You need this

Romans 16:17-18 17 I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.

You need this

Many of us have had it happen to us.  We have fallen prey to the smooth talker.  Whether we got talked into attending an event or purchasing something we didn’t really need, it happens.  They flatter you and tell you how perfect this product is for someone as amazing as you.  You need it and it needs you.  Behind all that flattery is an agenda, and that agenda usually serves the one whose mouth it is spewing from.

Believe it or not, it happens in the church.  Although the sales pitch is probably a bit different.  It usually starts with dissatisfaction and results in division.  Paul writes here that those who are causing divisions aren’t out for the benefit of all, but for their own appetites.  They are hungry for something, whether it is control or just making church the way they like it.  It could even be wanting to see something happen that God has put on their heart.  But when it is fleshed out in the form of division, it’s no good.

In this passage, Paul is essentially calling those people out who are intentionally messing things up for their own selfish gain.  But I think that division doesn’t always have to come out of evil intentions.  Sometimes, we just have a different style or approach to a situation.  Sometimes we so desperately want God to do this or that and we rally others around our cause.  The next thing you know, people are divided.  People start talking and ain’t nobody happy.  The cry of your heart may have simply been for God to move in a certain way and it resulted in division.

No matter which way you slice it, Paul says there isn’t room for division in the church.  His focus in the last couple chapters has been on unity in spirit.  He wants the Body of Christ to be built up.  And I think it is perfectly normal for the foot and the hand to see things differently.  But they can still figure out how to work together.  God can lay things on our heart that we can see walked out without causing division.  Even if our intentions may be good, the root probably has something to do with our own appetite.  So what do we do then?  I think we check our heart.  We walk out what God has called us to with grace.  We don’t pit people against each other.  We cease from murmuring and complaining.  We let God figure out how to put all the pieces together and we trust that He will in His timing.

I Tolerate You

Romans 15:7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

I Tolerate You

There are words that every woman longs to hear.  They are the words that melt her heart and give her a sense of security and belonging.  They are the words: “I Tolerate You”.  (Insert record scratch here)  Wait a minute, I mean “I Love You.”  Those words are the bedrock of a marriage relationship.  They are the foundation of a parent-child relationship.  These words communicate the special place that you have in my heart.  But what if those words aren’t lived out in action? What happens if what you truly communicate is, “I Tolerate You?”

There was so much to write about today in Romans 15,  but when I saw verse 7, it begged to be written on as a follow up to yesterday’s blog.  Yesterday was all about the need to focus on our relationship with God rather than judging someone else.  And while that is important, I don’t think it goes far enough to just “not judge.”  We are called to more than “not sinning,” we are called to “walk in righteousness.”  Being a Christian should be less about what we shouldn’t do and more about what we should do.  In other words, let’s focus more on activating the positive than suppressing the negative.

Not judging someone is simply a first step.  Paul writes in Romans 15:7 that we should Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. This word “accept” is the greek word, well… it’s a really long greek word. And it means a lot more than accept.  When I think of the word “accept” I think of tolerate.  When I say that I choose to accept those people who I disagree with, aren’t I really saying that I will tolerate them?  But this word “accept” in the context here would be more accurately translated as receive or welcome.  It is taking someone in as a friend or a companion.  It means to lead them by the hand and to take them into your home.  It means to let them into your heart.  This is starting to sound a lot like love!

Accepting one another goes several steps beyond not judging.  It takes you to the place of embracing the person.  Let me  be clear: I didn’t say embrace beliefs or lifestyle; embrace the person.  Embrace them for who they are.  Embrace them where they are at.   Get God’s heart for them and embrace them for how God sees them.  Embrace them for all that He wants them to become.  This is true acceptance.  It is more than an invitation to a social club.  It is more than toleration.  It is love – and that love is the love of Christ.

You’re Fired!

Romans 14:4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

You’re Fired!

Once common words that every employee dreaded to hear, these words have now been made famous by Donald Trump.  Playing the boss man in the reality TV show “The Apprentice” (I can’t believe this show is still on the air), Donald fires a contestant each week.  The plot goes like this: young business candidates, well now it is celebrities, compete in challenges each week to ultimately earn an internship position in one of Trump’s companies.  At the end of each week, one contestant loses his or her chance to land the job.   The bottom three contestants sit at a boardroom table, Trump points to one and boldly declares, “YOU’RE FIRED!”

Oh the power to hold someone’s future in your hands.  Well, technically he only holds the power to their future in his company.  Donald Trump doesn’t have the authority to fire someone else’s employee – just his own.  Imagine if he did.  He is out with his trophy wife (yeah I said it) eating dinner and the waiter brings him the wrong order.  “You’re fired” he exclaims.  He is at Nordstroms buying new shoes.  He doesn’t like how they fit so he tells the salesperson, “you’re fired.”  It’s a Trump firing rampage – look out!   This is a ridiculous notion, isn’t it – firing someone else’s employee?  I don’t think that would ever fly.  I don’t think anyone should have that kind of power.  Wait, didn’t our president fire the CEO of General Motors.  How in the world… okay, I digress.

Getting to the point of today’s devotional.  We are all servants of God.  We work for Him.  That’s what Paul is saying here.  So who are we to go around judging someone else’s servant?  How do we get to tell God how to run His organization and how to treat His employees?  Quite simply, we don’t.  God doesn’t ask us to go around pointing fingers and demanding that he deals with someone a certain way.  It is not up to us to determine how someone gets treated; it is up to God.  If He wants to rough them up, that’s His decision.  If He wants to give them a hundred billion chances, that’s His decision too. (The latter is probably much more likely with God)

Our focus then, should not be how we think God ought to be dealing with others.  Our focus ought not to be on putting someone else’s employees in their place.  Our focus should be on our service; it should be on our employment status with God.  How are we measuring up against His standard?  It’s a “me and He” relationship.  That’s the focus.  That’s where all of our energy should lie.  If we spend all our time trying to figure out what God should do with so and so, we will just waste our time.   Because if I take all my time to evaluate others, I don’t have any time left to give of myself.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

Romans 13:14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

In 1837, author Hans Christian Andersen wrote a short story about an emperor who was way too into his clothes.  As the story goes, two con artists create a new special suit for the emperor.  This suit is a beautiful, colorful piece. However, it is invisible to everyone who is incompetent or ignorant.  When the suit is finished, they put it on the emperor, who can’t see it.  The problem is he doesn’t want to be exposed as incompetent so he pretends to see the suit.  As the story goes, it turns out that there is really no suit at all.  And to make matters worse, the emperor just went out in front of the entire city in his undies.  Oops!

Going out in public without clothes on isn’t something that is widely accepted  here in America.  Getting dressed is one of those things that we are expected to do.  You are supposed to show up to work in a suit, not a birthday suit.  I think we all know that, so we wouldn’t ever consider leaving the house without clothes on.  Our common sense would likely prevent us from making the same mistake that the emperor made.  No, we wouldn’t go out naked.

But we would go out naked spiritually.  We rush through our mornings and never bother getting dressed.  We don’t think about getting covered.  And we are left exposed to the elements of the world.  We are left exposed to just about anything that comes our way.  Here in Romans 13:14, Paul instructs us to get dressed.  He says to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. (The NIV is actually quite accurate in this translation of the greek word for “clothe”.)   We are to put Him on each day, not wait until crisis and realize we need Him.  So I would suggest that each morning when you are getting dressed, that you also get dressed.  Find out what  a difference it will make in your day!

 

 

Because I’m lazy

Romans12:11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

Because I’m lazy

Excuses.  We have plenty of them, don’t we?  And they most often come out when we have messed up.  Regardless of the arsenal of questions being fired at us, most of us are capable of coming up with a good reason.  I mean, excuse.

Traffic was bad, I couldn’t get anyone to help me, I didn’t know how to do it, the dog ate my homework, I had to work late, I ran out of time, it didn’t make sense, you didn’t tell me that, it wasn’t on my calendar, I have to wash my hair, the dishwasher was full, I was short on change, she started it, you forgot to remind me, my cell phone died… should I go on?

Excuses, excuses, excuses.  We make these same kind of excuses with God, you know.  He calls us to action, to walk out a calling and a purpose.  We get all fired up about it and are determined to conquer the world.  Then it happens – we fizzle.  We burn out and lose our zeal.  And we have lots of reasons for this lack of zeal, but wouldn’t it just be better to be honest about the whole thing?  “Because I’m lazy.”   Now that’s a real answer.  That’s some truth.

We don’t lose our determination for the things of God because we don’t have enough passion.  We don’t lose our spiritual fervor because we haven’t been taught how to keep it.  We don’t stop serving the Lord because we haven’t been equipped.  It’s probably something more simple than that.  Something like, “I forgot”, or “I didn’t feel like it.”  Walking out the things that God calls us to don’t require special formulas or the energy level of an overexcited chihuahua.  It requires what Paul is writing about here: spiritual fervor.  That means that you make a conscious decision to remain engaged with God.  It means you run after God with everything you’ve got – even when you don’t have the energy.  You see, if energy level determined our success we’d all be in a heap of trouble.  Paul didn’t really care if we were tired today, he said “never”.  Whether you feel like it or not, keep up your fervor – your endeavor to know God and to walk out his purpose for your life.  You will be eternally glad that you did. (The people around you might be happy about it too!)

Hard Workin’ Man

Romans 11:6 And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.

Hard Workin’ Man

I pastor a church in Orting, WA.  Therefore I am obligated to say I have listened to country music.  Okay, so I grew up in Buckley – that might have had something to do with it.  I remember a song by Brooks and Dunn called “Hard Working Man.” I looked up the lyrics to the chorus and they are:

I’m a hard, hard workin man
I got it all on the line
For a peace of the promised land
I’m burnin’ my candle at both ends
‘Bout the only way to keep the fire goin’
Is to outrun the wind

I value hard work as much as the next guy.  We should work hard.  But there is one thing that we can’t work for – our salvation.  If we could work for it, Paul writes, then grace would no longer be grace.  It doesn’t say anywhere in the Bible that it is by your hard work that you are saved.  No, it is by grace.  And yet somehow we continue to think we need to work really hard to earn God’s favor.  We think we need to prove to Him that we are worth His love.  The truth is we are not and we could never prove that we are.  On the other hand, Jesus did it for us.  He did the work so we could receive the grace.  Hard work cannot give me a piece of the promised land, only the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ can do that.

So why do I work hard at my relationship with him if my work doesn’t matter?  Well, my work does matter – it just doesn’t save me.  I work hard to know Him because He is worth knowing.  I work hard to please Him because He is my Lord.  I respond in obedience to Him because He knows what He is doing way more than I do.  And I strive to be like Him because the character of Christ in me is what will draw the world to Him.  I have this crazy urge to be contagious with the gospel.  It’s not so I can earn my way to God.  It is so others can experience the joy and freedom and life that He has given me.  I want others to share in a insanely awesome eternity with me.  And while I am deeply indebted to the grace He has given me (and continues to give me when I am lame), I will not neglect putting effort into the shaping He wants to do in me.

Mike Tyson bit my ear off

Romans 10:9-10 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

Mike Tyson bit my ear off

I remember in Physics Class, we learned that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”   This is one of Newton’s laws of motion.  For example, if you jump down on a trampoline it will propel you up.  If a bullet comes shooting out of a gun, the gun will recoil as a reaction to the launching of the bullet.  If you punch Mike Tyson in the face, he will bite your ear off.  Something like that.  The point is, when an action is taken, something happens.

In spiritual terms there are actions and reactions as well.  There are internal actions and external actions.  Spiritually speaking these are probably more corresponding than opposite.  I think a more accurate principle of spiritual motion would be – for every internal action, there is a corresponding external reaction.  Or maybe it is – for every external action, there is a corresponding internal reaction.  In other words, when it comes to walking with Jesus, there should be indicators both on the inside and the outside.  Here in Romans 10, Paul tells us that it takes both.   There are things that the heart need to do and there are things that the mouth needs to do.

It is in the heart that we believe and are justified.  It is in our heart that our faith takes root.  It is on the inside that the workings of God transform us.  But there are things for the mouth to do as well.  It is with our mouth that we profess our faith and are saved.  There are things that need to be spoken out.  We need to put our mouth where our heart is.

Some people talk the talk without the internal walk.  Others walk the walk with no talk.  We are called to both.  We are called to have a spiritual law of motion present in us that the internal workings of God in our life come out.  We are called to have a spiritual walk that the things that we hear and speak go past our head and into our heart.  This is how we will grow.  This is how we live out our redemption.  So if your heart and mouth aren’t working well together, why not try getting them on the same page today?  It will do a body good!

I’m a little teapot

Romans 9:20-21 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

I’m a little teapot

In this passage, Paul is explaining the sovereignty of God.  I must admit, I don’t like it too much.  Let me clarify; my flesh doesn’t like it too much.  Can’t every person just be a self made man?  Don’t we have complete control over our circumstances and our future?  To a degree yes – that’s free will.  But free will does not undo the sovereignty of God.  It does not negate His absolute power and authority over all creation.

I bet over the course of any person’s life, they have asked a question like the one here in verse 20.  “Why did you make me like this?  Why didn’t you make me like that?  How come I don’t have that ability?”  These are the kind of  questions that get to the core of who we are.  They go to the center of a person’s being.  Often they come out  in a time of failure or hurt.  We get frustrated with ourselves.  We don’t like our behavior.  It’s in those times that we direct the glory to God, although it’s not really glory.  It’s complaint.  It’s very similar to what happens with a football team.  When the team is winning, the players (the quarterback especially) get all kinds of praise.  When they lose, the coach gets fired.

This is what we often do with God.  When we don’t like what we see, we want to fire God from control of our lives.  We want to fire God from his position of power, authority, and sovereignty.  Paul poses this  question, “does a clay pot get to ask the potter what the heck he is doing?”  No it does not. The clay pot is molded for a unique purpose.  Some pots are flashy and impressive.  Some look more ordinary.  But they all have a purpose.  One might be used to serve wine to the king and the other might be used to serve water to the homeless.  But they both have a purpose.

Going with this analogy that Paul uses, we the pots have to trust that the potter knew what he was doing when he made us.  If we are the little teapot, short and stout, our purpose is to be tipped over and poured out.  And that should be enough.  How God designed us and made us should be okay with us.  What we really need to do is lean into him to discover the purpose he made us for.  That’s a completely different line of questioning – it is a searching.

God is God.  If we would just acknowledge that He is sovereign; if we would question less and trust more, I think we would find that He really does know what He is doing.

 

Fly like a bird

Romans 8:1-2 1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Fly like a bird

There’s about 8 sermons in Romans chapter 8.   For the sake of both your time and mine, I will focus on just these two verses.  It is a good idea, however, to underline in your Bible all that stood out to you.  It’s an even better idea to write down your thoughts on at least one of the things you underlined.  Repeat this daily for spiritual growth.  Now to today’s topic.

Have you ever flown in an airplane?  I assume the flight went reasonably well because you are reading this.  Flying on an airplane should be a terrifying experience.  We should be completely freaked out of our minds.  I’m not talking about the naked body scans at the security checkpoint either.  I thought taking off my shoes was getting kind of personal, but wow.  I digress.   Back to flying through the air in a 400,000 pound piece of metal (800,000 pounds fully loaded).  Does that bother anyone else but me?  This just doesn’t seem right.  It shouldn’t work.  According to Newton, there is this thing called gravity.  We call it the”law” of gravity.  When I throw something up in the air, it comes crashing back down; it doesn’t soar.  And still we get in an airplane and trust it will fly us safely through the air.

If we are going to fly safely, we must put our trust in a higher law; that law being aerodynamics.  Thanks to the principles of aerodynamics, we can get in an airplane and fly.  Thanks to this higher law, birds can soar through the skies without great effort.  Sure, gravity still exists, but a higher law can be exercised which supersedes it.  Now I can’t imagine birds give a whole lot of thought to this subject matter.  They get gravity.  Some of them might have even fallen out of the nest when they were little.  But they fly.  They don’t give it much thought, they just fly.  Gravity doesn’t really have much of an effect on them.  They don’t “mess up” flying.  If they did, they would probably be dead.

Here in Romans 8:1-2 Paul is talking about two laws just like gravity and aerodynamics.  You have the law of sin and death, which is like gravity.  When you do nothing, you automatically default to it.  If you don’t flap your wings or board a 747, you plummet to the ground.  It’s the default.  It is a law of nature, so to speak.  Then there is the second law, the law of the Spirit who gives life.  This law is the aerodynamics.  It is what gives us the ability to soar.  It supersedes the law of sin and death and rises above.  We have been given the freedom to live life soaring.  We don’t have to be under the power of the law of sin and death, because the law of life in the Spirit is a higher law.

When I think about the birds and their automatic lifestyle subject to aerodynamics, I wonder why we don’t become more automatic in our living in the Spirit.  They don’t even consider a fall due to gravity, it isn’t an option if they want to live.  Living under the law of sin and death shouldn’t be an option either.  It will bring well, er… sin and death.  If we are going to have real life in Jesus, we’ve got to start flying.  We have activate the higher law in our lives.  It will cause us to soar and go to high places in Christ!  That’s the kind of life to live.

Do Overload

Romans 7:15-20 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

Do Overload

Can I get an English teacher to edit this passage please?  I counted 23 uses of the word “do” or a form of it.  That’s ridiculous!  I’m not even sure what Paul is even saying here because I tripped over the word “do” so many times.  Amusingly enough, this section actually reads like a rap.  What if Paul was hangin out with his homeboys freestylin’ some dope rhymes and this is what he came up with?  Then someone wrote it down and he included it in this letter.  I’d like to think this is how this passage came about, because Paul actually thinking it through and writing it is much less believable.  Right?

I sense that you think I’m nuts and to some degree you may be on to something.  Paul was on to something too in this passage.  If I can get past his redundant word usage, I can see he was trying really hard (too hard maybe) to make a point.  You see this whole section is a setup for chapter seven.  He is about to hit them with some serious truth that is all about the LIFE in the Spirit.  But they need to understand how messed up they are first.  They need to understand how dead they are and Paul includes himself in that category.

Sin is a monster really.  Here Paul describes what that monster looks life in the life of a human.  There is a desire to do right and yet sin goes and messes everything up.  There is an understanding of how Christ wants me to live and sin takes a cheap shot at me and I blow it.  Why can’t I just do the right thing?  Why can’t I just stop sinning?  Paul would say it is because sin is allowed to live.  We all have that sin nature and if we are to live victorious Christian lives, we need to put it to death.  It needs to go away.  But it won’t just happen by trying really hard.  Paul tried hard and still failed.  It takes more than effort.  It takes life in the Spirit of Christ.  And I would tell you more about that, but it’s in chapter seven, so I’ll wait until tomorrow.  Until then, understand that the conflict of interest going on in you is a struggle between your flesh and your spirit.  Which side wins the struggle is entirely up to you – who will you give the authority to lead you?