Guilt to Grace: 58-day Devotional from the book of Romans.

 

This was originally done by our congregation during our 12-week series entitled Guilt to Grace. We hope you find it encouraging and helpful in your walk with Christ.

 

Day 1 - Living Like a Saint

Reading:
Romans 1:1-15

Reflective Thoughts
Living like a saint
Paul opens His letter to the believers in the church in Rome by introducing himself as one who is "set apart" for th He mean when he said the Roman Christians were "called to be saints"?

Have you ever thought of yourself as a saint? It's not a term we use too often today. But if you're reading from the NIV, you know that "saint" means holy, and holy, means set apart. So these people were 1) loved by God and 2) holy. These two characteristics go together because it is God's love that makes us holy.
1 John 14:9 explains it simply: "we love because He first loved us." What should be your reason for loving the unlovely co-worker? Forgiving the person who doesn't deserve forgiveness? Cleaning up someone else's mess without complaint? Allowing someone else to choose, even if you know better? If there's any reason, it's because He first loved you. His love continues to make you holy as you continue to live out His love through you.

 

Day 2 - The Power of the Gospel

Reading:
Romans 1:16-17

Reflective Thoughts
The power of the gospel
Rome, at the time this letter was written, was a booming metropolis at the forefront of civilization. Population estimates are as high as 5 million people. So when Paul wrote "For I am not ashamed of the gospel" he was acknowledging the philosophical thoughts that countered the simple and powerful message of Christ-not unlike our situation today.

Most of the messages of our culture are counter to the message of the gospel. Pop culture worships sexuality apart from marriage. Academia worships reason apart from faith. The temptation to feel ashamed of the gospel may haunt us-but Paul offers an antidote. Remember and practice the power of God's righteousness given to you through your faith. How? Remember what God saved you from. What kind of life are you living now because of your faith in Him? And if you are not where you should be-through faith, trust Him for the life you can be living. You have a story. He provides all that you need to live the way He wants you to live. Get excited about that. And, get excited about what He is going to do today. There's no shame in that because it is more powerful than any message out there!

 

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Day 3 - How to Fight Futile Thinking

Reading:
Romans 1: 18-21

Reflective Thoughts
How to fight futile thinking

We know that God is a God of love, mercy and grace. But sometimes we forget that God is also a holy God. If He loves what is right, He must hate what is wrong. What God hates is ungodliness, which simply means anything that is not of His nature. He also hates unrighteousness, which is anything that violates God's laws. These two things, Scripture says come from men who suppress or hold back the truth about who God is. These Scriptures tell us that God made Himself known through the things He created. And yet men (and women) chose to turn away and not to honor Him or be thankful. The result was purposeless thinking and hearts that could no longer recognize the truth. As a result, ungodliness and unrighteousness have a heyday!

Who are these people and how can we stop them? The fact is, these people are all of us, without the grace of God revealing His righteousness to us (Romans 1:17). We stop "them," by acknowledging Him as God; revering Him and thanking Him. Want to protect yourself from futile thinking and foolishness? Psalm 37:4 tells us to choose to delight ourselves in the Lord. When we do this, God puts desires in our hearts-good desires, and the greatest one is Him!

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Day 4 - What Idolarty Looks Like

Reading:
Romans 1:22-23

Reflective Thoughts
What idolatry looks like
UCLA basketball coach John Wooden warned his players about the danger and foolishness of conceit. Both Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Bill Walton heard his warnings: "Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful."

In our reading today, Paul describes what happened when man was not careful to be humble. Self-professed wisdom is really foolishness because God is the only source of wisdom, not self. It leads to foolish behavior because even the most conceited heart needs something greater than itself to fill it. So the self-professed "wise" person looks to satisfy his needs in things apart from God (Jeremiah 2:13). Isaiah 44:9-20 provides a graphic depiction: a man fashions an idol from the same wood with which he heats his home and cooks his food-and then he bows down and worships the idol that he made with his own hands and calls it his god.
 

This, we may think, is an ancient issue-not a problem for the 21st century believer. There is no temptation to melt our Silpada jewelry in the saucepan and form a golden calf to worship. However we may have our own form of modern idols. Could we, like Wooden's players, be tempted to worship our own success? What do our calendars tell us about how we choose to spend the bulk of our time? What do our checkbook ledgers say about where we spend our money? What do we worship?

 

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Day 5 - Choosing to Give Him Glory

Reading:
Romans 1:24-32

Reflective Thoughts
Choosing to give Him glory

Man's highest purpose, explains the Westminster Catechism, is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Our hearts were made to worship God.
But what happens when we reject that for which we were made? What happens when we declare a personal "declaration of independence" from God?

The heart that was created to be filled is a vacuum-and there is no neutral position with a vacuum. It is filled with either one thing or another. When we cease to worship God by honoring Him and being thankful to Him, our hearts begin to worship what they were not created to worship. We become like an automobile, meant to run on unleaded fuel and filled instead with diesel. Our thinking and moral judgment misfire and we begin a steep decline into sin.

Paul explains that God "gave them over in the lusts of their heart..." In Genesis 3, God's prohibition to Adam and Eve against eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge was a statement. In giving them a choice to trust Him or not trust Him, God demonstrated that He values man's free will enough to risk betrayal. He is willing not to force the issue. He is willing to give them over-and He did. Except for the grace of God revealed in Christ, who is our new beginning and new mercy, none of us could come back. What choices can you make to demonstrate that Christ today, you choose God?

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Day 6 - The agenda of our judgment

Reading:
Romans 2:1-4

Reflective Thoughts
The agenda of our judgment

"Don't be judgmental!" This is a favorite warning from the world to the Christian. Is this what Jesus meant in the oft quoted text of Matthew 7:1-"Do not judge or you too will be judged."?

A look at the life of Jesus reveals that He never failed to describe sin for what it was. He told the woman caught in adultery to "Go and sin no more." He rebuked the self-righteous Pharisees. Jesus judged. Matthew 7:1-4 shows us that His warning about judgment is a warning about how we use our judgment. Today's reading in Romans gives us the same warning. It's one thing to recognize when someone else's life is not in accord with God's principles. It's another not to remember that all of us are guilty of sin. You may have never murdered anyone, but Jesus taught that if you ever felt hatred, that was enough of a sin to cast you into hell.

Romans 2:2 reminds us that God's judgment is based on God's truth, not our version of it. God has a long-suffering tolerance, patience and a rich kindness for us. It's His kindness that leads us to repent of our sins! God's redemptive agenda for us is humble and self-sacrificing. Is this our agenda for others?

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Day 7 - The impartial judgment of God

Reading:
Romans 2:5-11

Reflective Thoughts
The impartial judgment of God

February is Black History Month-and today is National Freedom Day--when our nation celebrates the milestones and the people who walked the long road from slavery and racism to freedom. Ethnic diversity is no longer a legal basis for judgment in the United States-and it's not the basis on which God will judge us either!

Our reading this morning acknowledges that there are different ethnicities. There are Jews and there are hundreds of others (Gentiles). But when God judges the world, there will only be two divisions of people. The first division consists of those people who, because of stubbornness, refuse to recognize God's rich kindness and patience. They never realize that they are guilty of sin and need a Redeemer. Everything they do, therefore is being stored up against them as evidence of their guilt for a great day in "court" when they stand before a righteous judge.
 

The second division is of those who, because of their patient endurance, do good and seek that which lasts forever. They will inherit eternal life, glory, honor and peace. Notice that what is highlighted here is the heart condition that precedes each set of behaviors: a stubborn refusal toward God or perseverance in faith. These qualities are what define the two kinds of people in the end and the basis of their reward or judgment. God's judgment, therefore, is impartial for the Jew, for me and for you. What is your heart condition?

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Day 8 - The Problem with Moraltiy

Reading:
Romans 2:12-16

Reflective Thoughts
The problem with morality

As words go, "sin" is not popular. If "sin" were a sixth-grader in the lineup for a baseball game, he would be the last player standing. He would default to the unfortunate team. That's how sin is with each of us. It comes to you by default; no matter who you are, sin is with you, and no one likes to hear that.
You may live an upstanding life. You may know the acceptable "dos and don'ts" of the Christian moral system, which guides you in appropriate speech, entertainment choices and dress. You may have an "enlightened" understanding of the faith. You may have a dynamic ministry. You may put Mother Theresa to shame in your moral offense over the existence of poverty. But sooner or later, sin is "up to bat." Moral codes and philosophies, no matter how good they are, cannot save us. Sooner or later we fail to live up to them, either in deed or thought or both-even if no one sees. God sees, and God judges impartially. What are you relying on to save you?

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Day 9 - When What We Do Fails Us

Reading:
Romans 2:17-24

Reflective Thoughts
When what we do fails us

There may only be one thing worse than the pedestal upon which Christians place their leaders: the pedestals upon which we place ourselves. Not every leader falls into the heinous sins of theft and adultery like those described in our reading this morning. But we can probably all think of some who have done so--quite publicly. Simply knowing the truth is not enough; we must obey it. (James 1:22).

We also know that not all Christians fall into the heinous sins of theft and adultery. But we know that all Christians sin. In the Book of James the early Christians were called to account for honoring "the beautiful people" over those who were less attractive to them. Who of us has never hurt someone else, even unintentionally, in this way? Simply obeying in some areas and not others isn't good enough-wherever we fail in absolute perfect obedience, even if no one else sees, we fail in all of it.

This was the point that Paul was trying to drive home to the Jews and to all people. This is the point that we are coming to every day this week in our devotions. Doing what's right is a good thing. Pursuing righteousness by seeking God in His Word and prayer is what we should do-but we must pursue it in faith-His love and blessings are because of His grace, not because of our works.

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Day 10 - God's Costly Love

Reading:
Romans 2:24-29

Reflective Thoughts
God's costly love

One of our pastors at Calvary used to scratch his head when, as a boy, he would hear his grandfather confess a deep conviction of his own sinfulness. But if Wayne saw anyone demonstrate what a Christ-like life was, it was his grandfather! Therefore, Wayne wasn't quite sure why the older man would express such sorrow. It wasn't until later that Wayne realized his grandfather's confessions were the result of an ever-growing awareness of God's grace in his life. The more aware he became of God's costly love and mercy to him, the more sensitive he grew to his own moral failings, however hidden or "miniscule" they may have appeared to others.

In fact, the more this man grew in his faith, the more he understood that moral codes and "laws" are for one of two purposes. 1) They show us our guilt-because all fail to keep them completely or 2) they are evidence of our love for God. Whatever the case, they cannot save us. What purpose do the moral standards of your life serve?

 

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Day 11 - Are You a Fan or a Follower?

Reading: Romans 3:1-4

Reflective Thoughts
Are you a fan or a follower?

Today the glow of Super Bowl victory has not faded from the faces of some. Others are indifferent or disappointed. Their teams after all didn't make it to the playoffs (or were defeated in the process.) Some of you may have been tempted not to watch the big game at all.
There is a difference between being a fan and being a follower. Fans tend to increase when success seems imminent. Followers, however, look at the big picture. On Saturday the jerseys of the losing fans were folded and put away. The jerseys of the followers, however badly their teams performed, were still being worn.
This describes how some of Paul's audience may have been tempted to feel. Paul had driven home the point in Romans 2 that the Law-- God's set of standards for His people--won't save them. They may have asked, as Paul posed: "What good is there in being a Jew anyway?" That's when Paul shifts the focus from man's failure to God's victory as the only righteous One. In fact, our failure to live out the truth--and for some, even to believe the truth--just proves that there is only One true and righteous Being, God Himself. When you fail; when life doesn't work out the way you planned, do you fold up your team jersey-or are you looking for the big picture?

 

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Day 12 - The Need for A Hero

Reading: Romans 3:5-8

Reflective Thoughts
The need for a hero

You don't have to watch Marvel comics to see the connection between the interest of our political leaders and fighting crime. Just listen the next time candidates run for mayor in any city election. The number one agenda will be his or her plan to "clean up the streets."

Now, suppose the criminals in a given city began accusing the mayor of being corrupt for prosecuting them, since it's their existence that helps the mayor win the election. Or suppose those criminals began reasoning that the crimes they commit should be done more frequently, so that the mayor can gain in his popularity among voters for his crime prevention tactics. This line of reasoning, we would say, is absurd-except perhaps for a comic book plot. It was equally absurd to the Apostle Paul-and yet some were accusing him of making such false arguments.

You see, some had trouble acknowledging that they needed a hero. The gospel itself is only good news to those who know that without it, there is only bad news. And in the heart of even the Christian-after we have been found in Christ-there is still a regular need to clean up the streets of our own hearts. If we don't acknowledge this on a daily basis, we take grace for granted. Philippians 2:12-13 tells us that, as we strive to live this Christian life, it's still God who works in us. We need a Hero every day.

 

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Day 13 - "Nice" Really Doesn't Matter

Reading:
Romans 3:9-20

Reflective Thoughts
"Nice" really doesn't matter

Hanging in my mother's dining room is a plaque that my sister bought her. It says "...because nice matters." To my mom, everything that was good was also "nice." To her, nice described things like home-cooked meals and good behavior-and it certainly describes my mother. In her mind there were two types of people-there were those who lived a good life-a nice life, and there were those who lived a bad life.

To the Apostle Paul there were two kinds of people as well-those who lived under the Law (the Jews) and those who didn't. But Paul says, that didn't matter-because none of them were "nice" enough. In fact, no matter how "good" anyone is, it seems compared with God's standards, they're all pretty bad. These passages permanently drive the last nail in the coffin of the idea that we can escape God's judgment through our behavior. Not a single human being has ever been good enough (except for Christ).
 

There is therefore nothing I can do to be "good enough." If I were born a Jew and lived according to the Law, I would be judged according to the Law because I could never keep the Law in full. Even trying to live according to my mother's very good morals; I failed, and I should be judged guilty according to them. Both the Law and my mother's morals are good-they just aren't meant to make me good. They are meant to point me to the only One who is.

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Day 14 - Our Scandalous God

Reading: Romans 3:21-26

Reflective Thoughts
Our scandalous God

If you've ever walked down the "Romans Road," the salvation plan using the Book of Romans, verse 23 in this reading was your first stepping stone. You learned in that one verse what Paul has spent two chapters saying: No matter how hard all of us try, we all miss the mark! Sin has ruined us. By now, some of us have grown weary of hearing this. We know it. The gospel has taken care of it, we think impatiently. But we are in danger of missing the point, because we may still think this is about us.

If we back up two verses to Romans 3:21, we might gain better perspective. This tells us that, when we speak of good news, we are not speaking about ourselves, but about what God has done. Verse 21 tells us that in response to this "mess," something that was hidden, even though it was spoken about in the Old Testament, has suddenly burst forth. This was a secret that none of the angels knew. They simply watched-and were no doubt shocked.

Paul calls what God has done "unspeakable" or "indescribable" (2 Corinthians 9:15). It was unimaginable. It was a scandal. And that scandal is revealed through your faith in Christ. Sin was the horrible circumstance-but the real story is what God did about it.

 

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Day 15 - Treasure the Immeasurable

Reading: Romans 3:27-31

Reflective Thoughts
Treasure the immeasurable

Do you remember the last dramatic story someone told about how they came to faith in Christ? Perhaps you listened in awe that God brought them through all of that and made them who they are today. You may also have compared your salvation experience to theirs and found it coming up somewhat short. You have no close calls or stories of rescue from the brink of disaster. Your Christian walk, you think, is just mediocre, perhaps even boring. Consider that in those moments you have lost focus of the immeasurable gift in the hands of your soul.

Paul tells the Romans in these verses that salvation is a gift, given through faith-it doesn't matter what you have or have not done. God is not just the God of the blatant sinner. He is not just the God of the "good" person. He is not just the God of the "undesirable people" nor the "beautiful people." God is the God of all who believe in Christ and what He did.

The person rescued from the brink of disaster to salvation is a witness to Christ's unspeakable gift. But the person rescued from a "good life" that could never be good enough is equally a witness to Christ's unspeakable gift.

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Day 16 - The Difference

Reading:
Romans 4:1-5

Reflective Thoughts
The difference between believers and unbelievers
Mega churches aren't easy to manage. Parking, seating and ministry to individuals are big problems. These were some of the challenges faced by one particular mega church. But it didn't grow because of the big buildings, the "customer service" or the eloquence of the speakers. Instead, everyone in this church kept feeling a sense of awe about what they were learning. They were so excited about it that outsiders, who were curious, joined them and got saved-- every day! You may have guessed I'm writing about the first church in Acts 2.
What was so special about this church? No one had any "Christian medals" on their lapels. Everyone was on the same level-they had all been debtors just days before, spiritual slaves who owed a debt they couldn't pay. The only difference between them and the unbelievers was that they believed Jesus paid their debt and that God's righteousness had permanently bought their freedom.
What do unbelievers see in us? Do they know us for the awe we have about God and His work in our lives? When that's the case, parking and seating challenges are great problems to have!

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Day 17 - How to be blessed

Reading:
Romans 4:6-8

Reflective Thoughts
How to be blessed

It's something that you hear every time there's a sneeze: "Bless you." But no one knows why we say it. There may be just as much confusion about the blessings of God. We tend to equate them with good fortune for ourselves. But David simply described blessing as having all your sins forgiven.
In Matthew 5, Jesus said upside down things about being blessed. You are blessed when you know there's nothing of yourself that is spectacular enough to recommend you to God (when you are "poor in spirit"). It's those people for whom the kingdom of heaven comes. You're blessed if you are grieving, because to you a promise of comfort has been given. You're blessed if you desire more of God and His ways than you do of your own earthly needs. Then God will give you your desires.
At first glance, wanting righteousness more than a steak dinner and grieving the death of a loved one may not seem like blessings. But the Living God has promised to meet you in every circumstance-not to give you worldly success, but to give you Himself. Because if God has forgiven all your sins, you are truly blessed.

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Day 18 - Where does your righteousness come from?

Reading:
Romans 4:9-15

Reflective Thoughts
Where does your righteousness come from?

Parking in West Reading is no picnic, especially when there are snow banks and small spaces to navigate. I did, however see the bus stop sign and deliberately parked as far back from it as I could. I believe I am a good driver-never an accident; nothing on my record. You can therefore imagine my surprise when I saw the pink slip on my windshield. It was a $25 ticket for parking in a bus stop zone--between the first sign I saw... and the one behind me that I didn't!
We all believe in something. In fact, our beliefs may be well-founded. But belief in our good records just isn't enough. Abraham, on the other hand, didn't have such a good track record. He was 99 years old and childless when God changed his name to mean "the father of many." Imagine the laughs from his neighbors! But Abraham believed God, and as a result, God credited his spiritual account with righteousness.
This week instead of a credit, there will be a $25 withdrawal made from my bank account! I'll let it remind me that my "righteousness" depends on something other than me.

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Day 19 - The Guarantee

Reading:
Romans 4:16-22

Reflective Thoughts
The Guarantee
We bought our home ten years ago. It had wood floors-old pine that we decided to have professionally stained and refinished before we moved in. The flooring guy made some recommendations and then gave us a detailed, 15-year-written warranty against scratches or finish failure. Those of you who know how vulnerable to scratches both pine wood and urethane finishes are may be wondering just how this man remained in business. Most likely you already know. He never intended to honor his guarantee because he wasn't able. Such a promise, however, sounded good enough to make him a few bucks before closing up shop.
God gave Abraham a guarantee. It sure sounded good. It was for more than 15 years. In fact it was for more than his lifetime--extending to all his descendants, both his natural offspring and his spiritual ones. This is undoubtedly the most outlandish guarantee offered in the history of human kind. Yet, it's good, simply because the One who guarantees it is able. What's more, there was no motive to make a sale-the cost was all on Him. God keeps His promises to you and to me.

 

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Day 20 - Grace for Tomorrow

Reading:
Romans 4:23-25

Reflective Thoughts
Grace for tomorrow
There's a criticism that sometimes circulates about we evangelical Christians. We tend to think about the gospel as something that happened "yesterday." We think of it only in terms of the Cross and Christ's payment for our sins. If someone asks for our testimony," our usual response is to recount a time in life when we recognized our need for Christ's death to pay for our sins. We verbalized this need, and invited Christ to be our Savior.
The decision changed not only our outlook on life-but the looks of our outward lives. That's the gospel-but only half of it! That's the beginning, but not the end. Romans 4:25 reminds us that Jesus, who was delivered to death for our sins, was also raised to life for our justification. Hebrews 7:35 says that He lives to intercede for us as our High Priest, not just yesterday, but for today and for tomorrow. The next time you hear the word "gospel," remember how it changed you back then-but think about what it's doing in your life right now, and the hope His resurrection gives you for tomorrow.

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Day 21 - If only I had known...

Reading:
Romans 5:1-5

Reflective Thoughts
If only I had known...

Our first child was born in East Africa. Not long after her birth, we sensed something was wrong. We traveled to Kenya, where a British pediatrician feared the worst. It was August, and flights out of the country were booked for the next two weeks. Our only recourse was to wait for passenger cancellations each night at the airport. After three days at 11 p.m., one seat opened for London. It was leaving within the hour. Uncertain whether the plane would arrive in time to connect with the flight to Philadelphia, we decided to take the chance. Tom stayed behind, as I tearfully boarded the plane with Rachel.
I fretted and agonized for the entire nine-hour flight. How would I navigate through customs? How would I figure out how to get from one airport to my connecting flight at another airport, 45 minutes away with a baby in tow? Originally I was told I had a two-hour layover-but I found out it was only one hour. It seemed impossible. What would I do? I had no idea that at Heathrow, airport personnel were waiting for me holding signs with my name written on them. They would escort me to Gatwick airport and right up to the loading gate of my connecting flight, the one that was waiting for me. There was no way after all, that I was going to miss it. If only I had known.
Plans often go awry. Sometimes there are happy endings. Sometimes there aren't. But no matter what happens, the good news is that Romans 5:1-5 is a sign with your name on it. If you have faith in Christ, you have already arrived to a permanent state of peace with God. It's a done deal. Whether you feel it or not is another matter. But that foundation of peace-that grace in which you now and forever stand-can be a springboard to produce good things, even as you pass through the worst things. You never have to say "if only I had known."

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Day 22 - How much does He love you?

Reading:
Romans 5:6-11

Reflective Thoughts
How much does He love you?

What do you know about love? Most of us understand love based on how we experience it. Love feels good-love is warm and sweet, like how we feel toward our children. Love is committed, passionate and driven-sometimes all at once--like how we feel toward our spouses. Love is faithful and abiding, like how we feel about our best friends.
We know that God is love (1 John 4:8), and we often think of the pleasant things we experience from Him. But good feelings are only part of it. Paul, in Ephesians 3:18-19, prayed that we would know the vast dimensions of God's love. It is knowable, but it might not always be what we think. We might not consider love as humiliation. Love doesn't feel like a beating. Or being spit upon? Or whipped beyond recognition? Love doesn't feel like dying for people who hate you. Love doesn't feel like a cross.
Knowing the breadth of God's love takes our breath away when we realize that He loved us while we were still His enemies. No Hallmark card could ever express it. But your loving behavior toward others will express what you know about His love for you.

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Day 23 - The Cure

Reading:
Romans 5:11-14

Reflective Thoughts

The cure

My grandmother was Pia Menatti Petruzzi. She came to the United States from a little Swiss/Italian village when she was 25 years old. She learned English, worked in a garment factory and lived in a tenement building in Jersey City. I'm told she had a heart for people-consequently, she regularly visited and cared for sick neighbors when no one else would. She contracted tuberculosis, and died in 1944-a few short months before the first antibiotic was successfully administered to a tuberculosis patient. The timing of the cure, for her, seems horribly unfair.
We each have our heartaches. In fact all of us were born with a deadly genetic disease of separation. Theologians call it "original sin." It seems to affect every facet of who we are. Physical death is its most powerful mark-separating our bodies from our soul/spirit. It causes death in other more subtle ways that are equally devastating. It separates us from perfect community with God. It separates us from perfect community with each other. It even separates us from a kind of communion with ourselves (Jeremiah 17:9). Blame it on Adam if it seems horribly unfair to you, but none of us are any different from him-except for one thing: we were born in the time of the cure! Adam could only hope for the promise of it. We have received it.

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Day 24 - Calling on your representative

Reading:
Romans 5:15-19

Reflective Thoughts

Calling on your representative

What was the last law or pending law that really made you angry? Chances are you considered calling your representative. His job is to represent your interests in Congress. You voted him in (or tried to vote him out). But we had another representative for which we could cast no vote. Adam enacted a bad policy-one act of disobedience. The effect generated a multitude of disobedience, offenses against the King. The cost was astronomical. It left us spiritually bankrupt, hopeless, and slaves under the rule of another.
But the King, while we were enemies, did something unexpected. He offered us another representative. This representative did one thing that affected all the acts of disobedience-it paid for every single one of them. He wiped the slate clean. There was one condition only-that we accept His payment for our debt and acknowledge Him as our representative forever in allegiance with the King. If you accepted, calling on your Representative is a daily affair and His office is always right where you are.

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Day 25 - He does all things well

Reading:
Romans 5:20-21

Reflective Thoughts
He does all things well

I heard a friend recently lament that she wished she didn't need so much grace. I knew what she meant--she was expressing sorrow for what she had done. I couldn't help but wonder, however, just how much grace is too much. Can we ever get enough?
The Apostle Paul took some heat from the critics when he said, where sin increases, grace abounds. They thought he was saying that such a statement is license to sin more. Their argument and my friend's lament miss the point.
In Jesus Galilean ministry, he cast a demon out of a young girl and shortly after healed a deaf man. He told the people to keep quiet, but they could not contain themselves. They were amazed, and they said of Him, "He does all things well" (Mark 7:24:37). The reason those who turn to Christ can never bring more sin than His grace can handle is simply because His grace is over abundantly overwhelming. It is for my friend, and it is for me and you. He does all things well.

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Day 26 - More than a song

Reading:
Romans 6:1-4

Reflective Thoughts
More than a song

We've all heard stories from friends about the drastic changes that coming to faith in Christ has made in their lives. We marvel at the biographies of famous men like John Newton, a former captain of a slave ship, who was redeemed by God's "Amazing Grace." Their conversion experiences mark drastic changes from lives of sin to lives that reflect Christian living.

But sometimes, we expect nonbelievers to behave in a way that is consistent with Christianity. We get angry if we hear someone drop the F-bomb at work. We bristle when we hear that so and so is "shacking up." We disapprove of a friend who goes "clubbing." Sometimes we forget that our ability to struggle successfully against sin is only possible because of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. When He died, so did we. When He rose, so did we. Consequently we are no longer slaves to our old nature. It's still there. We must resist it-but the fact is, we can resist it. Not so for the nonbelievers in your life. They can only sing "Amazing Grace." You can live it, and therefore, love them in such a way that they might come to know the One who first loved you.

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Day 27 - Innocent though proven guilty

Reading:
Romans 6:5-10

Reflective Thoughts
Innocent though proven guilty

Anthony Graves, a father of three, was 26 years old when he was penalized, sent to death row for murder in 1994. With no prior criminal record and no motive, Anthony was convicted when an acquaintance named him as an accomplice. The acquaintance recanted his story-but it would be 14 years before anyone would give Anthony Graves a new trial. Eighteen years later, proven innocent by DNA evidence and fair proceedings, he emerged, free from prison. Thus far, however, Anthony has not received the compensation normally given to wrongfully imprisoned people in the state of Texas. One clerical snafu has prevented it. The judge did not stamp his release order with the words "actual innocence."

We are not like Anthony Graves. We were not falsely accused. We were under a penalty (a decree of punishment) for our sin. Unlike Anthony, Someone else actually took that penalty for us-the full degree of it. When Jesus died for you and me, we "died" to the penalty against us; meaning we were separated from it. Therefore we are no longer prisoners to it-we don't have to obey sinful desires or live in a pattern of sin anymore. For us, there were no clerical errors-not only were we freed from the penalty, we were freed from the guilt of that penalty-our record says: "actual innocence." In Christ, you have a clean record!

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Day 28 - You are free...

Reading:
Romans 6: 11-14

Reflective Thoughts
You are free ...

"No ma'am. We ain't had no celebration after we was freed. We ain't know we was free 'til a good while afta. We ain't know it 'til General Wheeler come thru and tell us. After that, de massa and missus let all de slaves go 'cepting me; they kept me to work in de house and de garden."

Fannie Griffin of South Carolina was 94 when she was interviewed by writers for the "Born in Slavery" project in the 1930s. After the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, thousands remained in slavery because they didn't know they had been declared free. Others stayed willingly. Their decisions varied, but for some, slavery was better than the uncertainty--and the fear of a different kind of suffering.

In Romans 6:11-14 Paul announces to you an emancipation proclamation. In Christ, you have been released from your slavery, whether you know it or not. It is simply a fact. Will you leave? Or are you still working the master's house and garden?

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Day 29 - Pierced Ears

Reading:
Romans 6: 15-18

Reflective Thoughts
Pierced ears

Slavery in Israel was different from what we know of it in our history. Men who fell on hard times could actually sell themselves into slavery in order to pay off debts. They were similar to employees who exchanged services in exchange for room and board instead of a paycheck. In Deuteronomy 15, God established a boundary of six years. In the seventh year, all debts were considered paid in full and the slave/employee was to be set free with an abundance of supplies, livestock and everything he would need to start over.

But there is this curious possibility in Deuteronomy 15:16-17 that the slave will not want to go-because he loves his master. In an ironic twist, he uses his new freedom to choose to stay forever. The master pierces his ear with a thin piece of wood and establishes a life-long covenant. Paul tells us repeatedly that we have been set free. Verses 17-18 tell us that our faith in the work of Christ was like making a choice to move from the bondage of sin to obedience. You may not have pierced ears for spiritual reasons, but today you can use your new freedom to choose to serve the master you love.

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Day 30 - The wages of cupcakes

Reading:
Romans 6: 19-23

Reflective Thoughts
The wages of cupcakes

Summer is a couple of months away. Commercials from national fitness chains will soon be buzzing our ears with mantras of guilt. But years of experience has taught me that six weeks of aerobics classes and treadmill work won't do anything for me if I haven't confronted what causes my tight pants in the first place-overeating.

Paul put his analogy of being controlled by sin instead of righteousness in human terms (master/slave, and wages). As someone who has struggled with the sin of gluttony, I put it in terms of cupcakes, too many cupcakes. Overeating carries with it the "wages" of weight gain, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression-and perhaps least talked about among us, the consequences of not glorifying God in the moment. Even the way I choose to eat reflects how obedience to sin mars my physical body and my spirit.

1 Timothy 4:8 tells us that exercise is of a little value-but exercising godliness is of great value, in this lifetime and for eternity. So whether you eat that cupcake or join the gym or both, do it as someone under the control of God and not things that were never meant to control you.

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Day 31 - The Anniversary

Reading:
Romans 7:1-4

Reflective Thoughts
The Anniversary

It seemed like I was forgetting something. I had no idea what. I carried on as if it were any other day of the week: laundry, housework, story time with the girls, naptime, dinner preparations before Tom came home. I was sitting on the front step when he arrived. We greeted each other, chatted and discussed an invitation to dinner at a friend's house. What date was that? In the process, we figured out today's date-and both of us drew in a breath. It was our 15-year anniversary! Tom looked afraid. I laughed-but probably only because I forgot too. We talked about a last minute effort to make it special. We ended up staying home, toasting glasses of milk with the girls over ordinary grilled hamburgers, potatoes and green beans.

Whether we had celebrated or not-in fact, even if we had not remembered at all-it was still our 15-year anniversary. This is what Paul means when he says in verse 4 that we have been united with Christ. It's not something we must try to do to make happen. Our union with Christ is already a fact if we have received His gift of salvation. We are already dead to sin-not slaves to it anymore. Allowing His Spirit to control us celebrates that fact (Ephesians 5:18). It's the kind of celebration we need to have every day. My calendar is marked. What about yours?

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Day 32 - The First Car

Reading:
Romans 7:5 -6

Reflective Thoughts
The First Car


Do you remember your first car? Mine was a white 1978 Mustang Cobra with mag wheels, a dual overhead cam, louvers and light blue fuzzy carpet on the dash board. The year was 1985, and the odometer said it only had 55,000 miles on it. I didn't understand why my father told me not to buy it. It was only $900. So I did ...and I hid it in our five-acre backyard until I got my license.


Aside from my father, issues arose. I became aware of laws I hadn't even thought about-noise ordinances (these will apply to corroded exhaust systems). Police will pull you over if your car smokes excessively. An acute awareness to the ability to speed also rises with much horsepower. I became painfully aware of speed limit signs on every street of every town. Fortunately I managed to avoid tickets, but police were a daily concern. State inspection broke my bank account.


I also remember my first new car. It doesn't matter what it was-I no longer thought about noise ordinances, smoke or speed limits. It wasn't designed to break the sound barrier. I didn't think too much about the police, and state inspections became just another ordinary detail of car ownership. I had been "released" from ownership and operation of the old white mustang. In the same way, Paul tells us we have been released from the grip of the old nature-something "new" in us seems to comply with the Law.

 

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Day 33 - Wrong Turn

Reading:
Romans 7:7 -13

Reflective Thoughts
Wrong Turn

When Tom and I lived in East Africa, we occasionally travelled across country to the city of Mwanza in western Tanzania. During the rainy season, the main roads became impassable, so we would take "the back way." Local dirt roads, without signs meant travelling from memory. It was easy to drive off course, happily unaware that we were heading in the wrong direction. We were able to discern our location only by matching the name of a village to one that corresponded on the map. That's when we became very unhappily aware that we had missed the way. I was always amazed at how the map changed our mood. I knew he should have confirmed directions at our last stop! He knew I was going to remind him of that one more time! Neither of us, however, would have dreamed of throwing the map away.

Paul explained that without the Law, we are unaware that we are Law breakers. But awareness of it actually becomes a ground-zero in our hearts for breaking the Law. It stirs up our old nature and reveals it. It's not however the Law, God's standards, that are a bad thing. Rather, they reveal our need for grace and humility. Don't throw the map away! Just turn around.

 

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Day 34 - Clean Slate

Reading:
Romans 7:21-25

Reflective Thoughts
Clean Slate

Have you ever wanted to start over with a clean slate? Begin that conversation with a different tone? Choose not to click "send" for that email? Begin the day over again? In the movie "Bourne Identity" Jason Bourne is an amnesiac searching for answers about his past. He didn't, however, start over with a clean slate. Not only couldn't he remember who he was or what he had done, he discovered he was being hunted down and attacked for it. The closer he got to the truth, the more he could see why he wanted to forget it in the first place. Resolution could only come by embracing who he was.


The Apostle Paul, in this chapter of Romans, explained that we also have a new identity-a new nature. The old nature, unfortunately, is still around. We've been released from its authority over us; but sometimes, it wages guerilla warfare against us. Sometimes we lose the battle. Do you do the things you don't want to do? For this, Paul tells us our resolution comes by embracing the One whose identity we bear and the grace it offers. You don't need to start over-your slate is clean, right now. Choose to go and be who He set you free to be.

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Day 35 - Dancing to the End Zone

Reading:
Romans 8:1-4

Reflective Thoughts
Dancing to the end zone

I'm not a sports fan. In fact I can be snarky about my husband's love for the Eagles. But in the fourth quarter of that December 19 game, even my eyes were riveted to the screen. The Eagles had been dominated by the Giants who held a 31 to 10 lead with seven and a half minutes left on the clock! Our group's most devoted Eagles fan had already left in disgust. The game, he thought, was over. He couldn't bear to watch the defeat.

However in that fateful fourth quarter the Eagles managed to tie the score with 1:16 left on the clock. When the Giants got the ball, their punter Matt Dodge kicked a line drive right to DeSean Jackson, one of the fastest men in the NFL. He sped down the field, eluding opponents. Instead of just running into the end zone, he danced across the field and over the goal line, going in with zero on the clock!

Romans 8:1-4 is your fourth quarter comeback! When you've done what you didn't want to do; when you feel like you just can't bear another defeat-there is no condemnation if you are in Christ Jesus. He hasn't simply won the game-He danced into the end zone for you.

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Day 36 - Control

Reading:
Romans 8:5-12

Reflective Thoughts
Control


When I was young, my spiritual teachers were Saturday morning Looney Toons. Whether, Bugs Bunny, Sylvester the Cat, or Daffy Duck, someone would need to make a decision between the advice of an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. What they did was largely determined by whom they chose to listen to. If only it were so easy.


Paul describes making the right choices in a different way. When we were saved, we received a new nature. It resides alongside the old one. We also received the Spirit of God. The old nature wants to do whatever it pleases, and the new nature wants to do what pleases the Spirit. Doing the right thing isn't just a matter of choosing between good and bad voices. Doing the right thing is a matter of choosing who we allow to control us. In fact, we're told that it is our "obligation" to be controlled by the Spirit and not the old, sinful nature.

This morning, if you are a believer, you have as much of the Spirit of God in you as you will ever have. The question is, how much of you does He have?

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Day 37 - Adopted

Reading:
Romans 8:13-17

Reflective Thoughts
Adopted

We have become sons and daughters of the King. Those for whom the joy of adoption has burst through the agony of infertility know the depth of this statement. Those for whom a family has been given to overwhelm loneliness and isolation know the significance. Every part of who they were has now become enmeshed with the present and future of others with whom they share an identity forever. Every joy and every suffering from that family is now their joy and their suffering

Gospel writer Matthew in 12:46-50 tells of an event in which Jesus was teaching when his mother and brothers sent a request through the crowd to see Him. When He heard, He asked, "Who are my mother and brothers? Behold, everyone who does the will of my Father in Heaven is my brother and sister and mother." Those whose focus and passion were on the "family business" were those who were His family.

They say that blood is thicker than water, meaning that family ties are stronger than any ties. Jesus' blood makes that true for us. The question I must ask myself is, am I sharing in the joy and the suffering of the "family business"? Or am I living as if I only had someone else's last name?

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Day 38 - Speechless

Reading:
Romans 8:18-27

Reflective Thoughts
Speechless

The diagnosis came; it's cancer. Unemployment Adds Nine Million Uninsured in U.S. The kids were sick again when we woke up; I'm so tired and frustrated. Over 12000 Missing or Dead in Japan Quake. She won't forgive me; I've lost her. Seven Children Die in Pennsylvania Farmhouse Fire. I still can't find work; I'm not sure how next month's bills will be paid. Japan Nuclear Workers Race to Stop Meltdown. The divorce is final. UN Urges Military Review after Airstrikes Kill Nine Children. We buried him on a beautiful, sunny day ...

Did you ever not know what to say when all creation groans? We speak these little idioms for those moments. "I'm sorry for your loss." "It will all work out in the end." Sometimes we use Scripture in awkward fragmented ways: "God works all things for your good if you love Him..." It's not that any of what we say is untrue-it's just incomprehensible that we must say it in the first place-because none of this was meant to be.

The good news is that the Spirit of God within you says what needs saying in groans that are appropriate to your pain-even when you have no idea how to express it. This is the God who said, "Let there be Light" and there was. When you're hurting, hold on to hope-He knows what to say, and however bad it gets, it won't even compare to how good it will be.

 

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Day 39 - All Things

Reading:
Romans 8:28-39

Reflective Thoughts
All things

Our relationship, from my childhood through adulthood, had been tenuous and tumultuous. Years of estrangement from my dad, followed by an illness that took away his mind made making peace with him seem impossible. But with God, all things are possible because God is the God of all things.

The last time I saw him, I knew it was the last. I kissed his forehead for the first time. I whispered to him, "Thank you for being my Dad. Jesus will use all that you were and all that you weren't to make me into all He created me to be...because God is the God of all things."

This is how He works all things together for our good-even when it still hurts. There is no thing that happens in life, not even death, that will separate you from God's love. In fact, He will use all of your joys and all of your sorrows to make you better than if you had never gone through them. In all things you are more than a conqueror, because He is the God of all things.

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Day 40 - The Execution

Reading:
Romans 9:1-23


Reflective Thoughts
The Execution


You shuffle into the room, cold and sweaty. People scowl at you behind the window-but you can't see them. The window is mirror on your side of the room, and you see only your own ghostly image. "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." The chains clink between your ankles as the clergyman continues to read from the only Scripture you could remember. "He makes me lie down in green pastures..." The guards unlock your cuffs and guide you onto the table. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death ..." You turn and see the assembly of three needles which will take your life-you have never felt so helpless and hopeless...never. Just then, the guard's phone rings. It is the governor. He cancels your execution and commutes your sentence. You don't understand why, but you know you have just passed from good as dead to free and alive-and you can't help but tell everyone about it.


Paul agonized for his own people to come to Christ, not unlike you may agonize for your unsaved family and friends. He asks the same questions you may have asked: Why me? Why not them too? How is this fair?

Paul's conclusions don't land on concrete answers as much as they do perspective. We don't understand why the phone rang for us. We only know that it did. Maybe the best thing we can do is tell everyone about the love of our Redeemer-maybe the next call is supposed to come through you.

 

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Day 41 - The Choice

Reading:
Romans 9:24-33

Reflective Thoughts
The Choice

My best birthday present ever, never happened. I was seven, and I was at a store in Kearny, New Jersey, called "Two Guys." They sold pets next to the hardware section and in one of the crates were two Border Collie puppies. One was plump and fluffy, sweet and gentle. She cuddled with me and licked my hand. Her littermate was a hot mess. Her coat was wiry; she never stood still, and she bit me. Mom told me that just maybe she would return with my dad that evening, and I might get a special birthday present. Instantly I fell in love. What I couldn't know was that someone else fell in love with the one I wanted. Before my parents could return, she was gone.


I knew immediately that they had returned with the wrong dog when they pulled into the driveway and the puppy was on my mother's head. There was nothing to recommend her to me. She wasn't even cute. She was peculiar. She preferred rocks over balls. She climbed trees; she swam underwater. But she became "my dog," and love turned her idiosyncrasies into admirable qualities. She became famous in the neighborhood as my canine chauffer, happily pulling me through the neighborhood on my skateboard by way of her tail.


When Paul wrote about the hope for Israel's redemption in verse 24, he included us. We were the ones who were not His beloved, who He calls beloved. We were the ones who were not His people who are now called sons of the living God. We are the ones He wouldn't have chosen, but the fact is, He did. It wasn't because we were the only ones left. He actually went out of His way to make a way for you and me-and to redeem all of our hot messes into admirable qualities that glorify Him.

 

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Day 42 - How Will They Hear?

Reading:
Romans 10

Reflective Thoughts
How will they hear?

Statistics do not always like us. The Barna group and others have claimed for years that Christians are no different than the world. They say the divorce rate among Evangelicals is only slightly lower than those of the general population. We're told that the choices our teens make about sex mirror those of their non-believing peers. Some recent scholarship, however, has challenged these findings. University of Connecticut sociologist Bradley Wright asserts that Evangelicals who attend church at least a few times a month look significantly different than the world.

The light of Christ is no more evident from church attendance than simply saying we are Christians. However, when Paul says that the Word is near us, in our mouths and in our hearts, he's speaking about faith confessed and believed in such a way that it is demonstrated outwardly. We do this most powerfully when we do it together.

Jesus said that the way we demonstrate who we are is by loving one another (John 13:35.) Living in the submission and others-centered unity of our local Body of Christ is something that we don't often equate with sharing the gospel. But it's the only way that the Church (Christians) can function the way Christ intended. The feet that bring good news are beautiful because they carry with them the mouth that speaks it, the hands that serve it and the eyes that search for those who need it-that's all of us together.

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Day 43 - A Remnant By Grace

Reading:
Romans 11: 1-5

Reflective Thoughts
A remnant by grace


Nothing makes us feel smaller than a struggle that is bigger than we are. Ironically, sometimes this becomes most evident after we've won major battles. Elijah faced 400 opponents in front of a hostile crowd and trusted God to win a miraculous victory. When it was all over, he ran away from one cranky woman, discouraged and feeling as if he were the only one (I Kings 18 and 19). God assured him that he wasn't alone. Seven thousand others like him were being preserved as a remnant by God's grace.

Paul could have felt Elijah's discouragement. He was one of a painfully small minority of believing Jews amidst a rising sea of Gentile believers. But he remembered God's principles of faithfulness and grace. Israel would not be forgotten. God's plans don't fail.

What struggles will you face today? What battles will you win or lose-and when they are over, will you feel like the only one? God's plans for you won't fail, and if you ask Him, He will show you that you are not alone in your struggle. Hold fast in faith to Him as His grace holds on to you.

 

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Day 44 - The In Crowd

Reading:
Romans 11: 6-36

Reflective Thoughts
The In Crowd

From James Dean in Rebel without a Cause to Ellen Page in Juno Hollywood has made a cinematic killing featuring outsiders and underdogs. That's because whether you grew up in an immigrant home or seemed to fit in wherever you went, there is something in all of us that identifies with the outcast.

Christianity itself is an invitation to the outcast. The Jews, being God's chosen people, cast out their Messiah and Lord, and so His good news was offered to us, the Gentiles, who were once excluded from it. But this story is better than anything Hollywood could produce, because it is a story of redemption for all who embrace Christ. Paul's warning to us in Romans 11:22 is that we not begin to think of ourselves as the in-group. There is no "in" outside of faith in the kindness of God.

What messages do we take every day to the people who need Christ? Are they about our opinions, our causes and our culture? Or do they reflect our reverence for the kindness of God? Do we welcome the outcasts (those who don't meet our standards)? What difference would it make to them if we lived as if the only "in" that mattered was "in Christ"?

 

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Day 45 - Crawling Off the Altar

Reading:
Romans 12: 1-13

Reflective Thoughts
Crawling off the Altar

Sometimes touching base with friends at the beginning of the week sounds like a comparative analysis of whose schedule is busiest. A recent study in Great Britain suggested that the average parent only has approximately 90 minutes of free time. Granted, the study is based on two-income homes from a slightly different culture-but all of us get the general idea. We're too busy.

Add to that the injunction by the Apostle Paul to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. That might just work because by the end of the day, many of us feel too tired to crawl off the altar. But that's not exactly what Paul is talking about. Instead he refers to a mindset that can only happen if we allow ourselves to be changed from the inside out. The good news is that we don't need lots more free time to do this. But we do need to practice a change in our thinking.

How important is your busy day compared with someone else's needs that interrupt it? How does your expression of hope in Christ determination your witness to fellow believers and your devotion to them? How does your call to be holy affect what you say on the job? To the grocery clerk? We can't crawl off the altar because the altar is everywhere we go.

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Day 46 - Inside Out

Reading:
Romans 12:14-21

Reflective Thoughts
Inside out

If you want to get people's attention, say the unexpected. Tell the underclass that the Kingdom of God is meant for them. Tell people that they are blessed if they mourn, or if they are insulted or persecuted (Matthew 5). Jesus said the unexpected, but He did it for more than just getting attention. He did it to expose the heart of a belief system, so that motives and intentions lay bare.

Paul follows suit in these verses. He asks us to do the unexpected-that which is impossible for the world to do. It's not possible for us either, unless by renewing our minds, we are transformed and live inside out.

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Day 47 - Third Year Followers

Reading:
Romans 13:1-7

Reflective Thoughts
Third Year Followers

It's not easy to follow a leader you don't like. If you didn't know who the president was, you could probably tell by who is complaining about him-at least until year three of his term. Then just about everyone complains. That's politics!

Paul, however, isn't talking about political preferences in these verses. Plainly and simply his instructions are to be in submission to our authorities-government or otherwise. Consider who was in power at the time that Paul wrote this: Nero. He was no sweetheart to the believer. Not long after the Book of Romans was written, Nero persecuted and tortured Christians in barbarous ways.

Paul's viewpoint is that every leader, whether it be your pastor, your boss, your professor, or your president was placed in authority over you for your good, even if you must apply Romans 8:28 to accept it. The question is, do our words render honor where honor is due-or are we third-year followers?

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Day 48 - Personal Debt

Reading
Romans 13: 8-10

Reflective Thoughts
Personal Debt

The Federal Reserve in 2010 indicated that the total amount of consumer debt in the U.S. economy was $2.4 trillion dollars. That works out to around $7,800 for every man, woman and child who live in the United States. Most financial experts will tell you that debt is not a good thing. Paul seems to concur in verse 8, with one exception-what he calls the debt of love.

We don't often think that we owe others our kindness our love or even forgiveness-unless they have paid the same to us in full. However in God's economy it doesn't work that way. The unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:23-35 was condemned because he failed to acknowledge the mercy of his Master in his dealings with others. If the measure of God's love for us determines the degree of debt we owe to love others, how are we doing in paying it out?

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Day 58 - Chili

Reading:
Romans 16:21-24

Reflective Thoughts
Chili

I don't know about you, but I still look at chili with suspicion. A story about a severed finger found in Wendy's chili in 2005 did me in. The plot turned out to be a hoax-one woman hoped to cash in on a lawsuit. Instead she landed in jail. Meanwhile, Wendy's will never be the same to me--there is something horrible about severed body parts.

Each of us who believe in Christ is a member of the Body of Christ. Like the ears or eyes or even the gall bladder, we depend on each other to properly function. Together we minister the way God intended. Together we are beautiful. But severed from one another...we're at best ineffective and at worst, a horrible hoax.

The Apostle Paul was surrounded by others on whom he depended and with whom he partnered for the sake of the gospel. One of the greatest joys you can know is fulfilling your purpose in partnership with others. You don't have to look very hard for where you will fit in. Just look for the next person you can serve.

 

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Day 49 - Footprints

Reading:
Romans 13: 11-14

Reflective Thoughts
Footprints


Reduce the size of your carbon footprint! This is an urgent message by global warming advocates to make as little impact on our environment as possible. Paul had a similar urgent message for believers of the first century. His concern, however, was for their spiritual footprint-and he wanted them to make it bigger.

The sense of urgency to live lives of love was most certainly referring to the fact that the Lord could return at any moment. How would Jesus find His Church? Other reasons also beckoned believers to be awake and alert to urgent needs. Lives in the Roman Empire didn't matter. Infanticide was a common practice. Plague outbreaks caused entire towns to abandon their sick. Immorality was rampant. A fire in Rome would soon propel the first wave of brutal Christian persecution. All of these became the staging ground for the growth of the Church and the glory of God.

When you think of loving your neighbor and of putting off the sinful nature, do you do it with a sense of urgency? All that we can leave behind us are footprints. Where will yours be found-and will anyone be able to see them?

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Day 57 - Smooth Talk

Reading:
Romans 16:17-20

Reflective Thoughts
Smooth talk

Type the words "false teacher" into Google's search engine, and you'll find 2.3 million results on the web. Depending on whose calling whom a false teacher and for what reason, you may even find one of your favorite Bible teachers or evangelists on the list!

Paul, however, is not warning the Roman believers against teachers whose views on certain issues might be slightly off-center. Rather, he asks believers to be observant and attentive against those who deliberately deceive the unsuspecting with flattery and smooth talk. Their motive is not to serve Christ but to benefit themselves. The result is division between brothers and sisters and stumbling blocks to living out the faith. Their teaching and practices are contrary to what the believers have learned about Christ and the gospel.

How prepared are we to compare and contrast teaching that sounds really good against what we already know? Do you practice anchoring your faith directly to the Word of God, so that you won't be vulnerable to deception? Today is a great day to start.

 

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Day 50 - Opinions

Reading:
Romans 14:1-12

Reflective Thoughts
Opinions

George Barna makes a living on the opinions of others. If there's one thing that his polls have shown is that for every issue there are at least several opinions. Each opinion represents someone who thinks he's right.

Paul writes about opinions in Romans 14. These opinions were on matters that were not clearly defined as sinful by Scripture. The Church in Rome had different kinds of Christians. Some held fast to ritual Jewish practices surrounding food and holidays. Others did not. The term "weaker" brother seems to indicate that someone's faith does not give him the freedom to engage in a given activity. Meanwhile others might participates freely.

As long as you have differing opinions, you will have differing practices-and lots of different people, each believing he is right. You may abstain from alcohol, attend rock concerts, participate in Facebook, vote democratic, use e-harmony or not. You may, engage according to your faith, and you will be right-until you judge someone else whose behavior on this issue doesn't match your own. It is possible to wrong in being right.

 

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Day 56 - Between the Lines

Reading:
Romans 16:1-16

Reflective Thoughts
Between the lines

These sixteen verses in Romans are probably as frequently dismissed as the lists of genealogies throughout the Bible. But between the lines are stories of real people who weren't rock stars. They were just faithful. Let me introduce you to a few:

Meet Phoebe, likely a widow. As a woman, she was quite deficient of respect from her culture. Not so in God's eyes. She was a servant of the church and probably held the honor of personally delivering Paul's letter! Meet Urbanus, whose name was common to slavery, yet he is an equal worker with Paul in the Lord. Meet an entire household of slaves who belonged to Aristobulus, the grandson of Herod! Meet another household of slaves from a somewhat shady character named Narcissus. It is likely they served the Emperor Claudius after Nero's death. God places His people everywhere.

The list goes on, but you get the point: men who risked everything; women who humbly walked in divine appointments; slaves who were fellow heirs with the King of Kings. God uses the weak and foolish things of the world to shame the wise!What stories will be read between the lines of your name?

 

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Day 55 - Word and Deed

Reading:
Romans 15:14 -33

Reflective Thoughts
Word and Deed

A division has existed within American Christianity since the end of the 19th century. Certain leaders began to question Scriptural authority. Others reacted, and pulled away from the mainstream, holding fast to their traditional understanding of Scripture. Waves of these scuffles continue up until today. The accusations of one camp toward the other go something like this: "Liberals don't care about truth-they have reduced Christianity to serving social needs." "Conservatives don't care about needy people-they are only concerned about themselves and their doctrine."

If these accusations are true, the Apostle Paul disagrees with both. After 14 and a half chapters of what would become key doctrinal teachings, he gives the Roman believers the big proverbial "therefore." Their obedience is in both word--what they say and believe and deed--what they do (v.14). Paul's teaching was inclusive of both spiritual truth and material fruit (v. 27). How is the Word affecting your word (what you say and believe) today? Will it produce in you good things for others?

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Day 51 - Pizza

Reading:
Romans 14:13-23

Reflective Thoughts
Pizza

We had gone without pizza for three months when George and my sister came to visit for the weekend. George is my brother-in-law, a standard-issue character and retired trucker of medium build with a small pot belly that doesn't begin to justify the amount of candy, burgers, fries, doughnuts and pizza he consumes almost continually. George thought our new "diet" was funny and the amount of weight Tom lost justified celebration with pizza. He brought it home late one night and waved its hot, greasy goodness under our noses. Rarely are stumbling blocks so overtly obvious or even intentional.

The early church in these passages was divided between those who adhered to certain customs about festivals and foods and those who felt free not to. The rule of thumb Paul gave them was consideration of the other person's convictions and conscience. In our day, this spiritual principle still applies beyond food and drink.

One of my friends wrestled with the purchase of a new car for fear of discouraging fellow believers who were in a difficult spot. Another struggled over the potential excess of owning a large screen television. What they chose to do is not as important as the fact that they questioned their rights and freedoms for the sake of the good of others. They turned George's brand of overt intentional temptation into overt intentional love not to cause fellow believers to stumble. (We didn't eat the pizza.)

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Day 52 - Spiritually Mature

Reading:
Romans 15:1-3

Reflective Thoughts
Spiritually Mature

"No man left behind..." was first coined by the U.S. Army Rangers. Today it's used by military divisions all over the world. A soldier comes to mind, who risks his life to carry to safety his wounded and weakened comrade-the strong sacrificing himself for the weak.

As Paul continues his instructions on church unity, he tells those who are strong to bear with those who are weak. A popular Christian marriage and family counselor often tells husbands and wives that the one who is the "most spiritually mature" will make the first move toward love or respect.

That's because unity doesn't primarily depend on universal agreement about matters of opinion. Rather it depends on our devotion to imitating Christ and to the Scriptures that reveal Him. He bore our infirmities for our sake, not His own. Today you probably won't be called to risk your life for someone else. But you may be called to forego your rights for their sake. What are you willing to sacrifice in order to love your neighbor?

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Day 53 - Blueprints

Reading:
Romans 15:4-7

Reflective Thoughts
Blueprints


One of the things we inherited with our purchase of a 1929 bungalow was the original blueprints. The house was remodeled by the previous owners, and the blueprints have been helpful for us to see what the vision of the original builder was-why it worked then and why some of the remodeling that was done doesn't work so well now. Someone didn't follow the plan.

When Paul, in the previous verses exhorts the church to imitate Christ, he directs it to God's blueprint for the Body of Christ-the Scriptures themselves. They have endured. They are meant to encourage us. They map out the plan that enables us to be of "one mind" according to the Master Builder, whose "House" is comprised of each of us. On the basis of Scripture Paul tells us to receive one another-even as each brick of a home receives the support and weight of the others to make a sturdy structure. It works when you follow the blueprints.

 

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Day 54 - Unity

Reading:
Romans 15:8-13


 

Reflective Thoughts
Unity

We think highly of unity. People have called for it to win wars and declare peace. John Dickinson wrote "By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall" in a Revolutionary War song back in the 1770s. Sonny and Cher sang some of the same lyrics in a song about the brotherhood of humanity in the 1970s. In the church, we tend to think of unity in terms of people who are just like us. But Jesus has something wholly different in mind. He prayed about unity this way: "... that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17:21).

His prayer for unity is not generational or cultural. Both the Jews (the circumcision) and the Gentiles were saved through Him. Unity is not even based on our relationships with one another. Close friendships and allied theology does not equal spiritual oneness. Unity is first based on relationship with Christ. We don't need to be multicultural or cross-generational or theological experts to love one another. We need to be experts in our own relationship with Jesus. How is yours today?