand what Christ has done for us.

Today’s text is about reminding each one of us that, we have been forgiven much, and much has been given to each one of us. In Christ, we become forgiven, redeemed absolved of the things that the law brought; in Christ we are a new creation.

I pray that today if you are still struggling of understanding who you are, if the guilt and the burden of your sin is still wearing you down, you can pause and remember that you cannot do it alone, no matter how much you try. Pause for a moment and think of Christ’s sacrifice, of a Father that is reaching out to you, and wants you to accept his call to come back.

I pray that you will find a new freedom in Christ, freedom from guilt and condemnation, and because of that you can get close to God, worship and serve God freely and full of joy.
Be blessed,

Bo M

Human FaithLESSness…God’s FaithFULness…

God's Faithfulness

Romans 3:1-9 (NRSV)

Paul uses one of his heavily relied on rhetorical techniques – diatribe – or, a virtual way to engage his opponents.  Here, he is responding, virtually, to the objections of the Jews portrayed in the previous passage (2:17-24).  Paul does so with 5 questions and responses.  He’s not so much concerned with the sinfulness of the Jews as he is with Israel’s failure to be God’s messengers for the world.  As we read yesterday, the Jews were entrusted with living out the Torah for the Gentile world.  And, more importantly, Paul tells us that despite Israel’s faithLESSness, God’s faithFULness cannot be nullified.  God created humans to reflect his image in worship and service and God will be true to his promise.  God can be counted on, Paul says, to fulfill the purpose of creation – not just for Israel.

Faithfulness for Paul is not so much “having faith” or personal trust in God as it is faithfulness to the commission to be God’s messengers – to live out what the oracles, Scripture, says.  One of the issues I think exists in today’s churches is the hearing and understanding of the Great Commission…many hear it as Jesus telling us to be disciples.  But, what Jesus actually said was:  “Go…make disciples…teach them all that I commanded.”  He is laying the ground work for Chapters 9-11 where he provides a fuller understanding of God’s faithfulness in spite of Israel’s unbelief.  Specifically, that God’s faithfulness is not measured by human faithfulness.  And so, Paul concludes, that all are under the power of sin – sin…used here for the first time in Romans.

So, if God is true to character, if the promises are to be fulfilled…what is needed is a faithful Israelite who will act on behalf of, and in the place of, faithless Israel.  We will soon see Paul arguing that God has provided just that.  Paul insists that God will be just and faithful despite human faithlessness.

I believe that in our post-Enlightenment world, that the goodness and justice of God are often refuted.  I believe that we worship a God who plods through the muck of this world – his boots laden with mud…his hands dirty – our God who is busy at the heart of this world’s mess with one focus…that all may be cleaned up.  This, I believe, is God’s faithfulness day in and day out and the gospel message of salvation despite our sin and faithlessness.  What do you think?

The Content of Your Character: What’s in Your Heart?

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Romans 2:25-29 (NIV)

Romans 2:25-29 (The Message)

Paul brings up the sign of the Covenantal relationship with God for the Jews; circumcision.  There were “Jews” who thought that the mark of circumcision guaranteed God’s favor.  “To be a Jew was to be special; to be a Jew was to be a child of God.  In fact the Jews divided the world’s population into two categories of people: Jews and Gentiles, with ‘Gentiles’ meaning ‘everybody else.’ It is this nationalistic pride that Paul is attacking, saying that it alone is insufficient to ensure salvation.” (Romans Serendipity Group Bible Study)  The outward sign of circumcision does not guarantee favor with God.

Instead, it’s what’s inside that inspires or guides your outward behavior.  “It’s not the cut of a knife that makes a Jew. You become a Jew by who you are. It’s the mark of God on your heart, not of a knife on your skin, that makes a Jew.” (Romans 2:28-29 MSG)   “No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.

Long ago, God said as much when telling Samuel to choose David, the youngest in the family to be King of Israel.  “He was a man after God’s own heart,” the Bible says.   God said to Samuel about choosing David, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7)

From time to time we should ask, “What’s in my heart?  Do I have a heart for God, a character shaped by Jesus Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit?  What’s in your heart this day?  It’s the content of our character, our heart, that matters to God.  Jesus said, that “it’s out of the heart which come the issues of life.”

May the life and love and light of Jesus dwelling within us guide, inspire, and shape our daily actions and living.

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