40 inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible
by Eric Elder
Read it online below!
About This Book (Back to Table of Contents)
God has used the book of Romans to change many lives since it was written almost 2,000 years ago, including Saint Augustine’s back in the 4th century, Martin Luther’s in the 16th, John Wesley’s in the 18th–and mine in the 20th! So I’ve written this study guide to help you reap the benefits from this life-changing book, too.
Each lesson in this study focuses on a different aspect of renewing your mind, based on different passages from the book of Romans. Some days you’ll read just a verse or two, while other days you’ll read whole chapters. But if you’ll keep reading through the suggested passages each day, by the end of this study you’ll have read through the entire book of Romans.
At the end of each chapter, I’ve included some “Questions for Reflection” that you can use for personal reflection or group discussion. The study is divided into 40 lessons (counting the Introduction and Conclusion), so you can complete the study by doing one lesson a day for 40 days, or five lessons a week for eight weeks, or a lesson a week for 40 weeks, whichever suits you or your group best.
At the end of this book, I’ve included four additional devotionals that I wrote, plus one that my wife Lana wrote, after Lana’s diagnosis with Stage 4 cancer, which took place midway through writing this series. I’ve included these special messages to highlight the importance of keeping your mind focused on God’s perspective on your life at all times. May God bless you as you seek to renew your mind, day by day, and may your life be transformed in the process.
- About This Book
- Introduction: God Would Love To Renew Your Mind
- Lesson 1: Belonging To Jesus
- Lesson 2: Encouraging One Another
- Lesson 3: Giving Thanks
- Lesson 4: Asking God For His Truth
- Lesson 5: Listening To Your Conscience
- Lesson 6: Getting To The Heart
- Lesson 7: Becoming Conscious Of Sin
- Lesson 8: Being Redeemed By Jesus
- Lesson 9: Believing God
- Lesson 10: Being Fully Persuaded
- Lesson 11: Calling Things That Are Not As Though They Were
- Lesson 12: Having Peace With God
- Lesson 13: Rejoicing In Our Sufferings
- Lesson 14: Being Freed From Sin
- Lesson 15: Bearing Fruit To God
- Lesson 16: Setting Your Mind On What The Spirit Desires
- Lesson 17: Knowing Who The Holy Spirit Is
- Lesson 18: Receiving The Spirit Of Sonship
- Lesson 19: Knowing That In ALL Things God Works For Your Good
- Lesson 20: Knowing That God Is FOR You
- Lesson 21: Trusting In The Potter
- Lesson 22: Believing In Your Heart
- Lesson 23: Holding The Rope
- Lesson 24: Hearing The Message
- Lesson 25: Correcting Misperceptions
- Lesson 26: Being Transformed ~ Part 1
- Lesson 27: Being Transformed ~ Part 2
- Lesson 28: Thinking Of Yourself
- Lesson 29: Thinking Of Others
- Lesson 30: Doing What’s Right
- Lesson 31: Thinking About Sinful Desires
- Lesson 32: Being Fully Convinced In Your Own Mind
- Lesson 33: Overflowing With Hope
- Lesson 34: Instructing One Another
- Lesson 35: Assisting Others On Their Journey
- Lesson 36: Enlisting Others To Pray For You
- Lesson 37: Being Wise And Innocent
- Lesson 38: Believing And Obeying God
- Conclusion: “Brain Washing” In The Best Possible Way!
- Appendix ~ Message 1: Lana’s Health
- Appendix ~ Message 2: Hit Your Knees!
- Appendix ~ Message 3: A Picture Of Healing
- Appendix ~ Message 4: Living Like You’re Going To Live
- Appendix ~ Message 5: The Difference Three Days Can Make
Introduction: God Would Love To Renew Your Mind (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 12:1-2
God would love to renew your mind. He would love to replace any thoughts you have that are pulling you down with thoughts that will pull you up. He would love to give you new thoughts, His thoughts, thoughts that will change the trajectory of the rest of your life.
How do I know? Because God has given me new thoughts, His thoughts, and thoughts that have changed the trajectory of my life as I’ve read the book of Romans for the first time as an adult twenty-five years ago.
I wasn’t in the pit of despair. I didn’t hate myself or my life. I didn’t even know I was headed in the wrong direction with my life. But as I began reading through the book of Romans, starting with chapter 1, God began answering questions that had been on my heart for a long time. He began speaking to me through the words on the pages in such a clear and convincing way that I knew it was God who was speaking to me.
The things I read caused me to reevaluate my life, what I had been doing so far, and what I wanted to do in the future. In the weeks that followed, God had so changed my thinking that I came to the point that I wanted to put my faith in Christ for everything in my life: for the forgiveness of my sins, for the direction of my life, for my job, my body, my finances, my future. Everything that was a part of me, I gave to Him.
Now, twenty-five years later, I am in a totally different place than I would have been had I stayed on the path I was on. Even though I didn’t realize at the time the direction my life could have taken, God knew―and He wanted to spare me from it. He picked me up, turned me around, and put me on a new path―a path that was headed toward an abundant and eternal life.
How did this life-change all get started? It started with an idea. A thought. A thought that maybe God was right and I was wrong. A thought that maybe if I were to truly follow God with my whole heart, that no matter where He led me, He would take me places that I could never have gone on my own. A thought that if I trusted Him completely, that He really loved me, that He really cared for me deeply, and that He really knew what was best for me, then He would always lead me down a path that was in my best interest and His―even if I didn’t understand it at the time.
Ideas are powerful. In the Academy Award-nominated movie, Inception, the main character asks an intriguing question:
“What is the most resilient parasite? A bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm?”
Then he answers his own question with these words:
“An idea. An idea is like a virus. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold in the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate.”
Later on in the movie, he adds:
“And the smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define…or destroy you.”
Ideas have started revolutions of all kinds―both good and bad. The United States was started with an idea back in 1776. But so were the terrorist attacks that killed so many of our people on September 11th, 2001.
Some of the ideas that have been planted in our minds are great. They should be be nourished and fed. But other ideas have taken root that aren’t so great. They should probably be rooted out and destroyed, before they destroy us.
I’ve been talking with some friends who grew up having had seeds of faith planted deep within them when they were younger―seeds which were watered regularly as they got older. But somewhere along the way, other people have planted doubts in their minds, doubts that have cropped up and overshadowed their faith. Doubts that have grown so large that you can hardly tell that they ever had a seed of faith at all. Unfortunately, they have begun watering and nurturing these doubts―by the books they read, the shows they watch, and the people with which they have surrounded themselves.
And yet I know they once had seeds of faith. I was there when some of those seeds were planted. I was there as they were being watered. I even did some of the watering myself. I believe they are still there!
But sometimes things happen along the way, both things that happen to us and things that we do to ourselves, that cause those good seeds within us to get crowded out and wither, letting the bad seeds grow up wild and unhindered.
It might seem like there’s no way out once this cycle begins. It might seem sometimes that people have gone too far down the wrong path―that they’ll never be able to change. But that’s a lie!
The truth is, God can change people’s hearts and minds in an instant. He can turn a life around on a dime. He can restore the years that have been wasted and put people back on the right path―His path―the path that leads to an abundant and eternal life.
But how? How can God do it? How can He transform you into the person that He wants you to be― into the person that you truly want to be, too?
The apostle Paul gave us an idea in the book of Romans―several ideas, in fact! Ideas that can turn your life around and help you look at everything that happens to you differently. Paul wrote the book of Romans as letter to those who believed in Jesus Christ in the city of Rome, almost 2,000 years ago. He wrote it about 25 years after Jesus died and rose again from the dead. At one point in his letter, Paul said:
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is―His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
God is saying the same thing to us today: He doesn’t want us to be conformed to the pattern of this world―the worldly way in which things are done. Instead, He wants us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Why? Because then we’ll be able to know His will for our lives―His good, pleasing and perfect will–and to test it out and approve it for ourselves! To know God’s will for our lives–how awesome would that be?
In the lessons ahead, I’ll be exploring with you several of Paul’s many ideas for how to renew your mind, from how you think about yourself, to how you think about God–and the people and situations that God has placed in your life.
For some of you, this will be a new and exciting venture into unexplored territory. For others of you, this may be a new look at something you’ve tried to tackle before but haven’t yet found the secret of success. In either case, take courage: God is still in the life-changing business and He would love to change your life by renewing your mind!
I remember seeing some flowers that my friend and neighbor Mary Lou had planted in her front yard. The flowers called impatiens, which grew into huge bushes, bursting with color. My wife and I decided to plant some in our yard. But even though we planted them in the perfect spot and watered them regularly, they hardly grew more than a few inches tall, while Mary Lou’s impatiens were flowing over and out of her planter boxes.
We couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Then we asked her what her secret was. It turns out it wasn’t a secret, she just used Miracle Grow (a type of fertilizer that helps plants grow to their fullest potential)!
My goal in this study is to give you a bit of Miracle Grow for your faith to help you grow to your fullest potential.
Sometimes we try doing things by ourselves. We may be doing the exact same things that other people around us, but you would hardly know it by the results. The difference may not be what we’re doing, but what we’re feeding on while we’re doing it. My goal is to give you a key ingredient of faith! Faith to believe that God can really do all that He says He can do in our lives! As Jesus said, just a little bit of that stuff has the power to move mountains!
For some of you, moving a mountain may be just what you need right now. So as we go through this study, I’ll be sharing some stories from my own life–as well as some stories from the Bible and from Christians throughout the ages–that I pray will boost your faith. I pray they’ll give you the burst of life that you need to keep pressing forward and keep moving in the direction that God has in mind for you.
For today, let me encourage you to simply begin by seeking the Lord for His wisdom. When you ask God for wisdom, He’s glad to give it to you, pouring His thoughts into your mind. As He says in the book of Isaiah:
“Seek the LORD while He may be found;
call on Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD,
and He will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for He will freely pardon.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways My ways,”
declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower
and bread for the eater,
so is My Word that goes out from
It will not return to Me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I
God would love to renew your mind. He would love to pour out His wisdom upon you like rain from heaven, refreshing your soul as He does. He would love to feed and nourish those ideas that will one day define you, and root out and destroy any ideas that could possibly destroy you.
In the lessons ahead, I pray that God will transform your life by renewing your mind. I pray that God will use this time to renew your mind in powerful ways, transforming your life all along the way. I’m looking forward to it myself, and I hope you are, too!
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for giving us ways to transform our lives by renewing our minds. Thank You for the seeds of ideas that You’ve planted within us, those that are good and godly. Help us to feed and nurture them so that we can grow to our fullest potential. At the same time, we pray that You would help us root out any ideas that have been planted in our minds that are not from you, ideas that could be destroying us, even without our knowledge, so that we can live the life that You desire for us to live. We pray this all in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 12:1-2. What are some of the benefits of renewing your mind?
2. Read Isaiah 55:1-14. What are some ways you could renew your mind, based on this passage?
3. Read Philippians 4:8. What seeds have been planted in your life that God might want you to nourish?
4. Read Ephesians 5:1-20. What seeds have been planted in your life that God might want you to root out?
Lesson 1: Belonging To Jesus (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 1:1-7
One of the best places to start when renewing your mind is with how you identify yourself. For how you look at yourself affects how you look at everything around you.
Let’s take a look at how Paul identified himself in the opening words of his letter to the Romans. Paul introduced himself by saying:
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus…” (Romans 1:1a).
It’s a simple, but powerful statement. In the original Greek language―which Paul used to write this letter―the word servant is more like our word for slave.
We bristle at a word like that today. No one wants to be a slave. But it all depends on who your master is. When you serve a master who loves you, cares for you, feeds you, clothes you, and would die for you, what better person to serve?
Some people might not like the idea of belonging to someone else, but Paul didn’t mind. He was glad to be a servant of Christ Jesus.
The truth is, we all serve something or someone. We’re either slaves to sin, slaves to work, slaves to others, or slaves to ourselves―who may be the worst master of all. As for me, I’d rather serve Jesus!
Paul went on to say that not only did he belong to Jesus, but he wanted the Romans to belong to Jesus as well. After introducing himself, Paul said:
“And you also are called to belong to Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:6).
I love the way Paul said this, that he wanted them “to belong to Jesus Christ.” It makes me think about my own life, and how I identify myself. As I read Paul’s words to the Romans, I felt like God was saying to me:
“Eric, from what do you get your identity? Your family? Your ministry? Your website? I don’t want you to get your identity from anything but Me. Not that your family isn’t great…or your ministry…or your website. But I don’t want you to draw your strength from them. I want you to draw your strength from Me. I want you to draw your life from Me. I am your Source. I am your Life. I am your All in All.”
Hearing this made me want to stand up and shout: “I belong to Jesus!” He bought me. He paid the price for me. And I know that He’s willing to do whatever’s best for me―something that He’s already proven true by doing the most extreme thing that He could possibly do for me: giving up His life.
It reminded me of the saying:
“Sometimes you don’t realize that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.”
Thankfully you don’t have to lose everything you’ve got in order to realize that Jesus is all you need.
I remember going to a training class several years ago to work with AIDS patients. The teacher of the class tried to help us understand what life was like for a person who was dying of AIDS.
During one of the exercises, the teacher asked each of us to write down, on three slips of paper, the three most important things in our lives―whether it was a person, a car, a house, a job, our health, our money, or whatever!
So we took a few minutes to write down those things that were most important to us.
A few minutes later, the teacher came around the room and took from each of us the paper on which we had written our third most important thing. Then he asked: “How does that feel?”
Well, it felt like a punch in the stomach. On my paper, I had written down, “my family.” And to have my family taken away gave me a horrible, sinking feeling. He went on to say that this is what AIDS patients often feel when they lose those things that are most important to them.
Then he came around a second time and took away our second most important thing. On my paper, I had written the name of my wife, “Lana.” Again, when the paper was taken away, and again he asked: “How does that feel?” Again, I had that horrible, sinking feeling. The whole room was silent as everyone considered what it would be like to lose this second most important thing in our lives.
Finally, he started to walk around the room the third time to take away our last piece of paper―the most important thing in our lives. As he walked towards me, I began to smile. I couldn’t help it. I almost burst out laughing, I was so happy!
As the teacher walked up to me and asked for my paper, I didn’t know what to say. All I could say was, “You can’t take it away!”
He said, “Yes, I can. Give me the paper.”
I said, “Well, you can take away the paper, but you can’t take away what’s written on it!”
On my last piece of paper, I had written the name of the most important thing to me in life: “Jesus.”
If your identity is in anything other than Jesus, it can all be taken away, whether it’s your spouse, your family, your job, your car, or anything else that’s important to you. But if your identity is in Jesus Christ, His love for you can never be taken away!
As Paul says later in the book of Romans:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
When you belong to Jesus, nothing in all creation can separate you from His love!
My daughter, Karis, recently wrote a blog post about how finding her identity in Christ is helping her to live the fullest life possible, even during her single years. Here’s an excerpt from what she wrote:
A few weeks ago, I was at school praying about what to major in, what I should be doing with my life and just what God would want me to do after I finish college.
Then as I was praying I felt the Holy Spirit whisper to me, “What if you were single the rest of your life? What if all you had was Me? Would I be enough?”
I know I’ve read stories of women who have had this happen to them, but never would I have thought that would be me. A life of singleness? Ha, not me.
But as I sat there, I realized… I could honestly answer, “Yes.”
And as soon as I did, I had such peace. I realized that all my ideas of what I was going to do with my life after I left school, how I pictured my life in ministry, everything, it was all with a husband, like I planned my life around him (and I don’t even have a boyfriend!). Which isn’t wrong at all, but I feel like I could use my single years so much better if I focused on God wholeheartedly, not holding anything back.
Sometimes a girl will completely wrap her identity around a guy that she likes and without him she doesn’t even know what to do. He is everything to her, she spends all her time with him, her identity is in him, her source of satisfaction, and contentment, and just everything. And in a human relationship that is not healthy.
But towards God, our identity should be Him. A woman’s love for a guy should come from her love for Christ. And I want my identity to be found in Him. I definitely believe that if you’re not content with who you are, being in a relationship isn’t going to make it better.
When I decided I was just going to live totally in love with Jesus, being content with Him no matter what happens, and doing the things I want to do even if I don’t have a husband, it felt so perfect. I felt so free.
And it’s not that I still don’t want a husband, not at all!
But if I never do find a guy, I’ll be perfectly content with the love of Jesus.
As you can tell from just these two stories–my own and my daughter’s–how you identify yourself can make a huge difference in how you view everything else around you. This is why finding your identity in Christ is such a great place to start if you’re wanting to renew your mind.
Paul could have identified himself as a tentmaker, because he did make tents for a living. I’m sure making tents was a great thing to do and I’m sure it helped a lot of people. But that’s not how he identified himself. His identity was in Christ.
How about you? How do you identify yourself―in your mind, at least, if not publicly? Are you a mother, husband, doctor, lawyer, teacher, nurse, janitor, assistant, homemaker, pastor, president, king? There’s no higher title than to say that you’re a servant of Jesus Christ, the King of all kings, the Giver of all good gifts, the Doer of all good things.
Jesus wants you to belong to Him.
If you already belong to Jesus, then draw your strength from Him. Draw your life from Him. He’s your Source. He’s your Life. He’s your All in All.
And if you don’t belong to Jesus, is there anything holding you back from giving your life fully to Him? He really does love you and He really does want to make things right between you and God again. Turn away from anything that’s holding you back from Him so you can put your full faith and trust in Him.
As Paul would tell you―and I would concur―there’s nothing better in life than belonging to Jesus!
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for Paul’s reminder to us of the importance of belonging to Jesus. Help us to remember that we do belong to Him. Help us to find our identity in Him. Help us to draw our strength from Him, realizing that He is our Source, He our Life, and He is our All in All. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 1:1-7. How does Paul identify himself?
2. What was Paul called to do?
3. How do you identify yourself?
4. How might your life be different if you identified yourself―whether publicly or privately―as someone who “belonged to Jesus Christ”?
Lesson 2: Encouraging One Another (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 1:8-17
In our first lesson in this study on renewing your mind, we talked about the importance of belonging to Jesus―of finding your identity in Him. He is our All in All and the ultimate source of our strength. But God has also given us something to help us. He’s given us one another.
One of the best ways to renew your mind is to fellowship with other believers, to encourage one another in your faith, so you can give each other a fresh perspective on your life and the situations that you face.
This is what the Apostle Paul longed to do with the Christians living in Rome when he wrote his letter to them in about 57 A.D. If you know anything about this time period in Roman history, you’ll know that those were the days of the gladiators, the colosseums, and fights-to-the-death in huge arenas.
It was only seven years after Paul’s letter to the Romans―in 64 A.D.―that the mad Emperor Nero blamed the Christians for setting fire to Rome, a fire that many historians believed that Emperor Nero himself set so that he could rebuild the city more to his liking. This newly emerging group of Christians was an easy scapegoat. They were already looked down upon by the people because they chose to follow Christ rather than pay honor to the official Roman gods―one of which included Emperor Nero himself.
The Roman historian Tacitus―who lived in Rome at the time―says that after the fire, Nero arrested a vast number of Christians and had them tortured in the most heinous ways. Tacitus writes:
“In their very deaths they were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and torn to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set on fire, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights. Nero offered his own gardens for that spectacle…” (Tacitus, Annals 15.44, circa 100 A.D.)
Just in case you missed what Tacitus was saying in that last statement, he was saying that Christians were set on fire to serve as human torches to light Nero’s gardens after the sun had gone down.
It is into this setting, just seven years earlier, that the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Romans. For quite some time, he had wanted to visit them in person so that they could encourage one another in their faith. But being prevented from coming in person once again, Paul wrote them a letter instead, a letter that has survived to this day and still encourages Christians around the world.
Listen to Paul’s heartfelt love for his Christian brothers and sisters:
“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.
“I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong―that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles” (Romans 8:8-13).
Life is hard for all of us at times. And it’s in those times that we need one another even more than ever. We need one another’s perspectives on the situations that we face, just as Paul gave his perspective to the Roman Christians. Although they were being ridiculed and persecuted―and they could have felt that God was treating them unfairly―Paul helped them to see their situation in another light. He thanked God for them, because their faith was being reported throughout the world.
Rather than seeing their situation as lowly and humiliating, Paul saw that their stars of faith were shining brightly―stars that illuminated the darkness around them.
Amazingly, Paul was eager to join them in this dark place. While Paul could have been hesitant for many reasons to go to Rome, he wasn’t. As a natural-born citizen of Rome and one of the greatest intellectual thinkers of his day, he could have been embarrassed to align himself with those who followed Christ―a man who was mocked by the Roman leaders and crucified under the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.
But Paul wasn’t ashamed. He didn’t flinch at the possibility that he could be ridiculed, beaten, jailed, or killed for his faith. Why? Because Paul knew the life-changing power of the gospel that he preached―the “good news” of Christ.
Paul knew that the gospel had the power to save those who responded to it. He was eager to go to Rome and to have a harvest among those who were yet to believe. Paul said:
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith'” (Romans 1:16-17).
We could all use a few more Pauls in our lives, people who believe so much in the power of the gospel that their faith rubs off on us.
If you need a new perspective on your life―and the situations you’re facing in it―can I encourage you to find some other believers and to be honest with them about the struggles you’re facing? You can’t go it alone, and God doesn’t want you to. Even though Jesus may be all you need, the reason He’s all you need is because He provides you with all you need―like believing friends who can help you through this life.
Let me encourage you to seek out and engage other Christians in heartfelt conversations. It’s risky. It’s hard. But it’s so worth it. Ask them to tell you if they see anything in your life that you might not be able to see on your own. Ask them what God may be doing in and through the situations you’re facing. Open up the Word of God with them to see how God has brought others through situations like the ones you’re facing. And if you think your situation is so unique that God’s Word doesn’t address it, that’s most likely because you haven’t read enough of God’s Word!
God has so much to say to you, but sometimes it takes others to help you see it. If you don’t have church home, find one that strongly believes that the Bible is God’s Word. Get involved with a group of other Christians. Join a chat room or an Internet forum where you can lift each other up with your prayers and concerns.
Or, if you want, ask another Christian to go through this study of the book of Romans with you, whether you get together in person or share with each other electronically, half-way around the world.
One of my own kids is in Sydney, Australia, right now and I’m thankful that we’re still able to encourage one another in our faith from literally half-way around the world! He shares with me what he’s learning, and I share with him what I’m learning, and we both encourage one another with the new things we’re learning about life from God’s Word. The same thing happens with my wife and our other kids here in the house, and with our church and small group that we attend regularly. As iron sharpens iron, so one man or woman can sharpen another.
You may not be getting thrown to the lions, but you’ll still benefit from surrounding yourself with other believers. Seek them out. Share your story with them. Ask them to give you a boost in your faith, and give them a boost in their faith while you’re at it.
And if you’re the one who’s feeling particularly strong right now, can I encourage you to take some time to write or call, email or text, or just stop by and visit someone who could use your perspective on their life today? As Paul longed to be with the Romans so they could be “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith”―God wants you to do the same with those around you. You’ll be glad you did.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for reminding us that even though Jesus is all we need, that we still need each other, and that our fellowship with other believers is one of the great blessings that Jesus wants to give us. Lord, for those who have such a fellowship, thank You. For those who need such a fellowship, I pray that You would answer their prayers. Help them to reach out to those around them and share honestly the struggles they’re going through in life. Then provide them with the fresh perspective and practical help they need to help them through this time with a faith that shines brightly for You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 1:8-17. Why was Paul thankful for the Romans?
2. Why did he long to see them? And what was he praying for them constantly?
3. Do you have a group of Christians with whom you can enjoy the benefits of fellowship? If so, what are some of the benefits of fellowship. If not, where could you start to find such a group?
4. Why was Paul not ashamed of the gospel?
Lesson 3: Giving Thanks (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 1:18-23
One of the quickest ways to get a new perspective on life is by giving thanks―by taking a few minutes to thank God for the things in your life for which you are truly grateful. But giving thanks doesn’t always come naturally.
You can sometimes get so caught up in the heat of the battles you’re facing that all of your thoughts, prayers and attention are focused on the battles only. Then, when you get so consumed by the battles that you stop giving thanks for the good things that are happening in your life, you head down a path that can lead to destruction.
I’ve heard it said that “rebellion against God doesn’t begin with a clenched fist, but with a heart that refuses to give thanks.”
When you stop giving thanks for the things in your lives that are good and meaningful to you, you can oftentimes find yourself slipping into anger and frustration with the world–and with the God who created it. Your fists may begin to clench and you may feel like rebelling against anything else that God might want to say to you, or want you to do.
The Apostle Paul cited this refusal to give thanks as the beginning of the end for the citizens of Rome, as many people there were already engaging in all kinds of evil. He said:
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness… For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:18, 21).
If it feels like your thinking has become futile and your heart seems to have darkened, perhaps it’s time to reverse that cycle by giving thanks.
In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom tells the story of a time when she and her sister were in a concentration camp in Germany during the Holocaust. When they were thrown into a bunkhouse that was infected with fleas, her sister remembered that they needed to give thanks in all circumstances―even for the fleas. But Corrie said it was too much. She said, “There’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
But as the weeks went on, she discovered that the women in her barracks were being given an unusual amount of freedom. They could read to each other from a Bible they had hidden, and they could pray with one another. One day they discovered why when Betsy overheard the guards say that they wouldn’t step foot into their barracks. Why not? “That place is crawling with fleas!” the guard said. It was then that Corrie remembered her sister’s prayers of thanks even for the fleas.
The movie, Fireproof, also talks about the importance of giving thanks. The story is about a fireman whose wife wants out of their marriage. She’s fed up with him, and he’s equally fed up with her. But as they head towards divorce, the fireman’s father steps in and challenges his son to try something he calls “The Love Dare” for forty days. He hands his son a hand-written journal in which he’s written specific steps the son can take each day to try to repair his relationship with his wife.
After 20 frustrating days of trying to do it on his own, the fireman has a heartfelt conversation with his dad. His dad encourages him to put His faith in Christ and ask Him for help, but the son refuses, saying he doesn’t need a crutch to get through life. The dad responds by saying that Jesus is more than just a crutch―He’s the most significant part of his life. The son still doesn’t get it, so the dad continues:
DAD: “If I ask you why you’re so frustrated with Catherine, what would you say?”
SON: “She’s stubborn. She makes everything difficult for me. She’s ungrateful. She’s constantly griping about something.”
DAD: “Has she thanked you the last 20 days?”
SON: “No. And you’d think after I washed the car, I’ve changed the oil, do the dishes, clean the house, that she would try to show me a little bit of gratitude. Well, she doesn’t. That is what really ticks me off. Dad, for the last three weeks, I have bent over backwards for her. I have tried to demonstrate that I still care about this relationship. I bought her flowers, which she threw away. I have taken her insults and her sarcasm, but last night was it. I made dinner for her, I did everything I could to demonstrate that I care about her, to show value for her, and she spat in my face. She does not deserve this, Dad. I am not doing it anymore. How am I supposed to show love to somebody over and over and over who constantly rejects me?”
DAD: “That’s a good question.”
SON: (after a long pause) “Dad, that is not what I’m doing.”
DAD: “Isn’t it? Son, you just asked me: ‘How can someone show love over and over again when they’re constantly rejected?’ You can’t love her, because you can’t give her what you don’t have.”
You’ll have to see the movie to find out how it ends. But the Dad made his point: What does it feel like to God, when He shows His love to us over and over and over again, yet we refuse to, or forget to, or get so overwhelmed with life that we no longer want to give Him thanks?
For me, I’ve found it helpful to be intentional about giving thanks to God. I keep a prayer journal handy and try to write in it at least every few days. I used to begin by writing down all the prayers that were on my heart, which felt good to get them down on paper. But I began to realize that I wasn’t taking as much time to stop and give thanks to God for all the prayers that He had already answered.
So I changed my approach several years ago and began starting every entry with these words, “Father, thank You…” and then listing something for which I am sincerely thankful, something specific that has happened in the past day or two, or even those things that were particularly hard or challenging, but that I was trying to view from God’s perspective to see how He might be using them for good.
I’ve found that as I start my prayer time with thanks, it changes the rest of my prayer time. I now have more expectancy, more eagerness to see how God might answer my prayers, and more hope that God really can bring something good out of even the bad things that I might be facing.
Rather than waiting to see how things turn out before I thank God for them, I’ve found it much better to thank Him up front.
I remember eating an incredible fish dinner up in Boise, Idaho one time on a business trip. Our hosts had taken us out to a fancy restaurant. I’m sure it was the best fish I had ever eaten. After the meal, when the waitress came to our table to ask how everything was, I could hardly contain myself in thanking her for the great meal.
But as I was thanking her, I realized that she didn’t cook the fish, she just brought it to the table, so I asked her to please give my thanks to the chef. But as she walked away, I realized that the chef didn’t make the fish, he just prepared it. The one I really needed to thank was God who created the fish! So before I got up from the table, I said a heartfelt prayer of thanks, saying, “Thank You, Lord, for this food!”
Then it hit me. Wasn’t that the same prayer I said before I ate it: “Thank You Lord, for this food”? But somehow it meant so much more to me now that I realized it really had come from Him! I made a mental note that the next time I prayed before a meal, I’d try to make it just as heartfelt as I felt that day afterwards.
It reminded me of the prayer that Jesus prayed before His meal with over 5,000 people on the hillside in Galilee, when all He had was two loaves of bread and five pieces of fish. The Bible says:
“Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over” (Matthew 14:19b-21).
Jesus could have waited till the end of the meal to give thanks for His Father’s incredible provision, but He didn’t. He gave thanks up front, even though the meal in front of Him may have looked quite meager. His Father in heaven took His prayer of thanks and super-sized their meal right in front of their eyes!
You don’t have to wait to give thanks to God till you see the answers to your prayers. Give thanks to Him up front for what you have been given, and trust Him to take the next step.
The Romans, because of their refusal to give thanks to God, found that their thinking had become futile and their hearts were darkened. If you want your thoughts to be more purposeful and your hearts to become brighter, do what Paul suggested: begin by giving thanks to God.
Come to the Father today with your prayers. Come to Him with thanksgiving in your heart. Thank Him for those things in your life for which you’re truly grateful. Thank Him for those things―even fleas―that may be hard to give thanks for right now, but which God can use in your life for good. And thank Him for the answers to your prayers that haven’t even come yet, but by faith you believe will come in a way that goes beyond all you can ask or imagine.
Let God renew your mind today by giving thanks to Him.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for the answers to so many prayers that we have prayed in the past. Thank You for those things which we’re struggling through today, for as hard as they may seem, we trust that You can work all things for good, for those who love You and are called according to Your purpose. Thank You in advance for the answers to prayer that are yet to come. We trust that You can super-size those answers in just the right way and at just the right time. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 1:18-23. What did Paul say happened to the thinking of those who refused to give glory and thanks to God?
2. Why do you think their refusal to give thanks caused them to fall into some of the sins listed in this passage?
3. According to verse 32, what is the ultimate outcome for those who head down this path?
4. What are some things in your life for which you can truly give thanks to God?
Lesson 4: Asking God For His Truth (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 1:24-32
Of all the passages in the Bible, the one that has changed my thinking and the direction of my life more than any other is the one that we’re looking at today―a passage at the end of Romans chapter 1.
It’s a little hard for me to talk about, though, because what God spoke to me through this passage was very personal and specific to me. While this passage may not speak to you as personally, the principle that I learned from reading it that day does apply to every one of us: if you ask God for His Truth―and listen for His honest answer with an open heart and ears to hear―God will answer you!
What happened to me was that I had just been reading another passage in the Bible that puzzled me. It said that all of us had sinned and that the penalty for sin was death. Therefore, all of us would eventually die because of our sins (see Romans 3:23 and 6:23).
I thought this was a little strong because I felt I had been a pretty good kid all my life. I hadn’t done anything that I felt I would even get put in jail for, let alone die from. But the Bible seemed to say otherwise. So I shared my question about these verses with the guys in my small group Bible study. One of them suggested that I ask God what He thought about how good I had been.
I thought that was a fair question, so I went home that night and got ready to pray. But before I did, I started to wonder: What if it was true? What if I really had done something that could possibly kill me? I wondered if I really wanted to hear God’s answer to that question or not.
But as I thought through what He might say, I decided that what I wanted more than anything was God’s truth. Either what the Bible said was true and what I thought was wrong, or what I thought was true, and the Bible was wrong. Both couldn’t be true. So I asked God to show me the truth.
Within two weeks, God answered my prayer. He brought me to Romans chapter 1, where I read Paul’s words about what happened when people “exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (Romans 1:25a). God had my attention, for that’s just what I was wondering, if I had ever exchanged God’s truth for a lie. As I read the words that followed, I was amazed to see that Paul, writing almost 2,000 years ago, described the same path that I had taken in life a just few years earlier. Paul said:
“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator―who is forever praised. Amen.
“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:25-32).
Even though I felt I had been pretty good all my life, there was one area that I had kept secret from most people. When I went off to college, I became sexually involved in a series of relationships with other men on campus. While on one level I felt that what I was doing was wrong, on another level it seemed so “right” because it seemed to fill a legitimate need that I had in my life for close male friends.
What I didn’t know was that I was trying to meet that need in a way that could have possibly killed me. AIDS was just beginning to surface at the time, but it didn’t seem like that real of a threat to me. I never even considered the possibility that I might die from what I was doing.
But as I read this passage in Romans, I began to see what I had been doing in a whole new light. I began to see that not only did homosexuality go against the way that God had designed my reproductive organs to work―they would never produce life in this way―but it could have actually led to my death instead. Instead of giving me abundant life, it could have lead to my imminent death. And God didn’t want me to die. He wanted me to live! But because of the decisions that I had made, I was afraid I might already be carrying within me the seeds of my own destruction.
I didn’t want to die. I wanted to live. But I wondered how I could possibly undo what I had done. I couldn’t take it back. I also wondered how I could possibly change my thoughts and feelings and emotions regarding other guys. I couldn’t think of any way to change them myself, and I didn’t see how anyone else could change me either―not my family, or my friends, or a counselor―no one.
But then I read another story in the Bible about Jesus and how two blind men came to Him for healing. They called out to Jesus: “Have mercy on us!”
Instead of just touching their eyes or telling them to dip in a particular pool of water, as He did when He healed others, this time Jesus asked the men a question. He said:
“Do you believe that I am able to do this?” (Matthew 9:28b)
It seemed as if Jesus was asking me the same question. I didn’t want to live my life in a way that could possibly kill me, but I didn’t know how to change it either. As I read this passage, I felt like Jesus was asking me: “Eric, do you believe that I am able to do this, too?”
I thought about everything that I had ever heard about Jesus―how He healed the sick, walked on water, and raised the dead. I thought to myself, If anyone can do this, Jesus can.
As I thought about this, I just put my hand up in the air and said, “Yes, Lord, I believe.”
And as soon as I said those words, Jesus reached out to me just like He did to the blind men. He touched me. He healed me. He changed my life forever.
The next day I went to a church service where I heard about how Jesus came to die for our sins so that we wouldn’t have to. For the first time in my life, I realized that I was a sinner and needed a Savior. I went home that night and knelt down on my bed. With my head on my pillow, I asked God to forgive me for everything I had done that had gone against Him and His plans for my life. I put my faith in Him, and asked Him to fill me with His Holy Spirit so that I could live the life He wanted me to live.
I woke up the next morning with a whole new perspective on life. Even though I got up and ate breakfast and went to work just the same as the day before, I knew that God had given me a new shot at life. He picked me up off the path of death and put me on the path of life instead.
On this new path, God has given me a wife, six children of my own, and the promise of eternal life with Him forever. I’m now on a path of life and life abundant! It’s been twenty-four years since that day, and I’ve never looked back.
I took a risk when I asked God to reveal His Truth to me. But it was the best risk I’ve ever taken in my life. Because of that risk, I realized that God was right and I was wrong, that I had exchanged the truth of God for a lie. I put my faith in Him and His Word from that day on. It’s changed my life and the lives of my wife and kids–who wouldn’t be here otherwise–forever.
Maybe you have days when you feel like God is distant―that He doesn’t seem to care about you or what you’re going through―that He’s simply not interested in the details of your life or the direction that it takes. But nothing could be further from the truth! God loves you so much! The truth is that God wants you to know His will for your life even more than you want to know it! He’d love to reveal His Truth to you if you’re willing to ask Him.
I want to encourage you to ask God to renew your mind today. Ask Him to reveal His Truth to you on those topics that are close to your heart. Ask Him to pour His thoughts into your thoughts. Ask Him to give you a new way of thinking about your life and the direction that you’re headed. If you’re on course, God will tell you. But if you’re not, God will tell you that, too―if you’ll listen for His voice with an open heart and ears to hear.
If you want to renew your mind, ask God your questions, open His Word, and listen for His answers.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for letting us come to You with our honest questions. We pray that You would give us Your honest answers, too. We do want to know Your Truth. We do want to know how to live our lives in ways that we can have life abundant. Open our ears so that we can hear You clearly, and open our hearts to Your Word that You’ve given to us on the pages of the Bible. Help us to put our faith and trust in You for everything in our lives, including the forgiveness of our sins and the promise that we can live with You forever when we put our faith in Christ. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 1:24-32. Looking at this passage, what are some ways that the people in Rome got off track when they “exchanged the truth of God for a lie”?
2. What are some ways they might get back on track if they wanted to?
3. Why is it sometimes hard for us to hear God’s Truth in our lives?
4. After reading this passage and hearing this story, is there any particular Truth from God that you’d like Him to reveal to you?
Lesson 5: Listening To Your Conscience (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 2:1-16
When Steve Jobs finished designing the first Macintosh computer, he did something special: he asked everyone who helped him design that first revolutionary machine to sign a large piece of paper. He then took that paper and turned it into an engraving template. When those first Macs finally rolled off the assembly line, the names of their creators were engraved inside every case.
You couldn’t see the signatures from the outside―and most people never even knew they existed on the inside because few people had any reason to open up a computer in those days. But if you did open one up and looked deep inside, you’d see them―the signatures of their creators, including “steven jobs.”
But Steve Jobs wasn’t the first one to sign his creation on the inside. God did it, too, when He created you. He’s written His name deep inside you. And if you take a closer look, you’ll find that it’s not just His name that’s written there, but also His laws―His words of instruction to help you live the fullest life possible.
As God said in the book of Hebrews:
“I will put My laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be My people”
The Apostle Paul echoes these thoughts in his letter to the Romans, saying that your conscience “bears witness” to the fact that God has written the requirements of His laws upon your heart.
“Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (Romans 2:14-15).
Your conscience has been implanted in your mind by God. It helps you to consider your options and the outcomes of your actions. It helps you to regulate your passions and desires, comparing them to God’s passions and desires for you. When your passions and desires are different than God’s, your conscience kicks in to let you know that something is amiss and needs to be addressed.
But your conscience is a warning indicator only. You can override it. You can ignore it. You still have free will. But God has put your conscience within you to help you make decisions, if you’re willing to listen to it. Your conscience is a warning indicator to let you know you’d better check something out before proceeding.
How do you check it out? By comparing what you’re wanting to do with God’s Word.
Even though God has written His Word on your heart, sometimes you can’t read the writing so clearly. Your vision gets blurred by your own thoughts and desires.
That’s why God has also given you His Word in black and white―on the pages of the Bible―so you can read it clearly. That’s why He’s given you His Word in the flesh―in the form of His Son Jesus―so you can know exactly what He says about it. That’s why He’s given you His Holy Spirit―which Jesus said He would send to His followers after He was gone―to remind you of all the things He has already spoken to you.
I can think of times in my own life―and maybe you can think of times in yours―when I’ve done some things that felt so “right” on one level, but on another level felt so “wrong.” At those times when I’ve ignored the warning lights and overridden them, I’ve ended up in places that God never wanted me to go.
But at those times when I have taken notice of God’s warning lights and decided to check out what I was doing and compare it to what God wanted me to do according to His Word, I’ve found that it’s way better to do what’s right―even if it means laying down some things that I personally desire. Whenever I’ve done what I’ve felt God wanted instead, I’ve found that His plans for me are so much better than the plans I had in mind, giving me peace of mind and life abundant. As someone has wisely said:
A clear conscience makes a soft pillow.
If you’d like to sleep on a soft pillow tonight, I’d encourage you to listen to your conscience. If there’s something on your heart or mind that has turned on the warning lights, check it out.
Take a look in God’s Word, as written on the pages of the Bible in black and white, and compare what you’re doing with what God wants you to do. If they don’t match up, a change is in order. Just thank God for His warning lights and do what’s right, whatever it takes. As Paul said:
“For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” (Romans 2:13).
As I was thinking about the idea of Steve Jobs engraving his name inside his computers―and God engraving His Word upon our hearts―I was inspired to write a haiku. A haiku is a short Japanese poem that doesn’t usually rhyme but is often made up of just 17 syllables―five in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third.
So here’s my haiku, from God to you:
My name is written
upon your heart awaiting
God loves you so much that He’s taken the time to write His name on your heart. He’s written His instructions for you there, too, to help you live the fullest life possible.
If you’d like to renew your mind today, listen to your conscience. Check out what your conscience is saying and compare it to God’s Word. Listen to His Son. Obey His Holy Spirit. If you do these things, you’ll live! If you don’t, you risk losing everything, even those things you love the most.
Listen to your conscience―and live!
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for writing Your Words on our hearts, and thank You for giving us a conscience to help us know when what we’re doing is different from what You want us to do. Help us to listen to You, to follow Your Words, and to live the life that You’ve created us to live. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit to help us to stop doing anything that doesn’t bring glory and honor to You, and to start doing those things that do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 2:1-16. Can you remember a time when your conscience warned you that something you were doing was amiss? What were the results when you either did or didn’t do what your conscience warned you about?
2. Read Hebrews 8:7-13. While some people might think that their consciences are formed based solely on the conditions in which they were raised, what does this passage in Hebrews, and the above passage in Romans, suggest is the true basis for your conscience?
3. What reason does Paul give for God being so kind, tolerant and patient towards us in Romans 2:4?
4. After reflecting on today’s message, are there any changes you’d like to make in your own life, or any warning indicators that you need to check out according to God’s Word?
Lesson 6: Getting To The Heart (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 2:17-29
I have thought for some time now that someone should make a movie about two men engaged in an epic battle with each other. In some ways, it would be like every other movie: the hero and villain would be at war throughout the movie, with the hero having the upper hand at some points, and the villain gaining the upper hand at others. Near the end, the hero would deliver the fatal blow that sends the villain to his doom forever.
But the difference in this movie would be that just before the closing credits begin to roll, the camera would back up from the final battle scene, revealing to the audience that the hero and the villain were one and the same person, fighting inside the brain of a man’s head. Having achieved the victory in his mind, we would then see the man finally stand up and walk forward to do what’s right. No longer bound by the thoughts that were raging within him, he would finally be free to live the life he was called to live.
An audience of such a movie might think that they had been tricked into thinking that the whole battle was “real” for the entire movie, when it was only being played out inside the man’s head. But to those who saw what was taking place at a deeper level, they would realize that what took place inside the man’s head was no less real than what took place after he stood up at the end.
The victory in your mind is often just as critical as the victory in the physical world. In fact, you often need to secure the victory in your mind first before you can secure the victory in the physical world.
There are, however, ways to cover up your true thoughts and feelings with words and actions that make it look like you’ve got it all together on the inside. This kind of activity might deceive men, but it never deceives God. God wants you to win the victory in your mind and in the physical world. When there’s a disconnect between what’s going on inwardly and what’s going on outwardly, God wants you to get to the heart.
Paul addressed this disconnect in his letter to the Romans. The Jews were priding themselves on the outward signs of their faith, like the fact that they were circumcised, whereas the Gentiles, or non-Jews, weren’t. But Paul said:
“A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly, and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God” (Romans 2:28-29).
In some ways, the Jews could have seen circumcision as one of the symbols of their salvation. It was a physical sign imprinted on their bodies that showed that they belonged to God, that they were children of a special covenant between God and His people. But Paul said that if their circumcision was external only, then it would only merit praise from men, not from God.
God wanted their circumcision to be a “circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.” Paul said that the Gentiles, who didn’t have the law of God written down for them, would be more honoring to God than the Jews if the Gentiles kept the requirements of the law by doing what’s right. Paul said:
“If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker” (Romans 2:26-27).
This isn’t to say that circumcision and the rest of the laws were of no value to the Jews, as we’ll find out next time in chapter 3 of Paul’s letter. But it is to say that God wants our inward reality to match up with our outward reality. And when we get to the heart first, the outward actions will flow much more naturally.
I got an email from a friend who has been struggling with pornography for years, thinking of himself as an addict. He hasn’t been sure if he will ever break free. Although I believe he can and will break free one day, it’s hard for him to believe it, because of the length and the strength of his battle.
Yet in his most recent email, he said he had just been to a counselor who asked him many in-depth questions about his struggle. After reviewing the situation, the counselor said that he doesn’t think my friend has an addiction and gave him several reasons why. This was news to my friend because he’s been feeling like an addict for years! It changed my friend’s thinking about his situation. He’s already had some small victories in his battle since then!
My friend’s actions are beginning to change because he has changed the way he thinks about his problem. He now sees that there really is a possibility that he can be free from this battle that has dogged him for so long.
God cares about what’s going on inside your brain. He cares about what’s going on inside your heart. And He cares about what you do as a result of what’s going on inside your brain and heart. What happens internally is just as important―and just as real―as what happens externally.
I remember a book in which the main character in the book has a dreamlike conversation with one of his mentors who had unfortunately died the previous year. As their conversation comes to a close, the main character asks:
“Tell me one last thing. Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?
His mentor replies:
“Of course it is happening inside your head, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?”
Sometimes we think that the thoughts in our head are separate from, and unrelated to, the actions that we take in our lives. We treat the two as different realities. But the truth is that our thoughts influence our actions. Both are real and God cares about both.
God wants you to have the victory on the inside so you can have the victory on the outside.
He doesn’t want you to be obedient just so you can say you have faith in Him. He wants you to have faith in Him so that you can be obedient, for that’s the way you can live your life to the fullest potential.
While there can be value in just doing things because you know they’re right, even if you don’t feel like doing them, there’s much more value if what you do on the outside matches up with what you think and feel on the inside. When they match up, you’ll feel better about what you’re doing, others will feel better about what you’re doing, and God will be honored by what you’re doing.
As God said to Samuel when Samuel was trying to discern who should be the next king of Israel:
“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7-8).
Ask God to renew your heart and mind today. Ask Him to reveal anything within you that is improperly motivated, or that seeks for anything other than the good of others and the glory of God. Then, if God reveals anything to you that needs to be changed internally, ask Him for help to know how to change it. Ask Him to remake you from the inside out. Give Him permission to do that work inside you, whatever it takes.
Then, when God is done remaking you on the inside, you’ll be able to stand up, move forward, and do what’s right. No longer bound by the thoughts that were raging inside you, you’ll finally be free to live the life you were called to live!
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for caring about what goes on inside us―our thoughts and feelings―just as much as you care about what we do on the outside. Thank You for the reminder that both are real, and both are really important to You. Fill our minds and hearts with Your will for our lives and help us to believe and act on Your will. We pray that doing so will make an tremendous difference to us and to those around us in the weeks and months and years ahead. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 2:17-29. What was the problem that Paul was addressing with the Jews in this passage?
2. What did Paul mean when he said that “circumcision is circumcision of the heart”? How can someone be circumcised in their heart?
3. In what ways do your thoughts and feelings sometimes differ from your actions? And in what ways are they related?
4. Are there any areas in your life where your thoughts and feelings are disconnected from your actions? What might you do today to help them line up more closely?
Lesson 7: Becoming Conscious Of Sin (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 3:1-20
Some people have no problem recognizing sin in their life. In fact, they magnify their faults in their minds, whether real or imagined, thinking less of themselves than they ought to think.
Yet other people have the problem of not recognizing sin in their life. They magnify their strengths instead, whether real or imagined, thinking better of themselves than they ought to think.
Most of us fall somewhere in between: we magnify some weaknesses out of proportion, while minimizing others.
God wants us to have an honest and objective look. For those of you who think you’re perfect, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news today. And for those of you who don’t think you’re perfect, I don’t want you to magnify what I’m about to say and make you feel worse about yourselves. But here’s the truth, according to what God says through Paul in his letter to the Romans:
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).
The truth is, the gospel―or good news–of Jesus Christ is often bad news before it’s good news. If you’re not aware of your sinfulness, you’ll never be aware of your need for a Savior. And if you don’t recognize your need for a Savior, you’ll never find salvation.
God didn’t give you the laws of the Bible―the ten commandments and the six hundred and some additional laws that followed in the Old Testament―to crush you. He gave them to help you and protect you. And to the extent that you keep those laws, you’ll be blessed. But when you fall short of being able to keep those laws, God sent Jesus to make up the difference―to fill the gap between the best that you can do and the best that God wants for you.
And since the Bible says that “there is no one righteous, not even one,” that means that God sent Jesus for each one of us. If you want to renew your mind and get a new perspective on life, it’s important to see your sins as God sees them. For when you see how short you’ve fallen compared to God’s righteousness, you can see what needs to happen to make up the difference: put your faith in Christ!
This is not a message just for non-Christians to encourage them to put their faith in Christ. This is just as much a message for Christians, who need God’s grace just as much after being saved as before. As professor and philosopher Dallas Willard says:
“The sinner is not the one who uses a lot of grace. The saint uses more grace. The saint burns grace like a 747 burns fuel on takeoff, because everything they do is a manifestation of grace. But we have to learn how to use it. It means we no longer trust just our efforts to manage our lives.”
Throughout the book of Romans, Paul addressed the differences and similarities between Jews and Gentiles―the non-Jews. What good is it being a Jew, some have asked, if both Jews and Gentiles both can be saved by grace? Here’s what Paul said:
“What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God” (Romans 3:1-2).
God gave His words in the form of the Scriptures to the Jews, and to the extent that they heeded those words they were blessed. But to the extent that they didn’t heed those words, there was a gap.
God gave them ways to fill that gap, through sacrifices of atonement that they and their leaders could make. But as good as this was, it was never enough to completely fill the gap. Paul said that it was only because of God’s forbearance―His patience, self-control, and restraint―that He never brought upon them the full punishment they deserved for their sins. Paul said:
“Because in His forbearance, He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (Romans 3:25b).
But when the time was right, God provided a way to fill the gap completely, once and for all. He filled it by offering His own Son Jesus Christ as a sacrifice for our sins. That’s the gospel, or good news of Jesus Christ. Even though none of us are righteous on our own, we can become righteous by putting our faith in Jesus Christ.
If you feel like a sinner today, hallelujah! When you become conscious of your sins, you’ve hit upon a truth of God. That means you can also recognize your need for a Savior―someone who can save you from your sins! And that means you can be saved, if you recognize Jesus as your Savior! It really is great news!
Becoming conscious of sin is one of the main purposes of the laws that God gave us. As Paul said:
“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20).
If you want to renew your mind today, ask God to help you become conscious of sin in your life. Then, when you become aware of what needs changing in your life, invite Jesus in to do His work. Remember, God’s grace is just as much available to you after you’ve become a Christian as before.
At the same time, as you ask God to help you to become conscious of sin in your life, don’t let Satan magnify your weaknesses out of proportion.
I had a friend this week who shared with me that she was struggling to hear from God. She felt like God wasn’t answering her prayers and she wondered what she might be doing wrong. At one point in our conversation, she confessed to me this that she felt God wasn’t answering her prayers because she had gone off a special diet she had started for her health. She had eaten some candy bars. She was squirming as she told me, and she said she hadn’t told anyone else what she was thinking. But from the way she said it, I knew she was dead serious and completely distraught. I looked at her and said:
“Satan is lying to you. The truth is that God loves you so much that He has already paid the ultimate price for you―by sending Jesus to die for your sins. There’s nothing He wouldn’t do for you if it’s in His will for your life. There may be a good reason for you to be careful about what you eat for the sake of your health. But that’s a different issue. I don’t believe that God is holding anything back from you because you ate some candy bars. If you believe that God wants for you what you’re praying for, then keep on praying for it! Believe that God will answer your prayers and don’t let anything stop you from praying for it.”
My friend listened intently to what I was saying, and when I was finished, she asked if I could repeat it all for her one more time, which I did. Sometimes it’s hard to get your mind around God’s grace. And I admit that I fall into the same mental trap at times, too, and maybe you do as well. Maybe you’ve had thoughts like these:
– “I don’t have enough money because I haven’t made enough contacts this week―God must not love me, or He thinks bad about me, and He’s not answering my prayers because of it.” (Maybe there’s a connection between your contacts and your money, but maybe not. Your work matters to God, but don’t let Satan lie to you that it’s because God doesn’t love you because you haven’t done enough. If you fall short in what you can do, ask God for forgiveness and let Jesus fill the gap.)
– “My kids are a mess because of a sin I committed in high school and now they’re just following in my footsteps, even though I’ve repented a thousand times for it since then.” (No, don’t let Satan lie to you. If you’ve confessed it, you’re forgiven. God has wiped the slate clean and starts all over again with your kids on their own.)
– “I’ve been praying for a husband or wife, but no one will marry me. It must be because of my ____.” (Fill in the blank: nose, temper, scar, income, freckles, hair, lack of hair, etc. No, don’t let Satan lie to you, either. There are plenty of people who have gotten married in spite of having a multitude of traits that seem to be ignored, and even adored, by their devoted spouse. While there may be qualities or characteristics about yourself that God does want you to work on, that’s likely a different issue. Trust God that He is answering your prayers and working on your behalf, behind the scenes. At the proper time, you will see the fruit of your prayers.)
If there’s a a gap between you and perfection, there’s good news for you―even as a Christian. Jesus came to fill the gap!
God want to renew your mind. He’s given you His law so you can become conscious of sin. But once you’re aware of it, don’t wallow in it! Put your faith in Christ, and let Him make things right again. If you’ve confessed it, God has forgiven it.
As the Apostle John said:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for helping us to become conscious of our sins, so that we can see our need for a Savior, so that we can find salvation! Thank you for the good news of Jesus Christ, who came to fill in the gap between the best that we can do and the best that God has in store for us. We ask that You would fill the gaps in our lives today where we fall short, as we put our faith in Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 3:1-20. Why does Paul say, in verse 20, that no one can become righteous by observing the law, but through the law we become conscious of sin?
2. Read 1 John 1:8-10. How do John’s words compare with Paul’s?
3. In your own life, do you think you tend to magnify, or minimize, your sins? How might God help you to get His perspective on them?
4. Have you ever experienced the good news of Jesus Christ for yourself, putting your faith in Him for the forgiveness of your sins? If not, why not ask Him to fill the gap for you today in prayer? And if so, why not ask Him for extra grace today to fill any other gaps in your life where you feel like you’re falling short?
Lesson 8: Being Redeemed By Jesus (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 3:21-31
The great evangelist D.L. Moody was once confronted by a woman who said she didn’t like his method of evangelism. D. L. Moody responded, “I don’t particularly like my method either. What’s yours?”
The woman said, “I don’t have one.”
To which D.L. Moody replied, “Then I like mine better!”
There are many methods for sharing your faith, such as “The Four Spiritual Laws” from Campus Crusade, “Steps to Peace with God” from Billy Graham, “The Two Questions” from Evangelism Explosion, or “The Ten Commandments” from The Way of the Master. As someone has said, sharing your faith is like prayer: there’s probably only one wrong way to do it, and that’s to not do it at all!
Still, I’d like to give you a method of sharing your faith today that I hope will make it easier for you to do it. It’s called “The Roman Road,” and it begins with a Scripture that’s found in the passage we’re looking at today in the book of Romans, chapter 3.
But before I start, I’d like to remind you that sharing your faith is not about a method, but about a person, Jesus Christ. Remember that it is not a method that saves people, but Jesus―and He would love to work through you to touch the lives of those around you. When you remember this, it takes the pressure off of you and your method. It’s Jesus who will save people!
I’d also like to remind you to pray for opportunities to share with others. Sometimes we don’t share with others because we don’t spend time praying for opportunities to share. But if you’ll pray for God to open doors for you to share your faith, He’ll open your eyes to those who need to hear His good news today. Pray for opportunities to share, and trust that God will help you share as He opens up those opportunities to you!
And third, a practical way to get into a spiritual conversation with someone is to ask if you can pray for them, perhaps for their health or a situation in their life where they might need God’s intervention. As they share with you their need, you can pray for that need specifically, and afterwards share how God may have helped you or someone you know with a similar need. You can let them know that we can trust God for all of our needs because of what He has already done for us through Jesus. This can lead naturally into a conversation about the needs we all have in life, and the way that Jesus can meet those needs.
Having said that, let’s take a look at “The Roman Road,” a way of walking people through a few passages in the book of Romans, like walking them down a road and pointing out highlights along the way.
While there are many Scriptures that are included in the various versions of “The Roman Road,” I’d like to give you just four to make it as easy as possible for you to remember. Since we’re in this series on renewing your mind, I think it’s helpful to commit these verses to memory so you can have them at the forefront of your mind, for your own sake, as well as for the sake of those people that God brings your way.
The Roman Road starts with Romans, chapter 3, verse 23:
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23).
We’ve all sinned. None of us has a perfect moral scorecard. Unfortunately, sin has consequences. The consequences of sin are stated clearly in Romans chapter 6, verse 23:
“For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23).
The wages, or what we’ve earned for our sins, is death. Death is a natural outcome of what happens when we go against God’s will for our lives. God wants us to have an abundant life, but when we go against His plan for us, we head in the opposite direction and head down a path that leads to death instead.
The good news is that Jesus came to put us back on track and to save us from the penalty of death, as described in Romans chapter 5, verse 8:
“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
God loves us so much that He doesn’t want us to die, so He made a way for us to be free from sin and free from facing an eternity of death and separation from Him. When Christ died on the cross, He took our sins upon Him to pay the penalty for us with His own life.
Although God makes this offer available freely to anyone, He doesn’t force it on anyone. He wants us to come to Him of our own free will, confessing with our mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believing in our heart that God raised Him from the dead. When we do that, God will save us, as described in Romans 10:9:
“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
When you put your faith in Christ, you’ll be saved and given a new life, both here on earth and on into heaven forever.
While there are many other passages from the book of Romans that you could use to share God’s good news with people, these four verses make up the core of the gospel: addressing the fact that we’ve all sinned (Romans 3:23), that the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23), that God loved us so much that He made a way for us to be freed from our sins (Romans 5:8), and that by putting our faith in Jesus we can be saved from our sins and given eternal life (Romans 10:9).
While it may sound simple, don’t underestimate what God can do in someone’s life through a few verses from the book of Romans.
It was while reading the book of Romans that a man named Augustine put his faith in Christ, back in 386 A.D. He was sitting in the garden of a friend, weeping as he thought about the wickedness of his life. Some children nearby were singing “Tolle, lege. Tolle, lege.” which means “Take up and read. Take up and read.” A scroll of the book of Romans was laying open next to Augustine, so he “took up and read”. The first few verses he saw, in Romans 13:13-14, described the condition of his life―and what to do about it:
“Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Romans 13:13-14).
Augustine put his faith in Christ that day, and became one of the greatest theologians and leaders in the history of the church.
It was while reading the book of Romans that another man named Martin Luther put his faith in Christ, about 1,000 years after Saint Augustine. Luther was an Augustinian monk who was burdened by the weight of trying to do enough good works to get into heaven. But that burden was finally lifted when he read a verse from the book of Romans. Romans 1:17 showed him that he wouldn’t be declared righteous by his good works, but by his faith in Christ:
“For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith'” (Romans 1:17).
Martin Luther put his faith in Christ that day, and went on to lead a reformation that has impacted lives all over the world.
It was while listening to someone reading Luther’s notes on the book of Romans that John Wesley put his faith in Christ, several hundred years later. As Wesley listened to Luther’s introductory comments about Romans, Wesley’s heart was “strangely warmed,” as he described it, and he committed his life entirely to Christ. John Wesley, and his brother Charles, went on to found the Methodist movement, also contributing many of the great hymns of the faith that we still sing today.
And Paul’s words to the Romans are still affecting people today, almost 2,000 years after they were written, as it was while reading the book of Romans that I put my faith in Christ, too. As I was reading Romans 1:18-32, I realized that I was a sinner, too, and needed a Savior. Now here I am today encouraging you from what I’ve learned from the book of Romans so you can share it with others.
These are just a few of the lives that have been touched by reading just a few verses from the book of Romans! So don’t underestimate the power of a few verses from this book to change lives. If you’ve been redeemed by Jesus, tell others about it, using the Roman Road if you want as a way to help them understand the good news of Christ. And if you haven’t yet been redeemed by Jesus, I’d encourage you to keep reading the Bible so you can put your faith in Him today.
If you’re up for a challenge, I’d also encourage you to commit to memory these four simple verses from Romans: 3:23, 6:23, 5:8 and 10:9. Memorizing scripture is a great way to renew your mind, and as you keep these particular verses at the forefront of your mind, they’ll also help you as you talk with others about how they can be redeemed by Jesus, too.
Perhaps you’re reading this today and you’re like Augustine, or Luther, or Wesley, or me, and these verses that I’ve been sharing from the book of Romans have somehow sparked your thinking and moved your heart in a way that you, too want to commit your life to Christ. If so, put your faith in Him today for everything in your life. Ask Him to forgive you of your sins and invite Him to be your Lord and Savior. Do what Paul encouraged the Romans to do and you’ll be saved, too:
“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for sending Jesus to redeem us from our sins. Help us to share that life-changing message with those around us. Open our eyes today to those who need to hear this message, and open their hearts to be receptive as we share it, so they can put their faith in You as well. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 3:21-31. What do you think about Paul’s claim that “all have sinned” in verse 23? What evidence do you see in your life or the lives of those around you that argue either for or against this claim?
2. How does Paul say we can be justified in God’s eyes and redeemed from this situation, as stated in verses 24-26?
3. What place does boasting have in the life of a Christian, according to verses 27-28?
4. Why not take some time today to write down the four verses mentioned in this message and commit them to memory as a way to keep them at the forefront of your mind? The verses are: Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Romans 5:8, and Romans 10:9. After you’ve memorized them, consider sharing these verses with a friend who has already put their faith in Christ as a way to practice what you’ve learned, then pray for God to give you opportunities with someone else who still needs to hear this good news!
Lesson 9: Believing God (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 4:1-12
I’d like to talk to you today about believing God. Not just believing in God. But believing God― believing that He will do what He says He will do. The reason I want to talk to you about believing God is because what you believe influences what you do. Or, to put it another way, you do what you believe.
If you believe that people are going to hell if they don’t put their faith in Jesus, then you’ll do something about it. If you’re not doing something about it, then perhaps you’re just giving intellectual assent to an idea, but you’re not really believing it.
I have a friend who went to the doctor for a checkup. The doctor told him, “Your dad had a heart attack by the time he was forty-eight, and you’re going to have a heart attack by the time you’re forty-eight, unless you start making some changes in your life.” My friend had known this was a possibility before, but it wasn’t until his doctor told him the truth so directly that my friend finally believed it. That day, he began that day to change the way he ate, the way he exercised, and the way he lived his life. And today, he’s still going strong. Why? Because he believed what his doctor said.
How much more so, when we hear what God says about our lives, should be believe Him and do what He says?
Abraham is an excellent example for all of us of someone who believed God, who heard what God said and took it to heart, and then backed up what he believed with his actions.
If you remember the story, God told Abraham that he would have so many descendants they would outnumber the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. This was a pretty lofty idea considering that Abraham was old and childless. But the Bible says:
“Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3).
Several years later, when God called Abraham to become circumcised as a way of sealing God’s covenant with him, Abraham did what God said that very day. Within a year, he and his wife Sarah had their first child―the first of a long line of those promised descendants.
While Abraham’s obedience to be circumcised was important and necessary for the fulfillment of God’s plan for his life, the apostle Paul notes in his letter to the Romans that it wasn’t after Abraham was circumcised that he was declared righteous in God’s sight, but before. In fact, Abraham was declared righteous several years before his circumcision. He was declared righteous the moment he believed. (You can read more about this part of Abraham’s story in Genesis chapters 15 through 18.)
Abraham’s circumcision was a natural outworking of the faith that Abraham had already expressed in his heart to God. His actions were directly influenced by what he believed.
Dallas Willard is one of the spiritual giants of our generation. When asked what he would advise someone to do who wanted to grow spiritually, he said:
“Do the next right thing you know you ought to do.”
You might have thought he could have said, “Read the Bible more,” or “Pray more,” or “Go to church more.” But he didn’t. He said that the best course of action was to do the next right thing you know you ought to do, because that’s likely the very thing that God wants you to do. He said this may very well involve reading the Bible more so you can get clarity on what it is that God really wants you to do. Or it may involve praying more because you’ll need God’s wisdom for how to do it. Or it may involve going to church more because you’ll most likely need the help of others to do what God has put on your heart to do. But in any case, you’ll grow tremendously when you do the next right thing you know you ought to do.
My question for you today is this: what’s the next right thing you know you ought to do?
What is it that God has called you to do that He is wanting you to step out in faith and do next? Maybe it’s something regarding your family, your job, your finances, or your health. Maybe it’s something regarding your calling, your gifting, your relationships, or the way you use your time. Maybe it’s something that is quiet and internal, or maybe it’s something that is “out loud” and vocal. Maybe it’s something you need to start doing. Or maybe it’s something you need to stop doing.
Although I don’t know what it might be that God is putting on your heart right now as you read these words, I imagine there are probably one or two things that have already started coming to your mind as “the next right thing you know you ought to do.” Whatever it is, I want to encourage you to do it. Believe in your heart that God has called you to it, then step out in faith and let Him help you do it!
You may remember the story of the widow’s oil, back in the Old Testament. This widow had lost her husband, and she and her two sons were struggling to live. She was at a point of desperation because her husband’s creditors were coming to take away her boys as slaves.
She cried out to Elisha, a man of God, and asked him what to do. Elisha asked what she had left in her house. She said that she had nothing there at all, “except a little oil” (2 Kings 4:5).
So Elisha told her what to do next. He told her to go around to all her neighbors and ask for their empty jars. She and her sons did what Elisha said.
She went all over the neighborhood asking for empty jars and brought them home. Elisha told her to fill them up with the little oil that she had. By faith, she began pouring out the oil into the first jar, and it didn’t stop! It just kept flowing and flowing as she poured it into jar after jar, until every jar she had collected was full.
Elisha told her:
“Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left” (2 Kings 4:7b).
I love this story for several reasons, but one that stands out to me today is the fact that the widow believed what God was telling her to do through the prophet Elisha, then she went out and acted on that belief. She did the next right thing she knew she ought to do.
One way to renew your mind today is to believe God―not just believe in Him―but really believe Him, because what you believe influences what you do.
Abraham wasn’t credited with righteousness after he was circumcised, but before, when he first believed God. It was only afterwards that he stepped out in faith and acted on what he believed.
The widow’s life didn’t start to turn around after she had sold all her jars of oil and got the money for them, but before, when she first believed what God told her to do through the prophet Elisha. It was only afterwards that she stepped out in faith and acted on what she believed.
God wants you to believe Him, too. He wants you believe what He says and then to act on that belief, to do the next right thing that you know you ought to do. For some of you, this might mean picking up a project that you’ve been putting off for years. You might think, “Not that, Lord! It’s been on the back burner for so long, I don’t think I’ll ever get around to it.” For others of you, this might mean acting on something you heard just yesterday. You might think, “Not that, Lord! I just heard about it yesterday, I need a few more days, or months, or years to think about it.”
We can all think of reasons not to do what we know we ought to do. But I want to encourage you today to believe God, and then act on that belief. Don’t let doubt and discouragement hold you back from doing “the next right thing” that God has called you to do.
Believe God today, and then act on that belief! One day, like Abraham and Sarah, and like the widow and her sons, people will be telling the story of what happened to you when you believed God, too.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for creating each of us with special tasks to accomplish here on earth. Help us to have the faith today to believe what You say when You speak to us, and then to act on that belief. Help us today to step out in faith and do the next right thing we know we ought to do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 4:1-12. Why do you think God credited Abraham with righteousness when he first believed God, rather than after he took his famous steps of obedience?
2. Read James 2:15-18. What are some of the differences between believing God and believing in God, based on this passage?
3. What is the relationship between faith and works, as described by the passage in James?
4. What comes to your mind as “the next right thing you ought to do?” What steps could you take to help clarify that those things really are from God, and then to step out in faith to begin doing them?
Lesson 10: Being Fully Persuaded (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Acts 10
I’d like to give you some hope today― hope that God has the power to do what He has promised.
My daughter showed me a great picture a few weeks ago with the word HOPE written on the palm of someone’s hand. What was unique about the picture was that the word HOPE on the hand could be seen reflected in a side mirror of a car, with these words written in small print on the bottom of the mirror:
“OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR.”
I thought it was a great picture of the hope that God offers to each one of us. When God promises to do something, you can take it to the bank. You can trust that He will bring it to pass. Even if the answers to your prayers might look like they are far off, those answers could really be much closer than you think!
After I saw this picture, my wife and daughter were looking for a new car on the Internet. Our van had broken down and could no longer be repaired, so we’ve been looking for something to replace it. My wife has had her eye on a particular little car that she’s really liked for several years. It’s not like her to care much for cars at all, but this one seemed to be just right for her and my daughter.
As they looked, they found it: the exact car they were looking for. Everything was perfect about it: the style, the color, even the design on the front. The only thing wrong with it, from my perspective, was the price! (It was the right price for the car, just the wrong price for us!)
A friend of mine told me that when he sent his daughter off to school he said he sent her off with only his prayers, because he couldn’t afford to send her to the school. He told her: “The same God who takes care of me will take care of you..”
Through prayer and hard work, his daughter was able to make it through that school. God did take care of her.
So as I went to bed with my wife that night after looking at the cars, I told her about my friend’s words for his daughter. Then I smiled and said, “You’ve got my prayers! The same God who takes care of me will take care of you!” We both laughed and went to bed.
The next morning, I went to a men’s breakfast at 6:00 a.m. As I pulled into the parking lot, someone pulled in right behind me, someone who had never been to the group before. He just happened to be driving the very same car my wife and daughter had been looking at on the Internet: the exact style, color, and even the design painted on the front.
I couldn’t believe it! It hadn’t even been 8 hours since I had prayed that prayer. I got out and asked him how he liked his car. He said he loved it. I asked if he’d ever consider selling it. He said, “Actually, I’m thinking about it.” He said things had recently changed in his life, and he didn’t need this car anymore.
We talked some more, and after breakfast, I asked if I could take a look at the car. I started taking a few pictures for my wife, then I got inside. As I looked around, my eyes landed on the mirror on the right-hand side. There reflected in the mirror, I could see the full length of the side of the car, with these words at the bottom:
“OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR.”
I almost cried. I didn’t know if this particular car was God’s answer to our prayers or not, but I did see clearly that if God wanted to answer them, He could do it in an instant. I took a picture of the car in the mirror, with the words displayed at the bottom, and I repented of my unbelief. I told God that day that I was sorry for being so flippant the night before, saying to my wife, “The same God who takes care of me will take care of you.” I know that God can do anything, absolutely anything.
Let me add that it’s been a few weeks now and we haven’t gotten the car yet. The man’s not quite ready to sell and we’re not quite ready to buy. We’re not even sure if this is even God’s answer or if He has another answer in the works. But seeing the car gave me a boost in my faith, and was a vivid reminder of the hope we can have in God–even when it seems like the odds are against us.
That’s the kind of faith that Abraham had. The Bible says:
“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead―since he was about a hundred years old―and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised” (Romans 4:18-21).
I love the way that starts: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…” And I love the way it ends: “…being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised.”
Abraham was fully persuaded that God had the power to do what He had promised. And that’s the kind of faith that God wants you to have. How can you do that? How can you become fully persuaded that God has the power to do what He has promised?
I’d like to give you two ideas today to help give you a boost in your faith. By doing these two things, I believe that God will renew your mind and give you hope for your future, too.
The first is to take time to read the stories about how God has been faithful to people in the Bible. Stories like Abraham’s in Genesis chapters 15 through 18. Stories like Moses’ in Exodus chapter 1 through 4. Stories like Joshua’s in the book of Joshua, or Esther’s in the book of Esther, or Ruth’s in the book of Ruth. The Bible is filled with stories from cover to cover about how God has worked in the lives of ordinary people to do extraordinary things. As you read these stories, you’ll be filled with faith that God can do similar things for you.
The second is to look at stories from people living today who have been touched by the hand of God. The same God who worked in the lives of men and women thousands of years ago is still at work in the lives of men and women today. I’ve posted many such stories on our website at www.theranch.org about people who are living today who have seen God work in their lives in astounding ways. One of those stories is about a woman named Liesl Alexander, a woman who was locked in a mental institution for years, taking 36 medications a day, and was written off as one of the most hopeless cases in the institution.
Yet when a group of people from a local church came and began to pray for her, her life turned around completely. By the power of Christ, she was set free to live the life that God had created her to live. For the past 20 years, she’s been sharing her testimony about how Christ has changed her life, encouraging anyone who will listen to be fully persuaded that “God can do anything, absolutely anything.”
God wants you to be fully persuaded that He can do what He has promised to do. Take some time this week to read the Bible and look for stories of how God has touched people’s lives in powerful ways, then look at our website or other Christian books to see how God has worked in other people’s lives today. You’ll see that God really can do anything― absolutely anything.
“OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR.”
HOPE is closer than you might think.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for reminding us that You are always at work on our behalf, and that the answers to our prayers could be revealed in an instant. Help us to trust You fully―to be fully persuaded―that You can do anything, absolutely anything. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 4:13-25. What does this passage say to you today about hope?
2. While Abraham and Sarah’s story might seem unbelievable, for they were old and past the age of child-bearing, how can their story give you hope for any situation that you’re praying about right now?
3. What story does Paul refer to, in verses 23-25, to remind us about God’s ability to bring life out of death?
4. What are some steps you can take this week to help yourself become more “fully persuaded” that God can do what He has promised to do, whether they are steps suggested by this lesson, or other steps that might not have been mentioned? Consider committing to doing one or two of those things..
Lesson 11: Calling Things That Are Not As Though They Were (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 4:16-25
As we’re looking at ways to renew your mind, I’d like to draw your attention to one more verse from Romans chapter 4 before moving on to chapter 5. There’s a phrase in this verse that is not only extremely quotable and memorable, but can also be a powerful force for defining your future, if you’ll take it to heart.
In talking about God, Paul described Him as:
“…the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4:17b).
I love that phrase: the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.
If you can believe that God can give life to the dead, which He has proven over and over, and that He can call things into existence that have never existed before, which He has also proven over and over, then you can believe that God can do miracles in your own life that will outshine anything you’ve ever seen before.
Some people bristle at the idea of “name it and claim it” theology referring to the idea that we can have anything we want if we’ll just speak it forth, believe in it hard enough, and start walking in that direction. While there’s incredible power in positive thinking–and it’s certainly much better than negative thinking–it can lead to problems if what we’re naming isn’t in line with what God wants us to claim. Rather than being a blessing to us, what we’re wanting could actually harm us, as every parent knows who has given in to a poorly thought-out request by one of their children.
But when you get your thinking in line with God’s, and ask Him for things that He would love to give you, then it becomes a different story. When God names it, He wants you to claim it! When God puts a desire in your heart, He wants you to speak it forth, to believe in it fully, and to start walking in that direction.
This is exactly why God commended Abraham. Abraham was sad and dejected that he had no heirs to whom he could pass on all the blessings he had received in his life. When he expressed that sadness to God, God spoke to Abraham, giving him a promise that seemed unbelievable. God changed Abraham’s name from Abram―which means “exalted father”―to Abraham, which means “father of many,” saying:
“You will be the father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5).
Abraham’s first response was to fall down and laugh! The Bible says:
“Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, ‘Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?'” (Genesis 17:17).
But when God assured Abraham that what He had spoken would come to pass, Abraham believed God. He acted on that belief, circumcising himself and his whole family, and God honored him for his faith and obedience.
Within a year of Abraham’s conversation with God, Abraham and Sarah had their promised son. They named him Isaac―which means “laughter”―as God had told them to name him. And so began the promised inheritance to Abraham that has continued from one generation to the next until this very day.
Even though Abraham’s body was as good as dead, in terms of its ability to bring forth life, and his wife had been barren her whole life, God proved to them both that He is a God “who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”
God has been doing the same thing throughout eternity.
God spoke the world into existence with a word. He called Gideon a “mighty warrior” when Gideon saw himself as the least in his family and the weakest family in his tribe. He called David a “king” and a “man after My own heart” even though David was just a shepherd boy at the time and was told he had a wicked heart by his brother.
The Bible is full of stories of God giving life to the dead and calling things that are not as though they were, with the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection being chief among them! But the stories of God calling things that are not as though they were didn’t end in biblical days. They still continue today!
Let me tell you just one.
About ten years ago I was invited to attend a Billy Graham evangelism conference in Amsterdam. My passport was about to expire, so I had to fill out an application for a new one. On the application, it asked for my occupation. I wasn’t sure exactly what to put in the blank, as the ministry I do on the Internet doesn’t seem to fit into a neatly defined category.
Yet at the time I was feeling more and more that one of God’s callings on my life was to be an author. I loved writing and had written extensively for my own website, filling up hundreds of electronic pages with digital ink. Yet I never considered myself an author, since the only book I had ever published was a devotional booklet I had written the year before, and photocopied at home for the people who asked for it.
That hardly seemed to qualify my as an author, yet I felt that’s what God was calling me to be. So, as a statement of faith of God’s calling on my life, I filled in the “occupation” blank with just one word: “Author.”
When I arrived at the airport in Amsterdam, the customs official took a look at my passport, then asked me what I did. I said I was an author. He asked, “What kind of books do you write?”
I thought about my little devotional booklet and said, “Devotional books to encourage people in their faith.”
He asked where I was headed, and I told him about the Billy Graham conference. He said, “With a last name like ‘Elder’ that fits.” He smiled, stamped my passport, and waved me on through.
Something in my heart told me that being an author “fit,” too. I realized that I wasn’t stretching the truth when I said I was an author. I was believing the truth. From that moment on, it changed both my outlook and my expectations for the future.
Since that time, I’ve written and published over a dozen books. My weekly messages, like this one that you’re reading right now, are being sent by email to over 35,000 subscribers around the world. I’m not sure what the official qualifications would be for someone to be declared an “author.” But for me, I believe I became an author the moment I believed it myself, came into alignment with God’s plan for my life in that area, and started walking in obedience to that calling.
God has a way of seeing our potential before we do and then speaking it into existence. How? Because God can see an oak tree in an acorn.
If you’re willing to open your eyes to see things as God sees them, you’ll start seeing oak trees in acorns, too. You’ll see the potential in yourself and in the lives of others that you may never have seen before.
I could tell you story after story of people who are alive today whose lives and situations have been changed dramatically because they put their faith in Christ. I could tell you about marriages that have been dead for years and ended in divorce, but which God brought back to life when both people put their faith in Christ. I could tell you about couples who have been declared infertile by doctors, but whom God has said would bear a child within a year―like Abraham and Sarah―and have! I could tell you about people involved in lifestyles that could literally kill them, lifestyles which some people say are impossible to change, but which God has changed, giving them new lives instead. As the angel told Mary:
“For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
When you get in line with God’s plans for your life, nothing will be impossible for you, either.
If God has spoken into your life about your future, believe Him. Put your faith into action and start walking in the direction He’s told you to walk. If you’re not sure what God has called you to do, keep seeking Him for His wisdom. Read the Bible. Pray. Ask others what they think about your future. Then when God gives you the next step to take, take it!
Don’t be discouraged if what God says about your future doesn’t line up with your present.
Remember that God called Abraham “a father of many nations” before he and Sarah had even conceived their first child together. Remember that God called Gideon a “mighty warrior” back when Gideon felt like he was the weakest of the weak. Remember that God called David “a man after My own heart” even when others were saying otherwise. Remember that God sees an oak tree in an acorn.
Put your trust in God, and remember who He is. He is:
“… the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for reminding us today of who You are and what You can do. Give us the faith we need to see Your promises come to pass in our lives. Fill us with Your wisdom, Your plans, Your purposes, and Your ways, so that we can take hold of them by faith and begin walking in obedience to Your calling on our lives, starting even today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 4:16-25. What reasons might Abraham have had for why it could have seemed impossible for God to fulfill what He had promised to him?
2. What reasons might you have for why it could seem impossible for God to fulfill what He has promised to you? How might Abraham have overcome His doubts? How might you overcome yours?
3. Read Judges 7:1-7. In reading this part of Gideon’s story, what reason does God give for why He sometimes does what seems impossible through us? What hope does this give you for your situation?
4. If God has given you a promise about your calling or your future, what next steps could you take to put your faith into action and start walking in the direction of that future? If you don’t feel that God has spoken to you about your future, what next steps could you take to begin learning more about it from Him?
Lesson 12: Having Peace With God (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 5:1-11
God wants to give you a lift today. He wants to pick you up, brush you off, and give you a new start. In particular, God wants to give you peace―His peace―a deep peace that will renew and restore you and give you the strength to go on.
How can you have the peace of God? It starts by having peace with God, by coming to the place where you’re reconciled with Him, the place where you know that you are loved, forgiven, and walking in harmony with Him. The apostle Paul tells us that this kind of peace is available to you when you put your faith in Christ:
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:1-2a).
But this message today isn’t just for those who need to put their faith in Christ for the first time. It’s for everyone who needs a reminder of the peace that God has in store for those who trust in Him. As the Bible says:
“You will keep in perfect peace
him whose mind is steadfast,
because he trusts in You.”
God wants you to trust in Him. He wants you to keep your mind steadfast, resolutely firm and unwavering. And when you trust in Him, keeping your mind steadfast, He will keep you in peace―perfect peace.
Why is it so hard then to have God’s peace? Sometimes it’s because we make it harder than it really is. Dallas Willard gives a simple and practical definition of what it means to trust Christ:
“Trusting Christ means you want to be with Him as much as possible.”
When you trust someone, you’re happy to be with them. And when you realize what Christ has done for you―and what He’s still capable of doing for you―it makes it easier to trust Him and to want to be with Him as much as possible. As the apostle Paul continues his letter to the Romans, he gives us some reasons why we can trust Christ so fully―and why we would want to be with Him as much as possible, too. Paul says:
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
Let me unpack for just a minute, because it will help you understand just how very much God loves you. If you think about it, you’ll realize how very rare it is for one person to die for another, even if the person they’re dying for is “righteous.” Yet in some cases, it’s possible that someone might die for someone else if the person they’re dying for is truly “good.” But then think about what Christ has done. He’s gone further still, not just dying for those who “deserve” it, but for those who don’t deserve it at all―which, as it turns out, happens to be every one of us.
You see, Christ loves you with an overwhelming love―a love that He wants to pour out on you―not just once when you first get saved, but continually for the rest of your life here on earth and on into eternity.
When you realize that Christ loves you this much―and wants to continue loving you this much―you’ll see why you can trust Him completely, and why you would want to be with Him as much as possible.
Trusting Christ brings you peace with God. And when you have peace with God, this opens the possibility for you to have the peace of God in many other areas of your life as well.
I was sitting at a table last week with some men who were discussing how God has brought His peace into their lives. Their stories were not only interesting, but interwoven.
One of the men had gotten out of jail about a year ago. After having lived a life of self-destruction for years, he finally put his faith in Christ while in prison. He found that the hours he spent there alone with God were some of the sweetest hours of his life.
But his greatest fear while he was in prison was what would happen when he finally got out. What would happen when he came back into the reality of this world, facing those whom he had wronged so horribly? What would happen when he had to face his wife and kids again, whom he had led into a destructive lifestyle? What would happen when he had to face his in-laws again, whom he had pushed away over and over?
As it turned out, one of this man’s in-laws was seated at the table with us―the father-in-law who knew how much trouble this man had caused for his daughter―the father-in-law who was so upset with this guy that he even paid for a lawyer to help his daughter start divorce proceedings.
Yet when the son-in-law put his faith in Christ in prison, something changed. The father-in-law realized that his son-in-law was now his “brother-in-Christ.” Rather than condemning his son-in-law when he got out of prison, he found himself forgiving him instead. He went to visit his son-in-law at home and offered his forgiveness instead of divorce papers. He told his son-in-law that God wanted him to wipe the slate clean between them, and was offering them a new start in their relationship.
When God reconciled these two men to Himself through Christ, He also laid the foundation for them to reconcile with each other down the road. Once they each discovered how they could have peace with God, they also discovered they could now have peace with one another. Can you see how having peace with God can help you experience the peace of God in other areas of your life? God wants you to have both.
God wants you to be at peace, and He says that you can have that peace by keeping your mind steadfast and trusting in Him. If you want to renew your mind and experience God’s peace, I want to encourage you to do what Isaiah said to do: keep your mind steadfast and continue to trust in God. Remember:
“You will keep in perfect peace
him whose mind is steadfast,
because he trusts in You.”
Also remember that,
“Trusting Christ means you want to be with Him as much as possible.”
If you have areas in your own life where you feel unrest, or areas where Satan has tried to steal your peace, can I encourage you to bring those areas to Jesus again today? He really does love you. He is for you. And He wants you to experience His peace, not just once in your lifetime, but throughout your lifetime, a peace that “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
As you read your Bible this week, I want to encourage you to read it with three thoughts in mind. First, read the text for what it says, filling your mind with God’s words. But don’t just stop there. Take time to meditate on the words that you’re reading, mulling them over in your mind, reflecting on what the words mean and what they might mean to your life today. And third, be sure to pray while you’re reading, asking God to speak to you about the words on the page, realizing that His word really is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12). This is one of the best ways to spend as much time with Him as possible.
Remember that the Bible is not just a textbook on living. It’s a textbook that comes with a built-in teacher, the Holy Spirit. It’s like taking a class in school and being taught by the author of the textbook himself. While you can learn a lot by just reading the text, you can learn even more when you go to class with the Author, asking Him your questions, letting Him give you more insights into what He’s written, and letting Him correct your thinking in those cases where you’ve possibly misread the text or missed a crucial word here or there. Don’t just read the text and miss spending time with the Author! You’ll love your classes more, and He’ll love spending the extra time with you, too.
I pray this has given you a lift today, and I pray that as you put these words into practice, God will give you His perfect peace.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for offering Your peace to us through faith in Your Son Jesus Christ. Help us to put our faith in Him again today, trusting Him with our salvation and everything else in our lives. Help us to give over anything in our lives that is causing us unrest right now, and truly trust You in that area, too. Forgive us of our sins, and lead us into the fullness of life that You offer to us, both here on earth and on into eternity. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 5:1-11. How does Paul say we can gain access to the peace that God has to offer us?
2. According to verse 5, what means does God use to pour out His love into our hearts? How might you invite God to pour out His love into your heart in a new way today?
3. How can Paul’s illustration of the different kinds of people that someone might possibly die for help you to understand better Christ’s love for you and what He has done for you?
4. If you’ve never put your faith in Christ, trusting that He died for your sins so that you could have peace with God, is there anything holding you back from doing it today? If so, can you confess it to Him and let it go so you can put your faith fully in Him? And if you’ve already put your faith in God, but are still struggling to experience His peace, is there anything holding you back from trusting Him more fully with every area of your life today? If so, then ask God for His help with those areas, and ask Him to fill you with His peace―a peace that transcends all understanding
Lesson 13: Rejoicing In Our Sufferings (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 5:2-4
I’d like to talk to you today about pain. While it may not sound like a very pleasant topic, when I shared this message with a group of men on Friday morning, one of them wrote to me later in the day and said:
“Thanks for your devotional this morning. I got there in a pretty lousy frame of mind and you had me full of joy before you were done.”
It’s amazing how getting God’s perspective on a subject can give you a whole new attitude towards it–especially a subject like pain. I’d like to give you a new perspective on pain today so that you’ll never see it the same again.
Even though we may not like to think about pain, we sometimes like to talk about it. Like a good fish story, we often try to outdo one another with how much pain we’ve had to endure in life. One person starts talking about their pain and then another chimes in to say, “Aw, that’s nothing. You should have seen…”
I had this happen just a few weeks ago. Three of us were talking about what we’ve gone through to get some warts off the soles of our feet. One guy started by talking about the pain he felt when he dug a knife deep into his skin to get one out. The other guy started talking about the pain he felt when a doctor froze a wart off his foot.
I couldn’t resist. I had to add my story, not only because it seemed worse in my eyes than any of the pain that they had described (it was my own pain, after all, which always tends to seem worse, I’m sure), but also because it was such a strange method to me. My doctor, after trying various other painful treatments, finally used one that outdid them all: he applied some juice from something called a blister beetle from South America directly onto my wart. While I felt nothing whatsoever as he put it on, within a few hours, the skin on the bottom of my foot had blistered to the size of a silver dollar, pulling up what felt like every layer of skin that could possibly have been on the sole of my foot–and the wart along with it. The pain while that blister grew was more excruciating and intense than any other treatment I had received on that wart so far.
But as painful as it was, within a few weeks, the wart was gone. The wart that had plagued me for several years, causing me pain every time I walked, was finally gone.
As Daniel Defoe has said:
“God will often deliver us in a manner that seems initially to destroy us.”
How true that is about pain.
In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul describes pain in a surprising similar way, saying that pain–or “sufferings” in this case–is not just something we have to endure, but something that we can actually rejoice in:
“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:2b-4).
Paul says that the pain we experience in life is not without purpose. Rather, it can produce in us perseverance. Perseverance can then produce character. And character produces hope.
Some of the most hopeful people I know are not those who have a pollyanna, happy-go-lucky view of life who have never experienced deep pain. Instead, the people I know who are the most hopeful are those who have been through the wringer of life and have persevered through it. The pain they’ve endured has built up their character and given them hope–a hope that they can then pass on to others who need it.
Pain is not without purpose. In fact, pain has been designed by God to let us know that something in our life needs attention. It’s a sign that something is broken and either needs to be fixed before it gets worse, or, as in the case of the pain of losing a loved one, serves an indicator of the depth of our deep love for that person. When you can acknowledge that your pain serves a purpose, it can change your whole perspective on it.
I think my perspective began to change when I first read a book by Dr. Paul Brand called, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. In the book, Dr. Brand describes his work among modern-day lepers.
Leprosy is a disease that affects the nervous system. Those who have leprosy often don’t feel pain because their nerve endings don’t work properly. As a result, lepers’ bodies can often become disturbingly deformed, losing fingers or toes, or going blind in their eyes. It’s not the leprosy itself that causes these abnormalities. It’s the fact that lepers no longer have the benefits of pain.
They don’t know if a stove is hot or cold until they’ve left their hand on it too long, damaging their fingers beyond repair. They don’t know they’ve stubbed their toe on a rock until the bruises and swelling gives them a visual clue that they’ve hit something far too hard. Believe it or not, they don’t realize that they’re supposed to blink every few seconds, because they never feel what it’s like to have dry, sore eyes. As a result, they often go blind, unless someone teaches them how to blink on a regular basis to give their eyes the moisture they need. Imagine giving thanks for the ability to feel that your eyes are dry and sore!
Yet lepers often wish they had something most of the rest of us wish we didn’t have: pain. Lepers, perhaps more than the rest of us, seem to understand that pain–when used in the way for which God intended it–serves a terrific purpose. If lepers could feel pain, they would probably rejoice like the apostle Paul, saying “Praise God, I can feel the pain!” They know that without it, they’re in for bigger hurts down the road.
So far, I’ve been talking about physical pain. But if you’ll indulge me to go a little longer than usual with today’s message, I’d like to talk for a few minutes about a pain that can often go deeper and last longer than physical pain, and that’s the pain we feel in our hearts and minds when we get hurt by someone else.
I was reminded of this again this past month when I read a blog post by a friend. His post left me stunned. He had served with me in my ministry several years ago, encouraging me, mentoring me, giving me opportunities to use my gifts and talents in ways that went beyond what I could do for myself. Yet a day came when he took me out to lunch and said that he was going to have to step back from my ministry. He said his priorities had changed and he needed to refocus his time and attention on some other things.
I was hurt. A lot. I had enjoyed our friendship and our times together, our conversations, and our urging one another on in the Lord. His reasons for stepping back didn’t seem to line up. Something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. The pain of not knowing, and the feelings of hurt and rejection, have surfaced in my heart from time to time for the last several years.
Yet when I read his blog post a few weeks ago, I finally understood. Something had gone wrong.
He had begun to make a shift in his thinking several years ago on a number of topics. He confessed that he lost his job a few years ago at a large ministry because his views and opinions had shifted so radically that they could no longer keep him on staff. As I read his message, my heart began to break for him. It also began to melt for him. I finally started to understand that his stepping back from my ministry was a blessing in disguise, for if he hadn’t done so then, it would have become a bigger problem for me and my ministry today than I could have imagined.
In talking with God about it after I read his blog post, I felt like God was saying to me:
“What looked like rejection was really protection–My protection.”
It still hurt, but it definitely made the hurt feel better. I’d like to share what I wrote in my journal after I finally knew the truth. Here’s what I felt God was saying to me:
“Oh, no doubt about it, Eric, I know it hurt. But there’s also no doubt that I allowed that hurt to help you avoid a bigger one in the future. Pain is not without purpose. In fact, I’ve designed it precisely for that purpose–to make you aware that something is wrong so you can take action before things get worse. If you don’t respond to the initial pain, like a toothache, I’ve designed the pain to escalate in intensity so you will respond. If you don’t respond to even that, then, well, the consequences are your own. But the pain itself serves a very good purpose: to spare you from greater pain down the road. If you’ll believe that and take it to heart, you’ll never see pain as your enemy again. Pain is your friend, if you’ll respond to it in My ways.”
Again, these words are my paraphrase of what I felt God was saying to me that day. They helped me to understand what Paul was talking about when he said that we could actually “rejoice in our sufferings,” for suffering does have a purpose. And these words helped me to understand that we have a choice to make regarding the pains that we experience in life.
There’s a story that’s told in The Westside Baptist, that illustrates this well. It goes like this:
There were two young boys who were raised in the home of an alcoholic father. As young men, they each went their own way. Years later, a psychologist who was analyzing what drunkenness does to children in the home searched out these two men. One had turned out to be like his father, a hopeless alcoholic. The other had turned out to be a teetotaler (someone who abstains from alcohol). The counselor asked the first man, “Why did you become an alcoholic?” And the second, “Why did you become a teetotaler?”
And they both gave the same identical answer in these words: “What else could you expect when you had a father like mine?”
It’s not what happens to you in life but how you react to it that makes the difference. Every human being in the same situation has the possibilities of choosing how he will react, either positively or negatively.
We all experience pain. Jesus wept. I’ve wept. I imagine you’ve wept, too. We would hardly be human if we didn’t. Yet pain is not without purpose, and depending on how you respond to it, it can define your future for years to come.
My kids were crying this week because one of our newly born kittens had died. It was only a few weeks old, but they had already become very attached to it. When they found it dead, they couldn’t help but cry.
As I talked to them about it, I told them that I was sorry for the kitten and for them, but I was thankful that they were able to cry. It showed me that they really cared. Their tears were an expression that something had gone wrong in the world. Their tears revealed to me that they had already begun to care for one of God’s creatures that was given to us for such a short amount of time. Their tears were response enough.
As Charles Robinson has said:
“Jesus wept once; possibly more than once. There are times when God asks nothing of His children except silence, patience, and tears.”
Pain has a purpose, whether it’s to reveal something that needs to be addressed, or to reveal a depth of love that we’ve felt for something or someone we once held close, but now have lost.
Pain hurts, but that doesn’t mean that pain has to be your enemy. As lepers have discovered, pain can be a blessing, sparing you from greater pain down the road. Pain can be a blessing if you’ll let God use it in your life to work His purposes, responding to it in ways that God wants you to respond.
When pain threatens to get you down, remind yourself (meaning “put it in your mind again”) that pain is not without purpose. Ask God to help you persevere through your pain. Ask Him to use it to build up your character. Then ask Him to fill your life with hope–hope for yourself, and hope that you can pour into the lives of others.
As Paul said,
“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:2b-4).
I pray that from this day forward you’ll never look at pain the same way again.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for Your words in the Bible that challenge our thinking on so many topics, including the topic of pain. Help us to see the purpose of pain from Your perspective, and help us to respond to it in ways that You would have us respond. Help us to understand the role of pain in our lives so we can not just endure it, but somehow, as Paul did, to truly rejoice in the midst of it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 5:3-5. What are the three benefits that Paul says can come when we “rejoice in our sufferings”?
2. By calling us to rejoice in our sufferings, Paul implies that we have a choice in how we respond to pain. What are some other choices―whether good or bad―that we might make instead? Why do you think Paul encourages us to rejoice instead of some of those other options?
3. Have you ever seen God use a painful situation in your life, whether physical or emotional, for something good in the end?
4. How might recalling how God has used what’s painful in the past encourage you in anything painful you might be experiencing right now? If you’d like, why not ask God, and perhaps a few other trusted people in your life, to give you that strength to persevere through any pain that you’re facing right now in your life until you gain the character and hope that God has in store for you.
Lesson 14: Being Freed From Sin (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 5:12-21
One of the best depictions I’ve ever read of the tragedy that took place when sin entered the world was in a fictional book by Ted Dekker called Black. Ted spent the majority of his book describing a world where no one had ever sinned. The people knew there was a particular fruit that they were forbidden to eat located across a certain bridge, but no one went there to eat it.
Instead, they lived out their days doing incredible things with each other and with their God who created them. They had children and built homes and gathered daily to enjoy the lives they had been given. But one day, one of the men gave in to his temptations. He crossed the bridge and ate the fruit.
The moment he did, evil was unleashed from the forrest beyond. Huge black bats swarmed out of the forrest and covered the land in a dark cloud, devouring people and trees and everything in their path. Only those who found shelter of some kind or another escaped the death and destruction that came upon their land.
Through one man’s sin, evil was unleashed upon everyone.
As I read about this horde of evil that covered their world, it was one of the saddest moments I’ve ever felt while reading a book. I couldn’t believe it happened. I couldn’t believe this guy ate the fruit. I couldn’t believe how utterly tragic it was for everyone else and everything else on the planet.
Thankfully, the story didn’t end with that book, but I’ll have to let you read the series for yourself to find out what happens next.
It turns out that Ted’s story was a powerful retelling of another old, old story, one that the apostle Paul talked about in his letter to the Romans. In chapter 5, Paul described what happened to the world when the first man, Adam, sinned. He described how death entered into the world and reigned over it as a result. But that story didn’t end there either. Here’s what Paul said:
“… sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned… But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” (Romans 5:12,15).
I’m sharing this story with you today because I want to give you God’s perspective on the world around you. While there was once a time when death reigned over the earth, you’re now living in a time when life reigns over the earth―life that has come through God’s abundant grace through Jesus Christ. As Paul went on to say:
“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).
You now live in a colorful, life-filled, and joyous world―if you have the eyes to see it. I know that it sometimes takes eyes of faith, but it’s the truth. Life reigns because Christ has come. If you’ve put your faith in Christ, death no longer has mastery over you. You’re no longer a slave to sin, because God has sent you a new Master you can serve, Someone who loves you, cares for you, and has given His life for you―Jesus Christ.
I had a friend who died a few years ago, and when he did, a strange thought crossed my mind. As sad as I was for his death, and the loss of his friendship here on earth, I was thankful for one thing. I thought: “You lucky guy. You’re finally free from sin.”
You see, he had a tremendous ministry that touched the lives of many people. But he also had a private battle with sin―one that he fought valiantly and victoriously, but still a battle nonetheless. When he died, I knew his battle with sin was finally over. It seemed like a strange thought to me, until I remembered that the apostle Paul talked about this very thing.
In Romans chapter 6, Paul said:
“… because anyone who has died has been freed from sin” (Romans 6:7).
Paul wasn’t advocating that people should die in order to be freed from sin! On the contrary, he was saying that people who had put their faith in Christ and were baptized in His name had already died with Him, in order to be raised to live a new life with Him, both here on earth and on into heaven one day.
You don’t have to die to be freed from sin. You just have to put your faith in Christ, being baptized into His death, and rising again to live a new life―a new, colorful, joy-filled life.
When I thought about my friend’s death in these terms, I realized that He wasn’t freed from sin on the day he died physically. He was freed from sin from the moment he put his faith in Christ and was baptized, which was many, many years earlier. From that point on, he had a new view of life, and God had a new view of him.
Sure, he still had battles to face, but he faced them with confidence, knowing that Christ had already freed him from those sins. Temptations would come, as always, but now he knew he could resist them because now he had the power of Christ. He went on to make the most of the rest of his time here on earth, living victoriously and sharing Christ with many others, being a truly positive force in the world for good.
In your battle against sin, you may think a dark cloud surrounds you, a cloud of death and destruction that is constantly hanging over your head, like the swarm of bats from a Ted Dekker novel.
But that’s a lie. The truth is, that cloud of darkness was pushed back when Christ died for you on the cross. On that day, color was restored to the world. Joy became available again. Freedom from sin became a reality for everyone who would put their faith in Him.
God doesn’t want you to sin. Sin separates you from Him and from those you love. But if you’ve been baptized into Christ, you’ve been freed from sin. Sure, you may still have to fight off temptations, but now you can do it from a position of strength, not from a position of defeat.
If you’ve never been baptized into Christ, I’d encourage you to do so as soon as possible. Being baptized into His death will allow you to be raised with Him to a new life with Him. Baptism can renew not only your mind, but your heart and soul as well. It will change your outlook on life. And it will help you to be freed from sin. You may still have a battle to fight, but you’ll be fighting it with Christ, which makes all the difference in the world!
As further encouragement that you can be freed from sin, here and now, let me close with the words of the apostle Paul on the subject.
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
“If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin―because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
“Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him. The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God.
“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:1-10).
If you’ve put your faith in Christ, you can count yourselves as “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus,” too.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for setting us free from sin by dying for us. Help us to see that death no longer reigns over us, but because of Christ, we can reign in life. Help us to put our faith in You anew today, trusting that the world is gloriously new because of You. Help us to see it the way You see it, so we can enjoy it as You intended us to enjoy it, living valiantly and victoriously while we’re here. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 5:12-6:10. Why does Paul say “the gift is not like the trespass” in comparing the effects of Adam’s sin with the effects of Christ’s death and resurrection?
2. What can we do to “reign in life,” as Paul says in verse 17?
3. Have you ever thought of baptism as a way of dying to your old self, and being raised to new life? What about this idea might be attractive to you?
4. Have you ever been baptized? If so, what difference does being baptized make in how you view your battle with sin today? If you haven’t been baptized, what difference might baptism make in your battle with sin? If you need further encouragement to be baptized, here are a few more verses you might read: Acts 2:38, Matthew 3:16-17, Mark 16:16, 1 Peter 3:21, John 3:5, and Acts 8:35-38.
Lesson 15: Bearing Fruit To God (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 6:11-7:6
Is it OK to sin―at least a little bit every once in awhile? After all, if we’ve already put our faith in Christ, He’s already forgiven us of our sins. So He’ll forgive us again, won’t He?
While this is actually a reasonable idea on the surface―at least in terms of being forgiven of your sins by Christ―when you look at it at a deeper level, grasping what happens to your relationship with God and those around you every time you do sin, you’ll see that your best bet is to stay as far away from sin as you can, as often as you can, and for as much of your life as you can!
It’s like a kid saying, “My dad says not to run out in the road. But I know he’ll still love me even if I do run out in the road, so what’s the big deal if I do it once in awhile?” A kid like that would be missing the point entirely. The point isn’t whether or not the dad would still love him just as much if he ran out in the road. The point is that the dad doesn’t want him to get hit by a truck!
If the only reason you shouldn’t sin is because you think Jesus might be mad at you if you do, then you need to re-adjust your thinking! It’s not that Jesus won’t love you just as much if you sin―it’s that He wants you to live! He wants to protect you from engaging in things that could be dangerous to you and to those around you. Sure, He’ll still love you. But that’s the reason He doesn’t want you to sin… because He loves you.
The apostle Paul addressed this issue very clearly in his letter to the Romans, who, having been convinced that Jesus had forgiven them of all their sins, might have been tempted to fall back into sin again, thinking that it no longer mattered if they sinned, because they could still be assured of Christ’s love for them. Paul said:
“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! … What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:15,21-23).
Sin leads to death, but Christ gives you life! If the choice is to sin or to follow Christ, Paul says to follow Christ!
But there’s an even greater reason to drop your life of sin and follow Christ. Paul says it’s because God wants you to bear fruit―good fruit. When you follow sin, you bear fruit that leads to death. But when you follow Christ you bear fruit for God. Here’s how Paul said it in his letter to the Romans.
“So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:4-6).
God didn’t abandon His laws when Christ came. His laws are still good and will protect you from sin. What God did was to make an offering on your behalf to pay the penalty for your sins so you wouldn’t have to pay it yourself. Now, when you put your faith in Christ, you receive forgiveness of your sins. If you continue to sin, there will still be other consequences―for sin still always has consequences―but the good news is that you will no longer be separated from your relationship with Him because of your sin.
Whenever you sin, even if it’s “just a little,” it puts a wedge between you and God, as well as between yourself and those around you. God doesn’t want that wedge, and neither do you. He loves you too much for anything to come between Him and you. And I believe, if you’ve read this far into the message already, that you love Him too much to put that wedge between the two of you, too.
I was once teaching a class of adults how to use computers. One of the students had been using very colorful language throughout the class, not necessarily swearing, but still they were undoubtedly “off” color. I had introduced myself as a technology expert, which, in my role as their teacher, I was. But it wasn’t until later in the day that I mentioned that I was also a pastor. Immediately, this man who had been so colorful with his words all day turned colorfully red in the face, too! He quickly began to apologize for his language in front of me and the rest of the class.
In my attempt to be honest, for I really wasn’t bothered by it, I said something that made him turn even redder still. I said, “That’s OK. You don’t have to apologize to me. I’m not the one who’s been watching over you every day anyway.” The whole class turned to him with a look that said he was really in trouble now!
The truth is that his language really didn’t affect his relationship with me much at all. But by his reaction, it seems like it may have affected his relationship with God quite a bit. It may have seemed like a “little sin” to him, but the fact that he was embarrassed in front of me and the class gave me the impression that it may have been a much bigger deal in his relationship with God.
I didn’t say this to the man to make him feel more guilty than he already did for saying those things in front of me. Just like I’m not saying these things to make you feel more guilty of the things you may be doing in your own life. Believe me, I know how hard it is to keep from sinning, even though I’ve been trying to follow Christ with my whole heart for 24 years. I’m still not, by any means, “sin-free.” I wish I were, because I know that whenever I sin, it causes damage.. This, in turn, makes me want to stay away from it as much as humanly possible.
And in the bigger picture, I not only see the damage that sin causes, but I also see that it hinders my ability to bear fruit for God. And that is perhaps the biggest damage of all.
God has created you to do good works. He has things He wants you to do in this life. When you sin, you hinder those good works, sometimes more than you can possibly imagine. Believe me when I say that God has good works for you to do. He has created you uniquely, with special gifts and abilities. He’s poured unique talents into your life. He’s trained you up to be an asset to Him. He wants to use you to reach out into the world, both in large and small ways.
Don’t let Satan hinder you from accomplishing all that God has created you to do. Don’t follow the path of sin that would keep you from the path God has lined out for you. Don’t let yourself become a slave again to those things of which you’re now ashamed, things which bore fruit for death. Serve God fully instead, bearing good fruit to Him.
How do you do that? By keeping away from sin as much as possible, and by staying close to Jesus as much is possible. As Jesus said:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples” (John 15:5-8).
God wants you to bear fruit―much fruit, as Jesus said. Keep away from sin, even “little sins,” as much as possible. Not because God will love you less if you do sin, but because He loves you so much He doesn’t want you to leave His side even for a minute. When you stay close to Him, you will bear fruit for Him.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for loving us so much that You gave us rules for how to live the best possible lives here on earth. Thank You for saving us from what we have earned because of our sins, and giving us the gift of eternal life instead, if we’ve put our faith in Christ. Help us to stay as close as possible to Him so that we can bear as much fruit as possible for You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 6:11-7:6. What does Paul say we should offer to God in verses 11-14? How might offering these things to sin lead to death, whereas offering them to God leads to life?
2. In verses 15-18, Paul says that just because we’re free from the law, it doesn’t mean that we’re not still slaves to something else. What is that other thing, and why is it so much better than being a slave to sin?
3. In chapter 7, verses 1-3, what illustration does Paul use to talk about being set free from the law? What does being freed from the law allow us to do?
4. Is anything specific hindering you from bearing as much fruit as possible for God? Is there an action step you can take this week to help you drop whatever is hindering you, and get any closer to Jesus? Ask God, and perhaps a few trusted friends, to help you do it so that you can bear as much fruit for Him as possible.
Lesson 16: Setting Your Mind On What The Spirit Desires (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 7:7-8:11
What is it about rules that makes us want to break them? I was in a church one day when the pastor was talking about the benefits of a new diet he had started. He was telling us how he ate a bowl of oatmeal every morning for breakfast, and how much of a change that was from the way he used to eat. He said he previously used to sit down some nights and eat an entire 2-pound bag of peanut M&M’s in one sitting!
As surprised as I was to hear that, as soon as he said it, something sprang to life within me. I began to imagine what it would be like to sit down and eat a whole bag of peanut M&M’s, all by myself, in one sitting. It sounded crazy. I’d never even thought about the idea before. That’s a lot of M&M’s! But it sounded really good, too. (And for some of my international readers, peanut M&M’s are peanuts dipped in chocolate and covered by a hard candy shell).
The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it. Although it seemed wrong, I still wanted to do it. Somehow, his sermon on the benefits of his new diet just made me want to eat more. The very thing he was telling me not to do was the very thing I wanted to do―and it was his sermon that sparked the idea in me to do it!
When one of my daughters asked me what I wanted for Christmas that year, only one thing came to mind: a 2-pound bag of peanut M&M’s.
What was happening to me? Why was I now desiring something that I had never thought of desiring until I was told that I shouldn’t desire it? Wouldn’t it have been better if I had never heard that sermon at all? And what could I do about it now that I had?
The apostle Paul described this dilemma in Romans chapter 7 (except for the part about the peanut M&M’s), which also includes one of the most tongue-twisting passages in all of Scripture:
“What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.
“Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do―this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
“So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:7-24).
I like the way Paul puts this. He says that the law is good, but that sin is always present, too, ready to spring into life at any moment. And when sin sees an opportunity, it seizes it, producing within us our covetous desires. The law is not the problem–sin is. And sin seems already nearby and ready to seize upon such opportunities.
It seems like a dilemma that could cripple us for life. But Paul doesn’t leave us there, and neither does God. Paul asks: “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Then he continues this passage by answering that question, as well telling how you can win the battle over the sins and temptations that you face in life, too. Paul says:
“Thanks be to God―through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so He condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
“Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 7:25-8:11).
Paul says it clearly: the one who can rescue you from the battles you’re facing is Jesus Christ our Lord. The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is living within you, if you’ve put your faith in Him. And that same Spirit can bring you the same life-giving power and victory, if you’ll set your mind on what the Spirit desires.
Jesus has already fought the hardest battle on your behalf, dying for your sins so you don’t have to. Now your job is to set your mind on what the Spirit desires, letting go of anything that is pulling you back into your sinful desires.
If you can win the battle in your mind, you’re well on your way to winning the battle in your flesh, too.
My sweet daughter bought me a 2-pound bag of peanut M&M’s for Christmas that year. But when I got the bag and came face to face with the choice I was about to make, I did something I hadn’t expected. I changed my mind.
Whereas before I had only imagined what it would be like to indulge my desires, I now thought through what that decision would mean down the road. What if I really did eat the whole bag in one sitting? How sick would I get? How many pounds would I instantly be adding to my already increasing body fat? In a matter of minutes, I had changed my mind. I decided to just eat just a few. I shared a few more. Then I put the rest away in a cupboard, to be eaten only occasionally as a special treat, or to be served to friends who stopped by.
Instead of being controlled by my fleshly desires, I set my mind on what the Spirit desires instead. And in so doing, I won the victory.
Believe me, I know there are bigger battles in life than facing a 2-pound bag of peanut M&M’s. But I also know that God is bigger than any of those battles, too. The choices you make in your mind will affect the choices you make with your body. I want to encourage you today to make good choices―to set your mind on what the Spirit desires, and not on fleshly things.
When tempted to look at someone who’s attractive for longer than you should, just look away. Leave them there. And don’t look back. When tempted to click on an inappropriate website, just let it go. Don’t click that link. Ask yourself, “What does the Spirit desire?”
When tempted to start a bad habit, remember that the best way to stop a bad habit is never to start in the first place. Just don’t do it. Don’t even get started. When fighting a bad habit that you’ve already started, just drop it. Let it go. Find a way to redirect your time and energy into something more godly and healthy.
In every battle, call upon the Spirit of Christ who lives within you to help you do what He wants you to do. Remember:
“And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you.”
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for doing the hardest work of all in our battle against sin. Help us to do the hard work we have to do of setting our minds on what Your Spirit desires. Help us in the battles we face today so we can drop whatever might threaten to harm us, and to take hold of that which will lead us to life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 7:7-8:11. Have you ever experienced what Paul described in verse 9 where “sin sprang to life” after hearing about something you shouldn’t do?
2. What does Paul say is the cause such experiences? Is the law at fault, or something else?
3. What encouragement do you take from the solution Paul puts forth, that if the Spirit of Christ lives in you―the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead―that He can give life to your mortal bodies as well?
4. Is there an area in your life where you could use the help of the Spirit of Christ right now to overcome a battle that you’re facing? How could simply setting your mind on what the Spirit desires help you in this area?
Lesson 17: Knowing Who The Holy Spirit Is (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 8:9-11
I used to think that the Holy Spirit was like a light inside my heart. But one day, God helped me to understand that the Holy Spirit is not a substance, but a person―a person who wanted to live and act and move in my life. As Jesus said:
“And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever―the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you. … All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. … I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth” (John 14:16-17, 25-26, and 16:12-13a).
The Holy Spirit really is a person, not just some spiritual substance that flows through your body.
I realized this most clearly when I was worshipping God in the middle of a large sanctuary with hundreds of other people. As I was singing, I was thinking about the beauty of Jesus and how great it could be if I could really see Him with my own eyes. Far away at the front of the sanctuary there was a stained glass window with a picture of Jesus on it.
While everyone else was still standing and singing, I just sat down in my seat and closed my eyes. I began to picture what Jesus would look like in my mind―something like that far-away image of Him in the stained glass window. But suddenly, with my eyes still closed, I pictured two eyes directly in front of mine! They were so close that I couldn’t look at both eyes at the same time. I had to look back and forth between them, as you might do when looking close into the eyes of someone you loved.
With my own eyes still closed, I felt that His eyes were coming closer and closer to mine―so close, in fact, that I had to back up in my seat. But when they finally came as close as they possibly could without touching me, the two eyes disappeared. I wondered where they had gone. At the same time, I sensed that they hadn’t left me at all. Instead, I realized they had somehow passed right through me and began to turn around inside my head.
I felt my own eyes refocusing, as if Jesus Himself wanted to look through my eyes. I could picture His arm going down inside my arm as if He were putting my arm on like a sleeve. His hand went down inside my hand as if putting on a glove. I could imagine His feet going down into my legs, one at a time, like He was putting on a pair of jeans. His feet slid down into my feet as if putting on a pair of shoes.
My mind began to be flooded with Scriptures about how the Spirit of God really does lives inside us, like the ones I mentioned earlier. I began to understand that He wanted to take up residence within me, live inside me and carry out His will through me–at least to the extent that I allowed Him free reign to do so. I invited Him in and asked Him to push all of me out, so that I could be filled with Him as full as possible, from head to toe and from fingertip to fingertip.
I felt like God was telling me that when I was ready to open my eyes again, He wanted to look through my eyes and help me see the world as He sees it. He wanted to use my hands to do what He wanted them to do. He wanted me to walk where He would walk. He wanted me to hear my ears what He would hear, speak with my mouth what He would speak, and feel with my heart what He would feel with His.
When I finally did open my eyes, I did see the world differently. I realized that the Spirit of God wasn’t just a light inside my heart. He was a person―a person who had literally come to take up residence inside my mortal body, giving life to it, as well as power, wisdom and direction. As Paul said in Romans chapter 8:
“You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 8:9-11).
These verses have incredible power if you’ll take them to heart.
I saw their power displayed most clearly when my wife Lana was pregnant with our second child. Lana was having some abnormal bleeding early on in the pregnancy, so she went in for a test. They drew her blood on two different days and checked the level of her hormones. If the baby was OK, her hormones would be doubling every day. But if the baby wasn’t OK, then her hormones wouldn’t be rising, but going down instead. When we got the results, we found that her hormones were dropping rapidly.
The doctor told us this could only mean one of three things: 1) either the baby had died and was about to miscarry on its own, or 2) the baby had lodged in Lana’s fallopian tubes instead of her womb, and if the baby wasn’t removed, it would burst the tubes and die, possibly killing Lana at the same time. The third option was that the test was wrong.
The only way the doctor would be able to tell for sure was to do an interior ultrasound, which we scheduled for the next day. That night, before the ultrasound, Lana called a friend to pray for her. The friend suggested she read Romans chapter 8. As Lana read these ancient words of the apostle Paul, she was struck in a new way by verse 11:
“And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 8:11).
She realized that if the Spirit of God was living inside her, the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead could raise this baby from the dead, too. We both began to call upon God’s Spirit fervently, and asked others to do the same.
The next day, we went to the hospital for the interior ultrasound. The nurse called Lana into the room and I sat in the waiting room outside. After a long and emotional wait, the nurse called me in. I saw Lana laying on the hospital bed. She was crying. The nurse took me over to the ultrasound machine and pointed to a black dot in the middle of it. She said, “Do you see that dot on the screen?”
I could see it, the black dot that was our baby. I was about to burst into tears myself when the nurse said, “Do you see how it’s beating? That’s your baby’s heartbeat!”
Lana wasn’t crying because the baby had died! She was crying because the baby was alive! But that couldn’t be! Lana’s hormones were dropping so rapidly. I realized there weren’t just three options, but four, because the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead was now living inside Lana’s mortal body as well! We felt like we had just witnessed the “dunamis” power of God, God’s dynamite that, when ignited by faith, causes miracles to happen!
Lana went on to carry the baby to full term and give birth to a completely healthy little boy―a little boy who is now nineteen years old and full of faith himself, believing that the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead can do all kinds of miracles in the world today.
The Holy Spirit is not just some ethereal substance that flows in and out of your life. He is a person, a person who carries with Him the power of God, and who has taken up residence within you, if you belong to Christ. The Holy Spirit wants to work in your life in powerful ways, too. He wants you to call upon Him and His power by faith.
Whether you’re battling with life or death, or battling with a sin that’s overwhelming you, God’s Spirit can give you power to win those battles. If you’re struggling with reading the word of God or struggling to understand how it applies to your life, God’s Spirit can help to guide you into all truth. If you’re trying to mend a broken relationship, or wondering how to go on with life having lost someone who was precious to you, God’s Spirit, the Counselor and Comforter, can bring you a wisdom and a peace that passes all understanding.
If you want to renew your mind today, renew your thinking about the Holy Spirit. When you see Him as a person, rather than a substance, it will change the way you talk with Him–and what you can expect of Him.
I know a pastor who says that he always gets super-excited when he sees God’s Spirit moving in even a small way in an audience where he is speaking and ministering. He gets excited because He knows that since God’s Spirit is a person, that means that if part of Him shows up, then all of Him is there!
If you belong to Christ, then you don’t just have a little bit of the Holy Spirit living inside of you, but the whole of Him living inside of you―the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead.
Call on God’s Holy Spirit today and invite Him to do His powerful work in your life right now.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for sending Your Holy Spirit to live inside us when we belong to Christ. We call upon Him now to bring life to our mortal bodies, both here on earth, and in heaven forever. Raise to life those things in our lives which seem like they might be dead, so that we can be filled again with the abundant life that You have in store for us instead. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 8:9-11. How have you pictured the Holy Spirit who lives in you, if you belong to Christ and He lives within you?
2. What difference would it make in your life to picture Him as a person, rather than a substance?
3. Are there some particular areas of your life where you could really use the Spirit’s power right now? Why not talk to Him right now and invite Him, by faith, to do His life-changing power in your life?
4. If you don’t belong to Christ, and don’t have the Spirit of God living within you, why not invite Him into your life today? Turn away from any sin in your life and ask Jesus to forgive you, then invite His Holy Spirit to take up residence within you, giving you His power to do His work in your life.
Lesson 18: Receiving The Spirit Of Sonship (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 8:12-17
It’s only been ten days since Steve Jobs died and I’m still mourning the loss. I’ve followed his life and career for the last 28 years, ever since I used one of his first computers, an Apple Lisa (the predecessor to the Mac), to write a poem (complete with text and graphics) to my college sweetheart at the time (now my wife of 22 years).
It was an experience that changed my view of computers, and my major in college, and my eventual career. I no longer saw computers as cold, sterile, and unmerciful machines. Instead, I began to see them as devices that could help me give expression to some of my innermost thoughts and feelings.
Today, 28 years later, I’m still using one of Steve Jobs’ computers to give expression to my innermost thoughts and feelings, now using them to encourage people all over the world to put their faith in Christ for everything in their lives.
I’ve written to Steve a couple of times in recent years to thank him for the impact he’s had on my life and, by extension, the lives of so many others, as I use his computers to reach out around the world. I’ve also prayed for him and shared my faith in Christ with him in those letters, hoping to give to him the best blessing I can think of in return for the blessing he’s been to me. I don’t know if he ever did put his faith in Christ or not, but my hope and prayer is that at some point he did.
Although Steve’s time of decision has come and gone, there’s still time for you to make yours. If you haven’t yet put your faith in Christ for everything in your life, especially for the forgiveness of your sins, I’d encourage you to do it today.
Jesus told the story of a rich man and a beggar, both of whom died about the same time. Jesus said:
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“He looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead'” (Luke 16:19-31).
There are times when I wish we could get into heaven based on all the good we’ve done in our lives. But when I remember how much we’ve all sinned, I’m thankful that it’s not based on what we’ve done in life, for none of us have a perfect moral scorecard. Instead, it’s based on our faith in the One who gave us life, and our acceptance of the sacrifice that has been made for our sins. As Jesus said to Martha when her brother died:
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
It has always been this way. God has always required a sacrifice for our sins in order to escape the penalty that we would have received otherwise. Even in the days when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, God didn’t tell them to write their good deeds on the doorframes of their homes. He told them to put the blood of a lamb on their doorframes, as a sign of their faith in Him. Then, when He saw that sign, He would “pass over” their homes and not bring upon them the destruction that they would have received otherwise (see Exodus 12).
Why then do people not put their faith in Christ? Sometimes people have an intellectual block that keeps them from doing it. But other times there’s a more practical reason: they simply don’t have a good example of what a loving father looks like, which makes it hard for them to believe that there’s a loving Father in heaven who cares about them deeply, too.
I don’t know much about Steve Jobs’ personal life, but I do know that he was given up for adoption at birth. His biological parents were unmarried college students at a time when abortion was still illegal in the U.S. His biological mother left the University of Wisconsin and went to San Francisco to give birth, where Steve was adopted by his new parents.
When Steve eventually discovered who his biological parents were, he made contact with his mother and his biological sister, with whom he later became close friends. But according to his biological father, Steve never did make contact with him, even up to Steve’s death.
I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve heard from some of my friends who have been adopted that they sometimes wrestle with feelings of abandonment and self-worth, wondering why their parents might have given them up for adoption. In some cases, this sense of worthlessness can drive them to prove their worth in other ways.
I have no idea if this was a factor in Steve Jobs’ own personal drive, yet if it was, he went after it with gusto. By this time last year, the company he helped to create had become worth more than any other technology company in the world, and just a few months ago, it became the most valuable company of any industry, based on the value of its stock. More important than building a thriving company, Steve’s life has influenced millions of other lives around the world like a huge tidal wave, touching lives of people who didn’t even know who he was until this week.
But Steve Jobs life didn’t become more valuable as his stock price and market influence grew. The truth is, his life was worth more than even he could have ever imagined even before he started his famous computer company in his garage. His Father in heaven had placed a value on him before anyone but God Himself even knew he was alive.
It’s the same for you. God has loved you since before you were born. Your life is worth more to Him than you can imagine, and has had immeasurable value since before you even had a chance to make your mark on the world. God loves you so much He sent His Son to die for your sins so you wouldn’t have to, inviting you back into a personal relationship with Him if you’ll just put your faith in Christ.
This is perhaps the most important part of today’s message: when you put your faith in Christ, God adopts you as His son or daughter. When you put your faith in Christ, you become an heir of God, and a co-heir with Christ. You receive from God the “Spirit of sonship,” which includes the full rights and privileges of a son or daughter, as well the ability to see God as the truly loving Father that He is. The apostle Paul describes this Spirit of sonship like this:
“…those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs―heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory” (Romans 8:12-17).
What difference does it make to be able to view God in your mind as the loving Father that He is? All the difference in the world. Paul uses the word “Abba” in his description of God, an Aramaic word that means “Daddy.” It’s a term of endearment. It describes a relationship that is not just a father and a son who are connected by birth, but who are connected by true affection for one another.
My younger kids will often call me “Daddy.” It’s a truly affectionate term. Every once in a while, even my teenagers will still call me “Daddy,” whether it’s my nineteen year old son writing an email to me from college, or my seventeen year old daughter using her most playful voice to tell me I’m doing something silly. It always warms my heart when they do this, to think that they not only see me as their father, but also as their “Abba,” their “Daddy.”
That’s the kind of relationship God the Father wants to have with you. He doesn’t want to be a distant and formal father, but a close and familiar one–a “Daddy”–a “Daddy” you can trust and run to and lean on whenever you need to.
Although God wants you to make the most of your life here on earth, and to use the gifts and abilities that He’s given you to their fullest, you don’t have to create a multi-billion dollar corporation to prove your worth to Him and to enter into that sweet relationship with Him. You just have to believe in Him, putting your faith in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And when you do, you’ll be given the Spirit of sonship, and become adopted as His son or daughter, with all the rights and privileges that go along with it.
If you’ve already put your faith in Christ, you’ve already been adopted as His child. Your role now is to believe it and receive it, letting it’s truth sink deep into your life and heart today. If you’ve never put your faith in Christ, I’d encourage you to do it today and receive God’s Spirit of sonship right now.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for giving us Your Spirit of sonship when we put our faith in Christ. We pray that You will help solidify what that means in our lives today, helping us to know that You really do care about us, that we have worth just by being one of Your children, and that You will strengthen us by that same Spirit in our lives today. Thank You Daddy. We love you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 8:12-17. What images come to mind when you think of the word “Daddy”? How would using the word “Daddy” to describe God change your relationship with Him, compared to other words you could use for Him?
2. What are some of the benefits Paul lists in this passage of receiving the Spirit of sonship?
3. What difference would it make to think of yourself as an heir of God, and a co-heir with Christ?
4. If you’ve never put your faith in Christ, what benefits do you see of being adopted by God? Why not put your faith in Christ today and receive from God His Spirit of sonship?
Lesson 19: Knowing That In ALL Things God Works For Your Good (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 8:28
I want to encourage you today that God can work ALL things for your good in your life no matter what you’re facing. He really is FOR you, even in those things that seem hardest to face, and you can trust that He can work for your good even in those things.
I’ve been reading the book, Pollyanna, this week to my kids. The book was written back in 1913 about an eleven-year-old girl whose contagious optimism transformed an entire town. If you’ve ever heard someone described as a “pollyanna,” it’s a term that came from this book.
But as I read the book this week again, I realized that for all her optimism, Pollyanna was in no way a naive little girl who was ignorant about the real pain that people face in life. Her profound optimism wasn’t the result of ignorance, but it was the way she was able to keep sane and healthy in spite of severe losses in her life. Born on the mission field, Pollyanna lost her mother when she was young, then lost her father when she was eleven. She was sent to live with her stern and strict aunt on the East Coast, where she often had to fight back tears at the unfair treatment she received.
Yet with all the bad that was thrown at her, Pollyanna chose to train her mind to try to see the good in life, believing that there was always something she could be glad about. It was something she learned from her father when she was on the mission field. He called it the “glad game.”
In talking about the game to a woman named Nancy, Pollyanna said:
“We began it when some crutches came in a missionary barrel. You see, I’d wanted a doll. But when the barrel came the lady wrote that no dolls came in, just the little crutches. So she sent ’em along. The game was to find something about everything to be glad about, no matter what. We began right then―on the crutches.”
Nancy said, “I can’t see anythin’ to be glad about gettin’ a pair of crutches when you wanted a doll.”
“There is―there is,” Pollyanna crowed. “I couldn’t see it either at first. Father had to tell it to me. You just be glad because you don’t― need― ’em! You see, it’s easy when you know how! Only sometimes it’s almost too hard, like when your father goes to Heaven.”
Rather than being naive about life, it was Pollyanna’s disappointments in life that helped her to see things in a whole new light. She went on playing the “glad game” in her new town, helping the people see that no matter what they faced in life, there was always something to be glad about. Without giving away too much of the story, Pollyanna even found a way to be thankful when she did have to use crutches by the end of the book.
In a similar way, the apostle Paul is known for saying some of the most optimistic things in his letters in the New Testament. For instance, in his letter to the Philippians he wrote:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
Some people might think, “Sure, that’s easy for Paul to say, as he was one of the most highly educated and influential leaders in the early church.” But the truth is, Paul saw more suffering in his lifetime than most of us would ever see in ten or twelve lifetimes, if we were able to live that many. Paul wrote:
“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:23b-30).
Yet in spite of all this, Paul was still able to encourage people to “Rejoice in the Lord always.” In his letter to the Romans, Paul explained why we can rejoice always. He wrote:
“And we know that in ALL things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”
(Romans 8:28, emphasis added).
I have quoted this verse more often to myself and to others than perhaps any other verse in the Bible. It’s a statement that I’ve tested for myself over and over again and continue to find to be true. It’s not just a “pollyanna” way of looking at the world. It’s a truth that God has given us to hold onto tightly, knowing that no matter how things look in the situations that we’re facing, we can trust Him to work in those situations for our good, if we’re willing to trust those situations to Him.
But like Pollyanna in the book, there are times when finding the good in a situation seems like a daunting task. But rather than running away from such tasks, Pollyanna relished them. At one point, a sick and bedridden woman challenged Pollyanna to find something in her situation that she could be glad about. Pollyanna sprang to her feet and clapped her hands. She said:
“Oh goody, that’ll be a hard one―won’t it? I’ve got to go, now, but I’ll think and think all the way home. Goodbye, I’ve had a lovely time!”
Pollyanna did think and think and came up with several ideas, one of which was to encourage the woman to be glad she had her hands and arms. That simple statement made the woman wonder why she didn’t do something with her hands and arms, so she began to knit little things for fairs and hospitals. She became so glad to think she could do something with them.
I think people sometimes view me as being a little too “pollyanna-ish,” too, when I tell them to trust God completely in every situation that He can work it for our good. But I’ve found that sometimes when I tell people stories of God’s faithfulness to me in my life, they often don’t realize, or don’t take seriously when I tell them, how desperately I’ve had to pray through the situations in which I’ve been. They only hear the outcome of the stories, knowing that somehow God turned even awful situations into something good.
I think that’s the way we sometimes read the stories in the Bible, too. Since we already know how they end, we can sometimes gloss over how dramatic the turnarounds really were.
For instance, when Moses and the Israelites were up against the Red Sea, with no where to turn and the chariots from Egypt pressing in, all of a sudden, God opened up the Red Sea so they could pass through on dry ground. It was a near-death experience for them all, yet God delivered them through it. But since it only takes a few paragraphs to read through the whole story, we don’t always get the sense of impending doom that the people must have felt. I imagine Moses went through some serious questions for God about how God could possibly work this one out for good. Yet God told Moses to stand firm, that Moses would indeed see God’s deliverance… and he did (see Exodus, chapter 14).
Or when Daniel spent the night in the lion’s den and came out alive the next day. People may just think that Daniel found a safe place to hide or that the lion’s just weren’t hungry. But if you read the story closely, you’ll see that as soon as Daniel was lifted out of the lion’s den, those who had falsely accused Daniel were thrown into the den themselves, and the text says:
“And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones” (Daniel 6:24b).
I imagine Daniel had some serious questions for God about how God could possibly work this one out for good. Yet Daniel was extracted without even a wound on him (see Daniel, chapter 6).
When we hear stories of God’s faithfulness to others, we tend to minimize the adversity they faced, and maximize the possibility that God could bring them through it. Yet when we experience our own life-dramas, we tend to maximize the adversity we’re facing, and minimize the possibility that God can bring us through it.
Today, I want to stir up your faith. I want to help you see the truth that God can work all things for your good, too. I want to encourage you to keep putting your faith in Christ. Regarding the situations you’re facing in life today, ask yourself:
“What good might God be doing through this? What good might come out of what I’m going through right now? What might God be doing that I can hang onto in faith, and hope for, and pray towards? What good might God be doing on my behalf right now?”
God wants to turn your thinking around today. He wants you to see that He really can―and does―work all things for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.
This isn’t just a “glad game” from a children’s story. This is a truth from God, recorded in His Word, in order to help you see your life the way He sees it, full of hope and promise and significance.
God loves you and really can work for your good in ALL things.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for showing us that there are different ways to look at the things we’re going through in life. Help us to look at the things we’re facing and see them as You see them. Help us to look for and see the good that You’re working in those situations so that we can face them with courage and faith. Help us to overcome our weakness so that we can keep putting our trust in You for everything in lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 8:28 and 2 Corinthians 11:23b-30. How might the trials Paul faced in life have helped him to come to the point of believing that God really could work for his good in ALL things?
2. If faith is like a muscle that gets stronger and stronger the more we use it, what kinds of things might God put someone through to help them grow as strong in their faith as possible?
3. What good might God be doing in the situations you’re facing in life right now?
4. Like Pollyanna, what can you find to be glad about in those situations?
Lesson 20: Knowing That God Is FOR You (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 8:31-39
I have a riddle for you today. Can you answer all seven of the following questions with the same word?
1. The word has seven letters
2. Preceded God
3. Greater than God
4. More evil than the devil
5. All poor people have it
6. Wealthy people need it
7. If you eat it, you will die
I’ll give you the answer at the end of today’s message. But for now, I’d like to talk to you about Romans chapter 8.
In the last lesson, I talked about how God can work ALL things together for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose. In this lesson, I want share why God works all things for your good. It comes because God is, ultimately, FOR you. And if God is FOR you, who can be against you? That’s the question the apostle Paul asks at the end of Romans chapter 8:
“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all―how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is He that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died―more than that, who was raised to life―is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us”
It’s easy to wonder sometimes if God is really FOR you. You lose your job and it makes you wonder what happened. You get a horrible report from the doctor and you wonder what you did wrong. You open an email from a friend to discover some news you wish you had never read and you wonder how God could be working in this, too.
Yet the truth is that God IS for you. He loves you deeply and cares about your life more than you could possibly imagine. He is as heartbroken about the things that break our hearts as we are, yet He has a perspective that is greater than ours. He can see the good in situations that we can hardly grasp while we’re going through it.
Often it’s only through hindsight that we can see what God saw in foresight. That job loss wasn’t the worst thing that happened to our career after all, but actually helped us leapfrog forward. That bad report from the doctor turned out to deepen our faith rather than shatter it. And that email from a friend brought situations to light that never could have been dealt with had they stayed in the dark.
If only we could have the foresight that God has, we would be able to weather the storms that come at us much better. If we could see things as He sees them, our minds would be refreshed rather than distraught when seemingly bad news comes along. Today, I’d like to give you a lens through which you can look at everything that comes your way, and to see it in foresight rather than waiting till it’s long past to see it in hindsight.
The lens of life comes through looking at everything through the cross of Christ. Rather than be tossed to and fro by the storms of your life that come along, God has settled that matter once and for all when He sent Jesus to die for your sins. He didn’t have to come along and rescue you, but He did. God didn’t wait until you were cleaned up and doing good for Him to send Jesus to die, but, as Paul said in Romans 5:8:
“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
If this question is settled, why then do we still wonder if God loves us when things go wrong in our lives? Why do we wonder why funds seem to have dried up, or job opportunities seem limited, or our health or relationships seem to be falling apart? It’s a natural feeling, I know, but it’s not the truth. If God loved you when you were still in the muck and mire of sin, why would he then abandon you when you’re trying your hardest to follow Him?
My wife and I have felt this before. After giving birth to three healthy children, my wife had a miscarriage. It was a blow to us emotionally and personally. Then she had a second miscarriage. Then a third. Then a fourth. It was as if everything we were doing was falling apart. Yet we felt like we were giving our all for the cause of Christ more than ever before. It was natural to wonder what we were doing wrong.
Yet it was during a time of worship when my wife had a breakthrough. She was listening to a worship CD by Don Moen about the healing power of Jesus when she finally surrendered to whatever God’s will was for her in this area of her life.
She wasn’t happy about the miscarriages, but she knew that all she could do was to trust Him completely. She had asked herself all the important questions, trying to find out if there was anything she was doing to contribute to these miscarriages. But finding nothing, there was no more she could do but to continue to trust in God. She did, and God gave her the peace that passes understanding that somehow, in some way, He would work all things for her good.
Just after this, she became pregnant again and this time she was able to carry the child to full term, giving birth to our fourth child. Then came a fifth, and eventually a sixth. Whether the turnaround in her heart and mind had anything to do with the turnaround in the situation, we still don’t know. But what we do know is that when she came to the end of herself and put her faith in Christ again, she regained the peace that God was indeed FOR her. And regardless of what happened after that, she decided she was going to praise God.
I have felt the same at other time of my life. When I’m praying to God for funding for a special project, or just for our daily needs as we minister to others, it sometimes feels like pulling teeth. Like I’m begging God to do something for me that I know He doesn’t have to do, but that I wish He would do for our sake and the sake of those we’re trying to reach through our ministry.
Then I think about what God has already done for me through Christ, and it’s like I put on a whole new set of glasses. I can finally see what God is wanting me to see. Rather than wondering what I’m doing wrong, I start seeing things from God’s perspective. I start seeing that there’s nothing that God would withhold from me, if He thought it was for my good. As Paul said:
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all―how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32).
I sometimes think I’m asking God for too much when I ask for money―whether it’s ten dollars, or a hundred, or a thousand. But then I remember what He’s already done for me. If someone were to give you ten dollars, or a hundred, or a thousand, they’d be giving up a lot for you. What if they gave you ten thousand, or ten million, then they’d really be paying a price.
But what about someone who’s gone to war for you, and lost an arm or a leg for you, so you could be free? If someone gave up their arm for you, that’s worth way more than ten million dollars. Now imagine if they gave up their life for you. What price could you put on that? And then, to take it a step further, imagine that they were not only willing to give their life for you, but their most cherished possession in the world, their child, so that you could live? Now we’re talking priceless to the n-th degree. And that’s what God has done for us by sending Jesus to die for us. And somehow we wonder if God still loves us if He doesn’t send us ten bucks, or a hundred, or a thousand?
The truth is, there’s nothing God wouldn’t do for you. He loves you and He is overwhelmingly FOR you. He wants to work all things for good in your life because He created you. He has a purpose for your life. And He wants to see you fulfill that purpose.
Don’t ever think that because you don’t get what you want, when you want it, that it means that God doesn’t love you. It’s a lie. There may be other reasons involved, and their may be things that God wants you to change, or redirect, or pray differently about. But it’s not because He doesn’t love you. He’s already settled that point beyond argument. And when you look at what’s going on in your present situation through the lens of what He’s already done for you in the past, you’ll see it clearly too. You’ll have the foresight that most people only get in hindsight. Your mind will be fixed on the good that God is doing and wants to do through you, rather than the bad that may seem to be engulfing you. This isn’t just positive thinking. This is godly thinking. This is looking at life as God sees it.
Once you see that God is for you, you’ll become convinced, like the apostle Paul was, that there is nothing else in life that can separate you from His love. Nothing! As Paul said in the conclusion of chapter 8:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).
What can separate you from the love of God? It’s the same answer as the answer to today’s riddle: Nothing!
1. NOTHING has seven letters
2. NOTHING preceded God
3. NOTHING is greater than God
4. NOTHING is more evil than the devil
5. Poor people have NOTHING
6. Wealthy people need NOTHING
7. And if you eat NOTHING,
you will die!
What can separate you from the love of God? NOTHING!
God loves you and would do anything for you. He’s already demonstrated that. Now your role is to believe it and live it out in your life in spite of whatever you might be facing today. Remember: God is FOR you!
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for reminding us that You are FOR us. Help us to look at life today through that lens, so that we can have your foresight into the situations we’re facing. Help us to know that You are working for our good in ALL things, and that nothing can separate us from Your love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 8:31-39. Have you ever felt like God doesn’t love you because of something specific that happened in your life? Do you still feel that way, in light of today’s lesson?
2. Why is Jesus’ death more valuable than anything else God could do for you?
3. What kinds of struggles did Paul go through, and how do you think those struggles may have helped him become convinced that there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love?
4. If God is FOR you, who can be against you?
Lesson 21: Trusting In The Potter (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 9:1-33
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the three trees, where each one had a glorious dream for their future. One wanted to be crafted into a beautiful treasure chest, covered with gold and filled with precious jewels. Another wanted to be turned into boards for a mighty sailing ship, carrying kings and queens across the sea. The third didn’t want to be cut down at all, but wanted to grow as tall as possible, pointing people towards God as they looked up into its branches.
A day came, however, when each of the trees were cut down and taken away. The first was turned into a feeding trough, not a treasure chest. The second was too weak to be used for a mighty ship and was was used for a common fishing boat instead. The third was deemed too worthless for much of anything, and was cut into pieces and thrown into the scrap pile.
Rather than seeing their dreams fulfilled, each of the trees felt abandoned and without hope. It’s a tragic story and one that has been repeated many times, in many lives, over the years. It may even be part of your story.
Maybe you’ve had dreams of getting married, raising a family, and serving God with your whole heart, only to see your dreams dashed by divorce, adultery, and kids who have all but lost their faith. Maybe you’ve had dreams of being wildly successful in business, giving generously to the poor and needy, only to find yourself being poor and needy instead. Maybe you’ve stepped out in faith to start a new ministry, or a new job, or a new life in a place where you really felt God had called you, only to find yourself far from home and wondering why you ever left in the first place.
Rather than seeing your dreams fulfilled, you may feel– like the trees in the story–abandoned and without hope.
If so, I want to encourage you today to keep putting your faith and trust in God. Keep remembering that God is the Potter and you are the clay. Keep trusting that He is molding and shaping you into exactly what He wants you to be. As the apostle Paul said in Romans chapter 9:
“But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, ‘Why did You make me like this?'” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” (Romans 9:20-21).
Sometimes we bristle at the thought that we don’t fully control our own destiny. None of us wants to be like a puppet on a string, pulled this way or that by some unseen puppet master. Yet when you put your faith in God and let Him take control of your life, you can trust that He will guide you and direct you in ways that are better than you could have imagined.
I had a friend this week who was wondering if she had been shortchanged when God passed out the BLT’s–the Brains, the Looks and the Talents. She wondered why others seemed to have gotten so much more in some of those areas. But the truth is, she wasn’t shortchanged at all. First of all, she had actually been given huge amounts of each, but couldn’t see it for herself. Secondly, I assured her that God had, in fact, given her everything she needed to fulfill His plan for her life. As Paul said to the Ephesians:
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
If God has prepared good works in advance for you to do, He will give you everything you need for the walk He’s called you to walk. And He’ll continue to do so, even if it seems like you’re going in a direction than you had planned. The key is to keep putting your faith and trust in the Potter, remembering that He is FOR you and will work all things together for your good. When you put your faith in God, you put a smile on His face. As the writer of Hebrews says:
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
God is pleased when you put your faith in Him, and He will reward you when you earnestly seek Him.
This, after all, is what the whole book of Romans is about. Paul is continually telling the Christians in Rome that it is their faith that matters most to God, not their righteous acts or their heritage–whether they were born Jewish or Gentile. In chapter 9, Paul laments the fact that so many Jews have missed the fact that God wants them to come to Him by faith. Paul begins by saying:
“I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen” (Romans 9:2-5).
Paul sees the noble heritage that the Jews had been given because of the faith of Abraham. Yet Paul also says that just because someone is a descendant of Abraham doesn’t mean they are actually people of faith.
“For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring” (Romans 9:6b-8).
Paul then goes on to describe how God raised up various people for various purposes, whether it was Isaac or Jacob or Moses or Pharaoh. Some were for noble purposes, and some for common use, but all were for His glory.
God wants you to keep putting your faith in Him. And when you do, He’ll reward you!
Remember the story of the three trees? It would have been tragic if their story had ended when all their dreams were dashed to pieces. Thankfully, their story doesn’t end there. Their dreams were eventually fulfilled–but in a way that went beyond all that they could have imagined.
The first tree didn’t get to become a treasure chest that it had hoped, covered with gold and filled with precious stones. It became a feeding trough for animals instead. But one day, it was covered with golden straw, and when the most precious treasure of all was laid inside it–the Son of God–the tree realized its dream had been fulfilled.
The second tree didn’t get to become the mighty sailing ship that it had hoped, carrying kings and queens across the sea. Instead, it was used for a common fishing boat. But one day, that boat carried a group of men who were caught in a fierce storm on a lake. One of the men stood up and said to the wind and the waves, “Be still,” and they obeyed Him. As soon as the tree realized what had been done, it realized that it was carrying no ordinary man, but the King of all kings, the One who had created the whole universe.
And the third tree, the one that didn’t want to be cut down at all, but point people to God whenever they looked up into its branches? Eventually its boards were pulled from the scrap pile and used as the cross on which our Savior was crucified. And when Jesus rose from the dead three days later, that tree realized that from then on, whenever anyone thought of the cross, their thoughts would be pointed towards God.
You may feel like your life isn’t working out the way you had dreamed. You may feel like you’re not in the place that you had hoped to be. But don’t give up on God–and don’t give up on your dreams. God has a way of fulfilling them beyond what you could imagine.
I know of families who have weathered the storms of divorce and adultery and have come out on the other side praising God and helping many others along the way. I know of people who have lost their businesses and homes and things of this world who are now giving away more than anyone else around them, because they’ve learned what it means to give everything to God. I know of people who have struggled in faith and sometimes wondered if they were doing the right thing, but eventually discovered that God was in it every step of the way.
Don’t give up on your dreams, and don’t get upset if things aren’t working out the way that you had hoped. Keep trusting in the Potter. Whether He wants to use your life for noble purposes or common use, it’s all for His glory. Your Father really does know best.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for reminding us that You are in control, even when our lives seem out of control. Thank You that You are the Potter and we are the clay. Help us to be moldable and shapable by You today. Help us to continue to trust in You, that You will reward us when we believe in You and earnestly seek You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 9:1-33. How do you feel about letting God be the Potter, and trusting Him to mold you and shape you as He sees fit? What might be appealing or unappealing about this idea?
2. What is it that Paul wished for his Jewish brothers and sisters in this passage?
3. Why does Paul say in verse 6 that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel”? What’s the difference? Consider verses 30-32 in your response as well.
4. Read Hebrews 11:6. What does God seem to want from you more than anything else right now, and what can you expect from Him as a result?
Lesson 22: Believing In Your Heart (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 10:1-13
There were once five frogs on a log. One of them decided to jump off. How many frogs do you think were still on the log? … Four? … None? … Nope. All five. One of them just decided to jump off.
There’s a difference between deciding to do something and doing it. There’s a difference between believing in something in your mind and moving that belief deep down into your heart so that it can take root and spring into action.
Throughout this study of the book of Romans, we’ve been looking at ways to renew your mind and the difference that can make in your life. But if all you do is focus on your mind and never move what you’ve learned down into your heart so those truths can be put into action, then all of this will just be an intellectual exercise.
God wants you to do both: He wants you to renew your mind and believe what you’ve learned in your heart so that it can make a difference in your life.
In Romans chapter 10, Paul tells the Romans what it takes for someone to be saved. He says:
“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”
This is one of the greatest statements of faith found in the whole Bible. If you can say with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, you’re also declaring that no one else is Lord, not even yourself. And when you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you’re saying that you believe in the resurrection–and that one day you’ll be raised from the dead, too, if you’ve put your faith in Christ.
This sums up two of the most important ideas of what it means to be a follower of Christ: that Jesus is both your Lord and Savior.
Many people want a Savior–someone to save them from their sins. But not everyone wants a Lord, someone who calls the shots in their lives. But the truth is, it’s awesome to have Jesus as both Lord and Savior. Why? Because when He’s your Savior, he’ll save you from your sins. And when He’s your Lord, He’ll put you on a path that keeps you from having to be saved from quite so much in the future!
When I saw at age 24 where I was headed in life, I realized that it would have been better if I had let Jesus call the shots instead of me. I asked Jesus to be my Savior–to forgive me of my sins–and also to be my Lord–to take control of my life from that point on. Now that I’m 48, I can say that this second half of my life has been significantly better than the first half (and I loved the first half, too! I just didn’t realize how much trouble I was causing for myself and others along the way!)
Now I have a purpose for my life that propels me forward and I have Someone to go with me along the way, guiding and directing me so I can make the most of the time I have here on earth.
How does this apply to you? Have you come to the place in your life where you’ve confessed with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believed in your heart that God raised Him from the dead? If so, that’s the best decision you could have ever made in your life and it’s the starting point for your life with Christ. But it doesn’t end there. God wants you to follow through on that decision and take a leap of faith, jumping off the log and jumping into His full-blown plan for your life.
I know of a young man who has put his faith in Christ and is theologically brilliant. He’s well-versed in Scripture and has sound doctrine. But he’s recently started dating a non-Christian girl, going against God’s stated desire for him in his life. As it says in the Bible:
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14).
Like King Solomon, he’s going to find out some day that all the wisdom in the world is worthless if you don’t put it into practice. King Solomon was, as the Bible declares, the wisest man who has ever lived. Yet he didn’t put that wisdom into practice when it came to his relationships, going against God’s clear warning to the Israelites about not taking wives from those that didn’t believe in Him. God said:
“You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods” (1 Kings 11:2).
Yet that’s exactly what happened: Solomon married women who didn’t believe in God and they led him astray. Wisdom is only valuable if you move it from head knowledge to believing it deep down in your heart and putting it into practice.
Someone in this situation might think: “But I could lead this person to Christ, and God wants me to lead people to Christ, doesn’t He?” Yes, that’s right. But if it means violating one of God’s other pieces of wisdom along the way, then it’s more likely to do harm than good. God wants you to follow His plan for your life in all areas, not just the ones that appeal to you.
I know men who are in love with other men. They compare their relationships to the close friendship that Jonathan had with David. They say that God wants them to have close male friendships. And on that point I agree: God does want them to have close male friendships. But then God draws a line–as He does with all relationships outside of a husband and wife committed for life–warning that if you become involved romantically and physically with anyone else, you’ll do more damage than good. If God says something is destructive, no matter how good it may seem at the time, in the end, it will be destructive.
Jesus is glad to be your Savior, but as I said before, if you’ll let Him be your Lord, too, you won’t need saving from quite so much!
Maybe the area you need a Lord today is in your finances, helping you decide where and when to spend your money. Look in the Bible and you’ll find your answers. God has great wisdom regarding finances, whether it’s saving or spending or giving your money away, like this:
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).
But you’ll have to put that wisdom into practice so that you can make good and godly decisions.
Maybe the area you need a Lord today is in your health, helping you to know what to eat and what to drink and how to take care of your body. Again, look in the Bible and you’ll find your answers, like this:
“Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive (1 Corinthians 10:23).
While you can justify almost anything, that doesn’t mean everything is equally good for you! Look closely at God’s Word for your answers and then put what He says into practice.
Maybe the area you need a Lord today is in your relationships, helping you know how to act and react to those around you. The Bible contains a wealth of wisdom on this topic, too, like this:
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).
Applying a verse like this to your life could bring more healing and wholeness to your relationships than you could ever achieve by any other approach.
I’m sure you’re getting the idea. God loves you incredibly much. And He’s glad to save you from those things that plague you in your life. If you’ll let Him be your Lord, too, and not just your Savior, you won’t need saving from quite so much.
If you’ve never put your faith in Christ, I’d encourage you to do it today. Confess with your mouth that, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, and as this verse in Romans says, you will be saved.
If you’ve already put your faith in Christ, I’d encourage you to follow through on that decision. Keep digging into God’s word to find out what He wants you to do with your life. Then don’t just decide to do what He says. Jump off the log and do it! Keep believing in your heart that Jesus is both your Lord and Savior.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for being so interested in our lives that You’re willing to be both our Lord and Savior, saving us from our sins and guiding us into godly living. Help us to make wise decisions so we can follow You in every area of our lives, then to follow-through on those decisions and put them into practice in our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 10:1-13. What was Paul’s heart’s desire for the Israelites? Why did he say in verses 2-4 that they were not able to receive it?
2. What can you do in your life to keep from being like the Israelites Paul mentioned?
3. Why does it seem to be important to both confess with your mouth that “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead?
4. If you’ve never put your faith in Christ, are you ready to do it today? And if you’ve already put your faith in Christ, how are you doing at following through on that decision in your life?
Lesson 23: Holding The Rope (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 10:13-21
When William Carey was raising funds in England to support his missionary work in India, he told people he felt as if there was a man drowning in a well and calling out for help. Carey said he was willing to go down into the well to save the man, but he needed some people to hold the rope for him while he went.
Several men volunteered to help Carey in his work, “holding the rope” for him back home, raising funds and praying so he could do the part God had called him to do.
While the way people do missions has varied throughout the years, the idea of “goers” and “senders” has not. God continues to call people to go and preach His message to people throughout the world, and He continues to call others to help send people on their way.
The apostle Paul talked about this idea in his letter to the Christians in Rome. Paul said:
“…for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'” (Romans 10:13-15).
In the past, these verses have conjured up in my mind a vision of missionaries climbing over the top of a mountain in some remote jungle, bringing the good news of Christ to the people in the valley below. As the villagers would hear this good news being proclaimed to them–news that was like music to their ears–they would exclaim, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
When I read that passage today a different vision comes to mind. Why? Because, in many ways, I’m now a missionary myself, writing to people all over the world to encourage them to put their faith in Christ for everything in their lives. The scenery is different, but the principle is the same.
Instead of climbing a misty mountaintop, I’m sitting at my desk in my bedroom, looking out over miles and miles of wide open spaces. I’m on the second floor of a two-story, traditional American farmhouse in the heart of the great midwest. There are no mountains to block my view, and only a few other farmhouses dotting the ground in the distance. The corn and soybean fields have been harvested for the year, so all that’s left is a clear view of the horizon in every direction.
Yet when I push the “send” button on my computer, I realize that this message I’m writing right now will make its way over the plains, across the country, under oceans, into the sky and back down to the earth again.
Within an a instant, this message will show up in places like Papua New Guinea, an island half-way around the world in the South Pacific, where someone just signed up to receive these messages on Monday, saying,
“I will be very much excited to receive the news & also pray to strengthen each others faith.”
Almost simultaneously, this message will also show up in an inbox in Nigeria, a country in western Africa where someone wrote to me last week saying,
“I have been far from God. Most times I start and end my day without praising or praying to God. My bible is always beside me and most times I don’t open it. How do I strengthen my walk with God, how do I make him priority, and how do I become consistent with my maker???? Please advise me on what steps to take.”
At the same time, it will appear on someone’s cell phone in the UK, where a woman wrote to me this week saying,
“You are so right about thinking of Jesus as a saviour and sometimes not having Him as Lord of our lives too. Today’s reading made me take stock of what you said, and I recommitted and surrendered my life afresh and asked Jesus to be Lord of my life also as well as being my saviour.”
Missions is changing, but the message stays the same. When Jesus told His disciples to “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation,” (Mark 16:15) He didn’t put any limits on where to go, how to go, or to whom we should go. He just said to, “Go!” Jesus wanted His disciples to take the message as far as they could, starting in Jerusalem, spreading out to Judea and finally to the ends of the earth.
As we’ve been looking at the book of Romans for ways to renew our minds, I want to remind you that the goal of a renewed mind is not simply to renew your thinking but to renew your actions, too. Jumping into God’s plan regarding missions is one of those actions that God wants you to take, whether it’s as a goer or a sender or both. God wants you to be one of those people about whom it is said: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
For some of you, this may be a reminder of what God has already called you to do. For others of you this may be a confirmation of what God has been stirring in your heart in recent weeks or months. And for some of you, this may be a totally new thought–a totally new direction that God wants you to take in your life. Whatever the case, I want to encourage each of you to get involved in whatever mission God has put in front of you.
I was privileged to see an evangelist this fall named Reinhard Bonnke while he was speaking at a youth conference in Chicago. He’s ministered to millions on the African continent, with crowds so large that in just one meeting his team saw over 1 million people fill out decision cards to put their faith in Christ.
Yet, at age 71, he recently got onto FaceBook. At first, he wasn’t sure if he was interested. But when someone showed him a demonstration of how it worked, the way he could connect with people around the world, and the ease with which he could get a message out, he was sold. He looked at the screen and said, “It’s a pulpit!”
Now he personally posts several short thoughts each day on Facebook. Over 381,000 people have “liked” his page and several hundred people now comment and interact with him and his thoughts on a daily basis. His mission is the same as it’s been his whole life, it’s just taken on a whole new dimension!
A few years ago I read a conversation between David Yongii Cho, the pastor of the largest church in the world–located in Seoul, South Korea–and Rick Warren, the pastor of one of the largest churches in America. As they were talking about their next steps for future growth, they both pointed to the same thing: the Internet. Pastor Cho, who had over 750,000 members in his congregation at that time, said “we are so jammed that we have no way to keep growing except by going into cyberspace!”
Pastor Warren responded, saying, “No matter how much land you have it eventually fills up. We were running over 10,000 in attendance before we built our first building. So we know how to grow and minister without buildings. But what we are trying to learn now is how to do it through the Internet into the homes.”
Now, several years later, both churches have strong and vibrant Internet ministries, providing spiritual support and encouragement to members in home groups around the world.
As the world grows, God wants to use every means possible to reach as many as possible before the end comes. Considering that the world has added another billion people in the last twelve years, and is expected to add another billion in the next ten to twenty years, it’s no surprise that God is using all kinds of new technologies to reach more people in an instant than ever before.
Amazingly, you don’t have to be a famous evangelist or the pastor of a huge church to have an impact on people all over the globe. I’m surprised some days to think of just how many people I reach from my little bedroom office here in central Illinois. To put it in perspective, I read that Reinhard Bonnke once had a tent built for his crusades in Africa that could hold 34,000 people. It was the largest tent ever built in the world.
Yet when I finish writing this message tonight and push the “send” button, God will take these words and send them out to more than 35,000 people in more than 160 countries who have signed up for these messages over the years–that’s more people than can fit in the world’s largest tent! That’s amazing!
It’s more possible today than ever before to fulfill Jesus’ command to “Go into all world and preach the gospel to all creation.” And if you’re a follower of Christ, God wants you to be part of the process.
Whether you’re a goer, a sender, or both, God wants you to be involved in His mission. God doesn’t just want to renew your mind–He wants you to put what you’ve learned into action. As the apostle James said:
“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).
Let me encourage you to get involved with God’s mission, whether it’s going, or sending, or both. Try starting a spiritual conversation with a friend on FaceBook. Look into a missions trip with your church or with other groups who are taking the gospel to others. Consider supporting a missionary, or two, or three, or more with your prayers and your financial gifts.
Without trying to sound self-serving, I’d love to have your help with our ministry as well! We’ve been richly blessed over the years to have many people come alongside us and support our work so that we can do the part God has called us to do: encouraging as many people as possible to put their faith in Christ for everything in their lives. In many ways, I feel like William Carey as he was going off to India. I’m willing to go down into the well to save as many as I can, but I need some rope-holders to help me as I go.
If you’d like to help “hold the rope” for us, you can learn more about our ministry and make a donation on our website at www.theranch.org. I think you’ll enjoy seeing what God is doing through this ministry whether you decide to get involved in our work or not.
But whatever God puts on your heart to do, let me encourage you to do it. As Paul said:
“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?”
When you take part in God’s mission, people will be able to say of you:
“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for making it more possible than ever before to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Show us how we can be involved in Your mission in the world today and in the days ahead and give us the faith to do what You’ve called us to do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 10:13-21. In verses 13-15, what steps does Paul say are involved for someone to put their faith in Christ?
2. If you’ve already put your faith in Christ, can you see how each of those steps might have been involved in your own decision-making? If you haven’t yet put your faith in Christ, which step do you think might be needed next?
3. What steps could you take in your life right now to get more involved with God’s mission in the world?
4. Read Philippians 4:19. Ask God to give you the faith, strength and resources to be involved in His global mission in ways that go beyond whatever you’ve done so far.
Lesson 24: Hearing The Message (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 10:16-21
We’re getting ready for Christmas here in Illinois! We’ve put the tree up this afternoon, and last night went to see our teenage daughter dance in a special Christmas show.
And as we get closer to Christmas, I’d like to encourage you to take this time to get closer to God. Christmas is the time of year when we celebrate that God came so close that we could reach out and touch Him―in the form of Jesus. And it’s a great time to remember that God is still very close to us―even closer than you might think. As Paul said to the men of Athens:
“God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:27).
God has been trying to get His message out to people in as many ways as possible, even using the heavens and the skies. When Paul talked about this in his letter to the Romans, he referred back to Psalm 19 which says:
“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of His
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the end of the world”
Yet even with the heavens and the skies proclaiming the glories of God, there are still people who don’t listen to them. In Romans chapter 10, Paul laments the fact that so many of his Jewish brothers and sisters had missed what God was trying to say to them. At the end of the chapter, Paul quotes what God said through the prophet Isaiah:
“All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people” (Romans 10:21).
What a sad picture to imagine God the Father holding out His hands to His children continually, yet they are unwilling to take hold of it.
At the same time, I realize that it’s not always easy to reach out to God, especially when you feel like you’ve been hurt by Him.
In the Christmas show we saw last night, the main character was a man who had tried hard to push God out of his life. He hadn’t always pushed God out, though. At one time in his life, he had a wonderful relationship with God. He had married the woman of his dreams, had a young boy with her, but then tragedy hit: his wife was killed in a car accident.
From that point on, the man kept God at arm’s length. Even though God continued to try to talk to him, the man kept pushing God away. He could no longer believe in a God who either would not or could not save his wife from death. It was simply more than he could bear.
Sometimes we’re like the man in this play. When life doesn’t go the way we think it should, we wonder if God really is who He says He is. We wonder if He really loves us as we thought He did. We wonder if He’s really as powerful as He says He is in the Bible. The truth gets muddied in the midst of life.
But what can you do when you start to lose your faith? What can you do to try to get―or get back―that love relationship with God that He says in His word that He wants with you?
Thankfully, Paul gives us the answer to that as well. Paul says:
“Consequently faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
Or as it says in the New King James Version:
“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17, NKJV).
If you want to increase your faith, one of the best ways you can do it is to immerse yourself in the word of God. When you do, you’ll hear the message that God wants you to hear―the message of Christ, the Savior who came into the world at Christmas to demonstrate God’s love for you in person.
While God speaks through the heavens and the skies, He has also spoken through many people, as recorded in the Bible. As you read God’s words in the Bible. You can hear what God said to people like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, or to Moses out in the desert, or to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob throughout their life-long journeys.
You can hear what God said to Sarah and Hannah and Mary and Elizabeth. You can hear what God said to Peter and John and the woman at the well. And as you hear God’s words as spoken to others in the Bible, it makes it easier to recognize His voice when He speaks to you as well.
I know as I hear the stories in the Bible, my faith comes alive. I start to ask God how He might work in my life in the same ways. Faith really does come from hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
I also want to encourage you to not just read these stories once and then be done. The word “hearing” in this passage has the meaning of “hearing continually,” or in other words, “hearing and hearing and hearing.” So then, faith comes by hearing and hearing and hearing–not just by having heard. Read the Bible, and keep reading, then you’ll see your faith start to grow. As D.L. Moody said:
“I prayed for faith and thought it would strike me like lightening. But faith did not come. One day I read, ‘Now faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.’ I had closed my Bible and prayed for faith. I now began to study my Bible and faith has been growing ever since.”
If you’ve got a Bible nearby, I hope you’ll read it. If you don’t have a Bible nearby, I hope you’ll get one. There are so many great Bibles these days―and in so many languages of the world–that it would be sad if those who had access to God’s Word didn’t read it on a regular basis. If you don’t have a Bible in print, you can also read it online in multiple languages and translations at places like www.biblegateway.com, or www.blueletterbible.org.
And if you’d like to hear how God is working in people’s lives today, I’ve put dozens of stories that you can read in the story section of The Ranch website at www.theranch.org. God is still speaking to people today, and I’d love for you to hear the stories of how God is using His Word to build people up in their faith.
In the show we watched last night, the man who had pushed God away finally reached the breaking point where he could no longer take it. He realized he had to either give up on life, or give in to God. He chose to give in to God, to surrender His life to God’s plan for it, and in so doing, he found that he was also finally able to hear God speaking to him.
As we get closer to Christmas this year, I hope you’ll use this time to get closer to God. Take Paul’s words to the Romans as God’s words to you for building up your faith:
“So then faith comes by hearing [and hearing and hearing and hearing], and hearing by the word of God.”
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for speaking to us in so many ways and so much of the time. Help us to hear Your message to us today, so we can respond to it in the way You want us to respond. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 10:16-21. Have you ever sensed God speaking to you through nature, as Paul implies when he quotes from Psalm 19?
2. Why do you think some people still don’t listen to God, even when He might seem to be speaking to them clearly?
3. Why do you think Paul is so sad for his fellow Israelites, based on the words he quotes from Isaiah in verse 21?
4. Based on verse 17, what are some steps you can take in your own life to increase your faith? Why not commit to taking them today?
Lesson 25: Correcting Misperceptions (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 11:1-32
The way we perceive things isn’t always the way they are. Yet those misperceptions can persist for years, causing us to miss the truth of what God might be trying to say to us. It doesn’t have to be that way, however. God has a way of bringing the truth into our lives, if we’re open to it, in a way that can renew our minds and change our perspective on everything.
I had an email from a woman who wondered if Jesus could possibly love her–not because of something she had done, but because of who she was: a Jew. She had always been told that Jesus doesn’t love Jews. Yet after reading some of the stories on my website, she was confronted with a new truth and wondered: Is it possible that Jesus might love a Jew?
I don’t want to betray her confidence, but I would like to share a portion of her heartfelt letter with you because I feel that her words express something that we all wonder about at times: whether or not God really loves us, too. Here’s part of what she said in her letter.
I was sent your site by accident, and have been reading the stories. The more I read the more questions I have. I’ve never seen Jesus portrayed as this site does. I should tell you that I’m Jewish and I believe in the one true G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
I’ve read some the stories on your site and have to wonder how they could be true, but I can’t stop reading them either, something just feels right about them. My heritage has ingrained in me that Jesus isn’t for my people. I can’t explain why, but I find some of the stories making me cry and I’m not one that cries easily. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t even know why I’m writing. I’m just really confused. How can this G-d of yours, be the G-d I’ve grown up with? Would Jesus love someone who hasn’t been faithfully reading the Torah for a long time?
I’m sorry, I know this doesn’t make any sense, and I’ve always been told that Jesus doesn’t love Jews. But after reading some of the stories I just don’t know what to believe. Is it possible he might love a Jew?
How would you answer a letter like that? Could you find enough evidence in the Bible to show that Jesus really did love this woman? And even if you could, how could you convey it to her in a way that she would believe it?
As for me, I shared that I could understand why she might wonder if Jesus loved the Jews. But the truth is that Jesus was a Jew. The twelve disciples were Jewish. And the whole New Testament–which talks about Jesus–was written by Jews. In fact, Jesus never left the land of Israel to go to any other nation, except for the brief time as a child when His parents took Him to Egypt to avoid being killed by King Herod.
Does Jesus love the Jews? Absolutely! But sometimes it’s hard to see the truth through all of the misperceptions that we’ve been taught or believed for so many years.
The apostle Paul faced similar misperceptions among the people that he ministered to as well. Some of them believed that God had finally given up on the Jews, because Paul and others were now taking the gospel to the Gentiles.
But nothing could have been further from the truth. In Romans 11, Paul said:
“I ask then: Did God reject His people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject His people, whom He foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah–how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace”
God’s heart still beat with love for the Jews, and the apostle Paul was one of many of them. Paul himself regularly preached and ministered in the Jewish synagogues first whenever he arrived at a new town, just as Jesus did (see Matthew 4:26, 9:35, 12:9, 13:54, Acts 14:1, 17:2, 18:4, 18:19, 19:8).
But Paul, like Jesus, faced a fair amount of opposition in the synagogues. When they were thrown out of the synagogues, they took their message just as zealously to the Gentiles in those areas. After several years of this, it seems that some of the Gentiles began to think of themselves more highly than the Jews around them. But Paul gave them this warning:
“I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.
“If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.’ Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either” (Romans 11:13-21).
Paul wisely warns the Romans not to be arrogant about God’s love for them, but to remember that they were grafted into the root because of their faith and that God wants them to stand firm in that faith to the end.
We all have misperceptions at times. Whether we’re Jewish and questioning God’s love for us, or whether we’re Gentiles and becoming arrogant about His love for us. In either case, God wants to bring His truth into our lives and clear up any misperceptions we might have. He wants us to know that He loves us deeply, and to respond to that love in faith.
I was talking recently to a father and his college-age son who felt a barrier had grown up between them. The father seemed to feel the son wasn’t interested in a relationship with him because of some of the things that had passed between them. The son, likewise, felt that his father was no longer interested in a relationship with him because of the distance that he felt.
During our talk, the father said that not a day went by when he didn’t think about his son, and the son said that he wished he could find ways to spend more meaningful time with his father. Yet these thoughts had gone unspoken for so long that both of them felt the other no longer loved or cared about them. It was only when the Holy Spirit brought out these deep truths through our conversation that they realized that they both eagerly wanted their relationship to be restored, but didn’t know how to express it. Tears flowed as they prayed together, having come face to face with the truth. I pray they’re on a new path in their relationship with one another.
I also pray for the Jewish woman who wrote to me, that God would continue to speak His truth into her life and help her to respond to that truth in faith. I know He can do it, for He has done it for me and for many, many other people throughout history. I believe He can do it for you, too.
At the end of Romans, chapter 11, Paul breaks out into one of the most beautiful doxologies in the Bible–an eruption of praise to God:
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom
and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable His judgments,
and His paths beyond tracing out!
‘Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been His counselor?’
‘Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay Him?’
For from Him and through Him and to
Him are all things.
To Him be the glory forever! Amen”
If you need some of God’s deep wisdom and knowledge in your life today, I’d encourage you to call out to Him. Ask Him to reveal more of His truth to you. Ask Him to correct any misperceptions you may have about Him, or about your relationships with those around you. Ask Him to guide you and direct you and point you in the direction He wants you to go, trusting that He will always lead you along a path that is absolutely the best for you.
Then, as He reveals His wisdom to you, I pray you’ll respond to it in faith, taking the steps that He wants you to take. When you do, I hope you’ll find yourself like Paul, erupting in praise and saying:
“Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! … To Him be the glory forever! Amen.”
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for reminding us that we don’t always have the fullness of Your truth, but that if we come to You, You can pour it out on us in abundance. Lord, reveal Your truth to us this week so we can clear up any misperceptions we have about You and about those around us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 11:1-32. In verses 13 and 14, what does Paul say is one of the benefits he hopes will result from his ministry to the Gentiles?
2. What would you say to someone who’s Jewish who wonders if Jesus might possibly love them?
3. In verses 17-21, what reason does Paul give for why some branches were broken off, and why others were grafted in?
4. What misperceptions might you have, whether about God’s love for you or about your relationships with others, that God might want to correct? Call out to Him today and ask Him to reveal His truth to you.
Lesson 26: Being Transformed ~ Part 1 (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 12:1-2
The name of this study, “Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind,” comes from the verse we’re looking at today from Romans chapter 12:
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2a).
This verse contains two distinct thoughts for how you can transform your life, like two sides of the same coin. On one side of the coin, it says: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world…” On the other side it says: “…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” They’re two different thoughts, but with the same goal, helping you become more and more like Christ.
Today I’d like to focus on the first side of the coin, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” Next week, we’ll look at the other side of the coin, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
When Paul talks about “the pattern of this world,” he’s talking about what might seem “normal” in the world around us. But the truth is that what’s normal in the world around us are thoughts and ideas that pull us in the exact opposite direction that God wants for us. This is why Paul didn’t want the Romans to conform to the world around them–and why God doesn’t want us to conform to the world around us.
But how do you break out of what may seem “normal”? How do you break out of “the pattern of this world”?
Here are a few ideas that others have passed on to me over the years, and I’m glad to pass them onto you. These aren’t meant to be legalistic “do’s and don’t’s” for your life, but they’re good ideas that I’ve tested out and found extremely helpful in my own life. So in that light, here are three ideas that might help you to avoid being conformed to the world around you. And all three have to do with the media that we consume: the TV shows, movies, and other materials we expose ourself to.
I’m not a TV basher, but before my wife and I got married twenty-two years ago, we read a book that encouraged us not to have a TV in our house for the first year of our marriage. The author suggested that having a TV in your house is like having a third partner in your marriage. It’s always sitting there, always available for a bit of entertainment or distraction, and could take away significant time from simply enjoying each other’s company during the first year of your marriage. The author noted that the first year of marriage sets the stage for patterns that can become habits for the rest of a couple’s life, making it important to start good habits early on.
So we gave it a try. It was radical idea among the people we knew. I remember a family that came over one night and one of their kids started running around the house in circles, looking for a TV. When he couldn’t find one, he started shouting with a bit of desperation in his voice, saying, “This is a house with no TV! This is a house with no TV!”
But for us, we were so excited about getting married and spending as much time as we could together that it didn’t seem like we were giving up that much. It was great to just spend our hours talking to each other, cooking together, and even doing dishes together.
When we finally did get a TV again, we were shocked at how much the programming seemed to have changed in the time that we weren’t watching. Looking back, it’s hard to know if the programming had gotten so much worse, or if we had just been away from it for long enough to realize that the shows on TV were no longer “normal” for us. It was now easy for us to turn it off and keep it off.
Over the years, we’ve gone through various seasons where we’ve watched TV and others where we haven’t watched TV. But in general, that first year of marriage set a pattern for us that has held for more than two decades. We’ve recently moved into the country where we only get three or four channels at most, depending on the weather. For the most part, neither my wife nor I, nor our six kids, seem to miss it too much! Our family has always grown up with TV on the “side burner” of our lives, not at its center, an idea that started for us over twenty-two years ago, and has continued to help us avoid being conformed to the pattern of this world.
“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world,” Paul said. And by intentionally limiting the amount and the type of TV shows that we’ve watched, we’ve been better able to keep God’s view of what’s “normal” in plain sight, rather than the world’s view of life.
The second type of media that often impacts our worldview are the types of movies that we watch. Prior to becoming a Christian, I would watch all kinds of movies, regardless of their ratings. Someone challenged me, however, that it would be wise to not watch any movie that was rated R or above–an idea that again seemed radical to me at the time. I was over 17, after all, and why cut out what might be good movies, just because they contained more adult content? But I respected the person who told me, and began to look more closely at the movies I watched.
I noticed that whenever I would watch an R-rated movie, the images that stayed in my head the longest seemed to be those images that gave the movie it’s R-rating. There may have been other redeeming qualities to the movies, but those images that stuck with me the most were those that were most questionable, whether the violence, or the cursing, or the strong sensuality. I began to realize that if the people in Hollywood, whose morals and values were often much more loose than my own, felt that a movie had questionable content for the general public, then perhaps there was a reason for me to stay away from it, too!
A friend of mine recently told me that he, too, used to watch R-rated movies all the time, not thinking anything about it. He thought he could handle it, that it didn’t affect him, he said, to watch women in little or no clothing, or to watch gruesome violence, or to listen to people repeatedly take God’s name in vain.
But then he got married. When he brought home a stack of movies to watch with his wife, he saw it through new eyes: hers. After trying to watch a few movies with his new wife, she began to say, “Why are you watching that?” She began to wonder what kind of man she had married, who thought that these kinds of shows were normal. Now he chooses his movies much more carefully, not just because of his wife, but because he realized that the movies he watched were affecting his view of life and what he considered to be “normal.”
“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world,” Paul said. By intentionally putting limits on the types of movies that you watch, whether it’s going by the rating systems that Hollywood has put in place, or checking out movie reviews first by people that we trust, such as www.pluggedin.com, you’ll find yourself better able to focus on God’s pattern for your lives and less on the world’s.
The third type of media that I’ve had to take control over are the things I read–the newspapers and magazines, blogs and books. Words have power, and a writer can steer a person’s emotions in ways that can affect us for a lifetime, whether for good or for bad.
I remember a national newspaper that I used to love to read. The stories were always interesting and educational. When I read those stories, I learned so much about topics I had never thought about before. I felt like the paper was keeping me “up” with current events and helping me have the inside scoop on what was going on. But over time, I realized that whenever the paper wrote about topics that I already knew something about in-depth, I found that the authors were surprisingly one-sided in their views, leaving out opposing views or slanting the articles towards conclusions that were the exact opposite of mine.
I continued reading the paper because I was learning so much about other topics, but I began to wonder: If the paper could take such a one-sided view of the topics that I did know about in-depth, what other ideas were they skewing in my mind on topics that I knew much less about? As much as I loved the paper–and my company at the time even paid for my subscription–I decided to cancel it. I didn’t want my worldview to be shaped by an organization that held such different core beliefs from my own.
This has also carried over into the books I read and the blogs that I follow. My goal isn’t just to surround myself with ideas that are only compatible with my own, but to consider carefully what I’m reading and why, rather than just consuming the material because it’s interesting or intriguing. Books, newspapers, magazines, and blogs all come with their own slant, no matter how much they say they are trying to remain neutral. The important thing is to find out whether that slant is in line with God’s Word or not, then choose what you read based on that.
“Don’t be conformed to the pattern of this world,” Paul said. And by being careful about what you read, making sure it lines up with God’s view of life rather than than the world’s view of life, you’ll find it much easier to resist the pull of the world on your heart and soul.
In all three of these areas–whether it’s TV show you watch, the movies you buy or download or rent, or the newspapers or magazines or books or blogs that you read–God wants you to be careful about what you take into your life. You don’t have to be a prude and you don’t have to be legalistic. Each of these media can have good, useful and redeeming values. But if you want to see your life transformed, you’ll find that the process is much easier when you take control over the media that you consume. You’ll begin to get your life back, your time back, and be able to see the world with a fresh set of eyes.
“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world,” Paul said. That’s not just good advice from a first-century apostle to the Romans of his day. It’s good advice for you and me in regards to the world of our day, too.
In the next lesson, I’ll share more about the flip side of this coin, with some practical ideas for how to you can “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” In the mean time, I pray that God will use the ideas I’ve shared with you today to spark new ways that you can avoid being conformed to the pattern of this world.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for helping us realize that You don’t want us to conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Help us to cut out or limit those things that are harmful to us, causing us to conform to the pattern of the world. Give us ideas for how we can do this in practical ways in our lives and in our world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 12:1-2. What relationship is there between offering your body to God as a living sacrifice and not conforming to the pattern of this world?
2. What dangers can you see in your own life that might stem from conforming too much to the pattern of this world?
3. Are there any ideas from today’s message that you might want to put into practice in your own life, or has it sparked any other ideas that you might want to try?
4. At the end of verse 2, Paul say that if you don’t conform and be transformed you’ll be able to “test and approve” what God’s will is for your life. What does Paul mean by this?
Lesson 27: Being Transformed ~ Part 2 (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 12:1-2
In the last lesson, week we looked at three ways to renew your mind by taking control of the amount and types of media that you consume, from TV and movies to books, magazines, newspapers and blogs. This week, we’re going to look at three more ways to renew your mind. All three have to do with increasing how much you consume of something else in your life: God’s Word, the Bible.
If I could give you just one idea for how to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” that far surpasses any other, it would be this: to get as much of God’s Word into your mind as you can, as often as you can, and with as much understanding as you can.
When you do this, your mind will be renewed and your life will be transformed, just as the apostle Paul encouraged the Romans to do in his day when he said:
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2a).
So today, I’d like to give you three ways to get more of God’s Word into your mind: 1) read God’s Word, 2) memorize God’s Word, and 3) study God’s Word.
First, I want to encourage you to read God’s Word, and read it often.
Whether you read just one verse a day, one chapter a day, or ten chapters a day, if you’ll keep filling your mind with God’s Word, you’ll find that your mind is renewed on a regular basis.
You need more than just physical food to keep you going. As Jesus said:
“Man does not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
God wants you to have spiritual food as much as physical food–and a steady diet of it. The good news is that if you’re on a diet of God’s Word, there’s no limit to how much you can eat! You can feast on God’s Word as much as you want, as often as you want! You can never have too much of God’s Word!
Yet some people are famished in their spiritual lives because it’s been so long since they’ve had any spiritual sustenance at all. Don’t let this happen to you! If you don’t have a copy of God’s Word in a language that’s easy for you to read and digest, then I’d encourage you to get one soon. There are also many websites that contain the entire Bible online for free. One that I often use is called “The Bible Gateway” at www.biblegateway.com. This website contains the entire Bible in over 100 versions and 50 languages.
I’d also encourage you to have a plan in mind for how you want to read the Bible, whether you start at the beginning and read the whole thing from cover to cover, or whether you pick a plan that includes selected readings from various books of the Bible. One website that has several plans for reading the Bible is called YouVersion at www.youversion.com. If you go to their home page, you’ll find a variety of reading plans to fit your interest. You can print them off and check them yourself, or have the system highlight a passage or send it to you by email each day.
I’ve done many plans over the years, both online and on paper, and I’ve liked each of them for different reasons. My first time through the Bible, I just read it straight through in a year, reading 3 or 4 chapters a day, starting with Genesis and finishing with Revelation. At other times, I’ve alternated between reading something from the Old Testament and something from the new, plus a reading from the Psalms or Proverbs every day. And at other times, I’ve taken my time to read each passage as thoroughly as possible, taking three years to read through the entire Bible.
Currently, I’m going through a plan that my daughter tried last year and loved which takes you through the entire Bible in 90 days, called a B90X. Since it takes an average reader about 90 hours to read through the entire Bible, this plans gives you about an hours worth of reading each day for 90 days. If you read half an hour a day, it’ll take 6 months. If you read 15 minutes a day, it’ll take a year. I’m actually doing this 90 day plan by listening to the Bible for an hour each day on on my phone, using an app from the YouVersion website. While I’m not able to get through a full hour every day, I’m hopeful that at least I’ll finish sometime this year–if I just keep going!
But whatever way you do it, just be sure to do it. Read God’s Word over and over, and you’ll find yourself transforming as you do.
Second, I want to encourage you to memorize God’s Word.
Don’t think that you can’t memorize it, because you can! Here’s a surprisingly easy way to memorize even whole chapters at a time. If you’ll read the same passage of the Bible out loud every day for thirty days, you’ll often find out that you’ve actually memorized it by the end of the month, if not before, without even trying to memorize it.
My wife has done this with our kids, for instance, reading Psalm 139 to them every day, sometimes once, or twice, or three times a day. Amazingly, the kids all knew the whole chapter word for word within just two weeks, and all they did was listen to it being read to them. And of course, my wife was able to pick it up at the same time, too.
You might also want to try writing out a verse or two on a small card and carrying it with you wherever you go. Then you can pull out the card whenever you’re waiting in line, or taking a walk, or riding in a bus or train or car, reading it over and over until you’ve gotten it stored away in your mind. You’ll be amazed at how God can speak to you through just one or two verses from the Bible even while you’re memorizing it, and how it will come back to your mind at a later time, especially when you particularly need it. Some people try to memorize the chapter and verse numbers along with the passages so they can easily find them later, while other people just focus on the words themselves. Either way, the important thing is to “hide God’s Word in your heart,” as the Bible says:
“I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
If you’d like a list of some great verses to memorize, I’ve posted a list on my website called “The Top 100 Verses in the Bible.” This is a list that you can read, print out, or write on note cards for yourself. It’s free, and you can get it from the link below:
So my second recommendation is to memorize the Bible, so you can recall it to your mind whenever it’s needed.
Third, I want to encourage you to study God’s Word.
While you can get so much from reading the Bible just as it’s written, you can get even more out of it when you study it in-depth, whether on your own or in a group with others.
Even people mentioned in the Bible have found it useful to have others help explain to them what it means. When a man from Ethiopia was reading the book of Isaiah, Philip saw him and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The man from Ethiopia replied:
“How can I, unless someone explains it to me?” (Acts 8:31).
So Philip stopped and explained the passage to the man. The man was so moved by what he learned, he put his faith in Christ on the spot and asked Philip to baptize him in some water nearby (see Acts chapter 8).
There’s a reason we have pastors and teachers, authors and speakers. They’ve often spent a fair amount of time studying the Bible themselves, plumbing it’s depths and testing it out in the face of the reality of life. By learning from their wisdom, you’ll be able to see some of the precious jewels they’ve already discovered, and you’ll be better able to apply them to your life as well. Or, as Isaac Newton said:
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
When you take the time to learn from others who have gone before you, you too can stand “on the shoulders of giants,” seeing what they’ve seen and then going further yourself. I’d also recommend talking to others about what you’re reading in the Bible. As God said to the Israelites when He gave them His commands:
“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-8).
There’s so much to learn from others that I hope you’ll make use of the wealth of knowledge that is contained within the books and people around you. Spend some time at a local Christian bookstore, if you have one nearby, or browse for books that might be of interest on websites like www.christianbook.com. I’ve written several devotional books myself to encourage people in their Bible reading, several of which include study questions at the end of each chapter that you can use for personal reflection or small group discussion, like the questions I’ve included at end of this message today.
If you’d like any of my books to help you get more out of your Bible reading, you can get them anytime from www.inspiringbooks.com.
The Bible is so important to helping you understand life, which is why every one of my devotional messages contains at least one, and usually several, passages of scripture from the Bible. I know that the most important things I could ever tell you are already contained in the words of the Bible. The rest of what I have to say simply highlights or underscores what can already be found in God’s Word.
In conclusion, I want to encourage you to read God’s Word, memorize God’s Word, and study God’s Word.
When you do these things, you’ll find that you’ll be renewing your mind as you do, transforming your life and discovering God’s will along the way. As the apostle Paul said:
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for giving us Your Word, and for those who have preserved it and translated it and helped us to understand it throughout the generations. Help us to read Your Word on a regular basis, to hide it in our heart when we can, and to study it on our own and with others so we can learn as much as possible. Lord, help us to renew our minds so we can transform our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 12:1-2. What are some ways that reading the Bible has helped you to renew your mind? And in what ways has renewing your mind helped in transforming your life?
2. Have you ever read the entire Bible from cover to cover? If so, how has that helped you in your life? If not, in what ways do you think it might help you? Are there any goals you have in mind for reading God’s Word this year?
3. What advantage do you think there might be to memorizing verses or passages from the Bible, compared to just reading it? Would you like to try to memorizing some more passages of Scripture again this year? Remember, here’s a link to the Top 100 verses in the Bible if you’d like some ideas of where to start:
4. What value have you gotten from reading other books about the Bible? What value have you gotten from talking to others about the Bible? Are there any steps you’d like to take this year towards studying God’s Word more in depth, whether on your own or with others?
Lesson 28: Thinking Of Yourself (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 12:3-8
The way you think of yourself is often affected by what others say about you. One of my favorite stories that shows the power of other people’s words over us is a true story told by a woman named Eddie Ogan.
Eddie says that when she was young, the pastor at her church challenged everyone in the congregation to prepare for a special offering to be taken up at the end of the month for a poor family. Eddie, her two sisters and their mother were so excited about what they might do to help that they went home that night and came up with a plan: if they ate only potatoes, turned off the lights, didn’t listen to the radio, got odd jobs and sold what they could, they might be able to save enough to help out with this special offering.
It turned out to be one of the best months of their lives. By the time the month was over, they donated all the money they had save to the special offering: $70 in all, made up of three crisp twenties and a ten. They felt rich.
Later that afternoon, the pastor of the church stopped by their house for a visit. He left an envelope with their mother. Their hearts sank as they went back in and opened it. Out fell three crisp twenties, a ten, and seventeen one dollar bills. Suddenly they realized that they were the poor family in the church. They had never thought of themselves as poor before, but at that moment, they felt they were and they felt that everyone else must see them that way, too.
The next week, they didn’t want to go back to church again, but their mother made them. A missionary was speaking about needing $100 to put a roof on a church building in another country. The pastor asked his congregation if they could take up an offering to help these poor people. Eddie and her family smiled for the first time in a week. They put the contents of their envelope back into the offering. When the money was counted, it was just over $100. The missionary was surprised and said that the church must have some rich people in it to take up such an offering!
When Eddie and her family realized they had put in $87 of that offering, they realized that they were the rich family in the church! “Hadn’t the missionary said so?”
Eddie says that from that day on, she’s never been poor again.
The way you look at yourself can often be shaped by what others say about you… whether for good or bad. But God wants you to look at yourself for who you truly are: a child of His, created to fulfill His purposes here on earth. He doesn’t want you to think of yourself any higher, or any lower, than you really are. Pride can ensnare you, but low self-esteem can be also keep you from reaching your fullest potential.
How can you think of yourself properly? The apostle Paul gives us some perspective in his letter to the Romans. In chapter 12, Paul says:
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:3-8).
When you realize that God has created you for a specific purpose, you can better see how you fit into the scheme of things here on earth. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
God doesn’t compare you to those around you. He compares you to the potential that He has put within you. And that potential is often defined by how you act, or don’t act, “in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”
If God has created you to prophesy, then prophesy in proportion to your faith. If God has created you to serve, then serve in accordance with the amount of faith God has given you. If teaching, teach, if encouraging, encourage, if giving, give generously, if leading, govern diligently, if showing mercy, show it cheerfully.
By living your life in this way, it releases you from the trap of comparing yourself with others and from the pitfalls of both pride and low self-esteem.
But living this way is easier said than done.
I recently finished reading a series of books called The Hunger Games. It’s a gripping story about a post-war America, in which the leaders of the country pit children against each another in a fight to the death for the entertainment of the rest of the country. As these gruesome games go on year after year, one girl stands up to the games and finds herself at the center of a revolution.
But throughout the book, this one girl, Katniss Everdeen, thinks she’s not the right person for the job. She doesn’t want to be the face of the revolution. She doesn’t see how she could possibly lead the charge. Yet everything about her screams out to those around her that she’s exactly the person who can spearhead this effort to make things right again.
At one point in the story, she struggles with a decision about a particular strategy they’re considering, so she asks a friend what he thinks. He says:
“I think… you still have no idea. The effect you can have.”
When I read that line, I was considering fasting and praying about some situations in my own life and the lives of some people close to me. But I was wondering if it would make any difference anyway. Just then, I felt God speaking to me and saying, “Eric, I think you still have no idea, either, the effect you can have.”
God was right. I had no idea. But I was willing to give it a try. I stepped up in faith, began fasting and praying, and over the next few days watched as God unfolded the answers to those prayers.
I felt like Katniss Everdeen, the girl who had no idea the effect she had on those around her, yet who sparked a revolution to change the course of history. I felt no pride, and I felt no lack of self-esteem. I felt like I was simply acting “in accordance with the measure of faith God had given me.”
Sometimes we’re unable to see ourselves for who we really are and it takes others to point it out to us. But we have to be careful whose judgments we take into account. As Eddie Ogan found out, had she chosen to believe the words of the person who said her family was poor, she might have felt poor her whole life. But she chose to believe the words of the man who said she was rich instead. Either statement could have been true, depending on how she looked at it. In the end, she chose to believe what God said about her: that her family had acted in faith to help someone else in need, and in doing so, were considered rich.
Sometimes we have to let the words of others sink deep into our hearts so that we believe them. Other times, we have to do as Solomon said in the book of Ecclesiastes and let them just pass on by:
“Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you–for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others” (Ecclesiastes 7:21-22).
Not every word someone says about you is true, nor is it the whole truth. Only God has that perspective. Don’t think you’re stupid if you can’t climb a tree if God has created you to swim!
Renew your mind today in the way you think of yourself. Take what others say with a grain of salt, then take it to God for His perspective. Let God tell you exactly what He thinks of you, without getting puffed up and without getting down on yourself, but with sober judgment. Then do what God has created you to do, “in accordance with the measure of faith that He has given you.”
Who knows? Perhaps you’re like Katniss Everdeen, too. You have no idea…the effect you can have.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for giving us a purpose for our lives and thank You for giving us gifts to carry out that purpose. Help us to put the gifts You’ve given us to use this week to a degree that we may have never used them before–according to the measure of faith that You’ve given us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 12:3-8. How have words spoken to you through others either boosted you up or pulled you down? Take those words to God and ask Him to give you His perspective on them.
2. Looking through this short list of gifts in the book of Romans, are there any that stand out that you feel God might have given to you? Is there a way you could step out in faith and use one or two of those gifts in your life this week, this month, or this year?
3. Paul lists some specific adjectives to describe how we are to use our gifts: generously, diligently, and cheerfully. If you were to use those words to measure how well you’re doing in using your gifts, how are you doing?
4. How could changing the way you think about your gifts change your approach to using them?
Lesson 29: Thinking Of Others (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 12:9-21
The story’s told of two friends who were walking through a desert together when one of the friends slapped the other in the face. The one who was slapped wrote a note in the sand saying:
“Today my best friend slapped me in the face.”
But as they walked further along, the one who had been slapped fell into a pool of water and began to drown. This time, his best friend reached down and pulled him out of the water, saving his life. This time, the friend who was rescued etched a note on a stone saying:
“Today my best friend saved my life.”
When asked why he wrote one note in the sand and the other note in stone, the one who had written both phrases replied:
“When someone hurts us we should write it down in sand, where the winds of forgiveness can erase it away. But when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone, where no wind can ever erase it.”
Too often, we get this backwards: we write people’s offenses in stone rather than sand, perhaps because they’ve hurt us so much, or perhaps to protect ourselves from being hurt again. Then we write the good deeds that people have done for us in sand, forgetting over time just how significant those good deeds have been in our lives.
But according to the Bible, true love keeps no record of people’s offenses at all. As Paul said to the Corinthians:
“Love… keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5b).
In the last lesson, we looked at the importance of thinking of ourselves properly, without falling into the traps of either pride or low self-esteem. In this lesson, we’re looking at the importance of thinking of others properly, without falling into the traps of either conceit or comparison.
When Paul wrote about love to the Romans, he wrote a simple yet profound statement:
“Love must be sincere” (Romans 12:9a).
While this may seem obvious–that if we love someone we should love them sincerely–it’s not so easy to do. For some people, it’s easy to fake love.
I know a man who seemed like he was a friend to everyone, describing himself as having “great people skills.” Yet in private conversations with him, I discovered that he viewed others with various degrees of disdain, resentment and frustration, often thinking of himself as better than those around him. The love he showed to others was based on keeping up his image in public more so than having true esteem for those around him.
His attempts at love were just a shallow imitation of what real love looks like. Real love is sincere. In Latin, the word “sincere” literally means “without wax,” (sine meaning without, and cera meaning wax). Apparently, if a craftsman carved a statue in stone and accidentally nicked or chipped the carving along the way, he would fill in those spots with wax. On the surface, the statue would look pure and faultless. But after a while in the hot sun, the wax would melt and the truth would be known: that which appeared pure and faultless at first was in fact quite flawed.
When Paul said that love must be sincere, or “without wax,” he was saying that love shouldn’t be just for show, but for real.
In the past, I used to think that the word “Sincerely” was just a formal way of signing off on a business letter, as I learned in business school back in college. But in recent years, and knowing the meaning of the word “Sincerely,” I find myself using it more and more often.
When I write a note from the depths of my heart, I sign it, “Sincerely, Eric Elder.” To me, it’s no longer just a formal closing, but a heartfelt statement saying, “I really mean this from the depths of my heart.” It’s much closer to meaning “Love, Eric Elder” than I ever would have thought. And that’s just what Paul said: Love must be sincere.
I find that it’s helpful for me to check how sincere I am in my love for others by substituting the words “true affection” for “love.” I might be able to say that I love someone, but when I ask myself if I have true affection for them, then the flaws in my love for them are revealed.
When this happens, I have to regroup my thinking and try to see them as God sees them: as beloved children of His who have been created for specific plans and purposes here on earth. When I change my thinking, it changes how I view others, and subsequently how I love and interact with them. It doesn’t always happen in an instant, but I recognize it much quicker now when I do the “true affection” test!
In Romans 12:9-21, Paul includes more than a dozen statements about what real love looks like when it’s sincere. Here are a few of those statements:
- Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.
- Honor one another above yourselves.
- Share with God’s people who are in need.
- Practice hospitality.
- Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
- Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
- Live in harmony with one another.
- Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.
- Do not be conceited.
- Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
- Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.
- If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
- Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath
- Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
If you reframe each of these thoughts as a question, you’ll get some good ideas for what you might do this week, this month, or this year to show more love to those around you. For instance:
- What can you do to show your devotion to another brother or sister in Christ?
- What can you do to honor someone else above yourself?
- What can you do to share with other Christians who are in need?
- What can you do to practice hospitality towards someone you know?
- What can you do to bless someone who is persecuting you?
- What can you do to rejoice with someone as they rejoice, or to mourn with someone as they mourn?
- What can you do to live in harmony with others, rather than provoking continual discord?
- What can you do to be humble instead of proud, and to associate with people of low position?
- What can you do to avoid being conceited?
- What can you do to refrain from repaying anyone evil for evil?
- What can you do to do what is right in the eyes of everybody?
- What can you do to live at peace with everyone, as far as it depends on you?
- What can you do to not take revenge on someone else, but leave room for God’s wrath?
- What can you do to avoid being overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good?
I know that I want to keep my love for others sincere, without wax, as pure and flawless as possible. I want to have true affection for others, whether they’re close friends and family or just casual acquaintances or strangers or even enemies.
I want to think of others as God thinks of them: as children of His, created by Him for specific plans and purposes here on earth.
I don’t want to be the kind of person who etches in stone those things that others have done wrong. I don’t even want to write them in the sand. I want to be able to keep no record of wrongs, recalling instead only the good that others have done for me in my life.
But I know that to do all of this it will take more than what I can do on my own. It will take the love of Christ, living in me and working through me, to think of others the way God wants me to think of them. If you want that, too, I hope you’ll pray with me today. Pray that God will help you to love others in ways you could never have done on your own. With His help, you’ll be able to express love to others as the apostle Paul encouraged the Romans to do, saying:
“Love must be sincere.”
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for loving each one of us and giving each one of us a purpose and a plan for our lives. Help us to think of others in the same way that You think of them. And help us to treat them with the love and honor that is due them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 12:9-21. What would it look like for someone to be devoted to someone else in brotherly love?
2. How can you honor one another above yourself, truly honoring them for who they are and who God created them to be?
3. What are some ways you could “share with God’s people who are in need,” or “practice hospitality” towards those around you? How can doing these things express your love in ways that words alone may not express?
4. What are some reasons God wouldn’t want you to take revenge on someone, but to leave it in His hands instead? What are some ways you can bless your enemies or those who may be persecuting you, and what might be the result when you do?
Lesson 30: Doing What’s Right (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 13:1-7
As we continue to look at ways to renew your mind, I’d like to look with you today at the way you view those in authority over you, whether they’re a boss, a parent, or even a government authority. If you view authority with contempt, distrust, and disrespect, you’ll often find that same contempt, distrust and disrespect coming back to you. But if you view authority with God’s perspective, trusting that even ungodly authorities can have a place in God’s plan in the world, then you can have much more peace of mind in the midst of struggles.
I remember working for a boss for whom I didn’t have much respect. He often asked me to do things that seemed pointless. We were friendly towards each other, but neither of us had much trust or respect for the other.
One day he asked me to fill out a survey that the company said was to be voluntary and anonymous. But my boss required that everyone that worked for him had to fill it out, and because I was working out of town at the time, I was going to have to fax my survey to him, making it obvious that it came from me. When he said I had to fill out the survey, I reminded him that it was supposed to be voluntary and anonymous. Still, he said he expected to see my survey on his desk by the next morning. I was furious. While it may not have seemed like a big deal to him–asking me to fill out what he thought was a harmless survey–I was afraid if I gave my honest responses, it could jeopardize my future standing in the company. And if I didn’t answer honestly, I was afraid I would be compromising my own standards of integrity. So I decided I was just going to refuse to turn it in.
But as the day went on, God began to work on my heart, bringing to my mind the biblical view of authority.
The apostle Paul wrote about this view to the Christians living in Rome. And from what I know about the way the Romans treated Christians at the time, I’m sure the Roman Christians had way more problems with their bosses than being asked to fill out inane surveys! They obviously had it much worse than me, and yet here’s what Paul said to them:
“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:1-7).
Paul encouraged the Roman Christians to “do what’s right.” He knew that if Christians could respect those in authority over them, the benefits would abound all around, both to those they serve and to themselves.
Any parent knows that when a child is obedient and respectful, that child can often ask for most anything and the parent is happy to oblige. Yet when a child is disobedient and disrespectful, the parent is often unwilling to give in to any type of request, for fear that the child might abuse whatever is given to them. When a child shows respect and honor to a parent, that same respect and honor often returns back to them.
Going back to my earlier story with my own boss, I remember finally coming to the conclusion that it was more important to respect and honor my boss–even though I disagreed with him–because God had called me to respect and honor those in authority over me. My boss wasn’t asking me to do anything immoral or illegal. I just disagreed with his approach. After expressing my disagreement, and his insistence that he still wanted me to do it, then I knew what I had to do.
I filled out the survey as honestly as I could and faxed it to him by the next morning. My heart felt at peace. I knew I had done what was right, even if it might cost me something down the road. To my amazement, my relationship with my boss changed starting that very day. I don’t know if it was something that changed within me, or something that changed within him–or a combination of the two–but over the next few months, he became my biggest supporter and my strongest advocate for every project I took on. He knew he could count on me to do what he asked me to do and because of this trust, he gave me greater leeway in how I carried out my projects than he had ever given me before.
Like a horse that was finally broken, I felt I could now be useful to him in all kinds of ways.
This doesn’t mean that those in authority over us are always right, just as any parent knows full well! Any parent can and will make mistakes–and the same goes for bosses and governments. But just because those in authority over us don’t always do the right thing doesn’t mean that we can’t do the right thing. As Paul said, “he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”
Even men in the Bible like Joseph, Nehemiah and Daniel found ways to serve those in authority over them even though the people over them were often ungodly and did the wrong things.
Joseph was sold as a slave in Egypt, yet he still treated his masters with respect and honor, doing what was right and earning a place of respect and honor in their households, their prisons, and eventually in service to the king himself, being placed second in command over all the land.
Nehemiah was captured and put into the service of an ungodly king, yet he became the king’s cupbearer, a trusted position to ensure that no one poisoned the king’s wine. When Nehemiah needed some time and money to go rebuild the walls around Jerusalem, the king honored his request, because Nehemiah had honored the king. Daniel was taken as a slave to Babylon, yet he served the king with integrity in his heart and his attitude, earning the king’s respect and becoming one of his top officials.
I’m sure each of these men wanted to rebel against the authorities God had put over them at many points in their lives. And on some occasions, they did have to disobey the ungodly and immoral commands of those in authority over them, rightly claiming that God had a higher authority in those particular instances.
When Potiphar’s wife asked Joseph to go to bed with her, Joseph refused. When Nebuchadnezzar’s officials asked Daniel and his friends to bow down and worship the king, they refused. In both cases, Joseph and Daniel paid a significant price for their insubordination, but they were willing to do so because they realized that in some cases, it was more important to submit to the authority of God than the authority of men. So there seem to be times when submitting to God’s authority trumps submitting to earthly authorities. But those times are much fewer than most of us might like to admit!
The principle remains: when we submit to those in authority over us, whether it’s our authorities on earth, or our Authority in heaven, we’ll have peace of mind, because we’ll know we’ve done what’s right.
If you’re wrestling in your mind with something that someone in authority has asked you to do, bring it to God. Ask Him to help you to know what to do, then do it. You’ll avoid punishment and your mind will be clear. As Paul concluded:
“…submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:4b-7).
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for reminding us of the importance of submitting to those in authority over us. Lord, give us Your wisdom as we weigh how to do that to the best of our ability, not only to avoid punishment, but because of conscience. Help us to renew our minds in the way we think about those in authority over us, changing our hearts and minds and even our relationships with others as we do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 13:1-7. Why do you think Paul wanted the Christians in Rome to respect those in authority over them? What possible benefits could result from this type of submission?
2. In what areas of your life could you benefit from putting Paul’s words into action?
3. How could changing the way you view those in authority over you bring you more peace of mind?
4. How could changing the way you interact with those in authority over you bring about a change in your relationships with them?
Lesson 31: Thinking About Sinful Desires (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 13:8-14
My kids and I were window shopping in downtown Chicago last week. We were looking at all the cool things in the Apple store on Michigan Avenue when my wife came up after finishing a doctor’s appointment. She said she had seen a man outside in a wheelchair who was asking for money. He didn’t look like he was doing very good at all.
She didn’t have much to give him, but she gave him what she had: a little pocket change and a prayer. When she asked if she could pray for him, he said:
“Yes! Pray that God will give me a girl. I think about making love (he used another word for it) with a girl all day long and I can’t get the thoughts out of my mind. I’m just so lonely and I can’t stop thinking about making love with someone.”
After getting her thoughts back together–and refraining from trying to immediately cast something evil out of him–she began to pray for him, asking God to give him what he needed, even if it wasn’t the thing that he was asking for.
When my wife told me about it later, it reminded me of the verse that we’re looking at today in the book of Romans. The verse says:
“… do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Romans 13:14b).
Paul knew that even just thinking about gratifying the desires of the sinful nature could lead to doing them eventually. As the apostle James said in his book:
“… but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15).
Just as good thoughts can lead to good actions, sinful thoughts can lead to sinful actions. And sinful actions, when pursued in full, can lead to all kinds of destruction, even death.
It doesn’t take much imagination to think about what could happen if this man in his wheelchair did get a girl and was able to do with her whatever he wanted. But if we’re honest with ourselves, the thoughts he expressed may not be so far removed from the thoughts any one of us have from time to time. And if we don’t keep them in check, all kinds of terrible things could happen if we were to follow-up on our thoughts as well.
I was talking to another man this week who said he was having similar thoughts–although he used more palatable words. He said he was just standing there admiring the beautiful curves of a particular woman he had seen when he suddenly realized what he was doing. Before he let those thoughts overtake him, he reminded himself that he had died to his old sinful nature when he was baptized into Christ. He was lonely, too, just like the man in the wheelchair, and he longed for a lifetime companion. But he also knew he couldn’t gratify the desires of his sinful nature in the way that he was imagining. So he took control of his thoughts, brought them back under the authority of Christ, and was able to walk away with a victory in his mind instead of a defeat. What a blessing that was for him and for others who were spared from the destruction that could have ensued.
What my friend was doing was “putting aside the deeds of darkness and putting on the armor of light” as Paul described in the rest of his thoughts to the Romans. Paul said:
“So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Romans 13:12b-14).
It really is possible to take control of your thoughts. When you do, you’ll be blessed and so will those around you.
If you look back even further in this passage, you’ll see why Paul was so passionate about helping others get control over their thoughts:
“And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here” (Romans 13:11-12a).
Paul wants us to wake up from our slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. For years, people have been saying that Jesus is coming soon, just as Jesus said Himself almost 2,000 years ago. The truth is, His coming is closer now that it’s ever been! As Paul said, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here!” What a great thought and what a great motivator to do what’s right!
Don’t let the darkness overtake you. Don’t give in to dwelling on thoughts that could lead to your destruction. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Jesus isn’t coming back soon, because He is. As Jesus said to the apostle John:
“Yes, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20).
Jesus wants you to live your life to the fullest and the best way to do that is to live your life in the light. This isn’t to say that it’s easy to overcome temptation. But it is possible, and more than that, God will help you to do it. As Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians:
“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
You may have tried various ways to overcome temptation. But Paul mentions something in this passage that we’re looking at today that may give you some extra help as you try to break free. If you look back just a little farther still, you’ll see that Paul says instead of focusing on our sinful desires, we should focus on how we can express God’s love to others:
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).
There’s a big difference between lust and love. Lust, at its core, is all about selfishness and doing whatever you want to others. Love, at its core, is all about selflessness, and doing for others what you would want them to do for you. Instead of thinking about how you can gratify your own sinful desires, Paul says you’re to put on the armor of light, and think about how you can express God’s love to others.
I’ve shared before about my aunt who got some great advice from her doctor when she was going through some days filled with dark depression: he suggested that instead of thinking about herself, she try to think about ways she could help other people. By focusing on blessing others instead of wallowing in her own thoughts of despair, she was able to pull herself out of the darkness by focusing on others. She began to bake food for friends, bringing them cakes, cookies, pies, or anything she thought they might enjoy. She was able to get out of the pit she was in and, to this day, she continues to bless those around her, now from a place of victory rather than defeat.
The same can happen for those who struggle with sinful desires, which can bring about the same kind of darkness. When tempted to dwell on thoughts that are potentially destructive to yourself or to those around you, you can take those thoughts captive and replace them with other thoughts. Reach out and put on God’s armor of light, and let the light of Christ shine through you instead. Replace your selfish thoughts with selfless thoughts, and you’ll begin to see God turn around situations that you may have thought were hopeless.
Take a meal to a friend. Write a letter to someone who needs encouragement. Put a check in the mail to someone who could use a financial boost. Call a parent or an aunt or an uncle or a brother or a cousin or a friend you may not have seen or talked to in a long time. It may seem like hard work at first, but soon you’ll find that the darkness is fleeing and the light of Christ is flooding into your soul.
Clothe yourself with Christ today. Let His light shine through you. Let Him use your hands and your feet, your words and your actions, to those around you who could use a touch from Him. Let your mind wander about ways you can love your neighbor as yourself, instead of ways that you can gratify the desires of your sinful nature. If you need some extra encouragement, just remember the words of Paul, who said:
“And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now that when we first believed.”
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for promising that You will come for us soon. Help us to keep that at the forefront of our minds as we consider how to bless those around us instead of how to gratify our own sinful desires. Help us to take our eyes off ourselves and to focus on those things that You want us to do in the world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 13:8-14. Why does Paul say we should let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another?
2. How can loving others help us to overcome sinful thoughts and actions in our lives?
3. What are some practical ways that you could show your love to others, instead of dwelling on how you could gratify the desires of your sinful nature?
4. What are some other ways that you might “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ”?
Lesson 32: Being Fully Convinced In Your Own Mind (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 14:1-15:13
It’s amazing how different people can see things so differently, even when looking at the exact same thing. I recently heard about a Brit, a Frenchman, and a Russian who all looked at the same painting of Adam and Eve frolicking in the Garden of Eden, but came to three different conclusions:
“Look at their reserve, their calm,” said the Brit. “They must be British.”
“Nonsense,” said the Frenchman. “They’re naked, and so beautiful. Clearly, they are French.”
“Look at them,” said the Russian. “They have no clothes, no shelter, and only an apple to eat. Yet they’re being told this is paradise. They must be Russian!”
The same thing can happen to each of us as Christians. We can all look at the same exact passage of Scripture, yet come to vastly different conclusions. How can we live in unity with each other, even in the midst of our differences? Here are a few ideas that the Apostle Paul gave the Romans, and which we can apply to our lives today:
“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
“One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord…
“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died…
“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall…
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 14:1-8,13-15,19-21,15:7).
I love reading these verses because they remind me that I don’t have the ultimate answer to every question regarding the Bible. I’ve come to many conclusions over the years and I feel fully convinced in my own mind that those conclusions are right. Yet I’m reminded by these verses that there are some things that are even more important than being “right.” Like being loving, caring, considerate and pleasing to God and to others.
In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin said that he was incredibly tactless in his youth, arguing with others to the point where no one wanted to talk to him anymore. Yet he eventually became known as one of the most diplomatic men who ever lived, even becoming the American Ambassador to France.
What changed? Franklin said it was something an old Quaker friend said to him when he was young. Dale Carnegie, in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, paraphrased what Ben’s Quaker friend said that day, saying it went something like this:
“Ben, you are impossible. Your opinions have a slap in them for everyone who differs with you. They have become so offensive that nobody cares for them. Your friends find they enjoy themselves better when you are not around. You know so much that no man can tell you anything. In deed, no man is going to try, for the effort would lead only to discomfort and hard work. So you are not likely ever to know any more than you do now, which is very little.”
Benjamin Franklin took these words to heart and decided to make a change in his life. As Franklin says in his own autobiography:
“I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction to the sentiment of others, and all positive assertion of my own, I even forbade myself the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fix’d opinion, such as ‘certainly,’ ‘undoubtedly,’ etc., and I adopted, instead of them, ‘I conceive,’ ‘I apprehend,’ or ‘I imagine’ a thing to be so or so, or ‘it so appears to me at present.’ When another asserted something that I thought an error, I deny’d myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly, and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition: and in answering I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances, his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appear’d or seem’d to me some difference, etc. I soon found the advantage of this change in my manner; the conversations I engag’d in went on more pleasantly. The modest way in which I propos’d my opinions procur’d them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevaile’d with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be right.
“And in this mode, which I at first put on with some violence to natural inclination, became at length so easy, and so habitual to me, that perhaps for these fifty years past no one has ever heard a dogmatical expression escape me. And to this habit (after my character of integrity) I think it principally owing that I had earned so much weight with my fellow citizens when I proposed new institutions, or alterations in the old, and so much influence in public councils when I became a member; for I was but a bad speaker, never eloquent, subject to much hesitation in my choice of words, hardly correct in language, and yet I generally carried my points.”
Benjamin Franklin realized that there were more important things than being right. And by giving deference to the ideas and opinions of others, he did win more friends and influence more people.
We as Christians can do the same. It’s important to discover your convictions and hold onto them strongly. But there’s a difference between holding strongly to your convictions at the expense of others, and holding strongly to your convictions for the sake of others. One strives to be right no matter what, the other strives to build others up no matter what. Which are you trying to do?
I know for me, I still have a long way to go in how I present my beliefs to others and how I listen to others when they share their beliefs with me. In the end, I want the love of Christ to prevail.
It’s good to be fully convinced about what you believe. Yet it’s also good to give God enough leeway to allow Him to speak into other people’s lives, just as He’s spoken into yours.
As you work on renewing your mind this week, remember that God is working on the minds of others as well. Give them the grace they need to let God do His work in their lives, just as He’s given you the grace you need as He works in yours. As Paul concluded:
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for speaking to us and giving us clear direction for our lives. Help us to remember that You are speaking to others and giving them clear directions for their lives, too. Help us to be mindful of the ideas and opinions of others, allowing for the possibility that they may just be right. In the end, help us to accept one another, just as You have accepted us, in order to bring praise to You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 14:1-15:13. Why does Paul say we should not condemn others for what they’re doing, when they’re doing it in accordance with the measure of their faith?
2. What are some of the benefits that could come from fully convinced of something in your own mind?
3. What are some of the negatives that could result from imposing those beliefs on others, even though you may be fully convinced of them yourself?
4. What motivation does Paul give us in Romans 15:7 for why we should “accept one another”?
Lesson 33: Overflowing With Hope (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 15:13
I’d like to pray for you today that the God of hope would fill you with joy and peace so that you may overflow with hope. This is what the apostle Paul prayed for the Christians in Rome, as recorded in the book of Romans, chapter 15:
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).
What a prayer! Paul wanted them to be so filled with joy and peace that they overflowed with hope! If there’s any day on the calendar that could give you hope, it would be Easter Sunday, Resurrection Day, the day that Jesus overcame death itself. Because Jesus died and rose again, we who have faith in Him can know that when we die, we’ll rise again as well. This is what I love about Christianity: even in the face of death, there’s always hope!
My wife Lana was filling up a glass for one of the kids this week, but she filled it up too far and the glass overflowed and ran all over the table! That’s the kind of hope that God wants to fill you with, too. He doesn’t just want to give you a drop of hope, or a glass that’s half-full of hope, or a glass that’s even full of hope. God wants to give you a glass that overflows with hope!
If you remember back in Lesson 10 of this study, you might remember that I wrote about a picture my daughter had given me. The picture showed a hand reflected in the side view mirror of a car. The word “HOPE” was written on the palm of the hand. Below the word “HOPE” were the words on the mirror that said:
“OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR.”
You might also remember that this picture filled me with hope at the time because Lana had just been praying for another car. Ours was on its last legs and we had to get a new one. But the car she was praying for was twice what we could afford. So I told her that night that I’d pray for the car she wanted, and added, “The same God who takes care of me will take care of you!” It was my way of saying, “Sorry, I can’t help you on this one. God’s going to have to do it Himself!”
The very next morning, as I drove into a parking lot to go to a men’s meeting, a man pulled in right behind me driving the very car that Lana had been praying for! I’d never seen this man or his car ever before!
When I got out of my car, I introduced myself and casually asked if he ever thought about selling his car. He said he had just been thinking about it! He said I could take a look at the car, so I sat down inside it and looked out the window. That’s when I saw the side view mirror with the reflection of the car in it, and these words in the mirror:
“OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR.”
I couldn’t believe it. I took a picture of the mirror with my phone and confessed my unbelief to God, reminding myself that God could do anything, absolutely anything.
Over the next few months, I checked back with the man several times about the car. He wasn’t quite ready to sell and I wasn’t quite ready to buy. But I kept the picture on the background screen of my phone from the day I first saw that car, as a reminder to myself that with God, there’s always hope.
As the months went on, I began to give up on the idea of ever getting the car for Lana. The picture on my phone began to be more discouraging than encouraging, so I changed the background picture on my phone to something else. But a few days later, I decided to put the picture of the car back on my phone. I needed the reminder that with God, there’s always hope.
Then one day, a few weeks ago, we got a tax refund in the mail. I had already decided that I would put the money towards a new car, and even though it wasn’t enough to get Lana the car she was praying for, I was glad to finally be going shopping for any car, as we had been borrowing cars from others and even renting them at times to get where we needed to go.
As I shopped around, I was disappointed in the cars I saw. I tried to think of any way I could get Lana the car she had been praying for. With a bit of desperation, I called a friend to see if she had any ideas, because she had recently bought a car similar to the one Lana wanted. It turned out that she happened to be at the car dealership where they sold this type of car, a place she had only been to once before! She looked around the lot and found a car that was exactly what we wanted. Not only was it the perfect car, it was the perfect price, too!
I drove home, picked up Lana and drove a couple hours to the car dealership to see the car. By the end of the day, Lana was driving home in the car that just a few months earlier, I thought we’d never be able to get!
Now I don’t have to look at the picture of the car to give me hope… I can look at the car itself! God continually reminds me that He’s the God of hope, and that He wants us to overflow with hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit!
God cares about the details of our lives. Now I want to tell you why this answer to prayer is especially meaningful to me at this particular point in my life.
A few months ago, Lana was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, meaning that the cancer has already spread to her lungs, liver and spine. The doctors say it will shorten her lifespan considerably and give us very little hope she’ll survive.
But that doesn’t mean that we’re without hope. If you know my wife, you’ll know that she’s overflowing with hope! Why? Because we serve the God of hope! Even in the face of death, there’s always hope! The Bible says:
“But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise You more and more” (Psalm 71:14).
We recently heard a pastor say that when Satan shoots his fiery darts at you, just say “Thanks for the ammunition!” and throw them right back at him by giving praise to God in the very area that’s being attacked. So as for Lana and me, we will always have hope. We’ll just keep praising God more and more. By doing this, we’re holding up our shield of faith, which, as the Bible says,
“… can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16b).
How can you keep renewing your mind, in both the good days and the bad? By putting your faith in Christ for everything in your life. Keep putting your trust and hope in Him. God really can to anything, absolutely anything. Hope is just around the corner. As it says on mirror of Lana’s car:
“OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR.”
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for raising Jesus from the dead on Easter Sunday, so many years ago and thank You for promising to raise us from the dead one day, too, if we’ll just put our faith in Your Son. I pray for each one reading this message today that the God of hope will fill them with all joy and peace as they trust in Him, so that they may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions For Reflection
If you’ve never put your faith in Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins and for the assurance that you’ll be with Him forever in heaven, I pray you’ll do it today. As Jesus said:
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25).
Every one of us will die some day. The question is what will happen to you on that day? Jesus said if you’ll put your faith in Him, you’ll have eternal life:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
But if you don’t put your faith in Jesus, you’ll have to pay the price for your sins yourself, as Jesus went on to say:
“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:17-18).
Jesus didn’t come to condemn you to hell, but to save you from it. He doesn’t want you to die. He wants you to live an abundant life, both here on earth and in heaven forever. Ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins. Invite Him into your life to become your Lord. Then live your life like it’ll never end–because if you’ve put your faith in Him, you’ll live forever!
Lesson 34: Instructing One Another (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 15:14-24
One way to renew your mind is to teach others what you’ve been learning. It’s a way to both review what you’ve learned, and to bless others at the same time. So today, I’d like to encourage you to consider taking some time to teach others what you’ve learned in life.
Sometimes we get caught up by the idea that we haven’t learned enough to be able to teach anyone else anything. Sometimes we think we need more training, or that others may be more qualified to teach than we are… both of which may be true. But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t others who could benefit from what we’ve learned so far!
For some time now I’ve been praying for a drum teacher for my two younger sons. They’ve been wanting to play the drums and we have a drum set, but they didn’t have anyone to teach them. A few months ago, I ran across a high schooler who played the drums for a worship team in town. I asked if he happened to give drum lessons and he said he did. He pulled out a business card with his name on it. At the top, it said:
“Drum Lessons For Beginners”
That was just what I needed! I signed the kids up and they’ve been learning and loving the drums ever since. What I loved about this high schooler was that he told us up front exactly what he had to offer: “Drum Lessons For Beginners.” He made no claims that he was the best drummer in town, or that he’d be teaching them advanced music theory. But he did have exactly what we needed: a willingness to teach what he had learned so far.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he told them that he had wanted to come to them many times before, but had so far been hindered from doing so. I’m sure Paul would have been a great teacher for them, and they could have learned a lot from his time with them. But Paul pointed out that they already had people to teach them– they had each other! Paul said:
“I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another” (Romans 15:14).
Paul was convinced that they were already filled with enough goodness, knowledge and competence to “instruct one another.” What a boost that must have been to the Roman Christians! They didn’t have to be like Paul or wait for Paul to benefit from godly teaching about the Lord. They had what it took to instruct one another!
Paul knew the power of an encounter with Jesus. He had taken his own advice from the beginning of his ministry. The book of Acts tells that within days after Paul had his life-changing encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was already telling others what he had learned. The Bible says:
“Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’ Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 9:19b-22).
Even as a brand new Christian, Paul had something to offer. “Bible Lessons For Beginners,” so to speak. Yes, he preached to anyone who would listen, including kings and the highest religious leaders in the land. But his heart always beat for sharing the gospel with those who had never heard about Jesus before. That is, in fact, why he was so often hindered from going to Rome, where there were already Christians capable of teaching one another. Paul said:
“It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: ‘Those who were not told about Him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.’ This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you” (Romans 15:20-22).
Several years ago, I was shopping for a new Bible. I like to read the Bible over and over and sometimes like to read it in different versions, because I learn something new when I do. But as I was looking for a new Bible, I felt God was saying to me something like this: “You don’t need another Bible, Eric. What you need is to be writing to others what you’ve learned from the Bible already.”
I had already begun writing devotional messages like the ones I send out now each week, like this one. In each message, I simply share a passage from the Bible and share how God has used it to speak into my own life, encouraging others to read their Bibles and let God speak into their lives, too.
I don’t make any claims that I’m better at reading the Bible than anyone else, or that there aren’t other people who may be way more qualified to teach the Bible than I am. But what I do have, I’m willing to offer to others. What I’ve learned from God through the Bible has so affected my life that I want to share it with everyone who will listen.
Although it’s good to learn as much as you can before teaching others, and to get as much training as you can, and to check and recheck your theology and ideas so that you’re not leading people astray, the truth is that the best prerequisite for teaching others about Jesus is that you’ve spent time getting to know Jesus yourself.
This is just what the Bible says about the first disciples. After Peter and John healed a man, they spoke to the people gathered there who then heard their message and put their faith in Christ. The rulers and elders of the people were astonished. The Bible says:
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
Peter and John were ordinary and unschooled men, yet they had one thing that many of you reading these words today have: they had been with Jesus.
If you’ve been with Jesus, spending time with Him, reading His words, praying and interacting and learning from Him, then it’s not surprising that He would want you to share what you’ve learned with others. As Jesus told His first disciples:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
One of the characteristics of being a disciple is making disciples. It simply goes with the package!
Don’t let your training–or lack of training–stand in the way of sharing what you’ve learned with others.
When I first graduated from college, I spent five months in Bangladesh teaching some people at a disease research center how to use a computer program for their work. I didn’t know much about the computer program myself, but I had a book about it and was able to read enough as I went along to test out the program and teach them what I learned along the way.
I imagine they might have learned more if they had taken a class from a professor in computer programming, or someone who had worked with the software for years already. But there weren’t any professors in computer programming around, nor anyone else who had worked with the software before either! But I was willing to go anywhere and work with anyone, so somehow God sent me. The people I taught were grateful and I was blessed to be able to use my skills, no matter how limited, to help others.
I’d like to encourage you to consider sharing with others whatever God may have shared with you, whether it’s drum lessons, Bible lessons, or even these lessons on renewing your mind.
If you’ve been with Jesus, through the Spirit and through the Word, and have benefited from your time with Him, you can be sure that others can benefit from what you’ve learned, too! I am convinced, as Paul was convinced about the Christians in Rome, that you yourselves are “full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.”
Take whatever you’ve learned and share it with others. You’ll be blessed as you review what you’ve learned, just as you’ll be a blessing to those who may be learning it for the very first time.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for teaching us so much about who You are and how You want us to live our lives. Help us to share what we’ve learned with others so that we can pass on the blessings that You’ve passed on to us. Help us to overcome our fears of speaking and writing, teaching and preaching, so that we can be like Paul, boldly going where no man may have gone before and proclaiming the good news about Christ to everyone who will listen. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 15:14-24. What was the message that Paul said he had been preaching everywhere he went? And to whom had he been preaching that message to?
2. With all of Paul’s learning, training and experience, why do you think he still loved preaching to those who were brand new to the message of Christ?
3. What kinds of things has God taught you from which you have greatly benefited?
4. Can you imagine anyone else who might benefit from learning what you’ve learned? And if so, would you be willing to be the one to teach them?
Lesson 35: Assisting Others On Their Journey (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 15:23-29
One of the things I love about the human heart is that it’s wired to help others when they’re in need. I see this repeated over and over: when a natural disaster strikes a town, or when a terrible wrong is committed against someone who’s done right, or when a beloved friend passes away. When people see a need, they often respond with caring hearts.
But even though our hearts are wired to help others in need, sometimes we need a little prompting. Sometimes we need to remind our minds of the blessings we’ve received from others, and then our minds can nudge our hearts to respond as we should.
The apostle Paul gives two such reminders in his letter to the Romans. The first comes when he tells them that he’s planning to visit them in the future when he passes through Rome on his way to Spain, and he hopes they’ll help him on his journey there. Paul says:
“But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while” (Romans 15:23-24).
While mentioning that he is looking forward to enjoying their company for a while, Paul also mentions that he hopes to have them assist him on his journey to Spain. I don’t think Paul was trying to “guilt” the Romans into helping him on the next leg of his missionary journey. From what I’ve read about Paul in his other writings, I believe he simply knew that their hearts would want to help him on his journey. After all, his own heart was wired in the same way.
Then in the very next paragraph, Paul mentions that he’s on his way to deliver a gift to his Jewish brothers and sisters who were in need in Jerusalem, gifts which he had collected from the churches in Macedonia and Achaia. Paul says:
“Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this fruit, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ” (Romans 15:25-29).
Paul understood this blessing of giving and receiving, that when someone blesses you in your life, it is good and right and appropriate to share your blessings with them at some point in return, freely and voluntarily.
On a personal level, I know that my heart is often moved to help others on their journey, especially those who have been a blessing to me.
When I first became a Christian, I remember hearing about “tithes and offerings,” giving ten percent and more of your income to the work of God in the world. I hadn’t tithed before, not because I was against it, but because I simply didn’t have this principle in my mind yet. But once I understood this principle in my mind, my heart was glad to respond―thrilled to respond, in fact.
I remember some of the first “big” checks I wrote to support the work of God in the lives of missionary friends I knew (at least they were big checks to me, as I had never done this before). I was thrilled to be able to help my friends in a significant way each month. I didn’t feel obligated or guilted into it in any way. I just knew the blessing of hearing about Christ in my own life, and I was glad to help my friends share about Christ with others. It’s all part of this idea of giving and receiving―sharing with others the blessings that God has given to us.
Now that I’m in full-time ministry myself, I sometimes have to remind myself that when I share about a need that I have, that God is often prompting others to respond at the same time. I have to remember that it’s not an obligation or a burden to others to hear about and respond to my needs. It’s the way God has wired our hearts. Knowing this has helped me to be more open about the needs in my own life and I’ve been thankful to see how people have responded to those needs.
In the past few months, I’ve been amazed again at the generosity of others, including many of you, who have stepped in and helped my wife and me as we walk through my wife’s journey with cancer.
I have been humbled and reminded frequently just how good and kind and caring the human heart really is. Sometimes we miss this truth, especially when we are bombarded with such bad news about the wicked things that people have done in the world.
Of course there’s bad in the world. Of course there’s wickedness, greed, evil, and depravity. But all of this stems from good hearts that have been corrupted by sin―usually related to some kind of selfishness. But when our hearts are right with God, something else takes over―something called selflessness; doing to others what you would have them do to you and giving your life for the sake of others, just as Jesus gave His life for us.
Assisting others on their journey is not foreign to the human heart. But sometimes it does take a little prompting from our minds–and the Holy Spirit–to get our hearts in gear.
This week, I heard about some friends who have been praying about buying a van and a mammogram machine so they can go back to their home villages in Kenya and do cancer screenings for the women there. Perhaps it was because of my wife’s recent diagnosis that my ears were especially attentive to their request. My heart wanted to respond. I didn’t know what I could do or how I could help, but I was willing to find out.
I called my friends and listened as they talked about their hopes and dreams and prayers for this project. I’m still not sure what I can do yet, but now my heart and mind are both engaged and attuned to the need. As my friends move forward with their plans, perhaps we can find a way to take part along the way.
At the same time, I was surprised this week by a note from one of our readers overseas who asked if there was anything special Lana and I needed at this time. He had been blessed by our ministry and wanted to do something special in return. Although I hesitated to share our personal needs with him, I eventually did share a few things about which we had been praying. Within a few hours, he responded to say that he was sending a gift that would not only cover those needs that I had shared, but would double the amount of what I had shared!
To me, this was a living example of what Paul was talking about in his letter to the Romans, where those who had received spiritual blessings from someone responded by sending a gift of material blessings in return.
The human heart really is wired to respond to the needs of others. Oftentimes the only thing holding us back is making our minds aware of the needs around us so our hearts can respond.
With this in mind, I’d like to encourage you to be on the lookout for ways that God might want to use you this week to bless others, especially those who have been a blessing to you. Perhaps you have a friend or relative who has gone out of their way to spend some time with you. Perhaps you have a spiritual leader or mentor or a particular ministry than has spoken into your life in a special way. Perhaps you have a project or a school or an organization which has been a blessing to you and now you can be a blessing to them in return.
I’m sure your heart is good and eager to assist others on their journey, but sometimes it takes a little reminder like this to jog your memory and bring it to the forefront of your mind.
I pray that as God renews your mind in this way that the natural response of your heart will follow. Don’t ignore the promptings that God puts there. Don’t put them off until the feelings “go away.” Lean into those promptings and see what God may have in mind for you―and for those He wants to bless through you.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for blessing us in various ways through the people around us. Help us to be attentive to their needs as well so that we can be a blessing to them. Refresh our minds again today about practical ways that we can help them, then nudge our hearts to follow through on those thoughts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 15:23-29. In what ways could the Christians in Rome have possibly assisted Paul on his journey to Spain?
2. Read Acts 28:7-10. In what ways did the people of Malta respond to the blessings they received from Paul?
3. Who are some people in your life who have been a blessing to you? In what ways might you be able to bless them in return?
4. In what ways could you open your mind still further to the needs around you in order to meet those needs yourself? Consider praying that God would renew your mind in this area, so He can work His blessings through you.
Lesson 36: Enlisting Others To Pray For You (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 15:30-33
Are you struggling with something in your life today? If so, I’d like to encourage you to do something special: enlist others to pray for you.
If you think asking for prayer is a sign of weakness, think again! Asking for prayer is one of the strongest things you could ever do–and one of the best ways to keep you strong.
The apostle Paul knew this secret and often called on others to pray for him, as he did near the end of his letter to the Romans. Paul said:
“I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed” (Romans 15:30-32).
Paul asked for prayer with boldness. He urged the Romans to pray for him, “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit.” And he didn’t just ask for a blanket prayer to cover him in all ways at all times. He asked them to pray for him in specific ways, particularly in those areas where he struggled the most. He asked that he would be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, that his service in Jerusalem would be acceptable to the saints there, and that he would be able to come to them in Rome with joy and together with them be refreshed.
The dangers that faced Paul on his trip to Jerusalem–and then on to Rome–were real and significant. If you read about his trip in the book of Acts (chapters 21-28), you’ll see that Paul was captured, imprisoned and threatened with death on several occasions, not counting the shipwreck that obliterated his ship along the way. Paul needed prayer and I have no doubt that the prayers of the Christians in Rome helped to sustain him all along the way.
But it’s not easy to ask others to pray for you. I know. Just last week I was celebrating my 23rd wedding anniversary in New York City with my superb wife, Lana. We had an awesome time, filled with fun, romance and a wonderful walk through Central Park. But on the last day of the trip, I got sick–and not just a little sick, but a violent, wrenching sickness like I haven’t experienced in a long time.
At one point, Lana asked if she should call a few people and ask them to pray for me. I said, “No, I’ll be all right.” I hoped it would just pass quickly, and I didn’t want anyone to worry, as they knew we were on our special anniversary trip. But as the hours passed and I was just getting worse and not better, I finally agreed to have Lana made a few calls.
Although the sickness persisted throughout the night and on into the next few days, I felt different immediately just knowing that a few other people were praying for me and checking in on me from time to time. I was also able to see the fact that I was sick in a new way, realizing that my body was doing just what it should do in trying to forcefully expel whatever had maliciously entered into it.
It turned out I had the flu and the healing process that God had begun on that first day finally prevailed. Thankfully, I’m almost back to full strength again. Unfortunately for Lana, she got what I had a few days later, so we had to enlist others once again to pray for her!
The reason I bring this up today is to let you know that I understand what it’s like to need prayer, but not want to ask for it–especially at those times when we feel the weakest. But the truth is, without prayer, we’ll just get weaker and weaker. With prayer, God can give us the strength we need to go on.
I also wanted to tell you this story because prayer not only changes things, it changes the way you look at things. Even though I still had to walk through the rest of my sickness, I was able to realize that the very things that was making me feel sick–the expelling of whatever had made its way into my system– was the very thing that was bringing my healing. By being able to look at what was happening to me differently, I was able to better endure the rest of the time that I had to go through it.
Prayer really can renew your mind, and by enlisting others to pray for you, you can renew your mind even faster.
If there’s an area in your life where you’re struggling today, I want to encourage you to do as Paul did and enlist others to join you in your struggle–through prayer. As Paul said,
“I urge you… to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.”
There are all kinds of struggles you might be facing right now: whether they’re struggles with lust or secret sins, fear or doubts, real or imaginary dangers, hardships, relationships or bothersome thoughts. The list is endless. The beauty of prayer is that it can address every single struggle you could possibly face.
One of my friends and mentors says that everyone needs a prayer team. You don’t have to be in full-time ministry, or going through a particular crisis, to ask people to pray for you on a regular basis. You could be an expectant mother or a struggling student, a successful architect or an aspiring teacher. You could be married or single, with kids or without. You could be needing money or managing your money. You could be traveling full-time or at home full-time. Whatever you’re doing and whatever you’re going through, you can benefit by enlisting others to pray for you.
Not sure who to ask? You might ask a friend, or a co-worker, or a neighbor. You might ask a pastor or a priest. You might even ask someone you don’t know, like Lana and I did last week in New York, when we were visiting some churched there. At one church, I sensed the man sitting next to me was truly “a believer.” I could tell from his “Amens” that he not only believed in God, but he believed in the power of God. So after the service, I asked if he would pray for us. He was not only glad to pray, but he invited us to dinner, which we unfortunately had to decline because of our schedule.
At another church, we were talking to a man outside the church before the service. Afterward, we reconnected again. We asked if we could pray for him and then he returned the favor and prayed for us.
For years now, we’ve been asking for and benefiting from the prayers of others. We’ve asked for prayer from family and friends, small groups and Sunday School classes. We asked for prayer when we were single, when we were dating, when we got married, and when we started having children.
When Lana was diagnosed with cancer this year, she set up a blog to keep others updated and let them know how they could pray for us. The effects have been tremendous already, as the prayers of others have given us an abundance of strength, wisdom, healing and encouragement.
If you’re going through a struggle in your life, you don’t have to go through it alone. Enlist others to join you in your struggle by praying to God for you. If you’re not sure who to ask for prayer, or just want to get some additional prayers from believers who love to pray, we have a special prayer page at The Ranch website setup just for that. Just visit www.theranch.org to find it.
By the way, the apostle Paul did eventually make it to Rome, just as he had asked the Romans to pray for him.
It may not have been exactly the way he expected, or the timing he expected, but he did get there, through God’s strength–and the prayers of others. As Luke recorded in the last chapter of the book of Acts:
“When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him… For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:30-31).
God answers prayer, and He loves when we enlist others to pray with us.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for showing us the value of enlisting others to pray for us. Help us to reach out to others when we’re struggling so that we won’t become weaker and weaker, but grow stronger and stronger each day through Your strength. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 15:30-33. What are some reasons people might be hesitant to ask for prayer?
2. What difference could it make if you enlisted others to pray for you?
3. In what areas are you struggling right now where you could ask others to pray for you?
4. Who are some specific people that might be willing to pray for you?
Lesson 37: Being Wise And Innocent (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 16:1-20
Once you’ve worked hard to renew your mind, God wants you to keep it renewed. And one of the best ways to keep it renewed is to be careful of the company you keep.
Believe it or not, there are people out there who don’t have your best interests in mind. They’ll use smooth talk and flattery to try to lead you astray from the teaching you’ve learned–teaching that has helped you in many ways in your life.
In the final chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul warns about such people. Paul says:
“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:17-19).
If you look at this paragraph closely, you’ll find some secrets for how to detect when people are trying to lead you astray for the wrong reasons.
First, Paul urged the Romans, “to watch out for those who those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.”
God had taken a great deal of time to teach the Christians in Rome good solid truths about Himself and the Bible, and Paul wanted them to hold onto those truths. In the same way, God may have taken a great deal of time to teach you some good solid truths about Himself and the Bible and God wants you to hold onto those truths, too.
If someone comes along and tries to teach you about a “new” truth, or “higher” way of looking at God and the Bible, be wise about how you listen to them. Take what they say back to God and the Bible to see what He says about it in His Word. While there’s value in keeping an “open mind,” you don’t want to keep it so open that all the good teaching you’ve already learned falls out!
Be a good student of the Bible, like the people in the city of Berea, who took even what Paul said and examined it carefully according to what they had already learned. The Bible says:
“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).
Second, Paul gave the Romans some simple advice about what to do when they came across people who were teaching them things that were contrary to what they had already learned: “Keep away from them.”
Why? Because the company you keep matters. If you don’t choose your friends wisely, Satan will be glad to choose some for you. Satan knows that one of the best ways to lead you astray is to put people in your life who will pull you over to his side.
Paul gave a similar warning in his letter to the Corinthians when he said:
“Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33b).
How can you know who’s “bad company”? By studying not just what they’re teaching, but by studying their character as well. Paul alludes to this when he talks about the motives of those who might try to lead the Romans astray. Paul says: “For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”
Although it’s not always apparent right away, a little study of the people around you can go a long way in determining their true motives, whether they’re doing what they’re doing to serve the Lord Christ, or to serve their own appetites.
It makes me think of a girl who falls in love with a boy just because he tells her, “You’re beautiful. I love you. And I want to do something special to make you happy.” All his smooth talk and flattery may work in his favor, but it may not work in hers. If the girl were wise, she would study not only the words that are being spoken, but the motives of the person who is speaking those words.
If you’re wise, you’ll do the same: anytime someone tries to speak something into your life that runs contrary to what you’ve already learned, it’s helpful to study not only the words that are being spoken, but the motives of the person who is speaking those words.
I think it’s interesting to note that leading up to his warning about those who might lead the Romans astray, Paul begins his chapter by listing some “good characters” and what made them noteworthy or admirable, people that Paul knew personally in Rome. For instance, he says:
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe… for she has been a great help to many people, including me.
“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them…
“Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.
“Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you” (Romans 16:1a,2b,5b,6).
The list goes on and on, as Paul commends to them person after person:
“Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
“Greet Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord.
“Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.
“Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ…
“Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord…
“Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too” (Romans 16:7-10a,12a,13).
If you want to learn something about a person, a personal recommendation like this goes a long way.
In choosing an eye doctor one time, Lana and I talked with a friend who worked for an eye doctor. Our friend told us that when her doctor needed a doctor, he chose a particular man in town, having seen his practice long enough and knowing his character was strong enough that he trusted this other doctor with his own eyes. So when we needed an eye doctor, we were able to benefit from his very personal recommendation.
Contrast this with another eye doctor we went to visit a few weeks earlier who, with his smooth talk and flattery, almost convinced us to come to him. But when we went home and looked into his life and practice a little more, we found out that his credentials weren’t quite as good as what he made us believe, and the bad recommendations we read about him just sealed our resolve to search for another doctor.
This isn’t to say that we might not be led astray at times by personal recommendations, too. But many times, if we’ll take the extra effort to study the person as well as what they’re trying to say to us, we can save ourselves from being led astray.
Third, Paul concludes his warning with these words: “Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.”
Paul was full of joy over the obedience of the Romans. Everyone had heard about it, he said, and he didn’t want anyone to take that away from them. “Be wise about what is good,” he said, “and innocent about what is evil.”
Again, these are similar to words he wrote in his letter to the Corinthians:
“In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults” (1 Corinthians 14:20b).
Paul wanted the Romans–and the Corinthians–to put their minds to work, being wise about what was good. At the same time, he wanted them to be like children in regards to evil, having nothing to do with it and being as innocent as possible.
What’s the end result of all of this? As Paul said at the end of his warning::
“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”
With all the work that goes into renewing your mind, be sure to keep it renewed by being wise about what is good and innocent of evil. Study the teaching of those around you–and the character of those teaching it–before allowing their teachings into your mind. As you protect your mind, God will protect you, and keep Satan at bay.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for reminding us to stay true to what we’ve been taught about You and Your Word. Help us to study deeply any ideas, and the people behind those ideas, that are presented to us that conflict with what we’ve already heard from You. Help us be wise and innocent so we can keep our minds pure. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 16:1-20. What are some of the words that Paul uses to describe those whom he trusts in Rome, compared to the words he uses to describe those who might be trying to deceive their minds?
2. Can you think of some times when you’ve been led astray by smooth talkers who’ve been serving their own selfish interests?
3. Can you think of other times when you’ve been blessed by the wisdom and personal recommendations of true friends?
4. What are some ways this week that you can “be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil”?
Lesson 38: Believing And Obeying God (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 16:21-27
Today we’ve reached the conclusion of the book of Romans, the final words of Paul’s letter that punctuate his goal for writing it. These words also underscore the purpose for which God wants you to renew your mind: so that you might believe and obey Him. Here’s what Paul said:
“Now to Him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey Him–to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Romans 16:25-27).
Paul often concluded his letters by giving praise to God, just as he did above in this letter to the Romans. Sandwiched in between his words of praise, he also mentions the purpose for which the mystery of Jesus Christ has been revealed: so that all nations might believe and obey Him. This is God’s desire for all people in all nations, including you and me–that we would believe and obey Him.
As I’ve mentioned in some earlier lessons, there’s a difference between believing in God, and believing God. You can believe in God, yet still not believe Him–still not be convinced about who He is and what He can do in and through your life. God wants you to believe in Him, for sure. But He also wants you to believe Him when He tells you something regarding your life. Then He wants you to take action based on that belief.
Believing and obeying God is a major part of renewing your mind. God wants you to renew your mind so that you can bring your thinking in line with His. When you do this, you’ll be better able to believe and obey Him, regardless of whatever life may throw your way.
I’ve been praying quite a bit this week for my wife Lana, who, as I’ve mentioned before, was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer a few months ago. Apart from a miracle, the doctors say that this type of cancer is incurable and will shorten her life considerably. As you can imagine, our faith has been put to the test on a daily basis regarding what we believe about God and what He is doing through all of this. Yet with all that’s going on, we continue to find God’s peace in the midst of it.
How? Because God has spent considerable time and effort over the years filling our minds with His thoughts about us, that He is for us, not against us, and that He will work all things for good, even in this.
At the risk of being extra-vulnerable, I’d like to share one of my journal entries with you from earlier this week. I often write down my questions for God in my journal, and then listen for what He might be saying in response. While I’m not always sure if the thoughts I attribute to God are really mine or His, they do give me a starting point for helping me think through what He might be trying to say to me. With that disclaimer, here’s what I felt God was saying to me earlier this week regarding His will for Lana and her healing, most of which are thoughts that are based firmly in what He’s already written in His Word:
“Eric, you know My will is that she be healed, that she have no more pain, and that she never be separated from you. You also know that in this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world. Peace I give you, peace I leave with you, not as the world gives, but My peace I give you. I know you believe I could heal her in an instant. But I also know that you believe I can work all things for good, ALL THINGS, no matter what happens. Eric, I have prayed for you that your faith may not waver. Yes, I do give, and yes, I do take away, but I know and I trust that you will still praise Me. Your faith is, of course, more precious to Me than gold. Yes, pray for her healing, but also pray for her heart to be at peace. Pray that she will continue to know that I am walking through this with her every step of the way.”
At that point, I asked God for a verse that might help me express this dichotomy I feel inside me, that while I trust in God fully for Lana’s healing, I also trust Him whatever the outcome may be. The verse that came to mind was from the book of Job.
While I sometimes think it’s cliche to think of Job when things are going bad in life, I also realize there’s a reason why people turn to Job when things go awry: because no matter what happened to Job, he still gave praise to God!
The Bible says that Job was the greatest man among all the people of the East. He was blessed with seven sons and three daughters, seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and a large number of servants.
He was upright and blameless in all he did, even praying for his sons and daughters on a regular basis, offering sacrifices on their behalf in the early morning, just in case they might have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.
Yet for all his faith and all the good that he had done, tragedy struck. In a single day, he lost almost everything with which God had previously blessed him: his sons and daughters, all of his livestock and almost all of his servants. Overwhelmed with grief, Job tore his robe and shaved his head.
But what encourages me about this passage is that through it all, Job still trusted God. After all these terrible things happened to Job, the Bible says:
“Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’
“In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:20-22).
Even when life turned against him, Job still gave glory to God. I can see why people might lose their faith when tragedy strikes. But I can also see, from this story of Job, that it doesn’t have to be that way. Job had no guarantees of what the future held, but he knew who held his future and he trusted Him implicitly.
When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, he didn’t know what his future held, either. As we learn from the book of Acts, Paul’s future had a fair share of tragedy as well. But through it all, Paul trusted God implicitly. He knew that God was able to strengthen him through Jesus Christ for whatever he might face and that God would be glorified through it all, no matter what happened. As Paul said in his closing words to the Romans:
“Now to Him who is able to establish you [to strengthen you] by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ… to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen”
I don’t know what you’re going through today, but whatever it is, don’t let fear and doubt overtake you. Take it all to Christ instead. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
“…take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5b).
No matter what comes your way, take it to Christ. No matter what people say, take it to Christ. No matter what life throws at you, take it to Christ. Let Christ speak to you in all situations. Let Him have the last word. Let Him override anything that anyone might say to you that is contrary to His Word.
The truth is that God loves you very much. He is for you. And He will work all things for your good, when you love Him and are called according to His purpose.
Whenever a thought comes your way that goes against what God says in His Word, ask Him to strengthen you through Jesus Christ. Ask Him to renew your mind and to fill your thoughts with His thoughts, giving you the faith to believe His Words, so you can walk in obedience to whatever He calls you to do.
In whatever you do, keep glorifying God and enjoying Him through it all, which, according to the historic Westminster Confession of Faith, is the chief end of man:
“To glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”
As Paul said to the Romans, let me say to you:
“Now to Him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ… so that all nations might believe and obey Him–to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.”
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for being able to establish us in our faith and help us to be obedient to You. Renew our minds again this week, and help us to take every thought captive that sets itself up against You. Fill us with faith, help us to walk in obedience, and may your name be glorified through it all. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 16:25-27. What is God’s goal for the nations, according to this passage of Scripture?
2. Why is it so important to God that we believe and obey Him? What difference can it make to Him, to us, and to others?
3. In what areas of your life could you use some strengthening in your faith today?
4. Is there a particular act of obedience that God might be calling you to do this week? Ask Him to give you the strength and faith to do it.
Conclusion: “Brain Washing” In The Best Possible Way! (Back to Table of Contents)
Scripture Reading: Romans 12:1-2
My son is came home from Bible college a few weeks ago and said some people in his town think that all the kids who go to his school are brainwashed. My son said, “They’re right! We are!”
Their brains are washed in the best possible way, washed by God Himself, cleansed by His Holy Spirit, and renewed to look more and more like the mind of Christ every day.
As we wrap up this study of Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind, I wanted to give you some final thoughts on how to keep your “brain washed” in the best possible way, too.
First, I want to encourage you to keep reading the Word of God.
My wife has been going through chemotherapy the last few months and spending a lot of time reading and memorizing God’s Word. Once in awhile she’ll read a newspaper or magazine article about cancer and its devastating effects. It always reminds her how much more hope and joy she has whenever she reads the Bible! So she picks up her Bible again and starts reading it instead. We could all do more of that!
As God said to the Israelites:
“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-8).
Some people might think that reading the Bible all the time is like burying your head in the sand and ignoring the problems in your life. But there’s a difference between burying your head in the sand and burying your head in God’s Word! Sand leads to suffocation and death, whereas the Bible leads to fresh air and life!
If you want to keep your mind as fresh and clean as possible, keep reading God’s Word as much as possible, every day, many times a day. A pastor was once asked which version of the Bible was the best. His answer? “The one you read the most.” Amen!
Second, I want to encourage you to keep surrounding yourself with other Christ-minded believers so they can “re-mind” you of God’s Word, too.
I know that there may be times when you may not feel like going to church. I know that you may not feel like going to Bible studies and getting to know complete strangers. I know that once you’ve gotten to know those complete strangers, they may do things that annoy you, or irritate you, or make you wonder why you ever bothered going at all.
But for all the potential pitfalls of interacting with others, there’s nothing more powerful than having a Christian brother or sister encourage you in your faith and life.
As the writer of Ecclesiastes said:
“Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Renewing your mind is hard work, but God doesn’t want you to do it alone. He wants you to rely on Him, and He wants you to rely on His people, the body of Christ, who all share the same head, Jesus Christ.
We got a package in the mail last week that made us cry. It came from a church we used to attend about 20 years ago. In the package were a stack of cards from the church members and a check from the church. We were so overwhelmed by this expression of love and care that we couldn’t even open the stack of cards.
When we finally did open them, our tears began to flow again–tears of joy and thankfulness for their thoughts and prayers for us during this time in our lives. It was such a reminder to us of how the body of Christ works to lift us up in our time of need.
While it can be hard at times to invest your time in getting to know other Christ-minded believers, it’s an investment that will pay dividends for you and for them for years to come… for all eternity, in fact!
So first, if you want to keep renewing your mind, keep reading God’s Word. Second, keep surrounding yourself with other Christ-minded believers so they can remind you of God’s Word, too. And third, always remember that God LOVES you, He is FOR you, and He can work ALL THINGS for good in your life!
When I started writing this study almost a year ago, I had no idea what the year might hold. I had no idea how my life was about to change as my wife was diagnosed with cancer. Yet, as I’ve been rereading the whole book of Romans again this week, and rereading each of my messages from this past year, I’ve been reminded again just how much God loves me, is for me, and can work all things for good in my life, too.
And I’m positive that God loves you, is for you, and can work all things for good in your life. How can I be so sure? You don’t take my word for it! You can take His! Here are just a few reminders again of what Paul said in his letter to the Romans:
“But God demonstrates HIS OWN LOVE FOR US in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:3).
“If God is FOR us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b).
“And we know that in ALL THINGS God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
If you’ve read with me this far, I’m sure that you love God and are called according to His purpose, too, so these words apply to you just as much as they applied to the Romans to whom Paul was writing! Let God’s Word sink deep into your mind today. Let Him speak words of love, words of support, and words of encouragement to you every day.
If you need a good “brain washing,” I’d encourage you to take some time to read and reread the whole book of Romans again (then take some more time to read and reread the whole Bible again!) There’s nothing better to help you renew your mind than to wash it with the Word of God. Surround yourself with other Christ-minded believers who can speak God’s Word into your life as well. And always remember that God LOVES you, is FOR you, and can work ALL THINGS for your good.
As I said at the beginning of this study, one of the most powerful forces in the world in an idea. Revolutions of all kinds have been sparked by mere ideas and even the smallest ideas can grow to either define… or destroy you. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your ideas are in line with God’s ideas.
As Paul encouraged the Romans, let me encourage you:
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is –His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for speaking to us through this amazing book called Romans. Thank You for Paul’s faithfulness to write down what he learned from You so he could share it with others. Help us to be faithful with what we’ve learned so we can apply it to our own lives and to help others apply it to theirs as well. Wash our minds, cleanse our hearts, and fill us with Your peace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 12:1-2. The term “brainwashing” is often used in a negative way, referring to someone who has been convinced of something that is untrue. But in light of today’s study, how can “washing your brain” with God’s Word work in your favor?
2. Who are some people in your life who are so filled with God’s Word that it seems to flow out of them whenever they speak? What could you do to spend more time learning from and growing together with them?
3. Read Romans 8:28-39. What verses from this passage stick out in your mind that are particularly helpful to you in your life right now?
4. Skim through the book of Romans again, or take an hour or so to read the whole book again. Write down any words or phrases that God may be wanting to speak to you. Hold onto those words and let God use them in the days ahead to continually renew your mind.
Appendix to Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind (Back to Table of Contents)
The following five messages were written midway through the writing of the this series on renewing your mind. Even though the messages and the prayers shared within them are from a previous season of my life, I’ve included them here at the end of this series to highlight the importance of keeping your mind focused on God’s perspective at ALL times.
May God bless you as you read these additional messages and may God give you the desires of your heart as you keep putting your faith in Him!
Appendix ~ Message 1: Lana’s Health (Back to Table of Contents)
By Eric Elder, February 19th, 2012
I normally use this space to write some words of encouragement to you, but this week I could use some encouragement myself.
A few weeks ago my wife and I received the surprising news that she has breast cancer. Two days ago, we received the even more surprising news that it was not Stage 1 breast cancer with one lump in her breast, but that it is actually Stage 4 breast cancer, with multiple tumors that have already spread to her lungs, liver and spine.
If you know Lana, you know that she’s the picture of health… she’s at her ideal body weight, she eats well, she runs two to three miles every few days, and her bloodwork is perfect in every way. She feels good and strong and healthy. Other than the lump in her breast that we discovered in December, and some minor pain in her lower back that started soon after that, we wouldn’t have even thought to have her tested for anything that could possibly be going wrong inside her body. Even when people do find lumps in their breasts, the majority of the time those lumps turn out to be harmless. But not this time.
I’ve prayed with many people over the years with many types of cancer. I’ve seen some people healed naturally, others supernaturally, and still others who haven’t been healed in the way that we had fervently hoped or prayed, including my own mother who died of breast cancer twenty-one years ago. But even in those instances where God hasn’t healed people in the way that I had hoped, I have seen God use even those situations for good in the end. As good and miraculous as healing is, I know that there is still more that Christ offers us than just the healing that we desire. As the apostle Paul said:
“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
I believe in healing. I’ve seen people healed with my own eyes and through my own prayers numerous times. God wants us to be healed and He has wired our bodies to heal themselves as much as possible, whether it’s the coagulating of blood to heal a scrape on our skin, or the multiplication of white blood cells to fight off a raging infection.
But there’s also an enemy at work whose main goal, according to Jesus, seems to be to steal, kill, and destroy. As Jesus said:
“The thief comes only to steal kill and destroy; …” (John 10:10a).
But Jesus didn’t leave it there. He went on to say:
“… I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10b).
The healings and miracles of Jesus are so numerous that the pages of the Bible can’t even contain them all. As the apostle John said:
“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25).
And yet as miraculous and amazing and God-ordained as healing is, there are some things that are even more amazing… like forgiveness… and the peace that passes understanding… and eternal life.
When some men in the Bible brought their friend to Jesus to be healed, having pressed through the crowds and cutting through a roof to get their friend to Jesus, Jesus said to the sick man,
“Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2b).
The religious leaders were shocked that Jesus would make such a bold statement, knowing that only God Himself had the power to forgive sins. But knowing their thoughts, Jesus said to them:
“Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” Then He said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home” (Matthew 9:5-7).
To Jesus, the forgiveness of sins seems to be just as miraculous, if not more so, than healing. And considering what Jesus had to go through in order to forgive us of our sins, it seems like forgiveness was quite possibly the more difficult of the two.
When Jesus Himself was headed for the cross, way too young and way too innocent, rather than fighting His death, He submitted to the will of His Father in heaven, knowing that His Father’s plans were even more glorious than anything anyone could have imagined. Yet Jesus still prayed that if there was any way possible, that His Father would take the cup of death away from Him so that He wouldn’t have to drink it. At the same time, He trusted His Father completely, regardless of the outcome, saying:
“… yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42b).
Jesus sought for the peace of His Father above all else, and He encouraged His disciples to do the same: As Jesus told His disciples,
“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
And ultimately, what could compare to the promise of eternal life? As Lana told a friend this weekend:
“For me, it’s a win-win situation. Either I go to be with Jesus, or I get to stay here and be with Eric and my family.”
As Paul said,
“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Philippians 1:20-24).
Jesus came to give us life to the full, both here on earth and in heaven forever. This is the hope that we have in Christ and this is the hope for which He gave up His life.
So with both of these hopes in mind, can I ask for your earnest prayers on our behalf? We’re praying for healing and more–that God would heal Lana’s body completely and gloriously–and that through it all, God’s name would be glorified in ways that go beyond anything we could ask or imagine. Thank you so much.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for revealing to us this cancer that is at work within Lana’s body so we can know what to do next. Lord, we pray for healing and more, that You would heal her body completely and gloriously, and through it all, that Your name would be glorified in ways that go beyond anything we could ask or imagine. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Appendix ~ Message 2: Hit Your Knees! (Back to Table of Contents)
By Eric Elder, February 26th, 2012
In my message last week, I shared that I could use some encouragement, and thanks to your prayers and God’s help, I got it! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all your prayers and notes and words of encouragement.
In case you missed last week’s message, I shared that my wife Lana and I were surprised a few weeks ago to find out that she has breast cancer, and we were even more surprised to find it was not just one lump in her breast, but had already spread, with multiple tumors showing up on CT scans and MRI’s throughout her lungs, liver and spine.
This news was devastating, as you can imagine. But within hours of sending out our note asking for your encouragement, prayers started coming in from all over the world–from places like Kenya and Ghana, Malaysia and the Bahamas, Qatar and Dubai and all over the U.S. The prayers of the saints were spreading faster than any cancer ever could!
I heard from a chaplain of a prison in New Mexico who said that all of the inmates in his prison were going to be praying for my wife. I heard from another man in Uganda who said:
“I bet you or your husband has never been to Uganda. Yet you have. This Day’s Thought has been the highlight of my inbox since 2007. I feel like I know you, the picture is more complete with the family photo. Am surely praying for you.”
As the week went on, God continued to speak to us, reminding us that Jesus already drank the cup of death for us and that He was holding out a cup of life to us instead! We feel that Jesus wants us to drink from His cup of life, and drink deeply. Whereas I wrote my message last week in part to comfort my own soul in the event that this cancer might take my wife’s life, this week I’m writing with full faith and confidence that God could heal her in a moment, completely and gloriously! And I’m thrilled to say that this miracle may have already begun!
The day after we sent our prayer request to you, Lana noticed that the tumor in her breast had shrunk suddenly and significantly. And by 4 o’clock in the morning, she wasn’t sure if she could even find it at all! We began to pray hard that this would be just an indicator of what is going on in the rest of her body, that the cancer is being driven out by the power of God and that what was once in the darkness must now flee in the light!
We’ve been praying toward that end for the rest of the week, and with that in mind, I’d like to ask you to consider praying and fasting along with me and hundreds of others who have already told us they’ll be praying with us during a special 24 hour prayer vigil for my wife. You don’t have to go anywhere special, just pray wherever you are starting on morning Monday morning, February 27th at 7:00 a.m. Central Time (-6 GMT), through Tuesday morning, the 28th, at 7:00 a.m. We’re going to be praying and fasting that God would spare Lana’s life, confessing that her life and ministry isn’t at the end, but that it’s just at the beginning in a whole new way!
We believe that even one prayer, offered in faith, has tremendous power! As the Bible says:
“And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” (James 5:13-16).
One prayer, offered in faith, can make the sick person well. One prayer, offered in faith, can bring forgiveness. One prayer, offered in faith, can close the heavens and open them again.
And one prayer, offered in faith, can lead us to eternal life. As the apostle Paul said:
“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
We’re praying and believing for Lana’s healing, not just because we’re afraid she’ll die, but because we believe that it pleases the heart of God whenever we pray a prayer offered in faith.
Whereas last week I felt like I needed a cheerleader to keep me up in my spirits, this week I’m feeling like being the cheerleader, cheering you all to stand up and clap and shout and make some noise for the Lord.
I remember watching some cheerleaders at a college football game stand in front of one section of a stadium full of people. The cheerleaders would raise their arms and shout to the people to do the same, calling on them to lift their hands, shout and clap, and stomp their feet for the victory that they were hoping would soon come. Then the cheerleaders would move to the next section and call on those people to stand up on their feet and do the same. Then they’d take off running around the stadium, going from section to section, until the people throughout the whole stadium were on their feet, clapping and shouting and stomping!
As this message goes around the world this week, I want to call upon all of you to stand to your feet in prayer and praise, shouting and clapping and making some noise for the Lord! (You don’t have to do it out loud, but you can if you want!)
While it may seem selfish of me to call on so many of you to pray so intensely for my wife and my family and me, after reading your notes and letters this week, I know for sure that this is not just about saving her life for my sake or the sake of the kids, but for God’s sake and for all that He is wanting to do through this to bring glory to His name. I pray that this is yet another testimony that will bring hope and healing and salvation to people all over the world.
So with that in mind, I want to encourage you to pray with us, and fast with us, for 24 hours this week, that Lana’s healing would be complete and glorious, and that God’s name would be glorified through it all!
There are times when fasting should be done in secret. But there are other times in the Bible where fasting was done in the light, in full view of everyone, like when Esther was about to make a special request of the king to save her people, but which could have cost her her life. Esther said:
“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).
Esther declared her fast, publicly and widely, because she knew that God could use those prayers for the salvation of many, many souls. Esther was placed in a unique position to call this fast and I believe Lana has been placed in a similar position. As Esther’s cousin said to her just before she declared her fast:
“And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14b).
If you’d like some ideas for how to fast and pray, I’ve included a link below that I’ve found helpful.
If you’re thinking of joining us, I’d like to encourage you by sharing a note I received this week from a dear friend who had mistakenly, but thankfully, thought that our day of prayer and fasting was last Monday instead of this coming one. As she set out to fast and pray for 24 hours, she wrote to us and said:
“This morning, I pledge a day of fasting and hourly prayer for Lana’s healing. I pray for her recovery and the Lord granting her 50 more years of ministry at Eric’s side. I pray for the possibility of unbelievers hearing of Lana’s healing and following their curiosity to the Gospel. I pledge to pray each hour for Lana’s healing not only for the benefit of her family and friends, but for the benefit of the Body of Christ. May God hear my pleas.”
Then, when her fast was nearly complete, she wrote:
“Lana and Eric, Soon – as in fifteen minutes – my day of fasting and prayer will be over, so I wanted you to know how much it meant to me carry you both in my heart and mind all day. During the day and night, I remembered many moments of laughter and friendship, but I thought mostly about how you express your faith. It is inspiring, yes, but also challenging, because your faith makes me – and those who listen to me share about your work – question if we are doing as much, being as faithful. While I know comparison is not the answer, I can’t help but think that the Lord uses those moments to nudge me, and others, along. Lana, you are so dearly loved and I am in your debt for thousands – yes thousands – of little ways you have encouraged my faith. P.S. While praying about whether or not I should commit to doing the fast and prayer day, I went to check the dates so that my prayers could be added to others. I believed I saw 20-21. I was convinced, in fact, so I was shocked to read, this morning, that the prayer vigil is set for next week. So, it is my hope that the Lord directed me to this day for His purposes, but I will add my prayers to the others on the 27th as well. :)”
I am fully convinced that God directed our friend to pray for us that day and I would love for you to join us in prayer, too, whether it’s on the the 27th and 28th, or at any other time when you read this message. I sure time zones and dates don’t mean nearly as much to an eternal God as they do to us here on earth!
But if you’d like to join us on this special day when hundreds of others will be praying, too, we’re starting at 7:00 a.m. Central Time (-6 GMT) on Monday, February 27th through 7:00 a.m. on the 28th. You don’t have to go anywhere special to pray. Just pray wherever you are. And if you’d like to post your prayers on Lana’s blog, or read the prayers of others, you can do so anytime at lanaelder.wordpress.com.
And at some point during your prayers, can I encourage you to “hit your knees,” by kneeling on the ground? As one of our friends said who is organizing this special day of fasting and prayer:
“Hit your knees when you pray, because we want Satan to feel the earth tremble as we pray for Lana.”
I know I’ll be hitting my knees several times tomorrow and I’d love for you to do the same. If you need some words to pray for Lana throughout the day, here’s a Psalm I’ve been praying over her, line by line, for the past few days. I pray it encourages you in making your own requests to God as well!
May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May He send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.
May He remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings.
May He give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.
We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the LORD grant all your requests.
Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed;
He answers him from His holy heaven with the saving power of His right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.
O LORD, save the king!
Answer us when we call!
(Psalm 20: 1-9)
Thanks again so much! Your words and prayers are already glorifying God in ways that go beyond anything we could ask or imagine!
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for what you are already doing in this situation with Lana, both in the healing we believe is taking place in her body, and the glorifying of your name that is taking place around the world. Let this day of prayer and fasting be a testimony to Your power, Your might, and Your victory over darkness, once and for all. We pray for healing and more, that You would heal Lana’s body, completely and gloriously, and through it all, that Your name would be glorified in ways that go beyond anything we could ask or imagine. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Appendix ~ Message 3: A Picture Of Healing (Back to Table of Contents)
By Eric Elder, March 4th, 2012
The words “thank you” just don’t seem enough to convey to you how very much we appreciate all of your thoughts and prayers and words of encouragement over these past two weeks since I shared with you that my wife was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer.
How could we not cry and be touched when we got letters like this one from a man we’ve never met, but who is literally rallying the troops to pray for us from a naval ship in Japan…
“Hello Eric and Lana,
I just want to start this email off by thanking you for your “this days thoughts” messages. My Mom has been sending these to me daily and your messages have not only been helping me get closer to GOD but also helping keep in contact with my mom. You see I am currently stationed out in Japan and i can say that i do not get to go to services as much as i would like too but your messages help me out in major ways. It is very stressful out here sometimes but i can honestly say that within these last few week things have gotten a lot better for me and i have no doubt that it is because of your messages. So once again. Thank You.
When i read the message about how Lana has breast cancer i immediately stopped what i was doing and began to pray. I can only imagine how difficult it is to for you two to deal with that. I told your story to some of my fellow sailors and soldiers out here and asked them to also pray for you both. They agreed without thinking twice about it. We plan on sending your ministry some donations as well as a little care package for you two. Many times when we are out to sea or deployed we have had many churches and people send us care packages to help lift out spirits. Believe me when i say that it really does lift out spirits. So we decided that we would get some things together from here in japan to lift your spirits. Also i am currently getting the sizes of some people who want to wear the t-shirts(if any are left) and we are going to get a photo of it and send that to you too also.
You said that prayers came from Kenya, Ghana, Malaysia, the Bahamas, Qatar and Dubai. Well you now have prays from the troops in Japan too. We hope that our efforts encourage you to stay strong. GOD is going to take care of you. I, and the sailors and soldiers, will pray for you everyday just as you all pray for our safety day in and day out. Once again thank you for your messages you send out daily! Take Care and God Bless You Both.”
Wow! What a perfect picture of the body of Christ in action… people lifting each other up in their time of need.
Here’s another one from a woman from South Wales who was praying for us while waiting for a flight in Hong Kong:
“I am sitting here in Hong Kong airport waiting for a flight to Bangkok and thought I would check your developments – Lana, your courage and faith take my breath away. I said my prayers for you on the plane yesterday and I keep praying although I am not as familiar with the bible as the other folks! When my holiday is over I am faced with some tests but you have helped me already by your strong commitment to God. As we say in the South Wales valleys (UK) ‘fight the good fight with all thy might’. God Bless and keep you safe.”
And here’s a short note from a man in South Africa whose three short lines spoke volumes to me on our day of prayer and fasting for my wife’s healing…
“Your wife will live. He is Jehovha rapha [the God who heals]! greetings from South Africa.”
My faith was so touched by these words that I wrote them down on a piece of paper and took them to bed with me that night.
Right below those lines on my piece of paper, I added these words from Psalm 21, which another friend here in Illinois had sent me later in the day. She said she had been listening to Psalm 20 on her “Listener’s Bible,” praying through the words of this Psalm for Lana, as I had asked people to do. She was praying that God would give Lana “the desire of her heart,” which is not just to live, but to live long. She said she wasn’t paying attention and didn’t stop the Bible reading at the end of the chapter. When she heard following verses from Psalm 21, the very next chapter, she shouted for joy. The words record what God did for King David when he first prayed for long life almost 3,000 years ago…
“How great is his joy in the victories You give! You have granted him his heart’s desire and have not withheld the request of his lips.
“He asked You for life, and You gave it to him–length of days, for ever and ever” (Psalm 21:1, 2, 4).
Then on Tuesday morning, when our 24 hours of prayer and fasting were just ending, I added one more word to my paper that I took to bed with me that night. It was Merriam-Webster’s “Word of the Day” for Tuesday February 28th. I’ve been getting these words of the day in my inbox every day for many years. The words are fairly random each day, but the word for that morning was anything but random! The word of the day that day happened to be:
Praise God! I’m holding onto each of these three thoughts as special reminders to me that my wife can live, that God can give her the desire of her heart, and that she can “live long.”
Some people might worry that I’m holding onto false hope. But with God, there is no such thing as false hope. With God, there is infinite hope! As the Bible says:
“For nothing is impossible with God”
Believe me, I’m not naive enough to think that this cancer doesn’t have the power to kill my wife. It does. The first person I prayed for when I started this ministry seventeen years ago died of cancer three weeks later. And twenty-two years ago today, on March 4th, 1990, my own mother died of breast cancer. I know it’s a killer disease. Believe me when I say that when I first heard the news, I cried for 24 hours straight
But believe me, too, when I say that God gave me a picture of healing last week that renewed my faith and hope in Him that He still could do the impossible in this situation.
When Lana and I first found out the lump in her breast was cancerous, we scheduled an appointment with a surgeon to meet with him and talk about doing surgery. The appointment was three weeks away, as he was going to be out of town and his schedule was full. So we prayed during those three weeks that by the time we met with him, the lump would be gone and Lana wouldn’t have to do the surgery at all. Since the biopsy showed that the cancer was a solid mass in her breast, growing aggressively, the chances of the lump shrinking at all, let alone disappearing completely were little to none.
Every day, Lana could feel the lump in her breast, about the size of a marble. And every few days, she would anoint it with oil and pray that God would take it away. But every day, the lump was still there. Then we got the report that the situation was worse than we thought: the cancer had already spread from Lana’s breast to her lungs, liver and spine. The oncologist said she was going to cancel our appointment with the surgeon for it was no longer necessary. The tumors were now too numerous for surgery on just one lump to make any difference. The news was devastating.
That’s when I sent out my note asking for prayer to all of you and you began to pray for us. The next day, we went in for a bone biopsy and had another conversation with the oncologist. She reconfirmed the diagnosis that she had told us before, reiterating that our appointment with the breast surgeon the next day was no longer necessary.
But later that night, just before going to bed, Lana went to pray for the lump in her breast as she had done all along. But this time when she went to find the lump, it had shrunk to the size of a BB, smaller than a pea. When she woke up again at 4 in the morning, she went to feel it again and couldn’t find it at all! One day it was there, and the next it was gone, just as she had prayed it would be. That was the day we were to meet with the surgeon, three weeks after she began praying that prayer!
Lana woke me up to check it out, and I couldn’t find it either! Perhaps the words of the oncologist weren’t as dire as we had thought, but they were prophetic instead: that our appointment with the breast surgeon really was no longer necessary!
I began to cry and praise God, saying that I wasn’t sure if I could even believe it or not. I also didn’t know what that meant for the other tumors throughout her body. But it gave me a picture of healing that matched the picture of healing I get from the Bible where the blind see, the lame walk, and the sickness is gone. I began to pray for Lana’s whole body, that God would take away every lump from everywhere and that He would complete the incredible work that He was doing.
I also put my hand on my own forehead, where I had had a mild but constant headache for the previous three weeks. I assumed it must be from the stress of the diagnosis, as I rarely get headaches, and if I do, they last for only a few hours at most. But this headache had persisted day and night for three straight weeks. It didn’t cause me severe pain, but it was enough to be noticeable and it always got worse whenever I leaned forward or put on my glasses.
After putting my hand on my head and praying for my headache, I returned to praising God with Lana. Unsure if we could really believe that this had just happened, or if we might find the lump again in the morning, or what might be going on with all the other tumors in her body, we finally laid down again to try to get some sleep.
But as I laid down, I took out my Bible and put on my glasses to read for awhile. When I put them on, I expected to feel the pain in my eye again. But there was no pain. I leaned forward in the bed, and there was still no pain. I got out of bed, and leaned my head way down to my toes and there was still no pain. None whatsoever. The headache that I had felt for three straight weeks was gone, completely gone!
I began to cry again, not because of what God had done for my headache, but because it gave me yet another picture of healing and what that implied about the tumors in Lana’s body, too. I finally fell asleep, praising God that no matter what, He had restored my faith that He really could do anything, absolutely anything. I finally believed once again that with God, nothing is impossible, even the healing of my wife.
When we woke up the next morning, we felt for the lump again, and after some time searching, we thought we might have found it, although much, much smaller than it had been for almost two and a half months straight. We contacted the doctor to ask if this was normal for the lump to shrink like this. She said that it may have been due to some swelling that could have subsided from a biopsy done three weeks earlier. When I heard those words, the pain in my head returned. I prayed:
“God, no matter what’s going on, I thank You for giving me a picture of healing, a picture of what it can be like when you heal someone, suddenly and miraculously. I believe, Lord, that You can heal Lana in an instant, just as You’ve healed me in an instant of other things in the past and just as I’ve seen You heal others. Thank You Lord for giving me a picture to hang onto no matter what happens next.”
Over the past week, my headache has come and gone, fading in and out, but no longer as continuous as it had been. The lump in Lana’s breast has also seemed to come and go, where some days she can find it, although it’s still very small and other days she can’t seem to find it at all. We’ve scheduled an ultrasound on the lump for tomorrow (Monday, March 5th) with the doctor who originally did the biopsy to see if the technology confirms what we are seeing: that the tumor has indeed gotten smaller or gone away completely. I, for one, can’t wait to see the results!
But I can also say that my faith this week has soared to the point where it doesn’t much matter what the doctor’s report says. What matters most is that God has shown me that He can do anything, absolutely anything. (Update: The following day, the radiologist said the lump in Lana’s breast was measuring 20% smaller than when he first measured it, measuring only 1.2 cm instead of 1.5 cm the month before, and before the biopsy that could have caused any inflammation, and that this was unusual. He said he had never seen a lump like this go away or shrink without treatment and that he “didn’t have a great explanation for why this is happening.”)
If you’ve been reading my messages for the past several months, you know that we’ve been studying the book of Romans and looking at the topic of “Renewing Your Mind.” While I hope to return to our study of the book of Romans again soon, I must also say that this whole experience has been one intense crash course on the importance of getting our thinking in line with God’s. Every time we get a doctor’s report, or read an article on the internet, or hear a story from someone else who’s died of cancer, we have to take our thoughts captive, asking God to replace our thoughts with His… that He is the only one who truly knows how this will turn out in the end.
It’s not like I need God to heal Lana for me to continue to believe in Him. And it’s not like He has to keep doing miracles for me to continue to believe in Him. I’m already in. I’m fully committed. I’ve signed on the dotted line and given my whole life to Jesus. It’s not like I’m troubled of what will happen to Lana if she dies. I know she loves Jesus with all of her heart, soul, mind and strength and that she’ll be with Him forever in heaven–and that I’ll be with her there someday myself.
But what God has done for me these past two weeks, thanks to His help and your prayers, has been to renew my mind and believe in Him again that He can do ALL THINGS–that truly nothing is impossible with God. I know that God can work all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose and that God really can give Lana the desire of her heart, at any time and through any means, to live a long and full life here on earth and then on into heaven forever.
What do the coming weeks hold for us? I can’t say for sure. But I can say this: I’m looking forward to the weeks ahead more than ever before, because I know I’ll be going through them with a God who loves me, and who loves Lana, and who loves you more than any of us could possibly imagine.
I pray this week that you would know this love of God as well, and if you haven’t put your faith in Christ, that you would do it now, for the forgiveness of your sins so you can live with Him forever, and for everything else in your life, so you can live the abundant life He’s called you to live here on earth. Like the apostle Paul, I pray for you, that you would know God’s immeasurable love and His remarkable power. As Paul said:
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:14-21).
I look forward to sharing another update again with you next week, then I hope to return to our study of Romans after that with renewed vigor, knowing the importance of “renewing our minds.”
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for being Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals, and for giving us a picture of healing that we can hang onto. Lord, we pray that You would continue to heal Lana’s body, completely and gloriously, and through it all, that Your name would be glorified in ways that go beyond all we could ask or imagine. We pray also that You would use this situation to spark our faith to believe once again that nothing is impossible with You, no matter how dire the circumstances and no matter how bleak the reports. We trust and believe that Your report is always good, for You truly can work all things for good for those who love you and who are called according to Your purpose. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Appendix ~ Message 4: Living Like You’re Going To Live (Back to Table of Contents)
By Eric Elder, March 11th, 2012
I’d like to give you one more update on my wife Lana this week, then we’ll return next week to our study of the book of Romans and the topic of “Renewing Your Mind.”
Although I know my messages these past few weeks have touched many hearts and lives as you’ve been watching Lana go through this, she’s never really liked being the center of attention, so she’s ready for me to go back to writing about you instead of her!
But I had one more thought I’d like to share with you before we return to our study of Romans and as I said last week, we’ve never been so aware of the importance of “renewing our minds” and keeping our thoughts focused on God’s thoughts than we have been during this whole experience. It’s so much better that way! Given that, here’s Lana’s most recent update, which she posted on her blog at lanaelder.wordpress.com.
I just wanted to follow up with everyone on my visit to my oncologist on Wednesday. She put together a treatment plan that would use chemotherapy to help shrink the tumors and would alleviate any symptoms from the cancer that I might have down the road. She also explained that treating Stage 4 cancer is like treating diabetes. You can manage the symptoms of diabetes with insulin but it is something that you will have the rest of your life. In the same way, the treatments I would have for any symptoms of my cancer would be something I would likely need for the rest of my life. She said I could take a break from the chemo for a couple of months from time to time, but that the tumors will most likely grow back and then I would be back on the chemo to shrink them.
However, currently, I feel very few symptoms and have a lot of hope from the prayers and nutritional changes I’ve been making. She agreed to let me continue doing what I’ve been doing and check the status of my tumors in two months. I was so thankful and happy that she agreed to this. I could have kissed her! Thursday I met with a nutritional doctor to help me determine the best way to build up my immune system over the coming months. I have also read many books regarding nutritional approaches to treating cancer. I am currently taking more supplements than anyone I know but I feel very good about this approach and I’m so thankful to be able to treat the cancer this way. I’m praying my tumors will continue to shrink and disappear through prayer and nutrition.
On a funnier side note, as we the left nutritionist yesterday, walking out with a bag chock-full of supplements, Eric said he felt like he was in a scene from the movie “The Princess Bride” when two men take their friend Westley to see Miracle Max.
Even though they thought Westley was dead, it turned out he was only “mostly” dead according to Miracle Max, so he made a special pill to bring him back to life. As the two friends left with the pill in their hands and their friend Westley over their shoulders, Miracle Max and his wife Valerie are seen standing at the door waving. Valerie then leans into Miracle Max and says, “Think it’ll work?” to which Miracle Max says, “It would take a miracle!” and they just keep waving. (It’s a great movie if you haven’t seen it.) Apparently, that’s how Eric felt leaving the nutritionist yesterday with all these pills, smiling and waving and thinking “It would take a miracle!” Thankfully, he makes me laugh. I credit him for most of the wrinkles on my face! I told Eric I feel like some people think I am like Westley… that I’m “mostly” dead. But I just want you all to know I’m alive and well. I continue to eat very healthy and exercise (either walking, running, weights, or stretching). I also know it probably will take a miracle to cure me from this disease. But thanks to your prayers, I’m chock-full of faith, too!
So thank you for adding your prayers to mine! I do believe they make a difference. A psalm I read last night that encouraged me is Psalm 121.
“I lift up my eyes to the hills–where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip–He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you–the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all harm–He will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
I am very much aware that my help comes from the Lord. But I also know that God works through His people and I have seen Him working through many of you. Whether it’s a word of encouragement, a prayer, a card, or a gift, I sense God working through you all to encourage and strengthen me. You are being the hands, feet and body of Christ to me. So thank you again for everything. May God bless you back abundantly!!
As you can tell from Lana’s note, she’s planning on living! And I, for one, am thrilled with that plan!
One of the gems that has emerged like a diamond for me through all of the high-intensity pressure of the past few weeks was a comment from a friend that captivated me when I first read it and still captivates me today. At the end of her note she wrote:
“… and for everyone’s sake, LIVE like she’s going to LIVE!”
Wow! That made me sit up in my chair and think long and hard about how I was going to live in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead. Was I going to live like my wife was dying? Or was I going to live like she was going to live? They seemed like two diametrically opposed paths.
But the truth is, we’re all on a path towards death, and have been ever since the day we were born. And at the same time, we’re all on a path towards life, too. The only difference in the situation that Lana and I are facing is that we truly believe we’ve been given a great gift: the gift of seeing both the brevity and fullness of life, simultaneously.
We all have a choice to make each day. We can either live like we’re dying, or we can live like we’re going to live. Lana has chosen to live like she’s going to live, and with that attitude, the chances are good that she could outlive us all! I know I want more of that attitude in my own life, too. When people live like they’re going to live, it’s contagious.
So many of you have written to say that even though we’ve been asking for prayer for ourselves through all of this, that you’ve been blessed by praying for us through it all as well. It’s an interesting phenomenon, one that is summed up in this thought by Marianne Williamson:
“And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Lana’s not afraid of dying. She just wants to live! And by choosing to do everything she can to stay healthy and alive as long as possible, she’s giving me and many others the inspiration to live our days to the fullest as well.
The truth is, none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. But we can choose how we’re going to live today. As the apostle James said:
“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4:13-17).
God has called us to do as much good as possible in the days He’s given us here on earth. So while none of us are guaranteed tomorrow, the challenge–and the joy–is to live like we’re going to live, while at the same time being fully conscious that at any moment we could die.
Neither Lana nor I are trying to be heroic nor presumptuous about what God might have in store for either of us in the future. But what we do want to do is to be faithful with every day that God gives to us here on earth. Every day really is a gift from God, and as someone has wisely said, that’s why today is called “the present.”
I want to encourage you today: don’t be afraid of dying, but live like you’re going to live. As Jesus said,
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31).
God has created you to do many good things here on the earth, things which He has prepared in advance for you to do (see Ephesians 2:8-10).
So live like you’re going to live! That’s what Lana is planning on doing, and that’s what I’m planning on doing, too. We hope you’ll join us!
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for giving us another day of life today. Thank You for reminding us of the importance of living every day to the fullest and living in such a way that our lives bring glory and honor to You and to those around us. We pray that Your light would shine through us, even in the darkest of times, so that people can see You more clearly, putting their faith and trust in You for everything in their lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Appendix ~ Message 5: The Difference Three Days Can Make (Back to Table of Contents)
By Lana Elder, Palm Sunday, April 1st, 2012
As we approach Holy Week, I want to talk to you about the difference three days can make.
I heard a story recently of a seminary student who was struggling to keep going. He was tired, exhausted and ready to give up. He fell asleep in class one day and didn’t wake up until everyone else had gone home–except his teacher.
His teacher gently woke him up and said:
“Go home, eat a good meal, get some sleep and don’t make any important decisions in the next three days.”
The student followed his advice, regained his strength, and is now leading a worldwide ministry. He said his teacher’s advice was some of the best he had ever received.
Three days can often mean the difference between victory and defeat.
I think of the story of King David in the book of 1 Samuel. From almost the moment that David was anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel, King Saul, the current king, wanted David dead. If you read in 1 Samuel 17, you’ll see that shortly after Samuel anoints David to be the next king, David kills the giant Philistine, Goliath. From then on, King Saul seems to have it in his heart to kill David. Throughout the rest of the chapters in 1 Samuel, Saul pursues David in an attempt to kill him.
Life has got to be difficult when your king wants to kill you. Can you imagine if the President, or the King, or the Prime Minister of your country wanted you dead? But every time King Saul tries to kill David, God continues to protect him.
One of the most devastating times in David’s life takes place when David escapes to the land of the Philistines to avoid being destroyed by Saul. While David was gone on one of his fighting expeditions, the Amalekites raided Ziklag, the town where David and his men and their families had settled. The Bible says:
“David and his men reached Ziklag on the third day. Now the Amalekites had raided the Negev and Ziklag. They had attacked Ziklag and burned it, and had taken captive the women and all who were in it, both young and old. They killed none of them, but carried them off as they went on their way.
“When David and his men came to Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. David’s two wives had been captured–Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal of Carmel. David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:1-6).
I try to imagine what it must have been like to be David. God had anointed him to be the next king, but at first, his life was nothing like royalty. King Saul was constantly trying to kill him–and then this happens. Everything David owns is burned and his wives have been captured. David and his men weep until they have no strength left. His own followers were now talking of stoning him. All hope seemed lost.
I think I would have given up. Looking at the situation from my human perspective, I would have said, “That guy Samuel the prophet was wrong. I certainly have not been chosen by God to do anything. Everyone is against me. God is not for me. If He were for me, my life would not look like this. I am just going to go back to tending sheep.”
Thankfully I’m not David. Instead, the Bible says, “David found strength in the Lord his God.” David didn’t lose his faith in God through all of his trials. If he had, we would never have known about one of the greatest kings this world has ever had.
David persevered. He inquired of the Lord and chose to pursue his enemy. Amazingly, they found an abandoned slave of an Amalekite who was left for dead because he was ill. The slave was able to lead David and his men to their families. The Bible says:
“David fought them from dusk until the evening of the next day, and none of them got away, except four hundred young men who rode off on camels and fled. David recovered everything the Amalekites had taken, including his two wives. Nothing was missing: young or old, boy or girl, plunder or anything else they had taken. David brought everything back” (1 Samuel 30:17-19).
Okay, now that’s why this guy is so famous! David was certainly known to be a fighter, and in this instance, he doesn’t disappoint us.
In the very next chapter, just three days after David’s most intense battle to save everything dear to him and to those around him, David gets the news: King Saul has died. The Bible says:
“After the death of Saul, David returned from defeating the Amalekites and stayed in Ziklag two days. On the third day a man arrived from Saul’s camp, with his clothes torn and with dust on his head. When he came to David, he fell to the ground to pay him honor.
“Where have you come from?” David asked him.
He answered, “I have escaped from the Israelite camp.”
“What happened?” David asked. “Tell me.”
He said, “The men fled from the battle. Many of them fell and died. And Saul and his son Jonathan are dead” (2 Samuel 1:1-4).
In the next chapter, David becomes king of Judah and eventually he becomes king over all of Israel. What’s significant to me is that his life really changed in a matter of days–three days to be exact. I think of how downcast David must have been up to that point, “greatly distressed” as the Bible says, when his belongings were burned and his people were captured. Then just three short days later he had it all back again, and not only that, but the king who had been pursuing him was finally dead. Life certainly was looking better for David.
This, of course, reminds me of another story in the Bible when things didn’t look too good, but God turned things around in a miraculous way–in just three days. It’s the story of Jesus.
Jesus was a man who, much like his great ancestor David, was destined to reign as king.
As the angel told Mary in Luke 1:32-3:
“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end.”
I wonder how His mother felt on that day the angel visited. And then I wonder what she must have felt on the day she saw him crucified. Here was her beloved son, destined to be king, yet hanging dead on a cross. How could this be? All hope seemed lost.
But for God, time is relative. Hope is eternal.
Jesus had a lifetime of doing incredible things here on earth. He healed the sick. He raised the dead. He walked on water. He encouraged people to forgive and to do what is right.
He told stories to encourage people to use their gifts and talents today, not worry about tomorrow, and not to judge others. He talked about what were the most important matters of the law, like justice, mercy and faithfulness. He criticized hypocrisy. And yet with all of His miracles and powerful teaching, there were still leaders who wanted Him dead. They pursued Him, much like King Saul pursued David, to try and kill him. And in Jesus’ case, they succeeded–or so it seemed.
But just like David, Jesus never gave up His faith in His heavenly Father. Jesus trusted His Father to do what was best, even as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before He died. Jesus prayed:
“Father, if You are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Just like David, Jesus “found strength in the Lord His God,” even spending His last night on earth in deep and earnest prayer.
And His Father did not disappoint Him. Even though it may have looked hopeless, hope was never lost. It never is. Even after Jesus’ death on the cross, hope was just around the corner. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead!
Jesus’ death on the cross turned out to be part of God’s plan. As Jesus Himself said:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
I wanted to tell you these stories to encourage you that hope is eternal. Even when things may seem to be at their worst, God can turn them around in a matter of days, hours, or even a moment.
You may be a seminary student and ready to give up. Don’t! Go home, eat a good meal, get some sleep and don’t make any important decisions in the next three days!
You may have thought you were destined for great things in your lifetime, but now you’re hiding in caves. Even the king seems out to get you.
You may think it would be better if you just gave up your dreams and gave in to despair. Don’t! Don’t lose hope now, as God’s most important miracle for your life may be just around the corner.
You may be facing an impossible situation, one that seems irreversible, incurable or unchangeable.
You may be ready to give up on God altogether, perhaps even considering turning away from Him for the rest of your life. Don’t! I can’t guarantee you what the outcome will be, but I can guarantee you that God will always be there for you, if you’ll keep putting your faith in Him.
Never give up on God. As David said in the Psalms:
“Wait and hope for and expect the Lord; be brave and of good courage and let your heart be stout and enduring. Yes, wait for and hope for and expect the Lord” (Psalm 27:14, Amplified Bible).
Father, I thank you that we can always come to you even when all hope seems lost. You always have a plan and you know what’s best. Help us to trust you in all things. Whether it’s three seconds, or three days, or three years or more, help us to trust You today and every day until we see what You have in store for us, just around the corner. In Jesus’ name, Amen.