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.