Surviving or thriving

Paulfg has written a post in answer to yesterday’s “A Challenge” post that I would recommend to anyone: Thanks for such a great post, Paul!

Just me being curious

Further to Don’s “A Challenge” post, my comments were getting longer and longer – as noted by Melissa 🙂

So rather than comment-bomb Don’s wondrous post – here is what would have outflowed (it is quite an outflow!) … thank you Don!

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I remember finding church. Although, in truth, God had some fun in placing me in a church I thought was another. Always fun with our dear Father!

I remember thinking I would immerse myself in church. Well, God has a sense of humour in that direction as well. There was plenty of immersing: meetings, courses, services, cups of tea, smilings, chit-chatting, bemoanings of how shallow the spiritual immersing is. Yes dear Father, I enjoyed diving in and finding it was the (very) shallow end!

I remember thinking what was the point?…

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Lesson 6: Walk in the Light

And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 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. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Romans 13:11-14

 These verses are the summation for this entire section (12:1-13:14) and serve to bring the message into sharp focus. Remember that Paul has been teaching about or response to God’s grace, giving us a clear picture of what our daily lives should look like. Here he sums it all up with a metaphor: Light.

And do this, understanding the present time (13:11) is the transition, referring back to the prior section discussing love in action. It is time to wake up, for the day is coming when the Lord Jesus will return. Notice the urgency in what Paul is talking about here; time’s a wasting! It may seem funny to us all these centuries later to read this urgency, but it is important for us to always bear in mind the fact that Jesus is coming. His literal return could be at any time, or it could be in 10,000 years, and no one knows for sure either way. Yet He came for every single recipient of this letter a long time ago. He came for all of those who have ever read this letter in the centuries that have followed, and He will come for us soon enough, thus Paul’s urgency applies to each of us: Wake up!

Paul’s metaphor of living in the light of day is clear enough; we are to behave in a respectable manner, not as people do in the wee hours when nobody is looking. In verse 13, he mentions several behaviors, and I think they are obvious enough, so I will only comment on two of them; dissention and jealousy.

I try not to miss opportunities to make a plea for Christian unity, and this is certainly such an opportunity. Must we continue fighting among ourselves, arguing over ever little doctrinal difference of opinion? Must we be jealous about the name on the sign in front of the building? Is all of that really so essential?

I don’t believe that it is, do you?

Maybe I’m just a fool, but I think that the times we are living in today are much too serious to indulge ourselves in this sort of thing. Our calling is to build the Body of Christ, so let’s get to building instead of tearing it apart. Let’s clothe ourselves in Christ, and answer our calling instead of glorifying ourselves in endless arguments.

Incidentally, this is a transitional thought that leads us into the next section, verses 14:1-15:13 which discuss our liberty to hold different opinions.

Lesson 5: Love

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8-10

In this short passage, Paul is nothing short of profound; deep in fact. Yet it is so simple that we might just fly past it and not notice how profound it is; a second grade child can easily understand it, and it requires a mature adult to miss it that is how simple it is.

Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

If we think of love as a mere emotion or feeling, maybe we can miss this, but godly love is not an emotion, it is a commitment to put the interests of other people ahead of our own, and love in action puts the interests of everyone ahead of our own. If we actually do this, then we will not do anything to offend or hurt them, and if we love God then we will not do anything to hurt or offend God. We will not do this because somebody told us that we must, we will do this because we want to.

In short, this is the transformation that Paul spoke of in 12:1-2; this is love in action from 12:9-16.

There are times when I grow weary of people telling me that the Bible never tells us how we should accomplish the Christian life; yes, dear reader, I grow weary of such remarks!

Put your love into action!

“But how do I do that?”

Love your neighbor as yourself.

“But that is too hard.

No, it isn’t too hard! Love God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength.”

“But how do I do that?”

Make a decision that you love God, and then commit to do sticking with it and trust the Holy Spirit to give you the strength you need.

“But that’s too hard.”

Dear Lord, open our ears that we might hear, open our eyes that we might see, open our hearts that we might believe so that we might become like little children and enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

A Challenge

Recently I filled in preaching in a church where I have filled in several times over the last couple of years. This was the sermon text:

What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Romans 4:3

I’ve never had anyone complain about a short sermon, and this one was under 20 minutes, so it was well-received. It was purposely simple in its message about faith.

Afterwards, amidst the usual “lovely sermon Father’s” a man for whom I have a great deal of respect commented something like this: “You are clear, simple and consistent in your message. So why don’t we believe you?”

I think I responded by saying something like; “Well maybe that’s a better question for you than for me.,” and shook hands with the next person…

In the days that followed, that challenge kept coming to mind; yes, why is that? You see, I know they don’t believe me when I speak there of faith, trust, belief and relationship with God; they are looking for hard, complicated and philosophical answers. At one point, one of the leaders told me that they have been on “survival mode” for quite some time, and I must admit that I wasn’t surprised, but it was heart-breaking nevertheless.

“Why don’t we believe you?”

I know that it isn’t really possible to persuade someone to have faith, for faith is too deep a thing to be persuaded of. This is a much deeper issue  for so many churches today, for so many are like this one, they believe they “do church right” and that should be good enough. Yet the result is that they are finding themselves in survival mode because their people are no longer growing; something is holding them back. Why?

My quick answer was that they don’t believe me because they don’t want to, but that answer is way too simple even for me. Why don’t they want to believe in the idea of Biblical faith beyond believing in God and His Son? Oh yes dear reader, they believe in God, but they don’t believe God.

I gave this a great deal of thought…

Believing God is counter-intuitive; it goes against everything we have been taught and everything that is going on in our world. Believing God is a risky business, for it carries with it certain implications, among which are things like the altering of lifestyles and behaviors. Consider Abraham: God told him to pack up the household, the wife, all of his stuff, servants and flocks and head out of town to a place God would show him when he got there. Now just before he left what do you suppose Abraham told his family and friends that he was up to? What do you think they said in reply?

“Oh Abraham (actually he was still Abram) what a wonderful opportunity for you”?

More likely they told him that he was an idiot! Yet off he went, because he believed God. You see, this believing God thing is a huge risk when viewed through the eyes of this world. Faith is when we believe the promises of God, and then behave as though they had already been accomplished, and the record of both Scripture and history shows us that most people have a very hard time doing that, at least at first. Having said that, I also know that for some, it isn’t hard at all and they move forward in spiritual understanding very quickly. If we are called to make disciples, then how do we help a group of people get from “Why don’t we believe you” to packing up the household and going “wherever God leads”?

The only way I know of to help our brothers and sisters move forward in the faith and come out from where they are comfortable is by personal relationship over time. The dilemma is that there are so many congregations out there where there is no mentor to get the ball rolling. Oh they have pastors (or whatever they might call the preacher) but they have no mentors because their pastor is the product of seminary that didn’t teach them to do this…

Yes, this is my dilemma; what about those congregations?

I have never thought of or heard anyone else give a viable answer to this; have you?

I know of congregations where awesome things are happening for Christ, and I have participated in congregations that have been transformed when there were a few who could lead them though the developing of relationships, but what about the ones that have no such leaders?

Any ideas?

Rabyd Opinion – Christians, Before You Boycott Over Homosexual Marriage – Read This

This post is timely both for current events and this morning’s Romans post, and I hope you’ll take a look, it’s well worth it!

All Things Rabyd

I would rather be writing my Sermon Redux this morning but the events of this weekend and Christian response to the homosexual marriage decision by SCOTUS have left me a little irritated as to which Jesus Christ people are following.  I already wrote one article on this Rabyd Opinion – A Little Rational Perspective on Gay Marriage for Christians and it has been taken to heart by some others have simply decided to continue their temper tantrum because they lost and have now started to plan and execute more form of resistance to this decision.  The biggest problem some of them now have is how many companies came out in support of this decision and how they plan to boycott them, etc.  On a practical note, this is going to be amusing because if you boycott everything that promotes sin you are going to probably be down to eating nothing and buying…

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Lesson 4: Dealing with Government

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 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 you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

Romans 13:1-5

Obviously I haven’t planned very well, for we have arrived at these verses at a moment in time where many of us don’t really want to hear this, at least many of us in the US. Like many of you, I am not terribly pleased with my government right now; I am looking forward to the next election, and I’ll just leave it at that.

Yet, here we are and I’m not going to just skip the section because I’m not pleased.

Paul’s message, simply stated, is that human government is ordained by God, and that’s all I should have to say about it. Yet even though human government is ordained by God, human government exists in a corrupted world environment, and we should not pretend to be shocked when it turns out to be corrupt: It happens. What is really instructive in this teaching is that the government Paul was referring to had a nasty habit of persecuting Paul and his readers; yes, maybe we should reflect on that for a while.

If I had been Paul, I might want to write something quite different on this topic, but if I had, or if he had, then a great disservice would have been done to the Gospel. God did not call us to serve His kingdom so that we could engage in political action, for His Kingdom is not of this world. Instead, He has called us to share the Gospel, to share His love with those who have not yet heard it, to nurture and mentor other, younger Christians to maturity in the faith, not to protest stupid court decisions or corruption in Congress or the White House… or wherever it may exist in your location. I will add that if we did a better job of serving His purpose in a free society, it is quite likely that a very  different group of people would be elected to represent us, without our ever needing to bring up politics.

By the way, when I teach such self explanatory texts as this one, this is often where I toss out a question, a rhetorical one of course: When you are driving your car around town, do you observe the speed limit, or do behave as the pagans do?

That one gets a groan from the group every time… 🙂

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

Romans 13:6-7

Taxes: Nobody likes taxes, except the ones somebody else must pay. Here in America, we have a horrible tax system, and I will boldly declare that if the entire Tax Code went up for a vote as is, and if it didn’t already exist, no one would vote for it; no one has even read the whole thing, and the people who enforce it don’t even understand it, and if you don’t believe me, ask a tax lawyer!

Now ask yourself, how was the tax system Paul lived under? Well… it was horrible as well! Money is not supposed to be our primary concern in this life; our priority is supposed to be on things that are above, so why should the inequities of the tax system be our priority? Paul’s message is pay them what they want and get on with serving our Lord in peace and love, for that is what we are here for.

Yes, I know… I’m gritting my teeth too, but that only goes to show that we have a long way to go to attain maturity in the faith.

A Little Reflection

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It’s Sunday again; what better day for a little reflection?

Has God been filling your life with blessings?  Has he given you peace in a tough situation?

Well, you see what I mean by reflection…

We spend so much time and energy running ourselves ragged these days, and so much of our lives just rushes by in a sort of blur; we need a moment, so it’s time to seize the moment.  Let’s give thanks to God for all He is doing in our lives, let’s thank Him for all of the ways He’s blessed us.  Let’s recall the great things He has done, like sending His Son to die for our sins.  Let’s take a minute to give Him the praise that is His due for all He is doing in His Body, the Church.  Let’s praise Him for all of those who have come to know Him recently, and for those who continue to grow in their faith, stepping up to lead His people forward to accomplish His purpose.

Let’s take another minute or two to ask Him for the gospel to continue to move forward, that hearts and minds everywhere would be changed, that lives would be given over to Him.

Most of all, let’s take a few moments to sit by His side and ask Him to give us continued strength to go forward in our walk with Him.  Let’s be refreshed in His presence and be renewed in His love.

Hey!  I’m thinking this is going to be an awesome Sunday!