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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Reconciled and Accepted

Romans 5:10-11  "For  if, when we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!  Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." 

      Over the last few months, I have been looking at the book of Romans.  It has seemed to me that as I studied this that one of the main ideas that comes up is reconciliation.  In other words, what is our spiritual stance before God now.  Not just when we get to heaven, but now.  In his book "Classic Christianity" Bob George talks about this and he points out that as a believer, I am not only forgiven, but accepted in God's eyes now.
       I think this is important because if we are not careful as believers we can get into the trap of the "performance wheel" that characterizes many other relationships.  The "I will accept you if" relationship that many people have.  And if I believe that God holds the same standards and God wishes for me to be holy then I probably look at my life and realize that I fall short of that goal.  So, it may be that we think that surely God must be mad at us.  I know that I have felt that way at times.  Trying on  your own to live up to impossible standards is frustrating.  And it is hard to get excited about worship and loving God when you think he might not approve of you.
     This is one of the great lies of the devil.  Having not been successful in taking your salvation.  The accuser of the brethren will try and steal all of your joy.  How many believers do you know who are truly joyful in the walk with the Lord?  It seems we are characterized more by a frown and judgment than we are by joy.   Maybe it is because we are doing what we are doing trying to earn the Lord acceptance when we already have it?  When you think about it, it would seriously change our motives for the good that we do if we realize that God already accepts us, loves us and wants to give us more than we can ask or imagine.  Few believers that I know really radiate that kind of love and acceptance that is ours in Christ.
     George points out in his book that all of our sins, past, present and future were nailed to the cross and dealt with on the cross.  God describes us as believers in new ways.  Paul uses this term over and over again particularly in Ephesians when he says we are "in Christ".   This is now how God sees the believer, not as a sinner, but as "in Christ" and reconciled.  Therefore it says in Romans 5:1 "Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."  So, these old sins and regrets and mistakes, past, present and future have been dealt with by Jesus.  And I no longer have to fear God or be afraid of him because I fall short.  I can have boldness and confidence to come before him because of what Jesus did.
       I believe that God wants us to live in the assurance of this acceptance.  That God sees us as new creatures in Christ.  The old is dying and the new is being lived out.  This doesn't mean that I should not try to live for him or that I don't need to repent of some sins.  Unfortunately, the church looks too much like the world today.  We seems to have lost our power and confidence in the Lord.  I am seriously concerned when I look at the state of the church today.  Most churches are stagnant or dying.  But, could that be because we serve out of a sense of fear rather than joyfully knowing that God accepts us?  It is clear to me that we need to change our mindset about who we are in Christ.
      I believe as beloved children that God wants us to live in and enjoy Him as children of His.  George tells another story about John John, the son of John F. Kennedy when Kennedy was President of the United States.  I remember seeing a picture of John John sitting under the Presidents desk playing while the leader of the free world was working.  John John had access to the President not because of what he did, but because of whose he was.  He could confidently walk past all the security and people trying to get the Presidents attention and get into his father's lap.  In the same way, I believe God wants us to have confidence that we can come before him because we are His.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The mystery of predestination Romans 9

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants.[e] On the contrary, your offspring will be traced[f]through Isaac. Romans 9:6-7, NIV

     It would at first appear that there is a great shift in chapter 9 of Romans.  In the last few chapters, the focus would be on the way in which a person is justified before God.  Now, in the next three chapters, Paul focuses on the Jewish people.  He talks about a hard subject which is predestination and election.  He talks about how he is full of sorrow because of the lost state of the Jewish nation.  He doesn’t hate these people.  Rather, he says he would rather be accursed than to see these people lost.  He has a great heart for them.

    But, justification is still the point of these verses.  IN verses 1-13, Paul talks about how even though many are descendants of Abraham, not all are descendants of the promise.  The promise he is talking about is through Jacob and then through Isaac.   He says these people are ones through whom received 8 blessings of God including the covenant, the temple service, the law and the prophets.  God had a special relationship with Israel.  They saw the pillar of fire of God’s presence at night and the cloud by day.  They heard his voice on Mt.Sinai and heard his thunder.  Yet, this does not and will not justify them.  Anymore than church attendance, giving, what Bible I read or what I do will justify me.

    While there is some elements of this chapter that are a mystery to me.  How to reconcile the free will of man and the sovereignty of God is something that is a bit of a mystery.  There are many mysteries in the Bible.  That is because God is infinite and we are finite.  Try explaining the Trinity to people.  There is no graphic or explanation that is perfect.  That is because God is unique.  Or try explaining the problem of evil and how Satan is a created being.  Let me know when you have a perfect answer, I would love to hear it.  There is an element in which God is a mystery and infinitely greater than our understanding.

    One of the struggles of this chapter, is that it makes God in some ways sound cold.  That God would pick some people and not others.  That is the struggle of election.   The Bible affirms both free will (at least in a limited way) and God's Sovereignty, so we should accept both.  We should also keep in mind though that God doesn’t have to pick anyone.  We’ve already seen that there is no one in earth that is acceptable to God earlier in Romans.  The fact that he picks anyone is a gift of mercy and grace.   It isn’t our responsibly to question God, but rather to be grateful for accepting us and demonstrating that gratitude by living for him each day. 

Other resources

Sermon on Romans 9 by Ray Stedman  http://www.raystedman.org/romans1/0020.html


Desiring God ministries sermons on Romans 9 http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/by-scripture/romans/9


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

We Overwhelmingly Conquer

"But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us." Romans 8:37  

        My study today was in Romans 8:31-39 one of the most uplifting parts of the letter to the Romans so far.  Paul is talking about who we are in Christ and the victory that is ours because of what Christ has done.  He starts verses 31-32 by saying that God was willing to give up his only son, so why would he not also be willing to freely give us all things?  It is another rhetorical question.  The answer is obvious.  The one who has not withheld the very best that he has will have no hesitation in giving the rest.
    Not only that, but God who is judge over all is the one who justifies us.  As it says in Romans 8:1, There is now no condemnation.  This is all as it relates to the one who is "in Christ".  Not only that, but our prayer partner, is Christ Himself who intercedes for us verse 34.  In Romans 8:26 the spirit inside of us intercedes with groans too deep for words, but then also another part of the Trinity, Jesus also intercedes for us.  We have some great prayer partners!
     Paul mentions some trials that many believers in Rome were going through and that Paul was going through at times.  1 Corinthians 4:11 makes it clear that Paul and his associates faced floods, persecution, hunger, poverty, and all sorts of trials.  His quoting of Psalms 44:22 in verse 36 means that the believers were seen to some of those in Rome as sheep to be slaughtered.  Much as in some of the world christians are martyred today.  We shouldn't assume that these things are signs that God is against us.  Paul makes it clear that there is a war going on in this world and there are evil influences on it as well as good ones.  Paul does not want us to be unaware of that, but to put on the full armor of God, so that we can resist it Ephesians 6:10-17.
     This is important to remember that we are not promised a life of ease and problem free on this world.  I think the promise of this chapter and the gospel itself is that God can use many of those trial to build within us those qualities that he wants us to have.  Peter talked about this in 1 Peter 1:7 where he talked about our faith being proven as through fire.  He also mentioned in 2 Peter 1:5-8 that these adversities can build within us qualities such as knowledge, perseverance, patience, self-control and faith, which will keep the believer fruitful and make us the men and women of God that he wants us to be.  I have to trust God that He is working and can use all of these things for His glory.
     Paul then goes on to an exhaustive list of things from seen to unseen, height, depth, death and life, angels and demons and everything in between.  None of these created things can separate us from the love of God who it says makes us "overwhelmingly conquer" through Him.  The word "overwhelmingly conquer" is one word in the greek which is hypernikao which means to be more than a conqueror, to have a surpassing victory.  We didn't and don't just conquer, but we overwhelmingly conquer.  It isn't a minor victory, it is overwhelming.  Nice to remember when things aren't going that well sometimes.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Waiting for Glory to Be Revealed

    These verses in Romans 8:18-30 mention three things that are or will be groaning: creation, the believer and the Spirit.  The creation groans because of the affect of sin.  Creation was created by God and was originally called "good" by God.  But, now has experienced the groans and pains of childbirth, waiting until the glory that God will reveal when he will one day return.  Notice though that verse 18 tells us that whatever suffering we are undergoing now is not to be compared to the glory that will be revealed.
    I've wondered to myself if those who talk about global warming have ever researched these verses.  Pollution and toxins in the air are increasing and should be our concern because we are stewards of the world around us.  God gave us that responsibility as humans in the garden of Eden.  But, there is an effect on creation that exists even more than pollution or coal ash spills and it is sin.  The good news is that God is going to return one day and undo all the damage that sin and the effects of it have done on His creation.  In the meantime, christians should be at the forefront of doing what we can such as recycling to help the environment.
    The second groaning is that of the believer.  In 2 Corinthians 5:1-9 it describes the body as a tent.  A tent has a lot of limitations and is temporary.  Our bodies are also not eternal.  As we get older, it tends to wear down and cause us pain.  We bear an image, Paul says in 1 Cor 15:49 of the earthly, but we shall bear an image that is heavenly.  Part of the groaning is that our spirit longs for that day.  That day when sin and death will be no more and God will wipe away all tears Revelations 21:4.  One gret verse that I found is in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 where it tells us that the light affliction that we now suffer is producing in us something of great weight of glory.  It isn't something seen, but rather it is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is permanent is unseen.
     The third groaning is the Spirit, which intercedes for us.  This should encourage us because the Spirit always knows the will and mind of God.  His prayers are always answered because it is always according to His will.  God can bring about good even when bad things happen.  We should remember that we are called, justified and glorified.  I like how the word "glorified" is not in future tense here, but is a present tense reality. 
Related verses Col 3:4; Titus 2:13; 1 John 3:2; Jer 12:4,11, John 14:16, 17:22; 2 Cor 4:17.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Set Your Heart on Things Above

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

    The above verses are from Colossians 3:1-3.  This is one of my favorite little letters in the Bible.  Paul is writing to the church in Colossae.  At this time in history it is a small, out of the way place that Paul had never even personally been too.  He spent the first two chapters talking to them about the supremacy of Christ.  To encourage them to put Him first and not to add on to the gospel with other things.  He will say this a variety of ways in the different letters he writes, but here he simply tells them to "set your hearts on things above."
     I spend a lot of time talking to my clients at work about the mind.  Our mind is a powerful thing and focusing on positive things can change and affect our mood.  To set your heart to me is something perhaps even more powerful because our heart is the seat of who we are, where our hope is and where our aspirations and dreams are.  In the world, the media seems to suggest that our dream should be wealth, power, prestige or a combination of all of these or more.  But, as a believer, I am to invite Christ into my dreams, aspirations, goals and allow him to change them all for the better.  In fact, if they don't please him I am to give those things up.  That is part of what it means for Him to be Lord.
      To me, it also means that it should change my definition of what it means to be a success.  The world has a definition of that and it is mainly seen as something external.  I can just a successful person by the Lexus or big car they drive or money they have or where they live.  This also seems to be promoted by the health and wealth, prosperity gospel of today.  But, the truth is that many of the believers in the Bible and even Paul himself would have been considered poor.  In fact, the moment that Paul is writing this is that he is in prison in Rome.   Jesus himself relied on the gifts of strangers to fund his ministry and had very little in terms of material possessions.
      Not just that, but it means to change my definition of what is important.  Its the difference between focusing on what is eternal verses what is temporary.  Money is temporary.  Our society is in love with and worships money.  And we have never as a nation been in more debt, both personal and corporate.  We are also in debt as a nation in spiritual leadership and strength.  Our churches are weak and dying and lacking in power.   That is because our priorities as a country and as a church are in the wrong place.  We are to be set apart and sanctified, not the same as the world.  People are what is important.  To love God and to love others and to remember that the souls of people are eternal.