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Romans 5 — 8 Devotional Plan

In this unique season, many of our usual rhythms, structures, and comforts have been suddenly stripped away. Because of this, it is an opportune time to turn (or return) our hearts and minds to the discipline of devotion to the Lord. If you’ve never had consistent devotional times before, or haven’t had them recently, you might feel intimidated. You’re not alone! We’re all reading together, and we’ve put together some resources for you.

What to read: Romans 5-8

In the weeks leading up to Easter, we’ll be studying Romans 8 on Sundays. During the week, we will read passages that lead up to and tie into Romans 8.

  • Week of March 29: Read through Romans 5
  • Week of April 5: Read through Romans 7
  • Week of April 12 [Easter]: Read through Romans 8

You’re not reading alone.

Devotional Drills videos

In these videos, Pastor Nic will break down the passage and train us how to engage with the Scriptures that we are reading. Subscribe to the High Point Church YouTube channel to get notifications of when these videos are posted throughout the week.

Devotional podcasts

We will be discussing the passages we are reading together on the Engage & Equip podcast.

Further resources

How to have a devotional time

Reading the Bible

If you have any questions, contact Jill at jreasa@highpointchurch.org.

Fighting for Devotional Time: Practical Tips

Listen to discussion on the Fighting for Devotional Time series on the Engage & Equip podcast, episode #173.

Now that we’ve covered the three biggest introduction topics—developing the discipline of devotion, focusing your mind, and approaching the Scriptures with open honesty—you may wonder, “Yes, but there have to be some basic helpful techniques you can give us.” There are. Here are a few:

  1. Get a very readable translation of the Bible. I’m not against the King James Version, but it is written in 1611 English. Most people just don’t understand that version of English. The English Language has many incredible translations, Including the NIV, ESV, NET, HCSB, NASB, NLT, and so on. 
  2. Don’t read the Bible straight through. For most people, it is best to start with one of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. If you wish to start at the beginning, Genesis is a fairly interesting book, and so is at least the first 20 chapters of Exodus. If you get into the law starting in Genesis chapter 20 and then get bored and distracted, then flip forward to the New Testament and read something else. Some of the fairly understandable books of the New Testament are Philippians, 1 Corinthians, 1 John, Galatians, and so on. Also, the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel and Kings in the Old Testament are narrative books with lots of action. Young men especially tend to enjoy these books. If you’re looking for comfort and emotion, many people like the poetry of the Psalms; you don’t have to read those in order, they are all individual songs. If you have any trouble, ask somebody. Almost anyone who has been reading the Bible for a while can help you out with where to read.
  3. Read the Bible in “sections.” Many modern Bibles will have little subheadings in the text. These tend to mark out biblical sections pretty well. Generally speaking, you want to read a complete story, or a complete argument. It’s the best way to make sure you aren’t taking something out of context. Some of these can be fairly long, while others can be very short. However, biblical authors try to make sections of the text complete in themselves. Try to read a complete “section.” You’ll have a better chance of interpreting it well, and taking away the right truths. 
  4. Don’t get upset if you don’t understand 100%. You will almost never understand 100% of any text of the Bible. If you understand 5%, but you really do understand that part, then you have gotten something from God’s word and you should cherish it. Next time you’ll understand 15%, and so on. If you think you have completely misunderstood a section, again, ask for help. But just remember, we read the Bible for incremental change, not perfect understanding. I have read many passages in my life where I didn’t understand many good and important things in the passage, but I did understand one real thing from the passage. To the extent which I believed and applied that one thing, God used it in my life. 
  5. Almost every detail matters. So, don’t just read for something that sounds spiritual. Virtually every detail is important as part of the story or part of the argument. The more little things you assume don’t matter, the less likely you will understand what’s really going on. It’s often the detail you overlooked that will open up the meaning of the passage. Go back and reread.
  6. Before you read, pray and ask God to open up some truth to you. God will respond, and it will open your heart. It’s important to know and believe that God is active in your devotions, not just you.
  7. I find it helpful to write down the main thing I’m taking away from what I read. Especially the first couple of years I had personal devotions, I practiced this for about 25% of my devotional time. In those days I set aside about an hour. I read the Bible for about 25 minutes. I wrote in my journal for about 10 minutes. I meditated about what I read for about five minutes before I wrote and after I wrote, rereading what I had written. And then I prayed for whatever time I had left.
  8. Have someone with whom you regularly share what you are learning. Preferably somebody further along in the faith, and in studying the Bible. 
  9. Check out a Bible study class, or a book. I don’t encourage people to do this right away. Don’t read about reading the Bible before you read the Bible. Read the Bible for a little while first. Then go and learn from someone, or read something. You’ll learn a lot more if you have some prior experience. 

Obey whatever you learn. God has no incentive to teach you what you are unwilling to do. Knowledge of God is in some sense an end in itself if it grows our devotion or helps us in our understanding. But, studying Scripture should lead us to things in our life that we will have to change or adjust or think of in completely different ways. If you want God to show you more, act on what he has shown you already. This way you will show God that you are truly interested in him; additionally, it’s amazing how much you will learn about God in the act of obeying itself. Reading the Bible is not the only time we learn about God and ourselves. Ultimately, we are called to live lives of active love.

Fighting for Devotional Time: Open Honesty

Listen to discussion on the Fighting for Devotional Time series on the Engage & Equip podcast, episode #173.

So far, I have written about two ways to fight for devotional time: developing a discipline of devotion and focusing your mind. These practices both require that we intentionally stop, or at least put aside for the moment, many urgent tasks and diversions in order to make them happen.

The first positive practice of actually doing devotions is to read God’s word with open honesty. You must treat the Scriptures like someone you’re just getting to know. It would be wrong to try to make this new acquaintance just like yourself. You must get to know them for who they are before you know how they might relate to you.

Similarly, we have to come to the Scriptures humbly. They are God’s word, not ours. And we should not expect to know what God wishes to tell us before we read them. One of the great themes of the Scriptures is that we make God in our image, and we don’t listen to what he says. As we begin to read the Bible, we must be as vigilant against this human failing as possible.

Although this may seem like a simple point, it is perhaps the most transformative along with being the most important. The most likely way to get nothing from reading the Bible is to read it self-righteously. For example, it is usually best to assume that you are most like the worst human character in the story. Otherwise, we imagine ourselves as agreeing with God, looking over his shoulder at the idiotic, piddly humans who are much worse than the two of us (us and God).

This is not the intention of the writers. For example, well after the apostles had become heroes of the early church, they caused themselves to be portrayed as foolish followers of Jesus who didn’t understand his teachings and never seemed to have faith or understanding in the moment. Portraying themselves honestly in this way was intentional, as we then identify with them as dense, foolish, faithless and weak. It may feel uncomfortable, but by identifying with the person who is failing in the story, we put ourselves in the position to learn the lesson either they did learn, or that they should have learned. It makes us a true pupil—a real “disciple,” which means a “learner.”

Although this is not a very technical idea, it is the most important attitude when coming to read the Bible. If you have this attitude correct, over time, you will read the Bible for great benefit. If you get this one thing wrong, no matter what technical concepts you understand about interpretation, in the end, you will learn nothing.

So read with humility. For the God of Scripture loves to give grace to the humble. He loves to teach the inquisitive and make the simple wise. The right attitude will make all the difference. Learn to read the Scriptures with both humility and faith.

Sermon: It Is Humans He Helps

What is your only hope in life and death?
That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, 
both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. 
He has fully paid for all my sins, with his precious blood, 
and has set me free from all the power of the devil. 
He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father 
not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together 
for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit 
he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready 
from now on to live for him.  

Heidelberg Catechism: (16th century Protestant Catechisms) 

It is humans he helps.

Angels don’t need his help, they are his helpers. How should we pay careful attention here: how does he help humans?

3 words that unlock 3 truths about how he helps us: 

By the grace of God, Jesus tasted death for everyone 

What does that mean in a world where all die? He didn’t taste death “instead of” us.

Passage Parallel: verse 10, “author” or “pioneer”—the one who was first and starts something; the entrepreneur, the one who creates from scratch and makes it easier for those who follow. Bears the suffering to get it going. “We’re all going to go through it, but he is going to take us through it.” 

Parallel words: Hebrews 12:2 , “starter and finisher” or “pioneer and completer.” The Greek: avrchgo.n kai. teleiwth.n—beginner and completer. This parallel shows the emphasis is on the one who does something unknown and complicated (due to ignorance and fear) first and makes it much easier for the next person. 

In Jesus’ death and resurrection Jesus has “tasted” death, and pioneered the way through it for us. 

  • In atonement- taking away the sting, and judgment of death.  
  • In conquering it- by taking away the power of it’s mystery by defeating death, and giving us the promise of resurrection. 

Suffering made Jesus the perfect savior for us.  

“Perfect” – better or fitting? “Perfect” or “perfect for”? Perfectly accomplishing brotherhood—a fully shared experience.

Hebrews 2:10-14 NIV 10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting  [that] (to1) God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.1 12 He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.”1 13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.”And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.”2 14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death– that is, the devil…” 

The one who makes people holy, and those made holy are of one family. The family of the sufferers—the line of “flesh and blood” (verse 14). That is why he “shared in their humanity” or literally “partook of the same” (as the flesh and blood). 

The sharing of suffering and death is the heart of sharing our flesh and blood. 

NAS Hebrews 2:18 For since He Himself was atempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. (Heb. 2:18 NAS) 

How does this brotherhood help us? How is it the definitive help that we need- that makes Jesus the perfect helper as our high priest?  

Jesus broke the power that enslaved us by our fear of death 

Heb. 2:14-15 NIV “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death– that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”  

Notice the word is “by” not “to”—we were not enslaved to our fear of death, but by it.  Literally: “as much as the fear of death, through all their lives, they were subject to slavery.” 

How does that free us from the power of the devil?  His power was rooted in our fear of death—and it is that fear that makes us easy to manipulate and easy to lead away from God.

Job 2:3-5 NIV “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” 

“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. 5 But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

It is our experience in Flesh and blood that makes us both capable and vulnerable in creation.  We are unique among the self-conscious persons of the universe to be subject to flesh and blood and, therefore, death.  Neither God, nor angels, nor demons have any experience of such uncertainty, or of our particular kind of suffering—to not see things spiritually as they are. 

Jesus took on this unique foundation of human fear and doubt, and bore it perfectly, and showed us how—as a kind of brother. By becoming fully part of the flesh and blood people that suffer and die in this world.  And he showed us how God would bring us to glory, and put everything under our feet—even death and hell. 

Our fear of death was not a lingering and obscure slavery that hung in the background of a free lifeit was a chain and lock that bound us to a hundred slaveries that are all rooted in our fear of death. 

Our slavery to the devil works its way out from our fear of death and suffering. It leads to our fear of: 

  • Aging or becoming irrelevant 
  • Not having money 
  • Being relationally isolated  
  • Losing our good name 
  • Fear of missing out—that we only live once, and our lives are as meaningful as what we can cram into them 
  • Need to get out of hard relationships or to avoid hard things 
  • Our difficulty with getting over loss 
  • Our anger that we’re not celebrities 
  • Our anger that we have to work, and can’t just play all the time
  • Our fear to take moral responsibility for our lives—because we know that we’ll be self condemned 
  • Our unwillingness to stop judging others—because the people worse than us seem like a safety margin keeping us from the ledge of the precipice of judgment 
  • Unwillingness to forgive 
  • Unwillingness to deal with out deep dysfunctions—because it is humiliating suffering to seek psychological freedom 

Every slavery takes its authority from our fears as people of Flesh and blood—as part of the brotherhood of suffering and death.  

When Jesus breaks our fear of death, he breaks the chain and lock holding us to ALL OF OUR SLAVERIES. But we still have to appropriate that freedom.  We need to put our slaveries under his feet. 

How do we experience the freedom from slaveries that Jesus has already broken?  

  • Short answer: Pay careful attention to the great salvation.  
  • That is: The freedom is in the details.  
  • Context: The rest of the book of Hebrews. 
  • Practical: Your faith needs to become as incarnate as Jesus the high priest.  It needs to  be as divine as the Son of God, and as flesh and blood as the Savior man Jesus. 

Our faith needs to be focused on Jesus—who is himself the high priest.  

You can’t shy away from Jesus himself—you have to focus your spiritual life on him. On being his disciple. Learning about him. What his death and resurrection means, and how he has called you to follow him into godliness, which will involve suffering and ultimately death (but also much more).  

Galatians 6:2-10  2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.   3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  4 Each one should test his own actions.  Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else,  5 for each one should carry his own load.   6 Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.  7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.   9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.   10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. 

Fighting for Devotional Time: Focusing Your Mind

Listen to discussion on the Fighting for Devotional Time series on the Engage & Equip podcast, episode #173.

Yesterday, I posted about the first hardest part about fighting for devotional time: the discipline of simply doing a devotional rather than not doing it. 

The second hardest part of doing devotions is concentration and thought. Most people do not have a mind trained for thinking and concentration. Our minds function similarly to our bodies in that when we are out of shape, it’s harder to perform anything strenuous. Additionally and unhelpfully, our lives and homes tend to be filled with all kinds of convenient distractions. 

Therefore, to have a profitable devotional time, the next step after simply having one is to achieve something like concentration—focus. This can be aided with controlling your environment and the use of mild stimulants, like coffee or tea. Stay away from things like cocaine.

In order for many people to achieve concentration and focus, they need to repeatedly go to a quiet environment in which they have removed obvious distractions. Often, this has to be done fairly early in the day before distractions multiply. Early is often the best time to concentrate because you have the most mental energy you will have all day. Putting this together with a concentration aiding beverage can help you focus. Journaling can also aid with focus. Although journaling has some liabilities, it has two benefits. First, manual writing tends to keep you focused on creating the content you are writing. Second, writing things down allows you to go back and look at what you have written days, weeks, months or even years later. I recently went through a ten year prayer journal I used from 2010 through 2019. It not only was encouraging to see what God had done in those ten years, but it allowed me to carry forward things God had been shaping over that decade into the next. It gave continuity to my pursuit of God, the change he was praying into my life, and a sense that he has been working in me.  

Aside from these aids, there is no substitute for the work of concentration. Some people can concentrate nearly effortlessly for an hour to 90 minutes. This is often the case if you have a job that requires long periods of concentration that keeps your mind in this kind of shape. For some of us, concentrating for ten minutes may feel like active work. The most important thing is to start with where you are and to do what you can do. Push yourself without injuring yourself. Just like if you started running after months of sedentary living, you shouldn’t try to run two miles your first time. You’ll probably both fail and hurt yourself.

Similarly, if you have not been spending time concentrating, push yourself about 30% longer than comes natural. For some people that will be ten minutes. For others it will be 25. Just make sure you stretch yourself. Over time, you’ll be able to build yourself up to concentrating longer just as you would increase weights in the weight room if you were getting in shape.

Again, doing devotions brings natural benefits along with the spiritual benefits. By pursuing a sharp mind for God you will end up with a sharper, more disciplined mind for everything. Your devotions won’t just develop you spiritually; they will sharpen you mentally. You will literally become smarter over time—a clearer thinker. I have discipled many people who have said that their faith made them much smarter than they were before. That is not because faith in itself makes us more intelligent—some ways that people believe can decrease their curiosity and make them functionally less intelligent over time. 

But there is an educational and intellectual development to knowing God. As we exercise our mental abilities in pursuing him, he matures and shapes our minds for his service. And as you see the good results of this pursuit, you may find within yourself the growing conviction to minimize and remove the things in your life which distract you and dilute your concentration. 

If we listen to Jesus’ call to love God with all our minds, and if we grow in our powers of concentration as we pursue deeper devotion to him, then he grows and sharpens our minds as we give our minds to him.

Fighting for Devotional Time: The Discipline of Devotion

Listen to discussion on the Fighting for Devotional Time series on the Engage & Equip podcast, episode #173.

Last Sunday, March 15, we talked about what to take back from COVID-19. The primary thing we can take back for good from the destruction of this pandemic, other than an increased discipline of love for our neighbor, is an increased discipline of devotion to God. To this end, this post is the first of a four-part series on fighting for devotional time.

The most important part of doing a devotional is the act of doing it rather than not doing it. This is the main obstacle to start and remains the main obstacle as you proceed. Once you start reading God’s word, you will find benefit in it, and you will know God and his wisdom better. The challenge we face in disciplining ourselves to do this good in devotion to God is three-fold. 

First, we have to escape the obstacle of the urgent. There is always something screaming for our attention: kids, work, cleaning, entertainment, and so on. Most growth and self-care requires putting off the urgent for the needful. The urgent thing will not thank you for doing this. It will complain. To persevere, you must know you are doing the right thing for yourself, and for all the urgent things in your life that will get a better version of you after you do what is needful. This is true of sleep, eating well, and exercise, too, but doing what is spiritually needful is the most important of all. 

The second obstacle is that the Flesh, often embodied in our habits and nervous system,  wants to be pleased by doing something that brings pleasure with no effort and, especially, with no concentration. Mental concentration on something that will cause growth is really hard for most people. It’s like going running. Your body and mind are actually working against you. It’s easier to sleep longer, watch something, play a game, or look at memes. We are pre-programed by the Flesh to save energy and to do what’s easy. You have to choose to overcome this, and then to take time and concentrate on God and his word. 

Third, an obstacle we may not be aware of (nor want to admit to ourselves) is our uneasiness with coming to God himself in any real way. We talk about wanting to know and seek God, but deep down we know he is truly terrifying to the sober soul. We know that our life deserves to be evaluated as a “big damnable disappointment,” and no one else knows that better than God. We certainly don’t want to be around the One that knows our failure and wickedness best, nor do we want to go through the consistent experience of acknowledging that truth as we come to him. Coming to God can feel like a death—because it is. That is exactly why you need it. The death is the death of our lying, self-deceiving pretensions. When we come to God, we know somehow that this is Someone to whom we cannot really lie. Even the lies we tell ourselves don’t work for very long if we take up the practice of being honest with God. 

These three obstacles are each areas in which we have to first show devotion to God and his goods in order to start a discipline of devotion. 

First, we have to value God more than the urgent and the approval we get for tending to urgent things. We have to seek his love and approval rather than the approval of people and things that want something from us NOW!!! 

Second, we have to value God and be devoted to him over the ease of amusement. The word “amusement” literally means “not to think.” A first step of devotion is to decide God is worth thinking about enough to escape the amusement of immediate entertainments. 

Third, in coming to God in devotion, we have to be more devoted to his truth than to maintaining our lies. We have to be more interested in the growing pains that his truth will bring than in our stagnant comfort. We have to be more interested in the nakedness of honesty, than in the makeshift garment of our self-deception and self-justification. We have to be more interested in knowing the living God, than in having a false version of ourselves with which we can distract the world around us. 

Devotions have to start with devotion.