Joy, Peace, and Hope

October 23, 2018

Romans 15:13…  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

            I have attempted to generate joy and peace from within. I think to prove to myself that I am living in the kingdom of God. Paul tells us here that it is God who fills us with those attributes. It is His doing. I don’t even generate my own hope. That, also, comes from God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Humans try to prove their faith and their sincerity by doing stuff. In the verse above, the one thing we bring to the covenant is “believing.” God does the rest.  

            This is an interesting phenomenon. I feel like my belief in God has brought me the opposite of peace. Think about people you are at odds with. How much of the dissention is about God? And yet, according to today’s verse, He fills us with all peace. Peace is not according to circumstances. It could even be called ‘inner” peace. I read a biography of Oswald Chambers. He wrote, “My Utmost for His Highest.” That is one of the most popular daily journals of all time. In his later years, he was on the battlefield as a chaplain to the soldiers during WW1.  Peace is far from experiential during a war. But, this verse was still in the Bible and still applied. The peace that Paul wrote about and that Jesus gave is not circumstantial.

John 15:33… I have said these things to you that in me you might have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.   

            Our peace is in Him. And, in this verse, He lets us know that it is because of His words… I have said these things to you so that… If, in the last days, you find yourself surrounded by gun-toting, angry, people, remember Jesus’ words and find peace in them. That is what He gives. And, more than peace, He gives us hope. I have hoped for many things. God’s hope reaches beyond things. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 that faith, hope, and love abide.  “Abide” means they continue on past every circumstance. Hope is eternal. It continues after we end this thing called life. Many people have ended this life, died, with a smile on their face.  The hope that God give us is the assurance that no matter what happens, we are with Him. He’s got this and He only does good stuff. Trust Him.

Judging

October 22, 2018

Romans 14:13-14… Therefore, let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but decide to never put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know, and am persuaded in the lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it is unclean.

            This is a most unusual statement by the apostle Paul. It seems to encourage individuals to have opinions. Decades ago, when I was in my 20s, we had a question that we asked ourselves, “Is this an opinion or a conviction?” We chose to not hold tightly to opinions but to cling to convictions. In contest, today’s verses aren’t speaking to that dilemma. This whole chapter speaks to one dilemma… judging. Much judgment takes place in the arena defined by opinions. We have opinions about acceptable behavior and we hold those opinions as truths, judging others actions. Today, we learn that Paul allows, and even encourages, opinions, but does not allow judgment according to those same opinions.

            I will now walk out on thin ice to being this into our arenas. Karla and I enjoy good wine. To enjoy wine, one must drink it. We have had some friends, one pastor in particular, who would not drink wine. We had a wine frig in our house and it had wine in it. When we had a gathering in our house that included the pastor, we made no attempt to hide the wine, but we did not offer it to the guests at that gathering. We honored the opinion of the pastor and he honored our opinion by not making a big deal about it and by allowing many gatherings at our house.  

            There are certain elements of truth that are never negotiable and not affected by opinion. For example, Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me.” No matter what you think about that statement, it remains Truth. But, conversely, “Have some wine with dinner” is not that rigid. By faith, be convinced about your opinion. For every opinion, have a higher desire… that another person is not adversely affected by your freedom. Wine, in and of itself, is not a stumbling block. For some, watching you drink it is a stumbling block. Guard against that issue.

Put on the Lord

October 21, 2018

Romans 13:14… But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh.

            Notice the order of events, as described here. Often people get it backwards. We say, in essence, “Lord, let me first take a shower and then I will come to you, all clean and presentable. Then, you can wash me in your blood and cleanse me.” If you try to get clean in the shower of obedience, or any shower of your choice, you will fail. Only Jesus can wash away sin and the stains of sin. Go to Him… as you are.

            “Put on the Lord, Jesus Christ.” What does that mean to you? To some, it means, “Act a certain way.” If you put on the Lord, you will act differently. But you can’t just act differently; that is phony.

            Some people have heard it said, by Jesus, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Armed with that thought only, they set out to do what it says. That is only the second part of a command. The first part is, “Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Without doing the first part, we can get caught up in humanitarian activities. Humanitarian activities can make for a more pleasant lifestyle for all. But we can miss the important part of today’s verse… “Put on the lord.” When/if we do that, we put on love, and love makes no provision for selfish flesh.

Verse 8… Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the Law.

            I have said this before, but I find it important so I will say it again, “God is not defined by our interpretation of “love.”  Love is defined, known, by God. A boy might buy a girl flowers to prove his love. God doesn’t do that; He sent His Son to die. True love does not go to the store with whatever left over change is in his pocket. True love offers the person, himself. It requires sacrifice. That type of love is ours when we put on the Lord. So, the message of this verse is, “Don’t try battling the flesh without first putting on the Lord.” The flesh is a formidable foe when we try to walk with God. It will be your friend if you walk away.  (Romans 8:8-9)

Be Fervent and Zealous

October 20, 2018

Romans 12:11… Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in Spirit, serve the lord.

            “Do not be slothful in zeal…” This is one of those phrases that we are pretty sure we understand. Slothful is kind of like “lazy’, right? It is that but it is also about being inattentive. Are you inattentive to zeal? In my life, I have found that zeal is encouraged by others. I have always been moved by zealous people. Sometimes I have been inspired to remember my own zeal. Some of us wear zeal as an undershirt; it is always present but not seen often. But, others wear it as a jacket, It is one of the first things you notice.

            When you are pushed against a wall, what shows about you. Sometimes the most obvious thing is self-preservation. Perhaps it should be your zeal for God. “Be fervent in Spirit”   Fervency is kind of like the opposite of slothfulness. We are to zealously and fervently serve the Lord. I was recently in a conversation about Amway sales. Early in my adult life, I made a decision to not be persuaded by an Amway sales presentation. The best way for me to stay clear of it was to avoid a presentation. I did well for a long time but then I was tricked into attending an event. The salesperson was zealous about the sales model that the company used. I resisted and survived without signing anything. But, was I that zealous about the plan of salvation, as given by God? Salvation is our touch-point with God. We begin life with Him by believing His offer. Once we enter, the whole world opens up to us. Without entering His kingdom, we merely imitate what we hear and think. I know people who try to do good because they think that is what is expected of them. They have not heard God say, “Do this.” They have heard people say it and their life is lived, trying to do what certain people expect of them. Missing from that life is intimacy with God.

Does it not make sense that if we are going to serve God, we need to hear Him?

Paul goes on: verse 12… Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

            These are not 3 separate times in one’s life; they are 3 mindsets that are always available. Rejoice in hope, be constant in prayer, during/in tribulation.  Be fervent toward God, patiently enduring difficulties. Don’t hide at hard times.   

With Love

October 19, 2018

Romans 11:19-22… Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So, do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you.

            Paul is writing here to Gentile Christians. Gentiles, of whom I am one, were not born as the children of God, but He lovingly adopted us when we believed Him, by faith. In the metaphor of the olive tree, he explains that the same root that provides for the natural branches, also provides for the grafted-in branches. You and I, non-Jews by birth, are grafted into the same tree as the Jews and are sustained by the same root, Jesus. Jews must believe also that Jesus provides their substance. If they fail to do that, they will be broken off and cast away. Paul reminds us that we, too, will be cast away if we attempt to live in the olive tree without believing in Jesus.

            For me, this answers the age old question, “How can a loving God allow calamity and even establish hell for rebellious people?”  He has given the same opportunity for all people; it is in our court to respond. Hell is ‘life without the presence of God’… life without love. Hell came into being when love came to us.  

So, if life without love is hell, life with love must be heaven. Is love, perhaps, the light of the world? Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus is God and God is love.

In the beginning, God said, “Let there be light.” He was not talking about the light of the sun which was not established until the 4th day, so, maybe what He said was, “Let there be love.”

            This is almost too radical for me; I have never heard it. But it adds clarity to some verses.

1 Corinthians 13:13… Now, faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.        

            Without faith, it is impossible to please God. How can love be greater than that? Right here I find it necessary to point out that God is not defined by our explanation of love. Love is defined by God… who He is. Love is the oil that makes the mechanisms of life run smoothly.  “Let there be love.”  

Legacy

October 18, 2018

Romans 11:33… Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. how unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways.

36… For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

            I have found that one of my diving pursuits in life is to matter. I wrote in a writing recently that I want to leave a worthwhile legacy. That prompted a question… “Which is more important? …legacy or reputation?”

            Reputation seems to be a praiseworthy attribute; legacy is for after one is gone. But, in a way, they work together. My reputation might become my legacy. Reputation seems to be recognition on earth, while legacy does not reach the ears of the person being talked about. It happens after death.

            Frank Lloyd Wright is a famous architect. He died many years ago, but his architecture lives on. Whenever someone designs in his style the praise often refers back to Frank. It is his legacy. But, he was a human; one of his houses that he designed still leaks after many attempts to stop it. It is famous for leaking. That is also part of his legacy and a serious student of architecture has to include it in a recap of his legacy. It seems to feeble old me that legacy improves over time. Reputation, on the other hand, is measured daily against the scrutiny of society. So… reputation is what it is, according to the leanings of a society; legacy is what it will be. Except in the case of God. His legacy is already established, and will not change. He was, and is, and will always be as recorded in verse 36 above. That anchors me but it also reminds me of His supreme importance. We are anchored with the greatest legacy ever recorded. Paul said to the audience in Acts 17… “In Him we live and move and have our being.”   

            So. Why do I struggle so? Do I want my own legacy, one that resembles that of Jesus? I think, too often, we, Christians, are in competition with God for importance. I know how ludicrous that sounds, but consider it for a moment. We live as if we ought to be important. That is one of our preoccupations. I sought that in High School, and I suspect I still do. Jim, hear this… “It’s not about you!”

Faith or Fear

October 17, 2018

Romans 10:17… So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.

            Some teachers have changed the meaning of this verse to make it seem like one event. “Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ.” If you compare that to what was written, you will notice an obvious difference. Hearing the word of Christ opens our hearing which allow for faith. Id a man stands on a street corner reading the word of Christ, some hearing it will respond with faith. Some will respond with ridicule. Some have active ‘spiritual’ ears while others only have physical ones. Jesus said on a number of occasions, “He who ha ears to hear” In an average crowd, everyone had ears. Unless a person was deaf, he could hear. Jesus was speaking to another hearing dimension.

            Because I have worked a lot with music, when I listen to music, I hear things that are easily missed by the untrained ear. If I compare that to the verse at the top of the page, I can imagine that faith comes by immersion in the word of Christ, and  because of that constant exposure, I have faith. As I read the word of Christ, my hearing improves… is activated. With active hearing, my faith comes alive. Some people don’t feed their faith. But, that is a rule in life… “Feed your faith.” In addition… “Starve your fears.”

            Many Bibles set on shelves.   They are not being read. In some of those homes the news is on T.V. all day long. The news feeds our fears. It contradicts faith. I have been studying at the clubhouse lately. I choose to sit in a corner where I can’t hear the T.V. that some people come to watch. I am attempting to feed my faith and the T.V. feeds my fears. If your faith is wavering and weak, try turning the T.V. off and ignore the news. I thumbed through a People Magazine at the doctor’s office recently and I did not know the people on the pages. I am out of touch with the actors and actresses and musicians who are popular today. It makes for some stilted conversations, but I don’t live with continual fear. Your faith counters your fears. Faith is necessary for pleasing God, Faith is necessary for living according to God’s words. God’s word leads us to the winning side. That does not inspire fear. We are told to endure, as needed.       

Pray in the Spirit

October 16, 2018

Romans 8:26… Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit, Himself, intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

            Have you ever wondered about the meaning and value of prayer? Just last night, I discussed it with some friends. If God is sovereign and knows His plan, what difference can our prayers make?  We don’t change God’s mind. We do, however, want to know Him, and that takes communication. Paul reminds us of something we know but rarely articulate…sometimes we do not know what to pray for as we ought. In times like those, the Spirit intercedes for us. I have heard this explained as praying in tongues. I can appreciate the value of that interpretation but I wonder if that is what Paul wants us to hear.

1 Corinthians 14:15… What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit but I will pray with my mind also…

            In context, this is about praying in tongues. In my time as a Christian, and most specifically, my time as a teacher, I have found that not everyone speaks in tongues. I do not wish to alienate those who don’t, so I look at verses such as these with my heart open to the leading of the Lord. With regard to praying in tongues, I resisted the Pentecostal pressure to ‘get my tongue’. Their methods might have been a bit radical and, not necessarily Spiritual, so I asked God, Himself. I remember the night… I was praying at about 11:00 by myself and I said to God, “If speaking in tongues is from you, then I surely want it; but if it is not, then I surely don’t want it, and I will not imitate it. Not too many minutes later, I began speaking gibberish, or at least that is what it sounded like to me. I experienced a release in my prayers as I, on purpose, let the Spirit speak through me. Through the ensuing years, I have found that in my private prayer time seems to be when it matters most. I have seen confusion during corporate times. For that reason, I have confined it to my private prayer times. So that is my experience. What is yours?

            Paul talks about groanings that cannot be uttered. Speaking in tongues is utterance. The Spirit carries the thoughts of our hearts to the Father, no words.        

Adopted as Children of God

October 15, 2018

Romans 8:14-15… For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the Spirit of slavery to all back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba Father!”

            My parents adopted kids… 3 of them. Added to 5 of their own, there were 8 of us all together. We were one, big, happy family… most of the time anyway. We were, of certainty, one, big, family. The ‘happy’ component came and went. But, that is the way of the world. Happiness is a fleeting emotion, dependant on circumstances. My adopted brothers and sister were part of the family. That was a given and my parent made sure we knew it. We are adopted sons and daughters into God’s family because of the Holy Spirit. God hand-picked this family thing out of His bag of relationships.

Proverbs 18:24… A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

            This positive statement about a friend also gives us some info about a brother.  A brother is supposed to stick close. I have found that sometimes family members are not close. But, I have also seen the opposite. And I have seen both extremes in friends as well. One thing is constant however… my brothers and sisters are always my siblings, come what may. No matter the weather, the political climate, the location or the health factor, they are still my siblings. Friends come and go, sometimes sticking close through all things, but, mostly only when it is convenient. When God adopts us, we are in His family. We are not in only on good days. Because we are in, we call Him abba, Father. I heard somewhere that “abba” is an endearing term… like “daddy”. I have not studied it so I will leave that in your court. We are His children. That is settled. Now… are you a good kid or not? Are you in trouble or not?

            One thing is certain… We are no longer to live in fear. In my parents’ family, I did not want to get caught doing something that was forbidden. I, sorry to say, still did things I shouldn’t, but I tried to make sure I wouldn’t get caught. That is a fearful way to live. God always knows what we do. Live in freedom.   

Set Free

October 14, 2018

Romans 7:24-25… Wretched man that I am. Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So, then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

            Some have used Romans 7 as an escape hatch from the wrath of God. They have said, “Paul struggled as I do. He was an apostle in good standing so I am in good company.” Chapter 7 is Paul’s final declaration about life under the Law. The above is his ending thought. He asks, “How can I be set free from the dilemma I described here?” Then he answers his own question… “God.”

            In chapter 8, he begins talking about life in the Spirit. The Law, as recorded in Galatians 3:24, is our guardian, leading us to Christ. The Law, which cannot save us; it is just words; keeps us trying until we get to Jesus and then we are handed to Him. He, by God’s grace, saves us. And he gives us the Holy Spirit to lead us to the Father. If you are still struggling to do right, read Romans 8 over and over. ‘Christ-in-you’ is your hope of glory, it’s not about you… what you do and what you say. Because we have learned the Law, his Commandments, we think we can do them. Christ, alone, is perfect. Follow his guidance. Chapter 7 brings closure to us trying to live righteously. After salvation, we live in/by the Holy Spirit. This chapter does not give us an excuse to sin; it gives us a way to be free from the power of sin.

Verse 18…For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh, for I have the desire to do what is right but not the ability to carry it out.

            Right now, with that admission in your mind, read the verses at the top of this page.

            We have been delivered. He has done it. God has set us free. We are no longer “under” the law of sin and death. We are filled with the Holy Spirit. Listen to Him. Our obedience is no longer to right and wrong; it is to God, Himself. Lists of rights and wrongs lead to judgment as we watch others according to our lists. You might say, “I don’t have any lists.” Don’t kid yourself. You are human, right? You have lists. Don’t judge… live in the Spirit.

Bear much fruit

October 13, 2018

Romans 6:22… But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

            Having been “set free from sin” does not mean we never sin.

1 John 1:8-9… If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse u from all unrighteousness.

We have been set free from the bondage of sin which demands that we respond to temptation. We are free to choose not to respond. Since Jesus has freed us, our will is aligned with God’s. Our desire is to please Him. So, you ask, “Then, why do I still struggle with sin?” I wish the answer was simple. Like, “Because you wear your hair a certain way.” or, “Because you hang out with the wrong crowd.” Actually, your crowd does impact your decisions. Jesus spent time with sinners and with Pharisees, and with ignorant crowds but He hung out with disciples. The majority of His time was spent with  the 12 men He hand-picked to be the helpers with the early church. With whom do you spend the majority of your time? And it is more than time. Who do you care to look like?

            Another thing about the verse above is…´”the fruit you get leads to sanctification.”  Have you pondered that? The fruit in your life is not just for the benefit of others; it also leads you to sanctification. Fruit does not just hang on your branches for others to criticize or pick. It has more value than that. In the first chapter of the Bible, God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.  In fruit, we find seeds that grow and become.

            What seeds are you planting? In modern terms, “What is your legacy?”

Are you more concerned about your reputation or your legacy? Reputation is for my own benefit; Legacy is for those after me. You might ask, “So what?” Did you notice that your fruit leads to sanctification which ends in eternal life? I think, many people are only interested in getting to eternal life. It like they just want to be sure the end well; by asking forgiveness at the end of a selfish life. Paul reminds us, that’s not how it works.  Bear much fruit… (read john 15:2)     

Jesus did it all

October 12, 2018

Romans 6:19… For as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

            How hard was it for you to become a sinner? Did you exert yourself toward that end? No, it came naturally; nobody taught you. Because of sin, death rules all people. And in my lifetime, every human, at the end of their life, has died. Nobody had the power to not die. So, without any effort on our part, we were/are sinners, and we will die. Paul exhorts us, “That is the same way righteousness works.” By Jesus’ obedience, we will be made righteous. It is not by our works. Our works, even our good ones, are a pile of filthy rags in God’s sight. Don’t trust in your goodness to get you into heaven. It won’t and can’t. We get to heaven because of Jesus. That’s it. There is no room for boasting on our part. Was Jesus’ obedience any less important than Adam’s disobedience?

I think not. Paul tells us that as one is, so is the other.

            When we sin, we blame many forces. When we do something righteous, we praise our goodness. Salvation is a gift because of Jesus… not because we earned it. You cannot earn a gift. The Santa Claus song is misleading, “He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.” In the case of Santa, who represents all people, it is true that niceness is rewarded and naughtiness brings only shame. But that is in the world where our senses rule our lives. In God’s world, where eternal life is reality, our senses don’t rule. He does. And He put sin in a category of evil that leads us away from Him. And then, in the fullness of time, He sent His Son to rectify the situation, to justify us. Don’t resist Jesus; but also, don’t try to assist Him. In a memorable nutshell;

Don’t resist; and don’t assist

It is a sin to try to help Jesus; do we really think that highly of ourselves? So, what is the place of good works? Is there any reason for them? Paul anticipates that question and answers it in the next chapters. Any goodness in us is because of the power of righteousness. Because of Jesus, we have been changed… made new. As a new creation in Christ, we can express goodness, and we should. Contrary to the teachings of ‘feel-good’ preachers, we are not inherently good.  

Freedom

October 11, 2018

Romans 5:2… Through him we also have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

            This morning, when I read this, I wondered, “What is the glory of God?” I have a certain understanding of it, but could I describe it? I cannot think of any words to describe it. Perhaps it is just a word to describe God’s presence. What bothered me is that I didn’t know if I rejoiced in the hope of His glory.

            And that brings me to a different dilemma… What does it mean to rejoice? When I lived in Eugene, Oregon, I saw lots of rejoicing when the Ducks won a football game. Is that what “rejoice” means? I suspect it is more than that. “Rejoice” about a football game is a giddy feeling of happiness. “Rejoice” about our hope in the glory of God is much more than that. And yet, because we are humans on earth, we relate the 2 and even compare them.

            Women love to shop. I am not sure that is true of all women but it is true of many that I know. You might rejoice when your favorite store has an amazing sale. If you are modern, perhaps your favorite web site has an amazing sale. Everything this world has to offer pales in comparison to the glory of God. By His grace we stand, delivered, no longer condemned to death. Maybe that’s the question we need to answer; we have been set free. “Are we living as free men and women?” One criticism that I have heard regarding Christians is that they re sour pusses. Bondage to Christ is actually freedom.  We have been delivered from bondage. We are free to live as Christ hopes for us to live. We are free to hope for the glory of God. Don’t be ashamed to hope in God, even though many won’t understand.

            People in bondage don’t really grasp freedom. Often, when slaves were set free, they returned to slavery.  Studies have shown that people who win the lottery often exchange their slavery to poverty for slavery to wealth.  Some of the wealthiest people I know are slaves to their wealth… They work diligently to keep it, to grow it, and to show it.

Galatians 5:1… For freedom, Christ has set us free; therefore, do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.     

Living Faith

October 10, 2018

Romans 4:20&21… No distrust made Abraham waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He promised.

            Abram, his name before God changed it to Abraham, grew in faith. He is called the father of the faithful, and yet he grew in faith; he didn’t already have the full abundance we desire. In this letter to the Romans, Paul knew he was writing to Jews and non-Jews alike. Abraham was a big shot from Jewish history. He was the father, chosen by God, who started the race we know as Israel and which are being called Jews here. Remember, when you think of Israel the country or Jews living around the world, they didn’t exist until God called them into existence. Israel is unique and special in that regard.

            We, too, have that same distinction. We believe in God; we have faith in Him, but our faith might not be full grown yet. Abraham’s grew as he gave glory to God. He did not wake up one day, and realizing he had faith, gave glory to God. He gave glory to God when his faith was immature. Instead of focusing on his faith, he focused on God. As he did, his faith grew. In that regard, he is our mentor. We don’t copy Abraham because he was Abraham; we copy his unquenchable love for God. Do you give God the glory in all things?   

              Do you know who is the most difficult god who challenges the greatness of our God? I’ll give you a hint. It is not the Devil. It is you; it is ME. We are our own worst enemy. We are in competition with God. At least we are willing to be. You ask, “How can that be? I am not in competition with God.” We compete with Him in giving glory. For our status at work, we give glory to ourselves. unless, we have been overlooked for a promotion; then we blame others. Giving glory to God is more than putting His name at the top of our praise list. It involves thinking, believing, that He deserves all praise. It is more than singing a humble song; it is believing that we are less than He is. It is more than talking about faith. It is having faith. Don’t settle for talking about your faith; live according to your faith. The world needs more than good words; it needs God.  

Nobody will be in heaven because of their works

October 9, 2018

Romans 3:23… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

            I am not certain what I will write about this short verse that is rather familiar to all people. The obvious amplification is that nobody can please God and achieve his glory apart from God, Himself. God, by sending His Son, can justify us through His blood. What we were unable to accomplish, He did. Besides being the greatest story of all time, it showed his love and how He thinks. He saw that we might try many things to reach Him, but He knew they would all fail, because we were/are sinful.  Does that define your love for other people? Do you care more about them than yourself? We fall short of the glory of God because we are sinners, not necessarily because of a specific sin. If you are like me, you probably have thought, “If I could just get rid of this one sin, I would be a much better person.” You might get along better in this life, but you would still be a sinner and still need Jesus’ sacrifice. Have you ever known someone who would be described as a goody-two-shoes? My guess is, if you have, you probably didn’t like them. A goody-two-shoes is measured by the Law and not by grace. He, or she, doesn’t do certain things that we consider bad. Have you ever known someone who beat an addiction? I have, and it is thrilling to see, but many times the same person picks up a different addiction… sometimes gossip, sometimes pride, sometimes judgment. For each of those conditions, we also need a Savior. God has determined that every one of us, humans, fails to live sin-free. He made a way for us to get through the blockage. A ‘goody-two-shoes’, a ‘holier-than-thou’ needs the same sacrifice as a drug addicted thief. We are justified only by the blood of Jesus. But it is not just only,  It is always.  When you meet a Christian, who is not doing things the way you would do them, think like God…he/she is justified by faith in Jesus. Period. When God looks at you, does He see the blood of His Son or is that buried beneath criticism and judgment? What robe, outer garment, do you have on? Put on the garment of praise.

Isaiah 61:3…  To grant unto those who mourn in Zion… ... the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit.  “Bless the Lord, oh my soul.”  

Pursue Peace

October 8, 2018

Romans 3:15-18… Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

            “The way of peace they have not known.” This could be taken either of 2 ways. 1. They have not known peace because it was not given to them. Or 2. They have not known peace because they did not pursue it.

Hebrews 12:14… Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness, without which, no one will see the lord.

            So, we strive for peace and holiness; they are not given like ointments. Peace is not stumbled upon or found accidently. It is pursued, striven after. The final phrase seems to be a component of peace… “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Without fear of God, one may be swift to shed blood. The verses above are preceded by

Verses 11 & 12… No one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.

            So, apart from God, the way of peace is unavailable. I am going to expose a weakness in me, here… I am naturally inquisitive. I want to know “why?” This was made real to me when i was first introduced to computers. I did not understand how a mouse could be placed on almost any surface and the icon showed up on the screen. It seemed to me the surface needed to be a part of the computer.  For quite some time I insisted on using the mouse on the surface on which the computer sat. I now know that doesn’t matter. It makes no sense to me but I accept it. And isn’t that a description of faith. The reality of God makes no sense sometimes, but I accept and even believe Him.

Without faith, it is impossible to please God.”

            It seems to me, that verse needs to be amplified. “Without unquestioned, undeniable, faith”… Faith that is only available in the areas we have confidence in is not faith at all. The generations that follows mine seems to be more questioning than I remember being. I have tried to be understanding of their questions.   Worldly thinking challenges faith. God doesn’t. So, stop it, Jim.  

Be a Doer

October 7, 2018

Romans 2:12-13… For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the Law, n all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law. For it is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the Law who will be justified.

            Are you aware of the 10 Commandments? Then, you are under the Law. There is another interpretation of this section of scripture that claims it is describing the difference between Jews and heathens. I know that and I see the relevance, but I look always for interpretation that does not excuse, or exonerate, me. For example, when I read about Pharisees, I ask God how I am like them. As a non-Jew, I m not under the Law so that part applies to me. But as a Christian and a pastor, I am a keeper of the Law, so that applies to me as well. There is another verse in this chapter that is chilling.

Verse 24… For, it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed’ among the Gentiles because of you.’   

            When a Christian disobeys the Law, non-Christians blaspheme the name of God saying, “See, he really has no power to help.” What is particularly lame is when a leader sins knowingly and does not repent. “He, or she, doesn’t even obey the Law… why should I?” We don’t live in a cocoon that only God can see; we live in a glass house. The devil is watching you so that he can take advantage of any mistake you make.

Luke 12:2-3… Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore, whatever you have said in the dark hall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.   

            I am not trying to force that verse into a pocket where it doesn’t belong…

But, I am drawing attention to the word “Nothing”. We cannot, and will not, hide anything.  We don’t hide our light under a basket; neither do we hide our darkest words. They end up not on a screen in heaven; they are shouted from house tops. That choice of words speaks of earth. We have houses on earth. The word “shouted” speaks of humans… lots of humans… near and far.

We never get away with sin

October 6, 2018

Romans 2:3&4… Do you suppose, oh man… you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself… that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of His kindness, forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

            Chapter 1 ends with a list of evil actions that are common to men. Paul refers back to that list… “such things”. This reminds me of a phenomenon that I have written about before: It is really sad when we “get away” with doing something we aren’t supposed to. When we exceed the speed limit on a section of highway, we are pleased if we don’t get caught.  If we are caught, we are upset. That is most unfortunate because we decide that the real issue is getting caught.  We no longer view the action as bad; we just view getting caught as bad. God knows all things. There is nothing He is not aware of. He knows when we sin; He doesn’t always immediately discipline us. His kindness toward us is not an indication of tolerance; it is His kindness and forbearance; He is leading us to repent. Or, He is waiting for us to repent. When you get caught in sin and feel remorse, repent. David gave us an example.

Psalms 51:1-2… Have mercy on me, oh God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgression. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sins.

            Study Bibles let us know that this was the psalm David wrote after the prophet told him God was aware of his sin with Bathsheba. Notice, he was not making excuses; he was pleading for mercy. He knew God. When you are caught, don’t make excuses; seek forgiveness. Be thankful when you are caught by God and not the public. But don’t make the mistake of thinking you “got away with it.” Another problem in the church is thinking, “As long as certain people don’t know, I am good.” People can make your life miserable, but mostly they can’t destroy you. God can! Don’t fear what people might think; fear God.

Don’t fear Him as someone who has a gun to your head; Fear Him as someone who can put you away from Himself forever. That is hell… life apart from God.

Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” He spoke of heaven… life with God.  

Vaccination

October 5, 2018

Romans 1:32… Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

            What are “such things” that Paul writes about? They are listed in the previous verses:

Verse 29-31… They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, and malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventers of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, and ruthless.

            That reads like a description of the evening news. When Soap Operas first came on TV, I didn’t watch them. Maybe I tried one, but they were evil as far as I could tell. They show-cased things that we wouldn’t even talk about. Things like adultery, murder and fornication. By putting them in the middle of our homes, on a screen, they made us numb to them. We were essentially vaccinated with evil. Notice the change of verbs in the first two sentences above… “They were filled” and “They are full”. It changed from past tense to present tense. What are you full of? Do you long for shows like “Leave it to Beaver” or are you more drawn to “Modern Family”?  Are you more entertained by cop shows or by circus acts? How has TV impacted you? And then there is the unasked question, “Do you need to be entertained?” The warning of verse 32 is, “Are you entertained by these things?” When you watch a TV show you are approving the show… The producers can show the advertisers that they have a certain audience and with a big audience a show will survive. By watching, we give approval. Today’s writing hits each of us where we live. If you are uncomfortable, take a break. But, I will preach on. I heard a woman describe a certain church service as “more entertaining”. What fuels that argument? Our desire for entertainment.

Verse 18 (part 2)… Who by their unrighteousness suppress the Truth.

            Have you ever thought about that?   

Hoarding God

October 4, 2018

Romans 1;11&12… For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you… that is that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

            Paul admits in his greeting that he had not met the Christians in Rome. His connection was that they had become believers in Jesus. That’s it. I wonder if I would travel to another city just to meet with the believers in that city. Paul outlines a different priority in this greeting. I am interested in his stated reason… That we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. God has been teaching me the importance of that, lately.

            Worldly, human thinking tends to go one way or the other. Either I need the comfort of you encouraging me or, I need the satisfaction of encouraging you. In either case, the emphasis is on what I receive. We are wired to think like that. Sadly, many people approach God from that position/perspective… “What’s in it for me?” We treat God’s love like a bathtub full of water that we unabashedly enjoy. His love is a river, flowing into us and out again to someone else.  “Out of your belly shall flow rivers of living water.”

            Don’t be a God hoarder.  I have not written that word before… wasn’t sure how to spell it. The thought is new to me… “God hoarder” hmmm. We are like kids, “I know something you don’t.” Our relationship to other Christians is to mutually encourage each other; our relationship with the unbeliever is to give him what we have. There can be no pride involved. Some people try to get people to say they need Jesus so they can put another notch in their proverbial belt. As we near the great and terrible Day of the Lord, we must have the mind of God… “I don’t want to see anybody burned in the lake of fire.” (2Peter 3:9)

            We look at everyone as a potential/future believer. Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” Love them enough to want them to be in heaven with you. At this point in time, you may not feel as though you have any enemies, but the day is approaching when that might be more of a reality. If you are a channel for God’s love you will see them differently than if you are a reservoir with a drain plug that can be pulled. Again, I say, “Don’t be a God hoarder.”