I want

“… I want you to be wise about what’s good, and innocent about what’s evil.” (Romans 16:19b CEB)

This sentiment conveys the biggest part of what keeps God-honoring shepherds doing what they do all the time, laying down their lives for God’s sheep.

This thought echoes the thoughts of every Christ-like husband or wife for their mate and every Spirit-led parent for their children every hour.

This sentence mirrors the mind of every holy teacher for those in their charge as to how they sift the things they hear and see each day in the name of Christ.

This declaration reveals the prompt for countless prayers every day within a church family.

This remark paints the picture that every godly preacher seeks to hold up to their church family every week by means of their sermons and behavior.

“… I want you to be wise about what’s good, and innocent about what’s evil.” (Romans 16:19b CEB)

Amen.

why I repeat myself

“I’ve written to you … partly to remind you of what you already know.” (Romans 15:15 CEB)

We live in a culture bent on hearing what is new or what we think has not been known before. In this way, we’re no different from some of the ancients (Acts 17:21). But I need to be reminded regularly of things I’m already aware of for any of a number of reasons. Here are seven.

  1. Because as I continually learn new things, there is a tendency in me to wrongly perceive “old” knowledge as something less valuable or even less credible.
  2. Because my life sometimes becomes so full or busy that my recall of important matters is impaired.
  3. Because my emotional life at times is such that some of the knowledge I have I can’t seem to access on my own.
  4. Because the sin in my life always threatens to desensitize me to what I know of God’s will.
  5. Because sometimes it’s not the hearing of something new I truly need most of all, but the stirring up of something that is already settled within my mind.
  6. Because having a refreshed sense of what I’ve already learned helps me to have a stronger sense of grounding or rootedness in life.
  7. Because even though I have a great rememberer, my forgetter works even better.

So the next time your preacher seems to be stuck on a certain track or is telling you what you’ve already known for a long time, don’t nod off thinking they’re just filling time or on their way to Alzheimer’s. Instead, smile and thank God. Who is to say that God in his providence is not involved, arranging for us all to hear what we need to hear most of all at this moment in our lives, whether we think we need it or not?

Father in heaven, in Christ’s name, thank you for those who, through the years, have repeated to me again and again what I think I know well enough already. I know without them I would be worse off. Thank you for not always expecting me to catch something only upon my first contact with it, but for exposing me over and over to things I need to encounter. Amen.

getting it

Read Romans 14 and then come back here. Go ahead; I’ll wait for you right here.

I understand this passage better now than I did at one time. Lord knows I didn’t understand it at all for years after I became a Christian and for years more after I started preaching. Back then, somehow, someway, I managed to read this chapter over and over and still miss three things Paul takes as givens in the life of faith together, namely:

1. Contrary to what seemed to be being drilled into me over and over again, agreeing on everything in the name of Christ is not job one.

2. No matter how hard we preach it, how consistent we teach it, how passionately we pray for it, or how obviously we try to exemplify it, we’ll never even get close to the point where all Christians agree on everything.

3. How you love God with all of our your, heart, mind, and strength is revealed best not by having all of the right convictions, but by truly loving others more than yourself.

You see, while I was taught that if we’ll all just focus on God there will be no variation in our beliefs, Romans 14 says radical variation is inevitable. While I was taught that Christians back in the day we are all perfectly united, can be now, and must be always, Romans 14 says they weren’t back then and agreeing on everything is not where it’s at. And while I was taught that the way we showed real love for God was by perfectly holding and expressing one right set of beliefs, Romans 14 says loving people who differ with me is far more important than the uninhibited expression of my beliefs.

What disturbs me most of all, though is not just that I could have misunderstood exceedingly clear Scripture for so long, but the fact that I taught my mistaken understandings to others and I know I’m anything but alone in this experience. And that leads me to want to unteach some of what I know I taught and calls for me to try to help others to see what I know they have yet to see. Let me just try to parrot what Paul says here, but in other words.

  • There are a number of matters that come under the heading of religion that are not only not worth arguing about, but mustn’t be argued about (vs. 1).
  • Don’t look down on those who hold to a different set of beliefs (vs. 2-3).
  • Always remember: God alone is judge and so, you’re not (vs. 4).
  • Everyone has a right to their own convictions and we should respect such (vs. 5-6).
  • Whatever we believe and do should be done not for ourselves or others, but with God in view (vs.7-9).
  • We will all answer to God for our convictions, not for the convictions of others (vs. 10-12).
  • If you’re headed down Judge Others Road, do a U-turn and take the first exit (vs. 13a).
  • Determine to make life easier, not more difficult, for others by respecting people’s convictions (vs. 13b).
  • What’s right for one person can be wrong for another because our conscience and convictions differ (vs. 14).
  • If you are truly about doing the loving thing you will seek to be sensitive to the convictions of others (vs. 15).
  • Being humble with your convictions doesn’t mean becoming a doormat; give respect and expect respect (vs. 16).
  • Don’t frustrate, rather, facilitate the establishment of God’s rule in the community of faith (vs. 17).
  • Look for the ways that God and people both applaud and go after them (vs. 18).
  • If you can’t make accommodations for people with your positions, your positions are wrong (vs. 19-21).
  • Refuse to flaunt your convictions; keep what can be kept private, private (vs. 22).
  • Follow your conscience informed by Christ, not the crowd (vs. 23).

I don’t live under any illusion that I understand everything in Scripture, particularly this Scripture, completely. I have much, much, much yet to learn, no doubt. But, here’s to the learning of it.

What have I missed? What have I got right? What can we learn together?

Heavenly Father, give me insight into the practical living out of your will in my life with others. I pray in the name of him in whom I believe and who has brought me into the fellowship of all who belong to him, Jesus Christ. Amen.

summed up in one word

“Don’t be in debt to anyone, except the obligation to love each other. Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law. The commandments, You shouldn’t commit adultery, you shouldn’t murder, you shouldn’t steal, you shouldn’t desire what others have, and any other commandments, are all summed up in one word: You should love your neighbor as yourself. Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is what fulfills the Law.” (Romans 13:8-10 CEB)

Let the statement settle in.

“… love is what fulfills the Law.” (vs.10)

“God is love.” Therefore, if we talk about God, we must talk about love, otherwise, we are only talking about a false God.

With love, God created us all. Therefore, if we talk about our relationship to our Maker, we must talk about love, lest we miss the very point of creation.

To love what God loves is to truly love God, and God made us all. Therefore, if we talk about our relationships with each other, we must speak of loving each other, for if we do not, we do not truly love God.

It is, therefore, not possible to talk “too much” about love. So may we ever speak of these things: God’s love for us, our love for him, our love for each other, our love for others yet to know him, and the need for our love to be much, much more than just talk.

“… love is what fulfills the Law.” (vs.10)

a living sacrifice

“So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.” (Romans 12:1-2 CEB)

This brief passage overflows with remarkable thoughts, thoughts that often go overlooked and fly in the face of much commonly accepted thinking and teaching about matters of godly faith. Three of those thoughts jump to my attention upon reading this text this time.

1. Brothers and sisters in Christ, people who have been in contact with God’s great mercy,  require the “urging” of other Christians to initiate, and continue in, the ceaseless process of Christian sacrifice and transformation. How desperately we need each other to be true “brothers and sisters” in Christ to each other in this lifelong process of striving to become “a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” We must deliberately and frequently be with other Christians if our life is to become a true offering on the altar to God. While there is gain to be had in quiet times to our selves with God, our spiritual formation cannot happen only in isolation; it requires conversation, testing, instruction, bonding, admonition and serving with others. Much of our motivation for transformation springs not from receiving more information, but simply through Christian connection.

2. Almost all of the “true worship” you have to offer the living God will not take place in a church building on Sundays. It will happen every day of every week outside of a church building. It will happen not as you do what you’ve always done, but as you change more into the person Jesus would have you become in every big and small way. It will happen only as you see your Mondays through Saturdays, as days full of worshipful sacrifice, equally holy to anything you share in doing down at the church building on Sundays.

3. It requires a transformed mind and an obedient lifestyle to test and approve God’s will. All the sermons you’ve heard through the years about “the simplicity of the gospel” aside, this Scripture teaches that not just any Christian with “one eye and half sense” can pick up on what God wants done. Consistent, submissive obedience to our Lord is required to open us up to enlightenment from the Lord. You can’t simply “think your way” into Christlikeness. There is much about the Christian life you will never know about or grasp unless you live after God with all of your strength, your behavior stretching your mind to be a better vessel for receiving what God would give you to grasp about him. For God chooses to reveal more of himself to us only as we submit more of ourself to him.

Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus I pray, may my mind and life be a living sacrifice to you today. Amen.

all day long I stretched out my hands

“But everyone hasn’t obeyed the good news. As Isaiah says, Lord, who has had faith in our message? So, faith comes from listening, but it’s listening by means of Christ’s message. But I ask you, didn’t they hear it? Definitely! Their voice has gone out into the entire earth, and their message has gone out to the corners of the inhabited world. But I ask you again, didn’t Israel understand? First, Moses says, I will make you jealous of those who aren’t a people, of a people without understanding. And Isaiah even dares to say, I was found by those who didn’t look for me; I revealed myself to those who didn’t ask for me. But he says about Israel, All day long I stretched out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” (Romans 10:16-21 CEB)

Here are six verses loaded with five Old Testament quotations, but it’s the last one, a quotation from Isaiah 65:2, that is the most telling, isn’t it?

“All day long I stretched out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” (vs.21)

God is portrayed as having two qualities toward his people: he is passionate for them and persistent in his compassion. God’s people are depicted as being known for two things in their relationship with God: they are rebellious and unyielding in resistance.

I must not write this observation off as something only true for Israel long ago or applicable only to others. This is a bit of commentary about all of us. All too often we are bullheaded and will not be broken for God. All too often I am doggedly defiant of his grasp on all of me.

Yet we dare not write off the other half of this observation, the portion that deals with what God is like toward us. We can’t dismiss these words as something no longer true of him or true only in terms of his dealings with others. Being the same yesterday, today and forever, and having loved the world so as he does, I must see him for who he truly is, the God who holds out his hands to me, ever imploring me to come to him, and enter into his care and guidance.

Why would I resist him? How can I? How long, O Lord, how long?

Heavenly Father, you hold your hands to me through the work of Christ, the one stretched out on the cross for me. Forgive me of my obstinate ways, I pray. As surely as your heart aches for me, may my spirit turn to you wholly and be broken entirely for you. Strengthen my arms to daily reach out to you and enjoy the warmth of your embrace. Amen.

Christ is the goal

“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire is for Israel’s salvation. That’s my prayer to God for them. I can vouch for them: they are enthusiastic about God. However, it isn’t informed by knowledge. They don’t submit to God’s righteousness because they don’t understand his righteousness, and they try to establish their own righteousness. For Christ is the goal of the Law, which leads to righteousness for all who have faith in God.” (Romans 10:1-4 CEB)

It’s a common thought in our times to equate the security of our soul’s relationship with God to the enthusiasm we feel in our heart and the energy we sense in our spirit. That is, the thinking is such that if we’re really on fire about what we believe about God, then there really can’t be any question about whether or not it’s true or if we’re pleasing God. It’s a forgone conclusion. It’s a given. We are righteous because we’re zealous. Passion equals God’s possession. Zeal means we’ve got a tight deal with God.

This passage then surely becomes one of the most sobering of texts in all of Paul’s letters. For here Paul tells us it is possible to be “enthusiastic about God” and simultaneously “not understand his righteousness.” It is quite possible – indeed, was true for a great many – to be “zealous for God” and yet not be “saved.”

Worship is more than a feeling. Being right with God isn’t about how I feel about it, but about God’s declaration of it. Christ is our goal, not intensity of emotion. The depth and intensity of my spirituality cannot be rightly measured by simply weighing how worked I am at a given moment.

No, it’s all about whether Jesus Christ is truly at the center of my life. Only first place for him will do. Second place, or any other place, only makes me an idolater and a seeker of my own sort of righteousness. To know God, that is, have a deep, abiding, intimate relationship with him through Jesus Christ, is the only road to rights standing with God and rescue from Satan, sin and self.

God my Father, in a world full of things to desensitize me to life, it’s tempting at times to see real passion or zeal as the litmus test of all things genuine. When my mind is numbed by all that is, it’s attractive to see genuine feeling as the guiding light to what is in fact truth. But you tell me otherwise. You tell me you are light and your Son is the light of this world. So may you and your Son be my excitement and may my desire to be excited and energetic never lead me away from you. May I not set up “Enthusiasm” as my god and leave you behind. For I pray in your Son’s name. Amen.