Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Using the unusable

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”1 Corinthians 1.26-31

Way back when I was in school I was subjected to that most miserable and unfair and cruelest experiences. It was the infamous picking of teams. I still get a know in my stomach. I hated it. The only question was whether I would be last picked or the penultimate pick. Actually, I didn't know the word 'penultimate' then so I just hoped I'd be 'next to last.' Next to last wasa great accomplishment for me. 

I don't blame then. I was slow and weak and sickly and unskilled and had/have no athletic skills. If I were picking and I wanted to win I would have picked me last. if ou are going to win you want to pick the best. 

It seems childish, but that principle applies to everyday life today. 

If I were going to build an army to fight a war or put together a team to play a sport I would of course go for the strongest, the fastest, the most well known, and the smartest players. I would pick a team of winners. 

All that makes this passage amazing. God doesn't usually choose the wise and noble and the strong. Instead God chooses the foolish and the weak and the base. It would be like me being chosen first back in those school days. 

God delights in using the most unusable of all. If Gid used the most useable then they would have opportunity to glory in themselves. They could brag about what an amazing job they did. They might even think they could do it all without God's help. 

But God uses normal people like you and me. He is the only one worthy of glory. 

The last phrase quotes from Jeremiah 9. It is a lesson we can all from our inability. 

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

Christ crucified

For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. – 1 Corinthians 1.22-25

To those who have never put their faith in Christ it must seem like one of the most illogical things possible. Paul uses the Jews and the Greeks of his time, but we could use any group of people to illustrate this passage. People like to see something or figure it out. The Jews wanted to see something tangible and the Greeks liked to try and figure it out.  People want the same today.

To the Jews the crucified Christ was a stumbling block. For many of them the one they saw as Messiah had been nailed to the cross as a criminal. To the Greeks this well-spoken Teacher had died and His followers accepted it and made it integral to their teaching. That didn’t make any sense.

But faith overlooks what we see. It is faith in the unseen. Faith overcomes man’s perception of wisdom. Faith leads us to preach Christ crucified because it is the power of God and it is the wisdom of God. God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s greatest wisdom. God weakness is stronger than any of man’s strength.

To those who trust Christ it makes perfect sense – it is all a matter of perspective. 

Monday, 29 July 2013


For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”  Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. – 1 Corinthians 1.18-21

Anyone who sends much time dealing with the world knows that one of the key things many people think about us is that we are just plain foolish.

Think about it for just a second from a human, worldly point of view. The 'all are sinners' part is not to hard. Most thinking people would realise that we all do bad things. In fact, I don't think I have ever met anyone who would dispute that. The 'foolishness' comes in when we make such a big deal about it. The 'foolishness' comes in believing there is a God and that He cares about our sin.

We are foolish for trusting God when we could do it ourselves. We are foolish for trusting a God we can’t see and who often doesn’t do the things the way we think that He should. We are foolish for exercising faith in the unseen. We are foolish for believing that God is the creator and sustained of all that we see. We are foolish for denying that this world and all that is in it just somehow happened without any pattern or design.

We are foolish for thinking that simple faith in Christ is enough to get us to heaven. If there is a heaven and if there is a God surely we would have to do something to earn his favour.

I could of course go on and on. There are a lot of reasons for the world to think that we are fools.

The most foolish think if all is the message that our Saviour humbled Himself went willingly to the cross and shed His blood to atone for our sins.

But to us it is anything but foolish. It is the power of God that brings salvation.

Sure, it is a matter of faith. Maybe some see the very concept of faith as foolish.

But praise God that it is the power of God that brought my salvation. I think I will trust that rather than the ever changing ever adapting wisdom of this world. 

Saturday, 27 July 2013

But to preach

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. – 1 Corinthians 1.17

It is easy for all of us who strive to serve the Lord to get distracted from what we are really supposed to be doing. Now I know I can't take what Paul says here and apply it absolutely. Paul was called to a specific task. All of us who serve here tasks that we are supposed to do, but I thnk we need to remember what Paul said as we do it. 

Paul admits that he may have baptised a couple of people, but he says that wasn't he purpose. His purpose was to preach the gospel. Baptism, and whatever else he might have done, is secondary. 

Like Paule we too have a great commission. Our commission is to preach Jesus. We may use Bible studies or church services or door to door evangelism or sports out reaches or Kids Klub or youth meetings or film nights or whatever else to do that, but preaching the gospel to the lost is still our mission.  We show the love of Christ by caring for the needy and the helpless and meeting their needs. That is well and good and right and biblical, but our purpose is still to preach Christ to the lost. 

Sure, all these things are good and needful, but let us never forget our mission to 'preach the gospel.' 

No division

Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgement  For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you. – 1 Corinthians 1.10-1

There are only a few things that Paul begs, or pleads, or urges, or beseeches believers to do or not to do. He seems to save that for the really, really important stuff.

Here is something he feels really strongly about. He knew from the very start that the one thing that could destroy the church would be division from within.

He doesn't mince words here. He doesn't hold back. He lays it on the line

'I beg you,' Paul writes, 'in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ:'

That you all speak the same thing
That there be no divisions
That you be perfectly joined together
That you be of the same mind
That you be of the same judgement

Paul puts it five different ways, but the issues is the same - we must be unified. We must all be on the same side. The enemy knows the one of the key concepts of battle - divide and conquer. Unity is key. As the old saying goes 'united we stand, divided we fall.'

Jesus prayed for our unity. We have the Lord’s Table to remind us of the importance of unity. The New Testament is packed with instructions about unity.

The key to unity is simple. Each of us should be growing daily to be more like Christ. If each of us are becoming more like Christ it obviously means that we are drawing closer and closer to each other. Paul speaks of this in Philippians where we read ‘let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ.’

Sure, we need to deal with daily squabbles and differences, but our primary goal must be to strive for the mind of Christ because that will always bring us together. 

Friday, 26 July 2013

God is faithful

that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. – 1 Corinthians 1.5-9

Paul begins to address the Corinthians by reminding them of the blessings God has bestowed on them. He reminds them of the spiritual gifts He gave them and that there was not a shortage of spiritual gifts.

He reminds them that we are looking forward to the return of Christ.

Waiting for the Lord can be a challenging thought. After all, how can we live lives that honour Him as we wait for Him to come back? We are, after all, sinners and inclined to sin. If it is up to me than how can I be sure that I will be worthy when he does come back? If it is up to me I will never make it till He is again revealed.

So Paul addresses that. ‘He will confirm you to the end so that you will be blameless in the day of the Lord.’

Christ is the one who establishes us in the faith. In the same way the testimony of Christ was confirmed in us he confirms us in the faith. He has established us as blameless. I can’t keep myself pure, but Christ already has. And though my life might not always be faithful the great blessing is that God is faithful.

I am grateful that God is faithful to keep me, even when I wander. There would be no chance if it were up to me – but there is certainty of my security because He is faithful. 

Thursday, 25 July 2013

A letter to us!

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:  - 1 Corinthians 1.2

A few weeks ago Hannes, a man in our church was sharing at the Table Service. He was pointing out that in several epistles the writer addresses ‘all them who are in Christ Jesus’ or something of the sort. I thought of that when I started the book of 1 Corinthians this morning.

Paul writes to ‘to the church of God which is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ, who are called to be saints’ and then he writes ‘with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, and indeed not only our Lord, but theirs as well.’

I know Paul probably was just trying to show the importance of the universality of the gospel message for the Corinthians and to remind them that they were one with the rest of the body of Christ, but I like the message and I think there may be a hint here for us.

Paul does, after all, say ‘to everyone in every place who calls on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, who is also their Lord.’

‘Everyone in every place.’ Wouldn’t that include those of us who are saved now?

The body of Christ is an amazing thing. We share ‘our Lord Jesus Christ’ with the Corinthian believers and with everyone else who has believed through the centuries.

Praise God that the letter written to Corinth is for us today as well. Praise God that from the very start He was thinking of us. It reminds me of Jesus prayer for the disciples and not for them alone, but for all who believe through their words.

It certainly makes the word of God seem vital to us today! 

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

To God alone

Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith—to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.  – Romans 16.25-27

This is a powerful doxological benediction to an amazing book. The letter to the Romans is packed with the gospel. It discusses man’s sin nature. It talks about the grace of God. He speaks of sanctification. It speaks of God’s sovereignty. It speaks specifically of how one gets saved. It tells us how to deal with leaders. It encourages Christian service. It tells us how to live godly lives and how to deal with each.

And the whole purpose of all that is wrapped up here. ‘To Him…be glory through Jesus Christ forever.’

There is a lot about what God has done here. He is able to establish us. He does that through the gospel and through the preaching of Christ. He has revealed and the fullness of the mystery of the gospel. He has made the Scriptures for all nations to hear. All this is in the remit of our God who is eternal. He did this to bring us into the ‘obedience of the faith.’ And last but not least, He is the only truly wise one.

This God is indeed worthy of glory though Christ. As we will see in a few days in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians God uses people like us because it allows Him to be glorified through His Son.

To Him indeed be the glory! 

Monday, 22 July 2013

Be wise in what is good

For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. – Romans 16.19-20 

In the Internet Age (remember when it was referred to as the 'Information Superhighway'?) we have more information at hand than ever before. The ubiquitous smartphone can give us the answer to any question is seconds. All I have to do is pick up my phone, touch an icon, and say 'Who is the prime minister of Botswana?' and immediately a screen pops up with 'office vacant' and 'President: Ian Khama.' I also learned that the only prime minister of Botswana was Seretse Khama who served from 3/3/65-30/9/66.

Pretty impressive, huh?

So what do with all of that information? What do we pick? What do we learn?

Paul made it pretty simple. With all the options out there we ought to 'be wise in what is good, be simple concerning evil.'

I really like this advice. I may not always heed it, but I like it. There used be a story about how bank tellers are trained to recognise counterfeit notes, not by handling counterfeits, but by handling the real thing. The idea was that if they handled the real thing enough they would recognise the fakes. i don't know if that was true or not, but I still like the principle.

Let's not be so enamoured with knowing all about evil. Let's be concerned with knowing the good. If we are wise enough about the good we will surely recognise the evil. It will be clear because it will not be the good. We will recognise evil when we know the good. It is far to day the worldly wise today. The resources that make information so easily accessible also contain a great about of good at our finger tips.

For example pick up your smart phone and say (or type into your computer) 'What does John 3.16 say?' 

Let's use what we have for good, and maybe be a little more simple when it comes to evil. 

Avoid them

Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.  For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.– Romans 16.17-18

There are not a lot of times that we are told to avoid people. The vast majority of the time we are told to be engaging with people. Living the gospel is all about living and sharing the gospel before everyone.

In 2 John we are told to not receive those who preach a false gospel.

But here there is a very clear warning given. Not those who cause divisions and offences based on false teaching and avoid them.

The words for these folks are pretty harsh. ‘They don’t serve Christ. They serve their own bellies. They use smooth word and flattering speech to deceive the simple.’

In other words we need to be very wary of dividers in the church. We need to be aware of those who have their own agendas. Their agenda is not Christ’s. It is them and their ‘bellies.’ We need to admonish and exhort and all that, but when they refuse to listen we must avoid them.

Their smooth words and their flattering speech are tricky and deceptive. Maybe we consider ourselves not ‘simple’ but I think we need to be very careful about stepping into battle with these folks.

‘Mark those who cause division against the true gospel and avoid them’ is pretty good counsel for God’s people. 

Saturday, 20 July 2013


Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ...Romans 16.5ff

After Paul greeted Priscilla and Aquila Paul said to ‘greet those in the church that meets in their house.’ I am tempted to stop here and just mention that aspect of their ministry, but I will move on.

Paul goes through a list of people that he wanted to greet. I like this. Most of us like to see our names in print, these regular folks were privileged to have the ultimate in having your name in print.

We have Epaenetus, the first person saved in Achaia. We have Mary, a fellow labourer. We read of Adronicus and Junius, from Paul's homeland who had been in jail with him, and a good reputation among the apostles, and had been saved before him. Then there are the beloved Amplias and Persis. we have several called fellow-labourers. We have Rufus, who might have been Paul's brother of half-brother. There are few others named and identified. And then we have several who we only get to read their names.

I am not sure why I like this so much. It is hard to pin down. I guess I just like that people in Rome were just like people in our churches today. We have our Eoin and Mary and Donal and Julia and Hannes and Amanda and Eddie and Ais and Shauna and Caroline and Bridie and Jay and Holly and Danie. These are people just like Epaenatus and Mary and Adrinicus and Jius and Apmlias and Persis. Two thousand years have gone by and the church carries on. Generation aft generation and we are all one in Christ. Every one distinct, every one unique, men and women, and yet all one together. How blessed to share with the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us. 

A serving couple

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. – Romans 16.3-4

Priscilla and Aquila were quite a couple. We see them several times in the Scriptures. They helped Apollos get his spiritual feet on the ground. A local church met in their home. They were part of Paul’s missionary team.  

I have always been interested in the great couple. As far a I know we never read about Priscila without Aquila or vice-versa. It is always Priscilla and Aquila. They sound like the kind of couple I would love to meet.

But here is, well frankly, am awesome statement about them. 'They risked their necks for my life.' It appears that this phrase is an old Greek phrase that meant lay out one’s neck to the executioner. Somewhere along the way, or maybe on a regular basis, Priscilla and Aquila literally risked their lives for Paul.

They must have had a tremendous impact. Paul says that not only he gave thanks, but all the Gentile churches did as well.

There is little as effective as a godly, serving Christian couple. When God draws to together into His service their impact is more than doubled. I can think of several dear godly couples who remind me of Priscilla and Aquila. Their impact on our lives cannot be over emphasised.

May God work in Mary and my lives to make us even a hint of the kind of couple Priscilla and Aquila were. 

Friday, 19 July 2013

Help her

I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also. – Romans 16.1-2

Romans 16 is such a private, loving, and compassionate chapter that we can almost feel a little guilty for peering into such close relationships. The whole chapter is basically Paul mentioning dear friends and associates by name. I always enjoy reading about these individuals by name. It reminds me that these are real people and are really our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Paul starts with 'Phoebe our sister' who he commends to the church in Rome. She was already serving at the church in Cenchrea, which was the port city for Corinth. She had been a faithful servant. The Greek word here is the same one translated as ‘deacon’ in other passages. She was a server and a she had helped Paul and many others in her ministry in Corinth.

So Paul commends Phoebe to the Roman believers. I don’t know if she was there on business or on a visit or to move there.

Either way Paul wanted to be sure that she was looked after. He charged the believers there to look after her and to assist her in ‘whatever business she has need of you.’

I like the personal-ness of this note. I like that we get to meet a sister in Christ from so long ago. I like that she was a server. She may have acted in a deacon-like role to care for the women in the church. I also like the principle that we as Christians need to be watching out for each other.

We ought to always have this attitude of helping in other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Helping goes both ways. More specifically we need to heed the New Testament principle of assisting those who are dedicated to the Lord’s service. 

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Strive together

Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you. Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen. – Romans 15.30-33

We often talk about prayer partners. As a church planter with support from several American churches I would use these words all the time in communicating with them. We are of course grateful for all of our support. We depend on the financial support to get by and it is always a blessing.

But I have to say that I am even more grateful for our prayer support. I am grateful for those who Paul refers to as ‘striving together in prayer for us.’

Paul was going to Jerusalem to help the saints there. He had no idea of course that he was going to be arrested there. After Jerusalem he hoped to sail to Rome and be refreshed with the believers there. He knew it was going to be difficult. He wanted prayer partners. He wanted them to pray for his protection from the unbelievers, and he might bless the believers, and that he could get to Rome. I like that he told them exactly what they needed to pray for.

I also like that he recognised that prayer was more than just to ‘have a little talk with Jesus.’ True prayer is ‘effectual and fervent.’ It is a struggle. It can even be seen as wrestling with God.’

As I look at my prayer I wonder if I qualify as a striver. Is there anything like striving in my prayer life? I know that there have been times, but sadly a lot of time my prayers are no more than the ‘little talk with Jesus’ I mentioned above.

Prayer is serious. It is hard work. It is indeed striving.

Is that how we pray for each other? 

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

It is their duty

But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things. – Romans 15.25-27
Most serious dedicated Christians do a pretty decent job of meeting the spiritual needs of other members of the body. The longer I go though the more amazed I am that I learned so little about the importance of meeting material needs.

Before Paul could go to Rome he needed to go to Jerusalem to take a gift to the poor saints there who were struggling. The churches in Macedonia and Achaia had taken up a collection to send to them to meet their needs.

But there is some background to this. The church as Jerusalem had been responsible for taking the gospel to the Gentiles in Macedonia and Achaia. The Gentile believers felt like the owed them something for the sacrifices they had made in meeting their spiritual needs.

Now the Jerusalem believers had material needs. The Gentile believers had the wherewithal to take care of those material needs so it was their duty to help the Jerusalem saints.

I just love these glimpses at the naturalness of the early churches. The New Testament wasn’t complete. They didn’t have all the fancy buildings or mission programmes or structured giving plans. The simply met each other’s needs be they spiritual or material.

And I think there is a simple example there for us. We need to be aware of needs. We need of course to meet the spiritual needs by sharing the gospel and teaching and edifying. But we cannot neglect the practical side of giving. We have a responsibility there as well.

It is not enough to focus on one or the other. Both are vital. 

Monday, 15 July 2013

Enjoy your company

For this reason I also have been much hindered from coming to you. But now no longer having a place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come to you, whenever I journey to Spain, I shall come to you. For I hope to see you on my journey, and to be helped on my way there by you, if first I may enjoy your company for a while. – Romans 15.22-24

This is such a precious verse. I love the passages that address really human issues like this one.

There is no heavy theology here. There is no deep doctrine. There are no serious spiritual lessons.

There are just the precious word of a Christian longing to spend time with his brothers and sisters in Christ.

For many years Paul has wanted to go to Rome. He has not been able to get there. He planned to make a trip to Spain and stop by and see them. That plan never worked out, but Paul did eventually get there.

I do like his words – he wanted to ‘enjoy their company for a while.’

I just think that is a wonderful sentiment. There is nothing quite like spending time with those we love, especially those we love in the Lord. We had a wonderful time of fellowship and ‘enjoying company’ after church at our barbecue on Sunday.  We spoke of spiritual things of course, but the real joy was just being in each other’s company for a while.

We ought to treasure those times. And we ought to, like Paul, plan those times together.

We are, after all, family. 

Confident about you

Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another. Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God, that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Therefore I have reason to glory in Christ Jesus in the things which pertain to God.  – Romans 15.14-17

Paul is a great teacher and mentor. As he starts to wrap up his letter to the Roman Christians he points out some things he has confidence in and some areas that needed improvement. He is confident in their goodness, their knowledge, and that they are able to admonish each other.

Basically the only serious area that needed addressed was the relationship between Jewish and Gentile believers. That was vital because of Paul’s deep desire to see the Gentiles turn to Christ. That in itself is an amazing example of what salvation does to a man.

But on the good side they were filled with goodness, they were filled with knowledge, and that were able to admonish each other.

And that’s a pretty good list of things to be commended for. I wonder when I look at my life if Paul could commend me for my goodness, for my knowledge, and my ability to admonish others.

It is that last one that interests me today. Why would it be such a big deal to be able to admonish each other? Why would Paul include that here?

The ability to admonish each other is something we don’t think about too much, or at least I don’t. But it is important. It is something we need to be able to do. We owe it to each other. True love sometimes includes admonishment.

If I am doing wrong, or responding wrongly, or headed in the wrong direction someone who loves me should always step in to help. It must never be in a harsh, condemning manner with a critical spirit, but always done in love and compassion. Goodness and knowledge are prerequisites for admonishing. While it is good to admonish in the right way, it is foolish to go off without a good spirit and a proper knowledge of the situation. When that happens we become destructive.

Goodness, proper knowledge, and the ability to biblically admonish are vital to the health of a church and its people. May God give us such abilities and the wisdom to carry them out. 

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Abounding in hope

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15.13

I like reading about hope. Sometimes things really seem a bit hope-less so I like to be reminded that there is hope, real hope, hope that really works, and hope the really matters.

I think I am going to develop a sermon on this verse. It says a lot about hope all packed in just a few words. Here's my rough idea for an outline.

The source of hope - The God of hope
The content of hope - Joy and peace
The access to hope - By believing
The result of hope - Abounding
The power of hope - The Holy Spirit

When I read this I am glad that God calls Himself the very God of hope
I am grateful that true hope brings joy and peace.
I am glad that all I have to do to access that hope is to believe.
I am encouraged that my hope is constantly empowered by the Holy Spirit.

But wait, I forgot one. I am glad for the word 'abound.' I am glad that I don't just get a little hope or even enough hope. I am glad that my hope is more than sufficient. It is overflowing. It is hope with left-over hope. It is 'super abounding hope.'

Praise God for super abounding hope in these dark and troublesome days.

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' bold and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest from, but wholly lean on Jesus' name.

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sad. 

Receive each other

Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, - Romans 15.7-8

 People tend to be pretty clan minded. We see that all through history. We are most comfortable with our own. We tend to stick together with those who are like us. Sociologists would call this our ‘herd instinct.’ Whatever it is we like to be with those like us.

Sadly this aspect of man is not dismissed just because we are Christians. The problem goes back to the very start. This whole section we have been looking at was written to deal with the split between Jewish and Gentile believers. Humanly speaking it threatened to destroy the church before it even started.

Sadly we are not exempt from that. We still like people who act like us, dress like us, fly our same flag, sing our same songs, have our same preferences, act like us, etc. These things, even if is subtle, can be cause division, or at least ‘stand-off-ish-ness’ and make those who are different feel ostracised.

But Paul tells us how to treat those who are different in appearance, ideas, thoughts, or practice than we are – ‘receive them like Jesus received us.’

There is not a whole lot more to say on the topic, is there. ‘Receive each other, despite your supposed differences, like Jesus received us.’

‘Nuff said. 

Friday, 12 July 2013

A Very Precious Personal Verse

Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Romans 15.5-6

This verse will always be special to me. More than thirty-five years in the autumn and winter of 1977 Mary and I were planning our wedding. How wedding was nothing fancy, any photos we showed you would prove that. We were several hundred miles from her mom and dad, and neither we nor our families had much money, so we all did what we could to make some nice memories.

One thing we wanted to do was to pick a Bible verse that would set the tone for our home. Our goal was to choose a verse that would set the tone for our home and whatever God sent our way. On my desk is the Bible that we marked and used for a photograph. Our hands frame the verse we chose: Romans 15.6 – ‘That ye may with one mind and mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

That has been a great reminder through the years and it suits a marriage well. Two people, from different backgrounds, with different personalities, preferences, ideas, quirks and all come together to be one. As one we seek to no longer prioritise those things as we seek to with one heart and one voice glorify our God.

The same is true for the body of Christ and that is what Paul is addressing here. As we have seen over the last few days we have a responsibility to lay aside those same backgrounds and personalities and preferences and ideas and quirks and all to come together as one body.  We agree to no longer dwell on those things but to act as one body as we strive to, with one mind and one voice glorify our God.

That doesn’t mean that we all become alike. We are still ‘me’ just as we are as a married couple still are still individuals. It’s just that the ‘me’ takes second place to ‘we’ and we seek to serve out Lord as one. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

That we might have hope

For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. – Romans 15.4

From the very beginning of written history man has looked to books and other sources to find instruction, direction, and hope.

Mankind continues in that same vein today. People look everywhere for a reason to hope in what is a seemingly hopeless world. Far too often hopelessness wins out and people just give up on life. They never do find the answer so they live in misery, or choose a tragic option.

But the Bible claims that there is a source for hope. ‘That the patience and comfort of the scriptures we might have hope.’

There really is hope. It doesn’t come though wealth or resources or position or any man made philosophy. Hope comes only through the study of God word, waiting on God, and finding comfort to carry on.

The problem with hope is that people are looking in all the wrong places to find it.

Stop pleasing self

We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me." – Romans 15.1-3

Most of us have no problem pleasing ourselves. I mean NO problem. It has been hot here for a few days, very hot for Ireland. We have bordered on 30C and may well break that in next few days. I had a great example of self-pleasing last night. Mary made me a root beer float. I took great pleasure in that. At work yesterday I had ribs. That pleased me too.

Now those are innocent examples of pleasing self, but they are examples of how much we like to take care of us.

Sometimes it can be much more serious.

Sometimes we can please ourselves at the expense of bearing with the struggles others are having. Doing what we have the liberty to do can take precedence over helping others with their weakness.

Obviously, none of us have it all figured out so there is no reason for arrogance. We can never have the attitude that ‘I could do this or that if I wanted to, but I will not do it because you are a weaker brother and it will offend you.’ Hopefully none of us would ever say that, but we all known we can show the same through a look or a tone of voice or our body language.

The more we look at this the more we see that it is not just about us and our liberty. Surely, we cannot let galatianism restrict our liberty in Christ. But we also need to be sure we use our liberty to love each other. 

Monday, 8 July 2013

Things to Pursue

Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.  – Romans 14.19-23

So far the teaching has been pretty negative. So far it has basically been a list of vital 'don't's.

But here Paul changes tone slightly - 'let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things that edify each other.'

I really like this. I like it because it speaks of an attitude.

There is never any indication anywhere here that we are ever to compromise the truth. There is never any idea that we should cooperate with error. However, we also ought be out looking for a fight.

Instead we ought to be out looking for a way to make peace. We ought to be looking for chances to edify and build each other up.

Can you imagine what the church would be like if we were all looking for ways to make peace and we were all seeking chances to build each other up? Instead there are times when we treat each other worse than we treat those outside the body.

Maybe we should all set a goal for today to chase after a chance to bring peace and pursue a chance to edify another believer. Who knows what God might accomplish through us. 

The kingdom of heaven is not about…

I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. – Romans 14.14-18

We often get confused with what the kingdom of God is all about. We might think it is all about the externals. Some groups think that if we set up enough rules and regulations and standards about what we can eat or drink or wear or watch or listen to or where we can go or whatever we are spiritual. Then, if we hold others to our rules, that must surely be helping them to grow.

However, I think there is more to the stumbling block than just doing something to offend. I think we can create a stumbling block by creating theses unnecessary complications. We make up rules and when people can't meet them they just give up and say 'what's the use?'

That kind of emphasis can, and often is destructive.

That’s why we read ‘but the kingdom of God is not about eating or drinking (or any other kind of abiblical man imposed externals).

The kingdom of God is about righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Why then do we tend to focus so much on the externals? Why do we focus on what people eat or drink or wear or where the go or not go or anything else like that?

At the root of it all I think that happens when we don’t think the word of God is sufficient. We know how people should live and if the Bible doesn’t make it clear enough we’ll just tell them how to live.

And we cause them to stumble.

Oh that I could be the acceptable servant that seeks righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Lord, remind me of the right focus so I never cause my brother to stumble. 

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Judge this

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; - Romans 14.13-16
So Paul continues in the same vein of thought. Lets stop being so concerned about judging each other. But if have to judge something, lets judge that we will never put a stumbling block in the path of another.

I like the way the KJV translates this. The translators used the same English word used to translate the same Greek word when it said to stop judging each other, but instead to judge ourselves to stop being a stumbling block.

In other words, instead of judging each other we need to judge our own actions in dealing with others. And we need to make sure that we don't cause them to stumble in their Christian walk.

That is powerful statements. We can have all the personal preferences we want. We can make our choices on the non-essentials. But one thing we don't have, we don't have the right to use our preferences to cause someone to stumble.

I need to be sure to examine what I do to make sure that it does not. If I grieve him by insisting on my way I am not acting in love. I should never destroy my brother because of something silly. Because when I do, the good thing I think I am doing becomes evil.

God give us the wisdom the avoid the stumbling blocks that might destroy another. 

Give an account

For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ. For it is written: "As I live say the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God." So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. – Romans 14.9-12

Have you even met a Christian who felt like it was their responsibility to keep account of everyone’s spiritual state for them? You know the kind of person I am talking about. Its guy who thinks his middle name is ‘Holy Spirit.’

Or, maybe, we have found ourselves in the same position.

Paul writes here about this very matter. ‘Why do you judge your brother? Why do you show contempt for your brother? Don’t you know that we all going to appear before the judgement seat of Christ and bow our knees to Him and confess our own sins?

Each of us is going to give an account of ourselves.

I am not sure how all of this is going to work out, but I do know one thing for certain.

I don’t need to worry about anyone else. Unless my brother is in open sin what he chooses to do or not to do is not really something I have to worry about giving an account for.

To be honest, I ought to be glad of that.

I know that I, for one, have a hard enough time with me to worry about anyone else’s petty stuff. 

Friday, 5 July 2013

We are the Lord's

For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. – Romans 14.7-8

One of the themes that runs throughout the scriptures is the idea that others are more important than we are. Our thoughts should be more about them than us. That teaching is key in applying the scriptures in this whole section of Romans. 

When we quibble about the little stuff it is because we think that our way has to be the right way. I have a iPhone so everyone should like my phone best. I celebrate Christmas so everyone should. I eat black pudding to everyone should think it is okay. I use this or that translation so everyone should. 

We only do that because we need to feel assured that we are right, but as we saw yesterday we need to be fully convinced in our own mind, not because of what others think. 

And today we find out why we don't sweat the small stuff and we allow others to do things there way. 

We don't live for ourselves. We don't die to ourselves. Whether we live or die it is the Lord's because we are the Lord's. we are not our own. We are bought with a price. 

Therefore what we do we do for the Lord. It doesn't have to be my way, it has to be His way. 

Just think of the problems it would solve if we took that perspective into every discussion. 

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Fully Convinced

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. – Romans 14.5-6

Paul continues on with his discourse on how important it is that we get along together. We could pretty much summarise this with ‘don’t sweat the small stuff.’

The truth is that some folks choose to recognise certain days, others do not. Some folks choose not to eat certain foods, other think there is nothing wrong with those foods. Sadly, for some people, that is enough to break fellowship.

I guess I can see this. We all like to be ‘right.’ People fight over whether the iPhone, an Android phone, or a Windows phone is best. I have seen really ugly arguments over this very topic. I fortunately know the truth.  ‘If you don’t have an iPhone, well, you don’t have a iPhone.’ (Uh, kidding to make a point here.)  

We expect that out of the world. It becomes sad when it comes to the church.

We fight over stuff that is just as stupid as we mentioned yesterday.

But God’s word has a solution.

We obviously can’t choose to be unbiblical. There are certain things on which the word of God is clear.

But on the others non-essentials the directions are clear. We examine scripture and we pray for direction. Then, if we can do it for the glory of God and thank Him then we are free to make our choice and be fully persuaded in our own minds that it is right.

That’s kind of liberating. I don’t have to worry about my brother’s choices on abiblical issues. I have to worry about how he celebrates certain days or the foods he eats. If we are truly seeking to do it for the Lord He will show us through His word if we are wrong.

It’s all about attitude, loving each other, and honouring our Lord. 

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Doubtful disputations

Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. – Romans 14.1-3

Jesus said that when He established the church the very gates of hell wild not prevail against. I am so grateful for that promise. The devil can't win. Hell is powerless.

But I wonder sometimes about another problem. I have to wonder sometimes if we can survive each other.

I never ceased to be amazed at the petty things we fight over. I finally quit posting on a Baptist internet discussion board because of the bitterness, hatred, and vitriol expressed by supposed brothers and sisters in Christ.

And it really is stupid stuff. Should we do this and should we not do that? Should we go here and should we go there? Should we wear this and should we wear that?

The King James translators used a great English phrase for these things. They called them ‘doubtful disputations.’ I think that captures the sense. There is no need for us to dispute over topics that are doubtful. These are areas where the scriptures are not clear.

We fight over everything. The world looks at us and laughs. I remember a public rally against a Christian university because of their ‘liberal view’ in Bible translations. This wasn’t sponsored by the Westboro cult. It was a real group who expected to be taken seriously. Churches split and enemies are made over topics like that and others.

We fight over whether or not we are lapsarian or not and if we are what kind of lapsarian we ought to be. We fight over the ancient topic of sovereignty and grace.

We fight. 

The gates of hell don’t need to prevail against God’s church – we are doing a pretty good of prevailing against ourselves. 

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Make no provision

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. – Romans 13.14

For most of us ‘making provision for the flesh’ is the most natural thing. We think all the time about providing for the flesh. We focus on what we are going to eat, what we are going to drink, and what we are going to wear.’ These things consume us. Jesus tells us not to even worry or fret about that kind of provision – but these words don’t even address that. The words address a more wicked and insidious kind of provision for our flesh.

Paul is writing about making provision to fulfil the lusts of the flesh. This is such a powerful warning. It is one we ignore at our own peril. It is something we do without thinking all the time.

How do we do this?

We do it when we fill our minds with all the rubbish of the world. It is something that has always troubled man, but today the rubbish is more accessible than it has ever been. We are all just a click or two away from all the worst flesh feeding rubbish imaginable. Anything we want is there and is as close as the phones in our pockets.

And far too often we knowingly feed our flesh. Instead of starving it we allow it to get fat and sassy. And we wonder why we have such a battle.

We are not only to avoid sin – we are to avoid even making allowance for it.

We need to wake up folks – the night is far spent, the time is now.

It’s time to quit playing our stupid games and get serious. 

Monday, 1 July 2013

Walk properly

Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. – Romans 13.13

The instructions continue on how we are to walk and what we are to do once we finally wake up.  

They are a lot of places in the New Testament where we are told how to walk. Here we are simply told to ‘walk properly.’

And by properly Paul meant:

Not furtively, but openly
Not in partying
Not in drunkenness
Not in lewdness
Not in lust
Not in strife
Not in envy

What I find really sad is that he even has to say that to believers.

But he does have to say it. Why, I wonder?

Part of the problem with being lulled to sleep by the world is that we get comfortable there. You know how you feel some mornings when your bed just doesn’t want to let you go? Well that’s how the world can be for us. We find our comfort there and before we know it is part of our lives.

I don’t think that list needs a lot of explanation. If we look at it honestly we know whether or not we are walking properly.

It really is time for us to wake up and smell the roses folks. This is serious. It is time to stop playing games. The day is coming when it very well be a case of life or death. We need to know what we are going to do and start doing it now.