Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tricky situations in the culture!

1 Corinthians 11

Every culture has its challenges. Did you know the pilgrims did not celebrate birthdays or Christmas thinking it was a violation of scripture. In the Ukraine if a man wears a tie it is heretical. If you applaud in a Russian Pentecostal church it is offensive. If you chew gum in a Kyrgyz Pentecostal church it is considered a sin. Dancing in a church in Myanmar is almost a sin while not dancing in a Sudanese church is almost a sin. Drinking wine in communion in a Catholic or Reformed Presbyterian church is commonplace but in a Baptist or Pentecostal church is unacceptable, grape juice is the standard for communion. Every culture has its challenges but many of them have nothing to do with the essentials of our faith.

In the Corinthian church, like much of the Middle East today, head coverings were an essential part of the modesty associated with proper society. The idea came from creation with God being the covering for Adam and Adam being the covering for Eve. While men and women are created interdependent, human nature needs order and structure as the men is created to function in a decision-making, protective leadership role. The covering here should be looked at more symbolically as it was meant to be even then but was displayed physically. For a women not have a spiritual covering is to make her vulnerable to all kinds of things and for a man to have something between he and God is to make him vulnerable as well. For a woman to have her head shaved or uncovered was a show of arrogance and a lack of respect for everyone and everything in the culture. Likewise for a man to focus on his hair as an adornment (a big plus for those of us that are folicly challenged) is vanity and battles against a true humility toward God. As Paul said, “we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God” However, there are often things that set us apart that show our humility toward God; the way we talk both our choice of words cursing and criticism, our attitudes toward people, and our sense of love, joy, and hope, are all somewhat of a “glory” that we can show the world.

The Lord does not want class distinction in a culture either. Not that we don’t recognize that different people do have different levels in a culture but when it comes to Christ all are equal. When the Azusa street revival happened, it was a poor, partially blind African America preacher that God used to bring the revival and draw black, white, rich, poor, high class and low class together. In Corinth, the rich were taking advantage of the poor regarding the eating of the “Lord’s Supper” Paul took the time to remind them that if we have sectarian ism in our midst we are eating the Lord’s Supper in violation of God’s heart. We are one body, with one Lord who died for all of us equally.

Our service to the Lord should always be about love, joy, peace and unity (not uniformity) with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It also should be about walking in humility serving God, one another and the world so that our Father is glorified in all that we do!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Have you ever been tempted?

1 Corinthians 10

I know it may sound like a dumb question all of us are tempted at one time or another. Some of us are tempted everyday. Everyone can or will face temptation it is common to the human condition. Some of our temptations are the simple things; that extra piece of dessert, go a little faster on the highway than we should, or make a decision to buy something that we want but can’t afford. However, some of our temptations can do great damage, engaging in some illicit sexual or drug related activity, losing our temper and saying or doing things that bring about damage, or turning our backs on God.

Paul had mentioned in chapter 10 about his freedom to do certain things and his freedom to choose not to do some things because of love. His encouragement to each of us is any temptation that comes are way is common to all men. Don’t think any temptation is so overwhelming that you will be overrun by it. For every temptation that we face, say it with me “every temptation that we will face,” God has made a way for us to escape. We don’t need to come under temptation, we have His spirit in us, if we have faith in Christ, so we can rely on that strength to make it through each temptation with victory. We simply need to learn to depend upon His strength, grace, and mercy.

We know when we are being tempted. It doesn’t just sneak up on us, all of sudden we have succumbed to temptation. We have time to think, wrestle, and overcome or be overcome by it. It is at that moment that we must cry out to God for His help. Knowing who you are and the way God thinks about us helps us to trust Him to deliver us from the temptation. You are a child of the King of Kings. He loves you and believes in you. If my son or daughter asked for any kind of help at all, I would be there for them to help them in any way I could. How much more will or Father come and rescue us.

We mustn’t confuse our freedom with giving in to temptation. Paul’s point is while eating meat offered to idols is not necessarily a bad thing going to a pagan worship service and eating meat as part of their religious celebration would be wrong. In our terms the closest example I can think of would be the following:
It may be OK for you to go to the home of a strip club owner and his stripper girlfriend to share the Gospel but going to the strip club to share the Gospel would be wrong for men because of the temptation it presents and the example it gives to others. I know it is not a perfect example but it is an example of what Paul is dealing with here.

You have liberty to be who God has called you to be but rather than using your liberty to allow an opportunity for you to fall or lead others into temptation. Use your liberty to help others grow in Christ and keep you free from temptation.

What temptations are you facing? Your temptations will be different from your friends, spouse, or other family members. We all have different weaknesses. Don’t allow yourself to be found in a place where you could compromise. On the other side of the coin, don’t be afraid to participate in things or with people that are not against God’s Word. The light is always brightest in dark places. You know what you can handle. If you are not sure, ask someone who love the Lord and you, what they think. God will guide as you seek Him for the answers.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

It’s not about me! It’s about others!

1 Corinthians 9

Paul is always, because of his love for people, concerned about how people understand what he is doing. On one hand, we need to not worry about what people think. We want to be able to reach them to encourage, challenge, and bring growth. We can’t be slaves to what people think but because of our love for people we do become their servants in the sense that we will work to enable people to become who God has called us to be.

Paul continuing on with the thought from Chapter 8 is saying he has the freedoms anyone has but he has placed limits on himself so that he might better serve the people. Jesus said, “greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends” Paul was living that example. Everyone who follows the Lord, as they mature, does this at one level or another. We choose to not do something because of our love for others and we choose to do other things that we would normally not do because of our love. Part of growing up is learning that you can not be selfish in your desires. Because of love we need to lay down our lives for one another.

Take care of your Pastor. I know this section may seem self-serving for me to comment but this is Paul’s charge in this chapter. Paul sets it up this way; society dictates that people who work in the service of others should be paid (verse 7). For Paul, speaking to the former Jews, the law of Moses commands that those in God’s service are taken care of (verses 8 – 13). Last, the Lord commands it for the Gospel’s sake (verse 14). To be honest, with the church that I am pastoring this has been a struggle for me, not that they don’t want to pay me, they do, they are generous but accepting the payment has been a struggle because I want to pour so much more into the ministry itself and see problems solved and the materials we need for construction, teaching, and ministry to take place. Initially I rejected any kind of remuneration, but after council, accepted some to cover expenses. Being available 24/7 leading others to hope and understanding, laying your life down for others is at times costly and the last thing you want your pastor to be worrying about is how are they going to pay their personal bills, put food of their table, and generally take care of their family. If a man does not care for his family he is worse than the unrighteous, the scripture says.

Paul wraps up this chapter, reminding us that he is a free man. He can do as he chooses to do within the love of the Word and the Lord. He chooses because of the weakness of others to not do certain things. His desire is to win people to a true belief in Christ and cause growth. He is willing to go to any length, within the boundaries of faith, to enter into the world of others that he might win them to faith. Notice Paul does not compromise, he simply is willing to take the leap of faith to go into places where Jesus would have gone to win some to Christ. Not allowing himself to compromise but keeping his heart and life pure but not limiting that sense of purity to the rigid interpretation by others.

Where has the Lord called you? If you have weakness in certain areas you need to stay away from those areas. If those you are trying to reach would be offended by something you are thinking about doing, don’t do it! Likewise, don’t be afraid to do things that those inside the church would find offensive as long as it does not break biblical mandate.

God loves all people. He wants to reach all people for the sake of the Gospel and some we may need to do things or go places where we are uncomfortable but where does light shine the brightest but in the darkest places. As long as we remember we are the light we will always bring blessing, love, and hope to people everywhere.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Is what is wrong for me wrong for everyone? Is what is right for me right for everyone?

1 Corinthians 8

When you were a kid where there things that other kids were allowed to do but you were not? It was frustrating wasn’t it? As we get older there are things that have been engrained in us that are wrong, for us but not necessarily wrong scripturally. I was raised that playing cards was wrong, drinking any kind of alcohol was wrong, in fact it was preached from the pulpit that the wine Jesus drank was not wine but in fact grape juice. These are all things I believed, that are not really salvation or righteousness issues. Paul is struggling with the early church regarding some issues like that where some say they are OK and others call it sin, however there is no biblical basis for calling them sin. The challenge is, if your conscience tells you it is wrong, then it is wrong but what do we do if other people don’t see it as wrong.

Here was Paul’s struggle. Most of the meat sold in the markets and the meat served in the households of those who were not Christians had been offered to idols. If a Christian buys it or eats it are they supporting idol worship? Are they sinning buy eating or purchasing this meat? Paul’s response let love reign in the situation. Eating food, like playing cards, or drinking wine are essentially ethically neutral acts but not al people have the knowledge and understanding of scripture that would enable them to make that kind of judgment. Your history may make the decision more clear. If for example, your family has very strong addictive behaviors you may want to stay away from alcohol or playing cards because of the potential to develop into a habit that you can not control. If you have a history of carousing in bars or running in casinos either of these things could be something that draws you back into that lifestyle and away from the Lord. I had a friend who was in a band before coming to Christ. When he came to Christ he needed to lay his guitar down because it was sin for him because of what that life meant to him. Is playing a guitar sinful? Of course not, but for him it was because of what that life represented. The struggle for some new Christians was similar, they had come from the pagan world, worshipping idols and offering their goods to them as a sacrifice and for blessing. They struggled with eating anything offered to these idols because of what it represented to them.

What are the things in your life that are challenges? What things from your past do you need to stay away from? My Grandfather was an alcoholic who used to daily beat my Grandmother. Once he came to Christ that all stopped, his life and his families lives were all dramatically affected but to my mother the idea of alcohol of any kind in the house was sin. I was raised in an alcohol free environment. Some of my friends have been raised in ethnic homes where wine is served at dinner and all holidays. They are not getting drunk (the Bible is very clear about getting drunk) just enjoy a glass or two of wine throughout and evening. What should I do forbid them to drink in front of me? Become righteously indignant and walkout on dinner or the holiday celebration? Should I simply choose to not drink but enjoy their company and their freedom?

Paul’s argument is let love reign in our hearts. Knowledge has two defects: it tends to center on self and it is inadequate as for building personal relationships. Love should be the guiding influence. Love will help us to limit our freedom so as not to offend others and it will enable us to accept others who do things that are not against scripture but are not something that we are free to do.

Being a stumbling block does not mean that you accidentally did something to offend someone. It is an intentional act done out of a lack of love for another person.

In all of these things we need to allow love to reign in our hearts. Making our decisions not based on what we are free to do or not do but instead on the love that we walk in.

Love is a portion of the fruit of the Spirit a judgmental attitude is a fruit of the flesh. If someone is sinning because of love we will speak correction to them but if they are doing something that scripture is not against then we must respond out of love.

Tomorrow 1 Corinthians 9

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

We are one or at least we should be

1 Corinthians 3

Drive into any town in the US and you are sure to see dozens of churches. Around the world, faith in Christ is expressed in many ways. Arminianism and Calvinism, Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, Evangelical, Fundamental, these are all some of the titles that you will see today. Blood has been shed in the name of Christ against his followers of a different tradition. No one is going to stand before the Lord on the last day and hear from the Father, “Wow, you had great theology!”

Please don’t get me wrong great theology is important. We must know and understand what we believe and why we believe it. I believe denominations and difference are of God because He created each one of us differently and so we express our love and devotion in ways that more fit our culture and/or personality.

Paul does give a stern warning here about divisions in the church. Making sure what we are building is not based on our fleshly desires or wants but on the truth of the Gospel. The things of real value; truth, love, God’s Word are the things made of gold, and precious stones. The things of our own flesh; our pride, lust greed, that some have used to built their part of the ministry are wood, hay, and stubble. All of us as Christians have a part in the building. If we allow that part of which we are responsible to be built on our selfishness or selfish desires, no matter how hard our work it will all be destroyed! Nothing of fleshly desires can honor God. Only those things, which we do with pure hearts, out of a true love and understanding of the Lord will last.

It is not necessarily the big edifices that honor God, but anything done in Hi name out of love. Mowing the grass for an elderly neighbor, bringing a meal to someone sick, visiting someone in prison to bring an encouraging word, taking the time to listen to someone who is hurting. The beauty of architecture can honor God if done for his glory, but the seemingly little things bring Him just as much glory it is all about the heart.

It is human nature to want to say, “I’m right and you’re wrong”. We are supposed to be people of faith who are always looking for the good in others. We should always be encouraging one another and looking for basis of true unity in Christ. Once again not uniformity but finding a place of unity where we can bless one another and according to Psalm 133, a place where God commands the blessing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sometimes God just doesn’t make sense

1 Corinthians 2

Politicians are some of the greatest communicators on the planet. How do I know that? Their future employment depends upon their ability to communicate effectively. They must spin the bad and make it look good and the must spin the good and make it look better.

Excellent elocution is a plus for anyone, including preachers, but Paul goes against the trend. He starts this chapter stating that he does not preach to show off his style or great oration abilities but that he preaches with all of his heart the basics of the Gospel and demonstrates it with power. He wants everyone to understand the power of God more than the wisdom of men.

The wisdom of God is to come through everything that we preach and how we live. It will often seem like foolishness to the world system. Think about it in God’s kingdom we gain by losing, we get by giving, and we live by dying. This wisdom confuses and confronts the world system with needing to trust God rather than their own strengths.

How do we grasp this wisdom of God? Two ways, first we grasp understanding by revelation from God and then we must have a appropriate response to God. God is always speaking to His people but we have to take the time to listen and then once we listen we must respond to what the Lord is saying. Just like you are the only one who knows your own thoughts, God’s thoughts can only be revealed by His Spirit to man. When we come to Christ, He reveals His heart and mind to us.

No one can fully grasp the things of God without God’s Spirit leading and guiding. However, once we come to Christ, God gives His insight which doesn’t make sense to a world system that must figure everything out in a cerebral manner but the things of God are all faith based.

What things are you being challenged by today? Are there things in your life that the Lord is challenging you to take steps of faith? In order to grow in the Kingdom it must be done by faith a thing that confuses the world system and the world’s wisdom. God has bigger plans for you than the world has to offer trust Him.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Unity not uniformity

1 Corinthians 1

We generally think of Las Vegas as “sin city” but Las Vegas could not hold a candle to Corinth. The city was a major intersection and trading hub in the East. Aphrodite was the main deity worshiped in this city, She was the god of all sensuality, over 1000 temple prostitutes performed the “acts of worship” every day in this city. The city was known for its divisive spirit, incest, fornication, high divorce rate, and frequent lawsuits. The early church was surrounded by all this; most had been involved in much of this sin and some even carried it over into the church. It is into this situation that Paul established the church here and now writes a letter to bring guidance and correction.

You can imagine with all of this going on and considered normal in the culture, how difficult it would have been for the early believers to live a life holy unto God. Paul writes this letter to both resolve some doctrinal issues and practical problems facing the church.

Because of all of the “spirituality” in Corinth they easily accepted the spiritual flow of things. Paul recognizes that when he alludes to the gifts of prophecy, words of knowledge, wisdom, and tongues in verse 5 “enriched… all utterance and knowledge” and that they have “come short in no gift” in verse 7.

Even though Paul had founded the church because others had come into Corinth to help strengthen the church the people became divided in their loyalties. It is human nature to pick sides. Look at the way Americans handle football or the rest of the world handles soccer. These men generally have very little in common with the people that are cheering them on, they have no sense of pride for the home town generally because they are from other areas but because this is “our team” we stand by them and they care little or nothing for the city but we have chosen them and will tear down other teams because this is “our” team. So the early church did with Paul, Apollos, and Peter when we are all to be of Christ.

We may have different styles of worship and preaching. We may have different views of the nonessentials; I believe because of these things we have different churches and denominations, which for the most part are not bad. People are different and like different things and are at different levels of maturity but we must be in unity on the essentials of Christ and Him crucified.

We need to be that way inside the church as well. Not everyone is going to act the same as you. We have quiet people and demonstrative people. We have serious people and jokesters. We people who like line upon lie preaching and those who like a more expository approach. We have those who like lively upbeat music and those who like slow meditative songs. All of these are good and different from each other and should be honored in the church but should not be doctrine they are merely style differences. We can have unity without uniformity are focus should be on Christ in all that we do not our preferences. Our preferences are matters of taste not doctrine.

People are going to be different from you. Try to appreciate the differences and allow them to be different. I believe God loves variety.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Women and Apostles

Romans 16

Did you ever read the scripture and wonder, “Why is that written here? or “Why is that so important?” Chapter 16 has a couple of this that may make you want to scratch your head and say, “Huh?”

Paul begins this chapter challenging a woman named, Phoebe to take the letter of the Romans to the Roman church. We don’t know much about Phoebe except what is written here but from this couple of verses here is what we know. She was well acquainted with Paul, a trusted confidant, a humble servant of the Lord who daringly traveled as a woman by herself to deliver the word to the church in Rome. She was most likely single because of her traveling alone. The word “helper” used in this context means that she supported Paul and the early church through her finances. The word “servant” used in this context means humble, wise, minister. Is there any wonder why Paul chose her to bring this important letter, she was humble, generous, strongly supported Paul and his ministry, and was a woman of the Word.

Paul wanted to make sure that Phoebe knew who it was safe to stay with, who would accept her and the letter she was carrying, so he gave her a list of the leaders in Rome.

Priscilla and Aquila – we first met this couple in Ephesus in Acts 18. They put their lives at risk for Paul and also have a wonderful reputation among the Gentiles. They must have been somewhat well off having homes in both Ephesus and Rome

Epaenetus – He was the first convert Paul made in Asia

Mary – She is Jewish and a very hard worker in the church but a woman of note that Paul would mention her.

Andronicus and Junia – a couple of men (Junia is most likely the familiar form of Junianus) who spent time in prison for their faith and are also considered apostles and who had probably been walking with the Lord at least 25 years.

I don’t have the space to go through the entire list but some were those who were either in the household or of the household of leaders Aristobulus and Herodian were all related to Herod in some way.

Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Julia (mentioned later) – all notable women who played important roles in the church in Rome.

Rufus – this is most likely Simon of Cyrene’s son. Simon carried the cross for Jesus. Rufus was an African and a leader in the church in Rome. Simon must have come to faith in Christ and passed that faith onto his sons and His wife walked with the Lord and Paul considered her like a second mother.

With all of this diversity of people and backgrounds the church in Rome grew but there was still an evil that Paul had to address. There were those in the church at Rome who allowed their pride and their greed to run them and they were trying by manipulation, flattery, deception and smooth words to deceive the people. It is important that we are always in the Word and know the Word, deception is easy to do to people who are unaware.

God will use anyone who is willing. He will use men or women, white, black, brown, yellow, or purple people. He will use young or old, rich or poor but He need people to mature in their faith to know the Word to be able to trust with leadership and greater things.

He wants to use you if you are willing and are maturing in your faith.

Next week we will begin in 1 Corinthians

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Let God be God through you!

Romans 15

With everything going on in the world today there are many discussions and no end to opinions. In chapter 14 we read that a man’s faith in the Lord and his conscience should be his guide on the things that are non-essentials. Our love for others should cause us to make wise choices about what we do and why we do things.

Paul wraps up that thought in this chapter. Ultimately Jesus is our guide regarding what is right and wrong. There is a lot of talk always about, “what are my rights?” I hear it all of the time in marriage counseling situations. We need to remember we are in this for eternity not just our short lives. Paul states that even Jesus did not live to simply please himself. He is our example of how we should live. Of course we have rights, however we don’t have the right to do something in front of a brother or sister that would cause them to stumble or sin. The contrary is true, we have the obligations to live our lives in a disciplined way that may inconvenience us sometimes but helps others to stand strong and see Jesus in us. Ultimately it was Jesus love of His Father and love of the people that caused Him to lay down His life for all people. Love should be our driving force for everything

We can not allow someone’s heritage or background stop them from being valued in Christ. There was still a division between Jew and Gentile in Rome. Paul addressed that by showing various Old Testament scriptures that testify to God’s ultimate plan of grace to all peoples from even before Christ life on earth. There is no sin, no heritage, no ethnicity, or any other thing that limits God’s love and desire to bring people to Him. We must believe that it is the Father’s heart that regardless of the way a person comes to Christ, that God has chosen them and that we must not reject them. Once again it is placing others first and laying our view of who can and can’t come to Christ.

Ultimately allow Christ to shine through us and settle all the arguments by seeing the miracles happen as we pray for people. Paul is saying here, let me explain something to you, while there may be all kinds of discussions of what may be right or wrong allow the fruit of the power of God in my life be the witness. Paul was showing that God saw fit to show His power through Paul to reach out to the Gentiles. Two things are important about that; first that God was reaching a people that the Jews didn’t think deserved to be reached and second like Pentecost it was the amazing gifts from God that He used through Paul to reach the Gentiles.

God wants us to reach out to all the people around us. It doesn’t matter how we feel about them nor do our prejudices matter. God wants us to be open to sharing this life changing message to everyone He brings across our path we need to have His compassion and love. If you are filled with the Spirit of God you also have access to all the gifts of God, don’t be afraid to use the gifts He has made available to you, to touch the lives of people around you. That is why He has filled you with His Spirit!

Is there someone in your life that you have developed a prejudice toward? Someone perhaps that you don’t have a heart for but God keeps bringing into your path? Come into agreement with the Lord and allow Him to show you how to reach them. Ask Him to give you opportunities to allow the Holy Spirit to flow through you to change their world. God loves them and wants them to come to Him and He wants to use you to do it. Let Him!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

You, God, and government

Romans 13

Is the president a man of God? Are our congressional leaders men and women of God? What about the state officials? The answer to these questions is a matter of two things fruit and opinion. Only God knows the hearts of mankind whether they are Godly or not Paul makes it very clear; our leaders have been set in place by God, either for our discipline and correction, or our blessing.

Some of the most corrupt leaders to have ever lived were in power during Paul’s lifetime. Israel was under subjugation yet Paul wrote; do not resist the authority over you. Why would he say something like that? We need to view life from a God-perspective. In America we are concerned about “our rights”; God is concerned about eternity. He places leaders in position for a reason, it is our job to trust that and to do everything we can to affect the lives of people around us for eternity. We aren’t able to see from God’s perspective.

The government is not our God. It should not control us. It is our job to recognize those in authority, to pray for them, and to submit to their rule as long as it does not violate God’s principles. When it does, that is our time to rise up and change the government. The American Revolution was based on violations of scriptural principles. Pastors headed many of the militias, but that is the exception and not the rule. Paul, Peter, and all of the disciples, the most powerful men who ever walked the earth, apart from Jesus, did not see a need to start a military revolution, they began a revolution that was even more powerful than any other the world had every seen. Their obedience to God and their love for mankind changed lives for eternity.

The job of any government is to rule the people with fairness, to punish evil, and to protect its subjects. All of that costs; our job is to submit to the authority, to live godly lives, and to pay our share of taxes.

Once again our eyes should be on eternity. When I mentioned above that we are to live godly lives, that is God’s instruction to us, we must over come fleshly desire, allow love to rule our lives, and live a life of asking ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” I know it is cliché but to be honest, as Paul is writing here that we are to put on Christ, that is the best way to describe it.

The godliness of our leaders should not determine our obedience to the Lord’s commands to submit to them. If it does, then you may find yourself as verse 2 states resisting the ordinances of God and bringing judgment on yourself. Pray for our governmental and spiritual leaders, bless them, encourage them, and trust God with your life, future, and eternity. Governments will come and go but God and his Word last forever.

Monday, March 14, 2011

You are a gift! God has a plan and purpose for your life!

Romans 12

Many people who come into my office battle one key thing, a lack of self worth that results in living a life of rejection. Everyone reading this devotion either has felt that way or knows someone that does. I believe it is that prevalent in our world today. Sometimes it shows up as the person who wants to hide and not be noticed but many more times the manifestation is just the opposite it is arrogance or anger, an over compensation of a lack of self worth or value.

There is a part of scripture that we often gloss over or pass by without really dealing with it. We are told to love our neighbors as ourselves. Loving ourselves is not about pride (Romans 12:3), which would be a violation of the presence of God in our lives; it is about recognizing the value that God has placed in each one of us. To not love what God has created is to reject God and his plan for your life. He has created each one of us uniquely for his purpose. Paul brings to light in this chapter how uniquely we are created.

Paul states that we have all been given a measure of faith. I believe it is part of God’s unique creation for every person that we are all born with a measure of faith. With that measure of faith we will fulfill our purpose on earth. I have preached a sermon about the particulars of the gifts listed here in Romans 12 how they work and how naturally supernatural they are. If you would like a copy of those notes respond to this blog, I will not post your response so as not to give your e-mail address away. Every person born is a unique creation of God. He has a plan and a purpose for each one, part of that plan requires us to use the unique measure of faith and the gifting that goes along with it.

So how do we use these unique gifts? Paul sets that up at the very beginning of this chapter. The first two verses explain to us that we are to give back to God what He has given us, ourselves. If we want to be “godly” men and women we must realize that this world system we are living in is anti-god so we must not be like this present age but surrender completely to God.

If you surrender to God, begin to understand and function in your gifts, then you will begin to act Christ-like. Paul establishes, like he does in 1 Corinthians 13, that all that we do must be love-based. We can not live or walk godly apart from love. At the same time we can not walk in love apart from surrendering to God, God is love! God’s love pouring through us enables us to act out this love through honor, patience, generosity, mercy, and grace to name a few of the attributes of a godly Christian.

Our Godly attitude must not only be extended to our friends and those that are like-minded, but toward all people. Paul extends this conversation further as we will read tomorrow in Chapter 13.

What about you today? Do you see yourself the way that God sees you? You are created with unique gifts, personality, and calling. Your value is very high in God’s eyes. You are the only one just like you. It doesn’t matter how you may feel about you, you need to apply the “measure of faith” that god has placed in you and believe what God sees and says about you. You are a gift! You are a blessing! You have a plan and a purpose. God created you uniquely to fulfill that purpose. Press into Him. Talk with Him. Let Him talk to you, Yes God will speak to His people. He does this directly through our thoughts, His Word, and through other Godly people. Occasionally, He has been known to talk audibly to people. Get to know Him and your will know your calling. You are a gift. You are extremely valuable. Don’t give up on yourself. God will never give up on you.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Does God ever break his promises?

Romans 9

Do we need to worry about God not being faithful to his promises? At first glance that seems like a foolish thing to worry about, God is God and he does not change. What about God’s promise to Abraham and the nation of Israelites that were born from him? If God keeps His promises always, it certainly doesn’t seem like it today. Paul wrestled with the early church to help them understand. Is God just in his handling of physical Israel, (those physically born into Israel)? Paul explains over chapters 9 – 11.

Paul is a physical and a spiritual Israeli. He was born into a Jewish family but has also been born again in the spiritual family of Christ. His heart breaks for his brothers and sister who are religiously Jews and he longs for them to come to the truth.

God loves the entire of creation. Every man, woman, and child has been created in His image. He sent Jesus to die of the cross for everyone. To verify Paul’s claim that God has called everyone, he refers to two passages of scripture from Hosea 2:23 and 1:10. Paul also confirms that of physical Israel he has preserved for himself a remnant, quoting Isaiah chapter 10: 22,23 and 1:9. When Adam fell all of creation fell and when Jesus died on the cross it too was for all of creation.

The challenge is we must accept this relationship by faith. The challenge for physical Israel was their work and tradition would not get them to heaven. The law is only a shadow of what was to come (See Galatians 3 for further insight). The law creates a sense of work, a belief that our abilities can get us to heaven. Our works are as filthy rags, they can not get us to heaven it is only by God’s grace, mercy, and faith that we can have relationship with the creator of everything. In our pride we as human beings want to believe we can earn our way into heaven. Our own works are only a stumbling block to our coming to faith in Christ. We must accept that Jesus was the sacrifice that enables us to have relationship with the Father.

So what good are works then? We do works not as a means of coming into right relationship with God the Father but because we love. Taking out the trash is not one of those fun jobs around the house, however it is something that must be done to maintain a healthy house. I take out the trash because I love my family and want to bless them with a fresh smelling house. I walk the walk with Christ because I love Him and by faith I trust that He wants only the best for me. The things that he asks me to do are not futile but purposeful to my living a joy-filled, peaceful, and powerful life.

God has kept his promise to all mankind. He has raised up physical and spiritual children to Abraham. As Galatians 3 shows us God produced through Abraham, by faith, one “seed” not many “seeds”. Everyone who comes to faith in Christ through grace and faith is and heir to the promise of God to Abraham. God does not fail nor change. It has always been about faith. Remember the law was given to Moses many generations after Abraham (about 400 years). Abraham accepted relationship with the Lord through faith.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

You are in a war but the battle has already been won!

Romans 8

For those who choose to follow Jesus, there is a war going on. Notice I didn’t say, “believe” in Jesus. There are many people who believe in Jesus but do not follow Him. It is only when we choose to follow Him that we engage in the war.

Paul outlines some of the war in this chapter.

There is a war with condemnation. Christ died for all of our sin, all that we have committed and all that we will commit. Our own flesh, our enemies and the enemy of our souls wants to tear us down and keep us away from God so all three at times work together to bring guilt and shame which in turn separates us from God. When we sin the Holy Spirit brings conviction, which draws us closer to God and heals our wounds of sin. We have been given the life, through Christ that has set us free from the bondage of condemnation. The bondage of condemnation leads to sin and death but through Christ we have life and freedom. It is very easy to become self-condemning. It is not that we don’t deserve condemnation but God’s grace has made the way for us to receive the freedom from sin.

There is a war about who we are. We often frame who we are but what happens in our lives and what others say about us. Paul is very clear that our flesh, our “carnal mind” is at war with God and what He has to say about us. We are sons and daughters of the most High God. All the Father has is ours. Paul writes that we are “heirs” of the Kingdom, which means all that the Father has is our inheritance. We are not in bondage to sin, our past, or any other thing but instead we are free, adopted sons and daughters of the King of Kings. Everything this world has to offer desires to tear us down and limit our understanding of who we are. We must not believe what the world has to say about us, we must believe what God has to say about us. We are more than conquerors!

We also are in a battle to understand God’s love. Many of our relationships in this life are or were conditional. They are dependent on our reaction to the people around us. It is easy for human beings to turn their backs on family and friends and reject us. God will never do that! Our battle is that we place God in the same category as our human relationships. We assume that like our friendships if we hurt someone or don’t do like they want us to do sometime we are rejected, that God will do the same. They will never happen with God. Can anything separate us from God’s love? Paul answers that very clearly with a resounding, “No!”

We are in this war but to be honest the battle has already been won. We have to come into agreement with God that the battle has been won. Sin has no power over us, we are adopted sons and daughters of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and we are forever, loved. Jesus death and resurrection sealed all of this for us. The battle has been won, we must decide to believe it and live like we believe it.

Tomorrow - Romans 9

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Are we under law or grace?

Romans 7

The answer to the question above depends upon you!

Paul has already laid out the argument that where sin is grace shows up to cover it and where there is much sin there is much grace. The purpose of the law was ultimately to show how much we truly need God and his grace.

In all of our human strength, abilities, and gifts we are unable to reach a place of perfection or to be good enough to come into relationship with God. What hope then do we have? Grace is our hope. Grace is a free gift from God to anyone who would simply believe in the work Christ did on the cross for each one of us.

The law is like a diet! When you are on a diet you focus primarily on what foods you can’t eat. Because of this focus, the temptation is even greater. The law continually shows us what we are not allowed to do and what we must stay away from. The law shows us how far away from God we really are. It fulfills it’s purpose by showing us how much of a sinner we are. In many ways the law is governed by fear, in that we fear failing God constantly.

Grace is freedom! Under grace it is no longer what we are not allowed to do but the privilege we have to really enjoy a relationship with God. Grace opens a pathway to receiving love and giving love directly to the Father. When l submit to God’s grace, it is love that rules in my heart. For example, under the law I am told, “You shall not commit adultery”. I am told what not to do. Under grace, I do not fear committing adultery because of the love I have for my wife. I am in love with my wife so I would never consider adultery. I don’t need to worry about the law. Grace enables us to have a love relationship with God.

Under grace we have the freedom to fall in love with the Lord and to receive His love. There is no fear in love because perfect love eliminates all fear. We battle the need to earn God’s love rather than simply resting in His grace. Tomorrow we will talk more about that as we read Romans 8.

You choose whether you are under law or grace. If you have a relationship with God the Father through His Son Jesus the Christ, then you are under grace. If you do not then you are under the law and are subject to all of the penalties of the law. The law can’t get us into the presence of the Lord. It is only grace that can do that. Grace can’t be earned. It is a free gift given to whoever would accept it. Don’t live under the law! Accept God’s grace for you.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Slavery brings life, abundantly!

Romans 6

Yesterday we read that Paul talked about grace growing even stronger in times of sin. The response to that from the early church is not much more different than what many in today’s church may say, “Well if grace grows stronger the more we sin, then I guess it is OK to sin even more!” Paul spends time making sure we understand that that is not, OK!

Sin is generated two ways. Our flesh has a sinful nature and desires to fulfill that nature of selfishness, lust, pride, jealousy and so on. The devil also plays a part in our sin, less than our flesh but still a part. The devil’s desire is to destroy anything created in the image of God.

As long as we have a body made of sinful flesh we will always battle sin. Grace however enables us to overcome that basic sin and to deprive it of its power and to break the rule of sin’s power over our lives. Because we have a grace to rely on the destructive consequences of sin no longer have any control in our lives. There is great joy in being able to rely on God’s grace when we do sin but we must also realize we don’t need to surrender to sin.

We all serve a master. If our master is sin or our sinful nature then we are slaves to it, resulting in death. If our master is the Lord then we are slaves to righteousness with the end result being life here, abundant and eternal life.

It does not seem like it when we sin, but there is always a penalty to pay for it. One way or another we pay the price for sin. Will we sin as Christian? Yes! The difference under grace is that we are no longer in love with our desire to sin we have a love with the Father that grants us freedom. The joy is not in getting away with the sin but in all the blessings we receive from following the Lord.

As long as we are bound to sin we will never be who God has called us to be. Each of us was created with a purpose. That purpose requires us to know the love, joy, and peace of God. God is love, He is joy, He is peace, as we draw closer to Him the destruction of sin has no power over us. We are able to accomplish amazing things and live a righteous life full of freedom from sin.

There is a constant misery, like a constant back pain that we live in while we are slaves to sin. Like the back pain, we get used to it to the point where we can almost ignore it. When we come into freedom from sin or the back pain, we all of a sudden realize how much pain we were in. Life and freedom come from being a servant or slave of the Lord. Death comes from being a slave to sin.

If you are wondering why life is so difficult or frustrating right now, it may be because you are allowing sin to reign in that part of your life. Ask the Lord to show you, if it is sin related you have begun you trip to freedom, joy, and life abundant.

Tomorrow Romans 7

Monday, March 7, 2011

Death can’t hold us down

Romans 5

I have grown to enjoy the song, “This is the stuff that drives me crazy” by Francesca Battistelli. The song talks about all the little things that happen in life that can be very crazy but also prove that we need to trust God even more. That is the essence of the first 5 verses in Romans 5.

This section of Romans is part of the Bible I wish was not there. I don’t want to go through trials and difficulties. I want every thing to run smoothly, this passage states that we will go through the struggles but it does not state that we can’t go through them smoothly. I believe it is our choice whether we learn things the easy way or the hard way. The truth according to the first 5 verses in Romans 5 is that we will go through struggles but they will be used to give us a renewed sense of hope. Those that don’t trust the Lord will go through struggles as well but there is no guarantee of hope for them.

Paul then shifts to the great news contrasting the first man, Adam, with the second Adam, Jesus. Through the first Adam came disobedience and an offense to God resulting in judgment and death. Death was given reign over our lives because of this offense.

Through the second Adam, Jesus, we have been given life. Jesus life, death, and resurrection is a grace gift given to us. The gift of Jesus’ life gave us the gift of grace that resulted in the justification of our lives despite sin, leading us and giving us eternal life. The law revealed the first Adam’s sin in even greater measure and the contrast is that the grace, Jesus life pours out on each of us, reveals our justification and eternal life.

The easy summary

I know the theology can get a bit confusing here but the quick understanding is this: the first man, Adam through his sin condemned all of mankind to a life ruled by sin and to eternal death. Through the second Adam, Jesus, his death on the cross for all of our sins, broke the curse Adam put in place through his sin. Jesus life and death broke the power of death over us. Until we come to Jesus we are all bound by Adam’s curse by default. When we come to Jesus the grace that He poured out on the cross and the victory over death that came with it, is ours to have for eternity.

Once you come to Christ, you are no longer the result of the bad decisions you have made and will make, you are no longer bound by the sins you have committed and will commit. You are free because of God’s grace. Don’t allow your past or future sins to control you, ask for forgiveness and it will be given. Your sin has no legal right to control you. Jesus won the battle on the cross. Death has lost its victory. You now have victory forever.

Tomorrow – Romans 6

Thursday, March 3, 2011

We begin in Romans

Romans 1

Paul had never been to Rome. The letter to the Romans was both an introduction to the church in Rome and an outline of the foundation of our faith. As an introduction to the devotions from this book of Romans I need to say that there is no way I am going to be able to cover the depths of theology offered here. My hope is that you will glean some wisdom, strength, encouragement, and discipline from a quick view, daily, of this book.

Paul felt his call was to all people. The Lord has done great things for Paul. As a point of gratitude to God, he felt as if he were a debtor to all men in the sense that what God had done for him, he must share it with others so they might know what God could do for them. He made it his habit to go to the Jews first, his own culture and then to every other culture.

One question I am asked frequently is, “How is it fair that if you don’t have a relationship with God that you are condemned to hell?” “What about the people around the world who have never heard of God?” Paul answers that question in verse 20 of the 1st chapter of Romans. God is revealed to every person even through nature. Think about it, if God desires for all men to have a relationship with Him and some will die before a missionary makes it to them, He must have a plan to reach them. His plan is the way that all of creation works. The concept is that every person is judged on the basis of what they do with their knowledge of God. I have heard story after story of how the Lord revealed whom Jesus is apart from any missionary, TV, or radio program or any other kind of intervention. God loves people and wants everyone to come to Him.

There are those that know better and will not be shown mercy. There are those who God reveals himself too and they know it but believing that they know better, they choose to reject God. Notice that Paul makes it clear that these people are fully aware that they are purposely make themselves to be their own god. They choose to worship anything but God and what is worse they choose to worship themselves. This leads to a type of lesbianism and homosexuality that rather than them being open to receive the love of God, correction, and repentance, they become filled with a militancy that sends them spiraling down, worse and worse, to a place where they may never turn back to God. Please understand this can happen with any type of sin if we continue to harden our hearts. All forms of homosexuality are wrong but like every sin people can fall into this sin because of wounds, pain, or a lack of understanding God’s love for them. For those, God is always calling them to himself wanting to bring healing and freedom. But those of whom Paul is speaking are openly at war with God they know what they are doing is sin and simply do not care.

Paul touches specifically on the sin of homosexuality because it was so prevalent in Roman society. All major, world shaking, societies have been corrupted from within before they ever have fallen to an outside enemy. One of the sins that always seem to have free reign in a society about to fall is homosexuality.

In summary, Paul is telling us what God has done for us we need to have a passion to share that with others. However there will be people who blatantly choose to reject God, having knowledge of his love and purpose for their lives reject it and bring onto them the penalty. Please understand, God is not sitting on his throne killing blatant sinners. God has set rules in motion. If you stick you hand in a fire you will get burned. Is that God’s fault? Of course not, the further and further you pull yourself away from God, if God is love, joy, and peace then the further and further you are pulling yourself away from love, joy and peace. What is left? That is the punishment incurred by the blatant sinner.

God loves you continue to draw closer to Him and walk in all that he has for you today.

Tomorrow Romans 2

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Jesus knows how to meet you where you are!

John 21

For forty days after Jesus’ resurrection He stayed with the disciples finishing His instruction. We don’t know all that happened during that time but we do know that Jesus had some critical interactions during His final days on earth.

The two primary purposes of Jesus life were to show us what God is really like and to be the perfect sacrifice so we could have relationship with the Father. As we look at Jesus life it should give us a confidence to know that God really loves us. That is what happened in his discourse with Peter by the Sea of Galilee.

You know the story, Peter had denied the Lord three times. Jesus spent time with Peter since his resurrection but there are times when difficult things happen and things go unsaid. Sometimes it is good to leave things, unsaid the proverbial, “let sleeping dog lie”. Not in this case, left to his own guilt and shame, Peter could have easily walked away from the Lord or never had become the leader in the church that he did.

Jesus knew what Peter needed; He went straight to the heart! In English we only have one word for love but in Greek there are three. There is a word for sexual love, a word for friendship love, and a different word for unconditional love. Jesus was saying to Peter twice, “Do you unconditionally love me?” Both times Peter’s response was, “Lord I have great affection and brotherly love for you.” Peter was frustrated he couldn’t bring himself at this point to feel worthy enough to tell Jesus he loved Him unconditionally. He was still heart broken. Each time Jesus was also challenging Peter to take up the care of the people. When Peter could not respond to Jesus with his unconditional love. Jesus met him there. He responded to Peter by saying, “Peter, do you have great affection and brotherly love for me?” Then you can go ahead and take up the care of people. Jesus had a call on Peter’s life. He was willing to meet Peter where He was, start there and as you know the rest of the story, get him to where he needed to be.

You don’t have to be perfect today, just willing. Jesus met Peter at his point of willingness and took him from where he was to where he needed to be. Where are you today? Don’t allow where you are to stop you from where you need to be. Decide today to simply allow the Lord to meet you where you are and believe that He wants to take you to where you want and need to be.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The New Covenant begins!

John 20

I know the title sounds very religious but let’s take a look at what it means. A covenant is a promise but also more than a promise. It is saying I am joining with you so that all that I have is yours and all that you have is mine. God made several covenantal relationships. The very creation of mankind was the first covenant God made with us. This passage reflects that covenant and welcomes in a new one through the resurrection.

Let’s talk about the resurrection for a moment. It is important to understand that there is a one to one ratio of the Body that was laid in the tomb and the resurrected body. Jesus was not a ghost, He resurrected in a physical body so that all could see and touch. However, his resurrected body went through the grave cloths, they were laying exactly as they had been placed on Him. He was able to go through closed doors yet was able to be touched and ate with his friends. His compassion and love were still there in great measure as He comforted and encouraged His friends. Still something had changed.

Under the old covenant man’s relationship with God was kind of held at arms length. There was no way to reach to God personally; the blood of animals could not wash away sin. The Holy Spirit was present but did not come to stay with mankind. Jesus death and resurrection changed all of that.

In the first covenant God begin in Genesis 2:7 by breathing the breath of life into man. In verse 22 of chapter 20 Jesus now breathes the breath of new life into the disciples, their hearts are transformed and prepared to receive God living in them and through them rather than simply for them. Intimacy was birthed in our relationship with God. The old covenant began with the breath that gave life to sustain Adam. The new covenant breath was given to have life abundantly for eternity.

How did this happen. Jesus sinless life was the perfect sacrifice that was needed to free mankind from the agreement we made with Satan when we rejected true covenant with God, in the garden. Everything from that point to Jesus was bound by a covenantal relationship that mankind enter into with Satan, when we rejected God’s plan. A wall of sin separated us from intimacy with God the Father. Goats, sheep, or the blood of any animal was not enough to cleanse the sin stain. Men and women who lived in obedience where not sent to hell but also could not enter into heaven because the sacrifice of animals could not break the covenant mankind had made with Satan. However their obedience did not warrant hell. When Jesus died on the cross He fulfilled the blood debt necessary to eliminate our sin and establishing a new covenant with mankind that God will not break. New life is poured into anyone who enters into this covenant. Freedom is the result.

God really loves you! He has already made a way for us to be free from the bondage of sin. Are you still in bondage to sin even though you are a believer? If so why, the price has been paid. Whom the Son sets free is free indeed. Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly. Choose today to believe it and live it. You can and will overcome the sin as you begin to believe what God has done for you!

Tomorrow we wrap up John by reading chapter 21