Archive for October, 2014

Luke 1:26-36 — “But how can this happen? I am a virgin!” A simple statement but, oh, such a complex one. It is at the core of our faith. Many of us think of the conception of Jesus as the part of the cute stuff of which Nativity Scenes are made of. However, it’s not just cute. It is the cornerstone on which our faith is built. It is as necessary as it is cute.

Most assuredly, if you were trying to build a man-made religion, you certainly could have come up with a better way to bring your central character into the world. But this is how God chose to intervene into human history. This entry into the world in this way is so utterly important that we often miss its significance. Mary was a virgin. It means that her, as they say on a favorite movie of mine, mysterious lady parts were pure and untouched. They had not been defiled by the entry of a man into her body. No semen had ever been deposited inside her by a man. She was pure and undefiled by man. Therefore, it had not been touched by anything with a sin nature. Into this environment, Jesus was conceived. The perfection of God gestating a perfect and untouched environment. Jesus, who had no sin in Him, was not touched by sin as He was developing in Mary’s virgin womb. Sin cannot exist in God’s presence. Therefore, for God’s Son, to enter into the world in this way, Mary HAD to be a virgin. Some believe that she stayed a virgin (so that she could be elevated to high status) but based on what I see in Scripture, Mary became a wife and bore Joseph other children. Debates can swirl around that and you can decide as to whether it is a hill to die on or not. However, the fact that Mary was a virgin at the time she conceived her first child is, indeed, a hill to die on. She had to be pure and chaste because the Perfect One was to develop inside her.

It all starts here in this pristine womb. If Jesus was to be the sinless man, he must start in an environment untouched by man with his sinful nature passed down from generation to generation from Adam, the first man. God had to bypass the normal way into which humans are born. It was a tainted system and it still is. Although when a husband and wife make love and create a child, it is a beautiful, wonderful thing. A child is created. But each one of us are sinners. Thus, we pass our sin nature onto our children and they pass it on to their children. It is the curse of Adam’s original disobedience to the Lord. In order for God’s theology of Jesus being the sinless sacrifice, the culmination of the Old Testament sacrificial system, that takes our place for our sin and makes us cleansed from our sins, He had to be sinless in every way. That includes the manner in which He was conceived and where He was to develop into a viable child. Jesus’ sacrificial death is based in the OT sacrificial system which was to teach us about Christ. In the OT sacrificial system, animals (as perfect as could be found in a world fallen because of sin) were sacrificed to act as temporary atonement for sins. Since the animals were not quite complete perfection, they could not be the permanent atonement for sins. Jesus was the answer. The OT system pointed to and foreshadowed Jesus’ once and for all final sacrifice. He was perfection. He was sinless in his life. And, equally, as important, He was not even touched by sin in the way He was born and developed as a child in the womb. Without a virgin womb, Jesus would have been touched by sin. If Mary had been sexually active, it would have made her womb tainted by the entry of man who is by nature sinful. Without Mary being a virgin, our faith then comes unraveled from the start. She MUST be a virgin. For Jesus to be our sinless, atoning, substitutionary sacrifice for our sin, He must be sinless and must not have been touched by sin. God thinks of every angle does He not. It all makes sense why she had to be virgin now. It’s not just some cute story. It is essential to our faith. You know in presidential election years, we take a couple of years before that to weed out the candidates and find their fatal flaws. In most years, we do find those fatal flaws and eliminate candidates from the race as a result. If you are looking for a trace of sin in Jesus, here would be the place to look. But there is no sin here. Mary was a virgin. Her womb had not been touched by man.

Mary also had to be impregnated by the Holy Spirit and not by a man for the very same reason. It is essential to our faith. Jesus could not be conceived from the seed of sinful man. It would have meant that He would have been born with a sin nature. Therefore, He then could not become the perfect once and for all final sacrifice for sin if He had a sin nature. God had to bypass the regular system of human reproduction involving fertilization of the female egg by the male seed. He was conceived by a perfect and sinless God. God created a child from nothing in Mary’s womb just as He spoke the universe into being. He is the Creator. For God, as the angel of the Lord said, in this passage, “nothing is impossible with God.” This means that Jesus is of God not of man. He is human in the sense that Mary became pregnant and Jesus gestated inside her and she gave birth to Him in the normal human way. Conceived by God born in the normal way. Jesus both fully of God and fully of man. He is sinless and died as a substitute for our sins. He walked the earth as a man so that He knows our condition and the things that we go through. He knows of our limitations first hand by experiencing life in a human body. None of this would have mattered if He was not born of God. He would have come from bad seed, from our bad seed, the sinful seed. Mary had to become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and not by man. We depend on Him being sinless. It had to be this way.

The womb had to be pure. Mary had to conceive by the Holy Spirit and not by man. It all sounds fantastic and cute. It adds to the cuteness of our modern day Christmases. It nice warm story isn’t it. But its not just a nice a warm story. It is essential to our faith. Perfection and sinlessness are the hallmarks of why Jesus is our substitute for sin. He had to have a sinless life, yes, and He did. He is the only one to ever accomplish that feet of anyone who occupied a human body. That in of itself is essential to our faith – that He was able to live a sinless life. But He also had to have no taint of sin in his conception and in the womb in which He gestated. There is no smoking gun that makes God’s theology fall apart here. Jesus was sinless from conception. Jesus was not touched by sin even in the womb in which he developed. He was perfect and sinless from the beginning of time as part of the Trinity. He was perfect and sinless at the moment of conception. He was perfect and sinless as he developed in a womb not touched by man’s sinful nature or his sinful seed. He was perfect and sinless in His life on earth. He was perfect and sinless during his death. He was perfect and sinless in His resurrection. He is perfect and sinless now and forever. He is free of sin so that He can always will be the sacrifice for our sin that reconciles us to God.

It’s not just a cute story. It is necessary oh so necessary to our faith. The next time you pass a nativity scene really take that in. That scene and all that goes with the nativity story is bedrock to our faith. See its gravity and feel its weight. It will mean so much more to you. Not just cute. Essential. God covering all the bases as He always does. Essential.

Luke 1:26-36 — This is one of those passages where we need to spend a few days as it is very important to our faith. The first thing we must talk about together is Mary herself. Mary was young, poor and female. All of these things are not very impressive particularly in first century Israel.

That God chose Mary is so interesting. She was young. Some conjecture because of life spans at the time that Mary was maybe 14 years old. If you have a 14 year old daughter, think if she was chosen by God for such a task. That she was so young in Jewish society would have meant that few, if anyone, would have given her any respect or any social power. She was just a kid. Even though children were required to work and do help with household matters and do their parent’s bidding at times, they were given no rights. Teenagers are accorded far more respect and given more freedoms than teens in first century Israel. They were to been true servants of their families. They were to be seen and not heard. For God to choose Mary, a young teenager, demonstrates to us that God will make His power known even through the young. If you are a teenager and you think that Jesus cannot use you because of your age, then simply think of Mary. This young virgin was used by God because she was faithful to her God. Mary was given a great task and a great honor. She was to give birth to and be a mother to the Son of God. Can you imagine knowing that you are carrying the Son of God in your womb? God can use us even when we are young. We have some great kids at our church that are destined to be used by God. Don’t let their age fool you into thinking that they are not important instruments in spreading the gospel of the man born until Mary. Let us be a people that nurtures our children’s faith and encourage them to be gospel messengers. Two people are brought to mind by this thought. Ruthie Bowen and Kieffer Mendoza. Ruthie is a young little girl, maybe 5 or 6, but she is such sweet child and so loving to everyone around her. She will pray for her friends at her age at the very mention of a problem. Wow. She is destined to be a great woman of God. We should respect her for this and nurture her growing faith. Kieffer Mendoza is a freshman in college. He has amazing musical talent that is going to take him very far in life. At the same time, his faith in God is as mature or even more mature than many of us adults. The combination of his talent and his faith makes him an amazing instrument of God. We should respect him for that. We should nurture that. Regardless of age, we should respect and nurture the gifts that God gives even the youngest of the young to spread the gospel message. God is eternal so He is not hung up on age. Neither should we.

Mary was also poor. In Jewish society, power and respect followed money just as they do today. Poverty was considered a strike against you. Poverty was a sign of lack of faith. It was punishment for your sins or the sins of your forefathers. Poor people were not given much power. Nothing much has really changed in this regard today. She was young and she was poor. Wow, God could have done better than that, surely. Why wasn’t Jesus born to a daughter of a rich king? Part of this story has to do with humility and opposing the proud. Rich people tend to get all caught up in their position and and who they are in relation to others. God opposed the proud and exalts the humble. Mary was a humble young servant of the Lord. She had no rights as a young, poor person but she fully depended on the Lord. She trusted Him to see her through her early years of her life and she probably didn’t care that she was poor. She had family and she had God. I think too God uses a poor person for a mighty task to show us that no one is excluded from being used by the Lord. All that is required to be chosen by God is faithfulness to Him. We must be in love with God to be truly used by Him. We should not exclude the poor from our fellowship of believers because they do not dress like us, don’t drive the cars we drive. God doesn’t care about any of that stuff. He cares about the heart. Mary had the heart of a servant. She was used not because of wealth or position, but because she was fully devoted to the Lord. That’s our only qualification as well. God uses the rich, the poor, it doesn’t matter. He checks the heart not the wallet.

Finally, to add one more layer of Mary being “behind the eight ball” in first century Jewish society, she was a woman. God giving a great task such as this as a women would have been unthinkable to Jewish society. Women had no rights. Women were dependent on men for their very existence. Inheritance of a husband did not pass to a wife as it does now when a husband dies. Then, it passed to the father’s eldest or oldest surviving son. Women weren’t allowed to even testify in court because their testimony was not considered credible. But God chose Mary, a woman. He chose her for the most important task of all time. Carrying the Christ Child. In fact, when you read through the gospels, Jesus accorded women great value. In the early church they were given equal standing with men. The first persons to see Jesus after the resurrection were women. Women are given places of honor in our faith. Women became empowered for the first time through the Christian faith. But in thinking of Mary in her day, this a radical concept. Sure, as time progressed, women in the faith were given greater and greater standing, but Mary was first. She was like that first person to stand up against a custom that has existed for a long time. She was a rebel of sorts. Mary knew that being a woman was a liability in her day, but she responds, “I am the Lord’s servant.” Basically, I do not care that the odds are stacked against me. I trust in the Lord as knowing what is right for me. Mary should empower women. She goes to prove that women can play very pivotal roles in the spread of the Good News. Women are God’s most wonderful creation and if they are called to serve the Lord in the ways that He sees fit, we should not hinder them but empower them. We should look at their heart for the Lord not the fact that they were a dress.

Mary, young, poor, a woman. God chose the humble not the proud for this wonderful and important task. He chose according to the heart of the servant not the age, not the bank account, not the gender. Mary gives us hope that all of us can be used by the Lord. God only cares that you place Him first above all other things. That’s when He can use you mightily. Not when you achieve a certain age, a certain level of weath, not whether you are a man or a woman. The message of Mary choosing gives us great hope. You too can be used by the Father to do great things for Him.

Luke 1:5-25 — Prayers of the faithful are answered. It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow. But, God does answer the prayers of those who seek His will in His own due time. Remember when you were a kid and your parents made you wait 30 minutes after lunch by the pool or the lake before you could go swimming. Those waiting periods were excruuuuuuccccciiiiaaaaating. Remember the long trips in the car on family trips…are we there yet? Are we there yet? It’s kind of like that for today’s devotional.

Zechariah and Elizabeth didn’t merely go through the motions in following God’s law. They backed up their outward compliance with God’s law with inward obedience. Unlike the religious leaders whom Jesus called hypocrites, they did not stop with the letter of the law. Their obedience call from the heart and this is why they were called “righteous in God’s eyes.” God answers the prayers of those who earnestly seek Him. Do you think that God will answer the prayers of those who are not seeking to be in alignment with His will. It is clear from scripture that God not only hears prayers of His saints, but that He also answers their prayers. God says to Christians that He will listen to your prayers. However, our prayers must be in alliance with God’s own, perfect will (Matt. 26:39). Our prayers must be after God’s own heart. We must seek His will. However, the question remains, does God answer the prayers of unbelievers? I Peter 3:12 plainly says that God will hear a believer’s prayer but not those of the unsaved: “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” He will answer. The answer may be an immediate yes. It may be a no. It may be a not now. He answers. He answers the priors of those who are submitted to and seek Him. The prayers of those who are evil fall on deaf ears.

In Zechariah and Elizabeth, they were not “for show” believers and they certainly were not non-believers. They were barren with no children. They prayed, and prayed, and prayed for children. The difference between Zechariah and Elizabeth was that they trusted God with the answer. They were righteous people. They were submitted to God’s holy will for their lives. There was pain and suffering. There was humiliation. However, they never gave up on God. They knew that God will answer the prayers of the righteous in one way or another and in His due time. Do you feel like God is not answering your prayers fast enough. When we get angry at God for not showing any sign of having answered our prayers, we are acting as if He is a vending machine God. Push the button, and the answer to the prayer comes out. We in our freeze-dried, microwave, drive-thru, 30 days to a slimmer you, instant coffee, fire the coach if he doesn’t win in 3 seasons, if I don’t like it I will return it kind of world, we have a hard time with God not giving us immediate answers. We want prayer-boom-answer. I am as guilty as anyone. I have finished seminary at age 52 and I am impatient. I want to hear the answer to my prayer now. I must learn the patience of Zechariah and Elizabeth. I must remember Moses had to wait a long, long time in the desert wilderness before He was called. Although lives are shorter now, I must remember that Moses did not begin his ministry until He was ready in God’s eyes – when His earthly life was two-thirds over. We must be understanding of God’s sovereignty and His timing and we must be patient and trusting of the Sovereign Lord of the entire universe, the Sovereign Lord of all eternity. How did Zechariah and Elizabeth not lose faith. They knew that faith involves trust. Faith involves submission. We must trust that God is working, working, working. We must trust that He is wiser than we. We must trust that He wil answer our prayers the way that He as Sovereign Lord wants to answer them.

God often answers the prayers of His faithful in ways far beyond what we could have imagined. For their persistent but trusting prayers, Zechariah and Elizabeth’s prayers were answered mightily in God’s due timing. For their patient trust and their seeking of God’s will, they were to be rewarded with the birth of a son who would make the way for the Messiah. He was to be the forerunner. He was to light the fires. He was to mark the way toward righteousness. He was to call out the hypocrites and point them toward salvation. He was to be John the Baptist. Their prayers were answered in a son. They prayers were answered in an amazing son. God hears your prayers, oh, you who earnestly seek Him. He will do so abundantly. He will answer the prayers of the faithful and will do so in ways we could not have imagined previously. He is a mighty God. When we get ourselves out of the way and our demands for immediate response and seek and believe that God will answer in His way and in His time, He will bless our persistence and our patience and our seeking of His will.

Father, I am flesh and bones. I am flesh and bones in the 21st century where everything is fast, fast, fast. We think our internet is not fast enough when it does not respond in under 1 second. I am impatient. I want my answers from you now, oh Lord. I get frustrated when you don’t give me immediate answers to my prayers. Father, teach me the patience that I need. Father, you know my heart. I am not perfect but I do so love you and what you have already done for me in my salvation through Your Son. Help me to pray for your will not mine. Help me to be patient and perseverant in my prayers to you. Help me more than anything to trust that You are God and You will answer in the way and in the time that You desire as my Sovereign Lord. Please forgive my impatience Lord but please remember my love for you, Oh Lord, Most High. Amen.

Luke 1:1-4 — Today we begin another book of the Bible. The Gospel of Luke is where my heart has been led. The thing that is being shouted into my heart this morning as we begin is reasonable faith. Christianity is a reasonable faith. Modernists say that the Christian faith is just an opiate of the people. They claim that we use religion to explain things that we are too lazy to investigate. However, Luke screams to us that it is a reasonable faith.

From other references to Luke in Acts and in the writings of Paul, we know he was a physician. He was the equivalent of a doctor to us. Therefore, he had to be a logical person. He had to be a person who researched medical problems and came to conclusions. He was very much an “if x, then y” kind of guy. He knew the importance of being thorough. He used his skills of observation and analysis to draw conclusions about the illnesses that he encountered as a doctor. Thus, for him to undertake this account of the life of Jesus, he would have researched, observed, and drawn conclusions. He would have been thorough. You can read Luke’s account of Jesus’ life with confidence that it was written by a clear thinker, a logical mind, and a thorough researcher. Because the gospel, the Good News, is founded in historical fact and grounded in truth, our spiritual growth must include careful, disciplined and thorough investigation of God’s Word so that we can understand how God has acted in history. It is a reasonable faith. Luke used research. He relied on other written accounts of Jesus. He used eyewitness interviews. He used all resources available to him. Many scholars believe that prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD because it is not mentioned in his writing (some conjecture that is was written as early as between 55AD-60AD – only 30 or so years after Jesus’ death). Thus, many of the eyewitnesses of Jesus life were still alive. They would have debunked his book easily if it contained falsehoods and fabrications. Just the opposite happened. It quickly because accepted as a valid rendering of Jesus’ life by the early Christian church. Because the truth was important to Luke, he relied heavily on eyewitness accounts. It is a reasonable faith.

Real Christianity does not ask us to close our eyes and jump off a cliff. It welcomes criticism and asks to check it out. The Bible encourages us to investigate the things we doubt. Luke says it himself in Luke 1:4, “so that you can be certain of the truth of everything that you were taught.” While man-made religions rely on mystique and unverifiable legend as the basis of their belief systems, Christianity stands clearly rooted in history. There is ample evidence outside the Bible to verify its accuracy. Modernists who debunk the Bible as inaccurate are continually proven wrong as man makes new archaelogical discoveries. The Bible thus is evidence of God entering and intervening in human history. There is ample evidence outside the Bible, for example, that Jesus existed. It is commonly accepted throughout the world that Jesus existed. No man-made religion can make that claim. Every religion in the world has a position on Jesus. These religions feel compelled to respond to Jesus in their religious writings. Christianity does not feel the need to respond to man-made religions because it does not have to. Christianity is based on the truth. Our faith welcomes your scrutiny. It is a reasonable faith. It does not rely on mysterious beasts in a time that cannot be verified. It does not rely on superhumans of the past that we cannot research and verify. It does not rely on other religions to create our own holy book and create a political system to unify our people and have that book revealed as being completely inconsistent within itself. Everything in the Bible. Everything in Jesus’ life is original, historical and verifiable.

We can have confidence in our faith that it is not just a bunch of hooey that cannot standup to scrutiny. This gives me great comfort. If the gospels were written in a time when many of the eyewitnesses were still alive and the authors were trying to editorialize and make Jesus more or less than He really was, wouldn’t they have screamed foul. This gives me great confidence in what I believe in. There is a whole and complete line of reasoning that we could go down called apologetics, which is a fancy word for the defense of our faith, that we do not have time to go down here. But, I know that every couple of years, there is new evidence to support the historical claims of the Old Testament. And, I know for a fact that my Savior actually lived, breathed, walked this planet and was not some lie created by Christianity, the religion. I know my Savior existed. I know this because extrabiblical sources say the same thing. Jewish and Roman historical records admit his existence. I know He existed. For the many things non-believers dispute about our faith, they DO NOT dispute that Jesus existed. How amazing is that! How much comfort is that! My Savior is not some made up human fantasy. He is not some opiate of the people. My Savior invites you to understand that He did actually come down from heaven and walk as God in the flesh. We know He existed. How much greater now are His claims in the Bible if you fully understand that He existed and is not simply something made up within our own faith. Ahhh, this is amazing stuff when you discover it. Christianity welcomes your scrutiny. It is a reasonable faith.

Father, thank you for opening my eyes to the real facts of our faith, the main one being that Jesus was indeed a real historical figure. Thank you for revealing to me that He was real. Thank you for revealing that to me because for me personally it gives credence to the basis of my faith. There are things that I have to take on faith about our faith but it is grounded in a real man who lived on earth. The fact that He is and was and always will be the Son of God is the faith part. The things that require faith are the difference between seeing Jesus as a radical rabbi that existed and God in the flesh that existed. I choose to believe by faith that Jesus Christ is your Son Father. You gave us reasonable faith that can take us 95% of the way there but real faith gets us the last mile. Thank you for Jesus as the historical man. Thank you for Jesus as my Savior. Amen.

Romans 16:17-27 — In this final passage of Romans, Paul gives the church at Rome a final warning about those who will cause division among them and teach a false gospel. In this passage, Paul speaks to us as well about our church today. The filter we should use for the words we hear and the actions we see must be the Bible. Everything must be compared to it. We must know Scripture so that we are not deceived into believing that which is just not the truth.

There are those today just as there were those of whom Paul speaks directly in his day that will twist the gospel to suit there own needs. Christians who study God’s Word, asking Him to reveal His universal truths, will note be fooled by smooth talk. Superficial Christians who just sit in church on Sundays but do nothing else can be easily fooled and manipulated. There are many examples today of smooth talkers who subvert the truth of the gospel. There are those who espouse a gospel of prosperity. There are those who using this philosophy indicate that your financial blessings are an indication of how close to God you are. There are those who subvert the gospel by picking and choosing what parts they want to obey to further their own agendas. For example, there are those who wish that there were not prohibitions in the Bible against homosexuality and rationalize with modern logical arguments that that’s not what the Bible really says by imposing modern sensibilities of the current day on an eternal text. If we do not know Scripture, and I mean more than just reading topical devotionals, we can easily be taken in.

We need to know Scripture. There is no substitute for it. Although it is great and wonderful to read books by Christian writers. There are many awesome writers out there today. Many have great insight into what the Scriptures say. However, we can never let these things be a substitute for God’s great and perfect Word. The Word of God is ageless, timeless and is the inspired Word of God. The canon is complete because God caused it to be so. It is the collection of 66 books that He desired to be the final and lasting Word. If we read books about the Bible but never read the Bible itself, it is like reading a book review of a book without reading the book. It is like reading a movie review but not seeing the movie and then acting we have seen the movie. We miss the full richness. We miss what the author’s intent of writing an entire book of the Bible was. When an author of today references Scripture, he may well have good intentions but to not know the context of a verse or passage that an author uses, we cannot be discerning as to whether he or she is twisting the gospel or at the very least using Scripture out of context. If we do not know, Scripture but only accept others’ views about it, we can be easily deceived.

We need to know Scripture. There is no substitute for it. We must measure peoples actions by it. We must measure our own actions by it. There may be those who claim that they are acting in consistency with Scripture but do not know it words. We must discern people’s actions by the very Scripture that they claim to know. We are not to be judgmental but we are to be discerning. If we know Scripture, we can gently correct those who are acting opposite to it and do so in love. We should never use our knowledge of Scripture to condemn but only correct in love. We should use our knowledge to discern the truth from lies. We must use our knowledge of Scripture to discern that which is of God and that which is of someone’s ego-driven agenda. At the same token, we should compare our own actions to Scripture. If we have sufficient knowledge of Scripture and through the action of the Holy Spirit to illumine its pages in our heart, our own transgressions and sins will be brought to our mind and heart. We will struggle and wrestle over our own sins and the Holy Spirit will cause us to be revolted by them and repent, turn away. Sometimes this is very hard because we are imperfect, sinful creatures by nature. However, we must constantly be in God’s Word so that our own sins are revealed to us. We must do more read. We must meditate on God’s Word. We must chew on it. We must read whole books of the Bible in sequence and chew on it. We must read the Bible topically to see what it says on a certain subject and chew on it. We must digest the Bible. Otherwise, we will be easily deceived by the actions of others and, what’s worse, we will be deceived by our own thoughts and actions. Let us not be a people where our Bible gathers dust. Let us be a people who has to by a new Bible because our current ones are literally falling apart from overuse.

Subverting Scripture to make it say what we want it to say in the modern world. Making Scripture say what it doesn’t in a modern world that is bent on justifying our own immoral behaviors. Making Scripture espouse a investment/payoff lifestyle of the prosperity gospel. Ignoring what Scripture has to say about certain lifestyles. Making Scripture suit our own agenda. Taking Scripture out of context. Satan loves all of this stuff. He loves it when people teach things as gospel that are not gospel. Satan loves it when people ignore or downright throw away certain parts of the gospel so that they can say they are saved but really aren’t. Satan loves it when people make the gospel say what they want it to say. Satan loves it when we use Scripture in ways that are different from its original and eternal meaning in context. In all of these ways, Satan wants us deceived so that when the pressures on, he can prove our beliefs to be lies. We must know Scripture without fail. We must study. We must learn. We must take Scripture, all of it to heart. We must know it so that we cannot be deceived. We must know it so that our hearts will be convicted by God’s eternal truth. Do you not want to know God? The way that we know Him is through His Word. Without studying God’s Word, we are like athletes who show up at the field on Saturday but don’t do all the hard work of practice, practice, practice during Monday through Friday. We must put in the hard work. We must make time for Scripture. There is no excuse. Otherwise, we set ourselves up for Satan. We are a soft pitch for Satan to knock us out of the park. We must know Scripture. There is no substitute for it.

Father, help me to know your Word. Help me to be confident in your Word. Help me to know it so well that I discern the world through its pages. Help me to discern my own actions through its pages. Help me to use it in real life because of knowing it. Help me to draw others unto you through your Word. Help me to discern falsehood from truth through the lens of knowledge of your Word. Help to use my knowledge of your Word to give you glory in a world that seems like it is trying to forget you. Help me to know Scripture to praise your name in my heart and in the world around me. Amen.

Romans 16:1-16 — After reading through the list of names in Paul’s greetings to the church at Rome, it strikes you that the early church was diverse and it was mobile.

The list of names includes Roman names, Greek names, Jews and Gentiles. It includes men and women. It includes prisoners and prominent citizens. It reveals that the church’s base was broad. It crossed cultural, social and economic lines. This is what the church should be. It should not matter where you live, what you look like, how much money you make, or the color of your skin. The thing that matters is that we all believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Too often in the church now, we segregate ourselves by economic lines, racial lines, etc. Our churches are mainly people just like us. Yes, there are many large churches that are culturally and racially diverse, but there are far too many mid-size to small churches that are not. We should be welcoming to all believers who walk through our doors and make them feel comfortable and accepted. The only qualification for acceptance in our pews should be that we are all seeking Jesus. Although LifeSong may not be as culturally and racially as diverse as we could be, our church is a collection of young in their walk believers and believers who have been away from church because of past hurts. As a result there is a general sense of acceptance to anyone who walks through our doors. The general sense we have at our church is that we are simply thankful to not be living our old lives and because of that we simply have no time for the old games. There are no stares or quiet whispers when someone new walks through our doors. This is church as it should be.

The list of names also make recognize that Paul apparently already knew a good many people from the church at Rome. How did this happen if he had desired to come to Rome but had not yet been there. The answer is that the church at Rome, much like all of the early churches, was mobile. Everyone was a missionary. Paul would meet these people in other places where the church was being planted. All of the early church was eager to get out and help the church along wherever the help was needed. These early Christians would go anywhere anytime to spread the gospel. They were willing to go to prison for it. They were willing to die for it. What if we had these sensibilities today. Many today use the excuse that they have jobs in the real world and thus what they can do is limited, very limited. Didn’t people have to work back in the first century? Well, of course they did. However, they made the advance of the church the single most important priority. They measured their employment options by how it would affect their ability to participate in the mission of the church. Last night, I was sitting in the upper deck of Clemson’s football stadium watching the Tigers play along with 80,031 of my friends. It struck me that we make priorities out the things we WANT to make priorities out of. What if we had the passion for the church’s mission that we Tiger fans have for our beloved Clemson Tigers. Clemson fans are some of the most passionate and most willing to travel fans in college football. Last week, Clemson was well represented at the Boston College game – the longest road trip that the Tigers have every other year. What if we were just as willing to travel far and wide to spread the gospel with that same passion and loyalty. What if we were willing to make the same sacrifices for the church’s worldwide mission that we are willing to make to follow our Tigers. May we be as passionate with our LifeSong Church t-shirt on as we are when we have our Clemson t-shirts on. May be be as passionate to post on Christian blog boards as we are to post our passionate feelings on our Clemson blog boards. The early church was mobile, passionate, and willing. This is the hope we have for our church in today’s world. May we be a church that is willing to do whatever it takes, go wherever we need to go, to help the spread of the gospel.

Father, help us to remember that the only thing that matters about membership in the fellowship of saints is that we are seeking Jesus Christ. No other qualifications matter. Help us to also remember that we should be passionate about this fact, seeking Jesus and making His name known. We should be willing to go anywhere and do anything to make His name famous. May we do it with all our passion. May there be no sacrifice that we consider too great to make this happen. Jesus thought that we worth no sacrifice too great. Let us repay Him with the same mindset. Amen.

Roman 16:1-16 — In this passage, which is kind of a roll call of the superstars of the early church (kind of like when a racer thanks all his sponsors during a single post race interview), we hear two familiar names, Priscilla and Aquila. These two are mentioned prominently in Paul’s writings not just here, but, in total they are mentioned 6 times in the New Testament. They were always mentioned together and never individually. What can we learn from this?

I think the first thing that we learn from Priscilla and Aquila is that ministry is a husband-wife team effort. The fact that they are only mentioned together kind of tells you that they were their most effective when they were together. How often do you see it in today’s society that husbands and wives do their own things and rarely give much effort toward joint activities. How often do you see it that when this happens that the marriage falls apart? How often do you see it in couples that one is committed to the Lord and very active while the other is not? In these situations, you think to yourself, how effective would this couple be if both of them were on board? Priscilla and Aquila were both on board. They were sold out for Christ. They opened their home to Paul in Corinth. They held church in their home in Rome. They risked their lives for Paul. They helped finance his ministry. Together, the were pretty awesome. Ministry calls a couple not just the husband or the wife. In order to minister effectively, the husband and the wife must be called together. Think of the ministers you most admire. In every case, there is a minister’s wife standing with him that makes their ministry all the more powerful. What if Amy Hickman was not sold out for Christ, Jeff would not be as effective of a minister that he is. They minister together. Let us always remember to pray for our pastors’ wives as much as we pray for our pastors. They are called just as much as their pastor husbands are. It has been said that being a pastor’s wife is the toughest job there is. The husband and wife are a pastoral team just as Priscilla and Aquila were. May we be so effective in our ministries that they mention us only together. As Christ is united in the Holy Trinity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, may we be united as couples serving the Lord. May we become one together serving the Lord to the point that it would be unthinkable to mention one without mentioning the other.

The second thing that I think we learn from mention of Priscilla and Aquila together always is the fact that they must have complemented each other so well. I would imagine that they were always mentioned together because they each had strengths and weaknesses. Where one was weak the other was strong. Where one was strong, it offset the weakness of the other in that area. Alone they were not as effective. Together their sum was greater than their parts. Together, they created traction where by themselves they could not. This is probably true in any marriage, but it is particularly so in a ministry couple. Elena is strong on details and works hard to make sure things happen when they are supposed to. In this area, I am weak. She compensates for my weakness. On the other hand, I have the ability to visualize grand ideas and think of things that haven’t been done before. This compensates for Elena’s discomfort with charting unknown waters. Together, she zigs for my zags and I zig for her zags. We make a good team in that way. This is why it is so important for it not just be the pastor. It must be the pastor and pastor’s wife. Together. God orchestrates bring pastoral couples together so that where he is weak she is strong and vice versa. Together, we are more effective than we are apart. Just as the church is more effective together than individual church members. We all have talents gifted us by God. We all have weaknesses. In God’s grand design of the church, it is certain that there is someone in the church who is strong where you are weak and vice versa. Together, we are more effective in presenting the gospel to the world. Let us be humble enough, as Priscilla and Aquila apparently were, to recognize our weaknesses and allow others who are strong in that area to flourish there. God is glorified when His people humbly work together in the areas that each was made by God for.

Father, in heaven, we give you glory for the way that you make this intricate universe work together in unison. You are the Creator of all things. You orchestrate the symphony of life. You also orchestrate bring us together as ministry couples. You and the Son and the Holy Spirit exist eternally in completeness together. Father, please help us as ministry couples to work together and in unison such that are names are always mentioned together. Father, you orchestrate bringing men and women together that complement one another as husbands and wives and as the people of your church. We thank you for teaching us about recognizing where we are weak and praising those who are strong in those areas. Help us to understand our weaknesses and strengths so that together as ministry couple and as churches we are stronger, more effective witnesses for the truth that is the gospel. Amen.

Romans 16:1-16 — Women. Women. Women. OK, guys, now that I have your attention. Let us as men and women read on. In this passage, we find a who’s who list of early Christians. This passage though it seems like just a list of greetings tell us several important things about the early Christian church that we must remember today.

This passage teaches us, first, that just because a Christian woman is submissive to her husband does not mean that she cannot play important roles in the church and its work. We will look at this point today. Tomorrow (Saturday), we will look at husbands and wives as Christian teammates. Finally on Sunday, we will look at the mobility of the early church and what it compels us to be today.

First, there is Phoebe. She is mentioned first in this passage, Paul’s greetings. Some biblical scholars conjecture that since she was mentioned first here that she was the one who delivered this letter, now called the Book of Romans, from Paul to the believers at Rome. She is noted as a deacon. In the first century, deacons were not the power brokers that they are in many Baptist churches today. Back then deacon was just the first step in service to the Lord. Deacons were those that we singled out for the heart for the Lord and service to other Christians. In the early church, they were the ones who took care of the practical day-to-day matters of the church. The fact that Phoebe was a deacon reminds us that women played an important role in the early church. In a time in history, when women has little or no power and few human rights, the fact that Pheobe is named as a deacon is especially striking. This kind of debunks the sometimes held belief that the Christian church has a sexist bent. Paul mentions Phoebe as being helpful to Paul so that means most likely that she helped his ministry’s financial needs. She was highly regarded in the church. She was a woman who helped the church grow and expand. Women were part of Jesus’ town to town entourage (Luke 8:1-3) who helped meet the needs of his ministry and did so from their own means. They were not prevented from helping the church because they were women. They were empowered by Jesus and later his church.

Sure, Paul tells us in many other places in the Bible that women should submit to their husbands (who are submitted to the Lord and loves his wife the way the Lord loved his church – he gave his life for it). However, that did not mean that they were not allowed to be active, useful, and important members of the church. Throughout the New Testament women are given great value by Jesus and by his church. What mattered to Jesus and it is apparent here is that they were believers and they wished to serve the Lord. Women, as you see, here plaid prominent roles in the church. This shows that a woman can be submissive to a truly Godly man in the matters of their home and as a couple outside it but it does not preclude women from great, great servants in the church. Women are celebrated by the church. Women are gifts to us men. They are the true treasures of God’s creation. They are beauty. They are that which makes our world worth living in. They are what make this world worth fighting for. Without women, the world would be a dirty, ugly, and harsh like the nature of men. Women are made to be home. They are our safe place in a harsh world. They are important in God’s plan and they should be important in God’s church.

Let us remember as Christian men, we are given the gift of a submissive wife. With the submission of our wives to us, we are given an even greater responsibility to her (and by extension to God-fearing women in general). We must be willing to die for our wives as Christ died for us. We are called to be sacrificial for our wives. We are called to put their needs before ours. As Christ covers us with his perfection, we are to cover and protect our wives and make sure that they can grow into the flowers that they are intended to be. We are not to keep them beaten down and locked away. We are to make sure that they can flourish just as Jesus makes sure that we are made right with God. As men, we should make sure that not only our wives are allowed to flourish but all Christian women. We should create an environment that these treasures, women, can flourish and use the special gifts that God gives specifically to women. This is our job, men. The way I see it, women will willingly submit to a man when she sees him living a God-fearing life and is demonstrating a Christ-like love toward her as a wife or a Christ-like respect to her as a woman in general. We don’t get submission by being a prick to our wives or women in general.

So, there you have it, women are important in God’s plan of redemption for the world just as we men are. They played important roles in the first century church and were extremely important to the rapid spread of the church. The Christian church is empowering of women because Jesus was empowering of women. Feminists bash the Bible because they read that women should be submissive. Yes, it says that, and, yes, we believe that. However, what the feminists don’t read on and see is that men have a higher calling that results in this submission. We are called to love our wives the way Christ loved the church. How did Christ love the church? He went all out for it to the point of offering up his life so that we would be reconciled to God. We are to love our wives this way. How can a woman not submit to a husband that loves her this way? By implication too, we, men, should create an environment for all Christian women that they know that we will put our life on the line for them, that we will create an environment where they feel safe and can flourish. As men, we should empower women to become all they can be just as Jesus did. He gave them value. We should give them value. If they have talents that can benefit and further the church we should celebrate it and foster it not condemn it and hinder it. Women. Women. Women. They are God’s gift to us. Let us treat them that way. Let us help them become all they can be in God’s plan.

Romans 15:23-33 — This passage today is about provision. The work of the church is about provision. Providing for missions, providing for other Christians in need, providing through prayer. As Christians, we are part of a team. We are not just self-contained units dotting the landscape. We are all joined together in Christ. Our fellow Christians are not out of sight, out of mind. Like the human body is interconnected and interdependent so to are all Christians in the body of Christ.

As Christians, we must provide for missions. We do so not out of obligation but we do so because the message must be sent. There are those who are sent and there are those who support those who are sent. My friend, Tim Lyda, felt the burden and the passion to plant a church in spiritually hard soil known as New England, specifically Manchester, CT. We did not force him to go there. He followed God’s leading him there. It is our job as the church from which he was sent to support him. This man, along with Jason Edwards have made sacrifices. They have moved their families 16 hours away from those who love them. They are strangers in a strange land who are making it there home, developing relationships day by day. They are faces struggles daily as they toil in the hard spiritual soil of New England. We must support them with our financial gifts. If you are a member of the LifeSong mother church here in Lyman, SC, we need to provide for Tim, Jason and their families. They are doing needed work. The gospel must be spread. People dying without knowing Christ as their Savior should, should, SHOULD burden our souls. We should care that New England is a spiritually dead place and that many souls there will be separated from God for eternity in hell for having rejected Christ. We must, must, must be there in the persons of Tim, Jason and their families. We must, must, must support them financially. We must make a way for them. The church at Rome was apparently ready and willing to support Paul’s journey to Spain. It is not just LifeSong Church as a whole that must support Manchester, we as individual LifeSongers must support them. They are doing tough work in a tough place and their need our financial resources to do the work that needs doing — spreading the gospel in ways that connect to the culture up there.

As Christians, we also have responsibility for our fellow Christ followers who are in need. In your life, would you allow a family member to be in need and not help them. If your brother, sister, or child were in desperate need would you not help them. We are part of the family of Christ so we too also have an obligation to help fellow Christ followers who are in need. Just as ancient Christ followers helped the Christians in Jerusalem when they were in need, we should be concerned about our fellow Christians here at home and abroad who are in need. We should be moved to tears by the persecution of Christians in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Sudan, China, North Korea and other places that happen on a daily basis. We should be concerned too when Christians are in need right here at home as well. We have a responsibility to both, not one or the other. We must as Christians think of the welfare of others before our own. The thing that gets in the way of us supporting other Christians in real and direct ways is the American Dream. We have bought so into the fact that we are to have the newest cars, the finest houses, a cell phone for everyone in our house including our toddlers, the finest appliances, the newest, etc. The most expensive is better. We have so bought into that we cannot do what we are called to do. We are slaves to our finances and Satan just smiles. Christians awake. Shed yourself of debt. We are called to support fellow Christians. Is it not better to live on less. Does the new BMW become more important than supporting those that fight against the killing of Christians in Syria. The BMW seems pale by comparison. Is your manicured lawn worth more than helping those who spread the gospel in China? Is your boat worth more than supporting the soup kitchen right down the road from your house?

Finally, we, as Christians, must support each other with our prayers. Do you know how much Tim, Jason and their families value our prayers? Do you know how much missionaries in the Muslim world, or in North Korea, China and elsewhere value our prayers? They beg for our prayers. In committing to pray for those who are on the front lines of the battle to spread the gospel, we participate in their ministry. When we pray (and I mean more than just those prayers that we say at the dinner table….real prayer is what I mean), we are urged by the spirit to learn more about the people we pray for and their situations. When we pray for them, we are committed to find out what exactly they need prayer for. Through prayer we become involved. Through prayer, we can move mighty mountains. For example, the LifeSong Manchester team needs our prayers for a place for Sunday worship. The work of Satan has prevented them from using a city gym. When you pray, you want learn more of the needs of those on the front lines. Commit to pray for the Manchester to find a new place to worship on Sundays. Get to know about the missionaries in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Iran and elsewhere. Pray for them. The work they do in all the spiritually hard places is long and hard. They deserve our prayers. Not just supper table prayers, the real prayers that we usually reserve for when things have gone wrong. Pray with desperation for our front line missionaries!

Father, help us to set our priorities straight financially so that we can financially support our fellow Christians who are in need, our fellow Christians who are missionaries. Help to remember the difference between those things that are temporary trappings of this life and those things that have eternal weight. Help us to pray for those who are doing the work that needs doing and in so doing we become so moved that we become desperate to help our church grow more so than making our list of things we own grow. Help us to support the church in all ways in which our common body of Christ needs. Help us to set our priorities straight so that we can. Amen.

Romans 15:14-22 — In this passage, Paul basically tells the church at Rome that he cannot come visit them because they are doing so well that he has more important things to do. He didn’t mean this as a slam but rather a compliment. Paul had more urgent matters to tend to — to preach the gospel where the name of Christ has never been heard. It has been heard in Rome and they were flourishing. Paul was needed elsewhere.

He is saying here that hey you’re doing OK so I don’t need to visit you just now. Paul needed to go where the challenge was greater and there was a greater need. He felt that the church at Rome was in good hands. He needed to be where there was nothing. He needed to build up churches where the gospel was unknown. By implication for us, it can be said that we need to know when our work is done and its time to leave. We need to know when God is leading us to something new, something urgent, and not be afraid to leave our cocoon.

This message kind of reminds you of when you know its time to leave your current job and seek a new one. There comes a time in most jobs where you feel like you have done all you can at this time and its time to move on. It’s time for a new challenge. For example, when Steve Spurrier was at University of Florida from 1990-2001, he had the world by the tail, he won 8 division titles, 5 conference titles, and 1 national championship. However, he left it all and took on a new challenge in the NFL and that eventually led him to the University of South Carolina. The new challenges were greater than the need to maintain excellence with the Florida Gators. He has done so much more meaningful work at USC than he could’ve ever done in maintaining the program at UF. We all have opportunities in life where it is necessary to leave a good situation where everything is known and everything is neat and tidy. Sometimes it is necessary to break out into the unknown and find the new challenge. Sometimes it is time to step into what God has been preparing us for.

For some that looks like a friend of mine. She has been a ER nurse for 14 years and is very good at it. She has no reason to leave. She could stay in the job and her employer would be happy as clams with that. She is good at what she does. However, she has been called by God to teach her skill to others and to minister to others through home health care. Paul could have visited Rome but He was called to do what God prepared him to do. This friend has been prepared for the next phase in God’s plan. She can do more for Christ by teaching a new crop of nurses how being a Christ follower makes her job a ministry and also to minister to others in home visits one on one in a way she could not in the ER. The ER was not wasted though. The intense nursing required in the ER has taught her much and it will be used in this new phase of God’s plan for her life.

For me and Elena, this idea looks like this. We love LifeSong Church with all our heart. If we had our way, we would never leave. We love this church and the way it touches the community and the world around us. We love serving there in the ways we serve. I help with the financial accounting and budget processes at the church (because of my secular work background). Elena and I work together as leaders in our church’s community outreach ministries. Elena carries most of the workload there and she loves it. We are leaders of our life group and being part of the Christ following growth that is happening there. All of our friends are at LifeSong. 90% of our friends are members of this church. We could stay there forever if we had our own way. It is known. It is safe. It is good. There would be no shame in staying there.

But, as you know, I feel called to be a pastor. It is been a thought always in my mind that we are called to be God’s servant in reclaiming a dying church, to re-awaken what has fallen asleep. We could stay here at LifeSong and be very happy and participate in doing many good things for the kingdom. Sometimes though God calls us to finish the preparation time and step into that which He has been preparing us for. We can’t miss the opportunity when it is time. Paul could not go to Rome because he had urgent work to do spreading the gospel in places where it had never been heard. He COULDN’T miss that opportunity that God laid on His heart. He knew Rome would be fine until a later visit. We must seize our God-ordained opportunities when they arise. We must seize the opportunities to serve the Lord in the way He has ordained for us. When we are called to do what God has called us to do, Elena and I must recognize the Spirit’s leading and go where He leads us. We must fight the urge to stay in the known, the comfortable, and trust that God will sustain in what is unknown, uncomfortable, but yet where God intends us. Our time in Livermore Alive Community Church in California was training for being at LifeSong back home in South Carolina. LifeSong is our training for what’s next in God’s plan for our lives. We must trust in Him to sustain us for what’s next and not be afraid to step into it. We must go wherever God calls us and wherever He needs us to serve. We can’t be afraid to leave what is established and working and is a well oiled machine to do the work of the Lord that needs doing.

Just like Paul, he could have gone to Rome and had a great visit there for several months or years but Rome was already flourishing. God called him not to the flourishing but to those who did not know Jesus. Sometimes, we as Christ followers are not called to serve what is already working well but to serve where we are really needed, where the trail has not been blazed, where souls need re-awakening, where dying churches need to meet Jesus again. We all have our safe places in life, but the real rewards come from when we take on new challenges. We can stay in the safe place and be fine, but sometimes God calls us to do the challenging, the difficult, and we may fail by human standards but the success comes in the obedience to God.

Father, I know that these lyrics belong to Hillsong, but I offer them as my prayer today. Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander and my faith will be made stronger. Help me to trust that You will sustain us in whatever you lead us to do. Help me to never be afraid to leave my boat where everything is known and safe and step out into the waters of the unknown and keep my eyes on You following wherever you may lead us. We are willing. We have been preparing. We love you, Lord. Amen.