Monday, February 29, 2016

The Christian's Mark

Most mornings I squeeze a fresh lemon into about 8 oz. of water and drink it as a morning tonic.  I read somewhere this was good for you.  Fortunately, I love lemons.  Today I've been reading and re-reading Romans 8, to see if the Lord wanted me to squeeze any additional "juice" out of this wonderful chapter and share it with you.  Before we move on, let's focus briefly on Romans 8:12-14.

12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh 13 (for if you live according to the flesh, you will die), but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.

"So then".... or "therefore" or "because of what I've said earlier" - - - and what did Paul say earlier?
Basically, he spent the several previous verses saying this:
Those who have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior have His Holy Spirit living inside of them.  It is that Spirit who delivers them from the condemnation of spiritual death and who equips/enables them to live/"walk" according to the Spirit's leading.

Paul goes on to emphasize that he is speaking to "brothers and sisters", which means he is not speaking to unbelievers.  He is speaking to those who have already decided for Jesus and who already belong to Him. These are those who, by choosing Christ, have put to death the deeds of the body. The act of trusting in Jesus Christ's finished work covers our sins positionally before God.  The Holy Spirit we receive upon our conversion, our transformation, forever seals us as His.

And then, in verse 14, Paul tells us the mark of the Christian.  All who are led by God's Holy Spirit are His (Christ's).  This is how you know someone belongs to Jesus.  It's not the words you hear a person say.  The mark is whether or not they live a life that is "led by the Spirit of God".

What does that mean - - - to be led by God's Spirit?

One thing it means is to embrace the truth contained in God's Word.  There are people who want to ignore God's commands in the Bible.  Certain truths make folks uncomfortable.  Those led by the Spirit "walk in truth".

Yet, being led by the Spirit is not an act of passive surrender.  This is a conscious act of a person's will, to resist evil.  John MacArthur points out1 that being led by the Spirit is to be led into spiritual warfare.  It is a life of conflict - - - conflict between "the flesh" and "the spirit" within a person. In Ephesians 6, the apostle Paul calls this a state of being "strong in the Lord".

Being led by God's Spirit will also result in a life of love, brotherly love for our neighbors and agape love for our Savior, because God is love (1 John 4:7).  In Galatians 6:2 Paul writes this:

Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

In writing this, Paul was echoing the Savior, who said, "By this will the world know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Jesus said these words to His disciples on the occasion of the last meal He ate with them before His arrest, mock trial, crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection.

34 “I give you a new commandment—to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.”

Resisting evil and seeking to do good - - this duality is not only the mark of the Christian; it is our holy obligation.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Hoping for the Impossible

Romans 8 is like a treasure box.  Even though I wrote on it in yesterday's blog, I can't leave just yet. Today's emphasis is on verses 24-29 and 38-39.

24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will.28 And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, 29 because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
Romans 8:24-29

As I've blogged about before1, Scripture is full of paradoxes.  One of those is that the resplendent walk is characterized by both grief and joy, the two mediated by faith/hope.  And, that's ok.  It's all part of the "conformation process" God has ordained for His own.

My scales are leaning toward the grieving side this morning, for a number of reasons.  I am grieving over a lost world, my country careening seemingly toward destruction and loved ones walking in disobedience.  Just last night, I learned of two "impossible" health situations .... Do you have any "weaknesses" this day?  These verses help to clarify our vision and to refuel our endurance and, yes, our joy.

In hope we were saved.  The Bible defines "hope" as "looking forward expectantly to a certainty". Just as faith that is "proven" is not faith, hope that is seen is not hope.  Paul mentions the critical element of endurance here.  The King James Version translates the word as "patience".  Patience and endurance.

You may today, like me, be facing a situation that looks "impossible".  The greatest weapon in our arsenals, Believers, is prayer.  And, praise God!  We can pray for "the impossible" not worrying about whether or not we are praying in the will of God.  As long as we are not knowingly praying against God's will, we can pray fervently.  Why?  Because the Spirit of Jesus Christ the Son, the Holy Spirit, intercedes for us2, the saints.  WE are "the saints", not because we are "saintly" every moment, but because we are His. The Holy Spirit, who IS God, would never intercede before the Father to pray anything that is against the will of Elohim (the plural name for our Triune Godhead).

So, regardless of your "impossibles" today, take them to the Lord in prayer.  Ask other believers to pray with you.  This is very important.  There is something mystically powerful about the accumulated prayers of God's children, Jesus' brothers and sisters.  Accessing the throne of God our Papa (Abba, Father! vs. 15 ) is our right as co-heirs with Jesus Christ.  Don't let the enemy deceive you into believing otherwise.

King David earnestly prayed and fasted over his ailing, failing toddler son, whose name we are not told.  It was an "impossible situation", from a human standpoint.  The child died (2 Samuel 12:18 ).
The prophet Elijah breathed into the body of a dead youngster and, by the will of God, the child returned to life (1 Kings 17:17-24).
The Giver of Life and all good things is our Papa, but He works things out according His perfect plan.  He is Sovereign.  And, He uses all circumstances in our lives to "conform us to His Son's image" (vs. 29), to shape our souls to be more like our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Don't give up or faint.  Don't stop hoping/"faithing", or praying for "the impossible".  Patiently endure!  We serve the High King of Heaven, the God of the Impossible! And remember, no matter what the outcome, we are loved more than we can imagine, by the One who died so that He could know us and we could know Him (vs. 38-39 KJV).

37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Lord, I know that Your plans will always be more beautiful than all of my fears and "disappointments".  I understand that all the circumstances of my life enter my life with Your approval so that they will make me more like my Lord Jesus.  I thank You that you care enough to work Your sanctifying power inside of me.  There are days when my faith is weak.  If Your Holy Spirit did not live in me, the despair would be, at times, overwhelming.  I hold on to Your love at these times and to Your purposes, as You choose to reveal them.  I honor and worship You, my King. In Jesus' name, amen.


1.  See,  "Embracing the Paradoxes and Making the Trade", July 14, 2014.
2.  See,  "Groanings Which Cannot Be Uttered", July 8, 2014.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Embraced and Unfazed

The little boy played his heart out, gave his all.  He can't bear to look at the scoreboard again, as he walks off the field.  His lip is bruised; he got a cut on his ear from sliding into third that last at-bat. He is dirty, exhausted and ... the final indignity: defeated.  Barely holding back tears, he looks for his father...scanning the crowd. There he is, waving and walking toward his son!  Approaching his dad, perhaps the boy makes the "L" symbol on his forehead...Loser.  When they meet, the father takes a knee and opens his arms wide to gather his son up.  "Son!", he exclaims.  When those strong arms wrap around the son, the tears begin to flow.  Tremendous disappointment, regret, self-recrimination for mistakes made or opportunities lost - - - all flow from the boy's eyes and in the words which tumble from his lips.

What does the good, good father say? He reminds his son of who that child is, and assures him that his love for that boy is greater than any failure.  He promises that, while this disappointing game is over, there are wonders and joys ahead because that boy is his.  He probably echoes a lot of what God tells His very own beloved children in Romans 8.

When we left chapter 7, we probably felt a lot like that child: defeated.  But, then, Romans 8 dawns like a glorious morning.  Because of his deep understanding of the Christian life and a deep intimacy with Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul was able to re-frame for us the adverse circumstances of life in our fallen world.  This is why Romans 8 is one of the most beloved chapters, in one of the most beloved books of the Bible.

God recognized the problem and devised a solution.  He saw that the Law was serving merely as a leaking bandage on an oozing sore.  He realized that the system was broken and that a deep healing was needed, a healing that would begin from within, down in the very core.  In fact, He knew all this before Earth or a single soul on it was ever created.  He has always known.

His solution was to send His Son, purposefully and personally taking on the human condition, clothing Godhead in human flesh.  Born as a human baby, Jesus engaged the fractured mess called humanity, in order to set things right, once and for all and forever.  Jesus "put skin on" to take up residence here so that His Spirit could take up residence in us, so that we, although still experiencing daily the limitations of sin, can live life on God's terms: the Spirit-filled life.  With His Spirit living and breathing in us, we are delivered from our former, dead lives.  We are set free.

Jesus' resurrection life, which He beckons us to walk in, is not a life that keeps looking back and longing for the former, dead lives we lead.  It is not a life that draws us to go regularly to place flowers on a grave of regrets.  No!  It is an expectant life, a life that asks our Savior, "What's next, my Love?  I am ever Yours!  What's the next adventure?"

God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!
Romans 8:16-17  (The Message)

All our skinned knees, black eyes, cut lips and broken bones are healed, forever healed from within, by God's Spirit who lives within.  And then the love, OH the love that is ours!

Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:
They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.
None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.
Romans 8:35-39 (The Message)

Embraced and unfazed!  It is the assurance of His love which enables us to look up to Him and anticipate the future, both here in Brokenville and later, in Foreverville!

Lord, I think of that beautiful testimonial that sings, "No power of death, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from your hand....", and I thank you.  I humbly thank you.  In Jesus' name, amen.


 "In Christ Alone - Philips, Craig & Dean." YouTube. YouTube. Web. 24 Feb. 2016. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Masquerading and Seducing

Last night in the college Bible study group, we were studying the attributes of God.  I was thinking about this as I read Romans 7 this morning.  One of the things we did last night was to make a list of our own attributes and then later to make a list of God's attributes and compare them.  A huge gulf there!

It is important for us to contemplate God's characteristics, as revealed to us in both God's written word and also in His Son, the living Word.  Why?  Because if we don't we are in danger of creating our own god, making the Almighty over into an image which is pleasing to us.  I want to blog in more depth about this topic at some point, but today is not that day.

In Romans 7, Paul pointed out that sin (Satan, the devil, the enemy of the believer) doesn't usually flaunt or prance before our eyes to seduce us.  Instead, Satan dresses sin up in goodness, so that we are fooled. A mouse gets caught in a mousetrap because all he sees is the cheese.  Focusing exclusively on the morsel of good, he ignores the danger surrounding it.  Reaching for the good and beautiful, he is trapped by the deadly.

Temptation is like that.  Sin hides under the cloak of virtue.  If sin were not appealing, we would not fall for it.

8-12 Don’t you remember how it was? I do, perfectly well. The law code started out as an excellent piece of work. What happened, though, was that sin found a way to pervert the command into a temptation, making a piece of “forbidden fruit” out of it. The law code, instead of being used to guide me, was used to seduce me. Without all the paraphernalia of the law code, sin looked pretty dull and lifeless, and I went along without paying much attention to it. But once sin got its hands on the law code and decked itself out in all that finery, I was fooled, and fell for it. The very command that was supposed to guide me into life was cleverly used to trip me up, throwing me headlong. So sin was plenty alive, and I was stone dead. But the law code itself is God’s good and common sense, each command sane and holy counsel.
13 I can already hear your next question: “Does that mean I can’t even trust what is good [that is, the law]? Is good just as dangerous as evil?” No again! Sin simply did what sin is so famous for doing: using the good as a cover to tempt me to do what would finally destroy me. By hiding within God’s good commandment, sin did far more mischief than it could ever have accomplished on its own.
Romans 7:8-13 (The Message)

Paul gives this teaching to explain the role of the Law of Moses to both Old Testament Jews and New Testament Christians.  The original purpose of the Law was to show mankind exactly how God defined sin.  Had the Law not been given, there would have been a question about whether something was/is sin, or not.  It is important that we are honest about what the Word of God says.  If the Bible calls something sin, so should we.

Last night, for example, the Bible study group was discussing the Ten Commandments.  How many of us would have listed "Thou shalt not make unto me any graven image" as one of the "Big 10"?  It was years before I ever understood that commandment.  If, in your human life, you've never worshipped a manufactured object, you are probably similarly mystified.  "What's the big deal?", you ask.  But, remember, when Moses tarried on the mountain with God, and Aaron and the Hebrew nation thought he was dead, what was the first thing they did?  They pooled all their gold so that it could be melted down into a likeness of a golden calf (Exodus 32).  In other words, they created an image that represented their own fake, made-up, substitute god.  The Great "I AM" knows the black hearts of man so well!

The Law puts all that to rest in that it defines sin, from God's perspective, which is the only one that matters.  (Remember the two lists?  We are not like God.)

The law code had a perfectly legitimate function. Without its clear guidelines for right and wrong, moral behavior would be mostly guesswork. Apart from the succinct, surgical command, “You shall not covet,” I could have dressed covetousness up to look like a virtue and ruined my life with it.
Romans 7:7 (The Message)

The other function of The Law was to show us, mankind, just how incapable we are of meeting God's standard for sinlessness. Paul goes on to give personal testimony of how he struggled in his flesh with sins that were his specific pitfalls.

Recently, I was talking with a friend about one of her relatives who has what is often referred to in the churchy lingo as his "besetting sin": that sin that so easily trips a person up.  (We all have at least one.  If you don't, let me help you out: your besetting sin is then "pride".  Get a clue!)  At any rate, this friend's relative does not define his sin as "sin".  The world does not define it as sin, and the young man has adopted the world's perspective on his behavior, instead of God's.  He has made a golden calf and is worshipping it.  He has made God over into his own image.

Honestly, when we sin knowingly and deliberately ... (Christian or non-Christian) when we let that besetting, masquerading, seducing sin get the best of us, we are doing the same thing.  That should cause us great angst and grief.  It did Paul.  He described himself, in his Christian walk as "wretched" (KJV).  Read Romans 7:17-24 (The Message).

17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

All of this can become quite overwhelming.  But, fear not!  Chapter 8 was written for just this moment, and we will resume there tomorrow.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Eating the Starter

A couple days ago I was in a store which I love.  It's a combination kitchen gadget, whole grain, whole foods store, owned by a mom-and-pop.  I had taken a couple of girlfriends, in order to introduce them to the many wonders there.  While they were browsing, I was looking in the cooler where I spied a package of kefir (KEE-fur) starter.  I had thought it might be fun to make my own kefir, since it's good for you; and, it's so expensive when bought ready-made in the grocery store.  I bought a package.  (See picture above.)

Now, the way you make kefir is like this:  You make your first batch.  Then, you take some of that first batch and you use that "starter" to make your second batch.  This continues through several batches.  As I was talking to one of the ladies working at the store, she commented that someone in her family had gotten in trouble the other day because they had drank the last of the kefir.  In other words, they had "eaten the starter", which was highly counterproductive to the whole process.

This anecdote got me thinking about how we tend to do that, as Christians.  In trying to right a wrong or correct a situation, we "eat the starter".  Has this ever happened to you?  It has to me.  In fact, I have, at times, been the "eater".  To continue with the euphemisms, we sometimes "cut off our noses to spite our faces".

Most of the time, when we do this, it's not intentional.  Most of the time, it happens because we overreact to some threatening or painful situation, challenge, external stimulus.

One recent Sunday School lesson was from the Beatitudes, in Matthew 5.  Verse 5 talks about the believer's quality of meekness.  Some translations render it "gentleness".  But, meekness does not equal weakness!  The Message version likens meekness to a calm assurance of who one is, as a child of God.  You can't have this fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23) until you HAVE the Holy Spirit.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

Gentle, meek, "centered" people don't often "eat the starter".  They don't react inappropriately. Because of who they are positionally in Jesus Christ and because they know that, to the depths of their being, they aren't overly bothered by the circumstances around them, even when those circumstances are terrible. They remember who is in ultimate control - - - God.

Yep, sometimes, even we Christians get ourselves into nasty messes.  We eat the starter of relationships, of careers, of churches.  In the heat of the moment we can so easily devour one another. We may even think that a relationship is irreparable or impossible.

But, nothing is impossible with God (Jesus' words in Luke 1:37).  Just as we can go to the store or to a neighbor and get new starter for our kefir, we can go to God's throne and receive new grace and mercy.  The Bible promises that "His faithfulness is great and His mercies are new every morning" (Lamentations 3:23). He will give us "grace to help in time of need" (KJV).

Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.   
Hebrews 4:16 (NET)

Now, don't misunderstand!  Grace does not include removing the earthly consequences of our sins. You eat your starter .... you will still have to go get more, if you want more kefir, that is.  It is far better to just not eat the starter at all.  When we properly care for our "starter", it yields more and more and more blessing, more and more spiritual health!

Meekness, gentleness...a fruit of the Spirit.  I need more of it.  What about you?  How about this - - - He also tells us in the very next verse (!) that if we work up a big appetite for more of Him, for more of His righteousness, He will fill that longing (Matt. 5:6).  Isn't that wonderful?  So, if we need more meekness or any of the other spiritual gifts, He will give them.  (Just like Hebrews 4:16!)

Father, smh... You, above all, know that I need meekness and gentleness.  You are such a loving, generous Lord!  So, I'm asking, God.  Please give me more meekness, more gentleness, so that I won't eat those wonderful "starters" You have given - - tremendous life blessings!  In Jesus' name, amen.

Friday, February 19, 2016

A Good Dunkin'

Ok, I know that some of you came to read this post because you believed you'd be reading about doughnuts, didn't you?  I admit to some literary subterfuge ... I hope you'll forgive me.  In reality, we are studying Romans 6.  Not a doughnut.  But, Psalm 19:10 says that God's words are "sweeter than honey from the honeycomb".  Better than a doughnut!

There are 3 themes in this chapter:
1.  Should we practice sin with abandon, because the grace of Jesus Christ covers them all?
2.  Should we practice baptism ("dunkin' " in the Baptist church)?
3.  Should we enslave ourselves to righteous living?  Do we have that choice?

I remember my own baptism, at nine years of age.  It was an early August day, hot!  My little church had had a revival a few days before, and I had made my profession of faith in Jesus Christ at the end of one of the services.  I had decided to follow Jesus.  We were baptized in a large, deep creek called Moss's Mill.  At one time, in the late 1800s, a grist mill was powered by the waters swiftly flowing there.

Baptists "dunk" their new believers, after they have chosen Jesus Christ.  In other words, if you've never witnessed it, they literally submerge them briefly in water.  Admittedly, this is intimidating for some new believers.  However, it is critically important.

3Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life.
Romans 6:3-4 NET

It is these verses which speak to Baptists about submerging the new believer.  Often, and I love this part, the minister speaks words like these as he baptizes:  "Buried in the likeness of Christ's death, raised to walk in newness of life!"  The first phrase is spoken as the person is dunked, and the second as he or she is brought back up out of the water.  In this way, baptism only follows the life-altering decision to choose to follow Jesus Christ, and it serves as a witness to others about Christ's finished work applied to a believer's life.

Oh, but I didn't finish telling you about my own baptism.  Things went great until I was walking out of the water to encounter my younger brother. He smarted off with some asinine remark and I responded with a biting, cutting retaliation of my own.  Ahhhh, my "flesh" raised its ugly head!

No, after my baptism I did not magically get transformed into a sinless being.  Oh, positionally, God sees me as sinless, because He looks at me through the scrim of Jesus's blood.  But, in my life walk here on earth, I still battle with sin, daily.  All believers do!  We are tempted to just give in to temptation and live as our old, fleshly nature dictates.  Wouldn't that be easy to do?  Paul makes it plain, however, that this is not God's plan for the believer.

15What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not! 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to, 18and having been freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.
Romans 6:15-18 NET

So, it is obvious from this passage that we have a choice as to what we are going to "present ourselves as slaves".  Will we fight (and it IS a battle) to present ourselves as slaves to righteous living that glorifies our God?  Or, will we present ourselves as slaves to immoral, ungodly living, which leads to a quicker physical death?

If we choose the latter, we are either not truly redeemed, or we will reap the consequences of walking habitually in unrighteousness.  For the unbeliever, sin leads to both physical and spiritual death.  For the Christian, spiritual death has been taken out of the equation; however, our sins are certainly "death choices" here in the natural world.  This is the message of Romans 6:21-23 (NET):

21So what benefit did you then reap from those things that you are now ashamed of? For the end of those things is death. 22But now, freed from sin and enslaved to God, you have your benefit leading to sanctification, and the end is eternal life. 23For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I'll give you an example.  One of my areas of continual temptation is in what I choose to eat.  From the moment I awake to the moment I lie down to sleep at night, I fight a sugar addiction.  (Full disclosure, I am about 15 pounds overweight for my height.)  Now, most of the time I do really well, making good choices.  My "witching hour", however, comes after dinner, in the hours before I go to bed.  When I am fresh and rested, in the mornings for example, I easily make great food choices.  I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and occasionally eat some meat.  I avoid dairy usually, because I have a dairy allergy.
Oh, but sugar....sugar calls my name.  And, after dinner, "it's on like donkey kong", as Si Robertson likes to say.  The battle reaches a fever pitch.

Now, this may not sound like a "big thing" to you.  But, every believer's "sin pothole" is different. We are all tempted by many things.  Whatever our area of strong temptation, we must fight it with all that is in us.  Basically, when I choose that sugary treat (or treats), I am not only being disobedient; I am hastening my own physical death.  That equates to fewer days here to serve Him.  And, for me, it is sin.

Maybe this post was about doughnuts after all....  :)

Father, thank you for the beautiful symbolism you gave us in Christ's baptism, and also for what our own baptism signifies in our lives.  When Satan grips us, it is so hard to "walk in newness of life"! Help us, Holy Spirit! Mold us to be slaves to righteousness, to walking ... resplendent!  In Jesus' name, amen.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Default Setting and the New iOS

I had no idea that Romans 5 was such a wonderful chapter!  Really.  It tells God's Story from beginning to end, in one chapter.  So, today we are going to finish it up, by focusing on the last two
"-ion" words:  sanctification and glorification.

When I was in college I got to sing my first classic choral masterwork, a mass.  Not having been raised Catholic, I had no idea what a mass was, other than I knew it was the Catholic church service. A choral mass is a large work, comprised of 5 major sections:  Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Benedictus, Agnus Dei.  Latin is a dead language, they say.  But, it lives on in the masterworks of Bach, Beethoven, Verdi, Mozart and others.  And, in those masterworks, Latin is gorgeous.  It "sings"!  A little early for puns, you say?  I agree.... moving on!
So, you may have noticed that one of the sections of the mass is called "sanctus", a word that basically means "holy".  It is the same root that gives us the English word, "sanctification" - - being set apart to become more like Jesus, more "holy".
Here's how God designed it: we can't "holify" ourselves by our own good works.  After becoming Christ's, however, His Holy Spirit within us sanctifies us, through supernatural power.   Sounds wonderful, right?  Look at verses 3-4 (NET).

3Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance, character, and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

When we identify with, align our hearts with Jesus Christ, sufferings, trials, tribulations inevitably result.  This is because we have then put ourselves in opposition with the majority of people in this world, standing against their philosophies, practices and beliefs.  Satan immediately puts us on his radar.  (As long as we were not Christ's, we were no threat to him, you see.)  Even if we do not fully realize it, when we become a Christian by experiencing that forever-change-of-heart, we become utterly powerful to tear down the strongholds Satan has erected in this world.  This conquering power is from Christ Himself, through His Holy Spirit (Philippians 4:13).
If we "sink deep" into Jesus, drawing on the supernatural power He gives us, He transforms us from being righteous in Him to being a warrior for Him.  That is what it means when Paul says that our problems produce endurance, character and hope.
Now what about that last bit: hope?
Remember: hope as defined in the Bible has a different connotation from our customary use of the word in modern English.  The Greek word "elpis" (ἐλπίς) means "an expectation of what is certain."
Mothers will understand this.  We call a pregnant woman an "expectant mother".  She is "expecting". Now, without getting overly graphic, let's just say that what is inside her is going to come out, one way or the other.  Right?  There's no "Perhaps the baby will come out".  It's coming.  No doubt.

Think about a successful job, perhaps the first one you got as a young person.  You were probably scared to death at first.  But, each success on the job gave you more confidence, didn't it?  The harder you worked, the better you got.  Well, it is sort of like that with sanctification.  When you yield to the Spirit, He produces spiritual "fruit" (successes) in your own spirit.  This is what Paul means by "character".  And, the more He is allowed (through your surrender) to sanctify you, the more confident of "who you are, in Christ".  This state of ever-becoming more like Jesus is what Paul calls "reigning in life" (vs. 17), resplendent daughters and sons!  Hallelujah!
When you experience justification, the last "-ion" word we talked about yesterday, you KNOW that you have been changed forever.  You KNOW that your eventual destination is Heaven.  But, through sanctification, you become even more confident and excited about "that blessed hope", the certainty of Heaven.  It's like a runner running a race: you see the finish line in the distance.  The closer it gets, the clearer you can see it and the more excited you are to reach it!

Sanctification and glorification cannot be separated.  They go together, inseparably.  Romans 8:30 tells us that if you belong to Christ (justification), you will not be sinless; rather, you will be becoming more and more like Christ in some way.  You will not be a "fruitless fig tree" (Luke 6:30). It is impossible.  Oh, you may go through "phases" where you are temporarily walking in disobedience; but, you will be miserable the whole time, deep down in your soul.  Sanctification is the "default setting" for each believer.
This is the beginning of glorification!  One flows into the other.  The final transition is made when physical death comes to the believer, the Christ-follower.  But, there is no fear in death for the believer!  Our Savior has conquered it for us.  Physical death is merely stepping from sanctification into full-on glorification, the "new operating system"!  When we were dead (spiritually) in our sins, death reigned in us.  When we were made alive (spiritually) in Christ Jesus, grace reigned and will reign in us forever.

so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 5:21

Eternal life - - ultimate glorification.  Psalm 16:1l sums up the marriage of justification-sanctification-glorification beautifully.  In closing, think about that as you ponder this verse:

You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.

Father, eternity is now.  We need to grasp that truth and apply it to our lives.  Physical death is merely a mile marker on the road to glory.  And, every step we take brings us closer to you! We are so very, very cherished and loved.  Do your supernatural conversion in each of us.  Thank you, Lord! In Jesus' name, amen.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

More -Ions

In yesterday's post, we ended with Written Revelation.  Today, we continue in Romans 5, exploring the remaining "-ion" words.  The next two you won't find explicitly in Romans 5.  I expound upon them because they are key to The Story.

While seemingly an unseemly word, the meaning here is "the process of making something illegitimate; to lower in value or worth; to debase".  This is exactly what the religious leaders of Jesus' day (and for most of the 400 years between Malachi and Matthew) had done to the Jewish faith. They had perverted the Law and the writings of the prophets to suit their own purposes.  The system God had established through the patriarchs had completely broken down.  We see Jesus' anger at this perversion in passages such as Matthew 21:12, when he overturned the money changers' tables at the Temple or in Matthew 23, when He called the scribes and pharisees "whitewashed graves" and "brood of snakes".
Something had to give.  Or, rather, Someone had to give.

And His name shall be called "Immanuel", God-With-Us. 
(Matt. 1:23)
But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
(Romans 5:8 NET)
I love words, in general, in case you have not figured that out.  But, I especially love "propitiation", in the Greek "hilasmos".  You won't find this word in the Pauline letters because it is only found twice in the New Testament.  Both times, it is used by the apostle John, in his letter called 1 John (2:2 and 4:10).1  Basically, the word means "an offering to appease an angry God", and that offering is the spilled-out blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.  A good synonym for "propitiation" would be "atonement".
and he himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world.  
1 John 2:2 (NET)
Previously, God had given mankind his Written Revelation and glimpses of Himself.  In Jesus, the Godhead gave to us His physical revelation, God-With-Us, God-With-Skin-On.

God the Father, through God the Son Jesus Christ, made it right.
10For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life? 11Not only this, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation. (Rom. 5:10-11 NET)
Elsewhere, Paul issued this plea:
We plead with you on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God!” 21 God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God. 
(2 Cor. 5:20b-21 NET)

Now, we come to the most personal "-ion" word of them all: justification.  All those which have come before are irrelevant unless this one is applied to the heart and soul.  All previous fall under the category of intellectual belief until the soul lands here.  At this point, the "forever" transformation of the spirit occurs, if the heart is open and willing.  Because this is the crux of the matter, it is with these words Paul opens Romans 5.
1Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory.

Paul makes it clear that our hearts become Christ's by faith alone.  It is by our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ that we are declared righteous by a holy God.  God's grace cannot be administered through any other conduit than through the conduit of faith, specifically, faith in His only begotten Son.
As we learned in Rom. 4:5, we must believe in Him who justifies the ungodly; it is then that His righteousness is credited to us.

Once again, dear brothers and sisters, I find myself "running long"!
We will explore the remaining "-ions" tomorrow.

Father, Father!  "O to great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be.  Let THY goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.  Prone to wander...Lord, I FEEL it!  Prone to leave the God I love!  Here's my heart, Lord, take and seal it.  Seal it for thy courts above."2  Amen.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The -IONS of The Story

Paul had a great gift for condensation, summarization and juxtaposition.  In Romans 5, he began with Adam, the first man, and painted in broad strokes the story of God's ongoing relationship with mankind.  In so doing, he threw a lot of multi-syllabic words around and contrasted theological concepts by presenting them in the same sentence (e.g. the "So...but" statements in vs. 15-21).  I'm going to use Paul's literary devices today to put Romans 5 in a more chronological order.  So, grab your Bibles and let's deconstruct Romans 5 together. (All scriptural references are from the NET.)

The first -ion is not explicitly mentioned in Romans 5.   But, I'm going to start with it because it is integral to "The Story".  In Genesis 1:26, the Hebrew is translated as this:
And said Elohim, "Let us make man in Our image, in Our likeness..."
"Elohim" in the Hebrew is a plural noun, as reflected in the pronouns "our" which follow it.  The Name encompasses Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all of whom collaborated in the creation of the first man.

So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned (5:12)
This refers to Adam's disobedience and sin in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3).  Adam's and Eve's disobedient acts caused all of their descendants (all the rest of humanity) to be born with a "sin nature".

For judgment, resulting from the one transgression, led to condemnation (5:16b)
Consequently, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression (5:18a)
What was the condemnation that came from Adam's sin?  God's judgment: death, both physical and spiritual (6:23).

Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam (who is a type of the coming one) transgressed.
Romans 5:14
The whole of human history can be divided into three epochs:  before the Law, under the Law nad under Grace.  There were 11 generations between Adam and Noah.  That translates to 1100 years.  (Remember, before The Flood people lived for hundreds of years.)  During those centuries, mankind became so evil and the human bloodlines so corrupted by the disobedience of fallen angels that the Messianic bloodline itself was nearly lost!  It was because of this that God had to destroy the world, except for Noah's family, through which the Messianic bloodline would continue.  The spiritual battle was extremely intense in those days.
From Noah to Moses were 15 generations.  Noah built the ark because he believed God.  It was his faith in God which saved his family, according to God's plan.  Abraham, likewise, believed God, and it was credited to his spiritual account as righteousness.
By and large, though, during these 26 generations, mankind floundered, wallowing in spiritual death.

Written Revelation
The first written revelation God gave to mankind was the 5 books of the Law, also called The Pentateuch.  God chose Moses as the one to pen these books, which have guided Judaism (and later, Christianity) for millennia. The rest of the Old Testament followed, as God's further revelation. Paul reveals the purpose of The Law in vs. 20:
Now the law came in so that the transgression may increase
In other words, the Law revealed mankind's lawlessness to a greater degree.  The Law gave an "impossibly high" standard, which pointed out just how fruitless it was for people to try to "be good enough" to satisfy a holy God.

On that "happy note" (NOT! lol) we will stop for today.  Tomorrow we will get to the most-excellent news of Romans 5 ---  Propitiation, Justification/Reconciliation, Elevation, Sanctification and Glorification!

Elohim, my Triune God, thank you for Your magnificent Story!  In Jesus' name, amen.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Father Abraham...Had Many Sons....

Perhaps you have poked around in the web-based product,  It is wildly popular, mainly because people want to know their parentage, heritage, ethnic make-up, etc.  Some even send a DNA sample off to be tested, so that their own unique combination of ethnicities can be revealed.  And, some have been surprised at the results!

As mysterious as our physical genealogy may be, the spiritual genealogy of the Christian is revealed in Romans 4.  In this chapter, Paul is continuing to teach the Jews, newly converted to Christianity, about the centrality of "salvation by faith", as opposed to "salvation by good works" (such as circumcision).  In so doing, he uses Abraham as an example.  You may or may not have realized that Abraham was not circumcised at the time God asserted that his faith in God had made him right with God (Gen. 15:6, 22).

11And he received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised, so that he would become the father of all those who believe but have never been circumcised, that they too could have righteousness credited to them. 12And he is also the father of the circumcised, who are not only circumcised, but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham possessed when he was still uncircumcised.
Romans 4:11-12 (NET)

Because Abraham believed God, he became the "father of all who believe".  In a way similar to how Abraham believed, we Christians believe in Jesus Christ for our eternal salvation.  Therefore, we are sons and daughters of Abraham.  It reminds me of the folksy camp song we used to sing at Bible camp:

Father Abraham had many sons
Had many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them
And so are you
So let's just praise the Lord

And, then, there is some strange choreography that supposedly accompanies the singing of it; but, we won't go into that!

It is a beautiful thing, how Paul weaves the Old Testament into the New in the book of Romans (and elsewhere).  He was a famous Old Testament scholar in his day, before becoming a follower of Jesus Christ, and this expertise he brought into the infant Christian world.  The Holy Spirit used his gifts to shape early Church theology, as well as to spread the gospel.

Many Christians want to disparage the Jewish people.  This is a grave mistake.  My own pastor pointed out yesterday that God WILL keep all of His promise to the Jews. In Hosea 3:4-5, we read about this.  In Romans 11, we will see Paul talk about a "partial hardening" of the hearts of Jewish hearts to the gospel, during this present Church age.  But, that will change, once God's complete number of Gentile believers has been reached.  More about that in a few days!

Some people, in the past, have actually persecuted the Jews because they "blamed" God's chosen people for Christ's death.  How foolish!  It is plainly stated in the Bible that Jesus coming to earth, for the express purpose of sacrificing His life (laying it down of His own free will), was God's plan all along.  These misguided people have not represented Jesus Christ when they have either actively persecuted the Jews or (just as bad) stood by silently and allowed them to be slaughtered.

I've always admired the Jewish people, even secretly wishing I had some Jewish heritage flowing thorough my veins.  (Maybe I should check out that!)  But, more importantly, I have Father Abraham's spiritual heritage, and that is better than any human cultural or ethnic combination.

Heavenly Father, Your family tree is gloriously beautiful.  Thank you for grafting me in (Rom. 11), for allowing me to have a part in Your amazing grace!  In Jesus' name, amen.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Despair of "Not.Even.One"

Why do you think that so many people have no peace, why they instead slog through life in despair?
The many reasons we could list generally fall into two categories:
1.  Despair is the response to our own shortcomings.
2.  Despair is the response to events we cannot control.

We are going to walk through Romans 3 this morning, a chapter that contains some of the most-often quoted verses for the Bible.
It is here we find despair's antidote.

Paul has just finished lambasting the Jews, destroying their belief in their own superiority.  I can imagine that they are floundering in despair, having had their "supports" kicked right out from under them.  This is reflected in verse 1, where Paul asks the obvious question:

"What's the advantage in being a Jew?"

I want you to imagine someone coming along, coming to your congregation and telling you that some major tenet (or tenets) of your faith are worthless.  That's about how these Jews felt.  It is how all people, with an established "religion", feel when they are slammed in the face with the brilliance of God's true salvation.  It is not found in "religions" or in the keeping of a bunch of rituals.

Rituals, unless grounded in an already settled salvation only serve to distract from the truth.

Paul goes on, then, to tell the Jewish Christians that the number one advantage to being Jewish is that God entrusted to them the writings of the Law and the prophets, writings which served several purposes.
1.  The Old Testament writings revealed to the Jews the nature of God, "who He is", insomuch as they could comprehend.
2.  The Old Testament writings revealed to the Jews the centrality of faith (although a lot of them missed this key teaching), and to expose the human impossibility of perfectly keeping the whole Law.
3.  The Old Testament writings showed the Jews excellent rules for "clean" living.  These kept the Jews a physically strong and healthy people, one of the key factors in their enduring as a people (although scattered) until this day.

Those are just a few, key purposes.  It's little wonder Paul listed the Scriptures as the number 1 advantage being a Jew.

However, when it comes to earning a righteous, holy standing before a holy God - - that is, taking care of our own "sin problem" - - we are all on equal footing.  Busted.  The Jews' involvement with God's revelation did not serve then, nor does it serve now, to make them right with God.  Jew or Gentile, we are all alike under the crushing burden of our sin, all despairing in the same sinking boat, apart from the salvation of Jesus Christ. Without Him - - -

"There is no one righteous, not even one;
There is no one who understands;
There is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
Together they have become worthless;
There is no one who does good,
Not even one" 
Romans 3:10-12

Here, Paul quotes Psalm 14:1-3 and 53:1-3, catapulting the Old Testament into the New, to hammer home the truth: works-based salvation is totally ineffective in pleasing God.

Fortunately, God did not leave us there, to wallow in our despair.  Are you ready?  Here's hope!
Here's grace!  Hallelujah!  God's perfect grace, to our rescue!

21-24 But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.
25-26 God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.
Romans 3:21-26  The Message
This is the central message of Romans.  This is the heart of "the gospel".  God put His love on the line for us, by giving His Son in sacrificial death, while we were no use whatsoever to Him. Everything else in the letter to the Romans is reiteration of this passage.

The despair of Not.Even.One. is answered by the pure gift of The.One.And.Only!

Our closing prayer today will be from Psalm 86:12-13 (NIV).

12I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
I will glorify your name forever.
13For great is your love toward me;
you have delivered me from the depths,
from the realm of the dead.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


I think I established a few days ago that the book of Romans was written to the Jewish Christians in the early church of Rome.  Yesterday, we focused in on Paul's description of the unbelievers, the pagan Gentile peoples who comprised most of the population of that city.  More broadly, Romans 1:18-32 described pagan people groups around the world.  There's not a doubt in my mind that the Jewish Christians, reading chapter 1, were lapping it up.

The Jews had for hundreds of years viewed themselves as "better than".  So, certainly they were nodding and "amen-ing" as they read the description in Romans 1:18-32.  "OH!  The depravity and guilt of those pagan Gentiles!"

Then, they turned the page and began to read chapter 2.  That's when the hammer came down.

There's a tendency to "cherry-pick" verses in Romans 2.  We must resist that tendency.  Paul was verbose, to say the least; and, he was leading up to God's message of grace in chapter 3.  In order to get there, Paul had to destroy the Jewish Christians' self-righteousness, which he did quite handily in chapter 2.

The central gem of chapter 2 is verse 11:

For there is no partiality with God.

You see, the Christian Jews had a hard time moving from their perception of "works-based Judaism" to "grace-based Christianity".  These new believers still saw themselves as a better class of people than the Gentiles who openly and flagrantly engaged in riotous sin.  Paul points out that the Jews were little better than they!  The Jews put on the adornments of Judaism (circumcision, feast days, etc.), but many of them were hiding the sins they so lavishly practiced.  The difference was that the Jews believed that their "chosen people" status would protect them from God's judgment.  No.

The bigger hammer occurs in verse 16:

God will judge the secrets of human hearts, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus.

Here we see a glimpse of the basis on which God will judge all people.  He sees every thought and every intention of our hearts, every motivation, every secret sinful thought.  All of that, from our thoughts to our actions will be laid bare when He evaluates each person's life, and then the question of the gospel of Jesus Christ will be asked, "What did you do with my Son?"  (More on that in subsequent chapters)

I'm reminded of the scene in John 8, where Jesus asks the stoners to consider their own sinfulness.

These Jews in Rome, regardless of the grace of Jesus Christ, were still trying to gain righteousness by following the Law, and were boastful about it!

17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relationship to God18 and know his will and approve the superior things because you receive instruction from the law, 19 and if you are convinced that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an educator of the senseless, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the essential features of knowledge and of the truth—21 therefore you who teach someone else, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who tell others not to commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by transgressing the law! 24 For just as it is written, “the name of God is being blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Can you feel the panic settling in?  Can you see them squirming?  Are you squirming?  I read this passage and thought about us Christians today.  In my mind I could see our church services, hundreds of people piously praying that a lost person would "walk the aisle" to accept Christ, with absolutely NO self-examination of the sin in his or her own life.  Hearts puffed up with themselves.  Hearts unbowed.  Are we not then doing exactly what the Jews in Romans 2 were doing?

And do you think, whoever you are, when you judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape God’s judgment?

Yes, I know.  Grace covers it all.  Yes, it does.  No, we don't earn our salvation by our good works. No, we don't.  However, there will be consequences (either here on earth or in our heavenly rewards account) if we are walking in disobedience.  I had to ask myself this morning, reading this passage, if there were areas of my life in which I was walking in disobedience.  And then, I had to confess them, repent of them.  My butt got kicked.

Every, single one of us has our own set of "traps" - - sins that are so tempting to us.  It is different for each individual Christian - - different sins.  If we pooh-pooh our own habitual sins, thinking and merrily chirping, "I'm saved by grace," then we have utterly missed the point of Romans 2.  So-called Christians who live like that had better check their own salvation, to see if their hearts are bowed to their so-called Savior.

28 For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something that is outward in the flesh, 29 but someone is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart by the Spirit and not by the letter. This person’s praise is not from people but from God.

Let's read this as Christians, shall we? (This is how I applied it to my own heart, this morning.)

"For a person is not a Christ-follower who is merely one outwardly, nor is 'walking the aisle' something that is outward, in the flesh.  But, someone is a Christ-follower who is one inwardly, and true salvation is of the heart, by the Spirit, and not by the letter of the Law.  The person with a bowed heart is earning praise from God, regardless of what people say."

So, Christians, let's "tear our hearts, and not our garments" (Joel 2:13).  To quote Phil Robertson, "All bow."

Dearest precious Father, this passage of Scripture grieves me.  It breaks my heart.  It bows my heart. I'm so grateful that You inspired the apostle Paul to "cut to the quick" with these young Christians so that, centuries down the road, we could apply this same message to our lives.  There is no way that our good works amount to anything beyond being evidences of Your amazing grace, spilled forth into our lives.  May it be so, increasingly, every successive day of our lives.  May our hearts be bowed, that our lives will show forth Your praise!  In Jesus' name, amen.