Romans, Day 32

Scripture: Romans 16:17-27

Observation: Paul finishes his letter to the Romans by warning them to stay away from false teachers and instead stay fully committed and obedient to the Lord. He finishes by sharing greetings from a few of his companions and then finishes with a doxology, or “praise to God.”

Application: We did it! It’s our final day together. After I wrote you a book yesterday, I promise to keep this one much briefer.

Paul’s final words to the Romans are fitting final words for us, too. Read verse 19 again:

“I want you to be wise in doing right and to stay innocent of any wrong.”  

Be wise, stay innocent.

Be wise. We gain wisdom when we learn to know God more. We learn about him when we open our Bible, soak in the word, let it sink in, and change our lives. As Psalm 119:105 says:

“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.”

Let the Word give you wisdom. Don’t just read it – absorb it. Memorize it. Tuck it into your heart, and let it guide your life.

Stay innocent. Our innocence comes from keeping our eyes on Jesus and off the things of this world. So often, we’re tempted to look around us or behind us – we need to set our sights on heaven, on Jesus. I love how Colossians 3:1-2 puts it:

“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.”

Look up, look up, look up. Keep your eyes focused on the Lord.


What a joy these past few weeks have been! I’m so glad we spent this time together. I loved hearing from so many of you about how these words challenged you, encouraged you, made you laugh. What a joy it’s been to write and to serve you in a small way.

I’m taking a break for a few weeks – we’re starting 21 Days of Prayer & Fasting at The Journey in early January, and we’ll be releasing a devotional through the book of Acts. I’ll be writing a few entries, and I’ll be sure to share those as well! I plan to begin a new devotional in early February, and though I have a few ideas, I’m open to your feedback. Comment below if there’s anything you’d like us to tackle and study together over the coming months!

Thank you for reading, and thank you for being you.

Prayer: God, as we finish this study, I pray that you help us live with wisdom and innocence. I pray we continue to use your Word to guide our lives and keep our eyes fixed on you. To yours be the glory, amen. 

Romans, Day 31

Scripture: Romans 16:1-16

Observation: In the final chapter of Romans, Paul sends greetings to many of his friends, including both men and women.

Application: It is time, my friends. Today, we’re talking about women in ministry.

We’ve been together for seven weeks so far, and tomorrow is our final day together. For the past few weeks, I hope you’ve been challenged, stretched, and encouraged. I hope you’ve laughed like crazy at some of my antics and musings. I hope you’ve grown closer to Jesus and to others you do life with. As for me, I’ve loved writing it all, and though I’m not quite ready for it to end, this final piece is an important one, at least for me.

Out of all the things I’ve written, this is the one that I’ve been most fearful of and most looking forward to. Isn’t it crazy that we can feel such opposite things all at one time? 

In the spirit of honesty and transparency, I have a lot of fear right now – fear of what others will think or say, fear of offending someone, fear that I’ll somehow misrepresent the Bible or the apostle Paul or women in general, fear of sharing something I haven’t fully figured out for myself.

But the only thing I’m more fearful of is not saying anything at all. 

So, here we go. I should warn you this post will be long, and it probably won’t be filled with lots of scholarly research. Instead, it’ll be filled with the honesty and transparency of my own story, a story about trying to figure out what I believe about women serving in the church. It’s deeply personal for me, which is why sharing it is so hard. I realize we may have different stories, different viewpoints, different perspectives, and that’s okay. At the end of the day, this is just a debate – it shouldn’t deter us from focusing on what really matters: living a life fully submitted to our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, because I can’t think of any more caveats to mention, I guess it’s time to just jump right in…

Should a woman be allowed to lead in the church?

I wish it were simple to answer that question. For centuries, people have tried to answer it, and answers vary from “absolutely, under any circumstance” to “yes, but they can only lead other women and children” to “no, absolutely not.” So, what’s the truth? Should women be allowed to lead? If so, who can they lead – women, children, men? And if they can lead, should they also be allowed to preach? What’s okay, and what’s not?

About a year and a half ago, I started this journey of figuring out what I felt about women in ministry. I was (and still am) on staff at a church, leading at a high level and trying to navigate the challenge of leading people (including men) twice my age. However, as the opportunity to preach from stage presented itself, I had no choice but to make a definitive decision: what do I believe about women in ministry?  Do I think it’s okay for women to preach? What do I believe God says about my purpose?  

If you start to do your research, you’ll read about this very passage, Romans 16:1, where Paul addresses Phoebe, “a deacon in the church.” Some argue that this passage shows that women were accepted in leadership roles in the church. Others argue that the term “deacon” in this context simply means “servant.” If you continue to do your research, you’ll inevitably find yourself reading 1 Timothy 2:11-12, which clearly states that women should learn quietly and submissively and should not teach men or have authority over them. Some argue that the meaning of this passage is straightforward: women should not teach or lead men. Others argue that this sentiment about women leading and teaching applies only to the Ephesian culture; some note that in this patriarchal culture, women traditionally weren’t as well educated as men, and therefore wouldn’t have the qualifications to lead. Others note that these Ephesian women were caught up in heresy, and this is simply Paul’s attempt to silence false teachers. As you continue to research this topic, you’ll find yourself reading about Deborah, Esther, Ruth, Priscilla and Aquila. You’ll find a thousand different opinions and viewpoints.

Eventually, you’ll have to do what I did: start praying and figuring out what you believe yourself.

I wish I could tell you I have a neat, pre-packaged sound bite of an answer for you. But, the truth is it’s so much more complicated than that. Here’s what I believe: As followers of Jesus, each of us has one purpose: to fulfill the Great Commission and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. As followers of Jesus, we are each given spiritual gifts, and these gifts are meant to be used to build up the body of Christ.

I believe my purpose is to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.
I believe God gave me a gift of communicating.
Therefore, I believe that part of my purpose is to spread the Good News by using my gift of communicating to the body of Christ.

I would never, ever try to tell you what Jesus thought about something that isn’t directly recorded in the Bible. But, if I had to guess, I’d guess that Jesus would celebrate when someone heard the Good News, regardless of whether the person heard it from a man or a woman.

So, that’s where I landed. I don’t know if it’s the right answer. But after a year of research and of prayer, of talking with my own pastor and other followers of Jesus I trust, that’s where I am. In May, I had the opportunity to preach for the first time. And, friends, that week was filled with so many emotions. Not only was it my very first time preaching, it was the very first time we had ever had a female preach from our stage. I felt a colossal amount of pressure; I felt pressured to preach well, and I felt pressured to prove that woman can lead and speak and teach. I’ll be honest – the pressure was almost too much. Whenever I started to feel comfortable with the idea, I’d have 1 Timothy 2:11-12 ringing in my head, telling me that women should be quiet and shouldn’t teach, or I’d have someone say, “Wait, you get to speak to everyone? Not just the women?” And, all of the sudden, I’d have to re-convince myself of my purpose once again.

One afternoon, a few days before I was supposed to speak, I called my best friend and started sharing all of my fears and apprehensions. I told her I just wished there was another woman who could go first – let someone else fight that battle of whether or not it’s okay for a woman to speak from stage. She let me talk (aka word vomit all over the place), and when I finished, she paused and asked me if I believed God gave me a gift to speak.

I told her I did.

She promptly said, “Well, then you have to be brave. You have to go first.”

I had to go first.

Chances are you’ve had your own “go first” moment. It’s the moment where you know what you’re supposed to do and the opportunity is right in front of you, and you have a choice to make: do I go first, taking a huge leap into the unknown with no promise of success, or do I stay back, play it safe and wait?

This was my “go first” moment – and I decided to go for it. I played “You Make Me Brave” on repeat for the next five days (yes, I’m serious), and I did it. And here’s the truth: not everyone was okay with it. A few people even left our church. I actually watched someone leave and walk out of the auditorium the moment I got up on stage to speak. That part was pretty hard.

But, I’ve learned something important: our problems don’t outweigh our purpose. God gave me a purpose. He put it inside of me and equipped me with all of the tools, the endurance, the capacity to live it out.

It’s hard being a woman in ministry sometimes. In fact, it’s really hard. It’s hard knowing not everyone agrees with you having a seat at the table. It’s hard when you tell someone you work at a church, and they ask if you’re a secretary or in kids ministry. (This happens to me pretty frequently.) It’s hard to lead men twice your age who don’t necessarily respect the idea of a woman in ministry. It’s hard to be the only female in the room in executive team meetings.   

It’s hard. But the only thing harder is not fulfilling my purpose.

If you’re a woman out there, here’s what I want you to know: Your gifts aren’t a mistake. For a long time, I felt like my gifts were a mistake. I felt like my gifts were better suited for a 25-year-old man, not a 25-year-old woman. I really struggled with that. I really struggled with the fact that I felt called to speak and to teach and to write -- and not just to women. So instead of living with those struggles, I took all my questions, my desires, and my fears about my purpose, and I laid them at the feet of Jesus. Through hours of prayer and deep searching, I started to realize my gifts weren’t a mistake; they were the foundation of my calling. We can only discover our calling and our purpose when we’re deeply connected to our Savior, the one who created us and designed us. Through prayer, reading the Bible, and listening to the Holy Spirit, my purpose was revealed. And in that purpose, I found peace.

If you have a gift inside of you, please discover it and use it. He gave it to you for a reason. You’re not meant to hide your gifts or feel guilty. You’re meant to use them for the glory of God. You’re meant to be bold and brave and courageous. You’re meant to embrace your “go first” moment. You’re meant to share the Good News and fulfill the Great Commission with the whole world. And yes, you’re meant to use them for such a time as this.

To every woman (and man!) out there, the world needs you. The world needs your gifts. It doesn’t need you to live in fear or silence or intimidation. It needs you to live boldly and beautifully and full of a humble confidence that comes from our Lord Jesus Christ. It needs you to be love and light. It needs you to be brave and to bring glory to the name of Jesus. No matter who you are, no matter how old you are, no matter what gender you are – the world needs you and your gifts. God put them in you, and he’ll make a way for you to use them. Use them well, my friends. Live confidently and humbly and graciously. Live your purpose.

(As I sit here, rereading this, and figuring out how I can avoid sharing it with the world, “You Make Me Brave” just starting playing on my Pandora station. I’m taking that as a sign. Here’s the personal prayer I’m praying today: God, thank you for making me brave. Thank you for letting me sharing this with the world. I pray that this will somehow equip, encourage, and inspire, and more than anything, I pray these words will bring glory to your name. I pray everything I do will bring glory to your name. Amen.)  

Romans, Day 30

Scripture: Romans 15:14-33

Observation: As Paul closes Chapter 15, he speaks to the Romans about his future plans. He shares his purpose of writing to them – to share the Good News of Jesus Christ – and goes on to say that his ambition is to spread the Good News to people who have never heard of Jesus. Paul had the heart of a church planter and was willing to travel anywhere and endure anything to help plant life-giving communities of believers. 

Application: Remember a few weeks ago when we talked about the intensity of Paul’s purpose? When I read today’s passage, I’m reminded that we have to do hard things to live out the calling of Jesus.

As we read the end of Chapter 15, Paul again reveals his sole purpose: “to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard.” (v. 20) He traveled all over the place. At the time of this writing, he had already founded several churches in the regions of northern and southern Greece known as Macedonia and Achaia, and he talks about going to Spain, to Rome, to Jerusalem. He had to rely on the financial support of others. He had to endure intense suffering, including imprisonment, for his beliefs.

But, his purpose trumped his problems.

Do yours?

So often, it seems the weight of our problems outweighs the promise of our purpose.

I don’t know what God has called you specifically to do and to be. Maybe it’s to be a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, a wife, a husband, a friend. Maybe it’s to be a teacher or a preacher or a firefighter. Maybe it’s to live in Delaware or North Dakota or California or Kenya. Maybe it’s to write or create or play or speak or act or counsel.

No matter what your specific purpose is, I can guess that it comes with a pile of problems. You face challenges you’ve never faced, struggles you never expected, issues you never saw coming. And all of the sudden, sometimes it feels like living out your God-given purpose isn’t worth all the problems.

But, I’m here to tell you it is.

God created that purpose. He placed it inside of you. He gave you the strength, the resolve, the passion, and the endurance to tackle anything life throws your way. He gave you the power to overcome. God made sure that the weight of your problems never outweighs the promise of your purpose.

When you live out that purpose, you get to experience what Paul describes in verse 17:

“So I have reason to be enthusiastic about all Christ Jesus has done through me in my service to God.”  

Christ is doing something in you and through you. You have a purpose. Never lose sight of it, no matter what life throws your way.

Prayer: God, I pray for my purpose and for the ability to overcome all of the difficult things life throws my way. I pray for renewed strength, passion, and confidence in you so I can pursue my purpose. Amen.

Romans, Day 29

Scripture: Romans 15:7-13

Observation: Paul urges us to accept one another and reminds us that through Jesus, God made it possible for the Jews and Gentiles to come together to glorify God. He finishes with a prayer for the people, asking that they will be filled with joy, peace, and power because of their trust in the Lord. 

Application: Do you ever have words that stick with you forever? Years ago, I had a friend who wrote me a note and at the very end, she wrote, “Thank you for being you.”

Thank you for being you.

Ever since I received those words years ago, I’ve savored them and saved them. So often, people will say, “thank you for being _______” and “thank you for doing _______.” While those specific thank you’s are often heartfelt and genuine, how much better is it to hear “thank you for being you”? For me, it’s the highest compliment and honor, a way of saying, “Thank you for being who you are. I’m thankful for all parts of you, not just these specific ones. I’m thankful for your strengths and your weaknesses and every part in between.”

It’s what Paul says here in verse 7:

“Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.”

Accept each other – all parts of each other. What makes us who we are isn’t just our strengths or what we do well. What make us who we are is our strengths, our weaknesses, our struggles, and our successes, all tied together in a story punctuated by the saving grace and power of Jesus Christ who created us.

Let’s accept each other today. Let’s accept the entire story of someone else’s life, not just the chapter that highlights their successes or the part where they serve us well. Let’s accept the whole story – the part where they let us down, the part where they fell short, the part where they failed.

Because here’s the truth: we’ve all let people down. We’ve all fallen short. We’ve all failed. But, Christ Jesus accepts us anyways. It’s time we accept others the way He accepts us. This week, look someone in the eye this week and tell them “thank you for being you.” It’s a powerful form of acceptance.

Prayer: God, I pray you’ll help me accept others with the grace that you accept me. I pray I’ll see their value and worth the way you see them. Thank you for making me, creating me, and accepting me. Amen. 

Romans, Day 28

Scripture: Romans 15:1-6

Observation: Paul tells us our focus should be on other people and doing what is right. Just as Jesus never lived to please only himself, neither should we.

Application: Chicken or beef? Chocolate or vanilla? Hot coffee or iced coffee?

Clearly, these are some of life’s most important questions. The right answers: chicken, chocolate, and iced. If you answered beef, vanilla, or hot, then consider our friendship over.

I kid, I kid. (Unless you don’t like iced coffee at all – that’s something you’re gonna have to work on.)

We all have different opinions, perspectives, ways of seeing the world. Think of all of the things that divide us from other people – different viewpoints, different opinions, different philosophies, different theories, different actions, different visions. These differences often start out small, but then too often grow and form and overpower. Think of all the things these divisions cause – disagreements, polarization, silos, fights, battles, wars.

These things are so, so far from the vision Christ had for the church.

I love how Paul says it in verse 5:

“May God who gives you this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Jesus.”

As a church body, we are all different. Some of us have followed Jesus for decades, others for years, others for months, others not at all. Some of us prefer a specific denomination or translation of the bible. Some of us prefer contemporary worship, others prefer hymns.

All of that is okay – until it divides. We cannot allow our differences to divide. Because through division, we lose sight of what really matters: Jesus.

Let’s vow to be a church that is united. A church that loves and accepts and encourages. A church that’s here to make a difference, not just a point. A church that’s gracious and welcoming and real.

Who’s with me?

Prayer: God, I pray that you will help me lay aside my own thoughts, opinions, and perspectives to better embrace those of others. I pray you’ll allow me to model unity in the church, to accept and love and encourage others. Amen. 

Romans, Day 27

Scripture: Romans 14:13-23

Observation: Paul focuses on our responsibility as Christ followers to avoid behaving in a way that would cause others to stumble. In line with Jewish tradition, he focuses particularly on avoiding eating and drinking anything that would cause someone else distress. He encourages us to all live in harmony with one another and aim for unity.

Application: Does anyone else remember that old “I’m not touching you” commercial where a brother keeps putting his finger within an inch of his sister’s face? Despite my best detective work (aka very thorough Youtube and Google searching), I couldn’t find a clip of the commercial. In the commercial, the brother isn’t technically doing anything wrong (he’s actually not touching his sister’s face), but he sure is egging her on.

If Paul were to see that commercial, I think he’d say, “That’s exactly what I’m talking about here! That whole ‘I’m not touching you’ thing? Not cool, man.”

As believers, we have a responsibility to live in harmony with others and create an environment free of tempting and taunting. To do this, we have to start by thinking about others before ourselves.

Look at verse 13:

“So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.”

This takes humility, patience, empathy. What do the people closest to you struggle with? It may be something you’ve never struggled with a day in your life. But as a fellow believer, part of loving that person is helping protect them from something that may cause them to stumble. Your purpose is to build, not to divide.

If you’ve been part of the church world for any period of time, you’ve likely heard the common example used when illustrating these verses, which is not drinking alcohol in the presence of someone who has struggled with alcohol addiction. While that’s certainly a good application, I think there are so many others that are key to understanding this verse. Think through these questions:

  • Do I ever aggravate others in the words or tone I use?
  • Am I opening the door for gossip?
  • Do I ever bring my own selfish pride and ambition into a situation, causing the people to try and prove themselves to me in an unhealthy way?
  • Am I ever pushing someone into something I know they’re not ready for?
  • Am I creating space for others to stumble in any area of my life?

Here’s why it all matters:

“If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.” (verse 18 & 19)

Think of how different our lives would be if we were constantly laying down our own motives and desires and trying to build each other up. Think of the unity, the harmony, the peace that would come as a result.

Let’s live others-focused today.

(Real talk: If we’re honest, the “I’m not touching you” boy is just plain annoying. Don’t be that guy.)

Prayer: God, help me search my heart and my motives. Allow me to be pure in what I say, think, and act, putting the needs and desires of others above my own. Amen. 

Romans, Day 26

Scripture: Romans 14:1-22

Observation: Paul is taking the time to talk to believers about how important it is to not tear other believers down. He goes on to say that God is the one who will ultimately judge us, so why should we take it upon ourselves to judge our brothers and sisters in Christ? We should be striving for harmony in the church by building each other up.

Application: Hi everyone! It’s Madison again. Thanks so much for responding so well to my post last week. And thanks to Abby for allowing me to come back and talk to you guys again.

((Editor’s Note: Madison’s blog was by far the most popular blog yet! I wanted to be jealous, but I’m actually just really proud that I have friends like her who are so talented and agree to write big, bold, vulnerable things that I get to share with the internet. My life is the best, y’all.))

 This passage is has so many amazing things we can takeaway, but since it’s December 22nd, I’m going to focus for a bit on Christmas (...even if it feels like late spring here in Delaware. 70 degrees on Christmas Eve?! What the heck, Mother Nature?!) *Cue your favorite Christmas carol here*

Let’s take a look at my favorite verse from this passage (verse 13):

So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall. 

This time of year is always one that gives me a lot of anxiety. I am not good in crowds and small talk is the bane of my existence. Needless to say, chit chat with relatives I never see and mingling at Christmas parties is enough to make me want to stay in bed until 2016.

Fa la la la la la la

When I read this passage, I realized how important my words are during this holiday season.

Who here has had an argument over politics or religion with someone at a family gathering? I know I brother and I argue over most dinners. We are close but anytime the presidential election comes up, we go for each other’s throats. It’s like Hunger Games and sometimes the odds are NOT ever in my favor.

Maybe you’re not the political type, but I’m sure everyone can identify with the moment where you get into the car after a party and you say: “Can you believe that _____ said that?”

What if we chose to look at these conversations and moments a bit differently this year? What if we decided to show so much grace to each other that we can’t help but build each other up? 

I can hear some of you getting ready to write me off right now. You’re thinking, “I know I should be nice, but honestly, Madison, you’ve never met my sister.”

That’s actually exactly what I thought when I first read this passage: “God, I know I should be nice -- thanks for the reminder.”

But this goes so much deeper that just being nice. Our words, our actions, what we do can completely change people’s perceptions on God.  

I know, I know. If we go to church, we all have heard this before. But humor me, just for a minute let this sink in: what you say in a moment of frustration or fear could be the difference between an eternity with or without Jesus.  

The whole point of this season is not the parties, or the gifts, or even to spend time with the family. Jesus is the reason.  

Christmas is a way for us to remember that God sent his one Son to earth to die a human death so that we could spend eternity with him.   

So let’s focus on him. Let’s be present with each other and keep our words kind and our hearts full of grace.

Prayer: God, help me stay calm during this holiday season. Let me remember that you are the reason we celebrate. Help me be someone who will spend time building others up and encouraging them in their own lives. Your gift of coming to earth is the greatest present we could ever receive. Help us remember that. 

Romans, Day 25

Scripture: Romans 13-1-14

Observation: Paul begins by addressing the importance of submitting to governmental authorities. He shares that we fulfill the requirements of God’s law when we love others well. Finally, he tells us that the day of salvation will soon be here, so we must focus on doing good and reflecting the love of Jesus wherever we go. He tells us to turn away from “dark deeds” and put on the “shining armor of right living,” living within the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Application: As teenagers, there was something about nighttime that made us brave and defiant. Under the cover of darkness, we could get away with more, couldn’t we? When would we sneak out of our parent’s house, go to wild parties, and make poor life decisions? Nighttime, nighttime, and nighttime/all the time. (Let’s blame that last one on our 15-year-old brains not being fully developed.)  The cover of darkness let us hide. Things we wouldn’t dare do during the day, we would risk doing at night when we couldn’t be seen as easily.

The dark can be dangerous.

Paul’s tone is so urgent here. Read verses 11 and 12 again:

“This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is: time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here.”

The night is almost gone, which means its time to live in the light, to remove all of our “dirty deeds.” There are so many types of dirty deeds that plague our lives; Paul names a few at the end of verse 13: wild parties, drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, immoral living, quarreling, jealousy. These things (and so many others) that we try to hide, cover up, and ignore are the very things that destroy us. Hidden during the nighttime, we give these things permission to live, to grow, to thrive. We must be stronger than these things. Paul tells us we must remove them like dirty clothes and replace them with the shining armor of right living. And the good news is, we can. Through faith in Jesus, the darkness has no hold on us. We belong to the Lord, and we belong to the day.

Paul is saying: Live like your life is on display. Clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord. If you assume that others see Jesus when they look at you, what kind of Jesus do they see? Are you representing him well, living a life full of confident humility, patience, and love? Or are you letting the temptation of darkness and dirty deeds destroy you slowly?

The fact that as a follower of Jesus, I represent him to others, is overwhelming to me. The Jesus I know is so incredibly patient. He was so tenderhearted yet tough. He was full of love and grace and second chances. He was perfect. Most days, it seems like I’m so far from all of that.

Yet, I still represent him. You do, too. That thought changes everything, doesn’t it? Because I want others to see Jesus as patient, loving, gracious, just, which means I have to constantly strive to be a person who is patient, loving, gracious, just.

It’s going to take a lot of work. We’re going to have to constantly fend off our selfish desires, our pride. We’re going to have to suppress evil desires. We’re going to have to do what’s right even when it seems impossible. But, it’s worth it. Because as we live more and more in the light, we are able to bring glory and honor to the name of our King, Lord Jesus Christ.

I can think of no better purpose than that.

Prayer: God, it is overwhelming to think I can somehow represent you to others. I know I’m so unworthy, but I pray you’ll fill me with your patience and grace so that I can live as a child of the light and bring glory and honor to your name. Amen. 

Romans, Day 24

Scripture: Romans 12:9-21

Observation: Paul shows us how to love others. He begins by encouraging us to really love others with genuine affection and a desire to honor them. He tells us to help those in need, always be eager to practice hospitality, and to feel empathy. He warns us never to think we’re too good for anyone or too proud to be in the company of ordinary people. He ends by telling us to love our enemies, to conquer evil in the world by doing good.

Application: It’s Valentine’s Day of 1997. I’m a first grader with a toothy grin, skinny legs, and probably ratchet-looking hair. (I had the thickest bangs ever.) I don’t remember exactly what kind of small folded valentines I brought to share with the other 22 people in my class, but I would venture to guess they were pink and purple and had some sort of Disney princesses on them. (Jasmine was my home girl.)

I also had a VIV – that’s Very Important Valentine. His name was Jonathan. We had previously been chosen to be the Mary and Joseph of our Kindergarden Christmas play, so clearly we were meant to be. On this Valentines Day in the late 90s, he told me he loved me and gave me a chocolate rose. I’m pretty sure that chocolate rose was his version of “loving me with genuine affection.” Unfortunately, that chocolate rose made me sick, and soon after, Jonathan moved away, and I moved on. I’m resilient like that.

We all have a first “true” love, right? My guess is that my first grade love isn’t the same type of love Paul is talking about in today’s passage. And what a challenge this type of love is, right?

Let’s take a quick look at all the different things Paul tells us about love just in the first few verses:

  • Don’t pretend to love – really love. (verse 9)
  • Love with genuine affection. (verse 10)
  • Take delight in honoring others. (verse 10)
  • Be ready to help those in need. (verse 13)
  • Always be eager to practice hospitality. (verse 13)

So the question is – how are you doing? Are you really loving others with a genuine affection? Not with something manufactured or surface deep, but something selfless and complete and authentic. Do you spend your days thinking about how to bring honor to those closest to you? When it comes to those in need, are you the first to lend a helping hand? Are you focused on loving and welcoming others with a spirit of hospitality?

I’m not going to share my answers (I’m not that brave to admit the truth), but I will say I don’t always love others genuinely. Sometimes, I start to love people conditionally, loving them for what they do and not who they are. It’s not intentional, but it is destructive. That kind of “love” is really no love at all. It divides us, it separates us, it makes us self-focused. And look at what Paul tells us in verse 16:

“Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!”

Here, Paul reveals two common reasons we don’t love others well: we’re too proud and think we know it all. How often do you judge others (whether consciously or unconsciously) rather than truly love them? How often do you determine how much you will love and honor another person based on their situation and circumstances? How often do you withhold love from someone because you think you’re better than them in some way?

For me, the answer is too often.

Today, I want to do more than just read Paul’s words; I want to live them. I want to love selflessly, fully, deeply. I want to love without limits. I want to love abundantly, unconditionally. I want to love because Christ loved me first in a way that’s so genuine, so unconditionally, so abundant.

Let’s love well today.

Prayer: God, I can so often get caught up in loving others for what they do, rather than who they are – sons and daughters, created by you. I pray you’ll expand my capacity to love today; help me love the way your Son loved, without boundaries or limits. Help me love well today. Amen. 

Romans, Day 23

Scripture: Romans 12:1-8

Observation: Paul encourages believers to be a “holy and living sacrifice” for all God has done for them. He encourages them to embrace the ways of God rather than simply the ways of the world, and tells us that when they do that, God’s will will become obvious. He encourages them not to think they’re better than they are and reminds them they’re all part of one body. He closes by listing different spiritual gifts and how we must use them well.  

Application: Think of the best gifts you’ve ever gotten. My range from an iPad I got in 2007 when iPads were still a “new” thing to an awesome mug that says “Be the Leslie Knope of whatever you do” (#knope2012forlife) to an electric blanket that I teased my mom about buying me until I realized IT’S AMAZING. I’ve received more than my fair share of personalized gifts, including a portrait of me and my husband that one of my uber-talented college friends painted for me for my wedding.

Receiving gifts is pretty amazing, right? I love that feeling you get when you receive a gift that’s so thoughtful, so personalized, so very you. It means someone loves you and knows you enough to give you the perfect gift.

God loves you and knows you enough to give you perfect gifts, too. In verse 6, Paul tells us this:

“In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.”

In his grace. It’s not because we deserve gifts. It’s not because we worked hard enough to get a gift. It’s not because we knew the secret code word to pray and ask for a gift. It’s because God is so good and so gracious that he’s given us gifts.

Yes, even you.

You are filled with spiritual gifts. I don’t know what they are. Maybe they’re some of the ones Paul mentions – prophecy, serving others, teaching, encouraging others, giving, leading. Maybe they’re different, from God’s great variety of spiritual gifts – administration, hospitality, craftsmanship, apostleship, knowledge, wisdom, discernment, intercession.

There’s no such thing as a believer without a gift. You have gifts from God that come together to create and define your purpose. He has a plan for you – a plan that is infinitely better than anything you could come up with on your own.

It’s up to you to chase it. Discover your gifts. Use them. Live out your purpose.

(I did a message a few months ago about these verses and spiritual gifts. You can check it out here.)  

Prayer: God, thank you for filling me with gifts and a purpose through your grace. I pray you’ll help me continue to discover and refine those gifts and use them for your glory. Amen. 


Romans, Day 22

Scripture: Romans 11:25-36

Observation: Paul talks about the “mystery” of the relationship between the people of Israel and the Gentiles in God’s plan for salvation through Jesus. He talks about God’s deep commitment to His people and how he will never withdraw his gifts and calling from anyone’s life. Paul ends with praising God, reminding us of his complete sovereignty and power. 

Application: Today’s passage is so important because it sets up what we’re going to talk about tomorrow -- our gifts and our purpose. This is a theme we’ll touch on a few other times as we finish Romans together.

I love verses 33 to 36. They seem straightforward, encouraging. Sometimes, after spending weeks digging through deep, challenging, convicting verses, isn’t it great to have something to hold on to that we could put on a coffee mug? Seriously. No sane person is putting yesterday’s verse 9 on a coffee mug, right?

At first, these verses do seem straightforward – God is great, full of wisdom and knowledge. He’s our provider – everything comes from him and the whole world is under his power. It’s a great message, and I believe that’s all true, for sure. But sometimes when I read the Bible, I like to look up different translations and see how different versions phrase the same thing. When I got to the Message version, it said this, and I was immediately swept up in these words. All of the sudden the wisdom, the power, the provision verses 33-36 talk about became so sharp, so clear, so real, so overwhelming. Read this:

Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? It's way over our heads. We'll never figure it out. Is there anyone around who can explain God? Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do? Anyone who has done him such a huge favor that God has to ask his advice? Everything comes from him; Everything happens through him; Everything ends up in him. Always glory! Always praise! Yes. Yes. Yes.”

Those words. Wow.

God isn’t just generous – he’s extravagantly generous. Think of the most generous person you know and then multiply that by infinity. It’s almost too much to comprehend.

His wisdom is so deep that it’s way over our heads. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a creative genius, a math whiz, or a business giant – your expertise is nothing compared to the wisdom and knowledge of God. We can spend the rest of our days trying to figure him out but will never succeed.

God is everything. Everything comes from him, happens through him, ends up in him. A few months ago, I read something that said Jesus + nothing = everything. I love that. He is everything.

Here’s what you have to remember today: This is the God who made us. This God of extravagant generosity, deep wisdom, unfathomable power made us. He gave us a purpose. He gave us gifts. He gave us a calling. And all we can do in return is offer everything we have back to him for his glory.

Tomorrow, we’ll get to discover together what gifts we have, but for today, let’s give God glory together.

Prayer: God, you reign over everything. I need nothing separate of you. I praise you for your extravagant generosity, deep wisdom, incredible power. I rest in who you are today and pray I can give you glory and honor. Amen. 

Romans, Day 21

Scripture: Romans 11:1-24

Observation: Paul is speaking to the Romans and is explaining how merciful God was to the Israelites, his chosen people. When they turned their backs on Him, he turned around and offered salvation to the Gentiles. He wanted his people to be jealous and claim their salvation for themselves. He explained that when you stray from him, you are no longer counted as a part of his family, but the moment you choose to return to Him, you are welcomed back in.

Application: Hi everyone! I’m Madison and I’m lucky enough to consider Abby a friend of mine. She invited me to write a bit and share my heart with you all.

((Editors Note: I'm so excited to have Madison hanging out with us today! She has crazy amounts of wisdom and a heart of gold. She's also a brilliant writer. Buckle up, friends; today's post is incredible.))

When she first asked me, I was a whole lot of scared. I love to write, but I typically just write for me. Writing for you all and following Abby’s consistently amazing posts was (read: is) intimidating.

But more than that, I’ve been having a real hard time with God lately.

I’ve been angry, I’ve been bitter, I’ve been stubborn and I’ve been blaming everything on God. And when I say everything, I mean everything. I stub my toe? God hates me. There’s traffic? God is definitely out to get me, especially when I’m on my way to a meeting at church. That’s just downright personal.  

And now Abby wants me to write about God and how great he is? Figures. I told you God hates me.

So, I did the only logical thing...I procrastinated. Hard.

I read this passage and then this verse spoke right to my heart. Look at verse 11:

“They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles.”

To give you some background on the story, the “they” that Paul mentions is the people of Israel, God’s chosen people. They turned away from God, and their hearts were hardened. So, to make this short and sweet...God’s chosen people turned their backs on Him and, in turn, he decided to make salvation available to the rest of the world. 

The passage goes on to say this in verse 22 and 23:

“Notice how God is both kind and severe. he is severe towards those who disobeyed, but kind if you continue to trust in his kindness...and if the people of Israel turn from their unbelief, they will be grafted [into the tree] again.”

I think what Paul is saying is that we have a harsh but incredibly loving God. No matter what you do, when you turn your heart back to him, you’re welcomed back into his arms.

Read that again: No matter what you do, when you turn your heart back to him, you’re welcomed back into his arms.

Let that sink in for a minute while I take you on a little side trip. Warning: major switch of subject coming up. 

I have a tattoo and I love it. It says “peace that passes all understanding” and it’s on my back. And whenever I come up with a good tattoo idea, I don’t want to share it with anyone. It’s too personal and I also don’t want to see a thousand people walking around with my tattoo idea. However, you all seem pretty trustworthy, so consider this our little secret.

But first, before I spill my next tattoo idea, let’s check out another story found in Mark 5: 35-43: Jesus was with the leader of the synagogue when he received word that his sick daughter had died. Jesus told him not to be afraid and immediately went to his house where they went to where the dead little girl was lying. He took her hand and said to her, “talitha koum,” which means “little girl, get up.” And the little girl stood up and walked around! Go read the story for yourself; it’s pretty great.

In case you hadn’t figured it out, I want my next tattoo to say “talitha koum.”

Why do I bring this up? Because, friends, this was my talitha koum moment.

When I read about a God who had his heart broken by his chosen people, but immediately decided to offer the rest of the world salvation, I realized how stupid I’ve been. In my head, I heard something saying, “Little girl, get up!”

Stop living in fear.
Stop being so angry.
Stop shutting people out.
Stop shutting me out.  

Friends, I know that there have to be other people than just me who are having a faith crisis. And I have a feeling you and I might know each other. 

We might go to church together. We might tell everyone how #blessed we are and how we are “praying” for each other, but really we are hurting. 

So don’t give up.

I promise you, God is waiting there for you.

And he’s not going to be angry when you come back; he’s going to be so excited.

Because at the end of the day, he is our father, and our dad wants nothing more than to have all of his children back in his arms.

So, go out on a limb. Accept that invitation to write on someone else’s blog, even when you are scared senseless.

Because, that might be coming right from God. And he wants you home.

Prayer: Father, please be patient with me. I know I’ve made mistakes and that sometimes I don’t always believe the way I should. But, help me see your hand in my life.  Help me know that, with you, I’m going to find my peace. Fill me, breathe life into me again. Amen. 

Romans, Day 20

Scripture: Romans 10:14-21

Observation: Paul begins by talking about the importance of spreading the message of Jesus – no one can call of the name of the Lord unless they’ve heard of his saving power. He quotes a verse from Isaiah to show how valuable messengers are who spread the Good News. He continues to argue that the people of Israel have heard the Good News and therefore have a choice – to believe in it and confess their faith in Jesus or to ignore it. He finishes by quoting another Scripture from Isaiah, which demonstrates that “people who were not looking for me” (the Gentiles) are now able to share in God’s promises.

Application: You know that feeling you get when you know a secret that you’re not really supposed to share with anyone? It’s bottled up inside of you, and you just want to let it out but know you’re not supposed to? One year, my dad took my sister and me Christmas shopping for my mom and took us to McDonald’s for dinner on said shopping trip. I remember I got this figurine from The Little Mermaid as my Happy Meal toy, and I was NOT allowed to show it to my mom or else she would ask where I got it, and then I’d likely spill all the secrets and Christmas would be ruined. (Or at least that’s what I thought in my six-year-old brain.)

Keeping a secret bottled inside is hard, isn’t it? Part of what I love about today’s passage is that Paul gives us permission to spill the beans and tell the world about Jesus Christ.

“But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” (verse 14)

I know about Jesus. You know about Jesus. But how can others hear about Jesus unless we tell them? Paul quotes part of a scripture from Isaiah in verse 15, but if you flip back in the Bible, here’s the full verse from Isaiah 52:7:

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the new that the God of Israel reigns!”

How beautiful are the feet of the messenger. Think about all the people in your life who are searching – searching for peace, solace, the ability to be rescued from everything that hurts them, discourages them, enslaves them. And then remember, you can be a messenger, the one who brings Good News, peace, and eternal salvation.

Don’t let knowing Jesus be a secret you keep bottled up. Share it with the world. Share it in a way that’s gentle when needed and challenging when required. Share it in a way that’s life-giving, encouraging, and pure. Share it in a way that’s simple and inviting.

Let’s be messengers this season.

Prayer: Jesus, thank you for allowing me to hear about it and know you personally. I pray for confidence and wisdom to be a messenger, to share the Good News with others. I pray you’ll fill me with the words to spread the glory of your great name across everyone I meet. 

Romans, Day 19

Scripture: Romans 10:1-13

Observation: Paul is once again speaking to the Romans to remind them that salvation comes only one way -- through faith in Jesus Christ. He tells them that Jesus accomplished the purpose of the law, and therefore, a true relationship with God doesn’t come through following the law but rather through confessing with your mouth and believing in your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Application: Do you ever wish you could go back to big moments in your life and replay them, record them, and capture them forever? Sometimes we’ll experience big moments, but not even realize how monumentally important they are until later. I have some big moments that I remember perfectly – like getting engaged on the little kid train at Hershey Park Christmas Candylane. (Full disclaimer: I had “accidently on purpose” read through my now-husband’s Facebook messages to find out about his plan. I’m the worst.) But there are other big moments that are simply snippets of a memory I wish I could recapture – like the night I put my faith in Jesus.

Ah, that night. I remember bits and pieces, enough to weave a narrative together, but not enough to remember every detail, every word, every moment. I remember it was an unseasonably warm day in April 2009…I have this really weird ability to remember what I wore to things, and this day, I was wearing these blue plaid shorts from Abercrombie & Fitch that I loved. (Yes, I was basic before basic was a thing.) It was a Thursday. Andy (my now husband and then boyfriend) called me in the afternoon and told me he needed to come down and see me – he was going to school in Philly at the time, and I was a freshmen at the University of Delaware. It wasn’t normal for him to come down in the middle of the week, but I agreed. If he wanted to drive an hour down I-95, I wasn’t gonna stop him.

Other snippets I remember: We went to Applebee’s because we were poor and their food was cheap. He didn’t even tell me why he was there right away. I was wearing my shorts. (This part is especially vivid for some reason.)

Later that night, we went back to my dorm and sat on my bed and started talking. (For reference, my dorm was literally the size of large jail cell – it was like 8 feet by 11 feet. There was about 1 foot of floor space not covered by my bed, dresser, desk, or fridge. #collegelife) He told me about his friend (later the best man in our wedding) who just ended a long relationship with his girlfriend. He told me that, in the end, their relationship didn’t work because God wasn’t part of their relationship. He didn’t want that to happen to us.

Guys, this is the part I wish I could go back and record. Because my whole life changed that night – but I had no idea in the moment that something so big was happening. Here’s some variation of what happened next: He asked me if I wanted to make Jesus leader and lord of my life. I think I said yes, but probably had a lot of questions – because I had grown up in church and heard about Jesus for years. What made this different? He told me about how he prayed with his mom to accept Jesus into his heart when he was younger. Andy’s not one to share personal stories at the drop of a hat, so I remember that part with complete clarity. Then, he invited me to pray a prayer of salvation with him – to confess with my mouth and believe in my heart that Jesus is Lord.

We prayed. I don’t remember the prayer or the words – whether I repeated after him or just prayed silently. I remember a vague feeling of excitement mixed with some fear of the unknown. I remember that right after we prayed, I asked Andy to write the words down, so I could pray it everyday. (For all of you laughing right now, I want you to know I grew up on memorized prayers – I could throw down a whole rosary full of “Hail Mary’s” in my sleep, thank you very much.) He laughed and explained it didn’t work like that anymore.

It didn’t work like that anymore.

My life wasn’t about trying to be “enough.” It wasn’t a checklist of do’s and don’ts. It was no longer about just following the rules. Because “anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (verse 13)

So today’s devotional isn’t as much of a challenge as it is about a memory. Is anyone else completely overwhelmed at Paul’s words here?

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus if Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.”

Remember that moment today – the moment that everything changed. The moment that you surrendered. The moment your life changed forever for the glory of Christ Jesus.

And if you’re reading, and you’ve never had that moment, make today your day. Confess with your mouth. Believe in your heart. There are no prerequisites. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t even have to “feel ready.” You simply have to believe – because no matter who you are, you can call on the name of the Lord and be saved.

Prayer: Oh God, what an amazing memory of that day I put my faith in your son Jesus. I praise you for the gift of your son, for allowing me to be saved through his death and resurrection. I pray you’ll continue to fill me with faith and allow me to walk humbly as a follower of Jesus.

Romans, Day 18

Scripture: Romans 9:24-34

Observation: Paul shares that God has the ability to select those who would have a true relationship with him, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles. He talks about the “remnant” while quoting a scripture from Isaiah, which refers to a group of Israelites who would receive salvation. He ties everything together by focusing on the importance of faith and trusting in God, rather than simply keeping the law. He compares Christ to the rock in our path – we either build our faith by trusting fully in Jesus or we stumble over the message that faith (not what we do) is the key to a right relationship with God.

Application: I’m a big fan of icebreaker questions. By “big fan,” I mean I’m pretty much obsessed with them. Life is just better when you know the answers to life’s big questions, such as, “If you were an animal, what animal would you be and why?” and most importantly, “If you were an ice cream, what ice cream would you be and why?” (My answers: a bird because they’re light, full of energy, and can cover a lot of ground in a very short amount of time; chocolate covered pretzel because it’s sweet and a little bit salty but sometimes it’s a bit much for people.) Don’t you feel like you know me so much better now?! Introverts, beware….if I’m in charge of a group, we’re gonna do icebreakers and I’m gonna force you to give me an answer because I JUST NEED TO KNOW WHAT TYPE OF ICE CREAM YOU ARE AND WHY.

You’ve been warned.

While I love icebreaker questions, you know what I hate? Group games. Ugh. The human knot? Blanket name game? Scavenger hunts? No, thank you. And what I hate most of all: trust falls. Gahhhhhh.

Here’s the thing with trust falls: they take a lot of, well, trust. (I’m brilliant, I know.) You’re inevitably paired up with someone you don’t really know and therefore definitely don’t trust. If I’m not feeling lucky that day, I’m not falling into the arms of someone I don’t know. And even if I do trust them, how do I know they’re going to pay attention and catch me? What if they’re bored and need a good laugh and decide to just let me fall for the fun of it? There are too many factors I can’t control. Somebody give me a pint of chocolate covered pretzel ice cream and some stretchy pants and I’ll sit this one out, thank you very much.

Trust falls are risky. Trusting someone or something normally is.

It’s what the Romans were struggling with when Paul talked with them. Many of them had grown up obeying Jewish laws and traditions and were convinced that they were going to “get right” with God by doing what the law says. But it turns out there was a flaw in that plan. Here’s how Paul says it in verse 31 & 32:

“But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path.”

The flaw? They were trying to get right with God…but they weren’t willing to do the trust fall.

How many of us want to “get right” with God, but aren’t willing to do the trust fall? How many of us want to hang on to control, hold on to what we know, cling on to what we can do, rather than step out in faith, trusting fully in God? I do. It’s my natural tendency. Because trusting someone – even God – can be risky. It can be scary, leaving us feeling paralyzed at the unknown. At times, it’s downright terrifying.

But you know what’s even riskier, scarier, more terrifying? Trying to do life on my own. Thinking I can control things. Assuming I’ve got it all covered.

Taking the trust fall is worth it. Paul finishes this chapter by quoting a scripture from Isaiah:

“…anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”

If you trust in him, you’ll never be disgraced.

You’ll always have a safe place to fall.

In the fall towards a life recklessly abandoned to Jesus, you’ll find security, safety, and peace.

Whatever area of your life that needs a good trust fall, go take the fall today. I’m with you.

Prayer: God, I pray I can trust fully in you today. Every insecurity, doubt, and fear I have, I surrender it to you and pray I can do a full trust fall in area of my life to you. Remove any obstacle, anything in my life that hinders me from trusting you with every part of my heart, mind, body, and soul. Amen. 

Romans, Day 17

Scripture: Romans 9:1-23

Observation: Paul begins expressing his frustration at the Jewish people who do not yet believe in Jesus Christ for their salvation. He shows how deeply hurt he is by this reality, saying that he would be “forever cursed” if it allowed them to believe. He begins to talk about the people of Israel, those whom God had a covenant relationship with. (Because of this relationship, the Israelites received God’s blessings, but not necessarily salvation.) He traces the lineage of the Israelite people to show God’s sovereignty and that ultimately, God is in control. Paul ends with a metaphor of God as the potter and people as the clay; it’s up to the potter to decide how to shape the clay, and it’s up to God to decide how to shape and design our lives.

Application: I loved being the line leader in elementary school. Here are just a few (of hundreds) reasons that being the line leader was the best:

  1. You got to eat lunch first. My 10-year-old self just couldn’t wait to eat chicken nuggets and drink white milk out of a little blue carton. (Gag me.)
  2. You got to ring the bell. I’m pretty sure that this was just a weird thing my little Catholic school did, but we didn’t have a real bell system in our school, so we used this huge old school bell that you physically rang to signify recess was over, class was over, lunch was over, etc. Line leaders always got to ring the bell.
  3. You got to tell people what to do.
  4. You were in control.
  5. You were IN CHARGE.

There are hundreds of other reasons, but we’ll stop there :-)

Sometimes, I like to think I’m the line leader of my own life. I decide who/what/where/when/why. I decipher when it’s time to move on to the next thing, what’s good, what’s bad. I think I’m the “potter” in life, molding and shaping things around me, making things happen. I believe that I can control what’s going to happen to me, which of my relationships will survive, where I’ll live and work.

And simply put, I’m way out of line.

There’s only one person who should be leading the line of my life, and that’s God. Every time I think that I’m in charge, that I’m in control, I quickly learn that I am so, so wrong. 

Paul reminds us of God’s sovereignty and power all throughout today’s scripture. We could debate the second part of this passage (specifically verses 14-21) forever and ever. It tells us that “God decides to show mercy – we can neither choose it nor work for it” in verse 16. A few verses later, we read that “God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen.” Finally, it refutes the claim that we should blame God when people don’t respond to the message of salvation through Christ Jesus, even though we just read that God hardens the hearts of some people.

Phew. That’s heavy theological stuff for sure. This is the pre-destination vs. free will debate at its finest. So, what’s the answer? Does God determine in advance if we’ll believe in Jesus or not? Or do we have a free will to believe the message of Jesus or not? This is a worthy debate. But, I’m actually not sure it’s the best one right now. Because in addition to these competing ideas, there’s one theme that’s true no matter what, and that’s need to understand the overwhelming power and sovereignty of God. Here’s how my study bible puts it (I love this!):

“We human beings always want to think that we are in charge. We think that we are the ‘captain of our souls’ and that by our decisions and actions we can determine what will happen. However, Scripture confronts us with quite a different scenario. Although human decisions and actions are significant, the will of God is vastly more important.”

We’re not the line leader. Not even close.

For me, there’s always been a lot of pride associated with being the line leader. I can go around confidently yelling, “I got this!”

But I also find there’s a lot of shame with being the line leader. Because there comes a moment when my “I got this!” turns into “I can’t do this” or “I don’t understand what’s wrong with me” or “I don’t know why this is happening.”

I go from pride to shame to the only thing left: surrender. Surrender to the almighty God who really is in control, the God who is faithful and powerful and glorious. Surrender to the real line leader of my life.

Is it time for you to surrender, too? What part of your life are you trying to control right now? What are you holding on to that you need to let go? Which relationship are you trying to control? Where do you need to take a leap of faith and jump towards what God has for you rather than stand still?

Let him lead. He’s a God of provision, so don’t worry, he’ll make sure you get to eat your chicken nuggets and drink your white milk…and sometimes, he’ll probably even let you ring the bell, too.

Prayer: God, I too often forget who is really in control of my life. I open my hands and my heart to you today and ask you to be in charge. My life is yours. I pray I’ll allow you to lead and that you’ll give me an obedient, servant’s heart to follow.

Romans, Day 16

Scripture: Romans 8:31-39

Observation: Paul shows us the true power of the love and safety of God – if God is for us, no one can be against us or condemn us. Nothing we do or experience can separate us from his love.

Application: Let’s start off today by making a list (you know much I love lists) of all the things we’ve done that we’re not proud of. You can say it out loud, write it down, tell it to a friend – it doesn’t matter how you do but simply that you do it. Okay, go!

Did you do it?

Did you?

I’m telling you, today’s application doesn’t work unless you make a list so go do it!

Are you done? And I don’t mean “done” as in you kinda sorta tried, I mean actually, 100%, went all in and you’re “done.” As done as you feel after an hour of wearing those cute wedges that were “so totally comfortable” when you tried them on in the store. That kind of done. (Also, important life lesson: don’t let wedges deceive you just because they’re not heels. They’re still uncomfortable, they’ll still permanently damage the muscles in your foot, and they’ll still have you asking yourself “WHYYYYY” 20 minutes into wearing them. Do not let the “comfort sole” label fool you.)  

Okay, now that you’re done, here’s what next: Go down your list and write or say this -- “It can’t separate me from Christ’s love” – to every single thing. Yes, every single thing. It doesn’t matter what it says or what you wrote or how bad you think it may be. Because remember nothing can separate you from the love of God: no trouble, no calamity, no persecution, no hunger, no destitution. Nothing can separate you.

Go back and read verses 38 and 39. Paul shares with us the crazy, irrational, completely generous security that comes from a relationship with Christ Jesus. He tells us this:

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”

We’re in the family photo, and we’re not going anywhere. That addiction you can’t overcome right now? That sin you committed years ago that seems “too bad” to be forgiven? That relationship you sabotaged through your own insecurities? None of it is too big for God and none of it disqualifies you from a relationship with him.

God loves you big. There’s nothing you can do, think, or feel that will ever change that.

Prayer:  God, I praise you for the deep, irrational, gracious love you show me today, and I pray you’ll help me model that love for others in my life. Thank you for not letting my own sin separate me from your perfection. Amen. 

Romans, Day 15

Scripture: Romans 8:14-30

Observation:  Paul begins by sharing that we are all children of God and through our faith in Jesus, we get to be heirs to all of God’s promises, which comes with sharing in his glory and in his suffering as well. Until God returns, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us and help us through our sin, suffering, and weakness. Even when we don’t know what to pray for or what to ask for, the Holy Spirit guides us, and allows everything to work together for our good.

Application: White shirts…blue jeans…sandy dunes…forced smiles…you know where I’m going with this, don’t you? Oh yes, we’re talking about family photos.

Now somehow I avoided the dreaded white shirt/blue jean combo I mentioned above (I’m assuming quite a few of you have not been as lucky), but I had my fair share of awkward family photos. Take the church directory photos, for example. Those might actually be worse than the forced family beach photo shoot. I’m no photographer, but I’m about 100% sure that it’s impossible to make a family look good while sitting awkwardly in front of a velour gray background in a dimly light church basement. This is how that situation typically went: my sister and I were always wearing ridiculously puffy dresses with matching bows, my dad’s eyes were always closed, and my mom was always smiling in a formal, matronly fashion while mentally debating whether or not to buy a canvas of this shot to put above our family piano.

Thank goodness we can now just take a selfie on our iPhones and send it straight to Snapfish, throw it into a Merry Christmas template, order 100 cards, and call it a day, right?

So while family photos were forced and awkward and usually ended up being displayed on that photo canvas for the next 20 years, there was something pretty binding about them as well. Those photos said: We might have pulled haired, yelled, and argued on the way here, but these are my people. We belong to each other. And we love each other. Family sticks together.

Paul tells us the same thing today: We’re children of God. We’re his people. We belong to him. We’re loved by him. We’re gonna stick together and he’s not going to leave us.

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”

We are forever children of God. Now, unfortunately, sometimes we don’t know what it feels like to have a supportive, forever family. Some of us grew up in broken families, some of us with no families at all. Some of us had families but we never felt like we fit in with them or were good enough for them. Some of us felt hurt by or excluded from our families. Some of us don’t know what it’s like to have an “Abba Father,” a daddy who loves us and supports us unconditionally, someone who is with us and for us.

But when it comes to being children of God, all of that stuff is gone. The brokenness, the questioning, the doubt, the exclusion – it’s gone. We belong. We will always be sons and daughters of the King. We’ll always be in the family photo. We’ll always be loved by him, encouraged through him, enough for him.

And best of all, he’s looking out for us. He’s making sure we don’t do life alone. Look at verse 26:

“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.”

I’m not a parent, but isn’t this what a parent does? They help us – even when we don’t know the first step. They pray for us – sometimes their prayers are clear and fluent, other times they’re so full of emotion that they come out as pleas, as groanings. When God is with us, he helps us through our weakness and “causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him.”

He causes everything to work together for good. That trial you’re facing right now? It’ll work together for your good. That diagnosis you just received? It’ll work together for your good. That relationship that just imploded? It’ll work together for your good. All of it. Everything. Every trial, every opportunity, every problem, every challenge – it’s all working together for your good. You have a Daddy in Heaven orchestrating it all.

You belong in the family photo. You’re a child of God.

Prayer: Abba Father, thank you for who you are. Thank you for choosing me, accepting me, allowing everything to work together for my good as one of your children. I pray I can learn how to live confidently as a child of the God Most High. Amen.

Romans, Day 14

Scripture: Romans 8:1-13

Observation: Paul begins by sharing that those who believe in Jesus won’t be condemned for their sins. He focuses on the power that’s in us as followers of Jesus, telling us that we’re no longer dominated by our sinful nature but by the Holy Spirit living within us. Christ lives in us. The Spirit of God, the very one who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in us. We are no longer obligated to live lives filled with sin but through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Application: While reading through today’s passage, all I want to do is find my ‘90s boombox, throw in a cassette tap, and cue Snap’s “I’ve got the power.” (Also, I don’t know why we’re talking about the ‘90s so much this week. But I can tell you it makes me want to watch Full House reruns while simultaneously eating Dunk-a-roo’s, reading BOP magazine, and writing notes to my BFFLs with a gel pen. Who’s with me?!)  

I love this passage because Paul is telling us: If you believe in Jesus, you’ve got the power. Power to overcome your past. Power to push forward. Power to live a life of love and joy and peace.

“And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” (verse 2)

Life can be so hard sometimes, right? We can feel victimized, alone, powerless. There are so many things happening around us or to us or to people to we love. It can all feel like too much. But the truth is that if we belong to Jesus, his Spirit lives within us. And it’s that Spirit that gives us the power to overcome anything. Look at verse 6:

“So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”

And then my favorite verse of all is verse 10:

“And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been right with God.” 

Let’s just be real for a minute. The idea of having someone else “living within you” sounds super strange, doesn’t it? So, what does that even mean? Jesus just sets up camp somewhere inside of your body and says “Yo! I’m here. Sup?” (That’s the 90s version of Jesus, obviously.) It sounds pretty weird.   

But it’s also pretty powerful. Think about it. When you put your faith in Jesus, he takes up residence in you. That means that the same Jesus who literally defied death (best resume builder ever) is with you. He can help you overcome anything. He can guide you, direct you, fill you with the same wisdom and knowledge and power that he had.

I grew up hearing about Jesus my whole life, but honestly, Jesus was this mythical creature I heard about and knew enough about to know I should respect him. But he wasn’t real to me. He felt foreign. But the truth is Jesus was human – just like me and just like you. He felt what we felt. He experienced what we experience. He felt happiness and hurt and elation and despair. He knew firsthand just how hard life could be.

But he didn’t let it deter him, discourage him, destroy him. No, he lived with the power of the Holy Spirit. He lived boldly and courageously and generously.

And, we can too. Remember, you’ve got the power. The same power that our Lord Jesus Christ possessed when he walked this earth is the same power you’re filled with everyday.

Live courageously today. You’ve got the power to overcome anything.

Prayer: God, thank you for filling me with your incredible spirit of power. I pray you’ll help me rest in and embrace that power today, that I’ll be able to overcome anything. Thank you for the gift of your Son, for allowing him to live in me and work through me. Amen.

Romans, Day 13

Scripture: Romans 7:7-25

Observation: Because of our human, sinful nature, we have trouble obeying the law of God. The law itself is good (it came from God himself), but because we are human, we are so often slave to our sinful and human desires. As Paul says, we so often want to do what is right but we can’t because the sin living in us is so strong. However, there is something that can free us from living this life of destruction – and that’s Jesus Christ our Lord.

Application: For years, I was the world’s most cliché interviewee in the world. When asked what my greatest strength was, I said I was a perfectionist. When asked what my greatest weakness was, I said I was a perfectionist.

A word of advice if you’re currently applying for a job, internship, fellowship, or anything else that may ask you to describe your strengths and weaknesses: Don’t use perfectionism and please, please don’t use it as both your strength and your weakness. It sounds lame and overused and we all know NOBODY’S PERFECT. (Disclaimer: Except Jesus, of course.)

So, I had to face reality -- I wasn’t perfect, but I always strived to be. I wanted to “live up to my potential.” I wanted to check my boxes. I wanted to do the right thing. But inevitably, something would get in the way of that. I’d try to do the right thing, but it was really hard. I’d try to do the right thing, but my feelings would get in the way. I’d try to do the right thing, but I had a lot of the wrong people around me telling me that the wrong thing to do was actually the right thing to do. I’d try to do the right thing, but leggings are JUST SO COMFORTABLE that I gave in and wore them like they were pants. (I know, I know. I embarrass myself.)

Paul understands this dichotomy. We aren’t supposed to compare ourselves to one another but I gotta be honest – the fact that Paul, the guy that practically wrote half of the New Testament, struggles with wanting to do what’s right but somehow still does what’s not makes me feel like I’m not alone. He gets it! Look at verse 15 and then at 18-20. As if that’s not enough, he says it again in verse 21:

“I have discovered this principle of life – that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.”

Me too, me too!

So why do I do it? Why do I make decisions out of emotion instead of submission? Why do I make decisions out of what other people tell me instead of what God says?

Paul tells us that there’s another power within us – a power that opposes good and prefers evil. That power is sin. Our intentions are good -- we want to obey God’s commands, but our sinful nature prevents us from doing that.

Our sinful nature tells us to make decisions out of our own emotions, our own hurts, our own insecurities or vulnerabilities. Our sinful nature tells us to do what’s easy or comfortable. Our sinful nature tells us it’s okay to take shortcuts. Our sinful nature tells us to protect ourselves, our time, our resources instead of pouring them out for others. Our sinful nature tells us it’s okay to be selfish just this one time.

Our sinful nature jacks us up. It makes us look at ourselves before others. But, thank goodness there’s a better way that Paul shares in verses 24 & 25: 

“Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

We’re all gonna mess up. We’re all gonna need God’s grace. But, we don’t have to be slave to sin. Don’t let your mind fool you. Don’t let your emotions deceive you. Don’t let your selfishness destroy you.

Here’s what you do: ask yourself “What would Jesus do?” If you need to, go dig out your childhood jewelry box and find your rainbow colored “WWJD?” bracelet -- because living like Jesus is the only way we can overcome ourselves.

Jesus was generous, kind, patient, and loving. He was confident and strong and selfless. He loved the hurting, the broken, the poor, the abandoned, the unwanted. He was fully submitted to the will of his father.  He was full of hope and faith and joy.

So, live like Jesus today. And when it’s time make a decision, just ask: WWJD?

Prayer: God, I can get so tied up in my own desires, my own nature, my own life. I pray for a selfless heart today, that I wouldn’t simply desire to do what is right, but that I would fight my sinful nature everyday and truly do what is right. I pray for the courage, strength, and boldness to make decisions pleasing to you. Amen.