June 2015

Focal Passage:  Romans 8:31-39

Romans 8:33 “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.”

We all struggle with our pasts.  We struggle with the sins we have committed and the sins committed against us.  We struggle with the pain and heartache that life brings and we truly struggle with the way we sometimes handle that pain.  How can we be sure that on that great and glorious Day when Jesus returns and we stand condemned by our lives and our hearts by Satan that God, the just and righteous Judge, is for us?  Paul’s answer again returns to the analogy of a courtroom.  When Satan the prosecutor hurls accusations about our lives, accusations that will ring terribly true, the Judge in the courtroom is also the One who has made us righteous.  The Judge is the Justifier.  God has imputed His Son’s perfect righteousness onto His children so that it isn’t just as if we have never sinned; it is just as if we’ve always obeyed.  Our Father is the Eternal Judge and the Merciful Justifier.  He is for us.  Hallelujah!

Study/Meditation:  What comfort can you take from Paul’s assurances in this verse?  Why does the feeling of condemnation have no place in the hearts and minds of God’s children?

*Father, You are the righteous and holy Judge of all things.  Thank You for also being my Justifier and bestowing on me Your mighty mercy and grace.  Amen.

Focal Passage:  Romans 8:31-39

Romans 8:32 “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

Now Paul begins to answer the rhetorical question he posed in the previous verse by pointing out the reasons we can trust that God is indeed for us.  Paul is doing so by speaking to the actions of the Father on behalf of His children, most especially at the cost of His only Son, Jesus Christ.  Paul is speaking of the price of free grace.  We sing often of the lavish grace our Lord has given us and that it is free to all to whom it is given, but there is a price that had to be paid for that grace that is free to us, and it was paid by God’s own Son.  When we are drowning in the despair of this life or wandering through the darkness that often pervades our decisions, let us remember that God was not coerced into sacrificing Jesus for us; He wasn’t pushed into it nor did He make some kind of last minute decision to do so.  It was part of His plan to put His very own Son on the cross to bear the shame and sin and grief and guilt that is rightfully ours.  How can we question that this God who willingly did so much is forever for us?

Study/Meditation:  Read Isaiah 53:1-10.  How did the prophet Isaiah foretell the point that Paul makes in Romans 8:32?  What comfort does this bring to God’s children?

*Father, forgive me when I doubt Your love and commitment to me and my life.  You are merciful and full of grace and lavishly concerned for Your children.  I love You.  Amen.

Focal Passage:  Romans 8:31-39

Romans 8:31 “What shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?”

How can we, the children of God, in the middle of this life’s disappointments and despair and trials know that verse 28 of this great chapter is true for us?  How can we know that everything will work out for our good in the end?  Paul has written all of the previous letter to the Roman Christians as encouragement because he knew they were asking these same questions.  Now in these rhetorical questions of 8:31 he’s saying, “What can we say and think about everything I’ve been writing to you so far—your sin, your trials, your hope and salvation in Christ?  On what do we ultimately place our hope?”  The answer he gives is another rhetorical question:  “If (or Since) God is for us, who can be against us?”  In other words, given everything you’ve done and everything that has been done to you in this life, God still chose to love you and save you by the blood of His very own Son.  Nothing or no one can stand against that.  He is the Creator God, the Lord of all things, Master of the universe.  Since He is in your corner, and He is, there is nothing that can ultimately harm or destroy you.  He never leaves and He never forsakes.  It is on that premise that hope and peace are found.

Study/Meditation:  Why is despair such a common tool of the enemy when coming against God’s children?  What, according Paul, should be our greatest weapon against this scheme?

*Father, how amazing and tremendous it is to be Your child!  You are awesome and loving and greatly to be praised!  Amen.

By Laurel Strasshofer

It’s the question that has stayed with me since I recently heard a snippet from a speech given by inspirational American conductor, Benjamin Zander in which he states:

“The conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound…He depends for his power on his ability to make other people powerful…I realized my job was to awaken possibility in other people.” He continued, “If the eyes are shining, you know you are doing it…” 1

A few months ago, I was getting dinner for my grandchildren. I was tired and admittedly distracted and a little less-than-patient as I was focusing on “getting it done” (a flaw I will battle forever, I think).  My grandson was excitedly prattling on about something when I reacted to him in harshness. I don’t remember his words. I don’t remember my words. I only remember how instantaneously his bright, joy-filled eyes were cast down and how he appeared almost shamed.  It broke my heart to know I was responsible for that, and I have not forgotten how his eyes and spirit changed because of my voice.

In that moment, I remembered one of Zander’s challenges from that speech, “If the eyes are not shining, you’ve got to ask a question… ‘Who am I being that my children’s eyes are not shining?’”  Ugh…   I also thought of Proverbs 15:4:  “A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit.”  Double ugh!

But I am a slow learner.  Apparently.

It was not too long ago in a staff meeting one of my own team members shared her “low” for the week had been that she felt she “failed two times” a few days earlier.  She was attempting to make light of it, but it was easy to see she was still impacted by what had happened, most likely by my own part in how I handled the situation.  I was glad for her honesty, and at the same time, her words genuinely pricked and grieved me. Many things could have contributed to her demeanor, and in my weakness I would have preferred to leave the blame there.  Still, I knew in my heart that as her leader I was largely responsible for the state of her spirit at that moment, and I needed to work to mend it. I had to consider the possibility of my own role in the situation.

Isn’t it true? So often we will naturally lean into blaming those we lead – whether our children, our coworkers, or our ministry team members – for their low demeanor, lack of passion or mediocre performance. While we as individuals do have responsibility for our own attitudes and actions, I don’t believe the latter was necessarily Jesus’ focus when he spoke on things pertaining to what makes a great leader.  He always made the shepherd responsible for the tender care of the sheep.  He always emphasized humility in leadership.  He always focused on the intentional pursuit of the lost one. He also basically said, “If you don’t like what you are seeing in those you lead, uh… check the mirror.”

Seriously.  Check it:

“And He also spoke a parable to them: ‘A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit? A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.’” (Luke 6:39&40 NASB)

Is it possible that he meant the one who follows will reflect what he has seen demonstrated by the one he looks to for leadership?  Or, that a student will only rise to the spiritual, professional and emotional heights that the leader allows or takes them?  I believe he meant ALL of that, and then some.

I do believe as Christ-followers we are responsible to raise those we lead to new heights – to help them fulfill their potential. And, so when someone in my sphere of influence is cast down, I am compelled to ask myself what kind of leader I am being.

Actually, Benjamin Zander said best what I genuinely desire. Toward the end of his speech, he stated how he measures “success” in leadership. He said,

“For me, it’s very simple.  It is not about wealth or fame or power, it’s about how many shining eyes I have around me.”

What a measure of success as we lead in the varied roles in which we are privileged to be serving!

Paul actually brings it home in his letter to the Philippians:

 “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the for of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. (Phil 2:3-7 NASB; emphasis mine)

In reading this, I am convicted that making those I lead 100% responsible for their passion, motivation and sense of security is not an attitude of humility or regarding them as more important than myself. It is one of pride and lacking in mercy – especially in light of all Christ has done and continues to do for me daily as I learn to walk with Him.  I must become more introspective and humble myself to be willing to see what is in their eyes as a potential reflection of how they are being led. I must be brave enough to ask:

  • “How am I awakening the possibility in other people?”
  • “How is my leadership being reflected in the faces of those around me?” Or, as Zander puts it,
  • Who am I being that my [spouse’s, child’s, coworker’s….] eyes are not shining?”

 

1http://www.tv.com/web/ted-talks/watch/benjamin-zander-classical-music-with-shining-eyes-1545529/

Focal Passage:  Romans 8:18-29

Romans 8:30b “…, and those whom he called he also justified,….”

All of God’s children were sweetly drawn to His grace by His will in His foreknowledge or “fore-love.”  He brought us to Him by His choosing.  Once this was accomplished and so that He might fulfill His own justice, He justified us.  He literally declared His children whom He brought to Himself to be righteous, fulfilling His righteous requirement of perfection.  That means that in God’s court of law where eternity with Him requires righteousness, He stood you and me before Him and, despite our sin and unrighteousness, declared us righteous.  Many have defined “justified” as “just as if I’d never sinned.”  That would be wonderful enough on its own, but the truer, more accurate definition is that God declares it to be “just as if I’d always obeyed.”  And from where does this perfect righteousness come?  It is our Lord’s, Jesus Christ’s.  God imputes on us the perfect, sinless righteousness of His Son who gave His life so that we might receive what we could not earn.  A more amazing love we cannot imagine.

Study/Meditation:  Jesus said that we must be perfect as God in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)  How does God pardon us and still fulfill this requirement?

*Father, though I know I do not, nor will I ever, deserve Your boundless love, I praise You and thank You for it.  Amen.

Focal Passage:  Romans 8:18-29

Romans 8:30a “And those whom he predestined he also called,…”

God loved His children before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-6), and in this “fore-love,” He predestined them for His purposes.  These purposes begin with His effectual call.  God drew you to Him; He called you to be His own.  You did not call yourself nor did you reason this call out on your own.  God brought you to Him because He chose to bestow His manifest love on you before the world began.  The writer C.S. Lewis describes his conversion by describing that he didn’t want to be called.  He fought it at every turn.  But God had chosen him long before his rebellious breath launched attacks on Christianity.  Consequently, the Father also sweetly drew Lewis to Himself, bringing the writer into communion with the Spirit.   We were drawn to the blessed bosom of Christ by Christ, Himself, and this all of His will and His work.  How glorious is our Savior!

Study/Meditation:  Why do you think the word “predestination” has gotten such bad press in the both the believing and non-believing communities?  Why is this concept completely God-centered?

*Father, thank You for Your love that would call me to You, a sinner who is unworthy and unclean.  You are awesome in all Your ways.  Amen.