06/23/17 - Romans 8

June 23, 2017

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:6

Pursuing what God desires frees our mind, while pursuing what the body desires enslaves it.  

Probably the most common response to a failure (from ourselves or others), is the question: “What were you thinking?”    I’ve heard it all too often, and said it to myself hundreds of times.

One of those times was back in 5th grade, when my mom signed us boys up for a new sports league happening in our town called soccer.  (Yes, I know it has been around for centuries, but our town never seemed to know about it before the 70s.)  I had a lot to learn that first year, but found myself playing goalie, fullback, and midfield because of my height and strong leg.  It was INCREDIBLE!  I enjoyed it far more than football, and picked up the game quickly.  Our coach had a basic rule for us on defense:  kick that ball out of our zone!  Don’t worry about passing or dribbling, just kick it out of there. 

Later in the season, we were tied with the number one team in the league, and playing well in the second half.  Their best guy was attacking from the right wing, and as center fullback I came up to challenge him.  Somehow, I was able to steal the ball from him, and felt the best plan would be to kick it back toward my goalie, so he could boot it out of our side.  Well you can see where this is going … instead of listening to the single instruction, I kicked it back toward our goalie, who was not in position to receive it, and the ball went into the net.  We lost that game because of that one mistake!  And that ended our chance of winning the league.

My coach was quite patient with me … for about 30 seconds.  He made a substitution, and got down to my level, and said:  What were you thinking?  I sheepishly tried to explain what I was doing, and he listened, then coached me well on WHY you don’t ever kick the ball toward your goal.  (At least not at that level of soccer anyways.)  That was one of many times I discovered that justifying my own thinking can turn out shortsighted, and wrong.  Better to listen to a coach!

Paul writes to the Roman Church that our minds can convince us of many wrong things – all of which can lead to big losses.  Instead of trying to reason for ourselves what to do, we should listen to the Coach (the Holy Spirit), who has a far better perspective on things.  His instructions are for our good, and for the good of the team, and by following them it leads to great wins!

Be careful how much you trust your own reasons for things, especially when they go against your coach, or your authority, or especially God’s Spirit.  There’s a good chance they know better than you what is best for the team, and how to avoid painful mistakes.  Better that you were acting on obedience than making your own decision and hearing: What were you thinking!?!?

06/22/17 - Romans 7

June 22, 2017

By dying to sin, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit. Romans 7:6

Surrendering means we no longer focus on what we prefer for ourselves, but on what pleases Him.

I remember a simple science lesson from 3rd Grade, and the principle that it taught has been with me for years.  We made “oceans in a bottle”.  In those days, soda was served in bottles, and we took an empty one, filling it half-way full with oil, water, and some blue food coloring, then sealing it up.   After sealed, we could shake the bottle, and the whole container would become blue.  Eventually one will separate from the other, and the oil will settle below the water – and if I am remembering correctly, the blue food coloring would stay with the oil.   All summer long, I enjoyed tipping the bottle sideways for hours making the ocean move back & forth, and the beauty of the sea inside.  (Maybe that’s where my love for the ocean started!)

It was a simple science principle.  Oil & water don’t mix.  You can try to make them merge, but eventually they separate.  One cannot exist with the other.

That’s what Paul says happens when we surrender our lives to Jesus.  Like any decision to surrender, the surrendering person gives up all rights, no longer trying to pursue their preferences, but following those of the power they surrendered to.  Just like the blue food coloring, it will settle out of the mixture into the oil, away from the water.  The blue color surrenders to the oil, letting it dictate where it will go.

By giving our lives to Jesus, we allow the Oil of the Holy Spirit to take us where it wants to go.  We no longer follow sin & its temptations, we instead follow the Spirit.  Our focus is no longer on a list of dos and don’ts, instead we simply follow the Spirit.  All of the ways of sin (the water), no longer have control over us.  Instead, we are controlled by the Spirit, and in following the Spirit, we are able to do and not do what God had designed us to be in the first place.

I don’t recall the exact recipe of that ocean in a bottle.  But I do recall the principle.  Oil and water don’t mix.  That’s not just true physically, it matches spiritually too.  Surrender to the oil, and let it separate me from sin.   Then watch what happens in your life!  You will discover an amazing adventure that pleases your heavenly Father!

06/21/17 - Romans 6

June 21, 2017

We were buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead... we too may live a new life. Romans 6:4

Jesus killed sin in us at our baptism, so don't let sin kill us by missing out on it.

Probably the two most misunderstood and misused sacraments of the Christian Life is baptism and communion.  Maybe that’s why Paul wrote about both in his letters, to bring the early church back to the core elements of both – and to help us see the power of what happens in both activities.

Baptism has been modified so much from the original basic action.  Look at how we have turned something so simple and significant in a Christian’s life into something controlled and minimized:

-          Some call it an act of obedience, yet baptism is not a ‘work’.  It is not something we ‘do’, it is done to us.  Another Christian is always the baptizer of a person giving their life to Christ.

-          Some say it is not necessary.  Then someone forgot to tell Jesus & Peter – Jesus sends us to baptize people, and Peter said it was directly tied to your original repentance from sin.

-          For centuries, we have baptized babies by a parent’s will.  Yet Jesus chose to be baptized around the age of 30, and called for adults to repent & be baptized as their own confession of sin.

-          Many think of it as symbolic, but the Holy Spirit says it is far more – He comes to reside in you at your baptism, according to Peter.

-          Some use baptism as an act of membership – and certainly it would indicate our decision to join a local church.  But it is far bigger.  Baptism is about surrendering to the Kingdom of Jesus. 

In this passage, Paul says that something incredibly miraculous happens at our baptism – our sin life is killed, and our soul is resurrected!  While we just see a person go under water, God sees the person dying to sin and rising to eternity.  That is INCREDIBLE!  Baptism is a spiritual resurrection!

Now I don’t say all that to create angst about people who have not been immersed.  Nor is the decision of who is saved & who is not saved based on our observation of their actions – God decides salvation.  But let’s not be so arrogant, that we would dismiss the teaching and the practice of Jesus and the early church by our so-called ‘advanced intelligence’.  Jesus is doing something AMAZING in us at the moment of our baptism.  He is killing the power sin has to control our lives, and giving us a far greater power to live a new life with.  He is marking us with the seal of the Holy Spirit for resurrection day.  He is providing us the assurance of His forgiveness, and the joy of reconciliation with the Father.  Why would we NOT want to repent and be baptized? 

If you have made that decision, take a moment to celebrate again what great gift you have been given.  And if you have not made that decision yourself, then find a Bible-teaching church that practices it and give your old life over to Him.  You’ll be eternally glad that you did!

06/20/17 - Romans 5

June 20, 2017

God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:5

Accepting Christ means permitting God to fill our hearts with the love of His heart.

God’s love is always around us.  Without it, we would not exist.

His love created the universe, the world and everything in it.  Out of His love came the design of man in God’s image, and the structure of marriage to support us in relationship.  His love operates the world, providing everything we need each day.  And it’s out of His love that we are constantly being protected from evil’s destruction, granting us mercy & patience in spite of our sin.  Whether a person is a believer or not, God’s love is unescapable.  A country can reject God, but they cannot escape God’s love.

There is only one place where God’s love doesn’t have permission to enter uninvited.  The only place God’s love does not reside without an invitation is a person’s heart.  His Holy Spirit is always around us, but it cannot reside inside of us until we open our heart’s door to Him.  The only way to have the love of God is to ask God to put His love into our hearts.

That’s why Peter in Acts 2 tells people that when we repent and are baptized, the Holy Spirit comes inside of us.  We are filled with the love of God.

That’s why Jesus sent His disciples to all the world, to bring the love of God INTO THE HEARTS of people.

That’s why you can know a lot about God, go to church periodically, even pray or read the Bible, but not have the love of God inside.  The only way is to accept His Love into your life, to hunger for it, to stay open to it.

Accepting Christ is not just signing up for a pass into heaven, it’s opening the door of your heart to let God’s love in.  And God’s love entering the room of your heart will require significant changes.  Accepting Christ without repenting is like dumping fresh water into the sewer. It doesn’t make any sense.  It would be a waste.  Accepting Christ is not a task or a work, it is a surrender – allowing the love of God to have complete access to your life.

Then, just like God’s Love did when He created the world, God will use His Love to create something new in you.  The power of God will be the power of your life, and real love will start working its way into all of your relationships.

Maybe it’s time for a fresh new taste of love in your life.  Maybe it’s time to accept Jesus into your heart.  You’ll be glad you did!  Choose to do it now.

06/19/17 - Romans 4

June 19, 2017

Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Romans 4:7

Our greatest blessings are not possessions or experiences, but freedom from our past so that we can again become what God designed us to be.

What was the best gift you ever received from your family? 

On my 16th birthday, I wasn’t expecting much.  My mom and family had made a cake and my favorite dinner for me after the baseball game I played in, but our limited income had kept gifts limited for years.  (That was okay, since we were happy with the things we did get to do, but it kept the expectations down.)   On the table was a small gift box along with a birthday card, so I figured it was just something simple from my mom.  Much to my surprise, when I opened the box, it was a set of keys to the family car, along with a paper showing my registration for summer drivers ed classes!  My mom had entrusted me with the keys to the only car we owned, and promised to help me get my drivers license!  I was shocked and blessed!  Even though the gift was not expensive to purchase, it was an incredibly valuable gift.

There’s another gift that is incredibly valuable, though it doesn’t appear to cost much … it’s the gift of forgiveness.  When given, it restores relationships, removes the baggage of the past, and gives freedom to the receiver.  While it may not have a sticker price, it’s of great value to our lives, and lasts longer than a car or other possession.  And when GOD gives it to us, it is priceless!  Without that simple gift, we have no hope of living eternally.

While forgiveness doesn’t have a high price tag, it still has a great cost.  In our case, when we give forgiveness, it costs us retribution and restitution from the person.  And when God sent Jesus to the cross to buy our forgiveness, it cost Jesus his life!  So be careful not to discount the forgiveness given to us by others, it is a highly valuable gift.  In fact, it is the best blessing you ever will receive.

Valuing the gift of forgiveness has a life-changing impact.  Living free of sin and the regret of the past can open the door for us to follow Jesus, love God, forgive our brothers, and love our neighbor.  It can change a life destined for hell into a glorious life headed for heaven.  It can also open the door for an amazing life, filled with joy and purpose. 

So for your next birthday, (or for your next prayer request), why not ask God for the greatest gift you will ever receive.  Ask Him for forgiveness.  It will be much better than keys to a car or cake & ice cream.  It will change your life.

06/16/17 - Romans 3

June 16, 2017

There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. Romans 3:11

God created man to pursue His mind & heart, but we instead pursue our own desires -- use TODAY as an experiment, what would it look like if I pursued God's thoughts & passions today?

As an employee, I always wanted my manager or boss to trust me.  Somehow it is inherently clear that if your authority trusts you, then you will have the freedom to do what you want.  However, it took me years to realize that the REASON leaders don’t trust their people is BECAUSE they want to do what they want.  Managers and Owners aren’t looking for us to do what WE want, they are looking for us to do what THEY want!

That’s when I discovered a great secret to organizational success – stop trying to do what WE want, and learn more about what the Manager Wants!  It’s so simple, but the more I started to think and work like they wanted, the more trust they showed in me.  (And I have found that true in managing people too --- the more they understand my thinking, the more I trust them as well!)

God says the same thing to us!  He’s looking for people who are trustworthy … but the way you and I become trustworthy is to constantly seek what HE wants, to learn the way HE thinks, to act the way HE acts.  The more we seek to know and understand God, the more He entrusts to us. Imagine what great things God may entrust to us if we just started seeking His thoughts!

Unfortunately, we know what Paul says is true – there isn’t a man alive who always seeks what God wants, or wants to know the mind of God.  If we had a person like that, it would change the world, and give us a model to follow.  How Great to know we HAVE A PERSON LIKE THAT!  His Name is Jesus!  By knowing more about what Jesus says and does, and learning how to think and live like Jesus, God can entrust us with more of His character and activity. 

So here is an experiment to try.  Take today and try to fully pursue God’s thoughts & passions – even for a single day.  If you know something you are doing is a sin, stop it.  If you know there is someone He wants you to forgive, or mend a relationship, or show kindness to, do it.  Whatever God has told you to do, do it.  Take one day and Pursue His Mind – learn from His Word, have conversations with Him in prayer, discover again what His thoughts are.  And see what He tells you.

Then try it again another day, and then two, and then a week, and keep working on becoming a person who seeks after God’s heart.  Watch what happens in your life when His thoughts start becoming your thoughts!  Much like any other authority, you will find God entrusting you with more.

06/15/17 - Romans 2

June 15, 2017

Don't show contempt for the riches of God's kindness, forbearance and patience, it is intended to lead you to repentance.  Romans 2:4

Blessing is given to motivate us to worship, not become more selfish.

There’s an old saying:  Never look a gift horse in the mouth.  I know that you can tell a lot about a horse’s health by looking in his mouth, but don’t imagine that would be the first thing I would look at if I were given a horse.  However, the same principle applies to anything ever gifted to us, and I have many times started mentally critiquing the gift before considering the kindness of the giver.

God’s Kindness is the most abused gift ever given.  People not only have received his patience, mercy and kindness daily, but then turn around and demand it from God tomorrow.  So many people pray for God to bless them without ever giving God the time of day in worship or devotion.  If it weren’t for His incredible love and patience, we would be starved for blessing because of our ingratitude.

To be even more blunt, many people use up the blessings of God for selfish interests, then complain when the debts are mounting, or their schedule becomes unmanageable.  God provides people a job and they start complaining about work.  God gives us a spouse and we look to dump them for the next attraction.  God provides us freedom to worship, and we choose instead to spend our time on the sports field or sleeping in.  God gave us blessing – we turn it into a curse.

According to Paul, the purpose of blessing is not to make us happy, it is given to direct us to holiness.  God’s patience and mercy are a calling for us to repent and turn to Him, not walk away with our hands full.  Don’t waste the blessing, use it for what God intended. Allow every daily gift He gives remind you to make God your first priority.

How different would money be handled if we saw it as a kindness instead of an expected payment.  What would we do differently with our time if we saw each day as a gift from God to live for Him, instead of being expected for our own activities.  If families and marriages were seen as a special blessing, how would it change the way we live in our families?

Here’s a simple exercise to try.  Take one day (or one week), and record in a notebook every blessing you are given by God – big things and small things.  Then consider what those blessings are supposed to do in your relationship with Jesus.  Allow every blessing to both BE a praise to God, and BE Used for praise to God.

Don’t waste your blessings on yourself.  Use them for the great purpose God intended.