September 30, 2014

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15.5-7 ESV)

 

To close out this month’s devotions, we look at this Scripture with is a blessing. God is a God of encouragement and endurance.  It parallels yesterday’s devotion in calling for unity.  God is the one who can give life to such unity.  With all our differences, He can work within us allowing us to work toward one purpose.  As we “welcome one another” and as we lead others into the Kingdom of God, He is glorified.

What is the chief purpose for a man’s life? What is the main reason for salvation?  Some would say different things to answer these questions.  I would insist that our reason for living and the reason for God granting us salvation if solely for the glory of God.  That is what we live for.  That is why we are called to be humble.  If we accomplish something in life we should give God the glory.  We should never think we deserve the praise.  To God alone belongs the glory! (1 Peter 4.11)

As we walk through our daily lives, let us seek first God’s Kingdom, and seek to bring Him glory by how we act- especially to fellow Christians.  As people see us doing the things that glorify God it will be a testimony to them and they will be opened up for the Gospel. (Matthew 5.16)

September 29, 2014

“So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Romans 14.12-13 ESV)

A Southern Baptist distinctive is the Priesthood of the Believer. It is reflected in the autonomy of our local churches and illustrated in the differences in styles of worship, dress and preaching (among other things) among our churches.  Some churches in the Southern Baptist Convention hold passionately to the King James Version of the Bible.  Some hold dear the old hymns.  Others prefer the New International Version or English Standard Version and like more contemporary worship songs mixed in, or even exclusively.  These things may threaten to divide us.

I know churches have split over things as simple as the color of new carpet being installed (and it is despicable! Which is a hellish attitude held by a self-centered bunch of Christians- if they are truly Christians at all).

We are to encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5.11), not to hinder one another.  We should not be looking for fights at church, but looking to be equipped and working to bring the Gospel to the world.  We should not put hurdles in the way of each other; we should work together to bring glory to God.   

September 27, 2014

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12.18-21 ESV)

Feed your enemy when he is hungry. Give your enemy something to drink when he is thirsty. Not exactly the wisdom of Sun Tzu in The Art of War.  While we would normally think of enemies as those who should be defeated we are directed to act differently as Christians.  First, we are to try to be at peace with everyone, as far as we can.  Sometimes there are those who will not live in peace no matter how hard you try.  We are called to do our best.  Second, we are called to avoid vengeance.  While avoiding vengeance would neuter a lot of action movies, it hos no place in our lives, though I know the thirst for vengeance can be strong in many circumstances.  God’s vengeance is the ultimate.  It is also just.

The last part is key. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  We can be engulfed with evil, or we can overcome it.  Just before this Paul writes, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  When I was a youth pastor I used this verse a lot, contending that this verse can mean two things.  The first meaning could mean that your enemy will have the burning coals of repentance that leads him to no longer be your enemy, but your brother in Christ.  The second, and probably more plain meaning would be that his refusal to be reconciled would bring on him condemnation and wrath.  Either way the right thing to do before God would be to treat your enemy well.

Sun Tzu, the Chinese military general and strategist may have influenced Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh and even General Normal Schwarzkopf, but his strategies were not Biblical. Sun Tzu does teach to treat the enemy prisoners with compassion, but does not go as far as Paul here in Romans 12.

Are we willing to put our squabbles and even serious matters through Biblical consideration and treat those who would be our enemies compassionately and overcome evil with good?

 

 

September 26, 2014

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12.2 ESV)

As this world seeks to make us into what it wants us to be, the Apostle Paul guides us in another direction as he writes to the Church at Rome. While the world is set up against us we must fight to seek God’s right way. We can see MTV’s attempts to claim the last generation (it seems like the hold has weakened) saying they owned it. We can discern how commercials and media seek to conform our daughters into prostitutes and our sons into feminine males.  None of these things is godly.  The world pollutes.

Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, tells us not to be conformed to this world. You see, as my friend Pastor Matt Everhard (a pastor in Brooksville, FL) said recently, “The world does not just want us to buy their product, it wants us to be their product.”  God wants us to have a transformation (the Greek word is the one that gives us “metamorphosis” in English).  This transformation comes from the renewing of our mind. 

How can our minds be renewed? Of course the Holy Spirit plays a major role. What do we do to encourage the renewal? Think about what we fill our minds with daily.  Are we watching movies or television shows that are antithetical to our walk with Christ?  Are they helping us grow in Christ or trying to tear us away from Christ?  How about the books we read or websites we visit?  It is good to be against pornography- especially how it destroys the lives and souls of those who produce it and embrace it.  However, reading a steamy romance novel or gawking at the swimsuit edition is also very harmful to the soul.  It is not how we renew our mind and transform our lives.

Let us consider the things in our lives that seek to drag us away from Christ. We should consider what we can do without as well.  As we do we will begin to discover God’s good, acceptable and perfect will for our lives.  That can only come when we are being transformed.

September 25, 2014

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12.1 ESV)

In one of my favorite movies, Sergeant York, the main character, Alvin York moves from an inglorious past into being a war hero.  He was rough and liked to fight, not wanting to be told what he could do or what he could not do.  He was not dependable, even though he was a hard worker.  At one point during the movie Alvin is nearly struck by lightning and at that time gives his life to Christ.  It is a moving scene when he walks into the church soaking wet from the storm and goes to the altar as the congregation sings “Old Time Religion.”  From this point in the movie Alvin becomes conscientious and tries to live by what the Bible teaches.  He becomes a living sacrifice.

As Alvin is drafted into the Army, he struggles with the task put before him. He does not want to kill other people.  However, his convictions change a bit and he ends up winning a battle almost single-handedly.  When he is praised as being a hero Alvin basically says he was doing what he was supposed to do.  He was not killing other people; he was protecting those soldiers he was with. 

In today’s Scripture, we see that we are called to be a living sacrifice; it is our “spiritual worship” or, better yet, our “reasonable service.” (KJV) So when we do something for God, when we sacrifice or donate or go on a mission trip- or even give our lives, it is what we should be doing as Christians.  So, if we went to God and said, “Lord I did this and that and those things for you…” He could legitimately say, “What do you want, a medal?”  We owe it to God to live our lives for Him and not ourselves.

September 20, 2014

“‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  (Romans 10.8-10 ESV)

In the ninth verse of this Scripture we see something often used in witnessing. The Roman’s Road approach leans on this verse among others.  It is a wonderful idea that is captured here.  It focuses on the heart and mouth.  With the heart we believe.  It is not just a casual belief; it is a true heartfelt belief.  This belief is unto salvation, based in faith.  With the mouth we confess our faith unto salvation.

We do not depend on what we do or on any lineage for our salvation. We only depend on faith in Christ alone.  We confess according to that faith and demonstrate our allegiance to Jesus and make testimony to the world that we are His, we are the “call out ones” (Greek: ἐκκλησία).  We have been called out and come to faith in Christ, confessing what we believe in our hearts with our mouths!

With it (the tongue) we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3.9-10 ESV)  Too often we use our tongues to tear down or curse others (whether with profanity or wishes to their harm).  Instead we should be praising God and letting the confession of our mouths be in keeping with the faith in our hearts.

So confession can be positive or negative- but for a Christian, we should be known for a confession that glorifies God. This will demonstrate to the world that He is in control of our lives and that we rest in, and rely on, that fact.

September 19, 2014

“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’” (Romans 9.14-15)

Paul is talking about Isaac and Esau.  He describes the way God preordained Esau to serve Jacob although Esau was older.  In the culture of the time the eldest son inherited the birthright.  The birthright included many privileges and responsibilities including a place of higher status among the children.  However, God said He was setting it up a different way for Isaac and Rebekah’s children.  In fact, here Paul quotes Malachi who was referencing God’s words, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9.13 ESV; Malachi 1.2, 3

While the idea of God hating anyone may be difficult for many to accept in today’s Christian culture, we must look at the Biblical facts listed here.  In two books, one Old Testament and one in the New Testament, God says He loved Jacob and hated Esau.  As difficult as that may be to swallow, Paul quotes Exodus 33.19 by saying, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”  Let us keep in mind that there is no injustice in God. 

Some challenge this difficulty by saying Paul is using Esau and Jacob as figureheads for their offspring, not referencing them individually.  There can be debate on that, but I prefer to take the text as it is written.  The context does not lend itself to speak of groups of people, but to Jacob and Esau individually. Why would God have cause to hate Esau?  If we look back at Genesis 25.34 (and the surrounding chapters to gain context), Esau “despised” his birthright.  In despising the birthright Esau was not valuing his place before God.  Jacob, on the other hand, valued it greatly. He did whatever it took to gain the birthright God promised him before he was born.

In His justices, God chose whom He would have mercy on.  He had mercy on the one who valued Him in his life- Jacob.  What, or whom, do we value?  Will we strive for what God places emphasis on, or will we choose a way we prefer no matter what God’s call would be for us?

September 18, 2014

“What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’” (Romans 9.30-33 ESV)

It all comes down to faith. That is what Paul is explaining here.  Those who were not Jews were not seeking God’s righteousness while Jews were seeking righteousness through the law. The non-Jews found righteousness through faith in Christ.  Many Jews did not find righteousness because the law was not sufficient to save.

What it all boils down to is that faith is what we need. Working or trying to follow a strict set of rules will only lead to ruin.  Faith in God the Son, Jesus, leads us into God’s grace and salvation.

This idea has become a stumbling block, something offensive, not only to Jews, but to many people around us. It is unpopular to say the Jesus is the only way to salvation; the truth is often unpopular.  People often want to hear what they want to hear no matter the consequences.

We have only faith to save us. Any time anyone adds anything to faith they fall into heresy. The Church of Christ and the Roman catholic church teach that one must be baptized in order to be saved.  That is adding works to salvation, which is in total violation of what God teaches us through Paul here in this Scripture.  We need to remember that all the blessings we have through our salvation were attained by faith in Christ, not because of anything we have done.

September 17, 2014

“…and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named. This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. (Romans 9.7-8 ESV)

Scripture speaks of the children of Abraham as children of promise. The Jewish people often spoke in such a manner.  Here Paul points out that not all children of Abraham were children of promise.  Only those who were born through the line of Isaac were those who were heirs of the promise.  He was a son of Abraham along with Ishmael.  Ishmael was born to Abraham and Hagar and was not an heir of any promise.  Later, Isaac had two children with his wife Rebekah: Esau and Jacob.  Before they were born God said the older (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob).  Thus, not even all of Isaac’s line would be heirs to the promise.

In time, Jesus came and those not of Isaac’s line were made worthy to become adopted into his line by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  Those who receive Jesus’ sacrifice by having faith in Him become children of the promise, not by flesh but by adoption.

We are not saved by keeping the law (though, those who are saved will naturally begin to honor the law, to do what is right, by displaying the fruit of the Spirit [Galatians 5.22-23]). We are not saved by inheriting salvation.  We are not saved by works we can perform.  We are only saved by surrendering our lives to Christ, having faith in Him.  That goes for all people- even those who are of the lineage of Isaac.

September 16, 2014

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8.35-37 ESV)

With all the suffering Christians around the world are enduring, we can find peace in this Scripture.  No matter what a Christian goes through he cannot be separated from Christ and His love.  Even when Christians are being murdered, the Bible proclaims that we are still “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Jesus).

Let us look to Jesus as an example.  He was brought to the cross to face a brutal execution.  He died on that cross.  Some have called him the god who failed.  However, His death was not a failure.  The death of Christ was followed by the resurrection and with the resurrection death and the grave were defeated.  They lost their power.  Jesus conquered death with His death.  He overpowered the grave with his rising. 

If a Christian loses his life, he will still share in the resurrection and will have eternal life with God.  Death is not the end for a Christian.  Even humiliation is not the end for a Christian.  Humiliation often results in repentance and a drawing closer to God.

We need not live in fear; we are more than conquerors through Christ.