Monday, 31 December 2007

How shall they hear?

“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” - Romans 10v14

We already know that Paul had an incredible burden to see his people saved. We already know that salvation comes through believing and calling on the Lord? We already know that it is an invitation open to all. Fine then, but how does all this start happening?

How can they call if the don’t believe? How can they believe if they have never heard? How can they hear unless somebody tells them?

Paul uses the word “preacher” and we might think by that word that he is talking about the pastor, the evangelist, or the missionary. They all are to do that, but that is not the limit. The word simply means a proclaimer, and in this case a proclaimer of the gospel..

When we see it that way the passage applies to each of us. Every single one of us can be a proclaimer. Faith comes by hearing. Hearing comes from the word of God, the gospel.

Who are going to be the proclaimers in 2008 so that they can be the hearers?

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Whoever calls

For "WHOEVER CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD SHALL BE SAVED." - Romans 10v13

There is not a whole lot to say about this is there? “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Sure, this is not just a desperate call into the darkness. Sure it is based on a confession that Jesus is Who He says He is. Sure it is based on a belief in the heart. It is even based on a proclamation that He was raised from the dead. But, at the end of the day “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

It is not exclusive. It is not limited. It is not bound by some kind of works and law. The offer is open to all.

I can only praise God that “Whosever included me.” If it weren’t for “whoever” where would I be?

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Their own righteousness

“For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.” - Romans 10v3

Pardon me if a couple of entries here are a bit personal and reflect my own personal situation. As I read verses 2-4 today I thought about how much they suit Ireland. Ireland has indeed been seeking her own righteousness for centuries. From the very beginning the people sought righteousness in the pagan rituals of Druidism. For a brief period there was a glimmer of hope in the 5th century as Patrick carried the truth of God’s righteousness here, but he failed to prepare the Christians to pass on their faith so a hundred years later the light had faded.

Since the 6th century this land has sought her righteousness in a form of Christianity. For about 300 years there was a mystical mixture of Christianity and paganism where the old gods and goddesses were brought back into the church. In the 10th century the Roman church with her works based righteousness took hold in Ireland and for a thousand years tried to portray her own form of righteousness.

In the last 25-30 years there has been a seeming abandonment of righteousness. “Whatever works for me” has become good enough. Now, more than ever seemingly there is a total ignorance of God’s righteousness.

In all of this, except for that brief period, people have not submitted to the righteousness of God.

Sadly, Ireland is not unique. All over the world people choose to seek after their own righteousness and are ignorant of God’s righteousness. It is easier to establish our own righteousness than to submit to God’s righteousness. Even Christians in some circles establish our own standards of righteousness and seek to, as one song puts it, get people to change their shirts before they change their hearts.

It is sadder than sad that people seek to replace God’s righteousness with their own. No matter where we live may God make us constantly aware of a world destroying itself in its own righteousness. In Christ alone is that righteousness found.

Friday, 28 December 2007

That they might be saved

“Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.” - Romans 10v1

You will notice that I skipped Romans chapter 9. Why? Because, to be honest, I really don’t understand the whole concept of election and Romans 9 deals almost totally with Israel, salvation, and election. Commentators can’t just skip a chapter in their books and preachers can’t just skip a chapter if they are preaching a series through a book of the Bible, but I can skip it here, because these entries are simply my own reflections.

I am not so sure that even Paul understood all that he wrote in that chapter, but when we get to chapter ten one thing is clear – Paul loves his people and he wants to see them saved.

Look at the verse again- “…my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved.” We can almost sense Paul’s heart. Laying all the theology aside he simply wants to see the people of Israel saved.

At our Christmas Day service Tuesday the Lord directed my heart to this passage for a brief closing comment. As our church prepares for 2008 would we be wrong to take this verse and say, “…my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Ireland is that they might be save”? Would it be wrong to put “the United Kingdom,” or “the United States,” or any other nation in the place of “Israel” in that verse?

Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to figure out theology that we forget the kind of heart desire that Paul had. What is our heart desire for 2008? Is it that we figure out the fine points of theology or that we see our people saved?

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Nor any other thing

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” - Romans 8v38-39

Seldom if ever do these daily entries plumb the great theological depths. For one reason they are intended to be simply reflections or gleanings. The other reason is that their author’s plumb line doesn’t go deep enough.

Today is no exception – a simple question, “What can separate us from God’s love?” And a simple answer:

  • Not death
  • Not life
  • Not angels
  • Not principalities
  • Not powers
  • Not things present
  • Not things to come
  • Not height
  • Not depth

Pretty impressive list, no? Well, if that is not enough we have one more:

  • Nor any other created thing

Boom. There it is – the only thing not created is the Creator Himself and He has promised never to leave us or forsake.

It only makes sense though doesn’t it? Could the God Who is love itself, the God Who is the creator and originator of love, the God Who epitomises love have a fickle love?

Of course not God’s love is eternal, unchangeable, and inseparable. Praise God for His love which is beyond our comprehension. Isn’t it wonderful that we don’t have to fully comprehend it to enjoy its benefits?

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

More than conquerors

“Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” - Romans 8v37

In this section of Romans it would be possible to stop and make a comment at almost every verse. Every little phrase is worth a “gleaning,” but I have to stop when I get to a phrase like “We are more than conquerors.”

As we know by now Paul has been addressing the problem of sin and the flesh. We have learned that sin has no more dominion over us. We have been instructed that we need to reckon ourselves dead to sin and quit submitting to a power it doesn’t have. We have learned that there is no condemnation to those of us in Christ Jesus. We have seen that since God is for us no one and no thing can stand against us.

These are all powerful truths leading to a powerful conclusion to this section of the letter. Yet, right in the middle of building to a dramatic conclusion Paul makes an wonderful, powerful, and encouraging statement- “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loves.” In all what things we might ask. Well, to be specific we just need to look back a verse or two.

  • Tribulation
  • Distress
  • Persecution
  • Famine
  • Nakedness
  • Peril
  • Sword

That’s quite a list! But if we go back a little further we find out the counterbalance.

  • Sin has no power over me
  • There is no condemnation on me
  • I can call God, the Creator of the universe, “Daddy”
  • I have an inheritance
  • The trials of today are no comparison to the glories I will see
  • I have a glorious liberty
  • All things in my life work together for good
  • I am destined to be conformed to the image of Christ
  • God is for me

The first list is temporal – the second is eternal. Indeed, we are not only conquerors, but we are MORE than conquerors through Him who loves us! When you balance the tow lists above it is obvious that things are stacked in our favour!

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

If God is for us

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” - Romans 8v31

Christmas – what an amazing time. Some Christians have chosen to ignore or even be anti-Christmas, and that is their prerogative, but I really enjoy it. We like all the trimmings and trappings, but we do try to focus on Christ and what He has done for us.

In Romans 8v31 we find a special little Christmas gift. God proved He was for us when He sent His Son to earth. He proved He was for us when His Son went to the cross and died for us. He proved He was for us by offering us the free gift of salvation. He proved He was for us when He adopted us into His family at salvation. He proved He was for us when He allowed us to cry out, “Daddy, Father.”

The word “if” is interesting. Sometimes it allows for doubt – “If you do so and so I will take you to McDonalds.” (Take that anyway you want, promise or threat). It can also be a statement of fact “If milk builds strong bones, why don’t you drink it?” Perhaps Romans 8v31 should have used “since,” but here it is a certainty. “If, and He is, God is with us, who can stand against us?”

On this marvellous Christmas Day, those of us who are believers can rest assured that because Jesus came, whatever day He was born, and died for us we can have total confidence that God is on our side and we have nothing to fear. There is nothing that can really be against us.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Conformed to His image

“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” - Romans 8v29

I really, really would like to have this who election/predestination/Calvinism/sovereignty v. free-will thing figures out. At one time in my life I thought I had, but the longer I go the lesser I know. It is a question that has rattled the minds of theologians for years. Churches have split and friendships been destroyed over this one issue.

I get the feeling I am not going to ever really get it. Maybe God’s word is purposefully vague here just to keep us humble. I do know one thing for sure though – those who are saved are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ.

What a comfort this is. It is no excuse for my forays into sin, but it is comforting to know that one day I will be like Him. One day my sanctification will be complete. One day the battle with sin will be over.

In the meantime we are reminded in Ephesians that before the foundation of the world something else was ordained – that we should walk in good works to show the world that we are already His.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

All things

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” - Romans 8v28

There are, believe it or not, some portions of scripture that I read and that I have a hard time believing. Romans 8v28 is one such verse. How can all things in our lives work together for good. How can car accidents, illnesses, tragic diseases, broken homes, collapsing economies, earthquakes, hurricanes, job losses, sinful choices, persecution, and such work together for good? How can I REALLY believe it when it happens to me?

There is some debate in theological circles about whether God actually orchestrates every single event for good or whether He uses events to use them for good. Either way the truth is still there. “We know that all things work together for good” , or “we know that that God works all things for good” really doesn’t make a difference. The problem is seeing and believing the truth of the statement at all.

I wish I had a better answer – for my sake as much as anyone’s, but the truth is that this is one of those things that I juts have to choose to believe. I have to exercise faith to believe that no matter what comes across my path God is going to use it for good.

What a comfort if I would ever really choose to believe it.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Glorious liberty

“…because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” - Romans 8v21

There is a scene in the film “Braveheart” where William Wallace is preparing his Scotsman for battle against the English. He tells them “They may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom!” An American statesman is famously known for saying, “Give me liberty of give me death!”

The sentiments I think somewhat capture the thought that Pail expresses in Romans 8v21. For the time being all creation groans under the heavy weight of sin. It is a burden that is almost palpable at times. And yet one day all creation will be delivered from that bondage and enjoy liberty.

But what kind liberty? Read the amazing words above – “into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Chapters 6-8 in Romans have contained the marvellous truth that we are not under the weight of sin any longer. We live daily in a glorious liberty, free from the slavery to sin. Yes, as we saw yesterday we do our own groaning, but it is with an eternal hope.

It is that hope that gives us glorious liberty. We walk in defeat. We act like we are weighed down with sin because we serve it so easily. O that we could learn to live freely in this glorious liberty!

Friday, 21 December 2007

Groaning perseverance

“Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” - Rom 8v23-25

There are some who claim that there is some kind of “victory life” that we can tap into and fly along in our Christian life with no more trials, no more struggles, and no more battled with the flesh. Many hope that something will happen to make the Christian life easier and smoother. I have read many of their books and heard their messages and it all sounds very exciting. I would love to tap into something like that.

Problem is I just can’t see it as biblical. Here in Romans we read of God’s entire creation groaning as it awaits redemption. Leaving aside for now the wickedness around us we can almost hear creation’s groans and we read of earthquakes, storms, and other natural disasters that are the results of sin. Creation must yearn for the redemption of the new heaven and new earth.

God doesn’t leave it there though. Even we ourselves groan as we await our full redemption and adoption. We know that we have hope. We were saved into that hope and assurance but until that hope is seen we groan in anticipation of it.

How do we do it until then? What do we do in the meantime? We eagerly wait in perseverance. I really am excited for the day of redemption to come, in our vernacular, I can’t wait for it. But in reality we have to wait, and we have to wait. How do I wait? I wish I could say something more exciting, but we just have to persevere with a “hopeful endurance.”

Endurance doesn’t sound very nice does it? But at least we have hope at the end. And its better than some pipedream of a trouble-free life that God never promises.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

No comparison

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” - Romans 8v18

How does Joni Erickson Tada do it? Made a quadriplegic by a diving accident she has developed a tremendous ministry to the hurting and disabled and is a constant encouragement through here ministries.

How does Nick Vujicic do it? Born with no arms and no legs he has an amazing ministry of preaching and sharing the gospel as he shows forth the love of God.

How does a man in a video I saw recently do it? Made totally bedridden by a disease he gives constant testimony to God’s plan for his life. He exudes the love of Christ in his life.

And then I look at me. I panic when the dollar weakens. I get upset when my back hurts. I don’t like it when the church struggles. I don’t like it when I am inconvenienced. I get upset when people I trust turn on my. I am mighty quick to jump into pity party pit.

Why do I differ from folks like mentioned above? I am sure that they have moments of worry and despair. I am sure that they are not always on top of the world. But, I think they have truly copped on to something I need to learn. They understand Romans 8v18. They know that all the troubles that we experience now are not even worthy to be compared to the glories we will experience with Christ. They focus on the unseen when I focus on the seen.

O for a heart that truly grasps the truth of this verse. O for a spirit that recognises that the troubles of today are no comparison to the glory that we will one day experience.

Lord, give me a heart that sees the truth of “No comparison.”

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

My inheritance

“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” - Romans 8v16-17

You often hear stories about people who have some rich relative die and leave them an amazing inheritance. The go from rags to riches overnight! It is kind of like winning the lottery!

I am patiently waiting for my share on an inheritance I am due 1/102 of the estate of a first cousin once removed (I tried to figure that out but got confused). I have been waiting for over a year now, but I have to say I am not waiting with baited breath. I have a feeling that this inheritance is not going to change my lifestyle. If it takes until after I die my children would each get 1/612 of the estate. The further we go the smaller the inheritance gets.

Paul talks about a whole different kind of inheritance. Since God is my dad I am now His heir. In fact, this inheritance is such that I am a joint heir with Christ and will one day receive the fullness of His blessing. This is an inheritance that is incorruptible and undefiled. It is not going to fade away the longer it goes and it is already reserved hin heaven for me.

How do I go from a lost sinner at enmity with God to a joint heir with Jesus? I certainly can’t figure it all out, but I do know that it is purely and simply by His matchless grace.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

I love my dad

“For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’” - Romans 8v15

When I got dressed a few minutes ago I pulled on a pair of socks that were a gift from one on my sons. I know that somebody of my high status should not wear socks with writing on them, (I wish there was a way to put sarcasm in print) but written on them are these words, “I love my dad!” That’s a very simple statement, yet they are special because they express a special relationship, that of a child and a dad.

I recently read “The Shack,” by William Young. In that book the “pet name” for God is Papa. Young attempts to remind us of that very special relationship that we have not only with the Heavenly Father, but with our Papa.

I guess the problem is that I am trying to explain the unexplainable here. As part of the blessings of our salvation Paul reminds us here that we have nothing to fear from our Heavenly Father because we have been adopted into His family, we can, in Paul’s words cry our “Abba, Father.”

For us in the 21st century Abba has a different meaning. Unless you know the Bible Abba is a band of questionable skills and ability which immensely popular a couple of decades ago. Abba has a different meaning though here in Romans. It is a Syriac word that Jesus used to address God in Mark 14v36. It appears that this was a word used to describe a special filial affection, or a special name for “Father.” Paul, like Jesus used both terms here. In a sense God the Father is the Father of all because of His creation, but He is the “Abba” to those who specifically belong to Him.

How would we capture this spirit today? I am not sure that we can, but think of the special terms that a child calls their father. Daddy, Papa, and Dad are those kinds of words.

Herein is an amazing truth. The Creator God of the universe is my Daddy. The Holy One is my Papa. The eternal judge is my Dad. He is always there for me. When I am afraid He will hold my hand and walk through the darkness with me. When I hurt I can crawl up onto His lap for comfort and protection. I miss my earthly dad. Here have been times when I wish I could call on him to sort something out for me. At the end of the day however, I do have a Dad Who can sort it all out. What a joy to be able to call on Him.

I love my Dad.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Kill ‘em all

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” - Romans 8v13

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were some magic moment in the Christian life when we could just pray and prayer or make a decision to no longer battle the flesh? Wouldn’t be nice if we could just turn it all over to Him and let Christ deal with it all? Can you imagine the joy of a sin free life, where the “deeds of the body” would stop jumping up and attacking us?

I wish I could say that was the case. I wish I could say, “Pray this prayer and the fight is over.” The problem is it is just not biblical. Here in particular and in many other places we are warned of the battle. Paul wrote a whole chapter to the Colossians instructing them how to kill off the various deeds and attitudes.

We don’t have a present active indicative tense in English that I know of. If we need it this verse would read something like this, from what my miniscule knowledge of Greek tells me – “…if by the Spirit you constantly keep putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

The man who lives according to the flesh faces death. If he lives according to the flesh is has no part with God and his he faces a future without hope. The one who has the Spirit will be killing off the deeds of the flesh, and he will have life.

The sense is that the flesh is going to keep on fighting. The new me doesn’t have the pleasure of sitting back and resting. As the flesh keeps fighting back I must keep killing off its deeds. I fight, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to keep killing of the opposition.

One word of comfort for us. We don’t fight the deeds of the flesh, but we do so empowered by the Spirit and therefore we have victory as we slay those deeds!

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Life and death

“And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” - Romans 8v10

Obviously there are no two more opposite words than life and death. We talk about life and death decisions as though they were the momentous ones that would be rare and unusual. And yet, we as Christians make life and death decisions all the time.

Our body is death because of sin. The spirit, whether it be our spirit or the indwelling Holy Spirit is life. The difference is righteousness. We still have a choice. When we encounter a difficult or challenging situation we can choose to follow the flesh or the spirit. When we choose the flesh we are choosing to follow all that is dead. When we choice the spirit we choose all that is alive and vibrant.

No one is perfect. We all are going to make foolish and wicked individual decisions. Ye, those who live daily after the flesh give all indication that they have no life. All the indication are that the person whose life is fleshly is not really God’s.

Why do we so often choose death over life? What is the allure? What draws us back? I wish I had the answer. When we see it all laid out before choosing the flesh makes no sense at all.

Christ is me is manifest when I live after the spirit. May God strengthen me daily to choose life over death.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

No condemnation

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” - Romans 8v1

“No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him, is mine. Alive in Him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine. Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.”

So wrote Charles Wesley in his wonderful hymn "And Can it Be?" in Psalms and Hymns in 1738. I think Charles captures something of what Paul wrote in his own Spirit inspired words. After all the frustration of dealing with the flesh in chapter seven he acknowledged that Christ will deliver him from the body of death and therefore there is no condemnation awaiting those who are in Christ Jesus.

There is no excuse for our sin, there is no making light of it. We should never placate ourselves by saying it is no big deal, but one thing is sure and as certain as it can be – there is no condemnation awaiting me because Jesus, and all that He is – is mine! I am alive in Him, He is my living Head, and I am clothed in His righteousness! Therefore, when the end of my time on earth is done I can approach His eternal throne with total confidence and claim my crown through the power of Christ!

When we battle sin and the daily struggles of life may we take confidence in the amazing word – “no condemnation!”

Friday, 14 December 2007

Who shall deliver this wretched man?

“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin”. - Romans 7v24-25

Every honest believer can identify with Paul in this portion of scripture. It seems like we always end up doing the things we should not do and that we never do the stuff we should be doing. We know the right thing to do but our stupid flesh keeps getting in the way. Over and over we try to make things right, but somewhere between the altar and the door we mess up again.

You can sense Paul’s frustration if I might do a slight parrowphrase – “ARGH!!! Who is going to deliver me from the old dead me? Who can deliver me from this stinking vicious cycle of defeat?”

Praise God there is an answer – “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” One day full deliverance is coming, one day the flesh will finally be defeated and squelched. The victory has already been accomplished. Until then we have a reckoning to do. When the stinking flesh calls out we can cry back, “Get lost – you have NO POWER over me!’

My problem? Far too often I just roll over and play dead, letting my flesh do whatever it wants.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

I am carnal

“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin”. - Romans 7v14

Ouch. “I am carnal.” That’s even worse than, “I am ugly,” or “I am an idiot.” It sounds so harsh! Yet, there it is in black and white – “I am carnal.” It doesn’t sound quite so bad if we say “I am flesh,” but the truth us still there. :”I am carnal” – yuck!

What does “I am carnal” mean? Pretty simple actually. The law is spiritual, it is of God, it is good, and it has achieved its purpose – it was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. It has shown me my sin, and my carnality. The truth is I cannot blame the Law. I can only blame me, because at the end of the day, “I am carnal.” My flesh has no power over me. It is not my master, I am not subject to it. I am not subject to sin, but still I am carnal. I still am fleshly, I still live in the flesh and every single day of my life my flesh is going to cry out for attention.

I have a new life, and new Spirit, and a new power, yet still I am carnal. So what do I do? I wish the answer was deep, theological, and theoretical because then I could make excuses. Unfortunately, all the excuses are knocked out from under us. Paul later makes it clear – “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”

I have a choice – do I walk after the Spirit or do I walk after the carnality of my flesh? It is up to me if I am going to yield to the Spirit’s control or am I going to gratify my screaming flesh. By the grace of God and through Christ living in me may I choose to follow the spirit and not my carnal desires.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Spirit serving

“But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.” - Romans 7v6

How well do you serve when you “have to”? What kind of attitude do you have when you are made to do something “or else”? I, for one, HATE it when I am made to do something. I get grumpy and sullen and do it with a sorry attitude. I am NOT a pleasure to be around when that happens.

Have you ever met a Christian who served the Lord that way? They go to church, go “soul-winning,” tithe, and do all the church stuff because they have to do it, or else. That is much how the Jews lived under the Law. They were bound by the letter and had to toe the line. One of my sons uses a word for this kind of lifestyle – strictarianism. I fear sometimes that the strictarians have moved us far from the kind of worship and service Paul envisioned as he penned these Spirit inspired words.

Far too often on my own Christian life I have served out of the “oldness of the letter” instead of the “newness of the Spirit.” When I live and serve that way Christianity is a misery. I always fear whether or not I am matching up to some standard or requirement. When I serve in the newness of the Spirit I do so with an excitement, a fire, and an intensity that makes service fun and invigorating. When we are serving in the newness of the Spirit we search the word of God with a passion to find out what more we can do for Him.

What kind of serving do you think is going to shake the world, letter serving or Spirit serving?

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

But the gift

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” - Romans 6v23

I am glad I am not saying this out loud, but I have to say that I love the Bible “buts.” Just imagine what it would be like without the occurrences of that little word. We will leave those and deal with them as they appear, but the one that appears in Romans 6v23 is one that changes everything.

“The wages of sin is death….” We have already been shown adequately that there is no one who lives without sin. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” combined with “the wages of sin is death” would leave us pretty hopeless and helpless. In that state or eternal fate would be a death worse than death.

However, there is a “but” here. “But the gift of God…” Not the penance of God, not the wages of working for God, but the gift of God is eternal life. We give gifts, or at least we should, without any expectation of repayment or reward. The only condition on a gift is receiving it. Christmas is a fortnight away. Can you imagine saying – “Here is your present, but to get it you have to do so and so”? No a true gift is just that, a gift.

What is this gift? Eternal life. Wow! Amazing! Astounding! Incredible! Incomprehensible! But there it – God’s gift.

Praise God for this particular “but” of the Bible!

Monday, 10 December 2007

Fruit

“But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.” - Romans 6v22

I can certainly identify with a blogger I read yesterday who commented about his lack of a green thumb. I have always liked the idea of growing our own fruit. We do have two miniature apple trees, but they are the ugliest little things you have ever seen. I never know what is going to happen from year to year. One thing I do know though is that if they do produce fruit in the autumn that fruit is going to be apples, not oranges, pears, or bananas.

Why is that? Well, because they are apple trees. The Bible talks a lot about bearing fruit. I think it is interesting that the God Who put Adam and Eve in a garden uses garden images over and over in His word. Here as He talks about old and new masters He reverts to the fruit illustration yet again. Now that we are saved, delivered from our old dead master, and serving a new master, we will naturally produce a new fruit. That fruit is holiness and eventually that fruit will show itself in eternal life.

Sounds great! What happens then when my live produces rotten, stinking, filthy fruit that fills the room with its stench? Why does that happen? If my life should produce the fruit of holiness and it produces sin instead there is an issue.

From the context of the chapter it is obvious. Instead of serving my new master I have transplanted myself and grafted myself into a fruit tree that produces sin. We are going to be known by our fruit – what does my fruit show?

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Who are you going to serve?

“And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” - Romans 6v18

There has always been a tendency in the church to live in some kind of a spiritual greyness that does not take any kind of stand. There are those who take liberty to the extent that says we can just do whatever we want. They think they can live a godly worldly life and everything is fine.

The word of God is full of forced decisions. “Eat the fruit, don’t eat the fruit.” There was no room for just a nibble. Elijah told the people, “How long are you going to jump back and forth between God and Baal. Make a decision.” No room for fence straddling there either. Jesus said, “You can’t serve God and possessions. If you love one you will hate the other.” In Revelation God says, “I wish you were either cold or hot. Your lukewarmness makes me sick.”

Here in Romans we are presented with another choice. “Who are you going to serve?” Those who are saved are freed from the master-hood of sin. Our new master is righteousness. So we have a choice. Are we going to serve a vibrant, living master who leads true godliness? Or, are we going to serve a master long dead, a rotting carcass?

There is no room here for the “borderland” as one author calls it. Who are you going to serve? Who am I going to serve?

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Reckon yourselves

“Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” - Romans 6v11

Why, if I am free from the law and free from the power of sin, if sin has no dominion over me, if I am not its slave, do I am so much trouble with it?

This passage reads real easy, but it just doesn’t seem to be real, does it. “I am not a slave of sin? Sin has no power over me? Yeah rite!”

Okay, then what is the problem? Praise God He does leave us clueless. Paul says this – “Reckon yourselves to be dead to sin.” In other words, take an inventory of the facts, check out the records, realise that you are dead to sin, and then live accordingly. When I allow sin to be my master it is because I don’t really trust my new master. Either that or I just haven’t really figured it out yet.

This is a step of faith. When sin rears it ugly head do I understand how much God hates sin? Have I really done a reckoning and realised that it has now power. Or does something in me want to excuse it?

When sin appears, we simply must understand that it has no power! This is one of those things that we just have to do. It is up to us to decide who will have the mastery.

Friday, 7 December 2007

No longer slaves of sin

“knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” - Romans 6v6

Why is it that Christians make excuse for their sin? “I just can’t get the victory over this or that sin.” “Well, this in my besetting sin that is just part of my life.” There always seem to be a reason why we sin.

I wish I had an answer that would make us all feel better. Something like, “Well, we need to understand that we still live in the flesh and the flesh is strong. We are all going to battle sin. We just have to bear up with it the best we can and try to live for the Lord.”

The problem is that it is not biblical. Our old man was crucified with Christ. It was done away with and it lost its power. Therefore we are no longer slaves to it; sin has no power over us.

If sin has no power over us and we are no slaves to it, why do we continue to sin? Why will we continue to sin?

The answer is simple, if uncomfortable – because we want to. When I sin it is not because I am a slave but a volunteer. “Who is going to sin?” “Ooh, ooh, I will I will!!!”

Sound harsh? Well, if I am no longer sin’s slave and I still sin, what other answer is there?

Thursday, 6 December 2007

No Way!!

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” - Romans 6v1-2

Grace living certainly has its own challenges. Some of the Pharisees were still attacking Christianity. One of their charges was that since they were not bound by the Law they could do whatever they wanted. They said that liberty became licence to sin. It is certainly a charge which would seem to have merit. After all, if we are saved apart from works and not bound by the law, and if forgiveness of sin portrays God’s grace, wouldn’t it make sense to sin so that God can show His grace. More sin – more grace!

Paul’s response was short, sweet, and to the point – me ginomai. It’s too bad that we don’t have an English translation for that phrase. If you were to ask 50 Greek scholars to translate that phrase you would probably get 51 translations. I am going to pick one out that I have read a lot – “no be.” To try to put that in English we can use it might be, “May this never be the case.” Modern translations use phrases like “Certainly not!” The KJV translators used almost an invective – “God forbid!” Today we might use a phrase like “No Way!!!!!” but even with capital letters, bold type, and multiple exclamation marks we wont get the essence of that me ginomoai means.

I think we get the point though. Grace is NEVER an excuse or a licence to sin. The rest of Romans 6 will tell us why, but for the moment we have the answer – is grace living a licence to sin?

NO WAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

While we were yet sinners

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. - Romans 5v8

The purpose of these reflections was to help me glean some “new” thoughts and insights from the word of God. I did not want to focus on the familiar portions, but every so often we come across a passage that I just can’t pass over.

Romans 5v8 is one of those passages for it is so powerful that I have to mention it. It is an amazing, astounding, almost incomprehensible truth. Jesus loved me, not as the man I am now who is endeavouring the live for him, not as the redeemed by His grace pastor, but as a wretched, vile sinner who was His enemy. His love was so deep and so wide that he loved me enough to die for me. We say that so often that sometimes we can forget the depth of it – while was still a sinner, he died for me.

How did Jesus see me while I was a lost man? He saw me as a target for His love, a love that ran so deep that it moved Him to die for me. In contrast how do I see lost men around me? For me at least far too often I do not see them as objects of Christ’s love. If I am not careful I can see them as objects of ridicule and contempt.

How did Christ see lost sinners? How do I see them? How I am challenged by that set of questions.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Glory in tribulations

“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” - Romans 5v3-5

I have to admit straight up that in my mind tribulation and glorying do not go hand in hand. I don’t rejoice when trials and tribulations come. I wish I could say that I glory when the trials come because of a stand for Christ, but even then I don’t like them. I don’t like the feeling in my stomach, I don’t like the thoughts constantly going through my head, I don’t like the sleepless nights. I just don’t like troubles.

Paul was a man just like me. He suffered the normal tribulations of life and he suffered great tribulation because he took a stand for Christ. The difference with Paul though was the foresight matched his hindsight. Both were 20/20. I can look back and no beyond a shadow of a doubt that my tribulations of the past have made me a better man. They have indeed produced perseverance, which produced character, which in turn has produced hope. My hindsight on trials is 20/20.

My problem comes when is to comes to trials and tribulations today. Now I doubt and wonder if these can really produce the same for the future. What is missing? One word – faith.

Oh for the faith rejoices in trials of the present as well as the trials of the past.

Monday, 3 December 2007

He did not waver at the promise of God

“He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God,” - Romans 4v20

Have you ever received news that just caused you to stagger in unbelief? A few months ago someone sent money to our church to help with building rent. When I took it to the bank to lodge it the dollar had just started its collapse and I was staggered out how few euro we got for the amount of dollars we lodged. Just yesterday we got some news that caught us off guard and I had that same feeling again. It is that caught off guard, can’t catch your breath feeling. Do you know what I am talking about?

Sometimes the news that does this can be the “too good to be true” variety. There are times when we hear something that just seems like it can’t really happen so we keep wondering with fear and trepidation.

The root of both responses when it comes right down to it we don’t really believe God can still work. When the news is bad we immediately wonder if God can really sort it out. When the news is good we wonder if God could really have done something like this. We waver, or stagger as the KJV puts it, because our first response is fleshly.

When Abraham was almost 100 years old God told him that he and Sarah were going to have a son. Sarah overheard it and she responded like we would have, “Me, barren Sarah, have a son,” and she laughed at the idea. But good old Abraham did not even waver. The news could not stagger him. He did not waver at the promise of God in his unbelief, but was strengthened in his faith and thereby gave glory to God. His faith allowed him to believe that even old Sarah could bear a son.

The amazing news is that she did. I love the simple yet profound phrase of an Andrew Peterson son – “Barren Sarah bore a son.” God made good on Him promise.

What promises of God are you and I wavering at today? Do we really believe that God can meet all our needs? Do we really believe that God can sort out those difficult situations that we can’t see an answer for? Are we staggered by His promise that all things work together for good to those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose?

When we are wavering and when we are staggering in unbelief we would do well to remember Abraham’s faith and the fact that barren Sarah did indeed bear a son!

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Where is boasting?

“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” - Romans 3v27-28

Can’t you imagine the scene in heaven? “You should have seen me down there guys. I was the best. God was sure lucky to have me on earth. I went to church every single time the doors were open. I tithed, sometimes I even double tithed. I went knocking on doors. I used the right version, wore the right clothes and listened to the right music. All my kids went into the ministry. The church I pastored was massive. You should have seen it- fancy chandeliers, plush carpets, gold plated fixtures in the toilets. We had a Family Centre, a gym, and even a bookstore! We opened a Christian Coffee CafĂ© so we didn’t have to get out into that dirty ld world any more than we had to. We were in all the magazines! Man, I really did it for God!”

A little exaggerated? Maybe, but what would it be like if we could work our own way to heaven? What if it were contingent our all the good stuff we had done? Who would get the glory?

Praise God boasting is excluded! Praise the Lamb of God for all eternity that I am justified by faith apart from the deeds of the Law!

“Boasting excluded, pride I abase, I am only a wicked sinner saved by His amazing, marvellous grace!”

Saturday, 1 December 2007

In His forbearance

“whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,” - Romans 3v25

I am seeing the book of Romans in a whole different light this time through. From the very start Paul is pointing out two things – man is really, really bad, and God is really, really, righteous. Man is so bad that he deserves nothing but destruction. There is absolutely nothing good in man. Since the Garden of Eden every man, every woman, every boy, and every girl have deserved nothing but God wrath and punishment. God would have been totally right to have ended it all with Adam and Eve.

Yet, He didn’t. Why not? Why did God not just wipe the slate clean and start all over. Maybe this time make man so that he had no choice but to obey.

Good question, but asked from our limited, finite, sin cursed perspective. What God did do was righteous. He knew in His eternal plan that He would make the ultimate sacrifice for mankind. So, the world goes on. Bad people do bad things. Good people suffer. Sin has cursed this world in every way possible, yet still it goes on.

Why does God let it go on? So that He can demonstrate his righteousness through the blood of Christ. Therefore He exercises some kind of divine self-restraint that we can’t really understand.

I do know this. If God can exercise His own forbearance we are not like Him when we are calling down His wrath on a lost world around us. He was righteous and loving enough to exercise self-restraint and not wipe me out when I was in sin. He doesn’t kill me on the spot when I sin today.

There is no excuse for sin and we cannot tolerate or condone it. Yet, there is at least of measure of how we should act when we see God’s self-restraint. Maybe we ought to consider His forbearance the next time we call down fire and brimstone on the murderer in the news story. Maybe we should stop and consider His forbearance the next time a brother falls into sin. Maybe we should stop and consider His forbearance the next time we are tempted to draw and quarter a brother in Christ because he has stepped outside our expectations and man-made regulations.

Maybe I should simply take time to consider His forbearance with me.