Purpose of the blog

We've all heard of Him - this man named Jesus Christ. The one person who, in His short time on earth, changed everything that we would ever understand about life, and about death.

Come along with me on this chapter & verse study through the bible's Book of Romans, and gain a deeper understanding of who Jesus is, why He came, and what it means to follow Him. We will explore God's plan of redemption for mankind.

Are we all spiritually dead in our sins? How can we be certain of eternal life? The study will help answer these and many more questions about this life of ours, God's plan and purpose for us, now and in the future.

Written for non-Christians as well as Christians, the study will ask us to look within ourselves and see how closely we stack up to God's standard for our lives. Each segment will begin with the scriptural text, followed by commentary that is filled with historical background to help us understand to whom it was written, why it was written, and what significance it has to our lives today.

Automatic archiving will allow you to pick up the study at any time, and comments will be posted by the participants to help everyone in their understanding of this awesome book.

Please join me along this journey to a better understand of our Heavenly Father, His plan of redemption for this fallen world, and the plan He has for us - not only for this life, but also the life to come.

All scriptures will be given using the New Living Translation (NLT).

Sunday, September 13, 2015

(34) Paul's final words (Romans 16:17-27)

17 And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. 18 Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people. 19 But everyone knows that you are obedient to the Lord. This makes me very happy. I want you to be wise in doing right and to stay innocent of any wrong. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
21 Timothy, my fellow worker, sends you his greetings, as do Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my fellow Jews.
22 I, Tertius, the one writing this letter for Paul, send my greetings, too, as one of the Lord’s followers.
23 Gaius says hello to you. He is my host and also serves as host to the whole church. Erastus, the city treasurer, sends you his greetings, and so does our brother Quartus.
25 Now all glory to God, who is able to make you strong, just as my Good News says. This message about Jesus Christ has revealed his plan for you Gentiles, a plan kept secret from the beginning of time. 26 But now as the prophets foretold and as the eternal God has commanded, this message is made known to all Gentiles everywhere, so that they too might believe and obey him. 27 All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. Amen.

We've grown up seeing tele-evangelists preach the gospel.  Most preach the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and in doing so, help brings thousands to faith in Christ.  But, we also know of others that were found to be doing it for their own selfish reasons.  They used the gospel message to promote their own interests, and were found to be frauds. 

If we donate to their ministry, they will promise a special blessing from God.  They prey upon the needs of believers and convince them that they have a special connection to God that no other believer has. 

It was no different in first century Rome.  The fact that there were no televisions didn't stop these people from coming up with ways to serve their own interests and deceive innocent people.

Paul pleaded with them to stick to the simple message and avoid anyone that preached a different gospel than the one he had taught.  Paul addressed this exact issue in his letter to the church at Galatia at about the same time.

A group of Jewish Christians had come to the region of Galatia, spreading the word that in order to be a real Christian, they must also follow the Jewish Law.  Paul adamantly opposed this idea with bold words that left no room for negotiation.
I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.
Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)

Paul addressed the church in Corinth about divisions;

11 For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters. 12 Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.”
13 Has Christ been divided into factions? Was I, Paul, crucified for you? Were any of you baptized in the name of Paul? Of course not!  (1 Cor 1: 11-13)
We need to remember that our salvation is entirely between us and God.  It is about we, as individuals, believing in Christ.  It has absolutely nothing to do with what denomination or non-denomination that we work out our faith through.  Remember that Salvation is a one-time act.  It is us individually, standing before God and saying that we are turning from our old life and choosing to follow Him.

Each believer is an integral and equally important part of the Church as a whole.  If we start thinking that one believer is more important than another believer, the whole Church suffers.

The truth is that we all have a special connection to God by His Spirit dwelling within each of us as believers.  We are called to be obedient to God, and to spread His Good News.

We are all sinners, in need of a savior.  Jesus is our Savior.  The Good News of Jesus Christ is truly that simple.  All we are asked to do is to believe it, and we are saved.  No one could have said it better than Jesus Himself. 

"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will never perish, but have everlasting life."  (John 3:16)

It sounds too good to be true.  We live in a culture that demands that we ask the question, "What's the catch?"  We get the feeling that there has to be more.  We have to do something, or quit something, or start something.  But, we don't.

Paul explained that, "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead - you are saved.  For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and by confessing with your mouth that you are saved."  (Romans 10:9-10)

This is the Gospel truth that we need to stand on, and to build everything else on.  It is the only foundation that will withstand the storms that are a part of this life.

Paul ended this magnificent letter with greeting from those who were always close to him.  He knew that these friends were an essential part of his ministry, and that they deserved mention. 

His reason for writing was to, first and foremost, give glory to God for revealing His awesome plan, and to assure all who will ever read this that we can rest in knowing that our strength comes from God, through His Son Jesus Christ.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

(33) Paul’s greetings (Romans 16:1-16)

 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea. Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God’s people. Help her in whatever she needs, for she has been helpful to many, and especially to me.
Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in the ministry of Christ Jesus. In fact, they once risked their lives for me. I am thankful to them, and so are all the Gentile churches.
Also give my greetings to the church that meets in their home.Greet my dear friend Epenetus. He was the first person from the province of Asia to become a follower of Christ. Give my greetings to Mary, who has worked so hard for your benefit.
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews, who were in prison with me. They are highly respected among the apostles and became followers of Christ before I did. Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.10 Greet Apelles, a good man whom Christ approves. And give my greetings to the believers from the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew.  Greet the Lord’s people from the household of Narcissus.
12 Give my greetings to Tryphena and Tryphosa, the Lord’s workers, and to dear Persis, who has worked so hard for the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, whom the Lord picked out to be his very own; and also his dear mother, who has been a mother to me.14 Give my greetings to Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sister who meet with them. 15 Give my greetings to Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and to Olympas and all the believers who meet with them.
16 Greet each other in Christian love.  All the churches of Christ send you their greetings.

Paul was all about relationships.  He loved to get to know people, to work with them, and to encourage them in their faith.  He would typically end his letters by thanking the people that made it possible.

Paul started his list with Phoebe.  Phoebe was a leader in the Church in Cenchrea, which was a smaller town about six miles Southeast of Corinth.  Phoebe could very well have been the one who delivered this letter to the Church in Rome.  Paul asked the Roman Church to greet her with the highest respect since she had done so much for him and others.  Paul understood that women, in most cultures of the first century, where not given the same honor as men.  He knew that in Rome, there were still Jewish Christians that felt that women should not be allowed in leadership roles.  The Church knew that we are all equal in God’s eyes, I feel that Paul wanted to remind them.

Pricilla and Aquila were a married couple that became very close friends of Paul.  They were originally from Rome, but relocated to Corinth when the Jews were told to leave Rome, by order of the Emperor.  Paul lived with them in Corinth between his missionary journeys.  Like Paul, Pricilla and Aquila were missionaries who traveled to Ephesus (Acts 18:18-28), back to Rome when they were allowed to return, and then back to Ephesus again.  We can assume that most of what Paul knew about the Church in Rome was through Pricilla and Aquila.

We can see from this list that the early church was extremely diverse.  There were Jews and Gentiles, Greeks and Romans, men and women, Church planters and Church leaders.

Paul knew each of these people, and knew that the Roman Church would know them as well.  Paul was always looking for a bridge – a point of connection between two people or groups.  He wrote this long letter of instruction and could only pray that the Church would accept it.  Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul laid the foundation for all of us to build on as we grow in our faith in Jesus Christ.

The Church was growing, just as Christ commanded.  There was something for everyone to do, and there still is today.  We still need to be in the business of serving, just as the members of the early church were.

It’s not enough for us to rest in our Salvation, we need to be growing in our faith.  We need to be moving ahead – gaining ground.  Christianity is not a spectator sport.  We need to be in the game, just as Paul’s list of friends were.

Study Questions

Are you involved?
Are you an active member of a local church?  I’m not asking if you go to church on Sundays, I’m asking if you are involved in one of the many ministries the local church has to offer.  By getting connected, we grow through our fellowship with other like-minded believers.  Whether it is a small group bible study, an usher, child care, or a parking lot attendant – I urge you to get involved in some way and watch as the Holy Spirit works in your life.

Are you on someone’s list?
If someone needed help, would you be the first person they would call?  We are called to serve, and most of us are willing to do it.  The problem is that we have never made ourselves available.  There are churches that have men’s ministries that help single women by doing chores around their house, and women’s ministries that provide baby sitting so that single moms can go shopping.  There is an endless list of ways to help.  All you have to do is make yourself available.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

(32) Paul's reason for writing (Romans 15:14-33)

14 I am fully convinced, my dear brothers and sisters, that you are full of goodness. You know these things so well you can teach each other all about them. 15 Even so, I have been bold enough to write about some of these points, knowing that all you need is this reminder. For by God’s grace, 16 I am a special messenger from Christ Jesus to you Gentiles. I bring you the Good News so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit. 17 So I have reason to be enthusiastic about all Christ Jesus has done through me in my service to God. 18 Yet I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me, bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them. 19 They were convinced by the power of miraculous signs and wonders and by the power of God’s Spirit.  In this way, I have fully presented the Good News of Christ from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum.
20 My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else. 21 I have been following the plan spoken of in the Scriptures, where it says,
“Those who have never been told about him will see,
    and those who have never heard of him will understand.”
22 In fact, my visit to you has been delayed so long because I have been preaching in these places.
23 But now I have finished my work in these regions, and after all these long years of waiting, I am eager to visit you. 24 I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey.
25 But before I come, I must go to Jerusalem to take a gift to the believers there. 26 For you see, the believers in Macedonia and Achaia have eagerly taken up an offering for the poor among the believers in Jerusalem. 27 They were glad to do this because they feel they owe a real debt to them. Since the Gentiles received the spiritual blessings of the Good News from the believers in Jerusalem, they feel the least they can do in return is to help them financially. 28 As soon as I have delivered this money and completed this good deed of theirs, I will come to see you on my way to Spain. 29 And I am sure that when I come, Christ will richly bless our time together.
30 Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me. Do this because of your love for me, given to you by the Holy Spirit. 31 Pray that I will be rescued from those in Judea who refuse to obey God. Pray also that the believers there will be willing to accept the donation I am taking to Jerusalem. 32 Then, by the will of God, I will be able to come to you with a joyful heart, and we will be an encouragement to each other.
33 And now may God, who gives us his peace, be with you all. Amen.

Paul's mission was to advance the Kingdom of Christ.  He was a teacher, a motivator, and often times, a diplomat.  He knew that the believers in Rome needed to hear what he had to say.  And, some of those things might be hard for some of the believers to hear. 

Just as in the Church today, there were believers of different levels of maturity in the first century Roman Church.  And, again just like today, there were those that had their own interpretation of the freedom that comes with being a believer in Christ. 

Paul chose his words carefully.  He just presented, what would become the greatest theological argument for the lostness of humanity, and our inherent need for a savior.  He explained what it meant to be saved, and what it meant to now live for Christ.  He didn't leave a whole lot of gray area.  Every single believer that would ever read this letter would know exactly where they stood on the big moral scale when compared to Christ.  We are sinners.

You can almost feel the conviction in Paul's voice when he began verse 14 by saying that, "I am convinced... that you are full of goodness.", and we should also allow this conviction to sweep over us.  Paul wasn't trying to be politically correct and shy away from the truth of his message, he was being direct.

Are we filled with goodness?  In our own strength - no way!  Yet, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are filled with His goodness.  It is only by His strength that we can be called good.  We need to understand this as well as Paul. 

The first century Roman believers needed to be reminded of who they are.  They were Christians - Followers of Christ - new creations.  We are not the same anymore, and we can no longer act like we are.  Paul boldly reminds us of what it means to be a Follower of Christ.

Paul summarized his entire letter in verse 16 - he was sent as a special messenger to deliver the Good News of Jesus Christ, so that through our acceptance of this Good News we can stand blameless and acceptable before a holy God, by the power of the Holy Spirit in us.  Now, the baton is passed to us.  This is our Great Commission.  We are now the special messengers.  Paul dedicated his entire life to sharing this Good News, and now it is our turn.

Throughout Church history, many great men and women have stepped up to the challenge.  We know of them because of the great impact they made for Christ in this world.  We wish that we could have that type of ministry that changes the course of history.  But, we forget that for every Augustine, Wesley, or Graham, there was one person that helped bring them to faith in Christ.  Each of us should strive to be that one person.

In a bible study, just last week, we were challenged to step out boldly in our faith and let the Holy Spirit guide our path.  We need to realize that it is only through Christ's Spirit that we can do this.

Paul was proud of all that he accomplished for Christ, and used it as a way of motivating others to do the same.  But, he was always quick to point out that ALL of the credit goes to Christ.  Paul recognized that he was only the instrument used by God, and that it was God that was doing the work through him.

The Church today is His chosen instrument.  We individually, are in the exact same shoes as Paul.  As believers, we already have the Spirit of Christ in us.  We have all that we need to do what He calls us to do.

In Mark 6, Luke 9, and Matthew 10, Jesus sent the disciples out to tell all of Israel that the Kingdom of God was at hand.  He instructed them to go into each town and deliver the message.  If the town accepted them, they were to be blessed, but if the town rejected them, they were to shake the dust from their sandals as a sign that they had abandoned them to their own fate.  The point is that not everyone is going to accept the gift of salvation through Christ.  Some will and some won't.  Same as with the disciples, we are God's messengers.  All we can do is deliver the message.  Too often, that fear of failure keeps us from delivering the message. 

Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, CA, often tells of times in his youth, before he came to faith in Christ, when he would be hanging out at the beaches in California - looking and acting tough.  The Christians would approach him and sheepishly offer him a bible tract.  He would scowl at them - maybe even insult them - grab the tract out of their hand and tell them to get lost.  But, he would always take the tract home, sit quietly in his bedroom and read it.  I'm sure at the time, the Christians thought that they had wasted another tract on a beach bum, but God had different plans.

We come to faith in Christ.  We get involved in our local church.  We serve in the church as an usher, a greeter, parking lot attendant, a Sunday School teacher, or maybe a member of the Worship team.  All of these are great... that is, unless the Holy Spirit is guiding you in a different direction.

The Holy Spirit placed on Paul's heart the ambition to go to places that had never heard of Christ.  Has he done the same for you?  Is there a spark of an idea, that keeps coming to your mind, that you keep suppressing?  I know that I have done it myself.  It has been years since I first felt the push to write this blog study.  I came up with every excuse that I could think of not to write it.  The Holy Spirit patiently guided me through all of my doubts, until I had run out of excuses.  Don't ignore His leading.  He has a plan and a purpose for every one of us.  Your entire purpose in this life might be to talk to the person in the next bedroom down the hall, or across the street, or across the world.

Let Christ's light shine through you.  Show genuine love as He did.  St. Francis Assisi was quoted saying, "Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words."  In other words, live out the Good News of Jesus Christ in everything you do.  Trust me, people will notice.

Paul finished this section of Scripture by talking of his future travel plans.  We know that, through the Book of Acts and his prison letters, his travel plans did not go the way he had hoped.  He did eventually make it to Rome, but as a prisoner awaiting trial by the Emperor Nero himself.

Paul set the benchmark for Church leadership, as well as evangelization.  He was constantly mindful of all of the different churches in the region.  He was not one to sit around and wait for things to get done - he got things done.  There was a collection taken in Macedonia for the believers in Jerusalem, and Paul saw a way for himself to deliver it.  I'm sure that pointing out the generosity of the Macedonian believers was Paul's way of suggesting that we do the same.  We are all in this together - if we have something to give, then we should give to those who need it.  It is what Christ would do.

Paul concluded in verses 30-33 with a request for our prayer.  We should pray continually for those who are in the field working for Christ.  We should pray for their provision, their safety, their strength, and their boldness to stand up for Christ.  One day we may be called, and we will need the prayers of others.

Paul's final prayer is that God, who gives us peace, will be with us all, Amen.

Study Questions:

Do you feel convicted?
One of the sure signs of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the conviction that we feel when we are not following God's plan for us.  This could come in the form of a conviction felt when we do something wrong, or the conviction felt when we don't do something that we should.  Trust the Spirit in His guidance.  His plan is perfect.  His plan might not be our plan, but we have to trust that He knows our future and we don't.  Step out in faith!

Do they know that you are a Christian by your love?
There was a 1970's worship song that I loved to sing called, "They will know we are Christians by our love."  Do people around you know that you are a Christian simply by the way you act towards others?  Being a Christian isn't something that we do part time.  Do people see Christ when they see you?  Or, is the impression that you give others the true picture of what our Lord and Savior did for all of mankind?  He loved us when we were His enemies.  Can you show that kind of love?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

(31) Putting others first (Romans 15:1-13)

1 We may know that these things make no difference, but we cannot just go ahead and do them to please ourselves.  We must be considerate of the doubts and fears of those who think these things are wrong.  2 We should please others.  If we do what helps them, we will build them up in the Lord.  3 For even Christ didn’t please Himself.  As the Scriptures say, “Those who insult you are also insulting Me.”  4 Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us.  They give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises.

5 May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other – each with the attitude of Christ Jesus toward the other.  6 Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

7 So accept each other just as Christ accepted you; then God will be glorified.  8 Remember that Christ came as a servant to the Jews to show that God is true to the promises He made to their ancestors.  9 And He came so the Gentiles might also give glory to God for his mercies to them. That is what the psalmist meant when he wrote:

“I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing praises to Your name.”

10 And in another place it is written,

“Rejoice, O you Gentiles, along with His people, the Jews.”

11 And yet again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; praise Him, all you people of the earth.”

12 And the prophet Isaiah said,

“The heir to David’s throne will come, and He will rule over the Gentiles.  They will place their hopes in Him.”

13 So I pray that God, who gives you hope, will keep you happy and full of peace as you believe in Him.  May you overflow with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We will always find those that are strong in faith and those who are weak.  The truth is that each of us will have times of both.  We need to be wary of this.  Each of us must be constantly mindful of those around us, and offer help when they need it.  And, in doing so, someone will be there to lift us up in our time of weakness.  Just as Christ came to serve, we must also serve.

On one occasion, James and John came to Jesus and boldly asked that each of them be seated at His right and left when Jesus comes into His kingdom in heaven.  Jesus told them that they don’t know what they are asking.  “Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of sorrow I am about to drink?” Jesus asked.  “Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able”.  “You will indeed drink from it.” He told them.  The other Apostles became indignant when they heard what James and John were asking.  So, Jesus called them all together and said, “You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them.  But among you it should be quite different.  Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must become your slave.  For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-45)

As we continue on our journey of Sanctification, we grow in our faith and learn to be more like Christ.  Christ was keenly aware of the needs of those around Him.  Jesus is the suffering servant that the Prophet Isaiah wrote about.  He came to serve and to give.  And we should do the same.

We need to understand that Christians will always have times of doubt and times of fear.  It doesn’t make us any less Christian when we do.  It doesn’t make us any less a child of God, who He loves so much that He adopted into His own family. 

We are one with Christ now.  Paul quoted Psalm 69:9, “…so those who insult you are insulting Me.”  We will be persecuted – some worse than others – but, we will all suffer some sort of trials because we align ourselves with Christ.  What’s interesting is that Paul pointed out that these trials are good for us, that these prophecies were given long ago to teach us.  And, that we should find hope and encouragement through them.

This seems backwards.  We typically hope for an easy, carefree life – sunny days, all green lights on the drive to work, easy customers, and a home cooked meal when we get home.  How can we find hope and encouragement in times of persecution? 

I’ve found that, to me, it is a type of spiritual barometer.  Whenever we do anything to advance the Kingdom of God here on earth, we will be met with some type of opposition.  It may be an impure thought while you are worshiping in church, or a temptation that comes your way.  It could be an all out spiritual attack or anything in between.  The point is that these trials let us know that we are on the right track.  We are doing the right thing.  They say that if you are a Christian that is living a carefree, easy life with no trials or persecution, then you are not walking very close to God – Satan doesn’t see you as a threat.  We learn and we grow from these trials and persecutions.  Christ served, so we will also serve. 

We need to have this same attitude of Christ to one another.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we will have the patience needed to give encouragement to others, so that we can live in harmony as one Church – giving glory to God.

We need to accept each other just as we are.  We need to lose the stereotypes and prejudices.  We are all children of God when we put our faith in Christ. 

Each of our journeys of Sanctification is unique.  Planned from the beginning and guided by the Holy Spirit.  Some came to faith as a young child, and others while they were on death row.  Some had a wonderful childhood, and others came from an abusive family.  No matter what path your life has taken, you have found your way to where you belong – you are in the family of God.

God will use every single part of our lives for His glory.  The rocky path that we have walked has made us uniquely qualified to serve His Kingdom in a very specific way.  God knew before time ever began the shape we would be in at the moment we came to faith.  And, in knowing that, He created a unique plan – specifically designed for us, so that we could advance His Kingdom.

As I said before, God doesn’t own a set of cookie cutters – we are all individually hand made.  Each one different from the other.  Each one with its own plan and purpose. 

God chose to reveal Himself to the world, through the Jewish people.  He promised that He would send His Son to live the perfect life that we can’t live, so that He could be the perfect sacrifice that we could never be, and that His sacrifice would be so complete that it would cover every sin that ever was and that ever will be.  Christ fulfilled these promises so that we could know that God is true to His Word, and that when He makes a promise, He keeps it.

These promises were not just for the Jewish people – they are for all people.  Scattered throughout the Old Testament writings are God’s plans to redeem the entire world.  Paul quoted Psalm 18, Deuteronomy 32, Psalm 117, and Isaiah 11 that speak of God’s plan of redemption for all of the people of the world.   

It is a holy nation of individuals, who come together in faith in Jesus Christ, that make up His Church. 

Paul finished with a prayer that God, who gives us hope, will keep us happy and give us peace as we believe in Him – and a blessing that we may overflow with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.

Study Questions

Are you aware of the needs of those around you?
We all have times of faith and times of doubt.  When our faith is high, we need to make it a point to lift others up around us.  And, when our faith is low, we need to be willing to accept help from others.  There are no Lone Ranger Christians – we are all in this together – just as a family should be.

Do you struggle with accepting others that are different than you?
Christians come in all different types of packaging.  Some are old and some are young.  Some are clean and some are dirty.  The list could go on.  Do you find yourself staying away from those who are not like you?  Each of us has something to offer another, and each of us has something to gain from another.  Don’t be afraid to get involved with fellow Christians.  You might just discover the plan that God has for your life.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

(30) Criticizing a Fellow Christian (Romans 14:1-23)

1 Accept Christians that are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong.  2 For instance, one person believes it is all right to eat anything.  But another believer who has a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables.  3 Those who think it is all right to eat anything must not look down on those who won’t.  And those who won’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them.  4 Who are you to condemn God’s servants?  They are responsible to the Lord, so let Him tell them whether they are right or wrong.  The Lord’s power will help them do what they should.

5 In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike.  Each person should have a personal conviction about this matter.  6 Those who have a special day for worshiping the Lord are trying to honor Him.  Those who eat all kinds of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating.  And those who won’t eat everything also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God.  7 For we are not our own masters when we live and when we die.  8 While we live, we live to please the Lord.  And when we die, we go to be with the Lord.  So in life and in death, we belong to the Lord.  9 Christ died and rose again for this very purpose, so that He might be Lord of those who are alive and of those who have died.

10 So why do you condemn another Christian?  Why do you look down on another Christian?  Remember, each of us will stand personally before the judgment seat of God.  11 For the Scriptures say,
“As surely as I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me and every tongue will confess allegiance to God.”

12 Yes, each of us will have to give a personal account to God.  13 So don’t condemn each other anymore.  Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not put an obstacle in another Christian’s path.

14 I know that I am perfectly sure on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat.  But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong.  15 If another Christian is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it.  Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died.  16 Then you will not be condemned for doing something that you know is all right.

17For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what you eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  18 If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God.  And other people will approve of you, too.  19 So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

20 Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat.  Remember, there is nothing wrong with these things in themselves.  But it is wrong to eat anything if it makes another person stumble.  21 Don’t eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another Christian to stumble.  22 You may have the faith to believe that there is nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God.  Blessed are those who do not condemn themselves by doing something they know is all right.  23 But if people have doubts about whether they should eat something, they shouldn’t eat it.  They would be condemned for not acting in faith before God.  If you do anything that you believe is not right, you are sinning.

Sanctification is a life long journey.  The journey begins when we come to faith in Christ, and continues until we meet Him in heaven.  Just as a child grows and develops from birth to adulthood, we do the same in our walk with Christ.  We start as spiritual babies, and just as a baby grows and learns, we too will grow in our faith in Christ.

We develop in Christ just as we develop as humans.  There is a natural progression.  And, just as in life, there are those who are more mature than others.  We never stop growing.  We look to those who are more mature for guidance and instruction.  And, before we know it, we are the ones that are guiding and instructing.

The amazing thing about Christianity is that it crosses all cultural boundaries.  Christ is the center of the faith, no matter who you are or what culture you came from.  The early church was made up of a cultural melting pot.  There were Jewish Christians that were glad to give up the dietary and ceremonial laws, and there were others that weren’t.  There were gentile Christians that never worshiped a god at all, and there were others that made daily sacrifices to pagan gods.

Although verse 1 assumes that there were differences in opinion of rights and wrongs, it appears that Paul was just giving some solid advice.  Paul had dealt with this issue in the Church at Galatia earlier, and most likely assumed that it could be a problem in Rome. 

Christ established the Church on earth as a way of lifting up fellow believers to a greater relationship with Himself.  We are never to break them down.  We need to come together in unity on the essentials of the faith, but we need to give some slack on the non-essentials.   

Paul began by addressing dietary habits.  Some of the Jewish Christians did not feel comfortable giving up the dietary laws that they grew up with.  It made them feel closer to Christ by obeying the old laws.  Others were happy to give them up.  Some Gentile Christians worshipped false gods, and grew up eating the meat that was offered in pagan worship.  Now, they wouldn’t think of buying that meat at the market.  It just felt wrong.

Jesus addressed this very issue in Mark 7:1-23.  Some Pharisees had come from Jerusalem to question Jesus on the issue of His disciples not following the dietary laws.  Jesus called them hypocrites for putting their man-made teachings ahead of God’s law, and gave an example of putting their tithe ahead of helping their needy parents.  Then Jesus turned to the crowd and said, “All of you listen and try to understand.  You are not defiled by what you eat; you are defiled by what you say and do.” (Mark 7:14&15 NLT)  Then later, His disciples asked Him what He meant.  Jesus answered, “Don’t you understand either?  Can’t you see that what you eat won’t defile you?  Food doesn’t come in contact with your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then comes out again.” (By saying this, He showed that every kind of food is acceptable.)  And then He added, “It is the thought-life that defiles you.  For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.  All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God.” (Mark 7:18-23 NLT)

I have to wonder if Paul was one of the Pharisees that heard Jesus say this.  He summarized this exact thought throughout chapter 14.  It’s not the food that is the problem.  The problem is what is in your heart.  When it comes to non-essential issues, we need to give liberty to our fellow Christians.  If one feels in his heart it is bad, then for that person, it is bad.  But, it is never our place to condemn a fellow Christian for holding to a belief that makes him feel closer to God.

In the same way, Paul brought up the issue that some people think that one day is more holy than another, while others think that every day is the same.  Each of us should have a personal conviction about this matter.  The point in all of this is honoring God in our lives.  If we live every day in the presence of God, with our focus on honoring Him, we will know what is right.  “While we live, we live to please the Lord.  And when we die, we go to be with the Lord.  So in life and in death, we belong to the Lord. (Romans 14:8)

It is the power of the Holy Spirit living in us that guides us in our journey.  Paul wrote in verse 4, “Who are you to condemn God’s servants?  They are responsible to the Lord, so let Him tell them whether they are right or wrong.  The Lord’s power will help them do as they should.”  The most awesome part of having the Spirit of God living in us is the fact that we will always know when we step outside of His will.  We instantly feel the conviction of the Spirit when we are doing something wrong.  We turn from it, we ask forgiveness, and we get right back on track.  It gives me comfort in knowing that the Spirit of God has my back.  I’m not alone on this journey.  I have a guide that knows the way.

We grow and we change as we move forward.  We gain new insights into the plan and purpose that God has for our lives.  Things that we may have felt strongly about when we were new in the faith, might not even matter anymore.  We are being shaped into a new creation.  We spoke in an earlier study that we are shaped from the same piece of clay, each into our own individual design, by the Master Designer Himself.  God does not own a set of cookie cutters - each of us is unique in our design.

As a Church, we need to constantly grow, just as our bodies have.  We should encourage each other in this growth, and we should stand in awe of how of the transforming power of God has made us better than we could have ever imagined. 

But still we sin.  Pride creeps in as we look at others who have matured in faith.  Envy and jealousy come over us and we think and say things like, “You used to be so strict on what you ate, and now you eat anything… you are such a hypocrite!”  “You used to be a devout Catholic, and now you are a Protestant.  Do you even know what you believe?”

Paul warns us not to do this in verse 10.  Just as different as we are individually, so is our path to Christ.  Each of us is on our own journey, and we will grow and we will change as we are directed by the Holy Spirit.  We will all stand individually before the judgment seat of God.  We will bow before Him, and our life will be presented for all to see.  We will see all of the good things we have done, and we will see the bad.  We will be reminded of the times when we caused another to stumble and fall, and God forbid, those that we have caused to lose faith all together.

Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 18:6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”  We need to understand how important it is for Jesus, and how important it should be for us to help each other on our journey of Sanctification.  It is our personal responsibility as a believer.

In verse 17, Paul explained that the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink.  It is not a matter of following the rules and traditions of the Church, but it is of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

He goes on to say that if we serve Christ with this attitude, we will please God, and others will notice.  Our aim should be to live in harmony as a Church and try to always lift each other up.

Study Questions

What is your attitude towards other Christian faith groups?
Do you see us all as one body – as one Church?  Or, do you see some Christians as out on the fringes?  Remember that every Christian’s path is different, and it is each of our responsibility to keep each other focused on Jesus Christ as the Author and Finisher of our faith.

What can you do to lift up other Christians in their walk of faith?
Do you ever think of asking others around you where they are in their walk, and what you can do to help?  Too often, the Holy Spirit will prompt us with a thought and direction, but just as quickly, our head is filled with doubt.  We need encouragement.  Try asking someone if they have felt this prompting, and see how you can help them get it moving.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

(29) Civil responsibility – Living for God (Romans 13: 1-14)

1 Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there.  All governments have been placed in power by God.  2 So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow.  3 For the authorities do not frighten people who are doing right, but they frighten those who do wrong.  So do what they say, and you will get along well.  4 The authorities are sent by God to help you.  But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for you will be punished.  The authorities are established by God for that very purpose, to punish those who do wrong.  5 So you must obey the government for two reasons: to keep from being punished and to keep a clear conscience.

6 Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons.  For the government workers need to be paid so they can keep on doing the work God intended them to do.  7 Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and import duties, and give respect and honor to all to whom it is due.

8 Pay all your debts, except the debt of love for others.  You can never finish paying that!  If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill all the requirements of God’s law.  9 For the commandments against adultery and murder and steeling and coveting – and any other commandment – are all summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  10 Love does no wrong to anyone, so love satisfies all of God’s requirements.

11 Another reason for right living is that you know how late it is; time is running out.  Wake up, for the coming of our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here.  So don’t live in darkness.  Get rid of you evil deeds.  Shed them like dirty clothes.  Clothe yourself with the armor of right living, as those who live in the light.  13 We should be decent and true in everything we do, so that everyone can approve of our behavior.  Don’t participate in wild parties and getting drunk, or in adultery and immoral living, or fighting and jealousy.  14 But let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of you, and don’t think of ways to indulge your evil desires.

Paul begins chapter 13 with a general respect of authority.  Paul is painting this picture with some very broad brush strokes.  Because God is sovereign over all things, we know that these governments were put in place by God’s will – otherwise, they wouldn’t be there.  And, in that view, if we refuse to obey the laws of the land we are truly disobeying God.  This makes perfect sense as long as the laws of the land are in alignment with God’s law.

If we look at the lives of the apostles, we see that they never disobeyed the government for personal reasons.  On the few occasions that they did go against the government, it was in order to follow God’s moral standard.  God’s law trumps any government law simply because God is the final authority. 

As Christians, we strive to live by God’s moral standard, and if we do, there should be no conflict with the laws of society.  Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, so it is a constant struggle to keep our balance between the two.

Some Christians believe that the government is so corrupt that they won’t have anything to do with it.  Although they remain good citizens, they refuse to work for the government, serve in the military, or vote in elections. 

Others believe that God gave them the Church and the State as two separate entities that have two completely separate purposes.  One as the moral authority, and one as the civil authority.  Each performs their own tasks, but never mix together.  They compliment each other, but do not support each other. 

The last view are those who believe that the Church and State should work together for the good of all of the people.

No matter which view you embrace, none advocate a rebellion against the government.  We are to follow the laws of the country we live in unless the government passes a law that clearly goes against God’s moral standard. 

Most of us will never be persecuted individually, but if it happens, what will you do?  In Revelation 13, John wrote of “the Mark of the Beast”.  In the last days, the government will pass a law that no one will be able to buy or sell anything unless they have the mark that shows their allegiance to the Anti-Christ.  Will you be able to refuse the mark and suffer starvation and ultimately death?

I find it interesting that Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in the Church of Rome, at a time when they were being hunted down, tortured and killed at the hands of the Emperor Nero.  We know from his letters that Paul always had an eternal perspective on life.  He spoke of us being foreigners on our way home, and citizens of heaven.  He spoke of his persecution as only temporary – He would either survive and continue on with his mission, or he would die and be with Christ.  Either choice was good with Paul.  Although we should, not all of us have the same resolve as Paul.

Paul was a lover of mankind.  He segued through the topic of paying our fiscal debts in verses 6 & 7, to the debt of love for one another in verse 8, which can never be paid.  God is love, and if we love we fulfill all of God’s laws. 

And, that is the essence of the Christian faith.  Jesus said that the world will know we are His followers by the love that we show one another.  Love does no wrong to anyone.  We should be different than the world, because the world doesn’t know how to love.  Paul wrote, “Love is patient, love is kind.  Love is not jealous, proud, boastful or rude.  Love does not demand its own way.  Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged.  It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever truth wins out.  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT)  That’s the kind of love that Jesus was talking about.

In verse 11, Paul warned that the end is near.  Every day that goes by puts us closer to the day of Christ’s return.  So, we should be prepared.  Paul commanded that we not live in the darkness of our sin.  Throw it off like a dirty shirt.  Instead, clothe ourselves with the Armor of Right Living.  Some translations call it the Armor of Light, because we are the ones who live in the light.

In our last session, Paul warned us not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed into the person that God designed us to be.  He drives that point home again here in verses 13 & 14.  The NKJV says we should “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”  We are nothing without Him, but with Him, we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength (Philippians 4:13).  We need to intentionally put on Jesus Christ every day.  Like a soldier’s uniform that, not only provides us protection, but also identifies us with our Commander.

We are called to be the light of Christ that shines out into this dark world.  We are to be a beacon that guides the lost to safety.

Study Questions

What is you view of the relationship between Church and State?
This is a hot-topic issue in the U.S.A. today.  Groups are constantly battling to remove any sign of religion, specifically Judeo/Christianity, from the public square.  Cases for removing the Ten Commandments from courtrooms, and crosses from war memorials have made their way to the Supreme Court of the United States.  How do you feel we should view this?

Do they know you are a Christian by your love?
At least in the eyes of the media, Christians today are portrayed mostly as loud mouthed bigots that stand against a long list of moral issues.  We do need to stand against what is wrong.  But, how much better would it be if the world could see what we stand for, instead?  If we truly did our jobs as Christians, the world would see the love of Christ shining through us.  Take Paul’s love test from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  How many points did you score?

How is your love?

  • Patient
  • Kind
  • Not jealous
  • Not boastful
  • Not proud
  • Not rude
  • Not demanding
  • Not irritable
  • Keeps no record of wrong
  • Never glad at injustice
  • Happy when truth wins
  • Never gives up
  • Never loses faith
  • Is always hopeful
  • Endures through every circumstance