Friday, April 29, 2016

Marked People

You may be familiar with this idiom: "a marked man".  It generally refers to someone who is in danger of harm from someone else.  Or, it can mean a person bears some distinguishing mark which sets him or her apart from others.  Jesus was a "marked man" for most of His ministry, and then he showed the "marks" of his crucifixion in His hands, feet and side, in appearances after His resurrection.

What marks do you bear in your body?  In mine, I bear a scar in the middle of my forehead from a tumble I took as a toddler, and one on my knee from one I took as a youth.  My body shows evidence of giving birth, twice....various adventures in the dental office, pierced ears...I could go on with this boring recitation, but won't.

A family friend broke a bone last week.  Now, that bone will heal.  But, when it is viewed on the x-ray, it will always show evidence of having been broken.  The bone is forever changed.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and Ephesians 1:13-14 brought it to the forefront of my mind this morning.  Here are the verses :

3And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation) – when you believed in Christ – you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.

Let me juxtapose here another, related verse, 2 Corinthians 5:17 - -

So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away--look, what is new has come.

There is such a thing as "spiritual DNA".  We are born with a flawed type of it, a type that is hopelessly contaminated wtih sin.  But when we hear the gospel (1:13 above) and accept Jesus as Savior, that DNA with which we were born ("born into sin") is forever, eternally changed.

It's pretty amazing, really.  Think of it as a "chemical change".  I took just enough chemistry in high school to be dangerous, (thank you, Dr. Singh!).  But, I did learn enough to know that when two things are merged/combined, they might make a mixture, defined as a combination that can later be separated.  For example, if you combine iron filings with grains of salt, a magnet will separate the iron from the salt for you. A mixture is not a "forever change".  Both (or however many) different entities retain their original properties, clear and distinct from each other.  There is no chemical change that occurs.

When you combine things like vinegar and baking soda, however, there is a chemical change.  You can see it occur, and after it occurs, the chemist is no longer able to separate the vinegar from the baking soda again.  They are both forever altered.

So, what does that have to do with salvation of the soul?  When one accepts Christ, His Holy Spirit enters the body, soul and spirit in some way we cannot quantify or fully comprehend.  The "old" becomes "new", the scriptures declare!  This is a forever change.

In Ephesians, Paul describes the Holy Spirit as a "mark", making Christians "marked people".
Is this a mark that one can physically see?  Sometimes.  Unbelievers or yet-to-become-believers will sometimes remark, "There's something different about him/her..."  I don't know about you, but I've met people I immediately knew were believers, not by their appearance, but rather by the presence of the Holy Spirit in and around them.

This happened to me at a conference, and I'll never forget it.  A lady came up to me at one of the breaks - - a lady I'd never met or heard of - - and asked if I was a Christian.  She said she could see the Holy Spirit in me.  Not so stunning when you consider Romans 8:16 - - -

The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God's children, 

True Christians all have the same Spirit, the Spirit of their Savior, and that Spirit testifies that they are God's children.

21Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, 22who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.
2 Corinthians 1:21-22 (NET)

We are "God's own possession" because His Spirit inhabits and possesses us.  Christians are as marked for all eternity as Christ's wounds are.  God will keep His Word.  He is unchangeable.  We can rest in that certainty of eternal destiny.

Have we received all of our eternal inheritance in Christ?

Not entirely, and we won't have received all until we are with Him, in glory.  But, because of the Holy Spirit, because He has marked us, we know we have as much of God's wealth that we can possibly handle here on earth and WILL receive all of the riches in Christ Jesus when we step onto the golden shore of that beautiful land called Heaven.

"O say but I'm glad!"

Father God, thank you for marking Your children as Your very own.  There is such comfort and peace in that!  We know that our salvation grows and matures as we battle daily the sin nature that continues to be a part of us.  But, we know that we can never be separated from You, from the love that is ours in Christ Jesus.  I'm so grateful to be Yours, and to know that I am forever Yours!  In Jesus' name, amen.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The World's Richest People

Have you ever inherited anything?  I'm not talking about physical, genetic inheritance of X and Y chromosomes, such as having large ears.  I'm talking about tangible, physical possessions.  Have you ever inherited "riches"?

Both of my grandmothers have now passed on to be with Jesus.  They were of different temperaments, but both of them liked pretty jewelry.  From each I inherited a ring, one white gold, the other yellow.  I wear one of them every day, on the fourth finger of my right hand.  To me, those rings are "riches", not because of their material worth, but because of whom and what they represent. They represent the wonderful memories of my grandmothers, a unique "belonging".

I wear two other rings every day:  my wedding rings, on the fourth finger of my left hand, and a Pandora "betrothal ring" (in the sense that Jewish brides of ancient times wore betrothal rings) on the index finger of my right hand.  This last ring signifies that I am betrothed to Jesus Christ.  All of these rings are treasures to me, because of the love they represent.

In Ephesians 1, Paul begins to describe the vast wealth every Christ-follower, every Believer, possesses, not by his or her own virtue, but by virtue of what God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have done for us.  As children, heirs, of our triune God, we inherit these riches by faith; and then, we invest our spiritual wealth through our resulting good works.  We are the world's RICHEST people!

Some of the themes in today's passage I wrote about this past January, when we were studying Galatians; among them were Calvinism, Arminianism, election, free will, and adoption as sons.  The posts are linked below, and I'm not going to "plow that ground over".

What I am going to do in our study of Ephesians is to borrow heavily from the great Warren Wiersbe1 to look at some of the terms in this passage more deeply and to focus on our great spiritual inheritance.

3Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ. 4For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love. 5He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will – 6to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us in all wisdom and insight. 9He did this when he revealed to us the secret of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10toward the administration of the fullness of the times, to head up all things in Christ – the things in heaven and the things on earth. 11In Christ we too have been claimed as God’s own possession, since we were predestined according to the one purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, would be to the praise of his glory.13And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation) – when you believed in Christ – you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.
Ephesians 1:3-14 (NET)

Looking at this passage is sort of like "reading Jesus' will".  He wrote a will, died to make it so and now reigns at the right hand of God the Father as our Advocate (attorney), to ensure that the terms of His will are carried out!  What do we inherit from and through Christ, as Believers, His children?

1.  We were chosen to be Christ Jesus' heirs.
Again, I've covered this elsewhere, but I want to mention Wiersbe's distinction between "election" and "predestination".  He describes "election" as God seeking the lost sinner.  This is the first beginning of salvation.  The lost person, left on his or her own, cannot seek God.  So, He initiates the process.  Salvation begins with God alone, which means it is totally of His grace.  Because He chose us before the foundations of the world were laid is a testament to His unfathomable foreknowledge.  In the Bible, "election" is always TO something; there is always a purpose.  In this case, the purpose of our election is for us to then exercise our free will and accept God's salvation through Jesus Christ, which God knew we would do.  He does not make our choices for us, but He always knows what we will choose.
By contrast, Wiersbe characterizes "predestination" as being a word used to refer to those who have already accepted Christ by faith.  You will never see this word used in scripture in connection with a lost person, someone denied the opportunity to choose salvation.  Predestination is also a word that refers to purpose, namely the "investing" of our inheritance by the good works born from saving faith.
Confused yet, Bible Nerds?  :)  Well, I found Wiersbe's explanation of these terms interesting, and I hope you did also.  It is difficult to explain them, but we certainly cannot ignore them.  Remember, we will not have perfect understanding this side of eternity, and maybe not even then!  That's ok.

2.  We were accepted by God and adopted as sons.
These themes have to do with our legal standing in the sight of God, because of Jesus Christ.  He could have just "accepted us", saved us from Hell, and left it at that.  That blessing of regeneration, of new birth, alone would have been much, much more than any of us deserved.  But, He did not leave us as a relative who was "left" only $1.00 in the will.  He did not leave us as a "red-headed step-child" or a "poor relation", as we Southerners are wont to say.  No.  He went on to adopt us.  What does that mean?

We'll explore this more in tomorrow's post.

Father, I bless Your matchless Name and celebrate Your great grace, by which my riches extend far beyond rings, houses, lands or even beyond the more dear earthly blessings such as human love or physical health!  All of these pale in comparison to Your amazing grace and love, by which You chose to extend salvation to mankind, by which You chose me.  Thank you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Amen.  


Wiersbe, Warren W. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: The Complete New Testament in One Volume. Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2007, p. 586. Print.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

When It Bites...

As we begin Ephesians we find Paul in prison in Rome, where he remained for 2 years.  During this time, he wrote the letters to the Ephesians, the Philippians and the Colossians.  He also wrote the letter Philemon then.

We begin and end with verses 1 and 2 today:

From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints [in Ephesus], the faithful in Christ Jesus. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Practically the first words out of Paul's mouth were concerning "the will of God".  Here he was, in prison, and he still testifies that he remains an apostle of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, not only is he what he is by the will of God, but he's where he is by that same divine will. God's will is still in operation in his life.

The Roman imprisonment was much more humane than others he had experienced.  Ephesians 6:20 and Acts 28:30 tell us that during this time he was "chained"; but, basically he lived in his own rented villa, under "house arrest".  (As we explore the remaining Pauline epistles we'll see that other imprisonments were much more dire.)

Still, it was imprisonment, and Paul testified that God had willed it that he should be there, for that span of time.

It is easy to embrace God's will when things are running along as we would prefer.  It is easy to "do" His will at those times also.  The true test of our submission and obedience is when His will runs contrary to ours.

Earlier this morning I was reading a fellow blogger's book review of a new book about C.S. Lewis' eventual wife, Joy Davidson Lewis.  (For time's sake, I won't go into the details here, but I'll reference her post in Sources: below.)  One of the startling facts of their relationship, however, is that they were married for only 4 years before her death from cancer, though their friendship had begun years earlier.  "How tragic!", we might exclaim.  Was it cruel of God to give them only 4 years of wedded bliss?

When God's will when it does not line up with ours, we begin to ask all sorts of questions:  "Did I do something wrong?"  "Is this my fault?"  "Why is this happening?" 
You know them because, like me, you've asked them at some point or another.

Notice that Paul did not begin his epistle with a "Woe is me" attitude, though certainly he had rather been charging down the missions trail, starting churches, winning souls.  That was the level of his zeal.  But, it was not God's will for him at that time.  Imprisoned, how could he continue to impact the spread of the gospel?  Answer: he could, by the inspiration of God, write letters to infant churches - - - letters which have endured and which still speak to those who seek the Savior, thousands of years later.

Are you in a place today where God's will is a mystery?  I am.  Today's post comes to you from the public library, because my crashed computer is still with Dr. Jim.  That's a relatively "little thing", a pebble in the shoe.  Perhaps the entire mountainside of boulders seems to be resting on you, crushing your body, soul and spirit.  Are you having trouble discerning God's will or even finding God at all, underneath those crushing rocks?  He is still there, and He is with you.

Don't fret that you cannot see or even hear Him.  Keep praying and keep trusting.  Remain faithful through the time of testing.  Your faith is being exercised, strengthened.  As you respond in obedience and trust, God will do amazing things, which may not be fully known in your lifetime.  We are not given to see the end, but we serve the One who "knows the end from the beginning" (Isaiah 46:10) .

Even in prison, Paul sends "grace and peace" to the church at Ephesus, and in the middle of your confusion, he sends it to you as well.  Dwell in the grace and peace of Jesus Christ.  Let them roll over your spirit like a mighty wave of the ocean. God has a divine plan, and it (just like He!) is GLORIOUS!  His love is ever with you, His child, and you are privileged because you are being used to accomplish His purposes and bring Him glory! 

Father, I am not promised perfect (or close to perfect) understanding.  What I am promised is the PEACE that surpasses all understanding, that perfect peace Jesus gave. "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." (John 14:27)  In Jesus' name, may it be ever so! Amen.



Tuesday, April 26, 2016

We Are Not Told

I have heard preachers say that the Bible is God's perfect, infallible revelation to us.
I wholeheartedly agree.  In fact, I agree so strongly with this statement that I once left a church job over that congregation's abrogation of this major doctrine.
However, I do not believe that the Bible is a complete book.
In other words, it does not tell us absolutely everything, even though it tells us all God needs for us to know in order to find Him, embrace Him as our King and serve Him with our whole heart.

One instance of this mystery, this incompleteness is found in Genesis 1:1-2.  It was not until I was in my 20s that I heard a preacher put forth the idea that Genesis 1:1 occurred many eons before Genesis 1:3.  The way I had read it, in my youth, was that all of Genesis 1 occurred in 6 days.  I no longer believe that.  I still believe in a literal 6 days of creation which occurred just a few thousand years ago, with "time" being a created construct. But, to be more accurate, I believe those 6 days were of re-creation.

So, here's my current understanding of Genesis 1, and I invite you to explore the topic for yourself.
Genesis 1:1 represents the initial creation of heaven and earth by God, "ex nihilo" (out of nothing).  Between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, we are not made privy to what occurred.

  • We know, for example, that God created the angels.  But, we are not told when.
  • In Job 38:4-7 and Ezekiel 28:13-15 we read that the angels were present at the earth's creation or re-creation (depending on your view) AND that they had access to the earth.  But, we are not told when. 
  • We know that sin originated with Satan and that because of his sin he led 1/3 of the angels in an all-out rebellion against God.  (Isaiah 14:12-14) But, we are not told when.  It is reasonable to conclude that such a cataclysmic, cosmic battle would absolutely destroy the Earth, which would explain the dark, watery, formless condition of the Earth in Genesis 1:2.

For whatever His reasons, and they are always righteous, He does not choose to clearly reveal all to us.
However, in light of the Scriptures mentioned above, it is reasonable to conclude that an "Early Earth" existed well before Adam and Eve, and that "the Creation Story" is actually a "Re-Creation Story".

Do you think that this view, held by many, takes anything away from our awesome God, diminishes Him in any aspect?  I do not.  And, it makes room to explain many unexplainable things.

Well, I'm hoping to get my laptop back (with its new hard drive) this evening, which will put me back on much more of an even keel.  Writing posts on an iPad is much less than ideal.  And, we'll jump into Ephesians soon.

Father, You choose to allow us to know You, but not to know all.  We couldn't handle it.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for us (Psalm 139:6).  Too much "knowledge" diminishes faith and trust, after all.  Your design is perfect.  Help us to seek You with all that is in us, and to trust you fully.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Mercy Me!

{No pic today; laptop has crashed; same reason today's post is late. :( }

The more I study about God the more I realize He is foreign to me.  I make that statement, fully realizing how asinine it sounds.

What do you think it means, that man is made in God's "image"?  I don't think any of us truly know, except that the general consensus is that, because man was created an eternal spirit, this is the point of convergence, the point of similarity - - - how we have God's "image".

I wonder sometimes how different Adam and Eve were from the rest of us, before The Fall.  What must it have been like to live as a human, in a sinless state, before the ultimate act of rebellion, of disobedience, which resulted in the eating of the forbidden fruit!  To live for hundreds of years with a sin nature, after having formerly existed in human form "without sin"!  Perhaps mankind most closely resembled God at that point, for that incredibly short window of time.

Today's topic is God's mercy and the text is Psalm 136, if you want to go ahead and turn there.  I'm not going to reproduce the verses here.  We have finished Romans, but I was just not hungry for more of Paul's writings this morning.  Our next foray will be into the book Ephesians, followed by Philippians, Colossians and 2nd Colossians (also known as Philemon).  But not yet.

Think about this.  Had Adam and Eve not sinned, could we know of God's mercy?

In their short-lived sinless states, Adam and Eve had no need for the mercy of God.  Mercy, you see, is all about God withholding the judgment that we deserve because of our sinfulness, that sin nature we inherited from Adam and Eve.

Southerners have an exclamation that goes, "Lord, have mercy!"  It is usually used by one human to express dismay over the antics of another.  The exclamation is a plea for God not to strike the other person down for his or her foolish behavior.

Although we want God to be merciful humans are not generally concerned with extending mercy to others.  The Assyrian Empire, which was the dominant world power for approximately 1900 years was a brutal, merciless regime.  They were not interested in melding their culture with that of conquered peoples; they simply mowed them down.  Merciful they were not.

In the Old Testament, the two Hebrew words that occur most often as English translations to "mercy" are "has-dow" and "hes-ed".  These are also often translated "lovingkindness".  According to the Englishman's Concordance the first term occurs 58 times in the Old Testament, and of those, 26, nearly half, occur in Psalm 136, our text for today.  ("Hes-ed", according to the same source, occurs 66 times.).

There's a principle in scriptural interpretation called "the law of first mention".  In other words, how is a word used when it is first mentioned in the Bible?  We first see the word "mercy" in Genesis 19:16, where the angelic beings God had sent to Lot in Sodom took hold of the hands of him and his family, transporting them outside of the city.  In so doing, Lot's family was delivered from horrific judgment; they were spared.  "Mercy", then, is a "compassionate act of love which spares the loved one from judgment/punishment/disaster/destruction".

Now then.  Let's look at Psalm 136.

The repeated refrain in this song is as follows (various translations of same Hebrew text):
  • For His lovingkindness is everlasting (NASB)
  • His love endures forever (NIV)
  • His steadfast love endures forever (ESV)
  • His loyal love endures (NET)
  • His mercy endureth forever (KJV)
  • His love never quits (MSG)
Interesting, isn't it?  One commentator I read today made the observation that these translations which translate "mercy" as "love" lose something in translation, most notably the connotation of deliverance from earned consequences.

At any rate, the psalmist is praising God for ....what?  His generic love?  No.  The psalmist is praising God for His mercy which over and over again delivered His people from almost-certain horror.  With a strong hand and an out-stretched arm, The Supreme, Matchless Creator, who formed the universe in perfection, snatched His beloved people from the brink of disaster.  Following is a list of the events the psalmist is most thankful for in this song:
  • (Vs. 10) He delivered the firstborn children of Israel even as He killed the firstborn of every Egyptian family, in order to deliver the Israelites from the slavery of the Egyptians.
  • (Vs.13-15). He parted the Red Sea, allowed the Israelites to walk over on dry land, and destroyed Pharaoh's army.
  • (Vs. 16) He sustained His people during their wilderness wanderings. 
  • (Vs. 17). He destroyed great kings on behalf of His people.
  • (Vs. 21-22). He gave the Israelites The Promised Land as their heritage forever. 
  • (Vs. 23). And this is prophetic - - - He "remembered  their low estate".
How could that be prophetic, you ask?  Do you remember Mary's Magnificat, in the book of Luke?
Let's revisit it again.  Luke 1:48 KJV

For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

When God so loved the world, when He "John 3:16ed", He made His ultimate act of mercy.  He regarded humankind's "low estate", and in His mercy, He stretched out his arm to put on flesh, like putting on a coat; and then, about 33 earth-years later He stretched out both His arms, to be nailed to a Roman cross.  This God, who knows and has ever known the end from the beginning, His changeless character overflows with mercy.

O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever.
Psalm 136:26 KJV

Dear Father, thank you for extending mercy to us, your fallen creation.  Our sin is a gulf only You could cross, a blot only You could wash clean.  I'm so grateful to be the recipient of such mercy, which is an unalterable part of your perfect character.  And so, Your mercy endures forever.  That's certainly worth singing praises about!  In Jesus' name, amen. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Church Snakes

I know that some of you are thinking this post will be about those sects of Protestantism that believe in actually handling live snakes.  But, you'd be mistaken.  This post is about snakes much more spiritually deadly.

At the end of Romans, his letter to a healthy church, Paul gives one last warning.

You know how it is in real life.  As you are leaving, you reiterate the most important points:
"Make sure you turn off the iron!"  (I never iron, but I did come home from class last night to find I had left the oven burner on, smh...)
"Get your chores done!"
"Be safe!"
"I love you!"

So, what does Paul say in his last words to the Roman church?
He tells them to watch out for the church snakes.

17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught;avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites,[f] and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. 19 For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.
Romans 16:17-19

This is how snakes behave.  They see you, and immediately come up to you, extend a hand (as if they had hands!), and say, "Good to meet ya, Bro!"  HAHA, NO!  Snakes don't behave this way.  In fact, if you aren't watchful, you are upon one before you even know it, and it has bitten you on the leg.  They lie in wait, and if they perceive you to be a threat, they strike out.

The unbelieving world has this expectation (it fits their favorite narrative) that all people who go to a God-fearing, Bible-preaching church (or any other "Christian" church, for that matter) are actually Christians!  Not so.  Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than going to Burger King makes you a Whopper (paraphrased from Keith Green, among others). In most every church body, you have numerous true Christians - - the believe it and live like it.  There are also many CINOs in most every church (Christians in Name Only).  In addition, there is a "whole 'nuther" group of actual Christians, who are living in carnality, living according to the flesh, allowing themselves to be used by the Devil to carry out snake-ish maneuvers.

Here is a list of such slithery, wily ways.
They/They are:

  • cause divisions (include gossipers, tale-bearers, and rumor-mongers here)
  • create obstacles (thwarting the church's mission/programs, etc.)
  • teach/promote false doctrine
  • smooth, persuasive talkers 
  • flatterers
  • deceivers
  • prey upon the "baby Christians" (the naive)
  • evil

Keep in mind - - - Paul is not describing "the unchurched" or "the unbelieving world" or "the scoffers" here!  Frightening, isn't it?  It is to me.  Unfortunately, some of Satan's most potent tools are people who wear the garb of a Christian, then act anything but.  It's all part of the warfare, Y'all.

What should be our response to these folks in our midst?
First, as Paul admonishes us here, we should be watchful and wise in our assessment of others in the church.
So far, so good.  We can usually get this far.  After that, it breaks down.
Every situation is different, requiring discernment and a tailored approach.  But generally we really do a very poor job of getting to the root of the problem and getting it fixed.  Because of this, we see these results:

  • church splits
  • pastors being "run off"
  • members leave ("the church dance" - - pirouetting from one church to another) 
  • etc.

Ugly, Ugggggllleeee!  And, what does "the world" think then?  They think that our gospel is a bunch of hooey; that's what!

I tell you truly....if the Church would earnestly practice these next 3 verses, the world would be transformed.

31Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:31-32

23So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Matthew 5:23-24

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.  
Matthew 18:15-17

Ok, so, that last one is a harsh remedy; but truly, it rarely ever gets to that last point, if we shed our pride and commit to doing the processes that come before it!

See, the obstacle to reconciliation and peace in the church is pride.  The "snakes" slither around and do what they do because they are puffed up with pride, and the faithful fail to address situations correctly, because even they are afflicted with it too.  Pride makes us "stuff things down" until an explosion is imminent.  And, when that explosion occurs, there are almost always unintended consequences.  Detritus and muck fly all over, soiling the guilty as well as the innocent..

Nobody ever said this life of walking by faith, practicing love, imitating Jesus Christ would be easy. Instead, we were promised that the very nature of the gospel would be divisive - - - to divide the believing from the unbelieving, not to divide the faithful from each other. (Matt. 10:35-38)
We serve a God of peace, not a god of discord.  This is why in Romans 16:20 Paul reminds them that the peace of God is the antidote to sinful pride and that His supernatural peace will crush Satan every single time we put it on as an offensive weapon. (Ephesians 6:15)

Lord God, I pray that Your people will march onward, pursing peace in their local church families, being ever watchful for divisions and prideful eruptions, so as to slay them with the love of Christ. Teach us how to practice forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration, Lord, in order to show the world what Your life-changing gospel can do!  In Jesus' name, amen.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Holy Hugs All 'Round

Yesterday, as on most Wednesday mornings now, I posted at what is becoming one of my favorite sites,  Leah, although I've not met her in person, is such a gracious Christian sister!  I hope to meet her in person this summer and learn at her feet a bit.  She has a feature on her blog that allows other bloggers to "chime in" on an announced topic.  That feature is called The Loft.

The topic yesterday was "Friendship", and I thought about that as I read Romans 16:1-16.  We find ourselves at the end of the wonderful book of Romans.  I hope my personal study of it has blessed you over these past two months.  Tomorrow's post will bring us to the final installment in this series.

In these sixteen verses, Paul sends "holy hugs" to those people of the Roman house-churches whom he knows most well.  Some of them were in prison with him (vs.7).  He lived with some as a houseguest (vs. 3) for some time.  One was a mother-figure to him (vs. 13).  And on and on.

But, the common characteristic all these folks share is that they not only profess a love for Jesus Christ, but they are "pulling on the same team" with Paul.  They all have the same focus.  Most are commended for hard work and personal sacrifice for the sake of the spreading of the gospel.

All this reminds me of some of my far-flung friends, whose hearts are knit to mine.  Most are new friends, whom I've met through the missions emphasis of the wonderful church Hubster and I attend. Here are a few to whom I'd like to give holy hugs this morning, since I can't give them one in person.
  • Justin and Brittany and kids - - - missionaries planting a church in the Bywater area of New Orleans.
  • Miss Hilda - - - who preaches the gospel to prisoners and encourages them, in the NOLA area
  • Alexandra, Coop and Rachel - - - students at NOBTS, helping also with the Bywater church
  • Lana and Andrew - - - planting a church way across town, among thousands of refugees
  • Judy and Gary - - - always on the look-out for opportunities to minister to those of the Muslim faith
  • Cesar and Gabi, Fio and Jorge, Vale and Matteo, Gloria, Vivi, Rolans and Friene - - with Zona Zegura and Village of the Children ministries in Cusco and Cachora, Peru
  • Donna - - - laboring in the wilds of British Columbia
  • Erick, Steve, Leon, Mark, Barbara, Teri, Erin, Leah, Jerralea - - - telecommunications/internet evangelists extraordinaire!
All these (and others) have my heart and my prayers, that God will expand and explode your ministries as you faithfully serve Him.

Like Paul's list, these are my "list of stars".  But, you know, we can all be shining stars for the Savior. These on Paul's list were merely doing what they had been called to do.

Take Phoebe, for instance.  In some translations, she is described as a deaconess. Therefore, Romans 16:1-2 is used by some to argue that churches should have female deacons or elders.  Regardless of how you believe about that, let's not argue about it.  What is in a title, after all?  If you want to be a "deaconess", Gals, then serve like one!  The Lord Jesus' "well done" can't be matched by any earthly title anyway.  It is He you serve, and His commendations alone you should seek.  All else is merely fleshly pride, in my book; and I know, because I am so susceptible to it.

Well, brothers and sisters, no matter where or how you serve the Lord, build each other up in the faith today and pray "like there is no tomorrow", because...who knows?  The Lord Himself may descend from Heaven with a shout today!  And, even if He does not, we are not promised the next "tomorrow".  "Work while it is yet day...." (John 9:4)  and have a blessed one!

Father, I thank you for my brothers and sisters in the faith, who work hard to advance Your kingdom, exercising their spiritual gifts, being the Bride of Christ.  Your Beloved is so beautiful in Your eyes, Lord Jesus!  Amen.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Fighting Prayers

Do you know how many words are used only once in the entire Bible?  I don't, but wish I did.  Maybe some of you, my readers, can enlighten me on that point.  I ran across one yesterday that, according to Strong's concordance1 , appears only once.

We find this word/phrase in Romans 15:30. Here's the verse, in two translations:

I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf,  (ESV)

Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to join fervently with me in prayer to God on my behalf. (NET)

The Greek word for "strive together with" is  συναγωνίσασθαί .  (Just look at that beautiful word!) If you want to see a more anglicized version, here you go: sunagónizomai.
It literally is used in Romans 15:30 and nowhere else in scripture.

Now, what does it signify?   From HELPS-WORD studies:

4865 synagōnízomai (from 4862 /sýn, "identified with" and 75 /agōnízomai, "agonize, strive") – properly, fight (agonize) together; "to strive together with, to help (properly, 'sharing in a contest')" (A-S).

Paul uses this intense word in a context of spiritual warfare, specifically with the weapon of prayer. He is asking this healthy group of believers, the Roman church, to fight alongside him in prayer. He was apparently so burdened over this prayer need that he used an uncommon word to express his degree of concern and emphasis.  Look at the larger context from The Message:

30-33 I have one request, dear friends: Pray for me. Pray strenuously with and for me—to God the Father, through the power of our Master Jesus, through the love of the Spirit—that I will be delivered from the lions’ den of unbelievers in Judea. Pray also that my relief offering to the Jerusalem believers will be accepted in the spirit in which it is given. Then, God willing, I’ll be on my way to you with a light and eager heart, looking forward to being refreshed by your company.

You see, Paul knew that he had a tough road ahead.  Let's review where he was and his upcoming itinerary.2

Paul wrote to the Roman church when he was living and ministering in Corinth, during his 3rd missionary journey, in the winter of 57-58.A.D.  Leaving there, he journeyed through Asia Minor before ending this 3rd journey in Jerusalem.  There, he preached to the Jews, but was beaten by them and imprisoned.  Their goal was to have him put to death.  He remained in prison for two years, and then (as a Roman citizen) asked that his case be heard by Caesar.  He was subsequently put on a ship, bound for Rome.  He made it to Rome, but not via the path he necessarily desired.

God is sovereign, but I have no doubt those fighting prayers of the Roman church were instrumental in sparing Paul's life during the two years he was in the Judean prison.

There are times in all our lives when we need for our brothers and sisters in the faith to fight with us in prayer.  Most of the time, most of us leave this powerful weapon to lie dusty on the shelf.  We flounder around and try every other approach to a problem, only to find our solutions inadequate or ineffective.  Paul was so wise!  He knew that the fervent prayers of God's people would matter, and not only matter, but do miraculous things in the spiritual realm.

Satan wants us to be shy about asking our fellow Christians to pray (to intercede) for us, because he recognizes the power of fighting prayers, even when we don't.

Let's believe the word of our God, People, and flabbergast the Devil!

The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.  
James 5:16  (The MSG)

Let's get to it!  Goodness knows....there's much to pray about these days...

Father, may we not be deceived by the enemy.  May we pray together strenuously, regularly, freely and joyfully!  In Jesus' name, amen.




Tuesday, April 19, 2016

In Closing, Dear Ones...

In Romans 15 Paul makes his final exhortations to the Roman church.  Overall, he is pleased with how they are allowing the Spirit to work in and through them (vs.14), and he has written the letter of Romans not as a corrective treatise, but as a refining, polishing set of reminders about the most basic aspects of faith in Christ.  Sort of "the Christian's 'main things' ", if you will.  The central theme of the letter has been "salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, period".  Now, we come to his closing statements.

Here are his final reminders to the Roman church (and to us, of course).

1.  Have wide-open, welcoming arms (vs.7).

7Receive one another, then, just as Christ also received you, to God’s glory

The model here is, of course, Jesus.  How did He welcome each of us?  Was it with an "anything goes" type of acceptance?  No.  He embraces the sinner in His arms, takes away his sins, and then says, "Now, go and stop living in, practicing sin" (John 8:11).  That should be every Christian church's model for welcoming those who do not yet know Christ.
We are exhorted also to receive our brothers and sisters who are already in the faith with mutual acceptance, despite our individual differences.

2.  Life sacrificially toward one another, to glorify God (vs. 1-2, 5-6).

1But we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not just please ourselves. 2Let each of us please his neighbor for his good to build him up.
5Now may the God of endurance and comfort give you unity with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In those aspects of faith where you are strong, help a brother or sister who is not.  Conversely, where your faith is weak, a brother or sister should lift you up. Let me give you an example:
Satan loves to bind us up in pits of sin, so that we are generally unproductive for Christ's kingdom.
If your fellow believer is suffering under, say, a burden of fearfulness, and if this is not a pitfall for you, encourage him or her from the scriptures.  Lighten his or her load!  Paul here is echoing his similar admonition to the Galatians, (6:2), where he said:
"Bear one another's burdens and in this way fulfill Christ's law."
What was Christ's central law?  The law of love (John 13:34). Living sacrificially produces unity in the church - - the type of genuine unity which baffles the world and brings God glory.

3.  Keep Jesus the focus (vs. 17-19a)

17So I boast in Christ Jesus about the things that pertain to God. 18For I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in order to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed, 19in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit of God.

No matter what we do as believers, the only thing we should keep central ("boast in") is Jesus, and what He has done in and for us.

4.  Pray fervently (vs. 30)

30Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to join fervently with me in prayer to God on my behalf.

We'll look more deeply at this verse tomorrow, because it is a fascinating one, containing a word that appears nowhere else in the New Testament.  For now, take the verse at face value.  :)

5.  Celebrate hope (vs.13)
What does that mean?
13Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is Paul's benediction on the Romans, and its central theme is "hope".  Why is that?

You have read here in the blog about that word, "hope", and how it means in the New Testament "a promise that is certain".  Our hope is grounded in God's character.  His promises will always be kept.
What are some of God's promises to those who have accepted His Son through faith?  Here are just a handful to meditate on today:
a.   Jesus has loved us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3; John 13:1).
b.  His Spirit lives within us and is with us always (Matt. 28:20)
c.  Our identity, our truest selves, are hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3)
d.  It is not yet clear what our future will be exactly like, but we know we will be like Him, when we are able to see clearly, when we see Him as He truly is, in all His glory (1 John 3:2)
e.  The trials and troubles of this life are merely "prologue", one which lasts only a little while. 
f.  Our citizenship is not here, anyway; it's in Heaven, our final destination and eternal home. (Philippians 3:20)

There are many more, but I've listed only a few wonderful reasons to celebrate hope!

Father, may we let these reminders about living the faith life with those around us sink into our souls deeply today.  May we yield to Your Holy Spirit so that He can continue His process of molding us more and more into the image of Your Son, Jesus.  It's in His name we pray, amen.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Big Things. Little Things.

Here is the scene in Romans 14.  Believers from the Roman church were gathering to share meals together.  And, when they got to the table, they began to criticize each other for their food choices. Worse, they began to equate food choices with holiness!  They weren't talking about the sin of gluttony, letting food consumption go beyond moderation or need.  They were arguing over whether one should eat certain meats or be a vegetarian and so forth. 

That was not the only thing they tore each other apart over.  As now, any minor disagreement became a reason to break fellowship. We see this today - - - believers criticizing each other over every, little thing and sometimes even changing to another church over it.

There are things we should stand strong over - - - real, actual sins. True acts of unholiness we willingly do, or true acts of holiness we omit.   But "the little things"?  Personal preferences or personal convictions?  That is another matter all together.

Why is it we think everyone should be exactly like us?  In Sunday School this week, we were talking about comforting those who are either losing or recently lost a loved one, and how differently people react to the love shown by others during those times.  Some people just want everyone outside the immediate family to leave them alone, to give them privacy.  Others want to be surrounded by as many friends as possible.  Does this make one wrong and the other right?  No!  It is a matter of preference.

We need to come to terms with the truth that not everyone is like us.  We can still love our Christian brothers/sisters as well extending Christian love to our neighbors, even when we disagree.

And, it just hurts the cause of Jesus Christ when we fight over minor issues.  Fight when fighting is required.  Stand strong for the truth.  But, don't "major on the minors".

The Message version translates Romans 14:12 like this:

So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.

I love it!  "Tend to your own knitting!"  The Devil loves to plant critical thoughts in our minds, especially us ladies.  But, we don't have to receive them, stew on them or spew them forth from our mouths.  What Paul encourages us to do is to re-focus our attention. When we are tempted to criticize someone over a minor thing, we need to turn the focus to examining our own hearts.  
What is prompting that criticism?
Is it springing from jealousy?  Envy? A desire to be "holier than thou" (that is, pride?)  
AHEM!  I can write about this so easily because I so readily fall into this trap.
But, you know, I really have my hands full, tending to my own business: walking in faith with my God.  (Or I SHOULD.)

Another translation, the NET translates the latter part of verse 12 as
 ....each of us will give an account of himself to God. 
He is going to evaluate our execution of the little things, personal convictions, by whether or not those decisions were made through the exercise of our faith.  In other words, did we make those decisions as part of growing closer to God, becoming more like Christ?  Or, did we make those preferential decisions out of personal convenience, selfish consumption, spiritual pride, etc.? What was the motivation?  You see, what is of utmost importance is what drives those decisions, and if we deal with each other selflessly in the making of them.

Whew...that's a tough one, Lord.  Basically, we just want our own way.  We want to make our Christian walk a "Burger King" existence ("Have it Your Way!), when what You require, what you call holiness involves self-sacrifice, compassion, building up others (as opposed to building up ourselves), giving Jesus the glory (as opposed to glorifying ourselves).  It's not easy to give our flesh the old "smack-down". Fortunately, through the power of Your Holy Spirit, it is possible.  Help us, Lord to distinguish between the big things and the small, and to honor You in all.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Weapons of Light

A week from tomorrow I'm going to a special event at my church.  It is a "women's event" where we will participate in a simulcast of Priscilla Shirer, teaching the Word.  Do you remember her?  She starred a year or so ago in the movie, "War Room".

After watching that excellent movie, I went onto Twitter to "follow" (Twitter-ese for those of you who don't tweet!) Priscilla.  Her bio-tag line on Twitter?  "Just a girl....with a sword".

What is she talking about?

Our scripture passage for today is Romans 13:11-14, and with it we finish this chapter.

11And do this because we know the time, that it is already the hour for us to awake from sleep, for our salvation is now nearer than when we became believers. 12The night has advanced toward dawn; the day is near. So then we must lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the weapons of light. 13Let us live decently as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in discord and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to arouse its desires.

In order to "get" the context of these verses we must remember the ones that went before, the ones I blogged on yesterday, the ones concerning loving our neighbors.  When Paul says "and do this", he is talking about loving our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as those who have yet to claim Christ as Savior.  So, actually, he is expanding upon how we love our fellow man.

Specifically, he talks about putting on "weapons of light".  (The underlining in the passage above is my editing.)  This is what Priscilla is alluding to when she refers to herself as bearing a sword.  I have a friend who refers to putting on these weapons as "armoring up".

But...what are the Christian's "weapons of light"?

Out of curiosity, I googled the phrase and the results were all these links to discussion boards about weapons upgrades in a video game called Destiny.  Interesting how fantasy mimics reality...

Biblically speaking, we find Paul describing these weapons of light elsewhere ... in his letter to the Ephesians.  (Ephesians 6:12-20) In my first month or so of blogging here at RDM, I elaborated on them in the posts below:

In the 3rd link, you can learn more about the sword Priscilla loves so very much....her love for a sword so great that it is part of how she describes herself.

These posts can be a great start in understanding this life-and-death struggle in which we find ourselves.  Life or death?  Surely, Gena, you exaggerate!  No, and Ephesians 6:12 concurs.  In The Message version the daily spiritual battle is described as "a life-and-death struggle", an ongoing cosmic battle for the souls of men and women.

Look, Paul is saying in Romans 13 that if we TRULY believe that people who do not know Jesus Christ as their Savior, who do not worship Him, are destined for an eternity in Hell, then we need to
a) WAKE UP (vs. 11) and
b) ARMOR UP (vs. 12).
Both of these actions require daily, deliberate decisions on our part.
If we, instead, either "sleep on", oblivious to the battle around us or live as though we do not even know Christ, then we are not "loving our neighbor", nor are we advancing the cause of Jesus Christ.

Father, we never have to ponder "what we should wear" spiritually, as we start each new day.  You have provided for us and told us how we should dress and arm ourselves.  From the moment we rise from our beds, our spirits are in Satan's cross-hairs.  How we prepare for battle will determine whether we advance the kingdom of Your Son, our Savior, or not.  May we choose well, dress well, live well, for Your glory!  In Jesus' name, amen.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

On Fire!

A few days ago, while walking in my neighborhood at dusk, I stopped to stare in wonder at a beautiful sight.  In my neighbor's front yard was this gorgeous tree, on fire with spring color and waning sunlight.  It truly appeared to be on fire.  As I almost always have my phone when walking, I took this picture which, I promise, does not even begin to capture the glory of that moment, in which God reminded me of the burning bush of Exodus 3.  (If you have been walking with me through Romans, no worries!  We will get to our Romans text in a few moments!)

1Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
4When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
5“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6Then he said, “I am the God of your father,a the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
7The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—

Here was Moses, just an ordinary Hebrew man, doing what he did every day (working for his father-in-law) when God appeared to him in such a surprising, wondrous way!  I could spend several blog posts examining the beauty of this theophany of God (the angel of the LORD), but will instead refer you to the source at the bottom of today's blog so that you can explore that concept on your own.1

Our main text for today is Romans 13:8-10.

8Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9For the commandments, “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet,” (and if there is any other commandment) are summed up in this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

This admonition from the apostle Paul applies to anyone ("neighbor) that the LORD brings into our "circle of influence".  Paul echoes the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:36-40 here.  He reiterates that a Christian may "follow all the rules" of Scripture perfectly.  However, if we do not show the love of God to those around us, we have ignored the two greatest commandments of them all.

As stunningly beautiful as was my neighbor's "burning bush", I am even more stupefied by the reality that this God, this immortal Being with no beginning and no ending (Psalm 90:2) desires a relationship with me, and with any person who truly seeks Him (Jeremiah 29:12-13 ).  He saw His people in their misery in Egypt and "came down" to rescue them, in the form of holy flames of fire that did not consume a bramble.  The Savior likewise, thousands of years later, was God-Come-Down, Immanuel - - God With Us - - (Isaiah 7:14), who came to rescue us from the slavery of sin. Jesus Christ, the Ultimate Theophany, who brings us into the "promised land" of eternal salvation! May His name be praised forever!  Baruch Hashem!2

How do we love our neighbors? If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, we must (as we should in all things) listen for His voice.  When He urges us to reach out to someone in love, we should do it.  So, the answer to how we love our neighbors is different for each of us.  There are some commonalities, of course - - - we are to feed the hungry and care for the sick.  We are to share the gospel of Jesus Christ's life and work, above all.  But, beyond that, we are to follow the leading of His Spirit, living inside us.

So, Believer, if He prompts you today, if He speaks to You today from a "burning bush", don't run the other way.  Listen!  And, then ... love your neighbor.

Father, I can still see that ruler, in my mind's eye - - - that little wooden ruler, given to every student at Clarkesville Elementary all those years ago.  I can see "The Golden Rule" written on it, "Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You", which is basically a restatement of Romans 13:8-10.  Please make me more sensitive to the needs of others and give me more opportunities to share the greatest news this world has ever heard - - - that in You is freedom and life and joy, forever!  In Jesus' name, amen.


2   Hebrew: Blessed be G_d!