A church on mission – part 1

In 1903, a group of seventeen men got together to form a small political organization. By 1917, this organization of seventeen men had grown to 40,000 members and had become powerful enough to overthrow the Czar of Russia. Hammer & Sickle began to make its way across our world. And before the Iron Curtain fell, communism dominated up to two-thirds of the globe. In spite of our aversion to communism, we still must ask ourselves how seventeen men could possibly have made such an amazing impact upon the world in as few as seventy or eighty years. I believe the answer is simple: The men who founded the Communist Party were committed to impacting their world. They had no plan B. They were sold-out. Nothing was going to deter them in their cause.

Today, I must ask you a very important question:

Are you a person who longs to impact your world?

Think about that question for a moment. Is there something within you that yearns to join a cause that makes a difference in this life and reverberates throughout eternity? Are you tired of going through the motions at church? Do you feel restless in your occupation? Is there something within you that senses there must be something more to life? I’m convinced that the Lord is looking for a few good men and women who yearn to make an impact. If you are teachable, available, and faithful God will use you in a powerful way. God seeks ordinary believers to join an extraordinary mission.

 

Rom 1:8-15 explains how we can join a mission that will change the world. In these eight verses, we’ll see how to make a spiritual impact like Paul. We’ll also gain a better understanding of how we can serve on an impact team—a team such as the one Paul writes to in Rome. In 1:1-7 we looked at Paul’s greeting; now in 1:8-15 we will study his thanksgiving and prayer. Remember that Paul doesn’t know these believers personally. This is unusual for Paul, because he usually visited a city (e.g., Thessalonica or Corinth), then left to continue his travels, and later wrote a letter back to the believers in that city (i.e., 1 Thess, 1 Cor). But that’s not what Paul is doing here. Hence, he spends a great deal of time introducing himself to his Roman readers. He provides three evidences of a church on mission.

 

  1. A Church On Mission Is Thankful (1:8-10).

One of the greatest indications of Christian faithfulness is thankfulness, particularly for other believers. Paul made a practice of beginning his letters with (1) a word of thanks to God, (2) a specific prayer, and (3) a personal message to those who would read his letters. In ten of his thirteen letters, Paul states that it is his relationship with others that actually causes him to be thankful. This repeated emphasis indicates the priority he placed upon thanking God for other believers. In 1:8a he writes, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all.”

Other than the Lord Jesus at the time He spoke from the cross, Paul is the only other person in the NT who speaks of God as “my God” (2 Cor 12:21; Phil 1:3; 4:19; Philemon 4). The addition of the pronoun “my” (mou) draws our attention to the intensely personal relationship Paul had with God. Obviously, Paul was not some crusty, bookish theologian; he was a lover of God. To Paul, the Lord was not some distant abstraction to be worshipped from afar; He was close and personal—his Father and his friend.

The word “first” (protos) is not followed here by the word “second,” for in this reference the word “first” implies importance rather than the beginning of a list. The verb translated “I thank” (eucharisto) is in the present tense and can be rendered: “I continually thank” or “I thank God over and over!” It is quite obvious that Paul loved his fellow believers. His gratitude to God is expressed “through Jesus Christ.” He understood that Christ’s work on the cross brought believers into union with each other.

 

Why is Paul so thankful? In 1:8b he gives the reason: “because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” Notice what Paul doesn’t say.

“Your drop dead preacher is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”

“Your killer worship team is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” “Your unprecedented church growth is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”

“Your cutting edge programs are being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”

“Your glorious building is being celebrated is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”

These are the types of statements that you might hear about a “successful” church today. We can be an arrogant, consumer-oriented people. Paul, however, has a very different perspective than many contemporary believers. He is not commending the Romans for superficial things. He indicates that their “faith” was being reported all around the world. He is not referring to the fact of their faith; he is speaking of the nature of their faith. In a sin-saturated society these Roman believers progressively grew to maturity in their faith. In just a few years some of these believers would be thrown to the lions in the coliseum. Some would even be dipped in wax and lit on fire by the satanic Emperor Nero. These believers were disciples indeed. They were consistent and reflected the nature and character of Christ in their lives. Hence, Paul could affirm them for the quality of their faith.

The verb translated “proclaimed” (katangello) is a very strong verb that could just as easily be translated “advertised.” These believers were living advertisements for Jesus. They were on-fire! Stop for just a moment and let this fact sink in. The Roman Empire was desperately dark… sin abounded! No one would expect a church to thrive in Rome, the capital of the pagan world. Yet the house churches in Rome stood out as a living light in a dark world. The fervent faith of these believers was so contrary to the societal norm of their day that all who observed them couldn’t help spreading the word about them.

 

The same is true in the community we live in. No one expects a church in the Longview area to stand out and make a mark. Our culture assumes that they can dominate us and intimidate us. In many cases, this is exactly what has transpired. Consequently, there’s really no cultural pressure on us. It is assumed that the church is irrelevant. We are a non-factor. So we’ve got nothing to lose! We need to grow in our faith and trust that it will be proclaimed throughout the world. What is the Christian community saying about us? What are unbelievers in Longview saying about us? Do they recognize our faith and our faithfulness? What do people hear about us? Let’s give our county something to talk about!

 

It is also worth noting what Paul meant by the use of the phrase “the whole world.” In the New Testament, that phrase normally refers to the Roman Empire. Since Rome was the capital city, it seems reasonable to suggest that the faith of the Roman church was being proclaimed throughout the whole empire, not the “whole world” as we know it today. Obviously, the whole world couldn’t include the still undiscovered Western Hemisphere, nor would it indicate the Far East. But with the increase of technology, we have the opportunity to literally impact the entire world (e.g., video, Internet, Facebook, etc.). The key is: Let’s seek to impact our world with what really matters—our faith in the Lord Jesus. Word spreads quickly about growth, new facilities, innovative programs, but what about faith? God receives the most glory from the world when our lives point to Him. God seeks ordinary believers to join an extraordinary mission.

 

How can we follow Paul’s example and effectively express thanks for our fellow believers? In 1:9-10, Paul expresses thanks through prayer to God. He writes, “For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.” Surprisingly, the key phrase in these verses is: “God is my witness.” This phrase is moved to the front of the Greek sentence in 1:9. In the Greek New Testament words were often moved about in the sentence structure for the purpose of emphasis. Thus, placing “witness” (martus) as the first word in his Greek sentence would be analogous to placing it in boldface or italics. “God is my witness” is a strong expression that Paul uses on a number of occasions. It probably represents an oath that he had taken to be faithful to pray for the church with great constancy and fervency. This is confirmed by the language in 1:9-10. In 1:9, the adverb translated “unceasingly” (adialeiptos) means “without letting up or leaving off.” The word suggests that there is no great length of time between prayers. His prayers were frequent and regular. In 1:10, Paul indicates that the Roman believers are “always” (pantote) in his prayers. Although praying so consistently and repeatedly may seem to be an unusual commitment for a man who didn’t personally know most of the people he was praying for, such unceasing prayer characterized Paul’s life and ministry. He was a man of great prayer. He prayed fervently for the church at Rome in the same way that he prayed for all of the other churches. Prayer was the invisible power behind his ministry. In fact, it was Paul’s passion for prayer that ensured the success of his ministry and led to the growth and maturity of the early churches.

 

How can you and I take steps to grow in our prayer lives?

We can write down our prayers or our prayer requests so that we will pray consistently.

We can pray out loud.

We can use the time we have commuting in the car for prayer.

When we exercise we can devote a portion of that time to prayer.

We can spend time in prayer before we go to bed and when we wake up.

We can pray with our church family every Sunday morning.

We can also volunteer to pray in the overflow room during one of our worship services.

One of the keys to growing in prayer is to look for any and every opportunity to pray.

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Romans – Answer the call

  1. A Ministry Mentality (Romans 1:1–7)

Glen Coffee was a great football player. Like many young men he dreamed about playing in the NFL. After a successful high school career, Coffee accepted a scholarship to the University of Alabama. In 2008, he concluded his collegiate career by leading his team in rushing. Coffee then realized his NFL dream when he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. During his first season with the 49ers, Coffee was the team’s number two running back. Many fans had high hopes for him going into the 2010 season. But in August of 2010, the twenty-three-year-old Coffee shocked the country when he walked away from his 2.5 million dollar contract. Why did he leave the NFL? He believes that the NFL is not God’s will for his life. Coffee became a Christian his junior year of college, and that decision changed his views on everything. He determined that the NFL wasn’t where he needed to be.

 

Coffee’s life-altering decision demands personal reflection. Would you be willing to forsake your hopes, your dreams, and your goals for Christ? Or do you resist His will because it’s not what you want for your life. Today, God may be calling you to leave your current occupation and serve Him in a new way. It’s more likely, however, that God is calling you to remain in your current occupation, and to adopt a biblical mindset. True ministry isn’t about occupation or location, it’s about vocation. Your vocation is to glorify God and represent Him; your occupation is a temporary platform for your vocation. There’s no such thing as secular jobs versus sacred jobs. You’re in full-time Christian ministry whatever your job is.

 

You have a calling, and it isn’t your career. Your career is what you’re paid for; your calling is what you’re made for. Answer the call and abandon all.

The apostle Paul exemplifies what it means to answer the call and abandon all in his introduction to Romans. In 1:1–7, we find Paul’s longest introduction. In his other twelve letters his greetings range from one to four verses, whereas his greeting in Romans takes a whopping seven verses. These first seven verses are all one long sentence in the Greek text. This lengthy greeting permits Paul to identify his calling, his message, his mission, and his readers. Two very important invitations come out of these verses: (1) Imitate Paul’s calling and (2) Appropriate your calling.

  1. Imitate Paul’s calling (1:1–5)

While it is easy to assume that these words are only relevant to Paul or to a pastor, these verses are applicable to every believer. Paul wants you to imitate him in all things, including his calling. Read carefully the opening words of Romans: “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (1:1). Paul’s Hebrew name was Saul, meaning “asked for.” But he used his Roman name Paul, which means “little.” His name change is recorded in Acts 13:9, 13. When I write a letter, I begin with a greeting: “Dear whoever.” I then conclude with “Love, Wayne or Sincerely, Wayne.” In Paul’s day people did it differently. The writer placed his name first, the identity of his readers second, and a formal greeting third. In Romans, Paul is writing a church that he didn’t know. So how did he introduce himself? He identifies himself with three strategic descriptions.

First, Paul declares that he is a “bond-servant of Christ Jesus.”7 He could have introduced himself as “Paul, the premier theologian, the Old Testament scholar, the master church planter/evangelist, the front-line spiritual warrior,” but he chooses doulos—meaning “bond-servant” or “slave.” The most important thing that we can know about Paul is that he is a “slave.” In America we avoid the term “slave” because of our national history, but the word “slave” fits the idea that Paul is trying to express. It means a person who is wholly and completely owned by another. A slave has no rights, no ability to decide their own activities or the direction of their life. A slave lives and functions to carry out the will of his or her master. Paul saw himself as a slave of Christ Jesus. Elsewhere Paul writes, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10). He was another person’s property. Jesus owned him lock, stock, and barrel. It’s like the sign on the back of a rental truck that said: ANY LOAD-ANY PLACE-ANY TIME. A true slave says, “I’ll do anything my master mandates, no matter how hard, at any place, at any time.” Paul’s serving spirit goes all the way back to his first words to Jesus, spoken right after his conversion and found in

Acts 22:10: “What shall I do, Lord?” Paul’s conversion to Christ resulted in a radical response of zealous obedience. He went from persecuting the church to perfecting the church (see Phil 3:15; Col 1:28).

Do you see yourself, first and foremost, as a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ? Is He at the forefront of everything you do? Answer the call and abandon all.

 

At the time Paul was writing Romans, there were an estimated sixty million slaves in the Roman Empire; and a slave was looked on as a piece of property, not a person. To be a slave in the Gentile mind was to be at the bottom of the social order. Slavery was something to escape; freedom was a goal to attain. How arresting it must have been to the Gentile believers to learn that Paul had “given up” his freedom and willing submitted himself to Christ Jesus, the Jewish Messiah.

 

Here, he is talking about a slavery undertaken voluntarily out of love, unlike the forced slavery well known to many in the Roman Empire. If a person could find a master that he or she enjoyed serving, then voluntary slavery makes sense. There is a picture of this kind of willful subjection in the Old Testament in Exodus 21. If a man had to sell himself as a slave, he could serve a Hebrew master for only six years. In the seventh year, he had to be released and sent away with gifts that would enable him to become economically independent. An exception was made for the person who had grown attached to his master. He could refuse his freedom and stay with his master permanently because he loved his master. If that happened, he was to have a hole bored in his ear, marking him as a permanent slave. This is what Paul declares he has done. Paul found that pleasing Christ gave his life such pleasure, purpose and meaning that he willfully bound himself to Christ out of sheer joy.

 

Paul calls himself a “bond-servant of Christ Jesus” because he wants to communicate to his readers his commitment and devotion to Jesus the Messiah. “Christ” is a title which means “one who has been anointed.” “Jesus” is a personal name meaning “the Lord saves.” The Old Testament uses the phrase “the servant of the Lord” of men like Moses, Joshua, and David. Paul’s substitution of “Christ Jesus” into the Old Testament expression “a servant of the Lord” shows that he considers Jesus worthy of the same obedience and devotion as the Lord God—Yahweh. Moreover, 1:1 demonstrates the priority of Paul’s life and ministry. The apostle’s consuming passion was Jesus. In all thirteen of his existing letters, the name “Jesus” comes in the first verse. Paul always makes a beeline for Jesus. This is the goal of great preaching, great churches, and great believers. Jesus must be supreme and paramount in everything that we think, say, and do. Answer the call and abandon all.

Paul is a slave who has been sent on a mission. After becoming a “bond-servant,” he became an “apostle.” Paul moves from humility to authority demonstrating that service is always a prerequisite for leadership. In the New Testament, the term “apostle” (apostolos) is used with a general force to designate someone who is sent. It is also used by Paul to speak of someone who is specially gifted to communicate revelation from God, and by implication, someone to whom the churches were responsible. This latter, more elevated meaning is the sense Paul intends here. He is preparing to communicate revelation from God, and the Roman church needs to know that as an apostle he has the authority to do so. This word “apostle” means “one who is sent by authority with a commission.” It was applied in that day to the representatives of the emperor or the emissaries of a king. Paul is saying, “I have been sent with the authority of King Jesus to speak the very words of God to you.” Like Paul, are you where Jesus Christ has “sent” you to be? Has He directed you to your present ministry or vocation? Have you sought Him in this matter? Have you prayed for His direction and guidance? Is anything standing in the way of your going where you feel you are sent?

 

The final characteristic that Paul shares with his readers is his mission of being “set apartfor the gospel of God.” Being “set apart” has in it the idea of consecration and total devotion to the service of God. It was used of the offering of the first fruits (Num 15:20) and of God setting apart Israel as His special possession (Lev 20:26). One of the great failures of Judaism was that the Jews considered themselves separate from everyone else. They considered themselves too good for the rest of the world and retreated into their own closed circle. Yet, God did not intend for the Jews to be separated from, but separated for! He intended them to be separated for service (Gen 12:1–3; Isa 42:6; 43:10, 21; 44:23; 49:3, 6; 60:3; Ezek 28:25).

 

The verb “set apart” (aphorizo) means “to select one person out of a group for a purpose.” The make up of the word literally means “off horizon,” which conveys the idea of being removed from one sphere and placed into another. In Paul’s case, he was removed from the sphere of sin to the sphere of salvation, from the horizon of rebellion against God to the horizon of service under God. This Greek word has the same root meaning as “Pharisee” (“one who is separated”). A Pharisee set himself apart for the law, but God set Paul apart for the gospel. Perhaps you don’t feel like your life and ministry is significant. I can assure you that if you are a believer God has set you apart to fulfill a specific purpose. As you faithfully serve the Lord, He will reveal your ministry niche in your occupation and in your local church.

 

Paul concludes 1:1 by stating what he was set apart for—“the gospel of God.” The key word in Romans is “gospel” (euaggelion) and it appears twelve times. The “gospel” or “good news” encapsulates the message found in the entire book of Romans. This good news is the truth that God has for both believers and unbelievers. It is not limited to salvation but encompasses the full counsel of God’s good news to man. This leads to the following questions: Do you increasingly view your life as set apart for the gospel? Does your life revolve around getting people the good news and then helping them live out that good news? Do you go to work or school with a sense of urgency to share God’s good news? Are you strategically looking for ways to help others grow in their faith? This is your calling, and it is the reason you’re still on planet earth. Answer the call and abandon all.

 

In 1:2–4, Paul launches into a parenthetical statement that elucidates the good news. He writes, “[This good news] which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.” The only other place where Paul mentions this is 2 Tim 2:8. It is possible that both passages may have been quotes from a creedal formula of the early church. From the very beginning of Romans, Paul wants to make it clear that his message didn’t originate with him. Instead, it was “promised beforehand” (proepaggello) by God. Furthermore, the gospel didn’t just suddenly burst upon the scene of history with the birth of Christ. It has always been the theme of the “prophets,” which is shorthand for all the Old Testament authors. Paul relied heavily upon the Old Testament Scriptures to give authority to his gospel message. In Romans, he quotes the Old Testament approximately fifty–seven times, which is more than he did in all of his other letters combined. I would argue, therefore, that if you and I want to understand Romans and fully appreciate the gospel, we must grasp the Old Testament.

 

During the days of World War II, the French underground used a very simple means of identification to know who their secret agents were. They simply took a piece of paper and ripped it in half, giving one man half the paper, and they then mailed the other half to the other agent. When they met, all they had to do was compare the two pieces of paper. If the papers lined up, the agents were identified without any doubt. In a similar way, Jesus fulfills all of the prophetic promises found in the Old Testament. The pages of Scripture line up; there is no other match but Him. This good news comes from the “Holy Scriptures.” This is the only time in the New Testament this phrase is used. This means that the Bible is no ordinary book and that it has the ability to make us holy as we get it into our hearts.

 

The good news of the gospel is focused upon Jesus. Notice the phrase “concerning His Son.” The gospel concerns Jesus. It’s all about Him. The word “concerning” is the Greek preposition peri, from which we get our word perimeter. Since this means “fully around,” the Lord Jesus is not just a part of the gospel; He is the gospel. He fully engulfs the good news of God. Some do not see Jesus the way we do. They mistakenly assumed that there are many equally viable paths to God. However, Jesus is the whole gospel and the Christian life, and He must be everything in our preaching, our teaching, and our very lives. We need to understand that Jesus is supreme. We then need to look for ways to speak more freely about Jesus.

 

Verses 3–4 describe Jesus’ relationships in two spheres. The phrase “according to the flesh” refers to the fact that Jesus was born in frail humanity and limited Himself by taking on human nature (Phil 2:7). The phrase “according to the Spirit of holiness” means that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead (see 8:11). Christ was raised in the same way that we will be raised by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. A critical phrase in 1:4 is that Jesus was “declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” The verb translated “declared” (horizo) is more accurately rendered “appointed” (NET). The key phrase in this verse is “with power.” Although Jesus was obviously God’s Son before His resurrection from the dead, the resurrection put the exclamation point on His deity.

 

It is also important to note that Jesus Christ is called “our Lord.” Unfortunately, much confusion has arisen regarding the issue of lordship. Yet, it is relatively simple: When we trust in the gospel message we acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord—He is God. Whether our lives demonstrate His lordship or not, the truth remains: Jesus Christ is both Lord and Master. That fact remains unalterably true. We don’t make Jesus Christ “Lord”; He is Lord! Yet, as believers in Jesus Christ, we have the privilege of accepting Christ’s lordship in every area of our lives.

The kingship of Jesus grants Paul the privilege of carrying out his mission. In 1:5 the apostle writes that through Jesus “we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake.” Paul begins by making sure he puts grace in its proper place. Paul first received grace on the Damascus Road, and then later he experienced the call of God on his life to become an apostle to the Gentiles. Although Paul’s call was certainly unique when you read 1:5, put your calling in the place of the word “apostleship.” You might put, “Through Christ I have received grace and the teaching role, or grace and singing, or grace and studentship, or grace and singleness, or grace and widowhood, or grace and motherhood.” In doing so, you will be declaring that God has given you the power to fulfill a calling. Answer the call and abandon all.

 

Paul’s mission is to “bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.” The expression “obedience of faith” (eupakoen pisteos) means obedience to the command to believe the gospel (cf. 16:26). Faith is obedience to God because God commands everyone to believe in Christ. Paul linked obedience and the gospel in 10:16, but possibly the closest parallel is 15:18–20. In this passage, Paul indicates that Christ has sent him “to make the Gentiles obedient” and so he concludes, “I have made it my aim to preach the Gospel.” Paul’s mission is to proclaim faith as an act of obedience to God’s command to trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Hart agrees: “Obedience is required to become a Christian! But the obedience that is required to become a Christian is obedience to just one command—the command to believe in Christ.” Have you obeyed His command to believe the gospel? If not, do so today. Give Jesus your sin in exchange for His righteousness. Cross over from death to life (John 5:24) and spend eternity with God and with those who love Him.

[The first invitation in this text is: Imitate Paul’s calling. In 1:1–5, Paul has identified his calling, his message, and his mission, and we’ve been invited to imitate his ways. The second invitation is . . .]

  1. Appropriate Your Calling (1:6–7)

In the closing verses of this section Paul fleshes out the calling of every believer. He puts it like this: “Among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The addressees of this letter (the “you also”) are connected with “all the Gentiles” mentioned at the end of 1:5, indicating that the church at Rome was predominantly Gentile (i.e., non-Jewish). Speaking to those Gentiles, Paul shares three truths about their identity and calling in Christ that are equally applicable to you and me. First, we are loved by God (1:7a). One of the greatest truths in this universe is that we are unconditionally loved by God. Perhaps you have been abused and rejected by parents or siblings. Maybe a spouse has left you. Or maybe a church has sinned against you. God wants you to know that when people disappoint, and even devastate you, His love is the one constant in this life. There may be times when this promise is what helps you make it through the day.

Secondly, we are called saints (1:7a). Three times in the first seven verses, the words “call” and “called” appear. Here, Paul states that we are called “saints.” However, we are not saints because we are so good; we are saints because God is so good. The words “saint,” “sanctify,” and “holiness” all refer to the same word group, which means “set apart” (cf. 1:1). Thus, a saint is a “holy one” or “set apart one” on account of his or her faith in Christ. Consequently, even when you feel that you are unworthy to pray or be in a relationship with God, He sees you through the perfect righteous of Christ. As a result, He can call you “saint.” You are not individuals trying to get by. You’re a saint. God wants you to act like one.

Lastly, we are recipients of “grace” and “peace” (1:7b). Real peace (eirene) comes only as a result of God’s grace (charis). Grace is what we receive; peace is what we experience as a result of God’s activity on our behalf. The word “grace” resembles the familiar Greek greeting which means “favor from me to you.” In a theological sense the word grace refers to God’s unmerited favor and gifts to humanity. The word itself is used one hundred fifty five times in the New Testament—over 100 times by Paul, 24 of which occur in Romans. We cannot understand this book if we don’t comprehend grace. Therefore, we must be certain that we understand that we are saved by grace and then are given grace to live the Christian life and fulfill our mission. The word “peace” is the typical greeting used in Jewish letters to refer to the wholeness and well being in all relationships. Paul will say much more about both grace and peace later in his letter. In a figurative sense grace and peace are twins, grace being the firstborn. Where grace abounds, peace thrives. Where grace is stunted, peace shrivels.

Today, can you honestly say that you have grace and peace? If not, you can. But you can’t have the grace and peace of 1:7 unless you first believe the gospel. As we’ve seen, Romans is all about the gospel, and the focus of the gospel is the person Jesus Christ. Therefore, nothing is more important today than knowing who He is, without question, without doubt. What do you say about Jesus? Who is He to you? Do you know that there is someone who loves you unconditionally? He loves you so much that He died for you. The Apostle Paul called him “Jesus Christ our Lord.” Can you say that as well? Is He your Savior? What is your answer? Grace and peace can be yours today if you simply believe in Jesus.

When Hernan Cortez landed at Vera Cruz in 1519 to begin the conquest of Mexico, he had only a small force of some seven hundred men. He was about to invade a subcontinent of unknown size, filled with belligerent tribesmen of hugely superior numbers. How could he motivate his soldiers to devote themselves to the conquest? Cortez came up with precisely the right motivator. As soon as he had all the equipment off his fleet of eleven ships, he gave orders to burn them. The men who had come ashore with him stood on the beach and watched as their only means of retreat slowly sank into the Gulf of Mexico. There was only one direction to go, and that was forward into the interior of Mexico to take on whatever might come their way. That’s precisely the approach God calls Christian disciples to take. We are to be obedient to our faith, allowing our decisions to always be subject to the word of Christ. That usually involves burning your ships at some point. Are you ready to do that for the sake of your relationship with Christ?

 

Today, God may be calling you to burn your ships. How will you respond to God’s call upon your life? Will you relinquish your hold on your occupation? Will you reaffirm your vocation to glorify Jesus Christ? Will you go where God has sent you? Will you see your life as a mission to proclaim Christ? Will you be His doulosAnswer the call and abandon all. It’s really that simple.

 

Hope shared

WHAT IS SOMETHING YOU HAD TO SHARE WHEN GROWING UP?

Sharing can mean less – such as less sleep due to sharing a bed with a sibling, but sharing can also mean more – sharing a good book or movie does not diminish our experience, it gives us conversation and perspective.

When it comes to sharing our faith with others, you may think of learning a set gospel presentation (Roman Road, 4 spiritual laws, etc.).  In our culture, though, people don’t want to just hear the truth, they want to see it.  We should certainly talk about the hope we have in Christ, but we must support what we say by living it out and showing hope to others.  The Bible gives us a great example through Peter – a man who took the hope he had in Christ and shared it with others – in a way that caught the attention of others.

READ Acts 3:1-4

WHAT WAS PLANNED (time of prayer) AND UNPLANNED (not a mission to heal) ABOUT THAT DAY?

Jesus told His followers to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came.  They did and were empowered – including Peter, who was forgiven and restored.  He became the chief spokesperson of the group.  Acts 1 tells us how Peter told the crowd that they could have hope in Jesus just like he did.  It was some exciting times!  But, what about the other times?

Other Jewish Christians, along with Peter and John, continued to participate in the established Jewish worship meetings and rituals in the temple complex, as well as to participate in worship and fellowship times in their homes (Acts 2:46).  The difference was that these new believers were completing the story and fulfilling the prophesies about Jesus.

On one occasion, Peter and John were minding their own business going to one of these regular Jewish meetings when they encountered a man who had been unable to walk.  According to the customs in those days, a man who had been unable to walk since birth was carried by family or friends to the temple complex (various courts, storage rooms, and work spaces) every day and place as the gate called Beautiful.  Not only did this man not have the ability to work and participate in everyday functions, but he was not able to be a part of worship either.  Putting him at this location allowed him to beg from those coming to pray or make offerings as they entered the temple area.

He saw Peter and John and asked for help like he did with anyone else.  Moved by the Holy Spirit, Peter and John had compassion on this man (and there may have been many like him).  Peter just came from an experience of hopelessness and then receiving God’s grace in his own life after betraying Jesus. He knew the power of what God can do in one’s life.

Speaking for himself and John, Peter looked closely at the man and told him to look at him.  He saw the need – not just physical, but spiritual.  DO YOU SEE THE NEEDS IN OTHERS WHEN YOU LOOK AT THEM?

Read Acts 3:5-8

Peter and John did more than merely see the lame man’s need for food – they saw his need for hope and the healing of Jesus.  The crippled man looked expectantly at the two men.  DO YOU THINK HE WAS IGNORED BY MOST?  DO YOU IGNORE THOSE LIKE HIM?

Peter’s next statement, however, must have shocked the man.  Many refused to give him a look, much less a hand out. Peter did not simply reject the man’s request, but offered him something better. He told the man to get up – by the power of Jesus!  The lame man probably had heard about the thousands who believed in Jesus and then His crucifixion and death.  He most likely heard about those that Jesus had healed.

WAS PETER’S STATEMENT THE PASSWORD FOR HEALING?  No – Peter was not using a mystical formula.  He expressed faith that Jesus would do this healing without question.  He didn’t say, “Well, you know, I know Jesus and have seen Him heal, so maybe if I say His name, you can be healed too.” Peter, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, spoke with authority and believed that Jesus would heal the man.

Evidently, the lame man did not hesitate in getting up! God did a work in this man’s body to bring physical healing.  When God does something, He does it well!  Notice what the man did – he did not just walk, he began leaping and praising God.  From hopeless to full of hope. He was able to go into the temple for the first time – a spiritual experience his lameness had prevented before this occurred.  God had done a miracle in his life.  WHAT ABOUT PETER?  This was a testimony to the power of Jesus working in Peter’s life.  The Holy Spirit had made Peter sensitive to the needs of others.  He was willing to take the risk of faith and reach out to someone else.  THIS IS AN EXAMPLE FOR US, TOO.

Before we leave these verses, let’s talk about one thing – Peter’s action was not a condemnation of giving money to people in need.  One way God’s power works to meet material needs is through those who love Him.  Gifts of money can express the love and care of Jesus to others.  Scripture encourages us to give:

READ James 2:15-16

READ Acts 2:44-45

This verse does indicate, however, that financial needs are not the most significant needs we have.  Our greatest need is to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.  That is how Peter responded to the man’s need and let’s see how it impacted the community.

READ Acts 3:9-10

Healing the lame man was only the beginning.  At the time God did this, it was about 3 pm in the afternoon – when the temple courts were filled with people – people who saw this man and, most likely, ignored him and passed by. When I leave Walmart, I rarely see the same person with a sign asking for help.  It always seems like a new person is there.  In this case, the same guy was at the gate every time these people walked by.  They recognized him – and they were astonished. This was not a “oh, the lame guy is walking now” – it was a “WOW, that’s the guy who was lame – and now he’s WALKING!”  “How did this happen?”  They started talking and gathering to find out how this happened.

READ Acts 3:11-12

Peter went on to point out how the religious leadership rejected Jesus and put Him to death.  God, however, had raised Him from the dead and Peter called on his listeners to repent and turn to God so their sins could be forgiven.  The Holy Spirit directed this whole experience so that God could be glorified.

In Let Hope In, Pete Wilson wrote of discovering that life is more meaningful if he makes a decision each day before he gets up to do three practical things that day to share hope and love with others.  WOULD YOU CONSIDER DOING THE SAME?

  1. Find value in every person – rather than hurt others by what we say or do, we can enrich their lives by affirming good qualities and showing respect, love and grace. This will require us to open our spiritual eyes to others.
  2. Overcome self-centeredness – Philippians 2:1-5 tells us to live in unity, and have the goal to consider others as more important than ourselves, to look out for the interest of others, and become more like Jesus. It is a tough call to arms – but it is one that will change the world, one person at a time. Maybe this means to open our homes and lives to others.
  3. Love people more than being right – if we love people as we should, we will choose not to be offended by what they say or do. Then we will be able to be used of the Holy Spirit to see their need and offer them healing through Jesus.  Listen more than speak.  Pray for discernment and sensitivity.

Hope Renewed

WHO IS THE MOST THANKFUL PERSON YOU KNOW?  WHY?

WHAT ARE THE OPPOSITES OF GRATITUDE? Complaining, whining, entitlement

We have been studying hope.  When hope is expressed, it looks like gratitude.

We may not be ungrateful, but we can forget to BE grateful.  We get used to the things we’ve been given, and we begin to take them for granted.  Believers can do that in their relationship with Jesus.  The longer we have been believers, the more we can get used to the blessings and benefits of knowing Jesus.  Over time, we can forget what it was like not to have that hope in Him.  Psalm 138 reminds us of the hope we have and pulls us into an attitude of thankfulness and gratitude to God.

READ Psalm 138:1-3

We do not know when David wrote this Psalm, but it reflects a lifetime of trust in God.  God is exalted over all others and He demonstrated His protection to David in all circumstances.  That is why David expressed thankfulness and trust.

A major quality of a trusting disciple is gratefulness to God for the hope we have in Him. Gratitude to God must begin with faith in Jesus and with the idea that our lives are a gift of grace

HOW DO YOU DEFINE GRACE? (Undeserving and unearned gift from the Father’s hand)

That is the attitude David comes to God in these verses. It is also found in other places –

READ Psalm 100

READ Philippians 4:6-7

READ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

WHAT SPECIFICALLY WAS DAVID THANKFUL FOR? What God did, His purposes, His Word, His listening ear, His protection for those who trust Him.

In his book, Let Hope In, Pete Wilson, tells of a time he came home from work tired and stressed.  He found his children had left their bicycles in the way of his putting his truck in the garage.  (HOW WOULD YOU FEEL/REACT?) This irritated and upset him; but, after he had moved the bikes and was back in the truck, he felt the Lord reminding him that he was viewing his life in a way that was robbing him of the blessings he enjoyed.  He realized that gratitude is a choice.  (WHAT SHOULD HE HAVE BEEN THANKFUL FOR?) As we recognize, accept and practice gratitude, our entire lives will be enriched.

In 2001 Stephen Post, a medical school professor of bioethics, created a research group called the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, dedicated to testing and measuring the effects of love, gratitude, and other positive caring emotions in human life.

Dr. Post’s research has discovered that spending 15 minutes a day focused on things you’re grateful for can have the following effects on our physical health:

  1. It increases your body’s natural antibodies.
  2. It increases mental capacity and reduces vulnerability to depression.
  3. It creates a physiological state of “resonance”, improving your blood pressure and heart rate.

That’s gratitude for you, really. It not only lifts up the recipient, it also gives life to the one expressing it. This is why we’re told time and time again in scripture to give thanks: A thankful heart puts us in right alignment with God and one another.

Paul wrote about this:

READ Colossians 3:15-17

David spoke to God, the great I AM.  We are to trust, love, obey, and serve Him alone. Sadly, we do not do this consistently.  HOW CAN WE BE MORE CONSISTENT?  1 Thessalonians has a good answer – re-read it.

One interesting note from these verses – David tells us that he will sing before the heavenly beings?  WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT REFERS TO?  It may refer to heavenly servant beings (angels), judges and governors appointed by God as political leaders (spoken of in Exodus) or the supposed “gods” of the surrounding nations.  Whatever the exact meaning, we are to not be ashamed to honor God in any environment.  We are to let the powers that be know that our trust is in God – that is who we bow down to.

So – verses 1-3 thank God for His love and truth.  Now, let’s thank Him that we don’t have to call attention to ourselves to get His attention:

READ Psalm 138:4-6

Even kings and other leaders will give thanks to the Lord when they hear God’s own words. When people, even those in places of leadership, hear and believe the truth revealed in God’s Word, they will respond as well.

GRATITUDE IS A VERB – Fulton J. Sheen wrote:

“An interesting phenomenon in children is that gratitude or thankfulness comes relatively late in their young lives. They almost have to be taught it; if not, they grow up thinking that the world owes them a living.”

A friend once told me that she didn’t want to force her son to say “Thank you” unless he really felt like it saying it. She said, “If I teach him to say ‘thank you’ when he doesn’t feel thankful, I’m teaching him that it’s OK to be a hypocrite.”

That’s not even close to what gratitude is. Our feelings have nothing to do with why we express it. Gratitude is not an emotion, it’s an action. The act of saying “thank you” is for the benefit of the other person. It’s about their feelings, not yours.

The same is true when it comes to saying “Thank you” to God. Thankfulness is the proper response to the goodness of God. We say “thank you” because he is good, not just because we happen to feel good at the moment.

This is why the Psalms so often refer to the “sacrifice of thanksgiving” — it’s an act of obedience, not just an emotional outburst.

David said, “I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord.” (Psalm 116:17)

Like children, believers need to learn how to be thankful. Most of the time, when we consider all the good things God has done for us, we’ll feel thankful. Even when our feelings don’t cooperate, we need to properly express gratitude, offering God a sacrifice of thanksgiving for the kindness and mercy he has shown us.

David tells us in these verses that the Lord, even though He is exalted, takes note of us when we are humble.  God delights in revealing Himself and His will to those who humbly seek Him.

READ Proverbs 15:8 “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is His delight.” NASB

READ 2 Chronicles 7:14

WHAT ARE THE ENEMIES OF HUMILITY AND GRATITUDE?

  1. Assuming you have to live like a king to be grateful – not thanking for all
  2. Thinking God will not notice you – poor, poor, pitiful me or above it all
  3. Feeling entitled to what God gives you – what do people feel entitled to?
  4. Forgetting that life is a gift – taking everything for granted

“Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”

~ John Wooden

Choosing humility is a posture of the heart toward God that wards off entitlement and other enemies of gratitude.  Gratitude is our response to the hope we have in God – even to His protection:

READ Psalm 138:7-8

We can live full, meaningful lives because our hope is based on His preservation rather than our own efforts.  Whether we realize it or not, we are all engaged in spiritual battle.  There are spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6) who do battle with us daily and we would do well to fasten our armor tightly.

God (and EMS) can rescue you from danger or protect you from danger.

HAS SOMEONE PROTECTED YOU WITHOUT YOU KNOWING IT AT THE TIME? Kids

HAVE YOU BECOME AWARE OF GOD’S PROTECTION IN A CIRCUMSTANCE?

We should keep in mind that our gratitude to God is not based on how good our situation is but on how we view the situation.  Gratitude should be our response to all situations.

READ 1 Thessalonians 5:18 again

What now?

  1. Record it – make a daily list of why you are grateful – you can use your lesson guide to start
  2. Say it – tell people why you are grateful instead of complaining, murmuring and arguing. See what difference it makes in your world.
  3. Share it – find someone in your world to share the love of Jesus, even if they don’t express their gratitude toward you. Maybe that way, you will know what God feels like when we fail to do it to Him.

WHAT DOES HOPE LOOK LIKE?  Gratitude

Hope renewed

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT WAYS PEOPLE RESPOND TO FAILURE?

We fail, but Jesus gives us hope.  We often kick ourselves when we are down. “If I were a real Christian, I wouldn’t do that!” Peter knew something of failure – HIS BIGGEST? Denying Jesus three times.  Our failures may not get THAT kind of attention (thankfully), but we need to experience that grace every time we fail.

The same grace we need for salvation is what we need to live out the Christian life.  The hope we have in Jesus is grounded in grace – and that is what we need every day. It is a grace that picks us up when we fall.

DO YOU REMEMBER LEARNING TO RIDE A BIKE?  Who taught you?  Did you use training wheels?  What did you do when you fell? How long before you tried again?

HOW IS THIS LIKE THE CHRISTIAN LIFE? We will all fall and need others to help us up. Failure is painful.  The question is not IF we are going to fall, but what we will do WHEN we fall.  I am thankful that I can learn from Peter.

When we consider the life and ministry of Peter, we see a common, hard-working man who by God’s grace came to know and follow Jesus.  But, like us, he had some difficulties to overcome. The Holy Spirit did not give up on Peter – and He will not give up on us either.

READ John 18:15-18 and 25-27

Do you remember how Peter met Jesus?

READ John 1:35-42

Jesus identified Peter as “rock” – an appropriate name for Simon after his conversion.  Later, Jesus came by the Sea of Galilee and called Peter, his brother Andrew, James and John to follow Him.

When Jesus asked who the disciples said He was, it was Peter who said – “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16).  Jesus commended him and promised to build His church on that truth.  Later, Peter (with James and John) witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration as He talked to Moses and Elijah.  They heard a voice from Heaven – “This is My beloved Son.  I take delight in Him.  Listen to Him” (Matt. 17:5).

Jesus also prepared Peter and the other disciples for His death and resurrection – but I suspect that was hard to grasp.  Going from a royal reception for His arrival in Jerusalem to being arrested not too long after no doubt shook up everyone in their group. This is the same Peter who even refused Jesus’ washing his feet – he did not want to accept the Servant Leadership Jesus came to demonstrate.  But Jesus did tell him that he would be “sifted” by Satan and that Peter would deny Jesus three times.

Nonetheless, Jesus took Peter, James and John to the garden of Gethsemane. WHO WAS IT THAT TOOK OUT HIS KNIFE TO DEFEND JESUS? Peter, of course.

SO, HOW COULD PETER BE SO AFRAID OF BEING IDENTIFIED WITH JESUS?

We tend to see the men and women of Scripture as bigger than life.  Their encounters with God, both their victories and their failures, seem so far beyond what we experience today.  We might be tempted to say, “I would never fail Jesus like that” – but that is exactly what Peter said too, and he did it three times!

HOW DO WE DEAL WITH THE SHAME OF FAILING OVER AND OVER AGAIN?

Murray Warmath, former head coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers (1954-1971), once said about his team’s pathetic win-loss record in 1958 and 1959: “If lessons are learned in defeat, our team is getting a great education.”

Do you feel like you too are getting nothing but a “good education”? Do you feel like you’re knocked down more times than you deserve, crossing the goal line fewer times than you should? We all go through stages of defeat — sometimes stages of extended defeat — but Warmath is right: this is where lessons are learned; it’s where we get the best education.

Bill Gates once said, “Success is a lousy teacher.” One of the world’s most successful men understands this principle: You learn more from your losses than you learn from your victories … that is, if you’re willing to take the time to evaluate your failures.

Ever had a bad day at work? When it happens, how do you respond? Do you shrug your shoulders and say, “Oh well; guess I wasn’t ‘on’ today.”? Do you ask, “I wonder what was wrong with those people today?” Or do you relive it moment by painful moment?

It’s the days of defeat that often teach us our most valuable lessons in preparation and dependence on the leadership of the Holy Spirit. For this reason, I am thankful for the projects or activities that went awry. In the long run, they’ve helped me be more effective and more consistent.

This principle works in every area of life, IF you’re willing to learn from your past mistakes — jobs that didn’t work out, relationships that failed, ministry projects that fell short of expectations, and on and on. We need to get in the habit of using mistakes as a foundation for a good education. Failure is a good teacher if you’re willing to pay attention to what it says.

WHAT ABOUT PETER? Did he learn from this failure? Let’s hear the rest of the story…

READ John 21:15-19

At least ten times, Jesus appeared after His death:

  1. Mary Magdalene at the grave – John 20:1-18
  2. Mary (Martha’s sister) at the tomb – Matthew 28
  3. He appeared to Peter (no details) Luke 24:34
  4. He appeared to two men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-25)
  5. He appeared to the ten disciples behind closed doors (Luke24:36-39)
  6. A week later, He appeared to the disciples with Thomas (John 20:26-29)
  7. After that, he appeared to some disciples fishing – this is the passage we just read
  8. He appeared to many at a mountain in Galilee, including the disciples – Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20)
  9. Later he appeared to his brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7)
  10. Final appearance – (to all) He promised them the Holy Spirit and that they would “be witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:4-8)

DID YOU CATCH HOW MANY TIMES JESUS APPEARED TO PETER OF THE TEN?  SIX.

There’s no doubt that Peter loved Jesus, but Peter may have wondered what his future with the twelve disciples would be.  That may explain why Peter told some of the other disciples, “I am going fishing” (John 21:3).  The night’s fishing proved fruitless, until, at daybreak, a figure on the shore told them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat.  Then, when the catch was so large that they could not haul it in, John stated that it must be Jesus on the shore.  In his usual fashion, Peter leapt out and went straight for Jesus.

This sets the stage for these passages and for the conversation between Jesus and Peter. The three charges to Peter from Jesus include feeding, guiding and taking care of the flock.  Peter was charged to be the “rock” and provide whatever was needed to the new church.

From Peter’s experiences, we are reminded that each of us can and will fail at times.  But as Peter’s life shows, Jesus is waiting to restore us.

READ Proverbs 24:16 – For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity

Experiencing failure puts you in pretty good company. There’s a long list of great people who have failed in the past.

Speaking only of financial failure (bankruptcy), do you know who this list includes? Mark Twain. Burt Reynolds. Walt Disney. Donald Trump. Milton Hershey, of Hershey Chocolate. H.J. Heinz, of Heinz Ketchup. Wayne Newton. Larry King. Mickey Rooney. Johnny Unitas. Even Johnny Unitas!

All of these experienced financial failure, but the label of failure doesn’t exactly fit them, does it? Why not? Because they got up and tried again.

The Bible says even a righteous man will fall seven times (in other words, again and again), but he gets back up.

That’s the difference. The wicked are brought down by calamity, but the righteous man gets up to try once again.

In which area of your life do you need to get up and try again?

 

 

What now?

  1. Be honest – about your failures and sins. The Psalmist reminds us in Psalm 103:12 that He will toss those failures away as we confess them. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
  2. Seek reconciliation – sin rarely just hurts us – go and humbly ask for forgiveness – repair any damage you have caused
  3. Foster reconciliation in others – listen and pray with someone seeking forgiveness and restoration

Hope Personified

WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE TV DAD?  WHY?

Who are your favorite TV dads? Here are those TV dads that bring me fond memories (not ranked in any order):

  1. Jim Anderson, “Father Knows Best” (Robert Young):Jim always had a solution for things when his wife and kids needed him. Everything got solved in 30 minutes! This show started on network radio on NBC and when television started growing, Young and his partner Gene Rodney took it to Columbia Pictures’ TV division and the show ran from 1953 to 1963, first on CBS and later NBC. Also ran in reruns in daytime on ABC.
  2. Ward Cleaver, “Leave It To Beaver” (Hugh Beaumont):Ward was a great father to Wally and The Beaver but you sure didn’t want to cross him! Beaumont in real life was a Methodist minister and a movie actor in the 1940s playing the role of Detective Michael Shayne. The Beaver show started on CBS in 1957 but moved to ABC and stayed there until 1963. Has been in syndication since!
  3. Cliff Huxtable, “The Cosby Show” (Bill Cosby): Nothing more needs to be said… remains one of the most successful shows in television history. Big hit when it ran on NBC and later in syndication.
  4. Ben Cartwright, “Bonanza” (Lorne Greene): Ben would do anything for Hoss, Little Joe, and Adam…. all born with different mothers that were married to Ben… ostensibly the women died giving childbirth. Airing on TV since 1959.
  5. Tim Taylor, “Home Improvement” (Tim Allen): In the 1990s, it was one of the most watched sitcoms in the American market, winning many awards. The series launched Tim Allen’s acting career and also was the start of the television career ofPamela Anderson, who was part of the recurring cast for the first two seasons.
  6. Charles Ingalls, “Little House On The Prairie” (Michael Landon):Father to four daughters, three adopted kids, and husband to Caroline, making a living during the 1800s. Based on books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Ran on NBC from 1974-1983.
  7. Andy Taylor, “The Andy Griffith Show” (Andy Griffith):This show was a spin off from “Make Room For Daddy” starring Danny Thomas. Thomas and Sheldon Leonard who were the producers created the Griffith show and as we all know this show became iconic with millions of Americans. After 50 years, the show still can be seen and in some areas of the country it is scheduled around local TV newcasts. Ran on CBS from 1961-1968.
  8. Mike Brady, “The Brady Bunch” (Robert Reed):Great TV father and husband. In real life, Reed clashed with the show’s producer Sherwood Schwartz over creative issues. Reed was a Shakespearean trained actor and thought that some of the stuff on “The Brady Bunch” was hokey, but Schwartz would have nothing to do with it. Ran on ABC from 1969-1974 and still airing today.
  9. Jed Clampett, “The Beverly Hillbillies” (Buddy Ebsen):Ebsen was a dancer by training and appeared in movies during the 1930s and 1940s. Television revived his career when producer Paul Henning cast him as the head of the Clampett family who strikes oil in the Ozarks and goes from rags to riches while trying to fit in Beverly Hills, California.
  10. Steve Douglas, “My Three Sons” (Fred MacMurray):MacMurray was a Hollywood movie actor starting in the 1930s, usually cast as a tough guy (“Double Indemnity”) but later was cast in movies produced by Disney in softer, comedic roles. MacMurray was one of the richest actors in Hollywood in his day, known around town as a tightwad! He was a great TV father on “My Three Sons,” but on the set he would come and do his part and leave, not very personable with the kids. Show ran on CBS from 1960-1972.

 

Everyone’s perception of God is colored to some degree by their attitude and relationship with their father.  Even those who never knew their father might see God as an absentee God or they will paint God as the type of father they wish they had.  Throughout the Bible, God is referred to as our Father.  Jesus used an illustration of a father to help us grasp the depth of God the Father’s love for us.

READ Luke 15:11-12

During this time, the religious leaders criticized Jesus, not because the tax collectors and sinners were coming to Him, but because he was welcoming them.  Jesus told three parables to illustrate lostness and the importance God places on recovering those who are lost.  The third one, His parable about the prodigal son, illustrates how a loving father welcomes any sinner who comes to Him. It increased the percentage loss from 1 out of 100 sheep to 1 out of 10 coins to 1 out of 2 sons.  However, the loss of a son rather than sheep or silver ramps up the devastation.  So the third parable clarified and complemented Jesus’ instruction concerning the rescue of a sinner through the gospel.  Each of the three stories shows the sinner’s repentance and return to God.

The Pharisees repeatedly failed to realize what brings God contentment, satisfaction and joy.  The Pharisees and scribes grumbled about Jesus’ welcoming tax collectors and sinners in the first two verses of this chapter.  Dining with the crowd gave a silent affirmation and approval to them as persons, outraging the Pharisees and scribes who would never have socialized with such people.

WHO WAS THIS PARABLE REALLY ABOUT?  The father – not the prodigal son

Jesus began the parable with, “A man had two sons”.  The father symbolized God the Father.  The younger son typified a repentant sinner and the older son represented the self-righteous Pharisees.  The younger son demanded his share of the estate from his father to try to find a happy life in a distant country.  Judaism advised against granting such a request, but it could happen.  A son asking for his share of the estate showed disrespect by suggesting he could not wait for his father to die.  The demand communicated that his father no longer fit into his plans.  By demanding his inheritance, the son sowed seeds of discord in the family.

By the way, this (sowing discord) is one of the things God hates:

READ Proverbs 6:16-19

#1 – He had the freedom to choose

His actions harmed the father’s reputation, jeopardized his family’s financial security and fractured the family. The father, who did not refuse the son’s outrageous request, distributed the assets (to both sons).

DID THIS COST THE FATHER?  WHY DID HE DO IT?

READ Luke 15:13-19

After cashing in his share of the estate to bankroll his rebellion, the younger son headed off to a distant country.  Jesus reported ever so briefly that the son wasted all he had through poor choices.  All the money he could have could not provide what he was really looking for.  Having tried everything he could do on his own, he then chose to return to where he had all he needed to start with.

DOES THIS SOUND LIKE DOROTHY AFTER SHE WAKES UP IN THE WIZARD OF OZ?

Coming to his senses (you might too if you couldn’t even get the leftovers from pig’s food) and remembering how his father’s servants lived, he had to go back home.  His actions, more important than any emotional feelings of remorse, show the appropriate changes in thinking and behavior.  He accepted full responsibility for destroying the relationship with his father and sought reconciliation. BUT…

No respectable father in that time would have greeted a rebellious son if he would return.  It would break all Middle Eastern protocol.  The son’s outrageous and rebellious actions had brought dishonor upon his father and tarnished his family’s name.  The Pharisees and scribes would have expected the father to have refused to meet him, or to have forced him to sit outside the family gate in public view so the whole town could browbeat him with shame.  Furthermore, the son could expect to wait out certain period of time thoroughly humbling himself before his father.  Only then, would the father tell him with a measure of indifference how long the son would have to work to restore what had been squandered.  Only after the son had squared everything through the penances dictated by his father could he possibly hope to find some measure of favor again with his father.

OH, HOW IT IS WITH US – THIS IS OUR REACTION, NOT THAT OF OUR FATHER.

#2 God has the love that embraces

IT IS POSSIBLE TO GO HOME AGAIN?  IS IT YOU, SOMEONE YOU LOVE, OR KNOW? God yearns for us to return to Him, even if we have not rebelled like this.  How do I know this?  Check out the father’s response to seeing his son:

READ Luke 15:20-21

Jesus’ story blindsided His audience.  While the son was still a long way off, his father saw him.  At best, he could hope for a half-hearted welcome and perhaps some menial job working for his father.  Oh, but consider this father!  He must have waited daily; yearning to see his son return.  Finally, he caught a glimpse of his dejected and emaciated boy – and it melted his heart in compassion.  Throwing aside conventions of dignity, the father RAN with exuberance.  He went beyond normal forgiveness and cascaded his son with incredible love!

Even before the disgraced son could butter up his father with his well-rehearsed confession, his father threw his arms around the boy’s neck and kissed him.  Everything he did signaled his absolute affection and complete reconciliation.

The father’s demonstration of love and acceptance without the son paying for his transgressions shocked the scribes and the Pharisees.  Even today, many people have adopted a similar view of spiritual economy – making works the means of salvation rather than God’s free gift of grace through faith.

#3 God has the grace that restores

This picture reveals God’s attitude and activity toward sinners:

READ Luke 15:7

While He longs to embrace and keep close those who rebel, just like the father in this parable, God will not force anyone to stay home.  The father, like our Heavenly Father, had a love that remained constant despite the hurt caused by the son’s departure.  His love did not stop at an embrace:

Read Luke 15:22-24

Despite the son’s actions, the father lavished on him the best gifts imaginable (still boggling the minds of the audience).

Bring out the best robe – either the master’s or the son’s to denote his place of love and honor in the family.

Put a ring on his finger – confirming the son’s return to a place of authority in the household

Put sandals on his feet – only the sons and the master wore shoes – full sonship

To completely restore a son who had shamed his father and blown through a third of the family’s assets (the older son was due a double portion according to the Jewish tradition) did not line up with their theology.  They would have demanded at least a waiting period or reentry time with limitations on family privileges.  NO – that is not the way our Heavenly Father works.  He waits – even searches – for us to come home to Him.

READ Luke 19:10 – Jesus came to SEEK and save the lost

When we repent from our sinfulness and turn to Him, like the father in the parable, He absorbs the hurt and the loss and He lavishes us with the blessing of a full relationship with Him.

By linking the three parables in this chapter – the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son – Jesus gave a higher profile to the celebratory nature of the son’s return.  The shepherd and the woman invited their friends to rejoice with them, but when the father did it – it was the biggest deal anyone could imagine.

Did the son earn it? No!  Do WE deserve it? No! How great the love of our Father!

READ 1 John 3:1

We don’t have to hit rock bottom to decide to go home to our Father or to someone else.  Instead we can make the decision now.

What now?

  1. We can go home – if you have been keeping your distance from God, return to Him. Begin praying daily and reading your Bible.  God will show you the way back and looking for you to return.
  2. We can forgive generously – when was the last time you ran to forgive someone? Forgive even if it seems strange and shocking to everyone else around.  Forgive as God as forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32).  Let that someone know you’ve forgiven them. Don’t be like the older son (remember he was the picture of the Pharisees) – vs. 25-32.
  3. We can invite someone home – engage in honest, but loving, conversation with a “prodigal” in your life. Patiently walk with the person as he or she finds the way to the Father.

Get a grip on grace

I have been intrigued with pearls. So this past week I did some research on how a pearl becomes a pearl. A beautiful pearl begins as a fragment of broken shell, a sand grain, or even a parasite. Such an object enters an oyster’s shell and irritates its soft tissue. The irritant then gets covered and strengthened with layers of mother-of-pearl or nacre (NAY-ker). Over the course of time, a beautiful pearl develops. Similarly, the Bible teaches that every human starts out as an irritant. We are enemies of God, dead in our trespasses and sins. Yet, by God’s amazing grace, those of us who believe in Christ are declared positionally righteous. Slowly but surely, God then envelops us in Himself and practically transforms us into beautiful followers who reflect His beauty.

Paul closes 1 Thessalonians the same way that he began, by emphasizing God’s grace and the need to be prepared for Christ’s coming. In view of these important themes, Paul urges us to, “Get a grip on grace.” In 1 Thess 5:23-28, Paul provides two instructions to strengthen our grip.

 

  1. Pray for spiritual dependence (5:23-24).

In this first section, Paul prepares to wrap up his book with a closing prayer affirming our security in Christ. In 5:23 he prays, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Interestingly, the first word in the Greek text of 5:23 is the word “Himself” (autos). This is a significant point because Paul is emphasizing that the peaceful qualities of life that he discussed earlier in 5:13 come from God and God alone. Here is the truth: Only God can make you better. Think about that for a moment. Exercise improves your body, therapy helps your soul, a friend lifts your spirit, good fortune improves your circumstances, but only God can make you better. God is the author and source of all spiritual progress. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this fundamental truth. In contrast to all our feeble efforts at moral betterment and self-improvement, Paul simply says, “God Himself, the God of peace.” The “God of peace” is the only one capable of sanctifying us.

This word “sanctify” simply means “set apart for God’s exclusive use.”

 

There are at least three different ways this term is used in the New Testament.

 

First, there is positional sanctification. When you believed in Christ as your Savior, you were instantaneously, once-for-all set apart for God (Heb 10:10).

Second, there is progressive sanctification. This refers to your daily growth in holiness (2 Cor 7:1).

Third, there is perfective sanctification. This takes place when you see Christ and become eternally like Him (1 John 3:2).

It is this last meaning of sanctification that Paul has in mind here. He prays that God will “entirely” sanctify the Thessalonians. He prays that their entire person will be preserved. The phrase “spirit and soul and body” has generated a great deal of controversy in theological circles over the concepts of dichotomy versus trichotomy. That’s basically a debate over whether man is basic two-part or three-part in his essential nature. 1 Thess 5:23 is a key verse for those who favor the trichotomy point of view. Yet, I doubt that Paul intended to give us some kind of definitive treatment of human psychology. I think the reference to spirit, soul, and body simply means “the whole person in all his parts.” Beale favors the dichotomist position and suggests that 5:23 “clearly restates and develops 3:13, where God is said to strengthen their hearts, which is either a reference to the entire person, or more likely, an allusion to the noncorporeal aspect of the believer (equivalent to spirit and soul in 5:23).”

 

The word translated “preserved” (tereo) is a word that typically means “to watch over, keep.” God Himself will ensure your salvation and Christian growth. It is God who does this work! This morning, I noticed that before going to bed last night I forgot to lock the back door of our house. A thief could have easily walked in. I immediately said, “Lord, thank you that You always protect my family and me, even when I fail to be wise or faithful.” The word translated “without blame” comes from the legal arena. It means to be acquitted in a court of law. You are “blameless” if no one can bring any charge against you. That’s not true of most of us now. Those who know us best know our weaknesses and could testify against us. God’s goal, however, is that when we stand before Him, He will say, “Does anyone in the whole universe know any reason why this person should not enter heaven?” At that point there will be a loud silence as no one in the entire universe will be able to bring any charge against God’s elect. Interestingly, archaeologists have discovered tombstones from Thessalonica marked with the inscription “blameless.” This indicates the impact God’s Word had upon the early church in the first century. I can’t think of a better way to die than to be able to place on our tombstone “blameless.”

 

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “good enough for government work.” That’s a sarcastic way of saying, “Don’t worry about the details. The joints don’t have to fit, the margins can be crooked, and we don’t need to worry about the budget. We don’t have to be perfect; we don’t even have to be close.” Mark it down plainly: God does not do government work. Everything He does is perfect. But many of us feel like our lives are “government work.” We look inside and see lots of good and bad mixed together, a whole bunch of loose connections, and a lot of parts that don’t seem to work right. That’s the way it is in a fallen world. We’re stuck with what seems to be “government work” in this life. But it won’t be that way forever. God has promised that when Jesus Christ returns, we will be sanctified through and through.

 

Paul concludes this first section in 5:24 by esteeming God further: “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” The adjective “faithful” (pistos) is the first word in the Greek text. The NASB is the one English version I could find that reflects the emphatic position. Paul is saying, “Above all else, God is faithful. You can trust Him. You can depend upon Him.” This is confirmed by the fact that God “calls” believers. The present tense verb “calls” stresses that God does not merely call Christians once and then leave them on their own. Instead, God continues to call the followers of Christ. God’s call mirrors the assertion in 1:4—God has chosen me. How do I know God has chosen me? First and foremost, His Word tells me so. Second, He is experientially calling me with His still small voice. His Spirit is at work in me all the time, prompting me to an increase in faith, love, and hope.

 

You understand this. We hear cell phones all around us: at work, at church, at the mall, and at home. There’s no escape. Someone always seems to be trying to track us down. This is also true of God. When you hear a cell phone, let it be a reminder to yourself that God is calling you. He wants to have a dynamic relationship with you. But you must answer His call. Don’t screen His call and let it go to voicemail. Instead, respond to God’s call upon your life for continual growth and intimacy in Him.

Paul continues to emphasize God’s preservation of the believer by stating: “He also will bring it to pass.” Think of those seven words: “He also will bring it to pass.” They are simple and direct. No qualification, no hesitation, no doubt of any kind. Not “He may bring it to pass,” “He could bring it to pass,” or “He’ll bring it to pass if He feels like it.” Not even “He will bring it to pass if we do our part.” There is just a simple declarative statement—“He also will bring it to pass.” When everything is said and done, it is not our grip on grace but God’s grip on us (John 10:28-29). Salvation is assured because it begins and ends with God (Rom 8:28-39).

 

Let me suggest six ways these verses should affect us:

 

First, God’s grace should give us enormous confidence in God. If you have doubted God, doubt no longer. He is faithful to keep His promises. He has ordained that someday you will be like the Lord Jesus inside and out. And He is working even now to make you a better person. Don’t doubt His purposes, even though you can’t always see His hand at work.

 

  • Second, God’s grace ought to give you assurance of salvation.Sometimes believers struggle with assurance because we don’t “feel” saved. But feelings have nothing to do with it. If you feel saved that’s good, and you should be grateful. But if you don’t “feel” saved, trust God to keep His word anyway. Salvation rests not on your fickle feelings but on the unchanging promises of a God who cannot lie.

 

  • Third, God’s grace ought to give you motivation to grow.After all, if God has said He is going to sanctify you, you can rest assured that you will be sanctified—whether you want to be or not! Your only choice is whether or not you will cooperate with God. Some of us get better slower than necessary because we fight against God’s purposes. We harbor wrong attitudes—lust, bitterness, pride, sloth, envy, and all the rest—and then we wonder why it’s taking us so long to get better. A little cooperation goes a long way in the area of sanctification.

 

  • Fourth, God’s grace ought to give us perseverance in prayer.Sometimes I think we stop praying two days before the answer is about to come from heaven. I know many Christians who have struggled for years with certain behavior patterns and then given up simply because they were so discouraged. But Paul tells us that God is always at work, moving us toward a time when we will be perfect in every respect. Even in this life we can make huge progress as Christians. It’s just that the progress often comes slowly and in small increments. So we ought to keep on praying precisely because we believe God is at work in us even when we don’t see it.

 

  • Fifth, God’s grace ought to develop patience toward others.After all, if God is not finished with you yet, He’s not finished with them either. And if you want them to be patient with your weaknesses, they should expect the same in return from you.

 

  • Finally, God’s grace ought to teach us gratitude for every tiny step in the right direction.Some people want to fly before they run, run before they walk, and walk before they crawl. But that’s rarely what happens. More often, our spiritual progress comes in one tiny baby step after another. It’s “little by little, day by day” that we grow into the image of Jesus. Therefore, let us take heart in every tiny step we take and in every tiny bit of progress our friends and loved ones make. For each baby step forward comes directly from the hands of a loving Father who is at work in ways we cannot see and probably couldn’t even imagine.

 

In order to maintain spiritual health we must remember where our spiritual strength lies. We cannot work out our salvation on our own (Phil 2:12-13). We cannot make ourselves holy by our own strength. The only way to develop and maintain spiritual strength is to depend entirely on the power of God’s Spirit at work in our lives. Today, will you prepare for Christ’s coming by getting a grip on grace? Will you rest in the promises of God?

 

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) noted that our problem isn’t trusting God; it’s in trusting God only.

Will you completely trust in your faithful God?

[We are called to pray for spiritual dependence. This is especially important because our Christian growth ultimately depends upon God’s work in and through us.]

  1. Respond for spiritual growth (5:25-28).

In this second section, Paul concludes 1 Thessalonians with three requests and a final prayer.

  • Request #1: “Brethren, pray for us” (5:25).Paul asks the church to pray for him and his coworkers. The present tense verb “pray” indicates that Paul wants the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (5:17). This means throughout the day, Paul yearns for the church to remember him in prayer. Interestingly, Paul seldom focuses on his own needs; however, he always acknowledges his need for prayer. Typically, Paul’s prayer requests focus on the need to be faithful to the Lord in sharing the gospel (e.g., Eph 6:19-20). The fact that Paul requests prayer demonstrates his humility and dependency upon the Lord. Paul rightly believes that prayer releases the power of God for effective ministry. Of course, we believe this as well, but it is often difficult to intentionally apply our knowledge. So allow me to share three opportunities.

First, consider making a priority of our prayer list. In my busyness, it is all too easy to put my need for personal prayer last on my to-do list.

Second, consider becoming one of our Watchman on the Wall prayer warriors. One of our pressing needs is to recruit prayer warriors who will pray during the week and on Sunday mornings. I believe that this is an incredibly fruitful ministry. “The Prince of Preachers,” Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), had hundreds of faithful people pray in his church’s basement boiler room before he preached. He used to say, “This is where the power falls!” He was so right! Great preaching and a great response to preaching is the result of great prayer. Whenever someone asked Spurgeon the secret to his ministry his reply was simple: “My people pray for me.” Would you be willing to sign up today to serve in the Watchman on the wall prayer ministry?

How strong is your supportive tie to those in your church? Can they depend on your prevailing prayer for them? We fulfill God’s purpose in our lives through the prayers of our fellow Christians. Living the Christian life depends on teamwork. If we play on a team, we depend on our teammates to fulfill their role. Soldiers depend heavily on other soldiers in their company. Their lives are at stake if others fail to fulfill their function. Every area of life needs teamwork. This is no less true in the church. Part of our teamwork is praying for one another. This is something that everyone can do. Get a grip on grace means you pray for other believers.

 

  • Request #2: “Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss” (5:26).This is one of five such exhortations in the New Testament. The “holy kiss” was not a sensual thing. The kiss was intended to break down potential barriers of gender, race, and social rank. It was meant to be a symbolic expression of love, support, unity, and community. The holy kiss acknowledges our spiritual oneness. Christians have come into the family of God, which knows even closer ties than those of any human family (Matt 12:46-50).

 

A proper understanding of our Christian oneness requires understanding that fellowship is a part of worship. This means you shouldn’t make a mad dash for the door at the close of the service. I know we joke about this, but after (or during) the closing prayer, some members escape like rats leaving a sinking ship. This isn’t God’s will. Rather, He wants us to intentionally and strategically seek people out for the purpose of encouragement. This means I must look for ways to express affection to my fellow brothers and sisters. The Phillips paraphrase “Americanizes” this verse with this rendering, “Give a handshake all around among the brotherhood.” I don’t think this catches Paul’s intent. It is more than that. Although several people (including one complete stranger in Hawaii) have given me a holy kiss, there are other ways to express love. You can give a hug. You can put your arm around someone’s shoulder. You can give someone a double-handed shake, expressing warmth. The method is not that important, but the motive certainly is. Getting a grip on grace means you love your brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

Request #3: “I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren” (5:27). The word translated “adjure” is a little strange since we rarely use the word. “Adjure” occurs only here in the New Testament and means “to put someone under an oath.” Paul is saying in effect, “I obligate you with an oath before the Lord.” The “you” refers to the leadership of the church (see 5:12-13). Paul puts them under a solemn oath to have the Word read and explained. He calls them to do so by the authority of the Lord. The written Scriptures must be read and explained. Without God’s Word, the church falters. There is a buzz right now that is downplaying the role of preaching. Some would suggest it is enough to have community and do outreach. That is fallacious! The church apart from the Word is anemic.

 

Today, as your teacher, I commit myself to reading and teaching God’s Word. Will you commit yourself to responding to God’s Word as we worship the Lord? Will you also make it your practice to come to church prepared to hear from God? You can do this by reflecting on the passage you know is scheduled to be preached. You can ask the Lord to clear your mind and help you to focus on His Word. Getting a grip on grace means you take God’s Word seriously.

 

Paul closes the book of 1 Thessalonians with a final prayer: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (5:28). The epistle began with the note of grace (1:1) and ends with the same note. Paul begins and ends all of his thirteen letters with a mention of grace. The reason for this repetitious emphasis is Paul wants us to know that we cannot live apart from God’s grace. The life-changing grace of God saves us. It also sustains us and never fails to strengthen us. Paul’s longing is that the unmerited favor of God would continue to be his readers’ experience and source of joy. It is the grace of the Lord Jesus that makes our salvation and sanctification possible from start to finish.

This natural lead-in begs the question, “Have you received God’s grace in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ?” If you haven’t, would you please do so today?