Posts Tagged ‘Romans’
“I am El-Shaddai—God Almighty. Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life” (Gen. 17.1)
♦ Gospel - Mark 8:31-38
“Is anything worth more than your soul? (Mark 8:31-38)
O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from thy way, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of thy Word, Jesus Christ they Son; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, on God, for ever and ever. Amen
Roman 4:13, 16, 18, 22-23
13 Clearly, God’s promise to Abraham (and us) was based not on his obedience to God’s law, but on a right relationship with God that comes by faith. 16 Abraham is the father of all who believe… 18 Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing… 22 Because of Abraham’s faith God counted him righteous. 23 And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded 24 for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. (items in parenthesis and emphasis is mine)
This is an amazing thing. So many times I have caught myself measuring my spirituality and my “righteousness” on performance based metrics (eg., my Bible knowledge, my “servant’s” heart, the ministries I participate in, my abstinence from various vices, etc.). I will admit that I don’t do this consciously, but I do recognize I do it. I know in my head that it is by grace that I’ve been saved, but I also know that a “tree is known by the fruit that it bears.” And then there is this quote from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans. God’s promise, and I might add favor, was not based on Abraham’s obedience, but on a right relationship with God.
What this speaks to me is that the most important thing God is concerned with in us is our right relationship with him. I do believe that trust, obedience, willing and submissive surrender to God will follow right relationship, but those things in and of themselves do not trump a heart that believes God on the basis of faith. There are some amazing feats of faith that are exhibited by father Abraham and each one of these feats merited a personal visit or personal word (reaffirming God’s covenant promise) from God to Abraham. It seems that Abraham tickled God’s fancy… mostly, because he stayed in right relationship with God. He believed him. Even when he questioned God, his heart believed.
I think that sometimes I might err on the side of caution and try to obey my way to faith. Sometimes I want to believe, but it is hard…it’s easier to tough my way through obedience and then pat myself on the back because I “obeyed” God even if my heart didn’t believe God. I give myself extra points for degree of difficulty like Olympic athletes. While I’m grinning at myself holding up a “9″ for my act of obedience, I probably merit a disqualify from God as I’ve attempted to “work” myself into his favor… when what he wants is a relationship with me. He wants me to trust. He wants me to believe him first. Obedience will follow. Right relationship is more important than obedience. Now that I think about it, I seem to recall there were quite a few characters in the Bible that God delighted in that fell short of the mark of perfection, but they were in right relationship. I’ll work to remember this and ask Jesus to help my faith.
Or Faith that Transforms?
One of the most agonizing things I experience as a Christian, and especially as a minister-pastor, is the struggle that I witness people go through in the process of their faith. I remember a saying we used when I was growing up in the Pentecostal church that we would use to describe folks that were going through particularly difficult times (specifically the inner changes that were part of the ongoing process of transforming sanctification). We would say, “Brother or sister so-in-so really needs to get the victory.” I think about this a lot these days. I’ve been leading, mentoring, counseling, and discipling people in the ways of Christ for quite a few years now; not a lifetime, but enough years to see the trends. The thing I have noticed is the “lack of victory” so many people display in their lives. It’s almost as if the Christian life is a life of drudgery and “beat down” for them. They exhibit very little joy and almost always are teetering on the verge of being sucked back into their old life (Christianese alert::::) aka backsliding.
Eugene Peterson’s Message Bible paraphrases this portion of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 7:14-23) as follows:
I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience? Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary. But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
This might sound even more depressing if it weren’t for (as Paul Harvey used to say…) “the rest of the story.”
Romans 7:24-25 — 24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? 25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
What does it mean? It means we can get the VICTORY. We can live a life free from the continuous and tumultuous “pushing and pulling” against our soul of sin. We don’t have to live the Romans 7 life; we are freed to live the Spirit-filled life of the Romans 8 saint.
Why do Christians stay in the realm of Romans 7? I can’t say for sure, but I have a pretty strong theory. I think, like so many things, we simply add Christian faith to our lives like we do any other supplemental stage of life or personal development tool. We have the propensity to approach Christianity with “Transformer Mentality” bolting on to our lives something that will make us a better person…or something that will fix the problem I’m in so I can resume my life. And, the majority of time…the vast majority of time, this approach fails us. The Transformer-bolt-on-Jesus approach to Christianity and faith in the Living God is the antithesis of the “Follow Me and Count the Cost” call of Jesus Christ. Faith in God is not an upgrade package to an over cluttered life. Faith in God, becoming a disciple of Christ, is a complete life overhaul…and must be counted as such.
You Must Be Born Again…
What do we think when Jesus declared to Nicodemus; “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3). In the Gospel of Luke (Luke 14:25-33) Jesus is even more explicit in his demands for becoming his follower (disciple). He says we must deny self and give up everything or we cannot become his disciple. He gives an illustration for “dying to self” in order to become “reborn” in the passages of John’s Gospel (John 12:24) as follows:
24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
The faith, the life, that Jesus offers us is not Transformer Faith; it is FAITH THAT TRANSFORMS! The Apostle Paul writes; “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Don’t settle for “bolt-on” faith; go for the real deal and the Victory that is eternal… Faith that Transforms.
“How Then Shall We Live…?”
This morning’s devotional time very quickly settled into a theme. One of the first things that I encountered was listening to the song on the newest Glory Revealed II CD, “Since the World Began.” In this song there is a line (lyric) that asks “How then shall we be saved?” It continues with an exclamation that He (God) is the Father-Potter and we are the clay-children formed in His hands… This brought to my memory passages of Scripture from Romans 8:8-25 and 2 Peter 3:10-14 (excerpts follow):
8 Those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. 12 …Dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. 13 For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the sinful nature, you will live. (Excerpted from Romans 8:8-25)
“…What holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. While you are waiting, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in His sight.” (Excerpted from 2 Peter 3:10-14)
From all of this, I was prompted to ask the question; “How then shall we live?” As children of the Living God, how do we represent the grace that has covered us? Our lives should be mirror-like expressions of His holiness and love. Ours should not be a life that is caught up in the tyranny of the world’s noise. Too many of our Christian brethren are not exhibiting the Christ-in-you lives that have been promised by our Savior, Jesus. We make excuses for our lack of evidence of “Christ-in-us” manifest in our lives, but the truth of Scripture tells us that the lack of evidence means that Christ is not in us at all and we are not His. This should strike fear in us and lead us to repentance…now. We call ourselves the church, but are we? We have been called out, but have we responded to the call? Hear the words of Isaiah:
“You welcome those who gladly do good, who follow godly ways. But you have been very angry with us, for we are not godly.” (Isaiah 64:5)
How then shall we live? Hear the words of Ambrosiaster:
“Set free by the grace of God from fear, we have received the Spirit of sonship so that, considering what we are and what we have become by the grace of God, we might govern our life with great care lest the name of God the Father be disgraced by us and we incur all the things we escaped from… For if our behavior does not correspond to our voice when we cry, ‘Abba!’ ‘Father!’ We insult God by calling Him Father. Indeed, God in His goodness has indulged us with what is beyond our natural capacity.”
How then shall we be saved? By Christ. How then shall we live? Like Christ.
“Beloved, let us arm ourselves with all our might, let us prepare ourselves for the struggle by innocence of heart, integrity of faith, dedication to virtue.” (Cyprian)
By His mighty arm and for His mighty name, may it be so to the glory of His Kingdom. [Amen]
LONG POST WARNING…
I know I might sound like a broken record, but I cannot escape the thought patterns that rise up out of my heart and take up residence in my mind. As I continue to read from my Bible and the ancient writings of Christians that have journeyed the path of discipleship in the ways of Jesus Christ, I learn and appreciate a deeper understanding behind the meaning of the “narrow way.” As wide and deep are the mercies and grace of our Great GOD; laser straight with precision focus and dedication must be the way of his disciple. This narrow way of laser-focus-dedication is not, and cannot be, confused with legalistic rules, programs, disciplines or programs. Nor should it be confused with maniacal fanaticism. Likewise, it is not a life journey that one enters into expecting to find balance. While I find myself using the words moderation and balance quite often on the course and path of my faith journey, realistically…balance is something that I rarely experience. This, of course, could be more attuned to my own personality, but I think unbalanced and wholehearted speak more closely to right definition when it comes to the description of a true Jesus disciple. Your mileage might vary, but this is my experience.
You might be asking; “what’s driving the thinking, Jeff?” My answer; a lot…let me share a bit of it with you.
“O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in all of Heaven above or on the earth below. You keep your covenant and show unfailing love to all who walk before you in wholehearted devotion.” 1 Kings 8:23
If you read this blog, you probably noticed that my blogging has been sporadic lately. I’m not prepared to share in detail why that has been, but will say that my soul has been at unrest. This is not to infer negative implications. Personally, I think what the Lord has been speaking to me is good. He is defining my path; He is guiding my steps…He is writing my destiny. As a result of this “heart conversation” with my Lord, my mouth has been silent and since this has been all that has consumed me for the past several weeks and couple months…my blogging has been minimal…feeling restricted by what I can share and what is on my mind. There are some things I feel ok to talk about, so I’ll share some of them now and maybe more over the next few days or however long it takes to flesh it all out. Read the rest of this entry »
I read an interesting post from Seth Godin’s blog this morning (read it here to understand the context of my thoughts). It made me think (I believe that is the intent, but I digress). Technology like the internet has served to reveal the duplicity of mankind…generally speaking I mean. No one reading this blog is a fraud I’m sure. I’m reasonably confident that most everyone that would stumble upon this meager electronic journal is open and transparent in their relationships; I’m sure of it…
What is the risk of living open and transparent lives before one another; failure.., embarrassment.., vulnerability? I asked my best friend what they thought about “transparency” and was given this response:
“I’ll be seen for the person I really am; and I’ll be rejected when that is found out…who I am will be used against me. Being transparent removes the ‘shield of protection’ from my life and exposes my greatest weaknesses and vulnerability.” Read the rest of this entry »
I shared the final installment of our Bethlehem Bound Series today. My text was from Matthew 2:1-2. God has been stoking and stirring the fires of my heart in recent days with meditations from Romans and the Gospel of John. My take on this chapter of the Nativity Story was a little different than what might ordinarily be taught, but I feel it is what the Spirit was teaching me, so…
As is usually the case, my direction and delivery of this teaching was slightly different in each of the services, so I have included both recorderd services (from the 8:30 and 11:00 gatherings) as well as my sermon manuscript.
Sermon Manuscript: Every Knee Shall Bow
Every Knee Shall Bow 08:30
Every Knee Shall Bow 11:00
Maybe it is just my opinion or interpretation, but I do not think that the teaching of Paul in Romans chapter six could be any clearer. It is abundantly evident to me that he is making a declaration that sin has been officially defeated and conquered through the atoning work of Jesus’ death on the cross, resurrection from that death, and ascension back to heaven. Further, it is also abundantly clear that he (Paul) is proclaiming that as followers of Christ, we too have the first down payment and benefit of sharing in Jesus’ victory over sin and death. As such, we no longer are subjects in bondage to sin and/or death. We are invited to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, following the guidance of God the Holy Spirit, and fulfilling the will and bringing glory to GOD Almighty. I think many of us will concede that these statements are true and profess our agreement with them. The breakdown occurs between verbal affirmation of these beliefs and actually living them out. Why the failure? Why the breakdown? Read the rest of this entry »
I am posting some of these thoughts over on the blog for my home church while our congregation reads together through the New Testament Scriptures. I wanted to have a permanent link to my own blog, so I’m posting here too. This will be a multi-part post over the next couple days, so feel free to read along and share your thoughts for or against.
“…suppress truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18)
“…they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like” (Romans 1:21)
“They traded the truth about God for a lie…” (Romans 1:25)
“…they worshipped the things God created instead of the Creator himself” (Romans 1:25)
It is easy for us to point the finger at “the other guy” about now. Most of us in the Christian world would not consider ourselves to be included in the audience that Paul refers to in the passages above. We’re good. We know Jesus. We accepted His free gift of salvation; we said so in a prayer. We go to church. We own a Bible. We say grace at the table and occasionally volunteer in a service project…when we have time and it doesn’t interrupt the schedules of our lives. Paul says to us; “You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse!” (Romans 2:1). If that statement is not enough to rattle us “good knower’s of God’s word,” Paul writes the following words to the Roman Jews (I really think these words can be/should be applied to us Christians in 21st century North Amercia): Read the rest of this entry »