Kairos Prison Ministry opportunity

Hey Houston-area people who have thought about doing a Kairos Prison Ministry weekend: Now’s your chance!  We need 25 more people for the October 8-10 weekend or it will have to be canceled.

Here’s portions of a note from the leader with some details.  Contact me if you want to know more.  These weekends take some prep time but are very productive and rewarding.  It is one of my favorite ministries.  I’ll be working it.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

God’s Grace and Peace to all Friends of the Carol Vance Kairos community!

Carol Vance Kairos Weekend #42 is scheduled for October 8-10, 2010 at the Carol Vance Prison Unit in Richmond, TX and this is your invitation to participate in this special ministry.

The mission of Kairos Prison Ministry International is to bring Christ’s love and forgiveness to all incarcerated individuals, their families, and those who work with them, and to assist the incarcerated in the transition to becoming productive citizens.  Those who participated on the team and attended the closing of CVK # 41 Sunday were able to witness God at work and to see the spiritual transformation that takes place in these men as they experience a Kairos Weekend.

Please give prayerful consideration to joining our Kairos # 42 volunteer team. This ministry does not require any special gifts.  Just come with a servant’s heart, knowing that Jesus Christ is in charge and that we are there as his hands and feet to show his grace, mercy, and love to those often forgotten by the outside world.

A Kairos Application Form is attached and should be completed by all volunteers (including veterans).  Please turn this form in to me at the first team meeting.  Before that, I would appreciate an email as well so that I can start planning team positions and family groups.

The first team meeting is scheduled for Saturday August 7, 2010 at a location yet to be announced.  A reminder notice, map, and meeting agenda will be emailed prior to this meeting.  We will provide coffee, juice, and a continental breakfast from 8:00am – 8:30am.  The meeting will start promptly at 8:30am and should be over by 2:00pm.  A light lunch will also be served.

There will be three additional team meetings prior to the Kairos # 42 Weekend plus an Instructional Reunion Meeting at Carol Vance on Saturday October 16, 2010.  Dates for all meetings are included on the attached Kairos Application Form and the locations will be provided as soon as they are available.  Please mark these dates on your calendars.  Your attendance is needed for all team meetings (veterans – we rely on you sharing your experiences with new members) so that we can bond and grow spiritually as a team before we enter the unit.

Kairos is a continuing ministry.  The first Saturday of every month we return to the Carol Vance Unit from 9am – 11am for a “reunion” with all men in white who have previously participated in Kairos for prayer and share.  We also do a lot of singing and laughing at these reunions.  Again, as a Kairos volunteer, your regular attendance is appreciated for these Saturday reunions.

Kenya mission trip pictures / highlights

This is a looong post – actually a bunch of posts in one — but please take time to check it out plus the links.  We had an amazing mission trip to Kenya with a group from our church.  It was my 4th trip but definitely the best because my wife joined me this time.  She was amazing – diving into everything with energy and grace even though the whole enterprise was way out of her comfort zone.

Click the links to see many more pictures.

1. Church / school in Kawangware slum – One of our projects was helping a little on the church building and doing two sessions of Vacation Bible School for the kids at the school. I was playing guitar for the VBS sessions so I don’t have pictures of that, but I’ll post pictures when I get them from others. The kids seemed to have a great time singing, dancing and playing.

This church and school is truly a beacon of light in a dark place. Worshiping with them was one of the seemingly endless highlights of the trip.

A little more background on the slum here.

2. When giraffes attack! — A visit to the giraffe park was fun. We went on the first day in Kenya as we acclimated to the time changes and such.

3. Maua Methodist Hospital – we did daily devotionals with them and various projects.

We did some painting at the hospital to help them maintain certifications that keep their reimbursements up and did some mortar work at a building they’ll use for visiting missionary doctors.

The hospital does amazing work for the community, offering low cost medical services. They save many lives. They have outstanding community programs to help AIDS orphans and to help them go to school and develop skills to support their families (sort of like a “Junior Achievement meets Jesus” program).

No, you would not want to stay there yourself, but for them it is invaluable.

Somehow I didn’t get many pictures of tea time, a nice and tasty tradition they have there.

4. Safari — We spent a couple days on safari at the end of the trip enjoying some of God’s amazing creation.

5. The Proclaimer – getting the word of God out to those who don’t read.  This is one of my favorite parts of the trip. Faith Comes By Hearing translates the Bible into dozens of languages. You can download New Testament versions for free. They give away these “Proclaimer” devices so that illiterate people can hear the word of God in their languages. As noted at the bottom, these can be AC or solar powered so they can be used over and over almost anywhere.

This picture is of Reverend Alice, the hospital chaplain, explaining it to a group of patients and their children. She plans to play the Bible in Kiswahili for them regularly and to set it outside for when the patients go in the sun to warm up. She will also take it to remote locations so they can hear the word. I hope we can take more the next time.

I’m a firm believer in Isaiah 55:10-11

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

From their website:

How does the Proclaimer work? An installed microchip contains Scriptures in the heart language; the chip will not erase or wear out from frequent playing.

The battery will play for 15 hours and can be recharged enough times to play the entire New Testament more than 1,000 times.

The Proclaimer has a built-in generator and solar panel to charge the battery.

The solar panel, in addition to charging the battery, will run the Proclaimer even without battery power as long as there is sunlight.

The sound is digital quality and loud enough to be heard clearly by groups as large as 300.

The Proclaimer was developed primarily as a playback device for poor and illiterate people who may not have any other source to hear God’s Word. Our goal is to use the Proclaimer in the majority of our FCBH programs worldwide.

Very few of these people read, but now they can hear the transforming and powerful word of God. I never get tired of that.

6. AIDS Orphan Homes

The local church and hospital does a great job of identifying the poorest of the poor. Some children have lost their parents and live in stick / mud huts, while others may have one living parent or a neighborhood person who takes care of them.

Local workers do the foundation and the heavy stuff and we help out with painting, hammering and such.

In this case, the father died of AIDS and the mother and youngest child are probably HIV positive. She has resisted testing because of the stigma but it appears that they finally convinced her to get help. The anti-retrovirals have been very successful at preventing deaths and more orphans.

$2,000 builds a home to keep them safe and warm. It does amazing things for their self-worth and gives them a place to study once they are in school.

The hospital program and church stays engaged and follows up with them.

The purpose of the AIDS Orphans’ Project is to provide food, schooling, medical care and improved housing for AIDS orphans and to train their guardians in caring for these children. This project was established in response to the needs of the increasing numbers of AIDS orphans within the region that the hospital serves. Maua Methodist Hospital serves a district of 600,000 people as their only full service hospital. The AIDS orphan children are in desperate circumstances. The hospital is reaching out to them to share the Love of Jesus Christ by helping to care for their basic needs, and by giving hope for a better life.

7. Miscellaneous – travel and such.

8. World Vision sponsor child visit — These are from our visit with Dennis, our World Vision sponsor child since 1998, and his family.  I’m so glad that my wife finally got to meet them.  After all these years and multiple visits they are like family.

Dennis is roughly my oldest daughter’s age.  He is working on a 2 yr. journalism degree at college.  We are very proud of how hard he works.  He is a very humble and godly young man.  He knows his theology well (on my last visit he showed me how he got a 67 out of 70 on a test — not sure I could do that!).  I’ve been praying since he was 6 that God was use him in a big way and that prayer has been continually answered.

Our friends from World Vision, Peterson and Martin, hosted us for most of the day.  They do great work there and are very accountable with all they do.

9. Miscellaneous — shots from Vacation Bible School, the AIDS Orphan home dedication and more.

Digg This

Romans 16

rom-16.jpgGreetings!

Paul ends his powerful and thorough masterpiece with greetings to many friends and co-workers in the Lord.

Personal Greetings

16 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. 2 I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.

3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. 4 They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.

5 Greet also the church that meets at their house.

I know we need well-educated leaders, but I often wonder what would happen if we had more house churches in the U.S.  We need an authority structure but the bureaucracy and seemingly inevitable bad teaching that comes from larger organizations is disappointing.

Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.

6 Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

8 Greet Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.

10 Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ.

Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus.

11 Greet Herodion, my relative.

Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.

12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord.

Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.

13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.

14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers with them.

15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them.

16 Greet one another with a holy kiss.

All the churches of Christ send greetings.

Consider how many women Paul greeted and how he acknowledged their hard work in the Lord.  He is falsely considered a chauvinist but if you study all of what he said and the context of the culture in which he said it, Paul is quite the feminist (in the good sense).

17 I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. 19 Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.

20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

21 Timothy, my fellow worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my relatives.

22 I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.

23 Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings.

Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings.

Paul wrote this from Corinth.  Archaeologists found a block of stone that may refer to this man.  It said, “Erastus, commissioner of public works, bore the expense of this pavement.”

25 Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Note how Paul desired that all nations would believe in and obey Jesus and that God is the only wise God.  There is a good reason you’ll rarely, if ever, hear false Christian teachers preach from Romans.

What parts of this chapter stood out to you and why?

Pro-lifers don’t care about kids after they are born?

Jill Stanek, pro-lifer extraordinaire, posed this Weekend question: Are pro-lifers going to adopt all the unwanted babies? As I noted in the comments section there, I love that question.  We should welcome this objection by pro-legalized abortionists. It lets us explain the underlying fallacy of their question and how they never apply it in situations outside the womb, how pro-lifers do a lot to help before and after delivery, and how the same obligation of caring falls on them.

They may not convert but any objective middle-grounder will see the merits.  Here’s a post I wrote a couple of years back that explains it.

—–

baby1.jpgOne of the most common sound bites / jokes that pro-choicers make about pro-lifers is that we are infatuated with the fetus but don’t care about kids after they are born.   The message is that if we don’t adopt all unwanted children then we have no right to complain about abortion.  It is an important sound bite to be able to address, because it is very common and even pro-lifers I know are not only intimidated by it but they have used it themselves as a reason to remain silent about abortion.

The “Pro-lifers don’t care about kids after they are born” line is one of my favorite arguments to rebut.  I teach people how to do it in pro-life training sessions in a two-step approach.  The tone of the conversation is important.  These arguments are powerful and quite effective if they are laid out in a calm, reasoned approach.  You probably won’t convert the rabid pro-choicers, but most of the middle-grounders will get the point.

First, show that pointing out a moral wrong does not obligate you to take responsibility for the situation.

If your neighbor is beating his wife, you call the police.  The police don’t say, “Hey, buddy, unless you are willing to marry her yourself then we aren’t going to stop him from beating her.”  You can use child or animal abuse as examples as well.  Most people get the point pretty quickly.

Or ask the pro-choicer what they would do if the government decided to reduce the number of homeless people by killing them.  Could he protest that without having to house and feed them all himself?

You can also use the “trot out the toddler” approach promoted by Stand to Reason and ask if it would be acceptable to object to murdering a toddler even if you aren’t willing to adopt her.  Of course, the pro-choicer will always recognize the moral good to protest toddler-killing.  Then you can point out that killing innocent human beings is immoral and that the unborn are human beings.  So pointing out this moral wrong does not obligate us to do anything further.

Second, explain that while we aren’t morally obligated to help after the babies are born to be able to speak out against abortion, Christians do many things with their time and money anyway – orphanages, Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), food pantries, etc.

When I’m teaching CPC volunteers I remind them of all that they and the center do: Pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, food, clothes, diapers, life skill training, parenting training, post-abortion counseling and more – all for free!  And, of course, we share the Gospel with the clients if they are interested (Saving lives now and for eternity!).

The workers are mostly volunteers and the leaders make below-market wages because they believe in the cause.  Most centers receive no government funding, so all the money comes from donations.  There are far more Crisis Pregnancy Centers than there are abortion clinics.

When I tell people about CPCs the typical reaction is, “I had no idea.”  Most people aren’t aware of all the good being done there.  In theory, CPCs are something pro-choicers could support as well.  After all, if women choose to keep their child this is a great way to help them.  But Planned Parenthood et al consider them public enemy #1 because we take away some of their business.

You can also ask pro-choicers what Planned Parenthood and the like do for hurting women once the babies are born.  It is a really, really short list.  Do they provide free post-abortion counseling? (Of course not, because who would need that, right?)  Do they give diapers, formula, etc.?  Hey, they don’t even give free abortions (though they would love for your tax dollars to fund some).

Having said all that, I do think the church can and should be doing even more in the area of adoptions and support for orphans.  Not because having pro-life views requires that, but because it is the right thing to do regardless of whether abortion is legal or illegal.  Sponsoring a child from World Vision or a similar organization is a great way to start: For only $28 per month you can feed, clothe, educate and correspond with a needy child.

Here’s a bonus argument: A recent Stand to Reason Podcast brought up another good point that I hadn’t thought of.  Here’s an additional response to use: Unless someone concedes to being truly pro-abortion (i.e., they expect women to always have abortions or raise the children with no help from the public), then the pro-choicers are obligated to adopt the children as well.  Either that, or give up espousing their pro-choice views.  After all, if you claim to be pro-choice and the women choose life, then the same care giving obligation falls on you.

Think about it.  It may seem subtle at first, but it is a completely consistent argument.  Pro-lifers don’t think it should be an option to kill the unborn, so pro-choicers use the false logic that we can’t complain about abortion if we won’t adopt all the kids and raise them to adulthood.  But if the woman decides to choose life, then the pro-choicer would have the same moral obligation to raise the kids.

Here’s how I played this out in this comment thread:

Pro-legalized abortion commenter: Hard decisions belong between a pregnant woman and her caregivers, not “holier than thou” intruders, unless they personally are willing to raise, including medical care, education, and life care, all those fertilized eggs.

My response: Another canard.

Answer me this: Let’s say the government decides to solve the problem of homelessness by killing homeless people. Can you protest this without being willing to house them yourself?

You can also substitute other examples (Can you call the police if your neighbor is abusing his wife and children without having to marry her and adopt the kids?).

It is a simple question designed to point out the primary error of your argument: You don’t have to take ownership of a situation just because you protest a moral evil.

And even though I don’t have to raise those human beings (the ones you like to call fertilized eggs) just because I protest the evil of abortion, I actually do a lot with my own time and money via CareNet Pregnancy Center.

And by the way, unless you are truly pro-abortion, then you are obligated to help as well. After all, if you claim to be pro-choice and the women choose life, then the same care giving obligation falls on you.

So that argument self-destructs in at least three ways.

Finally, consider if the child was outside the womb. Do the women and her caregivers get to decide if the toddler lives or dies? Of course not. So the only question is whether the unborn is a human being. Since it is a scientific fact that she is, then people shouldn’t get to decide whether to kill her. And Christians especially shouldn’t support anyone’s right to kill her.

Other commenter: BTW, half of fertilized eggs don’t implant in the uterus, so is it illegal for a woman to have mensus?

My response: Are you seriously claiming that you don’t see the difference between the following?

1. Human being dies of natural causes.

2. Human being is crushed and dismembered by another human being.

I think most people can see the difference, whether 1 and 2 occur inside or outside the womb.

I’ve heard all the pro-legalized abortion sound bites many times and will be glad to debunk more for you. I hope that you are intellectually honest and reconsider your position on this crucial issue.

In summary, pointing out the moral evil of abortion does not obligate one to adopt all the babies.  But pro-lifers do help anyway.  A lot.  And they do it with their own time and money, not their neighbors’.

When pro-legalized abortion people try to put you on the defensive by asking how many kids you have adopted, use the reasons above to respond.  Also, you can ask how many they adopt from orphages.   If they haven’t adopted any, then according to their logic they couldn’t protest their destruction.

Big hat tip: Stand to Reason pro-life training materials

Romans 15

Greetings!

15 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Paul affirms the value of the Old Testament teachings, just as Jesus did.

It is never fun to be insulted for being Christians, but we need to remember who is really being insulted: Jesus.

5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is one of the great disappointments with U.S. churches today – the lack of unity.  Sadly, some churches put unity over doctrine.  That is not a Biblical theme.  But we should aim at unity on the essentials.  The lack of church discipline has caused much of the problem.  We didn’t weed out enough false teachers when we had the chance.  Now they are in leadership positions in many denominations.

7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs 9 so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.”

10 Again, it says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples.”

12 And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul quotes several Old Testament passages that the Jews may have overlooked.  God set them apart, but not because of anything special they had done to deserve it.  In fact, He did it in spite of things they did.  But they were meant to be a light to all the nations.  They were blessed to be a blessing to others.

V. 13 is a great one to memorize.  How often do I overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit?  Sometimes, but not as much as I would like.

Paul the Minister to the Gentiles

14 I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. 15 I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

17 Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. 18 I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— 19 by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 20 It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. 21 Rather, as it is written:

“Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”

22 This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.

Paul wanted to meet the Romans in person, but he was detained for a time to share the Gospel with those who hadn’t heard it.

Paul’s Plan to Visit Rome

23 But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you, 24 I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. 25 Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. 28 So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this fruit, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. 29 I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.

It is unclear whether Paul made it to Spain.  He did make it to Rome (see the book of Acts) and was imprisoned there at least once and probably twice.

30 I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. 31 Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. 33 The God of peace be with you all. Amen.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

What parts of this chapter stood out to you and why?

Looking for a Internal Auditor or Senior Internal Auditor

If you know of anyone in the Houston area who would be interested, send them my way and I’ll provide more details.   Someone transferred to another part of the company and I have an open position.

And with all due respect to Michael Scott, I really am the World’s Best Boss.  Zero voluntary turnover in 5 years and the highest employee satisfaction rates in the company.  Just sayin’.

Seriously, we have a great company and a great environment.  Travel for this role is 40%.

Romans 14

rom-14.jpgGreetings!

The Weak and the Strong

14 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2 One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Romans 14 and other passages address how we are to handle disputable matters. From this we can immediately infer two things:

  1. God knew we’d have disputed matters.
  2. He gave guidance on how to handle them.

Some beliefs are essential if one is to call himself a Christian – e.g., Jesus is the only way to salvation (mentioned directly or indirectly in 100 passages), Jesus is God, etc.

Other things have guidance but not absolutes.  I think a contemporary example would be alcohol.  The Bible doesn’t expressly forbid alcohol, but it does say not to get drunk, don’t tempt others with it, obey laws and not to be a slave to it.  But we shouldn’t make our own denominational rule that says, “Don’t drink alcohol – ever!” and exclude people based on that.  There are enough stumbling blocks to reach people with the Gospel.  Let’s not add any more.  Having said that, I have no use for alcohol and have about one drink per year.

Contrary to many myths, we have a lot of freedom in Christ.  Christianity contains many principles and some specific rules, but we can exercise our personal preferences in many ways, such as worship styles.

5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Paul hadn’t gone soft on sin.  We have preferences or things we aren’t sure about, but we shouldn’t put our demands on top of what scripture requires.

Note that we shouldn’t violate our consciences.  This is a reason that denominations are good.  We must agree on the essentials or we are brothers and sisters in Christ.  But it is better to be in different denominations if differences on non-essential issues would violate our consciences.  For example, if I couldn’t in good conscience baptize an infant then I should go to a denomination that doesn’t require that practice, even though I wouldn’t say those that do require it aren’t Christians.

9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’”

12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

That is a sobering thought!  We’ll give an account everything we did, said and thought that we shouldn’t have and everything we didn’t do, say and think but should have.  Thanks be to Jesus for taking the punishment for our sins already!

13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. 14 As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. 15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. 16 Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.

19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Paul was not a moral relativist (the line of thinking that “there is no truth.”)  Paul was quick to say what was right and wrong.  But he pointed out that on issues of preference we shouldn’t judge others.

His closing was a bit of a surprise, though: If we aren’t sure if we should do something – even if it isn’t truly a sin – then it is a sin to do it!  We are to act in confidence and faith.

What parts of this chapter stood out to you and why?

Romans 13

Greetings!

Submission to the Authorities

13 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

God delegates some of his authority to governments.  I have written about ineffective arguments against capital punishment and somewhat effective arguments against capital punishment.  People often ignore that the Bible says that the government “does not bear the sword for nothing.”  I don’t point that out as a blanket endorsement of capital punishment under any circumstances, but just to say that the Bible does not prohibit it.

Of course, there are corrupt governments.  I won’t expand on the Biblical view of the concept of civil disobedience other than to say that if God’s laws conflict with man’s laws we need to obey God.  Otherwise, we need to obey the laws even if we think they are unfair.  Christians should pay taxes, obey traffic laws, etc.

God has set up an authority structure and we all benefit when it runs better and people use it properly.  If your neighbor is beating his wife, I think the Biblical model is to bring in the authorities (the police, in this case).  To overlook the crime is to put ourselves in the place of God’s designated authority.  The church leaders are the authorities for many issues, and we need them to do their jobs as well.

Love, for the Day Is Near

8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

This is another way of stating how Jesus summarized the Commandments in Matthew 22:37-40: Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

But the summaries of Jesus and Paul don’t make the law easier to follow, as Jesus’ questioner had apparently hoped.

What are practical applications of “love your neighbor as yourself?”  I don’t like people stealing from me, telling lies about me, distorting my views, being jealous of me, killing me in my mother’s womb, encouraging me to commit sinful acts, etc., so I ought not do that to others.

11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

We quickly and properly seize on the commands against the “big” sins like orgies and drunkenness.  No problem there.  But these lists usually include “lesser” sins like jealousy.  What are we to make of that?

If I covet what other people have – and I often do – what message am I sending to God?  I’m indirectly saying that He didn’t order the universe properly and that someone else has something I should have.  When I put it in that perspective it works as a reset button for me, because I really don’t want to send him that message.

What parts of this chapter stood out to you and why?

Romans 12

rom-12.jpgGreetings!  I did a laity Sunday sermon on verses 1-13 a couple years ago — notes and 25 minute audio here.  It was interesting to re-listen to it — I forgot just how much I worked in there!

Living Sacrifices

12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

V. 1-2 are two of my all-time favorites.  We are to sacrifice our lives to God even as we live.  It is part of our worship of him.

It is a constant challenge not to conform to the patterns of this world.  There are hundreds of things per day trying to pull you towards Satan’s kindgom and not God’s.

How do we transform ourselves?  By renewing our minds with Scripture.  Jesus prayed in John 17:17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  That is the primary way God changes us.  Do you want to become more like Jesus?  Then read the Bible.  If you are happy where you are and don’t want to get closer to God, then don’t read it.

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

God gives us many gifts but in different proportions.  We shouldn’t be prideful, because these are gifts from him.  We didn’t earn them.  Neither should we be overly humble about them.  He gave them to us to use for his glory.

Love

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Each simple phrase is a sermon unto itself.  It isn’t wrong to hate what is evil!  Zeal is good!  It is interesting that he specifically mentions sharing with God’s people.  Of course we should share with others, but when God’s people take care of each other it sends a great message to the world.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

V. 14 is really hard to do, but it is possible because we are commanded to do it.  I have heard of martyrs who suffered more than I probably ever will who did an incredible job of blessing those who persecuted them.  It is very humbling to read about them.

Are you willing to associate with people of low position?  I don’t know if this counts, but I have found Kairos Prison Ministry to be one of the most enjoyable things I have done.  At work I try to be friends with people at any levels.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

I’m probably missing the point here, but when you feel like taking revenge remember that God can repay with his wrath much more thoroughly and fairly than you can.

This is a radical teaching.  It is completely contrary to the typical view of the world and of other religions.  Being kind to your enemies really disarms them.

What parts of this chapter stood out to you and why?

Romans 11

rom-11.jpgGreetings!

The Remnant of Israel

11 I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? 4 And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6 And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.

It is important to weave the theme of grace in periodically so we don’t start thinking that we have done anything to earn our salvation.  Grace is the thing that separates Christianity from all other religions and cults, and we shouldn’t forget that for a moment.

7 What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, 8 as it is written:

“God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day.”

9 And David says:

“May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them.

10 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.”

Ingrafted Branches

11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!

13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

This passage reminds me of John 15 where Jesus teaches how He is the vine and we are the branches.  Should we feel smug that some Jews were cut off and we were grafted in?  Of course not.  Our attitude should be one of eternal gratitude.

Paul is clear that not all Jews were saved by the Old Covenant.  Salvation has always been by faith.

All Israel Will Be Saved

25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:

“The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.

27 And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. 30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

Doxology

33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”

35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Verses 33-36 make important points about God’s omnipotence (all knowing nature).  I find many people who dismiss Bible verses as not being from God just because it offends their sensibilities.  Of course, we need to seek to properly understand the verses in context, but once that is done we shouldn’t pick and choose those we like or those we think were inspired.  The Bible claims to speak for God ~3,000 times and that the whole work is his Word.  So it is either right or it isn’t.  We don’t get to pick and choose which parts are inspired (That is called Dalmatian Theology).

What comments or questions do you have on this passage?

What parts of this chapter stood out to you and why?

Romans 10

Greetings!

10 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3 Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

Zeal is actually a good thing if expressed properly, but verse 2 is another example of how being zealous without knowledge is not good.  Also see Christians and open mindedness.   It is a myth that Christianity isn’t grounded in reason and knowledge.

5 Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

V. 9-10 are profoundly simple, but we typically want to make them more complicated than that.  Jesus has done all the work.  There is nothing magical about saying the words.  The key is that you really believe that Jesus is the Lord of your life.

11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Now there is good news!  If people want the one true God, He will be there for them.  But note how they must call on him.  V. 12 is another of those “Jesus is the only way” passages.

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

This shows how important evangelism is.  If you are a Christian and aren’t equipped or interested in sharing your faith, that is a problem.  You need to change that right away.

16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. 18 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:

“Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

I think that v. 17 is primarily about evangelism, but I think it also applies to strengthening our faith.  the more I get into the Bible the stronger my faith becomes.

19 Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.”

20 And Isaiah boldly says, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”

21 But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

What parts of this chapter stood out to you and why?

Romans 9

rom-9.jpgGreetings!

God’s Sovereign Choice

9 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

Some people think we shouldn’t share the Gospel with Jewish people because they are covered under the Old Covenant with God.  But consider what Paul is saying here and how it makes the point that Jewish people need Jesus, too.  He was saying that he’d give up his salvation if he could so the rest of the Jews could be saved.  The point is that he can’t do that, and that they need to come to Jesus on their own.

We can learn two powerful lessons from Paul’s salvation:

1. If someone as awful as Paul — whose former role was terrorizing Christians — can be redeemed, there is hope for us.

2. If an outstanding Jew like Paul still needed Jesus to be saved, then so does every other human on the planet.

6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 8 In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. 9 For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”

10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

16 It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

People don’t like to hear those phrases, but God has ultimate control of the universe and what happens in the end.  The Bible is crystal-clear that God knows who will come to him and who will not.  Some people passionately debate whether God has already decided whom He will draw to him and others think it is due to our free choices (I’m probably over simplifying that, but I’m not trying to resolve it here).  Both sides have compelling Bible passages to support their conclusions.  It is an important topic but I think someone could hold either view and still be a Christian.

19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

Now there is an important and humbling phrase!  God is the potter.  We are the clay.  Too often people want to reverse the roles and make God in their own image.  When you think of things from God’s perspective that is a pretty ridiculous idea.

22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? 25 As he says in Hosea:

“I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,”

26 and, “It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.

28 For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.”

29 It is just as Isaiah said previously: “Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.”

Paul frequently quoted from the Old Testament.  He reminds the Romans – and anyone else who will listen – that it was always God’s plan to save the Jews and the Gentiles (non-Jews) through the Jewish race.  And He did that through Jesus.

Israel’s Unbelief

30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” 33 As it is written:

“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Once again, Paul points out that we are saved by faith, through God’s grace, and not by any righteous deeds or adherence to the law on our own.

What parts of this chapter stood out to you and why?

Romans 8

rom-8.jpgGreetings!  This may be my favorite chapter in the Bible, jammed with great news and promises.

Life Through the Spirit

8 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

Now that’s good news.  Meditate on that for a moment.  No condemnation!  Freedom from the law of sin and death!  When you slip Satan will try to make you feel condemned all over again.  Don’t let him.  As  James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

These are powerful statements – just one after another.  And like many passages, they point to the exclusivity of Jesus.  Consider all of Paul’s contrasts and how one side has Jesus and one does not.  Some people like to claim that all religions lead to God, but that is completely counter to what the Bible teaches.  Religious pluralism is intellectually bankrupt. Run, don’t walk, from “Christians” who teach otherwise.

9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

12 Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

As v. 15 notes, we weren’t just slaves to sin, we were slaves to fear.  But no more!

Some people think that every person is a child of God, but that isn’t what the Bible teaches.  Jesus loves everyone and wants them to have a saving relationship with him, but only those who trust in him are considered God’s children.

Future Glory

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

If you aren’t sure what to pray, ask the Holy Spirit to pray for you.

This next section is packed with powerful messages.  You could do a sermon on each verse.  I’ve committed most of these verses to memory.

More Than Conquerors

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

All things work for the good of those who love God.  All things.  We can trust that even the bad things that happen will work out for the best in the long run.

God gave up his Son for us.  How will He not also give us everything else we need, for now and eternity?

Satan tries to condemn you, but it is God who justifies.  And as Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished” (The debt is paid in full).

Jesus is interceding for you with God the Father.

Nothing can separate you from the love of Christ.  Nothing.

What parts of this chapter stood out to you and why?

Romans 7

rom-7.jpgGreetings!

An Illustration From Marriage

7 Do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to men who know the law—that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? 2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. 3 So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.

4 So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. 5 For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

There is big difference between trying to win God’s approval by doing good things (a hopeless plan) and doing good things out of our love and thankfulness for him – not to mention our faith that what He says in his law is best for us.

Struggling With Sin

7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

V. 8 captures part of the human condition.  Ever since Genesis 3 our motto has been give us a rule and we’ll break it.

13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

Here we have the Apostle Paul – arguably the greatest evangelist ever and a stellar Jew by any definition – and he still did things he shouldn’t have and didn’t do things he should have.  He needed a Savior just like we do, and he couldn’t be sinless on his own.  Just because we are Christians doesn’t mean all sin and temptation is gone.  In fact, you may face increased temptation.  Satan loves to trip up believers to quiet us and impact our witness.

21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Paul was really sounding negative and hopeless, but he was just building up to the solution: Jesus is there to rescue him!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

What parts of this chapter stood out to you and why?

Romans 6

rom-6.jpgGreetings!

Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ

6 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Some people think that salvation in Christ is a license to sin, but that completely misses the point.  It buys into the myth that sin = fun, when that is not the case at all.  Sin separates us from God and causes misery.

Once we are saved through faith in Christ we will still sin, but that doesn’t wipe out our salvation.  It does affect our relationship with God.  One example I heard is that if your child spit in your face you would still love her, but your relationship wouldn’t be the same until that issue was dealt with.

Also, with Christ we can have power over sin and temptation that we didn’t have before.

The most unique thing about Christianity (other than Jesus, of course) is the concept of grace.  All other religions and worldviews are basically systems of good works designed to have you win over God or man.  Christianity says that is hopeless, but God in his infinite graciousness provides the solution for us.

One of the interesting things about grace is that if you explain it properly then people are likely to misunderstand it – at least temporarily.

Here’s what I mean: If you explain grace well then people are bound to ask if that means that we can sin on purpose.  Of course, with a full understanding of grace people will realize that we wouldn’t want to sin.  But I think it is actually a good sign for them to ask the question.  It means they realize just how fantastic and broad God’s grace is.

5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

“We should no longer be slaves to sin” – Amen to that!  Stop to meditate on that liberating truth.

8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

Slaves to Righteousness

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

19 I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

When God helps us take something away He doesn’t leave a void.  It is replaced with something better – much better.  We are free from sin, if we will just exercise that freedom.  Now we can be slaves to righteousness.

V. 23 is a classic verse for evangelism.  It reminds us that the payment for sin is spiritual dead.  We are all spiritually dead with a saving trust in Jesus.  But God is so good and generous to us.  He gives us a completely free gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Has your condition been upgraded to alive?

What parts of this chapter stood out to you and why?

Romans 5

rom-5.jpgGreetings!

Peace and Joy

5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

Note that this says, “peace with God,” not the peace of God.  We can have peace because of our relationship with God and our trust in his promises.  But first we need peace with God.  As James 4:4 says, friendship with the world is hatred towards God and makes us his enemy.  So we need to go from being his enemy to being his friend, and we do that through Jesus.

We are justified — made right with God in a judicial sense — at a point in time.  It isn’t an ongoing process as some religions teach.  He sanctifies us (makes us Holy and more Christ-like) over time.

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Sometimes people “sell” Christianity based on the good things it offers.  It does offer many great things in this life, but we shouldn’t overlook that Christians are also promised suffering in this world.  Many people will think, “I didn’t sign up for this!”  But God uses sufferings for his good and ours.  It develops perseverance and character and leads us to hope.

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Meditate on v. 8 for a bit: Jesus didn’t have to die for us, but He demonstrated his love for us by doing so – even though we were sinners.  He didn’t die for us because of anything noble we had done.

9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Death Through Adam, Life Through Christ

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— 13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Paul emphasizes how this all started: Adam (and Eve) sinned and humanity fell.  We have been sinners ever since.  Our only hope is for God to reach down and save us.  Jesus’ perfect righteousness and sacrifice made an acceptable bridge for us to get back to God.

What parts of this chapter stood out to you and why?