Archive for October, 2014

Romans 15:1-13 — To give God glory and to understand God’s glory. Giving God glory is our aim or should be in everything we do. Knowing Scripture helps us understand God’s glory.

Giving God glory is the dominating theme of this passage. First, our actions should be to give God glory in everything we do. Paul is telling us that we give God glory through how we treat one another. For Paul, it was the Jew vs. non-Jew, slave vs. free, rich vs. poor. By implication, we must be majoring on our similarities as Christians not on our differences. Satan wants us to be fractured. Satan wants us to be pointing fingers at one another. The fractures within the church as whole, all the different ways we have split ourselves up (Catholic vs. Protestant, and within Protestantism — Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc.) makes us less effective as a whole. Fractures within our local bodies make us less effective. Satan loves discord in the church. Discord within our local bodies and the church at large gets us focused on ourselves and not our primary mission. Our primary mission is to give God glory.

How to we give God glory within our body of Christ, by remembering that Christ did not come to earth to simply please Himself. He came to give God glory by His words, actions, and deeds. He gave God glory by teaching of God’s love. He gave God glory by encouraging all who were seeking God. Jesus gave God glory by offering God’s love to all who would listen to Him. He gave God glory by being obedient to the Father to the point of dying on the cross for our sins. He did not seek His own glory but rather to give glory to the Father.

How then do we put this into practice in our local church body? We seek not to glorify ourselves or those who are just like us. We give God glory by our own humility. We give God glory by not being territorial over our functions within the church. What does it matter who gets credit for something positive the church does as long as the job gets done? What does it matter as long as God is glorified? When our motivation is to glorify God, then, our egos do not need to be stroked. When ego comes into play, we find division and divisiveness within the body. Is this the kind of glory to God that we want to present to the lost soul. Do we want to present to them a group of petty people who are more concerned about the trees we have marked as our territory than we sharing the love of Christ? When we get it, that it is not about us, but rather about giving God glory by drawing all nations and all tongues unto Christ, then, and only then can we be effective tools. Let us seek unity with one another. Let us recognize and respect each other’s differences but let us seek unity in that we all are forgiven sinners. That is our common bond. Jesus is the source of our unity. Our unity comes from knowing that and expressing that and living that. Jesus is my Jesus and He is yours. We are both sinners covered in grace no matter if I am white guy and you are black, no matter if I am a man and you are a woman, not matter if I am educated and you are not, no matter if I am rich and you are poor, no matter if I am young and you are old. We are God’s kids. Our unity in that fact, that we are all kids of the King. That’s what people should see in us — that despite our differences we have unity in Christ. Our unity gives God glory and draws others to Him through our unity in a world of discord.

Paul tells us to that God is a God to be glorified because He has been faithful to His people. We can have confidence in that. How do we have confidence in that? By knowing Scripture. The more we know about what God did in the past, the greater the confidence we have about what He will do in the days ahead. The Bible gives us confidence in God’s glory. We have example after example in the Bible that God is faithful to those who seek Him and give Him glory. Knowing Scripture helps us to be less likely to see our own glory. Knowing Scripture helps us to not try to control things ourselves. Knowing Scripture is to know God’s glory. We don’t have to worry when we place our faith and control of our lives into God’s hand. We know from Scripture that He is faithful. When we live in this confidence, it helps us let go of our ego, our need to be in control. We know from Scripture that God’s got this. In our bold confidence in the Lord, we can more easily seek unity among our brethren. We are not scared for our future because we know what God has done in the past. Therefore, we seek God’s way and not our own because we know Scripture. When we all are trying to align ourselves with God’s unity results. In our unity, God is glorified. Without knowledge of Scripture, we give our opinions and our values greater rein and discord results. Each of us together reading Scripture daily under the influence of the Holy Spirit leads to unity. It is through Scripture that we are led to be more Christ-like. By being more Christ-like, we give God glory. By being more Christ-like we become unified.

Father, help us as Christians to encourage one another because we are all children of God. Help us to seek to build each other up. Help us to see what we have in common in Christ rather than majoring on our differences. Help us in so doing bring others to knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Through our unity and love for one another despite the ways that we are different, help us to draw people unto you because our unity makes us so different from the world of discord in which we live. Help us to be confident in all these things through understanding Scripture. Help us to see how faithful that you are so that we have great confidence in your faithfulness. Help us to have faith that you are the God of Scripture. In this confidence, we no longer have to worry. Without worry, we can be unified in giving you glory and demonstrating your faithfulness to your people in a world where anarchy and lies reign. Amen.

Romans 14:1-23 — In this chapter, we might think that Paul is saying anything and everything is OK. Is he supporting an anything goes type of Christianity? I think though we must look at little closer to understand what Paul is saying here.

If we dig a little deeper here, Paul is saying that each of us is accountable to Christ and not to the opinions of others. We must as Christians be uncompromising in our stand against activities that are expressly forbidden by Scripture (adultery, murder, theft, among others things that Scripture says that are an abomination to God). We are not to create additional rules that we play off as scripturally based when they are not and give them equal standing with God’s Word. Many times we base our moral judgments on opinion, personal dislikes or cultural bias. For example, many traditional church enthusiasts cast dispersion upon the current trend of worship that features modern music. This is personal preference not Scripture. Likewise, those who attend modern worship style churches should not automatically think that old-school churches are out of touch and not think that such churches are dead to Christ. Paul is basically saying here that “there are hills to die on” for Christians and then there are hills that are not worth dying on. Matters of personal preference such as worship styles are not worth dying on. However, all Christians regardless of what type of church we go to must be uncompromising on those things that Bible forbids us to do. We have our hills to die on and we must be uncompromising there. If a brother is participating in an act that is expressly forbidden by God’s Word, we must lovingly correct them. In the end though, we must all give account for our lives before the Lord. He will be the judge not us. We should live our lives with this fact in mind. We should be living our lives to please our Father in Heaven not to win popularity contests with other Christians.

What those areas of God’s Word where it seems to be open for interpretation. For example, the Bible seems to have a prohibition against tattoos. Leviticus 19:28 seems to say this on the surface. But upon deeper examination of the historical context of Leviticus. When we understand the background of Leviticus, we However, there are problems with that interpretation. Leviticus 19:25-31 contains a series of laws that prohibit various pagan worship practices. The Israelites were constantly tempted to lapse into the pagan practices of other ancient peoples (Exodus 32:1-6, Numbers 25:1-3, etc.), so they were forbidden to do anything that had even the appearance of a pagan ritual. Other cultures at the time often mutilated their own bodies or put ink on their bodies as a ritual reverence at the death of a family member. Thus, the specific prohibition of modern day tattoos that are not associated with a death ritual of pagans is unclear. There are other such examples in Scripture such as eating food that is offered to idols but yet you did not know that it was. And, there are other examples as well. If the Bible is unclear, we should not condemn others for what I feel my interpretation is. For example, we should not condemn those who chose to have tattoos if it is our preference to honor God by not having tattoos. Since the Bible is unclear, we should not condemn one another for a personal preference.The only thing that I would offer here is that if a tattoo is of a nature that it celebrates things that are not of Scripture such as adultery, drunkenness, violence against others, degrading to women, and so on that are blatantly opposite of biblical principles then we should consider it an issue. Those who do have tattoos should not see those who do not as being old-school and uncompromising. We should not cause each other to stumble and cause division over areas where the Bible is unclear as to its application in today’s historical context. These are not hills to die on.

What about areas where the Bible is silent? What if there are aspects of modern life where the Bible is silent. It is in these areas that we should not be tempted to create scripture. Sometimes, we have a danger of thinking that if Beth Moore says it that it is Scripture. Sometimes we think if Francis Chan says it then it must be Scripture. Although I have great respect for Beth and Francis as Christ-followers and the talents that God gave them in writing and leading others, we cannot take what they say in their books as Scripture. Everything that popular Christian writers say must be examined against God’s Word. That which is consistent can be accepted and that which is inconsistent must be rejected.

So, we do not create Scripture. What about when we look to the Bible and it is silent? I know that we do not create Scripture but what do we do? According to Charles Stanley, he says, “When the Word of God does not address a question directly, we must look to its principles to guide us. The apostle Paul wrote that believers should “be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16). The phrase “be careful” means to scope things out, think them through, and examine from every angle. It is all-encompassing. Believers are to demonstrate caution in relationships, finances, decision making, business transactions, family matters—everything. Wise men and women make the most of time.” This is where we must look at a situation from the Bible as a whole. Is my response to the situation consistent with the themes and tenor of the Bible. It’s one of those situations we must rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us. If it feels wrong or seems inconsistent with Scripture in some way, this may be the Holy Spirit telling us that this situation is not right and we should not participate. Be wise. It it seems stupid, don’t do it. If is seems as though it would lead you to temptations to violate that which the Bible directly speaks against, don’t do it. However, in areas where the Bible is silent, and a fellow Christian chooses a different path of reaction to a situation, we should not condemn them for not choosing the same path we chose. Our advice to others in areas where the Bible is silent is to advise them, “hey my reaction to this situation is this….and my reason is that it might make me stumble in to actions that are specifically prohibited by the Bible. You may be stronger in resisting that temptation so it’s up to you.”

Father, help to hold each other up. Help us to encourage each other. Help us to hold each other accountable for the “hills that we should die on”. Help us to understand Scripture in its original historical and cultural contexts so that we can rightly apply its text and its spirit to our modern day world. Help us to dig deep to understand how apply the Bible to modern day life. Help us to understand the difference between my personal preferences and Scripture. Help us to understand that we are to seek unity whenever possible. Help us to know the Scripture well enough to know when to stand firm against certain behaviors and actions. Help us to hold each other accountable in these areas and do so with restoration in mind. Help us to know to seek Holy Spirit guidance for our own actions where the Bible is unclear or where it is silent. Help us to understand your Word well enough to be apply to apply its general principles to every situation. Help us to know what hills we need to die on. Amen.

Romans 12:11-14 — Great college football teams don’t become great by just showing up on Saturdays. Great football teams do all the hard work during the week. The coaches put together a game plan. The players work hard in the weight room, they study film with the coaches, they practice the game plan over and over and over again. The results are based on how well the players prepare. It is the same for us as Christ followers.

We must put in the hard work. We must renew our minds. We must first prepare ourselves by changing our mindset. We must begin with the weightlifting of the Christian life. We must stay in God’s Word. How can we begin changing our thought patterns if we do not read the Bible daily. We must do more than read the words. We must read them and think about them. We must meditate on what we read. We must pray about what we have read. We must let what we have read occupy our mind. Without God’s Word, we are sitting ducks for the evil desires of heart to take center stage. Like a championship team member who daily lifts weights to give him greater strength and greater endurance, we must be in the Word daily to give us a different mindset. Great championship teams do all the hard work that makes them champions when no one is looking. Champions are made during the week. They don’t just show up on Saturday. Similarly, we Christians become mature and have greater resistance to giving into our evil desires not just by showing up at worship services on Sundays. We are less likely to give into the amazing pull of evil in our lives by doing the hard work during the week. We must study God’s Word and meditate on it and apply it to our lives. Just as a football player is less likely to get pushed around on the field if he puts in his daily time in the weight room, so a Christian must lift his “biblical weights” daily to help prevent being pushed towards evil desires.

We must avoid evil whenever we can. A recovering drug addict or alcoholic must avoid situations where he will be tempted to take drugs or a drink again. They are told to change their playgrounds and their playmates. Of course drugs and alcohol are prevalent in our world today and those who are recovering cannot avoid these temptations altogether. However, the recovering addict just doesn’t tempt themselves beforehand by going to a bar or go to the same old hangouts where drugs or alcohol are available. A recovering alcoholic cannot go to restaurant and order a beer and think it won’t lead him right back to where he was. A drug addict can’t sniff a line of cocaine and think it won’t have him destroyed again. The same is true of any particularly high weakness area that we have in life. We cannot get close to the flame without expecting to get burned as the old saying goes. We cannot allow sins to fester in our minds and we certainly cannot put ourselves in positions where we can act out those sins that we have been playing with in our minds. We cannot create the conditions in the real world that would allow us to execute our sinful desires.

We must seek out someone who will hold us accountable. In recent years, you have seen leaders of large non-denominational churches get taken down by some sin they have allowed to fester whether it be pride, arrogance, lust, adultery, you name it. In each case, there was no accountability for the top guy. Even great leaders must have someone in their life that tells them the truth about what they are doing. We must institutionalize ways to hold ourselves accountable. For non-denominational mega-church senior pastors, it is often having a board of trustees, or an advisory council that they place the purse strings of their job in. It may be a circle of other megachurch pastors that they meet with regularly. For you and me as everyday Christians, we need the same thing. We need a mentor and we need an accountability partner. We need mentors, those whose Christian walks are more mature than ours (even if it is only slightly more mature). They can show us how it is done. They can show us where their pitfalls were. We need a partner too. One who is equal to us in maturity. We need that one true friend that will have no fear in telling us that we are full of crap. This way we make ourselves accountable. These are the people that can notice subtle changes in us that are signs that we are indulging sins in our minds. These are the people that know or sin weaknesses and will slap us into reality when they tell us not to put ourselves in positions that will allow us to execute our pet sins.

Being a part of a championship football team takes dedication and hard work. It requires do a lot of hard work that people don’t see during the week. They do all this hard work when no one is looking so that they can win the prize. Those college teams that stand on the stage in January with the trophy won their championship starting back in August in the sweaty steamy days of summer. They did the two-a-days. They lifted weights. They ran til their legs felt like logs. They lifted weights til their arms and legs were aching. They won games because they prepared harder and longer. They studied film. They studied their playbooks. Champions just work harder. Any coach will tell you that you can have the most talented team in the world but if they don’t put in the hard work, they will never be champions. The same is true for us as Christians. Being Christian is hard work. We have sin nature. We must work hard every day to keep ourselves from allowing our sinful desires to take full rein our lives. Sin is always out there lurking. We must put on the armor of preparation daily and create an environment in our lives that we help us stay away from our weaknesses. It does not always work. Sometimes, we allow our minds to be deceived by our desires. That is why this is a daily battle for which we must be prepared. Like players who just show up for the football game and are not prepared, they will lose the game. We must put in the hard work daily to renew our minds. We can’t just be at church for an hour and fifteen minutes on Sunday and think that’s enough. We must put in the hard work, the work that no one sees. Daily submission to Jesus. Bible study. Avoid our sin playgrounds. Accountability partners and mentors. Man, its tough work. But, let’s keep an eye on our prize. The heavenly championship!

Romans 13:8-10 — There was once a song by The Beatles called, “All You Need Is Love.” Love is all you need. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law, Paul tells us. The bottom line is love. Everything else that we are as Christians stands on this foundation.

Today is music day in my mind I guess. The song that comes to mind now is “The Proof of Your Love” by the Christian contemporary group, For God & Country. The song begins with the lyrics that say if I sing but don’t have love, I waste my breath with every word I sing. Everything that we do as Christ followers is meaningless without love. Paul repeats this idea in his first letter to the church at Corinth. He says, If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing (1 Cor 13:1-2). Love is the basis of who we are as Christ followers. Love is our motive. If we do not have love as our motive for the things we do to reach the world around us, we are just another help agency. If you participate in church-wide community events just to be seen doing it or to check off what you think will get you into heaven, you’ve got it all wrong. Love is our motive. We are to show the world genuine love. We are to show them love without expectation of payback. We should love the world around us without an attitude of what’s in it for me.

Why do we love others without payback? We do this because we are in debt to Christ for the lavish love has poured out on us. The only way we can begin to repay Him is by fulfilling our command to love others in turn. We should be overflowing with love. We have been saved from our eternal damnation in hell by the love of a God who sent His Son to be the perfect sin sacrifice. Jesus paid the penalty for sin that we deserved. Because of His love for us, He substituted Himself for us. How can you not love the world and want to serve it so that you can tell the world about what Jesus Christ has done. The basis of what Christ did on the cross was love for us. Love that we must share with others. We show our love for others so that they can come to see Jesus in us. We love ourselves enough to make sure that we have food, shelter, clothing. We should do no less for our neighbors. Loving others means actively working to make sure that their needs are met. Our love for others, coming from the love that we have received in Christ, should lead us to fight against social injustice. Love should motivate us to do more than the law requires. Love should motivate us to do more than have a payroll deduction to United Way. Love should motivate us to do more than put our extra money in the plate on Sunday. Love should motivate us to be in the real world with our neighbors who are suffering. Love should motivate us to fight the fights that need fighting not just sit behind the fence of our homes and complain that the world is going to crap. Love should motivate us to be more than armchair Christians.

There is a saying that goes like this, “Love can cover up many sins.” It is usually in reference to couples whose relationship is young and new and that they are so in love that they cannot see the faults of their lover. But in today’s context, let’s look at it from the perspective that love can cover many sins, the sins that we want to commit. We are fulfilling God’s law by loving others, Paul says. Think about it. The absence of love for our neighbor can lead us to commit many of the prohibited actions of God’s law. Not loving our neighbor can be in our own households. Not loving your spouse can often lead them to find it elsewhere in the sin of adultery. Unresolved anger (not loving) can lead to murder. Not loving can lead us not to respect that which belongs to another and we steal. Not loving can lead us to jealousy and covetousness. All of the God’s law is prohibitions against making our ownselves God and having the “it’s all about me attitude”. Love, real love, is about caring more about the needs of others than you care about your own. Love is a new set of glasses that allows us to see the world from other people’s perspective. Love allows me to go beyond myself and truly care for other people. I mean really care. When we were in the process of winning our spouse’s love, we lavished them with praise, attention, gifts, and just generally showing them that they are the most important thing in the world to us. We showed them the best of us. Should not we love our neighbors in this way all the time? Love can prevent us from seeking retribution. Love seeks reconciliation. Love involves building others up and not tearing them down. Love. Love. Love. All ya need is love. love. Love is all ya need. Love is all ya need. Nothing else matters.

There is a song from the best music decade EVER, the 80’s, called “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” I use it here as a question rather than a discussion of the song’s lyrics. What’s love got to do with it? The answer is everything. Without love, everything is meaningless. Without love, there is no hope. Without love, we would not have had Jesus. John 3:16 tells us that our God loves us so much that He sent His Son to save us from our own self-inflicted damnation. Without His love for us, He would not have provided us a way to be reconciled to Him. If God did not love us so immensely, He would not have sent Jesus. We live in a world that has no love and is hellbent on self-destruction. What’s love got to do with it? Everything.

Romans 13:1-7 — Obedience to authority. Wow, this passage is a tough one. In a day and age where governments seem to be growing more and more hostile to Christian values, this one is a really tough one. What is Paul really saying to us here.

First, I think that Paul is saying that we should not be the origin of disobedience or evil in society. As Christ followers, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard than that of general society. We should obey the laws of our society whenever possible. We should not blatantly disobey laws for our own advantage. For example, we should pay our taxes and be honest in preparing our tax returns of any kind. We should apply Christian principles in our dealings with one another and with our government at whatever level. We should apply God’s law and Christian values in our day to day living and in our dealing with governments. May it never be said of us Christ followers that we are not open, honest, and transparent in our dealings with society at large or with our government. The hallmark of Christian character has to be integrity. Thus, we should not be examples of those who simply disobey the law because it is to our advantage, or that we are lazy, or that we might gain some edge by not obeying the law.

Second, I think it is a call to us to do more than complain about our government. If we as Christians are so dissatisfied with government and its policies, let’s mobilize and elect leaders who have Christian values. Let’s mobilize and run for office at the local, regional, state, and national levels. You see all over Facebook how my fellow Christians and often myself decry the loss of values in our nation. We often decry that our society has gone to crap. We often decry how our elected officials are doing wrong and we act like they were magically appointed over us. We talk about they instead of us. We act has if we had played no part in electing officials. We take this detached view that “they” are taking our rights away, “they” are abridging my freedoms. How did “they” get into this position? They were elected. They were not appointed. We, as in the general populous, elected them. We act like people in Washington are this evil dictatorship, but they were ELECTED by us. It is time for us as Christians to engage our society. We are not giving them any alternatives than dirty rotten scoundrels. We are not running for office. We are just sitting back and complaining and allowing evil to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we don’t take this thing seriously, our rights will be abridged. If we don’t influence government from the inside, how can we sit here and complain about same-sex marriage, about lost freedoms, about the expansion of government into areas not intended by the constitution. If we don’t run for office in droves at all levels, we cannot change the direction of our government. It is not a they thing. It is a lack of options for our voters. Let’s return our government to Christian values by being city councilmen, by being commissioners, by being county councilmen, by being mayor, by being state representatives, by being state senators, by being governor, by being senators, by being president. Let us give the voters alternatives. Without alternatives, voters have a choice between two immoral and non-Christian candidates, what do you think our government is going to look like. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you are going to keep getting what you get. If we as Christians are doing nothing, how do we expect the government to change. We can no longer sit in our ivory towers and decry what is happening to our government. We must do more than sit behind our fences and comment on society. We must get out there an actively change it for the better. Talk. Talk. Talk. It is just that. Action. Action. Action not words!

Finally, if government has gone too far and abuses its power and is oppressive. If it has gone too far and we are not able to change it from within. What then? Do we obey governments when they are killing their own citizens. Do we obey governments when they are imprisoning people for no reason and without trial? Do we hand over sermons to a city government that disagrees with our opposition to their gay agenda? Do we obey that which is blatantly evil. As we see in my writing here, there are progressive levels. We are not to create anarchy ourselves. We should never be the origin of the reasons to disobey government. Next, if we don’t like our government we should change it and influence it from the inside. What if none of that works. What if being Christian involves being imprisoned and persecuted for no other reason than being Christian? What if we find ourselves living under a dictator who is hell bent on raping his country and oppressing his people for his own personal gain and preservation. In these cases, I think Paul expects to hold ourselves to God’s standards in how we act ourselves. I think Paul expects us to measure our governments in this way, too. If governments are disrespecting basic human dignity, disrepecting human rights, treating people as if they are not made in the image of God by treating them like vermin, killing them if they do deny their faith in Jesus Christ, we must oppose governments. We must do so in peaceful ways however. We must be willing to be martyrs for our beliefs. We must not return evil with evil. We must be willing to die rather renounce Jesus. Maybe, through our willingness to die for Jesus’ name brings glory to God and brings change to society. Martin Luther King and Gandhi changed their worlds more with their peaceful protests and principled action that by anything the Black Panthers here or Indian militants there ever did. We stand firm. We help others who are oppressed. We do so through peaceful means. We hold to our Christian values even if it means imprisonment or death. We do not meet violence with violence. We do not initiate violence to get what we want. Jesus changed the entire world without a gun or a spear. That should be how we change society – with the love of Jesus.

Father, help me never to be the origin of evil in my society. Help me to have integrity and display it in everything that I do especially in front of non-believers. May my integrity in a world that is generally without it be a witness to the unsaved as to what Christians are all about. Help me too Father to quit complaining about the direction of my nation’s government at all levels and do something about it from the inside. Further, Father, please help me to never compromise my faith in your Son just to survive. Help me to stand firm in my faith and never cave in before those who would kill me for not renouncing my faith. Help me to hold fast to your Word daily as governments slowly try to chip away at Christian values. Help those who are currently suffering oppressive regimes. Help me to be motivated to help them. It is in the name of your precious Son, Jesus Christ, that I pray this prayer. Amen.

Romans 12:17-21 — Do you remember a movie from 20 years ago called, “The War” (starring Kevin Costner and a young Elijah Wood). It is one of my favorite movies ever. It speaks to our human nature. In that movie, whose setting was the Vietnam War era, kids build a tree house/fort and some other kids try to take it away from them. As the movie progresses, there is an ever-increasing level of violence to the point that on one summer afternoon the hatred of the two groups of kids for one another grows to the point that an all-out war for possession of the fort begins. In the end, the fort is burned to the ground. No one wins. There is nothing left to win.

It is this mentality that pervades our world today. It is to this mentality that Paul speaks through the ages directly to us in today’s verses. These verses summarize the core of Christian living and how it is often times the opposite of our human nature. It is our human nature to pay back evil with more evil. It is our nature to seek revenge for real or perceived wrongs done to us. In this day and age of ever increasing lawsuits, we demand that our rights not be abridged. In this world where we have become a people who says I can do whatever I want and I have inalienable right to do it, Paul speaks to us. Paul’s command sounds almost impossible.

When people hurt you deeply, in our sin nature, we wanna pay ’em back with what they deserve. Paul says to befriend them. Why should we forgive our enemies? C’mon Paul, that sounds so weak. That sounds like we should be doormats and let people just run roughshod over us. Why forgive our enemies? Man, that’s a hard one. My soul screams out for revenge. I want to be satisfied. I want to knock down my enemies and give them the same feeling of hurt and pain that they gave me. Can you feel that anger and pain? Can you feel it? Right now, you are drifting back in memory to a time that someone hurt you deeply. Right now, you may be experiencing that time all over again in your mind. The anger wells up in you and your stomach churns. Your pulse quickens. You mentally think about the revenge that you did take or should have taken. Why Paul? Why? Why do I as a Christ follower have to forgive me enemies?

Forgiveness may break a cycle of retaliation that leads to destruction and bring about reconciliation. It may make your enemy feel ashamed causing a change in the person’s ways. Even if your enemy never repents and forgives you as well, you have relived yourself of a heavy burden of bitterness. When we forgive evil done to you, you quit obsessing about that person. When we forgive, we quit “letting them live rent free in our head.” Lend a helping hand, send a gift, or just smile at them. Right actions often lead us to forgiveness. If we forgive without having the payback we want for revenge, we are extending grace. Remember, grace by theological definition is an undeserved gift. By giving an enemy grace, we are not excusing what they did, we’re not recognizing, forgiving, and loving that person with a love that they do not deserve. Hmmm. Who else did that? Yes, it was Jesus Christ. God loves us despite our rebellion against Him. He loves us so much that He sent His Son to be a sacrifice for the sins that we committed so that we can avoid our proper judgment and be reconciled to Him. It is like a father who loves his teenage son despite the fact that the son blatantly has disdain for him in word and deed. If we have been given grace through Jesus Christ, should we not extend that same grace to our enemies.

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting like the saying says. Forgiveness means remembering what was done but choosing, get that – choosing, to love your offender anyway. We do not have to be gushy friends with those who have hurt us. We do have to extend them grace. They may have their own motivations that we must try to understand. In our understanding, we learn to extend grace. However, it does not mean we have to be best friends. We can learn to respect them again. We can end the cycle of revenge. In my divorce from my first wife, it was the “divorce from hell” where my ex constantly attacked me with intensity for over two years – to the point that she made accusations that prevented me from seeing my children for six months. It was nasty. It was mean. It consumed life and all that was around it. Through it all, I tried to take the high road and not get down in the dirt. Many times, my sin nature got the best of me but I was able to get beyond it. Today, twenty years later, I have forgiven all the mean things that happened. However, we are not friends. I care about what happens to her and can have a civil conversation with her these days when we do in fact talk but I have moved on in life. There is no commonality other than our grown kids now. There is just nothing in common. Just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean that you have to be all up in their lives. Forgiveness is for us not for those we forgive. When we forgive, we give it up to the Lord. He may lead us to re-establish relationship but He may also lead us to just quit letting our enemy consume our mind and heart. When we forgive, He may lead us away to more healthy relationships. He may lead us to change playgrounds and playmates. We can’t have healthy relationships with others when we let our enemies consume our very soul. Our very soul should be consumed with the Holy Spirit not our enemies.

In the end of the movie, “The War”, the fort was destroyed. Nothing was left to win. The only thing, the one and only thing that broke the cycle of ever-escalating violence was when Elijah Wood’s character saved his enemies’ little baby brother from drowning. The war was over then. Although the kids did not become great friends in the end, the war was over. They learned to respect each other. They learned that revenge for revenge leads us to forget what the heck we were fighting for in the first place. Revenge becomes its own god. Revenge destroys our soul. Forgiveness frees us. Regardless of whether we get our payback or not, forgiveness sets us free to remove that idol from our lives. When we are obsessed with revenge, we are making ourselves god. Forgiveness puts God back on the throne. Forgiveness emulates our Father’s forgiveness for us. We have been given grave. Let us extend it to others. It doesn’t mean we have to be their best friend but it does mean that we let go of that obsession, that I idol that we have made of our hatred of that person. It is God’s job to judge. It is not ours. It is our job to extend the same grace that God gave us in Jesus Christ.

Otherwise, the fort is burned. There is nothing left. In “the War” the fort was never rebuilt. Destruction was complete and there was no desire anymore. Love has gained more than war every time. War just leads to more war. Love is a permanent solution. War consumes everything in its path. Love lets things grow. Forgive before the war consumes you. Forgive.

Romans 12:16 — “Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!” There is so much discord in the world, among nations, within nations, and in our homes. Pride can destroy. Harmony and humility go hand in hand.

How do we live in harmony with each other? It requires that we exchange pride for humility. Discord in life comes from competing pride. Your pride vs. my pride. My way vs. your way. In order to live in harmony with one another, I must consider your feelings and desires as equal to mine. You must consider my feelings and desires as equal to yours. That’s easier said than done, Paul! I want what I want and I want it now. I am right and you are wrong. Selfish desires are the American way. Our economy is built on pursuing our own self-interest. The whole theory of capitalism is built on competing self-interest. Adam Smith, the 18th century economist, established this very theory as the basis of capitalism. He stated that competing self-interests would bring prosperity. Competition is the hallmark of our lifestyle. Because of our self-interests, our economy has become the most powerful in the world and any nation that aspires to reach the pinnacle of economic development that we have must unleash capitalistic attitudes. So, Paul’s comments seem completely opposite of human nature. Harmony sounds like communism to us. Paul is not calling us to communism, but he is calling us to humility. We must turn our American dream ideals on their head. The American dream is all about me. It’s a me-me-me mentality. It fits in with our nature. Look out for number one. Have pride in yourself. We pick and choose our friends based on what they can do for us. We discard them when they do not. Paul calls us to humility and to love another. When we have humility, we can see others as just as valuable as we are. That is what God intended for us. We are all created in His image. Each of us has value. Should we not take advantage of the talents that God gave us. Certainly, using the talents that God gave us is why He gave them to us. However, we should not use our talents to crush and destroy others. We should use our talents daily as a way to glorify God and to lift others up rather than destroy them.

How do we enjoy the company of ordinary people? First, we do not consider them ordinary. Jesus demonstrated that everyone has value. He cared for those whom society had discarded. He did not choose who He touched based on what political advantage they could give Him. Same with us. When we serve others less fortunate than us, we should accord them the same dignity as we would folks that could be of great advantage to us. For example, if you serve in a soup kitchen, let us not walk away from it as prideful that we are better than those people. Soup kitchens are filled with people who sometimes by mistakes they have made are there. Sometimes they are there because of no fault of their own. Circumstances beyond their control may have brought them there. Do we serve them to boost our own ego or do we do it because we truly care about them. Are you moved to help them or do you do it to check off a box in your self-image about doing good so others see you doing good. Each of us is a child of God with a right to exist. None of us is better than the other. When we die, they put each of our bodies in a box. You can’t take your social standing into eternity. You can’t take your big fine house into eternity. Rich and poor alike meet death and must deal with the judgment of our maker as to whether we accepted or rejected Jesus Christ. Do you feel uncomfortable with people of less social stature than you? It is all pride and vanity. The bum on the side of the road is just as much a child of God as we are. We do not know everyone’s story from their outward appearances. Each of us no matter their social stature is deserving of our respect and are deserving of God’s love and are deserving of receiving the gospel. Who are we to judge? It takes humility to see others as equals regardless of the trappings of this life. The trappings of this life do not matter in eternity. Help us to be the kind of people that judge others by the content of their character, as Martin Luther King said, not by the color of their skin or any other segregating prideful mechanism we may use. All are welcome in God’s kingdom. The only segregator that God uses on judgment day is whether we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior or not.

How do we go about thinking that we don’t know it all? Humility. Humility. It’s all about humility. When we think we know it all. It is again a matter of pride. When we think we have all the answers, it says that we think we have arrived. We have made ourselves god. Pride is fertile soil for sin. When we think we know it all, we think that everything we do is right. We fall prey to our own pride. We rationalize our behavior away and slowly anything becomes fair game. Sin awaits. Discord awaits. When we realize that we do not know it all is the beginning of humility. When we realize that there are others more talented than us is the beginning of humility. When we realize that we do not have the answers is when God can work on us. When we realize that we have so much to learn is when God can really use us. An humble heart is putty in God’s hands. When we stop trying to rule our own world and tear others down when they expose our weaknesses is when we realize that we are not greater than we are. It is when we realize that we have need of something greater than ourselves. It is when we realize that we will never be God for He is God alone. He is above and beyond us. When we realize that we are not god, God can begin to mold us and use us for the purpose He intended for our lives. For the Christ follower, the most freeing moment in our life history is when we realize that we are not god and that He is. Let go and let God. When we humble ourselves to realize we are not our own god, it is the beginning of humility. When we realize that we are not god, we can see others as just as deserving of God’s grace as we are. When we realize that we are not god, everyone is deserving of love and respect. When we realize that we are sinners and are not perfect, we begin to give others some slack for not being perfect. When we realize that if it were not for the grace of Jesus Christ, we would be destined for hell, it takes our pride away. Humility begins. Love begins. Harmony begins.

Father, thank you for today’s meditation of a single verse of Scripture that says so much. Help me Father to love others because you love them. Help me to seek humility and not pride. Help me to see every fellow human being as deserving of being here. Help me to see everyone as equally deserving of dignity and respect. Help me to see them as your children. Help me to see them as deserving of hearing your gospel. Help me to see every person through the eyes that you see them with. Amen.

Romans 12:15 — This verse sound like a pretty easy prescription for a good and healthy life doesn’t it? “Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.” In actuality, it is a little tougher than it sounds. Can you really dive deep into being joyful for those who are joyful and be mournful with those who mourn?

Rejoice with those who rejoice. Sounds simple enough. If I am married, I should rejoice at weddings. What if though, you’re marriage is falling apart? What if you are going through a divorce that you did not want? Man, rejoicing with your friend who is getting married is hard to do isn’t it? What if you and your wife have been trying to have a baby and you find out that you can’t have children? It is hard to rejoice with your neighbors who are pregnant with their third kid in four years. What if you are a pastor and your church is struggling but yet you see another pastor you know that has a church that seems everything they do just explodes with reaching new people? Can you rejoice with your fellow pastor? What if you are qualified and ready for that promotion but yet your co-worker is chosen over you? Can you rejoice with your co-worker? I could go on and on with this, but I think you are beginning to see the picture of the completeness of Paul’s command. He calls us not to simply rejoice when it is easy for us to rejoice. It is hard for us to rejoice with others when they have obtained something that we want but don’t have. We are called to rejoice and have true joy for others even when it makes us envious of their good fortune. It’s like patting your friend on the back when his favorite team has beaten your favorite team for the national championship. Many of us do not react with genuine joy for the good fortune of others. Many of us try to minimize the successes of others when we do not have that same success. Are you jealous of someone who seems to have it all right now at this moment? Paul calls us to rise above our selfishness and aspire to selflessness. Instead of viewing everything through our own lenses, see life from others’ perspectives.

It’s like FB Meyers story. He was a preacher along the same time as Charles Spurgeon. Meyer was a great preacher in his own right. However, he was just not as gifted a preacher as Spurgeon was. He was jealous of Spurgeon’s success. He watched Spurgeon’s church explode. He went to God in prayer about his jealousy. The result was that he prayed for Spurgeon’s success and that God would bring the overflow to his church. That took humility to swallow his jealousy and pray for the success of his rival. Ultimately, Meyer came to the knowledge that reaching souls for Christ was the bottom line and that each of us may be called to either lesser or greater roles in that. That’s humility. That’s keeping your eye on what’s really important. So, let it be said of us that in our Christian walk that we rejoiced with genuine joy for those who rejoice. Help our reaction to others speak of the joy we have in Christ. A humble heart who knows his value comes from the Lord can speak volumes of who Jesus Christ is.

Mourn with those who mourn. Again, this sounds pretty easy on the surface. Typically, we all can muster up sympathy for others who have suffered a loss. For example, we can typically be there for a family who has had a sudden death in their family. We can be there for the day of the death, the visitation, and the funeral. But can we be there for that family a year from now when they are still suffering from their loss. Can you be there for them later when it really matters. People can be greatly loving temporarily when the lights are bright. But can you be loving to that same family when they seem such a drag a year later. Can you be there for them when there is no advantage to you. Can you be there for them when they seem to be sucking the very life out of you. Can you be there for the friend who is going through an unwanted divorce and is just having great trouble coping with it for months on end? Can we really mourn with those who mourn? Can you hold your friends hand when you don’t have all the right answers or, as a matter of fact, you don’t have any good answers. Mourn for those who mourn. Let us be ones who get down in the mud with those who mourn. Help us to be in their lives when it is not convenient. Help us to be there when they call even when they seem to call too many times. Help us to be there when they call when you feel like screaming at them to get a life. Help us to be there when we don’t have any right answer. Help us to be there when we can’t fix it. Help us to be for the long haul. Help us to not abandon those who mourn because they make us feel uncomfortable. Help us to just be there. What could speak greater of the love of Jesus Christ than for us to truly mourn with those who mourn rather than just mourn for them. What could speak greater of Jesus love than to love those who mourn for weeks, months, years – even when there seems no end in sight. Help us, Lord, to mourn for those who suffer injustice, help us mourn for those who suffer loss, help us mourn for those who are inconvenient to us. Help us to really care and not just care when its comfortable.

Father, in heaven, Jesus said for us to be perfect as you are perfect. We can never be as perfect as you because of our sin nature. It is for that reason that we need Jesus. It is for that reason that we need the Holy Spirit living in us. It is for that reason that we need Your Word. Help us to continue to grow in our walk with you each and every day after salvation. Sometimes the things that you teach us are very hard to do in our selfish nature. Rejoicing and mourning for those who rejoice and those who mourn sounds simple enough. However, it can be truly difficult for us when its not convenient for our view of the world. Help us not to be so self-centered that we cannot rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. Help us to really care about others even when its not convenient or when we do not get anything out of it ourselves. Help us to be humble enough to really care for others in true and meaningful ways that speak volumes about your glory and and your Son. Help us to remember the phrase, What would Jesus do. Amen.

Romans 12:14 — “Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.” Here is an instruction on living the Christ-like walk that is difficult for us to practice with even the closest people in our lives much less a non-believer.

In the book of Acts, we find Stephen, the first Christian martyr, blessing those who had just stoned him to the point of death. How do we do this in our own lives? Proverbs 25:21-22 says, If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you.” This kind of behavior is contrary to our human nature. Our human nature is to lash out at those who are our enemies. Our human nature is to lash out at those who have hurt us. Like a football team that has that killer instinct that grinds their opponents into the ground, we want to completely destroy our opponents. How does God expect us to be this way? It is so hard. I want revenge on those who have hurt me! For example, how does one respond, say, to a spouse that leaves you for another lover. How can I not hate them both and want to punish them for what they did? How can I not hate that person that screws you over at work and seems to have gained great advantage from it? How do you not hate that mean girl at school who has spread vicious rumors about you just because you were beginning to have some popularity? We deal with these types of situations throughout our lives. From kindergarten to the senior center, we have to deal with people who have made us angry, have taken advantage of us, or who were just downright mean to us.

God how do we do this one thing that you expect of us? The first thing is in submission of our will to that of God our Father. If we are truly submitted to Him as we say we are, we must give this up to Him. Let us take our anger out on God. I don’t mean being indignant with God or blaming Him but being like a child with a father. When the world dumps on us as children, we talk with our daddies. We ask him how we should respond. We cry. We vent our anger and frustration. We seek the advise of our dad. When we go to our eternal Father with anger over those who have hurt us, we vent. We cry. We cry out to Him. When we do this, it shows that we do actually believe that our unseen Father in Heaven is really central in our lives. Rather letting our anger fester and boil, we have a honest conversation with our Father. God doesn’t want our formula prayers. He wants to have real conversation with us. He wants us to express our true feelings to Him. When we let our anger rule our response, are we not playing god? We have been offended. We want to use our own power to respond. When we seek God, we are saying to ourselves that God is in charge. He really wants this type of relationship. He wants those real conversations instead of platitudes. He wants to hear when you are “so angry I cannot even see straight.” Be honest with your Father in Heaven. Seek His will. Ask Him how to respond. Ask for His help in controlling your anger.

Pray for those who persecute you!?!? Really? Paul, you have got to be kidding? How can I pray for a man who just stole my promotion from me? How can I pray for a man who just stole my wife? How can I pray for a person who assaulted my child? How can I pray for someone who just murdered someone I love? How can I pray for the drunk driver that just killed my family in a car accident? How can I pray for anyone who has hurt me? This is a tough one. There is a story I found on the internet that goes like this. A man went into the preaching ministry, worked for seven years, then resigned to go back to medical school and become a doctor. He came to the conclusion that “People don’t want spiritual health. They just want to feel good.” He said that after working as a physician for seven years, he again resigned, this time to go back to school and become an attorney. He said, “People don’t want spiritual health. They don’t even want physical health. They just want to get even.” However, when we commit to pray for a person who has hurt us, we don’t like it at first. In the process of praying for a person who has hurt us, we may begin to see them as a human being rather than a demon. We may, through the Holy Spirit’s help, begin to see what that person’s motivations were for hurting us. We may never fully understand nor get to the point that we want to have lunch with them or even get to know them. However, prayer leads us to let go of our anger. Prayer allows us to see that person as one who needs God’s forgiveness of sin just as much as we did and still do.

A lot of times when people hurt us, it is because they want and relish that we will respond in kind. When we seek and plot revenge. Are we not letting that person, as the old saying goes, “live rent free in our head.” Give it up. When we let a person’s actions so consume us, it can lead to their own destruction. Let that not happen to us. A woman who becomes so scornful toward her ex-husband that she becomes so obsessed with destroying him that she loses sight of her life is an example. This could be a husband as well. They get so consumed with destroying their spouse that they lose every friend they ever had, may even lose their children, all to the point that all they can talk about is their ex. They have no life. Is that what we want to be. The best revenge is a good life. The best revenge is rebuilding and moving on. The best revenge is to show them that they did not destroy you. The best revenge is to to pray for them. The natural inclination of everyone is to respond with hate to those who have hurt us. Our greatest witness of what a Christ follower is really like is to respond to hurt with kindness. It ain’t always easy. When our core cries out to strike them down, we must have a renewed mind. When anger is the common answer, we must respond in love. Does this make us doormats? No. We do not respond to others by letting them run over us but we do go against our nature and respond in love not hate. The old saying two wrongs don’t make a right is it. We must seek God first. We must pray for those who have hurt us. We must let the Holy Spirit govern our response.

How can we teach someone about Jesus Christ if we respond in exactly the same manner as an unsaved person? If we respond to the world around us in the same way that they do, how can they see Jesus? If it is our commitment to carry the gospel to the world, the world must see a difference in us? They must see that we are different in a way that they want? Lord, help us all as Christ followers to be in the world but not of it. Our response to hurt is the most telling tale of how we are different than the world. All the theology of Christianity is meaningless if we do not respond to the world any differently than they do. Lord, help me to seek your will always. Even when someone has licked the sugar of my Corn Flakes. Help me to seek your will for my response. Help me to take myself off the throne of my heart. Help me to seek how to glorify you and make Your Son’s name famous rather than to meet my needs for revenge. Help me. Help me. Help me with this one, Lord. Amen and amen. Gotta say amen twice on this one. Lord. So be it and So be it til I believe it.

Roman 12:13 — In these remaining verses of Romans 12, they are a collection of one line encouragements about how we should live and act as Christ followers. Today we look at verse 13, “When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.”

When we think of belly buttons, we think of “innies” and “outies”. This verse is a charge to us about the “innies” and the “outies”. It has two parts. The first part is about inside the church and the second part is about outside the church.

The first sentence tell us that we are to ready to help those of our local fellowship who are in need. We are to be ready to help them. Being an regular attendee at LifeSong or any Christian church is or should be more than sitting in a pew on Sunday. The church that Christ created was to be more than just gathering together on Sunday to hear great music and to hear a great sermon and that be it. We are to get to know each other on a deeper level. We are to connect with each other. We are to get to know each other to the point that we know each others struggles, victories, needs, gifts, you name it. Sure, in a big church that is hard to do. But, that is where small groups are important in a big church. Small groups make a big church small. Small groups are where we learn to be first century church. In small groups, it should be more than just getting together on Sunday or Wednesday or whenever for a couple of hours and that be the extent of it. Paul here calls us to love on the people in our church and specifically in a big church, the people in our small group. We should get to know our small group members beyond the meeting and our meetings should be real and honest. In small group, we should minister to each others needs. We should be the first ones there when crisis happens. We should be the first ones to give comfort. We should be the first ones to love on our fellow members in times of financial, emotional, and spiritual need. My small group that meets at our house has become so special in that regard. We certainly have areas to grow in such as service outside our meetings but as for the rawness, realness, and support that Paul calls us to here is found in our small group. We truly do love one another. We do care and take care of one another. It took a while to get there. But, we all took risks and let these other folks into our lives.

In this first sentence too, we are called to love on people that we don’t know within our church’s fellowship. We have a responsibility not only to our small group but to the larger fellowship of our church as well. When there is a need within our larger fellowship that is made known throughout the congregation, we should respond because it is God’s people. Our LifeSong Cares ministry was created for just that purpose. LifeSong Cares matches needs within our fellowship with those who can meet that need. Even in the absence of the LifeSong Cares ministry, we should care for those within our fellowship without even thinking of whether it’s going to cost me something – time, money, resources. We should be willing to help our fellow Christians at our local fellowship because they have a need. It doesn’t matter whether we know them or not. They are part of our local fellowship of believers. Nuff said! We help them. Father help us to dive deeper into the service of fellow believers within our fellowship.

In this first sentence too, we are called to help all of God’s people even beyond the borders of our local church. We are called to do whatever it takes to help our fellow believers locally, nationally, and internationally. We are all part of one family with many local expressions. You can bring Christians from completely opposite parts of the world and have them with completely different languages and they can communicate one common theme to each other. We serve a mighty God. We are joyous in our salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. We all have that in common around the globe. It is for that reason that when we are called to help fellow Christians in need around the world, we are to respond. We share the same faith. We share Jesus. When we see images of persecution of our fellow Christians around the world, we should not think twice about helping them. We should help them in real ways not just throwing money at them. We should care enough to find out what their real needs are and help them. We should pray mightily for them. We should sometimes be moved to go help them directly. I lift up our fellow brothers and sisters in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, North Korea and China right now. They need us. They need our help. They are not foreigners to us. They are members of the Family. God’s people!

In the final sentence of this verse, Paul calls us to be hospitable. This part of the verse, to me, calls us as Christians to be loving and caring not only to God’s people but to everyone. We are called to give of ourselves to others even if we do not know if they are part of God’s people. So, if the first sentence calls us to love God’s people from our small group to our larger fellowship to all Christians around the globe, then this sentence tells us plainly we are to love those who are strangers to us and those who are strangers to Christ. We should love those who are not Christ followers just as if they were. As we discussed yesterday, the only way to truly love someone is to invest in them, get to know them, taking a risk to let them inside our facade that we present to the world. Love takes being vulnerable. Love takes commitment to stay the course even when exposing our most inner feelings is risky. So, we open our hearts and develop relationships with people outside those who have accepted Christ as their Savior. We are to open our hearts, our homes, our wallets, and ourselves to those who do not know Christ. We get to know them. We meet them where they are at. We meet needs when they have them. In so doing, we soften their hearts toward Christians. We soften their heart toward Christ. Maybe so maybe that they will come to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ themselves. Then they become part of God’s people. They become “innies”. They then love on their small group. They then love on their church. They then love on all Christians around the world. They then love on other non-Christians and they take another to the cross. Rinse. Lather. Repeat. Making outies into innies!