Monday, July 31, 2006

Romans 16:1-16

We come to Paul’s wrap-up of his letter to the Christians in Rome. As we recall, Paul had not yet visited Rome, though he desired to do so in the near future, God willing. He did, however, know some people in the church in Rome, as evidenced by his long list of greetings in chapter 16.

What a remarkable thing to be remembered in history through this letter! Paul, one of the “stars” of the early church, warmly commended – by first name! – certain people in the Roman church whom he knew and loved in Jesus. (We too know how meaningful it is to be recognized by a person held in high esteem by us and by others.) Some of the people are mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament, with more details about them. Some are mentioned only here, with nothing more known than Paul’s reference to them. Clearly, though, they mattered to Paul as his true sisters and brothers in Jesus. He wanted them to know that he remembered and cherished them.

Across time and space, God creates a new people – a family of women, men, and children. In theological terms, we call this the church. It is a communion of saints throughout history and the world. Saints are not those who are perfectly holy (though God wishes us to be and works to make us so), but those who are made new in Jesus and joined together in community through the Spirit, not through flesh and blood. We remember some by name, such as Paul and the other apostles, Phoebe and those in this list, as well as many more in the New Testament and church history.

Yet comparatively few of God’s saints are remembered by name in a letter or other document, or in the church’s tradition. Only God knows the names of the vast majority of those who have striven to follow Jesus in the history of the church. Likewise, few of us will be long remembered by future generations. Yet, as with all the "past" saints in Jesus, God knows us and holds us dear. Whether we live or die, we live now and ever in Jesus. And, as we set our hearts and minds on Jesus, not on ourselves or things of this world, we find that to be remembered and cherished by God are grace and glory enough for this life and the next.

Gregory Strong

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Romans 15:25-33

Paul ends this section of his letter to the Romans by asking for prayer: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in earnest prayer to God on my behalf, that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.” (15:30-32)

Paul invites the Romans, whom he has yet to meet, to pray with him and for him, and he is specific in his request. I like that Paul asks for prayer. He could easily have written, “I’ll pray for you,” but he didn’t. Rather, he writes, “....join me in earnest prayer to God and on my behalf.” Paul wants the Romans to know that he needs their prayers, that they can be part of his ministry to Christ simply by praying, and that praying together with him strengthens their unity in the body of Christ.

Sometimes I wonder why more of us don’t ask for prayer, even within our church family. We have, for example, a Prayer Chain accessible via telephone, e-mail, or our web site, but requests are few and far between. There is a “prayer tin” for prayer requests in the narthex, but most Sundays it remains empty. We even have healing prayer available on Sunday mornings, yet less than 10 people have come forward in the last 6 months. I do believe we understand the beauty and the significance of praying, of speaking to God and knowing He hears us. But I wonder if we appreciate the significance, and the power of praying together, of uniting our voices, of reaching up together in faith and trust and love to our Heavenly Father. Paul did, and so he often asked for prayer.

Heavenly Father, may we strengthen our unity within the Body of Christ by praying together. May we never allow timidity or pride or fear or desperation to keep us from asking for prayer. May we always pray for and with each other. Amen.

Martha Olson

Friday, July 28, 2006

Romans 15:14-24

In today’s reading, Paul admits that his ministry and the successes of that ministry are from Jesus acting through Paul. In my imagination, I see Paul as quite the big-wig in the early Christian movement. He must have had folks tripping over themselves when he came to a town – at least folks involved with the movement, as I know he had many enemies as well. Within that growing number of people who believed that Paul was a true messenger of God, they must have treated him like a rock star. How hard would it be, then, to keep that celebrity in perspective? It would have been hard for me, I think. But, as Paul says in verse 17 (NSRV version) “In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God.”

I don’t think it was mere coincidence that I heard a song by Casting Crowns on my way to work this morning that hit this exact same theme. The lyrics of the chorus are:

When I’m weak, you make me strong
When I’m blind, you shine your light on me
‘Cause I can’t get by living on my own ability
How refreshing to know you don’t need me
How amazing to find that you want me
So I’ll stand on your truth and I’ll fight with your strength
Until you bring the victory
By the power of Christ in me.

If it was true for Paul, it certainly remains true for us. Only through Christ will we have the strength to win our victories in life. And it is only in answering His call that you obtain that strength.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Romans 15: 1-13

Eugene Peterson translates a portion of today’s reading as follows, Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, "How can I help?" That's exactly what Jesus did. He didn't make it easy for himself by avoiding people's troubles, but waded right in and helped out. The goal in so doing is to bring outsiders in, just as God worked through Israel (the insiders) to bring the Gentiles (the outsiders) into the sphere of His saving love. Then we will all live together in the harmony that has always been God’s intention for humanity.

It does seem to me that one of the fundamental calls of the Christian life is the willingness to forsake what we enjoy to do a better job reaching out to those who are around us. The NRSV translation is also instructive here: we are not to please ourselves, but each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.

I think there are a couple applications to this. One has to do with how we are the Church. Our practices, from the music we choose, the way we read and speak about Scripture, our liturgical forms, and the things we do (or don’t do) when we get together must not so much be in accord with our likes and tastes, but must be accessible to those presently outside our walls, drawing them in. This kind of flexibility and openness to new forms and ideas is, I think, one of the marks of a church moving towards maturity.

The other has to do with how we live our lives personally. It has to do with our willingness to be inconvenienced not just corporately (that’s the last paragraph), but in the thick and thin of our lives.

In any given day there are things I really need to get done, and I focus pretty tightly on them. Am I willing to let those things go when needed to do a better job of sharing God’s love? Truthfully, not as often as I’d like.

So here are some questions I ask myself as I reflect on this passage. Maybe you’ll want to ask them too.

Who are “the people around us”? How well do I know them—if at all? What can I do to change that?

Specifically, what do “the people around me” need? How can I find out?

What can I do, and encourage my church to do, to meet those needs in a very practical and concrete way?

If it means being “inconvenienced”, or “taking the trouble” to go out of my way, am I willing to do it? If not…who will?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Romans 14:13-23

Unlike last week, the message in today's reading is clear to me. Paul gives us sound instruction regarding respecting others.

Paul reminds us what we already know - that our actions are not a private matter. Our actions do influence others and we need to be mindful of others whenever we do something. Even though it may be our "right" to do something, a mature Christian will treat others with love and compassion. Paul says that just because it is lawful to commit a given act, we do not have to do that act and we should consider how it affects others before we do it.

Many people wish for peace and speak loudly for it. Sometimes these same people do not conduct themselves in a way that will bring about peace. In other words they do not walk the talk. If someone wants peace, then he or she will not commit an act that is offensive to someone else. Sometimes meekness, humility, self-denial, and love are the qualities required for peace. Often we have to think of the other person before ourselves to have peace.

Why is this important? If our actions offend others, they will not let us get close enough to them to have a relationship. Without relationships we are unable to bring more people closer to Christ. If we do not bring more people into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, then we are not complying with one of the commandments He gave us.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

romans 14:1-23

Daily Devotional – Tuesday July 25, 2006
Romans 14:1-12

Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

May The Lord fill this day with blessings for you and me. Todays reading from Romans is particulary relevant to my present situation. Paul has a wonderful way of putting his belief into every day experience. I don’t know the historical background or the motivation for this letter however I can assume that Paul had heard that there was conflict between his Christian brothers in Rome and the community around them. This conflict may have come from debates, arguments and anger as his Christian brothers tried to teach and convince others about the gift of God and his son Jesus Christ. Here I see the judgement by the “holy” of the “unholy”. The judgement of others who do not share their beliefs and values.

We are reminded that we cannot and should not judge those who serve another master. We can only be judged by our Master. There have been so many times in my life where I have fallen into this behaviour, both in my personal and professional life. We are surrounded by this judgemental behaviour. We see this every time we open a news paper or watch television. Most wars have their origin in this judgemental behaviour including the renewed conflict in the Middle East.

We are told, don’t judge others because of what they believe. Let God judge them. Ultimatly, God is master of all and all will stand in judgement in front of him. We must look to our own salvation. In my youth I wasted considerable energy and damaged relationships trying to make others think like me. I am still doing it but hopefully less. Jesus tells us to teach by our actions and our treatment of others not by debate or argument.

AMEN

John Dickie, July 25, 2006

Monday, July 24, 2006

Romans 13:8-14

In the first eleven chapters of Romans, Paul discussed several significant themes. While challenging to summarize, clearly Paul meant to reinforce in his readers a deep sense of God’s great mercy and love in Jesus toward all people. Whatever the past, present, and future, we can take heart in God’s steadfast embrace and redemption of our world and our lives in Jesus, even at the cost of the cross.

On this foundation, Paul turned to reinforce in his readers how they should respond to God’s acts. “God has demonstrated his great mercy and love. Now live the new life he gives you!” So Paul exhorted followers of Jesus to be transformed from within by God, that they would outwardly live the good and perfect will of God.

At the core of this transformed life is love. Beginning in chapter twelve, Paul showed a number of ways our love for God should flow out in specific, loving attitudes and actions to any and all around us. The love we are to incarnate, modeled on God’s love for us in Jesus, is not to be limited to family and friends (though surely it should characterize those relationships!) but is to be extended to strangers, official persons (e.g., government authorities), and even enemies!

To underscore the concrete nature of love, Paul employed a financial image: debt fulfillment. This may run counter to our sensibilities about love. We often think of love in emotional and sentimental terms. Here Paul characterized love in terms of obligation and transaction – fulfilling a debt. In this regard, love does not subsist in emotions. It consists in will and act – first God’s, then ours.

Yet clearly such love is more than mere obligation-transaction. Paul shifted and enriched the notion of love in stating that the debt-fulfillment of love does no harm to another. This admonition reminds us of medical ethics. Yet even the “does no harm” prescription is only the minimum. The ultimate is to restore a person to true well-being. And this we see in Paul’s robust love-admonitions to bless and do good to those around us.

Christian love, then, is more than an emotional state; it is a transaction. The “debt” imagery reminds us of this. Yet, it is also more than mere “financial satisfaction”; love is restoring, beneficial action, a regimen of being blessing and medicine to another. Even as God’s love is truly medicinal for us, when God heals us, we in turn must become practitioners of love to those around us, not only doing no harm, but far more, making them well.

Gregory Strong

Friday, July 21, 2006

Romans 13:1-7

To be frank, this passage presents difficulties. It is (or certainly appears to be) political, and in a way that affirms the legitimacy of existing regimes. As one commentator puts it, "Romans 13 was Adolf Hitler's favorite Bible passage." After all, as Paul says, "there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God."

Other commentators have argued (though not persuasively to my mind) that the authorities to whom Paul refers are not civil but church authorities. But the references to legal justice (and the sword of punishment) and to taxes could not possibly refer to the church.

So we are left with the plain statements of a man who also said the Jesus (NOT Caesar)is Lord. I don't think that Paul is contradicting himself here. Jesus remains in control of our lives in a way that the civil authority never can be, but the civil authority imposes order in a way that Jesus, at least in the current age, does not. This therefore becomes a compelling argument for the separation of Church and State; we pay tangible taxes to the earthly taxing body, which keeps civil order; but we remit our true selves to the divine order.

There is no earthly ruler that God has not allowed to take power. There have unquestionably been (and still are) monstrous tyrants and dangerous fools. I don't believe there is anything in Paul's words to contravene the statement that "whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government." That is, and will remain, our story. But ultimately we still answer to the One Lord who created Heaven and Earth.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Romans 12:9-21

Today’s reading is Paul’s laundry list to the Romans of what one must do to truly practice love. Sometimes I get so taken with myself when I do some act of kindness. This morning, I let someone pull in front of me on my way to work. Woo-who! Let’s have a party! In my head, I’m so proud of myself. I think “See? I am a good person!” Today’s reading put’s that all into perspective for me.

Our biggest example of love is the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Whenever I think of that, I can’t help but be reminded of the movie “The Passion of the Christ” as Jesus walked to his own crucifixion. Even now, I can barely type as I remember how he was so violently scourged, then forced to walk that long, way up the hill, through the streets of shouting people – people who just 2 days before welcomed him and who now had turned against him. His few friends huddled in the back of the crowds, trying not to be seen, giving him no comfort or support. How could I ever love like that? How could I think that my very small efforts at acting in love could ever be enough?

It’s supposed to be hard because the reward is so huge. You think of investments – the more risk you take, the more return you will make. I don’t mean to be sacrilegious and say that investing money is like giving love, but the analogy is not far off. The reward is eternal life in heaven. Wow! What is that worth? How much are we willing to risk to obtain that return? It is certainly worth more than letting someone come into your lane during your morning commute.

It is my prayer today that all of us, especially me, take bolder steps towards practicing the kind of love that Christ exemplified.

Vicki Nelson

Romans 12:1-8

Boy am I fortunate! Having moved out of Romans 9-11, a VERY difficult section, today’s verses are straight forward and lend themselves readily to comment. In fact, the biggest difficulty in this passage is deciding how to limit my comments!

With that in mind, the focus I’m going to run with is the idea of “transformation”. As you no doubt know, the Greek word itself is a form of “metamorphosis”. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with bugs understands this word, how a lowly caterpillar becomes a winged flower, a butterfly. It “morphs”.

And, of course, “morph” is tucked right there in “metamorphosis”. It’s another word we’ve all become familiar with with the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, or now the Transformers that can morph from giant robots into all kinds of cool machines. The idea in each of these examples is change; I once was something but now I’m something else.

In other words, there is a before and after to our life story. In fact, in this life there is an ongoing series of before and afters where the latest “after” becomes the next before. So it brings up the question—how is God changing you? Because really, that is what the Bible is—a collection of stories how, through salvation history, God changes people, and therefore of how He both wants to and is able to change you. (And me, of course.) It’s the story of before and afters.

So what is your story? What is mine? Do we have one? Are we telling it?

I’ve thought about this a lot the last several years, and I’ve come to believe that one of the surest marks of a healthy Christian community that really is centered on Jesus as Lord and Savior is that it will be a community of stories. These stories will be stories of lives changed by the power of God at work in them. They’ll be the kind of stories a person can’t help but tell, and they will encourage and inspire those who hear them to continue offering themselves as living sacrifices so that they will be transformed to a greater extent than ever before.

So again…what is your story? What is mine? Do we have one? Are we telling it? If not, what are we going to do about it as we seek to live out one of the central truths these verses (and indeed the Bible) has to offer?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Romans 11:25-36

I do not know about you, but I find this part of Paul's letter to the Romans difficult to fully comprehend. Today's reading is no different for me. Perhaps it is my pea-sized brain. Anyway let me discuss some points from today's reading.

In today's reading Paul was apparently overcome by the reality and depth of the mercy of God. Perhaps this was because it was apparent to Paul that he himself was a recipient of God's mercy. As we know, Paul had previously been one of the hardened in Israel, one of the defiant, who actually persecuted Christians. Then for reasons only known to God, Paul was chosen to receive mercy and grace. As having come full circle in his walk with Christ, first being part of the elected nation of Israel that was set aside for disobedience, and then second receiving mercy, Paul is well qualified to praise the wisdom, counsel, and glory of God. We could all learn from this lesson as I dare say we have all been "hardened" against God from time to time in our lives. But God will always take us back. He will always show mercy to us. Unlike some humans where our actions or attitudes can drive them away from us forever, God will always become our friend again. All we have to do is ask Him.

The last part of today's reading brings this to my mind. Humans are not fully aware of God's ways or plan. However, we should praise God all the time. In other words, we should praise God for what we understand about His plan and will and we should praise God for what we do not have the capacity to understand. I feel it is great and awesome to worship a God who I do not fully understand. After all, what motivation would there be in worshipping a God whose purpose and will was totally known and comprehended by our human intellect? I do not want God to be limited to what I can understand. I am looking forward to a peace beyond my understanding - how about you?

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

romans 11-13-24

Daily Devotional – Tuesday July 18 2006
Romans 11:13-24

Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

Bless you this day. Though this is Tuesday, I am writing to you on Sunday. A Sunday when 5 new Christians were born through baptism At Saint Matthews. As I participated in this wonderful event, I was struck by the tremendous potential these very young (and not so young) have to make a positive impression on this world and to spread Gods love and grace throughout their lives. Will that potential be realized? Oh! I hope so. God wills it. Then I saw God’s will in action as the three teenagers recited their mission experiences. There it was, the potential of baptism being lived in front of me. What a wonderful thing!

This is the very potential that Paul was describing in his letter to the Gentiles in Rome in today’s reading. He uses the wonderful example of the olive tree to illustrate how God through Jesus Christ wants and accepts all who are willing to be grafted in and be fed by God’s love. He acknowledges that some branches must be removed (the unfaithful) in order to graft in new ones (wild olive trees – with potential through faith). This illustrates both God’s love and his judgment. I love Paul’s straight talk when he says “—if you boast, remember it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you”. So there!

Even those that have been removed to provide a place for the faithful can also be take back by the Lord through their repentance. In our human nature we have such tremendous potential to be good in the eyes of God. Jesus has showed us how to achieve our individual potential. May God bless those baptized today and us as well to see and achieve our full potential.

AMEN

John Dickie, July 18 2006

Monday, July 17, 2006

Romans 11:1-12

Much of what Paul wrote in the first ten chapters of his letter to the Christians in Rome concerned God’s love and purposes for the Jewish people. He rejoiced in God’s special love for the people of Israel in their origins, history, and religious and social life. He then affirmed the primacy and singularity of Jesus as the culmination of all that God had done in and for the people of Israel.

Additionally, Paul proclaimed, God in Jesus uniquely, decisively, and fully extended his saving love and purposes beyond the Jewish people to other peoples (i.e., to Gentiles). Jesus is the focal point – past, present, and future – of God’s actions on behalf of the entire world. In Jesus, God comes to all with saving love beyond human reckoning. In Jesus, God transforms any and all who give their lives to him. This is true for Jewish people as for any people.

Many early Christians wrestled with what this means for Jewish people who reject Jesus as God’s personal, culminating, focal point for their history and salvation. Paul did not just wrestle with it. He agonized over it.

Paul could not be blas̩ about the question. He could not be indifferent because (a) he knew Jesus to be decisive for history and salvation; (b) he loved Jesus passionately and desired others to know what he found so loveable; and (c) he loved his fellow Jews deeply. So Paul prayed fervently for his fellow Jews. He told them about Jesus whenever he had opportunity Рand he went out of his way to have opportunity! And he trusted God fully for them.

May this be a model for us! May we love Jesus so much that we pray longingly and persistently for others to know him, perhaps especially (though not exclusively) those close to our hearts and histories. By word and deed, may we share our love for Jesus with the world around us – with family, friend, neighbor, and stranger. And may we trust God fully for them. For we can trust God, who is loving and faithful beyond human measure. This is the rock-solid foundation of Paul’s trust in God’s purposes for Gentiles and Jews, however bleak circumstances may appear. Can we ourselves do any less than trust the God who gave his very son, Jesus, for us and for all?

Gregory Strong

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Romans 10:14-21

Today’s reading was really hard for me to understand. I read it several times and I just don’t get it. I understand the words; that Paul is saying that people have to hear the good news so that they have the opportunity to believe. But the whole reading just doesn’t seem to fit together.

For help in understanding, I turned to Barclay’s commentary and The Message. And I take some comfort when Barclay says this is “one of the most difficult and obscure passages in the letter to the Romans”.

Eugene Peterson’s The Message reads “But not everybody is ready for this, ready to see and hear and act. Isaiah asked what we all ask at one time or another: Does anyone care God? Is anyone listening and believing a word of it?” (v16)

Paul states that Israel has definitely heard the good news but isn’t listening. He refers to sayings from Isaiah, Moses and the Psalms to prove that God’s message was given to Israel and Israel refused to hear. In the last verse, Paul describes Israel as disobedient and contrary.

In Barclay’s commentary, he describes it this way: “….. shutting our minds to what we do not want to see, and stopping our ears to what we do not want to hear.” And, “God gave us conscience and the guidance of his Holy Spirit; and often we plead ignorance when, if we were honest, we would have to admit that in our heart of hearts we knew the truth.”

With a better understanding of these verses and the help of 20/20 hindsight, I can see times in my life where I’ve refused to see things that were right there if I just looked or where I haven’t acted on subtle leadings. Maybe I wasn’t ready, or maybe I was just stubborn and contrary. My prayer is that God will bless us with whatever we need to allow us to see and hear and act on the good news of his message.

Sue Reier

Friday, July 14, 2006

Romans 10:1-13

Paul now turns again to discuss Israel and the Law. He commends Israel for being zealous for God but says that Israel is not going about finding God in the right way. The Jewish Law of the Old Testament had its place, which was to point out our need for a saviour. Righteousness comes from God, Paul says, not from following a set of rules. In other words, we have to have faith in God and not in our own abilities to do anything to put us right with God. (I am from the West Coast and we used to call this the “swimming to Hawaii” example: if we all lined up in San Francisco to swim to Hawaii, some may get further than others, but what we ALL need is bridge). Paul would agree. He’d say, don’t think your following the Law would build you up so you could swim to Hawaii, so to speak.

On our best days we see what poor swimmers we are and we live a life of thankfulness to Jesus for coming to our rescue. Last week I was sitting in my back yard when I noticed a chipmunk scampering up the steps to my kitchen area. I thought, “that’s not a good idea for him,” but didn’t make any effort to leave my lawn chair. Soon I heard a scuffle in the kitchen. I ran up the steps and sure enough, there was the chipmunk in the kitchen; in the mouth of our young cat. Belatedly I came to the aid of the chipmunk (I mobilized other family members by yelling really loud) and we rescued the unharmed chipmunk. I’m really glad that God doesn’t sit around like I did. I am thankful for Paul’s writings which always direct me to be thankful.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Romans 9:19-33

Romans 9 began a new section in the book of Romans—one which is the subject of much debate. The theme is God’s dealings with Israel. And the big question is what that tells about who God is, and then flowing from that what we learn about His plans for salvation.

In today’s verses, like the previous verses in chapter 9, Paul is dealing with the issue of God’s sovereignty. One of the ways that sovereignty is expressed is in His calling Israel as His chosen people. In God’s relationship to Israel, Paul has shown that salvation has its roots in God’s grace, not in race; that it is bestowed on the basis of God’s providence, not our performance; that it comes through God’s mercy, not human merit.

And, of course, if all that is true, the big issue becomes, “If it’s all up to God, then it doesn’t really matter what I do. If what it means for God to be God is that God calls the shots, then I don’t really have a choice. And if I don’t have a choice, how can God blame me for anything?”

As Eugene Petersen translates today’s opening verse in the message, Are you going to object, "So how can God blame us for anything since he's in charge of everything? If the big decisions are already made, what say do we have in it?" On first glance, Paul’s answer is less than helpful. “Who are you to question God?”

Personally, I take the next verses about God creating some people only for destruction to show how great He is as a supposition on Paul’s part. I think Paul is making a point, not necessarily describing how God actually works. The point then becomes this—do we trust God or not?

I don’t understand everything about God or how He works or what He does. How could I? So, in light of what I don’t understand, of what doesn’t even seem fair, will I criticize God and perhaps even turn my back on Him? Or, on the basis of what I do understand about God, of what I do know about Him, will I continue to trust Him and believe in His goodness? Will I see the problem located in my ignorance and finitude or in God’s character?

I don’t think this means God has the right to do whatever He wants. If God does evil, then God disqualifies Himself as God. It means we trust God never to do evil, even if sometimes it seems to us like things should be otherwise. It means we trust God to be good, and loving, and true, and that only by receiving His grace and following in His path will we become likewise. There will always be circumstances and events and painful events that will tempt us to view things differently, but in simple trust we let them drive us deeper into the heart of God rather than driving us away from Him.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Romans 9:1-18

Paul expresses what I think we all feel from time to time for a person or people we truly love. Paul wishes he could trade places with, and take the punishment for, his fellow Jewish "brothers" if that could or would save them.

"I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 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, the people of Israel." (Romans 9: 2-4)

Of course the only one who can save any of us is Jesus Christ. However, in these verses, Paul shows a rare depth of love. Like Jesus, Paul is willing to sacrifice his life for others.

When we see others that have not found a meaningful relationship with Christ, often it is easier to wish we could take their punishment than to try and bring them into a closer relationship with Christ. However, the latter is what Jesus calls us to do and the former is often not sincere (and not possible).

Given that none of us can take the judgment and punishment for another so the other can be saved, and given that Christ calls us to share the Word and bring more and more into a meaningful relationship with Him, what are we to do? We cannot sacrifice ourselves to save another, but we do have things we can sacrifice to save another. These other things are our time, money, energy, and comfort. If any of us asked for God's help through prayer, and then made a true sacrifice, I am confident it would be extremely effective.

Just imagine the joy it would bring any of us if we made such a change in someone else's life.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

romans 8:31-39

Daily Devotional – Tuesday July 11
Romans 8:31-39

Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

When you feel that you are being persecuted and set upon just read this passage from Romans. Whatever persecution I may feel and the discouragement that comes with it are insignificant when compared to the persecution of the early Christians in Rome. As I watched the World Cup and the wonderful public spectacle, I was struck by the very large crowd in Rome gathered to watch the “game”. I was reminded of another time when Romans watched the “game”; only it was a very different game. The history books tell us of gladiators, tigers and Christians. Mankind has come a long way but persecution is far from dead. It is all around us and comes in many forms.

This message of encouragement in the face of persecution is as relevant today and to you and me as it was in the first century. I have always loved the thought that “if God is for us, who is against us?” The fact that God is for us is proven by the sacrifice of his beloved Son who suffered persecution for our sake. Jesus suffered persecution so that you and I would not have to. We have victory over all those who would persecute and harm us. Love does conquer all and Jesus is all the proof we need.

The only thing that can separate us from the love of God is ourselves. The persecution of others cannot bring us down as long as we remain strong is our belief and act on those beliefs. One act of love is infinitely more powerful than many acts of persecution. Lord Jesus has given us power beyond our comprehension. We have the Power to rise above and defeat those that would persecute us. All we have to do is to love them. Pretty simple eh? You betcha! Have a great day loving those around you.

AMEN

John Dickie, July 11 2006

Monday, July 10, 2006

Romans 8:26-30

Many of us (I include myself here) may be sorely tempted, perhaps unknowingly, to a limited and limiting perspective on life. The emphasis is on surface appearances and the immediate context. In this view, present circumstances seem to constitute the sum of existence, of what we can know and expect of life. Hope may wane. Life may frustrate or even terrify.

When Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, Nero was emperor, but his pitiless cruelties against them stood nearly ten years away. Still, as we can infer from this letter, those Christians must have already known something of the struggle for authentic faith amid their fitful transformation into holy people, the swirl of competing worldviews and religions around them, and slanderous rumors about their beliefs and lifestyle. Of course, before long they would in fact face the excruciating reality of fierce and fearsome persecution against them for being followers of Jesus in the center of the Roman empire. How did they face those many challenges to their faith, including Nero’s ravages upon them?

Into our various milieus, whether first century Rome or now, the Spirit comes to God’s people, to followers of Jesus, with tenderness and compassion to plumb the depths of our lives, to encourage and strengthen the heart and will, both in the present and with eternity in view. When we cannot articulate our frustrations and fears, our disappointments and sorrows, to God or even to ourselves, the Spirit wells up from the chambers of our being and speaks to God for us. As well, the Spirit flows from the chambers of God’s being and speaks to us for God. We may not fully comprehend at any moment the Spirit’s language of dialogue, but we know on some core level the Spirit’s transaction of love.

Thus in and through the Spirit, communicating and comforting and transforming us, does God work all things for good for us, whether in the present or with eternity in view. Surface appearances and immediate context, though sometimes limited and limiting, even difficult and fearsome, take on holy depth and meaning when, in the Spirit, God’s word speaks to them and from them, when God’s love embraces us in them. Thereby, in-Spirited with divine assurance and hope, we are borne up to bear our circumstances faithfully and well, in likeness of Jesus, in this life and the next.

Gregory Strong

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Romans 8:18-25

There’s absolutely no comparison, Paul says, between any present suffering and the glory we will have with God. Even creation (nature), which he personifies as a woman groaning with labor pains, “...waits with eager longing..."But," he writes, “...we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23)

When we long for something, nothing else really matters, and we can hardly wait! Our minds are set, our thoughts are focused, and we pray to God that He grant us what we want. When we're experiencing pain and suffering, however, our focus is on stopping the pain, especially when that which causes our “present suffering” is overwhelming, and we beg God to take it away.

Paul isn’t trivializing pain and suffering. Rather, he is truly speaking from the heart. Paul is focused on God. His faith and hope are rock solid. If Paul knows anything at all, it is that when he finally dies and leaves his body, he will be with God in glorious life everlasting, and nothing else will have mattered at all -- even pain and suffering. He can hardly wait! And he is telling the Romans (and us), to keep our faith and hope alive no matter how difficult our pain, no matter how intense our sorrow.

It was easy for me to relate to his metaphor of "labor pains" in this passage. It’s been over 10 years now since I last experienced labor pains. The words “sharp” and “intense” immediately come to mind. Nevertheless, were I of younger years, I’d go through it again in a heart beat, for I also remember the indescribable joy I felt when I first held each of my children. There is absolutely no comparison between the labor pains (or morning sickness!) and the joy of my children. Yes, they sometimes do things (or don't do things) which challenge my joy in them, but joy wins every time!

None of us can imagine the joy, the glory of life everlasting with God, but I pray that our faith and hope may be as solid as Paul's, especially when we face great pain and suffering, physical or otherwise.

Dear God, may the fruits of the Holy Spirit continue to fill us, this day and always, as we long, as we yearn, as we groan in anticipation of life everlasting with You. Amen.

Martha Olson

Friday, July 07, 2006

Romans 8:12-17

As noted by the other devotional writers previously, Paul’s letter to the Romans was extremely deliberate. That is certainly the case with these passages.

There are three words which Paul uses in these verses which are really steeped in Jewish custom and understanding of the time – slavery, adoption and heir.1 These terms had precise legal meanings in those days. Paul, as a Pharisee, who practiced the letter of Jewish law, knew these terms well and used them to convey a specific meaning beyond what our current understanding of those words would be.

The word “slavery” here is used to refer to several different types of bondage. Paul is using it to mean any state of being other than that as a fully devoted follower of Christ. Specifically, he is referring to the bondage that Jews had to the laws of their faith and also to the lusts of the flesh. Since being a slave meant something very specific in those times, all free Jews would never think of themselves as being enslaved. Yet, Paul was making the point that they, in fact, were.

The word “adoption” is also used quite deliberately. An adoption is an act of grace by the adopter to the adoptee. It is not something earned by the adoptee nor is it inherent grace. It is only by God’s grace that we receive forgiveness of our sins and everlasting life.

Similarly, the word “heirs” used along with the word “adoption” refers to the gift of God himself. We cannot be heirs naturally as Christ is the only natural heir to God and we have no standing to be God’s heirs. But rather this gift is given freely to those who accept the invitation to suffer with Christ so that we may receive the inheritance God so generously offers as a co-heir with Christ.


1These words are used in the New Revised Standard Version of the bible and may not be the exact words used in all biblical interpretations.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Romans 8:1-11

One of the concepts I think a lot about is what I call “brain space”. I know, I know, it sounds weird. But what I mean is that in my brain, at least, I only have so much space available for thinking about any given thing.

For me, a lot of my brain space is taken up with sermons. When I’m putting together a sermon, there really isn’t much space left in my brain to think about anything else. I love preaching, so don’t get me wrong, but that is one of the reasons I also love Sunday evenings. I get my brain back for a while.

This passage’s comments on “setting our minds on the Spirit” makes me think about “brain space”; about what I’m spending the bulk of my time thinking about, how I’m investing my mental energy, and what the images are that occupy me. Frankly, a lot of my brain space is wasted on trivial and insignificant things. So, for many years now, I’ve been training my brain to think more about God than gardening, more about the church than what I want for supper, more about spiritual things than about whatever it is that has captured my fancy in the moment.

Recently, one of the things that has really helped me in this is podcasts. A friend gave me the wonderful gift of an MP3 player, onto which I download a variety of messages about living life close to God and building a church that facilitates such a life. I listen to it when I’m gardening or walking or driving (one ear bud in, one ear bud out so I can hear what is happening around me) or as I’m laying down to rest. I keep a piece of paper and pen in my pocket so I can jot down thoughts I want to pursue more at a later date.

How about you? To what are you giving your brain? What’s filling up your “brain space”?

“The mind is a terrible thing to waste,” a commercial once said, and I’m sure Paul would agree. What are we putting our minds to? The life of the Spirit (which, I think, can include things like a beautiful sunrise or flower when we let them move our hearts in awe and appreciation to God), or lesser things which, although consuming and perhaps even urgent, in the end don’t much matter or have lasting significance.

Romans 8:1-11

One of the concepts I think a lot about is what I call “brain space”. I know, I know, it sounds weird. But what I mean is that in my brain, at least, I only have so much space available for thinking about any given thing.

For me, a lot of my brain space is taken up with sermons. When I’m putting together a sermon, there really isn’t much space left in my brain to think about anything else. I love preaching, so don’t get me wrong, but that is one of the reasons I also love Sunday evenings. I get my brain back for a while.

This passage’s comments on “setting our minds on the Spirit” makes me think about “brain space”; about what I’m spending the bulk of my time thinking about, how I’m investing my mental energy, and what the images are that occupy me. Frankly, a lot of my brain space is wasted on trivial and insignificant things. So, for many years now, I’ve been training my brain to think more about God than gardening, more about the church than what I want for supper, more about spiritual things than about whatever it is that has captured my fancy in the moment.

Recently, one of the things that has really helped me in this is podcasts. A friend gave me the wonderful gift of an MP3 player, onto which I download a variety of messages about living life close to God and building a church that facilitates such a life. I listen to it when I’m gardening or walking or driving (one ear bud in, one ear bud out so I can hear what is happening around me) or as I’m laying down to rest. I keep a piece of paper and pen in my pocket so I can jot down thoughts I want to pursue more at a later date.

How about you? To what are you giving your brain? What’s filling up your “brain space”?

“The mind is a terrible thing to waste,” a commercial once said, and I’m sure Paul would agree. What are we putting our minds to? The life of the Spirit (which, I think, can include things like a beautiful sunrise or flower when we let them move our hearts in awe and appreciation to God), or lesser things which, although consuming and perhaps even urgent, in the end don’t much matter or have lasting significance.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Romans 7:13-25

OK, so Paul uses a bit of a tongue twister in today's reading to make his point. Let's have a look at verse 15, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." Crystal clear, right?

I think what Paul is trying to say is that being a Christian is hard. Sin, the sin that tempts you or me, is attractive. By being Christians we all want to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and want to become more like Him. However, we are all human and none of us is strong enough to resist sin by ourselves. We all must rely on Jesus to help us resist sin. So, let's take a closer look at what Paul means in verse 15.

"I do not understand what I do." Intellectually we, as Christians, know we are to live a life following the teachings of Jesus. So then why don't we? Why do some things tempt us so much? Why do we fall victim to the temptation some times? As Paul puts it, I do not understand why I cannot live a life totally modeled after Jesus. I do not understand why I sin.

"For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." Paul wants to live a life as close to Jesus' as possible. But as a human he cannot resist certain temptations by himself. Thus, what I want to do (live like Jesus) I do not do (as we fall victim to certain temptations and sin), and what I hate (sin) I do (we commit sin every time we let temptation over come us).

No one, not even Paul, can resist all sin by himself. Sure it is easy to resist sin that is not attractive or tempting to you, but all of us have some thing that is so attractive and so tempting that we cannot resist it alone. This is when we need to ask Jesus to help us resist the sin. With Jesus by our side resistance is not only possible, but much easier. When you are tempted by that very personally attractive sin, ask Jesus for the strength to resist. He will help you.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Romans 7:1-12

Daily Devotional – Tuesday July 4 2006
Romans 7:1-12

Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

Greetings on this National Holiday and I wish God’s blessing for you. As a Canadian living in this great Country for many years, I have always been impressed by the patriotism and great pride in Country I see. This nation has grown and prospered as a unique community where most feel secure and protected. I am sure the Roman Jews in Paul’s time also felt secure and protected within their unique community. I can image how difficult it would have been for them when Paul and others told them that Jesus Christ offers them a better community. Paul had to promote the new “life in the Spirit” without trashing the old “life in the flesh”

Today’s reading from Romans is a brilliant example of how God inspired him to do this. The fact that the law only applies during one lifetime or can apply to a specific set of circumstances would be a difficult concept for them. The example of a widow’s ability to marry illustrates this very well. He also suggests what we know very well, that strict adherence to laws will breed behavior aimed at going around the law to satisfy our human nature.

Paul is careful not to represent the law itself as sin. He turns it around to show how the law is essential to identify sin. The law is therefore holy, righteous and necessary. Just as Jesus died in the flesh he also died to the law. His rebirth in the spirit takes us beyond the law. This is very relevant to me as I look back at my slow and often painful conversion. It was only when I accepted that God has given me a spiritual nature that I was able to see Jesus face to face. Right relationship with God is not just adherence to right actions and good deeds but is belief and faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior. Happy 4th of July.

AMEN

John Dickie, July 4 2006

Monday, July 03, 2006

Romans 6:12-23

Having vigorously argued in the first chapters of Romans that we receive life in God not by “being good” through religious or ethical effort but through faith in Jesus, Paul turned to address a mistake that people may derive from this gospel truth.

Namely, if we do not and cannot earn God’s favor through our spirituality or morality, are we not then free to act as we please? Indeed, if grace abounds beyond the magnitude of our sinfulness, why should we not continue to sin to increase both God’s grace toward us and our experience of grace? In short, once we have accepted God’s grace through faith in Jesus, can we not do whatever we want? It should not matter how we live since we have been included in God’s kingdom by grace, not by religious or ethical striving.

In the latter part of chapter 6 and following, Paul argued against this grievous misunderstanding and misapplication of the gospel as vigorously as he had argued for reconciliation through faith in the first chapters of Romans. The swing of his argument hinged on verse 11 of chapter 6, immediately preceding today’s reading. Verse 11 reads: “…count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Verse 12 follows: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body….” (Emphasis added.)

As Paul plainly distilled them, the oppositions are these: alive to sin, dead to God; alive to God, dead to sin. That is, when sin “animates” us, we are actually dead in principle and in practice – dead to God, and therefore dead to true life. When God re-animates us in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we become dead to sin in principle. As God makes us dead to sin in principle, we are supposed to be dead to sin in practice.

The basis of this, Paul explained, lies in the reality of mastery. We like to think we are in absolute control of our lives. We deceive ourselves. In truth, what we give ourselves to, masters us. If we give ourselves to sin, sin masters us. If we give ourselves to God, God masters us. Sin is a destroyer, driving us to death. God is a lover, embracing us with life.

The question before us, then, is simple. Once we begin to live in God’s long embrace, why would we turn from it by practicing what only cheats as life and freedom?

Gregory Strong

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Romans 6:1-11



In this passage, Paul takes on, and devastates, the arguments of critics who assert that the doctrine of justification by faith alone will lead to "license", i.e. acts of evil that may be washed away.

"Shall we sin to our heart's content and see how far we can exploit the grace of God? What a ghastly thought! We, who have died to sin--how could we live in sin a moment longer?" (J.B. Phillips trans.)

Does it make sense to wage war that peace may increase? Or pollute the earth so as to hasten the apocalypse? Or, on the personal level, do conscious evil so that we may experience subsequent forgiveness all the more?

These thoughts indeed are to Paul's mind, ghastly altogether. In more than a figurative sense, those who submit to baptism in Christ also have a share in his crucifixion, burial in the tomb, and resurrection to new life, because what once they were, now is dead.

Lord, may we reaffirm each day that we have been crucified with Christ, and raised with him to life everlasting. Amen.